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

A Bite of Spring: Mini Lemon Curd Cheesecakes

lemon curd 2
It’s finally starting to feel like spring. The sun does more than just peek through the clouds. You enjoy and curse the birds churping way too early in the morning. You dress in layers to stay warm in the chilly shade, yet take off the coat to soak up the warmth of the sunny afternoon. It’s time to come out of hibernation. Spring has this amazing ability to get our engines revving and inspire renewed fervor to tackle life.

Being food lovers, Desiree and I were chatting the other day about how spring also has this ability to tantalize our tastebuds to shift from the comforts of hearty winter to  colourful and lighter fare. We desire the fresh flavours of sunshine and start dreaming of home grown delights from the garden. While we’re still a ways away from enjoying the rich flavours of locally grown produce, we like to indulge in seasonal fare from afar, mainly citrus fruits. At this time of year, we love to whip up a batch of lemon curd to fill in the gap until we can enjoy local berries. It’s fresh, fruity and so delicious. We like it stirred into plain yogurt, drizzled on granola or just eaten by the spoonful. It’s also scrumptious with frozen berries, spread on freshly baked scones and paired with cheese and bread. There are so many delicious ways to enjoy lemon curd.

For a treat during an evening with my girlfriends, I decided to swirl lemon curd into mini cheesecakes. It received an A+ and many requests for the recipe. I’ve made a few batches since and they seem to disappear more quickly than I can make them. Mini cheesecakes are quicker and easier to make than a full cheesecake and make bite-size treats perfect for any party, holiday celebration or tea with friends. Even lemon curd is super easy to make. I like to use another Heather’s (if it’s made by a Heather, it’s gotta be good!) lemon curd recipe from Missing Goat Farm. You can even make it in the microwave in under 5 minutes. Yes, that’s right: the microwave! Here’s the recipe from My Baking Addiction.

lemons in green bowl (juiced) 2

lemon curd cheesecake - no muffin liner

Mini Lemon Curd Cheesecakes
Makes 12 mini cheesecakes

3/4 cup almonds
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1-1/2 Tbsp melted butter

8 oz/225 g cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup lemon curd

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a regular muffin tin with muffin liners.
Place almonds in a food processor and pulse until almonds are mostly ground. If you prefer, you can substitute 1 cup of almond meal in place of grinding your own whole almonds. I like to grind the whole natural almonds for the coarser crumb and for the extra flavour from their skin. Transfer ground almonds to a bowl and stir in sugar and ground ginger. Stir in the melted butter until the ground almond mixture is moist.
Place a spoonful of the almond mixture into each of the muffin liners. Use your fingers or the back of a spoon to pack down the crust. Pop them in the oven for 5-6 minutes to bake the crust.
In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the cream cheese with the sugar until well combined and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Divide cheesecake filling among the muffin cups. Add a dollop of lemon curd and use a knife to swirl the lemon curd into the cheesecake filling.
Bake for 15-18 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Refrigerate until ready to enjoy. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving to allow cheesecakes to come to room temperature. (They taste even more delicious this way.) You can serve the cheesecakes with additional lemon curd if you like.

lemon curd cheesecake - lemons

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!

October Unprocessed…Pumpkin Pie

“The home dining table is our last remaining tribal gathering place. Sitting face-to-face, elbow-to-elbow over hot steaming plates of simple food, we nourish our bodies and feed our souls.”  
Graham Kerr, Gourmet Chef

What better way to begin the Thanksgiving weekend than to start with this meaningful quote. For me the Thanksgiving meal is a true reflection of the tribal gathering place. A meal that centres around the gathering of family and friends at a simple table with dishes that are made with love and rich in tradition, culture and family history. Food is just so much better when created and eaten with those important in your life.

This theme also fits well into the Unprocessed Challenge. Putting aside time each day to eat together at the table means significant social and health benefits for everyone in the family. I even notice a difference in my energy when I take the time to break for lunch and eat with friends rather than eating at my desk just to get a little bit extra work done. Caring about what and how we eat is something we all need to pay more attention to. Taking ownership and feeling pride in the food we make and creating time to eat together is very gratifying.

Thanksgiving is synonymous with pumpkin pie. So we’ve tackled the challenge of making pumpkin pie from scratch including making our own pumpkin puree.

Sugar Pumpkin Puree
To make pumpkin puree, look for sugar pumpkins. This variety of pumpkin is sweeter than pumpkins used for jack-o-lanterns. You can use any size sugar pumpkin. For pumpkin pie, you usually need about 1-1/2 cups to 2 cups of pumpkin puree. To make exactly this amount, you’ll need a sugar pumpkin that weighs about 3 pounds. If you do have extra pumpkin, it’s delicious in muffins, stirred into oatmeal and makes super scrumptious soups and stews.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Wash the outside of the pumpkin and remove the stem. Cut the pumpkin in half. Remove the stringy fibres and seeds. Don’t forget to save the seeds to make roasted pumpkin seeds! Cut the pumpkin halves into 3 wedges each. Place the wedges, cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet or baking pan. Add about 1 cup of hot water to the baking sheet or pan. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes or until pumpkin is tender. Pierce the pumpkin with a fork to determine tenderness. Let cool slightly.
Once pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh or remove the skins. Puree in a food processor until smooth. Place pumpkin puree in a fine mesh sieve, coffee filter or cheesecloth to remove some of the excess water. That’s it! You’ve got gorgeous richly coloured orange pumpkin puree. You can now use this in your favourite pumpkin pie recipe or try ours.

Pumpkin Pie or Tarts
This recipe will make one 9 inch pie or six 4-1/2 inch tarts.  

Pecan Crust
1/2 cup pecan pieces
1-1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
4-5 Tbsp ice water

Place pecans in a food processor and pulse until they are a coarse crumb texture. Add flour, brown sugar and salt and pulse to combine. Add butter and process for about 10 seconds or until butter is pea-sized. With the processor on, add the water one tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together in a soft ball.
Shape dough into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.
For the pie: Roll the dough out into a circle slighly larger than a pie dish. Transfer the dough into the pie dish, pressing gently with your fingers so the dough takes the form of the dish. Cut off any excess dough hanging off the edges.
For the tarts: Cut the disc into six fairly similar sized pieces. Roll each piece into a circle slightly larger than the tart shells. Transfer the dough to the tart shell and gently press the dough into the dish so it takes it’s shape. Cut off excess dough so the crust is flush with the tart shell.

Pumpkin Pie Filling

1-1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup evaporated milk
2 eggs
1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground allspice

In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, brown sugar, maple syrup, evaporated milk, eggs and spices until smooth. Pour into pie shell or tart shells.
For the pie: 
Bake in a 425°F preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F and continue baking for about 35 minutes or until pumpkin is set when lightly jiggled.
For the tarts:
Bake them on a baking sheet in a 375°F preheated oven for 30 minutes or until pumpkin is set when lightly jiggled.
Cool pie or tarts on a rack. Chill. Enjoy with whipped cream and a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg or cinnamon.

The Fresh Sheet…Plums

This September couldn’t possibly get any better: the sun is shining, morning greets with an energizing crispness and the afternoons are still blazing hot. You almost forget that the rainy season is just around the corner as you laze around the park enjoying all that delicious late summer fruit. Of course, should the weather turn less than hospitable, you now have plenty of reason to bake. On one such day, I ventured over to my friend Melissa’s house to bake clafoutis.

There is an abundance of plums in early September and for most, this turn of events goes uncelebrated. Few wax lyrical about plums in the way you might about lush summer peaches or raspberries. They are not prescribed to keep the doctor away, as the apple. And because they arrive with so much bounty in our midst, it could be easy to give them a pass but I urge you to indulge when the time comes. Plums are subtle, their charms best coaxed out with a bit of attention. Even if it is just a bit of manchego and a drizzle of honey.

My friend Melissa has a beautiful food blog and so we thought it might be fun to spend a little time in the kitchen together (and then share the spoils with you!). I am not much of a baker, so I suggested we try our hand at clafoutis. It sounds quite fancy but clafoutis is actually a simple, rustic and cozy dessert (or breakfast. Who am I kidding?). With the texture of baked custard crossed with bread pudding, it is perfect for a rainy day, warm and fragrant out of the oven.

Plum Clafoutis

Melissa and I adapted the clafoutis recipe from the lovely Gluten Free Girl, who was in turn inspired by Julia Child’s original recipe. This is baking for the improvisateur: switch up the fruit, the flours…it will all work. Our first go-round was quinoa and almond flour but the quinoa is a bit earthy in flavour. For those well-accustomed to “earthy” flavours, it is a great gluten-free option. Oat flour was lovely and will definitely be a crowd pleaser if you are looking to avoid wheat. We also experimented with 3 large pears, poached in sugar, cinnamon and cardamom. Perfect for when late summer turns to autumn.

Serves 6

3 cups plums, pitted and chopped into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp honey
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2/3 cup natural cane sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla (no artificial extracts, please!)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup oat flour

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Combine the prepared plums with the honey in a large bowl and let them marinate as you get the batter going.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Place the flours in a separate bowl. Slowly whisk the egg/milk mixture into the flours until you have a smooth batter; it will resemble a thin pancake batter.

Grease a 7-8 cup (roughly 8 x 12 inch) baking dish or 9 inch pie plate with butter. The deeper and smaller the dish, the creamier the clafoutis. Scatter the honey-coated plums over the bottom of the dish. Carefully pour the batter over the fruit. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until the top is golden and crisped.

Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Dreaming of Summer Ice Cream Sandwiches

The grey clouds seem to have completely taken over the skies of Vancouver. It’s cloudy, rainy, cold and blah grey. And it’s been like this all week. You might ask – isn’t it always rainy in Vancouver? While our winter can be rainy, our spring and summer are usually bright and sunny. But it’s cold and yucky out. I’ve been wallowing in the lack of blue skies, seawall running, warm wind in my hair bike riding and vitamin D. Mother Nature has graced us with a few gorgeous sunny days, but it seems to only be an amuse bouche and I want more.

To get into the summer spirit, I sprinted to the first summer Trout Lake Farmers Market like all eager locavores ready to indulge in the tastes and flavours of summer. My dreams of farmers’ tables piled high with strawberries, blueberries and juicy peaches were a little far fetched. It’s not truly summer yet. Of course, I wasn’t disappointed in the local goodness available, but I do daydream of the sweet fruit delights that summer brings.

While I patiently wait for the sunshine and busy bees to bring us those delicious local berries and juicy apricots, I daydream of tasty memories from my travels in tropical countries. Slurping the fresh juicy flesh of sweet mangoes and licking creamy smooth coconut ice cream come to mind. To beat the rainy blues, I decided to combine these flavours for a tasty treat that’s bound to feel like summer before the sun’s even here for good! While we don’t grow mangoes here in Canada, they are in season elsewhere, abundantly available and deliciously sweet. Perfect for a pre-summer treat.

Dreaming of Summer Ice Cream Sandwiches
Makes 12 treats.

Mango Coconut Ice Cream
3 cups mango, chopped (about 3-4 mangoes; I prefer the sweet Ataulfo mango, but frozen mango works well too)
½ cup sugar
400mL can coconut milk
2 tbsp lime juice

Prepare your ice cream maker by freezing overnight or longer so it’s frozen solid and ready to make delicious ice cream.
Puree chopped mango with the sugar in a food processor or blender until smooth. Transfer to a large measuring cup or bowl. Stir in coconut milk and lime juice. Pour the mixture into the ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for freezing. This usually takes about 25-35 minutes. If the ice cream is still quite soft, place in the freezer for a few hours to firm up. The ice cream can be made a few days ahead if desired. Simply remove the ice cream from the freezer about 15-30 minutes before assembling the sandwiches to allow the ice cream to soften so it’s easy to handle.

Molasses & Ginger Cookies
You’ll need about 24-30 cookies. Feel free to use your own favourite gingersnap cookie recipe. This is one of my favourite gingersnap cookies because it’s a mix of traditional gingersnaps and gingerbread molasses cookies. This recipe is slightly modified from Whitewater Cooks with Friends cookbook. If you don’t have a copy of this cookbook already and love delicious food, it’s a must have. You won’t be disappointed.  
1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (regular all-purpose flour is fine too)
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger powder
1 tbsp fresh gingerroot, peeled and finely grated
2 tsp candied ginger, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp finely ground black pepper
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
3 tbsp molasses
3/4 cup large flake oats 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a mixing bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, all gingers, cloves and black pepper. Add melted butter, egg and molasses. Beat well. Add oats and stir just until incorporated.
Drop by tablespoon onto prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Using the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar, flatten cookies to 1/4 inch thickness.
Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Let cool and transfer to cooling rack to cool completely. I like my cookies soft for ice cream sandwiches, so I slightly underbake them. You can easily increase the baking time to 15 minutes if you would like a crisper cookie.

Ice Cream Sandwich Assembly
Match closely sized and shaped cookies into pairs to create your ice cream sandwiches. I usually like to prepare my ice cream sandwiches a few hours before sharing them so the cookies have a little bit of time to soften. You can also prepare and enjoy immediately. Once cookies are paired up, scoop a big scoopful of slightly softened mango coconut ice cream between 2 paired cookies and press lightly together. You can use the side of a knife or back of a spoon to smooth out the sides if you like. If you are preparing them ahead of time, place assembled sandwiches on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and freeze for a couple of hours.

Bring on Summer!