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!

chocolate ancho cake - from top resized

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.

A Better Breakfast: Stick to Your Ribs Granola

granola jar - cropped

Eat your oatmeal. It sticks to your ribs.” That’s what my grandma used to tell us. And she wasn’t that far off. Oats are full of soluble fibre called beta-glucan that literally “sticks” around in your intestines to give you a feeling of fullness until lunch time and a good dose of long lasting energy to fuel your morning.

Besides being amazingly nutritious, a bowl of oatmeal is a blank slate for endless flavour opportunities. First, you’ve got the many oat varieties: instant, rolled, steel-cut (also known as Irish and Scottish oatmeal) and groats. Steel-cut offers the most beta-glucan and is my favourite for its chewy texture and hearty flavour. You can stir in fresh, dried or frozen fruit, crunchy nuts and seeds, even peanut or almond butter, warm spices like cinnamon, star anise and nutmeg and a touch of sweetness from brown sugar or maple syrup. You’ve got a new oatmeal flavour for every day of the winter and for every taste preference.

Chilly winter mornings are easily warmed by a steamy bowl of oats. Come spring, I crave a cooler breakfast but one that still offers so much flavour and enough energy to fuel my day. Knowing that fresh berries will be in season in just a few months, I look forward to layers of tart yogurt, sweet seasonal fruit and crunchy granola. The most delicious locally grown fruit deserves the best granola. And there’s nothing like your own homemade granola! It has a fresh, richer flavour and chewier texture that can’t be beat with any store-bought variety. Homemade versions easily trump store-bought varieties on flavour and with much less added sugar and fat. Whip up a batch on the weekend and you’ve got a healthy breakfast that you can feel good about and your tastebuds (and your family) will thank you for your efforts.

This recipe can easily be adjusted to suit your flavour cravings and whatever ingredients you have in your pantry. I usually make a batch of this granola in anticipation of the start of the summer farmer’s market, even though I know summer-fresh fruit is a still a month or two away.

granola in blue bowl with blue mat

Yummy Granola
Makes 7 cups

3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup hemp hearts
1/2 cup buckwheat groats
1/3 cup almond butter
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp olive oil or other vegetable oil
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon or cardamom
1/2 cup whole almonds
1/4 cup hazelnuts
3/4 cup dried fruit: I like to use a combination of 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots, 1/4 cup chopped dried cherries and 1/4 cup chopped dates
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325°F.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, hemp hearts and buckwheat.
In a small saucepan, combine the almond butter, honey, oil and cinnamon or cardamom. Warm over medium heat, stirring often, until ingredients are well blended. Drizzle over the oat mixture and fold to thoroughly coat all the oats, hemp and buckwheat. Spread onto a large baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown, turning every 7-10 minutes. Place on a rack to cool completely.
Toast almonds and hazelnuts in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes. Cool slightly and chop coarsely.
Once cool, combine baked oat mixture, toasted nuts and dried fruit in a large bowl. Sprinkle with vanilla and toss to coat well. Transfer to an airtight container and enjoy within 2-3 weeks.
Serve this yummy granola with layers of yogurt and fresh fruit or with milk, soy, coconut or almond beverage. Even though this granola already has a little dried fruit, it’s scrumptious with fresh fruit as well.

granola crumble up close

granola crumble up close

The Fresh Sheet…Cilantro

cilantro chutney - cilantro sprig

I love cilantro. I find its earthy and slightly tart citrus flavour to be refreshing, with a hint of peppery finish. But it seems that people either have a love or hate relationship with cilantro. Take my sister for example, she thinks cilantro tastes like soap and can detect even the tiniest bit of cilantro in any dish she tries. This love-hate relationship is so facinating that scientists have conducted research to understand the strong aversion to cilantro! There seems to be a few genetic traits that are linked to our sense of smell. These genetic factors may make us more sensitive to the aldehyde chemicals that give cilantro it’s unique smell and flavour and may change our perception to dislike them.

But did you know you can change your tastebuds to enjoy new flavours that you once disliked? Adults are just like kids who need to be exposed to foods numerous times and in numerous different dishes before we will accept them. The more often we expose our smell and tastebuds to the same foods and a variety of different ones, the more we can change our perception of new and unique smells and flavours. So, perhaps give cilantro another try. A Japanese study suggests that crushing cilantro leaves allows the enzymes in the leaves to convert the aldehyde chemicals into other substances that do not have that unique aroma you might dislike. I recommend crushing cilantro leaves into a vibrantly coloured and delicious Cilantro Chutney.

cilantro chutney with limes 2

Richly coloured, Cilantro Chutney is a tasty way to brighten up party snacks or a pre-dinner nibble. It makes a flavourful dip for veggies, tortilla chips or toasted naan bread. I also enjoy it as a cooling condiment for spicy dishes, roasted vegetables, baked fries and as a dressing for salads. Try it instead of pesto tossed with pasta or roasted potatoes. For a savoury snack, I will often stir cilantro chutney into plain yogurt.

cilantro chutney with chips 2

Cilantro Chutney
This recipe comes from a fellow dietitian, Gerry Kasten, who loves food and cooking and is an inspiration to our profession.

Makes 1-1/2 cups

3 cups lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, about 1 bunch
6 green onions, coarsely chopped
1 inch of fresh gingerroot, peeled and sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and sliced into quarters
2 tsp granulated sugar
1-1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the sugar and salt as needed. Cover and refrigerate or enjoy right away. Chutney will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days but is best enjoyed within a day or two.

cilantro chutney - empty bowls

From the Root Cellar: Carrot Apple Slaw

carrot apple salad

Getting ready for summer means eating up the winter fruit and vegetables you have in storage. I seem to have gone through all my frozen blueberries, blackberries and all my preserves. However, there always seems to be a carrot or two and the odd apple hanging around in my pantry – it’s not really surprising since both are widely available throughout the year. There are those days that I find myself gawking at those simple carrots and apples wondering what the heck do I do with them. The spring sunshine demands a fresh departure from the hearty, savoury dishes of months past; I need that burst of summer flavour that will inspire the rain clouds of April to disappear into the sunny days of the coming summer.

Slaws are a very traditional side dish and we usually remember them as creamy and rich and laden with cabbage. However, any combination of fruit and veggies works in a slaw form and a light vinaigrette is the perfect match for the energizing freshness of spring.

This recipe can easily add colour and flavour to dinner or fit into your lunchbox. I also enjoy it for an afternoon snack when the rain is pouring down and I’m trying to convince myself to get out for a walk. It’s natural sweetness makes it a hit with the kiddies too.

carrot and apple salad - close up

Carrot Slaw
Makes 4 servings

2 medium carrots, peeled and grated (about 2 cups)
1 apple, unpeeled and grated (about 1 cup)
squeeze of lemon juice
2 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh mint or parsley, chopped

Toss grated apple with a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent browning. In a bowl, toss grated carrot and apple together. Cover tightly with plastic wrap to prevent further browning if not serving right away.
In a small bowl, combine orange juice and red wine vinegar. Slowly whisk in oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Drizzle over carrots and apple and toss until well mixed. Add parsley or mint and toss to combine.
This sweet slaw is perfect for lunches, an afternoon snack or with dinner. If life is extra busy, simple toss grated carrot and apple with freshly squeezed orange juice and some chopped fresh mint for a super quick slaw.

The Fresh Sheet…Birch Syrup

birch syrup with spoon

The celebration of a cold Canadian winter is never complete without tire d’érable, aka maple taffy on the snow at the Cabane à Sucre festival. Sweet maple syrup is boiled down into maple taffy and a steaming strip is poured over a bed of snow and then rolled up onto a stick for sweet licking. I like to call this delicious treat the true Canadian lollipop. I have fond memories of celebrating this tradition with our French Canadian friends in Kamloops.

A couple of years ago, we learned that some folks up in Quesnel were tapping birch trees and boiling the sap down into birch syrup. Not quite as sweet as maple syrup but the birch trees still dripped a scrumptious sap that is worth the hard work to boil it down into a sugary treat. Hiking in the forest behind our cabin we discovered a peaceful grove of birch trees. It sparked our interest to try making our own birch syrup. So, we packed up a backpack full of empty containers, a drill and some taps and headed out on our adventure.

As you can imagine, we didn’t really strike syrupy gold the first time we tapped the trees. It took a few tries and some learnings before we got a tasty batch we were proud to showoff. We quickly learned that you need to extract a lot of sap to make a small jar of birch syrup. You need about 80 to 100 litres of birch sap to make just 1 litre of birch syrup (maple syrup is about a forty to one ratio). Even so, it made for a fun adventure hiking up to the birch grove each day over a long weekend to empty our buckets and revel in how much sap dripped out of the trees.

birch sap

Straight from the tree, birch sap looks just like water. I enjoyed taking a couple of gulps right from the tree spout. It was refreshing like water with a hint of sweetness. We couldn’t wait to boil it down into sweet syrup. Three days of harvesting the sap and a few more boiling it down in our backyard to a gorgeous amber colour, birch syrup has a unique caramel-like flavour. We’ve enjoyed a quick sip of birch syrup when we crave a sweet treat or a few more spoonfuls drizzled on ice cream. We do look forward to cooking a few of our favourite recipes with our homemade birch syrup.

birch syrup in jars

You can find Sweet Tree Ventures Birch Syrup at Edible Canada on Granville Island or from the Sweet Tree Ventures website.

Some Cold Weather Comfort…Homemade Mac and Cheese

I have a confession to make…I grew up on Kraft Dinner. There was plenty of vegetables and real food lovin’ at home but from time to time, I loved my KD. I loved the very orange-yness of it, which I would make extra creamy with lots of butter. Amazing how I never wondered why milk was white but cheese was orange!

So the first time I tasted homemade mac and cheese, it was pretty underwhelming. Nature can have a hard time pushing the manufactured flavour buttons that processed foods set off in your tastebuds. If you just put a bit of cheese in a white sauce and call it mac and cheese, it will taste more like mac and white sauce. Not exactly worth the calories!

In my university years, my tastes became more sophisticated and I started eating Annie’s macaroni and cheese. Somehow it never occurred to me to make my own until a few years ago. I have tried several recipes but never found one that exactly suited my tastes. Since I can’t leave well enough alone, this recipe of course has beans and extra veggies so I can think of it as a ‘real meal’. Let’s just say that this one falls into the ‘sometimes foods’ category. Enjoy it with something nice and green, after a long, rainy day at the park (or the pumpkin patch!).

Mac and Cheese and More
Adapted from Spilling the Beans by Julie Van Rosendaal and Sue Duncan

Serves 6-8

250g macaroni, I used Tinkyada Brown Rice macaroni
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup white wine or water
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
3 cups sharp white cheddar, I used L’Ancetre raw milk cheddar.
1/2 tsp salt
385ml can of white beans such as navy or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 head of cauliflower, florets crumbled with a knife and stalks cut into 1/2 cm cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions, undercooking by 1-2 minutes. Add cauliflower stems to pasta 1 minute before its done. Drain, rinse and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter and whisk in flour. Cook, whisking constantly for 1-2 minutes or until golden. Whisk in milk, white wine and mustard. Add garlic and rosemary. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, whisking the entire time, letting the sauce thicken. Turn off heat and stir in cheese until melted then add salt.

Place pasta, cauliflower and beans in a 9×13 baking dish and pour sauce over it and mix through. Bake for 15 minutes and enjoy.

October Unprocessed…DIY Nut Butter

My mom loves peanut butter. She loves it so much that as kids we gifted her with a peanut butter maker. It was a two foot tall peanut character with arms and legs. When you turned its arm, it churned out crunchy or smooth butter made from fresh peanuts. Besides the fact that it was so cool to make your own nut butter, the freshly churned peanut butter was oh so delicious. It’s a wonderful food memory that got me excited to tackle this DIY unprocessed challenge to make my own nut butter again.

I really have no idea why I haven’t tried making it again. Even for such a foodie as myself, it’s easy to forget how simple it is to make some of our most basic everyday grub. Not only is it fairly easy to prepare, making your own nut or seed butter also allows you to be creative with flavours and to try out a variety of different nuts or seeds. After all, variety is the spice of life!


For this spreadable task, we decided to bring together some of our favourite flavours. Chai tea spice pairs sweet cardamom, spicy cinnamon and cloves with a bold hint of white pepper. We swirled this well loved spice mix into almond butter. Rather than blend up good old peanut butter, we added some BC grown hazelnuts to the mix for a unique new favourite.  

DIY Nut or Seed Butter

Just a few notes to help you get started. Doing it yourself means you’re in control of everything – the ingredients, how it’s made and how it’s flavoured. After all, this is the whole point of going unprocessed anyway. You can really choose to use whatever nut or seed your taste buds desire. You also have the option of going with a raw or roasted butter. Raw butter has a milder earthy flavour, while roasted butter has a bolder rich flavour. You can also choose how much you’d like to make. I recommend starting with 2 cups of nuts or seeds to try it out and then building your butter from there. Smooth or crunchy? Naked or flavoured? The answers are up to you.

Roasting Nuts and Seeds
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Spread nuts or seeds in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Roast nuts for about 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Roast seeds for about 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. Keep a close eye on roasting nuts or seeds as they can go from golden brown to burnt really quickly. I usually like to check them every couple of minutes.
Allow roasted nuts or seeds to cool slightly.


Churning Nuts and Seeds into Butter

If you prefer a crunchy butter, save a small handful of nuts or seeds and chop or pulse in the food processor to create small pieces to add crunch to the smooth butter.
Place raw or roasted nuts and seeds into a food processor and blend until nuts or seeds become finely ground. If desired, you can add a little mild or neutral flavoured oil such as coconut, grapeseed or nut oil to help smooth out the butter. Start with 1 tablespoon for 2 cups of nuts or seeds, blend and taste before adding a little bit more. At this point, you can add any flavourings you would like such as a little sweetness, vanilla or spices. Continue to blend until nut or seed butter is smooth.

Scrumptious Flavours: Using the ingredients listed below create these nut butters following the instructions above. 

Hint of Hazelnut Peanut Butter
1-1/2 cups raw peanuts
1/2 cup raw BC grown hazelnuts

Almond Chai Butter
2 cups whole raw almonds
1 Tbsp mild flavoured oil such as coconut oil, grapeseed or nut oil
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1-1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1-1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground white pepper