Chili Spiced Chocolate Cake

chocolate ancho cake resizedI love celebrating my birthday. The gathering of friends and family around a big dinner table to enjoy the meal of my choice and a delicious dessert of birthday cake with candles and singing. Oh it’s so much fun!

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My birthday cake of choice is an angel food cake with berries and whipped cream. I’ve picked it every year since I was a kid. But this year, I decided to change it up. I was craving a rich decadent chocolate cake. This cake in particular is made without flour to create a dense fudgy cake that fulfills any chocolate craving. It also pairs bitter chocolate harmoniously with the sweet fruity notes in spicy ancho chili pepper to create a perfectly deep chocolatey treat. Garnished with a dollop of citrusy lime whipped cream, this Chili Spiced Chocolate Cake is the perfect dessert to impress guests or a special birthday person.

Indulge and enjoy!

chocolate ancho cake - piece resized

Chili Spiced Chocolate Cake
Makes an 8 inch cake

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped                                                                      1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes                                                                            3/4 cup granulated sugar                                                                                                   3 large eggs                                                                                                                    1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder                                                                                  1-1/2 Tbsp ancho chili powder – no need to be nervous about the amount of ancho chili powder added, the rich chocolate will mellow out its spicy flavour

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Butter an 8 inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the buttered pan with parchment paper and grease with butter.

In a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt chocolate with butter until smooth. Whisk in sugar. Add eggs and whisk well.

Sift cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and sprinkle with ancho chili powder. Whisk until just combined. Pour into prepared cake pan.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the top of the cake has formed a crust.

Transfer to a cooling rack and cool for 5-10 minutes. Invert cake onto a serving plate and let cool completely. Sprinkle with cocoa powder. Serve each slice of decadent cake with a dollop or two of lime whipped cream.

Lime Whipped Cream

1 cup whipping cream                                                                                                   Zest from 1 lime                                                                                                                   1 Tbsp icing sugar

Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk together the whipping cream, lime zest and icing sugar until light and fluffy.

The Fresh Sheet…Peaches

Summer is ridiculously abundant. The fruit literally falls off the trees – juicy, sweet and a bit messy. Kind of like how life should be. Just a few weeks ago, as I was diving into my first peach of the summer, I couldn’t help but remark at what a pure, unadulterated pleasure summer eating is. All of this produce from practically just down the road; so ripe, flavourful and perfect on its own. So perfect, in fact, you wish that feeling could last all year. We can help with that!

peaches in brown basket2 - resizedAnd peaches aren’t just a tasty treat; they are actually incredibly delicious medicine. Peaches are rich in vitamins A and C for healthy skin (good protection when the sun is shining!) and strengthening the immune system, they provide fibre to help keep everything moving smoothly and phyto-chemicals such as phenols that help fight inflammation. So much for thinking that healthy food doesn’t taste good. In fact, it’s crazy delicious.

Since peaches are but a blip in the annual harvest, it is a good idea to preserve some as soon as you get your greedy little fingers all over them. The local peaches won’t last much longer, so buy large! This recipe will make quick work of 5 pounds of deliciousness, which means you could buy 5 pounds for eating now and 5 for eating later. Moderation doesn’t apply to precious in season and highly perishable fruit. And peaches are so easy to preserve that even a newbie can do it. The bourbon was my idea; Heather isn’t much for boozy fruit. I am up for eating just-about-anything boozy. In moderation, of course! Here, moderation applies…

Bourbon and Vanilla Soaked Peaches
Fills 12, 250mL jars
If you have never canned before, read twice before canning once. It is far easier than you might expect but a few key tips will keep you on the safe side. This is a helpful guide to help get you started.

5 pounds ripe peaches, washed (should be fragrant and luscious but not mushy)
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 whole vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scraped and pod cut into 12 pieces
Optional: 1tbsp bourbon per jar

Prepare canning jars and lids as directed by canning manufacturer and keep them simmering hot in the canning pot until ready to fill. You will need a jar lifter or slip proof tongs to handle the hot jars.

In a large pasta pot, boil water for blanching peaches. Prepare a very large bowl or another pasta pot with cold water and add the juice of a lemon for holding the peaches.

In a medium pot, bring water to a boil and add sugar. Stir and simmer gently until sugar is totally dissolved. Add vanilla bean scrapings, stir and turn heat to low to keep warm.

Score the bottom of each peach with a knife and carefully lower into boiling water. Blanch for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, just enough to loosen skin. Place into lemon water with a slotted spoon until cool enough to handle. Repeat with all peaches – you can do them in batches.

Peel peaches and slice into hot canning jars. Add one piece of vanilla bean pod to each jar and add 1 tbsp bourbon if desired. Pour hot syrup over peaches, leaving 1/4-1/2 inch of headroom in jars. Use a wooden skewer or chopstick to remove any air bubbles from the jars. Tighten lids on jars (not too tight!) and place back in canner. Process, as per manufacturer’s directions, for 30 minutes. Remove to the counter and let rest undisturbed for 1 day. Seriously. Don’t touch them!

You will know they canned properly if the lid doesn’t give way; if it didn’t work, give peaches to all of your friends as they are totally safe to eat within a week or so (keep them in the fridge).

Salted Rosemary Chocolate Cookies

rosemary choc cookies - stacked close upIt’s been awhile. Life has definitely gotten in the way this month. It’s sad when you’re so busy you haven’t had time to bake those famous family holiday cookies. But don’t you worry. It all changes today. A little time off and to the kitchen I go to whip up those tasty family treats.

Nothing beats those holiday goodies that grandma or mom bake for you. They add that little something extra that makes them so delicious and special. My grandma always said it was love and good cheer that she added to make them extra scrumptious.

I’ve been experimenting with chocolate cookies the last couple of years. They have become the cookie that everyone asks me to bring to a party, potluck or just because they have a craving. It’s such a great feeling when something you created becomes the special cookie that friends and family crave. The combination of rosemary and chocolate with a touch of salt has become a real favourite. While you might not think that rosemary and chocolate go together, dark chocolate seems to bring out the cool evergreen flavour of rosemary for the perfect wintery cookie.

rosemary choc cookies

Salted Rosemary Chocolate Cookies
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup dark chocolate chips
fleur de sel or good quality salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
In an electic mixer, cream butter, sugars and fresh rosemary together over medium speed until light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until well combined. Add vanilla and combine.
Over low speed, stir flour mixture into creamed butter mixture until combined. Stir in dark chocolate chips.
Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Press cookies down slightly with the bottom of a glass or measuring cup powdered with cocoa powder. Sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of fleur de sel or other good quality salt.
Bake in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until just set. Cool slightly and transfer to cooling rack.

rosemary choc cookies2
The rosemary in these cookies adds a wonderful aroma to your home while baking. And they are absolutely scrumptious while still warm. They entice both your tastebuds and sense of smell when you eat them, which I think gives off a little zen feeling or maybe that’s just me. I like to keep a batch of this cookie dough in the freezer so I can bake a fresh batch or maybe just 2 cookies whenever someone’s got a craving. To freeze cookie dough, simply prepare cookies and roll into 1 inch balls. Place on a cookie sheet and freeze in the freezer until frozen solid. Transfer to a freezer bag or container and save up to 3 months. When ready to bake, remove the amount of cookies you want from the freezer, preheat oven, flatten cookies, sprinkle with salt and bake as above. Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate Dipped Cherries

I indulge in these delightful treats as I write this post. One bite is all it takes to get addicted to these summer treats. They will replace the much loved chocolate dipped strawberries. Sweet BC cherries dipped in rich dark chocolate and chilled to the perfect temperature. A few wholesome ingredients, super simple to make and impressive for the main dessert at any summer event or a delightful afternoon pick-me-up. These are definately a summer treat you have to try.

I believe there are 2 ways to enjoy these unbelievably delicous cherries:
1. Hold them by their stem and take a bite off one side. You’ll bite into the deep rich chocolatey crust and then get a burst of chilly sweet cherry flavour. Continue to take bites until all you’re left holding is a cherry pit and stem.
2. But my favourite way to eat’em is to hold the end of the stem between your first finger and thumb, tilt your head back and drop the whole decadence into your mouth. Pull on the stem to release the treat and bite down into its delicious flavour. Savour every chew or let it melt in your mouth. And then of course, spit out the pit!

Dark Chocolate Dipped Cherries
8 oz (225 g) good quality dark chocolate
1 Tbsp. butter
about 30 sweet BC cherries with their stem intact (or cherries from wherever you live) – I prefer the flavour of the sweet red ones paired with dark chocolate, but you can certainly use the Rainier yellow cherries as well.

I prefer to melt my chocolate over a hot water bath or double boiler. If you prefer, feel free to use the method that you’re most comfortable with.
Fill a saucepan with 1 inch of water. Find a bowl that fits securely over the saucepan.
Coarsely chop chocolate. Combine chopped chocolate with butter in the bowl. Place the bowl over the saucepan and heat the water over medium-low heat. You want to slowly melt the chocolate. Stir frequently and ensure the water doesn’t get too hot (rapid boil). When most of the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and wipe the bottom with a cloth. Stir a few times and allow the remaining chocolate to melt completely. Get ready to dip!
Dip each cherry into the dark chocolate. You can dip the entire cherry or leave a little section at the top undipped. Twirl to let the extra chocolate drip off. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Continue with remaining cherries. With this hot summer heat, I chill my cherries and keep them in the refrigerator until ready to serve. But if it’s cool enough in your neighbourhood or if you have air conditioning, you can let them set at room temperature.

These treats make great desserts for any barbecue, picnic or summer get together. Make it even more fun with a cherry pit spitting contest!

Campfire Treats for Canada Day

Who doesn’t love the sticky, gooey, sweet and creamy s’more? There are some things that just can’t be improved upon – memories are made sitting around a campfire after a day of fresh air and relaxation, enjoying the warm glow while holding a meditative gaze over toasting marshmallows. Everyone has their signature toast: some like just a light amber while others like to char the outside to reveal the molten cream underneath. While there is nothing better than campfire s’mores, there is something much better than store-bought marshmallows. Think homemade. Candy can be tricky but nothing could be simpler than a marshmallow. I am certainly not the pastry chef of this dynamic duo but even I got it right the first try. My first go-round at les macarons, not so much.

I am not going to lie…this is not exactly health food. But we all need a treat every now and then and making marshmallows at home means you control the quality of ingredients. I am not a fan of corn syrup so I substituted agave with great results. You could also use honey if you prefer. You won’t end up with a perfectly white marshmallow but a soft off-white which is beautiful in its own right. So as you get prepared for your long weekend camping trip, consider adding  Coconut Ginger Dream S’mores and Fiery Cinnamon S’mores to the menu for this Canada Day. And if you aren’t lucky enough to be heading out of the city, make them anyway. Sit on your deck, plug in some nature sounds on your iPod, close your eyes and pretend.

Fiery Cinnamon S’mores
Feeds a crowd…a great s’more for the less sugar-inclined.

1 pkg graham crackers (note: Kinnikinnick makes a lovely gluten free version)
2 100g bars of chili pepper chocolate  (I used Lindt)
1 recipe Cinnamon Marshmallows (below)

Coconut Ginger Dream S’mores
Feeds a crowd…these are the sweeter s’more

1 pkg Nairn’s Stem Ginger Oat Cakes (I like these better than store-bought ginger snaps, also wheat free)
2 100g bars 85% cacao chocolate (I used Lindt; trust me on the 85%, it cuts the sweetness)
1 recipe Dreamy Coconut Marshmallows (below)

If you are near a campfire, you know what to do.

Otherwise, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Assemble s’mores on a cookie sheet and bake for just a minute or two, until everything starts to get melty and delicious. Consume with abandon.

Cinnamon Marshmallows

This is a classic French marshmallow: like perfect little pillows of spicy sweet goodness. Makes 32 large or 64 small marshmallows

1 cup water
1 tsp cinnamon
4 pkg gelatin

3 cups sugar
1 cup good quality agave syrup
1 cup water
1/4 tsp sea salt

rice starch or potato starch for dusting
vegetable oil

Line two 8 inch or one 9 x 13 inch square pan with tin foil and grease with a mild vegetable oil like almond or grape seed.

In a stand mixer, fitted with whisk attachment and a large bowl, pour in the water and mix in the cinnamon. Sprinkle with the gelatine and allow to sit while you prepare the candy syrup.

Attach a candy thermometer to a medium sized pot and add the sugar, syrup, water and salt and stir through. Bring to a boil and cook until the soft ball stage, between 234 and 240 degrees. As the syrup gets hotter, reduce temperature a bit so that you don’t wind up with a hot overflowing mess of burning sugar syrup. Let’s just say that I speak from experience. When making candy, do not attempt to multitask.

When the syrup reaches temperature, start the stand mixer at about speed 6. Start slowly and carefully pouring syrup down the side of the bowl and watch out for splashes. As splash risk decreases, increase the beater speed to 8 and finally 10. Continue beating until mixture is very stiff and sticky when you test it. The longer you beat it, the more air you will incorporate, about 10-20 minutes. The mixture should be larger than when you first started.

Pour mixture into the oiled pans, using an oiled spatula to smooth the surface if necessary and let sit undisturbed on the counter for 24 hours.

Sift starch onto the surface and then carefully turn out onto a board. Carefully peel the foil away, using your fingers to pry the foil off the marshmallow gently and starch this surface. Cut with an oiled knife and starch all exposed surfaces as you cut.

Keeps for weeks in an airtight container.

Dreamy Coconut Marshmallows
Makes 32 large or 64 small marshmallows

1 cup coconut milk (the tinned variety)
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tsp freshly grated lime zest
4 pkg gelatin

3 cups sugar
1 cup good quality agave syrup
1 cup water
1/4 tsp sea salt

unsweetened shredded coconut and rice starch or potato starch for dusting
vegetable oil

Line two 8 inch or one 9 x 13 inch square pan with tin foil and grease with a mild vegetable oil like almond or grape seed.

In a stand mixer, fitted with whisk attachment and a large bowl, pour in the coconut milk and sprinkle with the gelatine. Allow to sit while you prepare the candy syrup.

Attach a candy thermometer to a medium sized pot and add the sugar, syrup, water and salt and stir through. Bring to a boil and cook until the soft ball stage, between 234 and 240 degrees. As the syrup gets hotter, reduce temperature a bit so that you don’t wind up with a hot overflowing mess of burning sugar syrup. Let’s just say that I speak from experience. When making candy, do not attempt to multitask.

When the syrup reaches temperature, start the stand mixer at about speed 6. Start slowly and carefully pouring syrup down the side of the bowl and watch out for splashes. As splash risk decreases, increase the beater speed to 8 and finally 10. Continue beating until mixture is stiff and sticky when you test it, about 10 – 20 minutes. The mixture will not expand as much if you are using coconut milk.

Pour mixture into the oiled pans, using an oiled spatula to smooth the surface if necessary and let sit undisturbed on the counter for 24 hours. Because of the density of the coconut milk, you will notice air bubbles escaping. This recipe does not make as fluffy of a marshmallow and the fat in the coconut milk greatly enhances the sweetness.

Variations: If you want a milder, fluffier marshmallow, use light coconut milk or for a classic recipe (albeit a much milder flavour) use coconut water instead of coconut milk.

Mix 1 cup coconut with 1/4 cup starch and use this mixture to press onto all surfaces as you cut. Sift starch mixture onto the surface and then carefully turn out onto a board. Carefully peel the foil away, using your fingers to pry the foil off the marshmallow gently and starch this surface. Cut with an oiled knife and starch all exposed surfaces as you cut.

Keeps for weeks in an airtight container.

The inspiration for the marshmallows came from the summer edition of Edible Vancouver magazine. If you are looking for a delicious way to use those local strawberries, they have an amazing strawberry marshmallow recipe, which I used as technique guidance for the recipes here.

Food Scraps to Dye Easter Eggs

Growing up, I loved Easter for the delight in waking up to discover colourful eggs hidden throughout our house. Some were easy to find, while others required the combined efforts of my siblings to scope out every nook and cranny where one could be hidden. My parents were so clever at hiding eggs that we would still discover them throughout the year. It was always a prize to find an egg long after Easter had come and gone.

Besides hunting for eggs, one of my favourite activities was dyeing and decorating Easter eggs. There were so many brilliant colours and every egg looked different after bathing in the colourful jars. The bonus was that we got to eat our decorated eggs and sometimes even had the colourful treats in our lunch at school.

Dyeing eggs is great fun but it’s best to avoid all the chemical dyes and make your own with food scraps. You’ll feel like a magical alchemist brewing up your own colourful dyes. And you’ll put your food scraps to good use.


Food Scrap Dyes
Each of our dye recipes makes about 2 cups, which is ample for dyeing multiple eggs. Dyeing eggs with natural dyes does take a little bit longer than chemical dyes. Allow hard-boiled eggs to bathe in the dye for a couple of hours or overnight for more vibrant colours. And of course, allow them to soak up the colour in the refrigerator.


Reddish-Brown Dye:
Leaving the skins and stem on, roast 4 small beets. Once cool, remove the skins and stems and place them in a saucepan. Enjoy the roasted beets – perhaps in a delicious salad with goat cheese and greens or as a sidedish with a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of black pepper. Now, let’s make the dye. Add 2 cups of water to the saucepan with the beet skins and stems. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 20-30 minutes. Let cool. Remove beet scraps and compost them. Stir in 1 tbsp white vinegar and start dyeing eggs! 

Orange Dye: In a saucepan, combine the outer papery skins of 3 small yellow onions with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 20-30 minutes. Let cool. Remove skins and compost them. Stir in 1 tbsp white vinegar to the coloured water.

Yellow Dye: In a saucepan, combine 2 tsp turmeric with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes whisking in the turmeric. Stir in 1 tbsp white vinegar. This mixture will separate as it sits, so give it a stir whenever you remember or when you check on your eggs while they are bathing.

Green Dye: I tried a few different options for green dye without much colourful luck. In the end, I found that I got the best colour from combining equal amounts of blue dye and yellow dye to create a nice pastel green.

Blue Dye: In a saucepan, combine 1 cup chopped purple cabbage, about 2-3 outer leaves, with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 20-30 minutes. Let cool. Remove cabbage and compost. Add 1 tbsp white vinegar. This dye is fun because it appears reddish-purple, but creates gorgeous blue coloured eggs.

Don’t forget to eat your Easter egg creations. A hard-boiled egg makes a healthy snack or tasty protein addition to breakfast or lunch. So, add some colourful eggs to your breakfast, lunch and snacks this week.

Heart Shaped Cucumbers and Chocolate Spiced Cookies

While grocery shopping the other day, I was surprised to find heart shaped cucumbers. That’s right, heart shaped cucumbers. The cucumbers are grown in heart shaped molds and look similar to regular ones, but when you slice them you get mini heart shaped slices. What a fun way to serve up a simple cucumber salad for your loved ones on Valentine’s.   

Simple Asian Cucumber Salad
Makes 4-6 servings.

2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp sweet thai chili sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
¼ tsp sugar
a pinch of salt
¼ -½ tsp sambal oelek or crushed chili pepper
1 english cucumber or 4 mini heart shaped cucumbers

In a small bowl, whisk together rice vinegar, sweet thai chili sauce, sesame oil, sugar, pinch of salt and sambal oelek. Set aside.

Using a mandolin or sharp knife, thinly slice cucumbers. Just before serving gently toss cucumbers with dressing. This salad is best served right away.

We think Valentine’s is best enjoyed with some good quality chocolate and I’m sure you’d agree too. I also like to celebrate Valentine’s by baking chocolate goodies for my friends and family. This spiced chocolate crackle cookie has been getting rave reviews and requests to bake more, so we’re sharing the recipe so you can enjoy it too. 

Spiced Chocolate Crackle Cookies
Borrowed from McCormick Gourmet website.
Makes about 40 cookies.

12 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate, divided
¾ cup flour
2 tsp roasted cinnamon (regular cinnamon can also be used)
1 tsp ground ancho chili pepper
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Melt 8 ounces of the chocolate in a double broiler. Set aside. Coarsely chop remaining 4 ounces of the chocolate. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine flour, roasted cinnamon, ancho chili pepper, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugars together using an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla and mix well. Add melted chocolate and beat until well blended. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until well mixed. Stir in chopped chocolate. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons about 1½ inches apart on prepared baking sheets.

Bake about 10 minutes or just until cookies are set and slightly cracked on top. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely.

Happy Valentine’s!