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.

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).

October Unprocessed Challenge

On this 1st day of October, we start a fresh challenge – the October Unprocessed Challenge. It’s a challenge invented by Andrew Wilder inspiring people to go a month without eating any processed food. We think it’s a clever challenge that sends us on a journey to re-discover the rich flavour and taste of real food and to re-connect with the true value of homemade and homegrown food.

While both of us might be dietitians and foodies that believe in and eat real food, even we sometimes fall into not-so-healthy habits and need to reflect upon what it means to eat healthfully in this highly processed food world.

I mean what is food anyway?

In our current setting, I think the true meaning of food has been lost. Food is seen as a means to energy and specific nutrients like omega-3s and potassium. In trying to perfect our outer beauty, we tend to restrict food and develop an unhealthy food and eating relationship that is full of guilt. In a complex world of convenience, short-cuts, supplements and processed food, we get caught up in the little details about what food does or doesn’t provide instead of the bold picture of what food brings to our lives.

We believe that food is more than its single nutrients. It’s rich in meaning and rooted in our culture and historical human existence. Food is a human right that has ethical and moral implications. It is the hub of our social interaction, creates family traditions and connections. Food is hunger, enjoyment and evokes all of our senses. Food includes everything from growing, preparing, cooking and the act of eating. Food and cooking is about giving and the act of love and caring. Food enriches our lives in so many ways that reach far beyond the basics of nutrient nourishment. And there’s nothing like an unprocessed challenge to help us realize its potential and importance in our everyday health, life meaning and self-worth.

We’ve got a host of brilliant ideas to share with you this unprocessed month so stay tuned. If you’d like to learn how to make something specific from scratch, let us know and we’ll tackle the challenge and share our results with you. Or join us in our journey and tackle the challenge in some form, whether it be a day, a week or even the whole month. Get unprocessed!

In taking on this challenge, Andrew recommends a “Kitchen Test” definition for unprocessed (so we’re all on the same page on what processed means):

Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with whole-food ingredients.

We’re planning to follow this same guideline in our recipes and meal ideas that we’ll share. For more information about October Unprocessed, be sure to visit Andrew’s Eating Rules website.

Three Cheers for Real Food!

DIY Fresh…Summer Corn Salsa

Summer isn’t summer without a freshly made salsa filled with sun-kissed ingredients straight from your garden or a local farmer’s market. Mango and black bean salsa is one of my favourite and is always a hit at get togethers. I have a favourite way to make it and always seem to stick to this recipe. But when local produce is in season, it doesn’t always make sense to use it since it doesn’t feature many local ingredients.

A couple of weekends ago, I attended a wonderful wedding barbecue and low and behold I discovered a summer-fresh twist on my favourite mango and black bean salsa. A friend’s mom served her famous salsa with colourful corn, black bean and mango. The sweet corn added that extra summer flavour. So, off to the kitchen I went to re-create this new twist on the classic mango & black bean salsa loaded with sweet corn, red bell pepper, shallot and jalapenos straight from my patio garden.

Summer Fresh Corn Salsa
If you’re feeding a crowd, this recipe can easily be doubled. And don’t worry, it will all get eaten! I rarely go home with leftovers.

1 ear of corn or one leftover cooked corn on the cob
1 cup cooked or canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1 mango, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 small purple onion or 1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
juice from 1/2 a lime

If you don’t have any leftover cobs of corn from dinner last night, make some tonight and save a cob for this salsa. Bring a saucepot filled with water to a boil. Add corn on the cob and simmer for 12 minutes. Remove from water and let cool. To cool quickly, you can soak in cold water. Remove corn kernels from the cob by standing it up on its end and running a sharp knife down the sides.
Place kernels in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and lime juice. Toss to combine flavours. If desired, season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to enjoy.
Serve this colourful salsa with tortilla chips, crackers or as bruschetta for toasted baguette slices. This salsa is also delicious served alongside grilled chicken, pork, fish or tofu, in tacos or as a dressing for salad.

The Fresh Sheet…Apricots

When you think of summer fruit, a handful of more popular treats usually come to mind – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches…not many people tend to dwell on apricots. But I can’t get enough of them. I like them when they are just a touch tart. Sure, the perfume is nowhere near as heady; however, tart, firm apricots suit my too-impatient-to-ripen mindset. I fell in love with apricots long before I starting thinking about local food.

Now, when I go to the farmer’s markets (or my favourite local grocer), I don’t have to wait. They are succulent and perfectly ripe as I pluck them from my shopping bag on the walk home. Apricots are in season right now – don’t miss them! Of course, I still like a tart apricot every now and then. Amazingly, I have discovered a way to have the best of both worlds: ripe apricots roasted to sweet-tart perfection with a bit of lime juice. Apricots aren’t just delicious…they are also wonderfully nutritious. High in beta-carotene and vitamin C, apricots will help to support healthy skin, eyes and a strong immune system. They are even a source of sleep-inducing tryptophan. So if you are feeling drowsy on a lazy summer day, it might be the sun…or it could be the apricots. Sounds like exactly the kind of debate to have over an apricot bellini…

Summer calls for light, produce-forward foods but it doesn’t mean dinner need be light on flavour. This rather loose interpretation of the taco (well, it is in a tortilla!) is the perfect way to celebrate Food Day Canada. Full of local flavours, accented by a few friendly imports, this is the perfect light meal for patio sitting with friends.

Cumin Tofu Tacos with Apricot Lime Salsa

Serves 4

8 apricots, cut in half, stones removed (or roast up a huge batch because these are transcendent with vanilla ice cream)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, divided, plus wedges for serving
Almond oil, or another neutral high heat oil, for drizzling

1 350g package organic extra firm tofu
2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp – 1/4 hot paprika, to taste
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 ripe avocado, sliced
1 handful pea shoots

8 small white corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place apricots, cut side up, in a small baking dish and drizzle with a bit of almond oil and lime juice. Place in oven and roast for 20 minutes for still-firm apricots or 30 minutes for molten, gooey ones. You aren’t trying to get a full caramelization, just to intensify the flavours. Set aside.

Meanwhile, mix cumin, cinnamon, salt, paprika and olive oil with 1 tsp of the lime juice. Slice tofu block in half to produce 2 squares and then slice squares in half through the centre, horizontally, to produce 4 thinner squares. Rub with spice mixture and set aside.

Make Ahead: Roast the apricots and marinade the tofu the morning or night before!

When the apricots are finished, increase oven temperature to 375. Bake tofu for 15 minutes a side, until tofu is starting to crisp up slightly on edges.

Make the apricot salsa: place apricots in a bowl with onions, cilantro, a drizzle of almond oil and a tablespoon of lime juice. Mix through gently to combine or a little more vigorously to create more of a sauce consistency.

When the tofu is cooked, slice each square to make 6 strips. Assemble the tacos: place a small bunch of pea shoots on each tortilla, followed by a scoop of the apricot salsa, a slice of avocado and 3 tofu strips. Serve with a wedge of lime for squeezing.

Happy Food Day, Canada!

 

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.

Fresh Sheet…Cauliflower

When the dietitian folk talk about eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies, cauliflower seems like it might get left out in the cold. Cauliflower certainly falls into the under-appreciated category in the vegetable world. Of course, the artsy among us might note that white is actually a pretty nuanced shade and when it comes to the nutrition benefits of cauliflower, the complexity far outshines its seemingly pale complexion. There are plenty of subtle flavours just waiting to be coaxed out of this humble veggie.

Cauliflower is a member of the super-nutritious cruciferous vegetable or brassica family. Glucosinolates, compounds also found in kale and broccoli, help support your liver’s ability to detoxify harmful substances in the blood. Anti-oxidant vitamin C, manganese and quercetin further strengthen your body’s defences against city living and stressful lives.

The name cauli-flower is a variation of cole flower or kale flower; all cruciferous veggies are descendant from colewort, an ancient loose-leafed wild cabbage. Colewort buds became brussel sprouts, its flowers became broccoli and cauliflower, its leaves became kale and collard greens. The stem was transformed into kohlrabi and its root turned into the turnip

Did you know: The compact head of a cauliflower is called a curd and is composed of undeveloped flower buds; cauliflower is white because the coarse green leaves around the curd protect it from sunlight, which inhibits the development of chlorophyll. 

When shopping for cauliflower, choose ones with a clean, creamy white compact curd and thick green leaves. Store in the original plastic bag with the stem side down to reduce moisture damage. When it comes to cooking, roasting beautifully develops a toasted, nutty flavour in cauliflower and be sure to keep those stems…add them to your soup stock bag in the freezer. To preserve phytonutrients, don’t overcook.


Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Gremolata
Makes 4-6 servings as a side dish.

1 head of cauliflower
oil, salt and pepper

Preheat barbecue to medium heat.
Prepare the cauliflower by trimming away the leaves and a small amount of the stem, but do not remove the stem completely. Stand the cauliflower upright on its stem and using a large sharp knife, cut down the centre of the cauliflower. Keeping the cauliflower upright, cut a 1 inch thick slice off both sides of the cauliflower. These are cauliflower steaks. The rest of the cauliflower can be reserved for another use.

Alternatively, you can create cauliflower kabobs to be grilled with the steaks if you have more guests for dinner. To do this, cut the remaining cauliflower portions into florets and thread onto metal skewers. Brush both sides of the cauliflower steaks with a little oil. If using, brush the cauliflower kabobs as well.

Place the cauliflower steaks on the grill, cover and cook for 8 minutes. Gently flip the cauliflower and grill for another 8 minutes or until both sides are lightly browned and tender. Grill cauliflower kabobs for 8 minutes or until tender, turning halfway through. Meanwhile, prepare the gremolata.

Gremolata
zest from 1 lemon, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely minced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Combine all ingredients on the cutting board and use your knife in chopping and swishing motions to mix the ingredients and blend flavours. You can also mix the ingredients together in a small bowl. Brush or sprinkle gremolata over grilled cauliflower steaks and kabobs.