Dreams of Summer Gin Smash

A flavourful, refreshing cocktail (or mocktail)

I find there’s no better way to chase away the midwinter blues than by cranking up the heat just a little, putting on some summery tunes and whipping up a delicious cocktail that just tastes like warm sunshine. This one fits the bill; it’s refreshing and colourful, like all good warm-weather cocktails, plus it’s packed with flavour. Mint, coriander and citrus might seem like an unusual combination for a cocktail but in fact, these ingredients feature prominently in several world cuisines, including Moroccan, Mexican, Spanish, Thai and Indian. Smash cocktails are typically made with gin; they usually also include herbs, seasonal fruit, ice and water. Many smash recipes include a little sweetener; you can include or omit the sugar depending upon your preference.

Blood Orange Mint and Coriander Gin Smash

I recommend mixing this with a gin that has strong botanical elements. All gins include juniper as an ingredient; other commonly-used botanicals commonly used are coriander, angelica, orange peel, lemon peel, cardomom, cinnamon and nutmeg. I like Canadian-made Ungava gin; its botanicals hail from Northern Canada and include cloudberry, northern juniper and Labrador tea. Ungava has the typical piney notes common to most gins, but also strong notes of citrus and coriander, which are complemented and enhanced by the elements of this cocktail. Note that you can easily omit the gin to make a mocktail; just muddle the mint, coriander and sugar with half the juice before assembling the drink.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons) gin
  • 1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar (optional)
  • Handful fresh mint leaves
  • Ice
  • 2 ounces (1/4 cup) freshly-squeezed blood orange juice
  • 3 ounces (1/3 cup) soda water, to top
  • Blood orange slices, for garnish

Blood Orange Ungava Gin Smash

Method

  • Put gin, crushed coriander seeds, sugar (if using) and mint in a cocktail shaker or sturdy glass jar.
  • With a muddler (or the handle of a wooden spoon), mash (or muddle) these ingredients for a minute or two, until you can smell the mint leaves releasing their oils.
  • Strain the muddled gin into an old-fashioned glass. Add ice, juice and soda water and garnish with a half slice of orange.

Makes 1 drink.

Blood Orange Gin Smash Pinterest

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Korean-style Sweet Potato Noodle Stir-Fry

A simplified version of a delicious and healthy dish

Based on a traditional dish called japchae, this Korean-inspired stir fry is a flavourful meal that the whole family will likely enjoy. Gluten-free sweet potato noodles are reminiscent of rice vermicelli but I find they have a little more flavour. You can find them at most Asian markets, plus many large grocery stores carry them now in their ethnic foods section. The authentic Korean version takes much longer to prepare but this simplified version still captures the essence of what is a very popular, healthy, hearty dish. While beef is most commonly used, you could easily substitute chicken, shrimp or cubed firm tofu. While I adore this dish hot out of the wok, it is also pretty tasty at room temperature, which is how it’s often served in Korea.

Japchae Sweet Potato Noodle Stirfry

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces Korean sweet potato starch vermicelli *
  • 1/4 pound sirloin steak, sliced into 2-inch strips
  • 1/2 cup sliced cremini or button mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup sliced sweet onion
  • 1/2 cup each julienned carrots, English cucumbers and red pepper
  • 1 cup chopped arugula, spinach or bok choy
  • Canola or vegetable oil, for stir frying
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions (for garnish)

* Most sweet potato vermicelli comes in 400 gram (14 ounce) packages; 6 ounces is just under half a package

Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine (sake) or white wine
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce (or to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced gingerroot
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced garlic

Sweet Potato Vermicelli Stir Fry

Method

  • Prepare sauce by whisking all ingredients together in a small bowl.
  • Put sliced beef in a broad, shallow dish and drizzle 2 – 3 tablespoons of the sauce over the beef, tossing to coat. Set aside.
  • Place noodles in a large bowl and cover with boiling water, adjusting noodles as needed so they are completely covered. Let soak while you cook the beef and vegetables.
  • While noodles are soaking, heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the marinated been and stir fry, flipping meat often (I find tongs really helpful when stir frying) until cooked, about 3 – 4 minutes. Remove beef to a clean bowl and set aside.
  • Add another tablespoon of oil to the wok. Working with vegetables from firmest to softest, add the carrots first and stir fry for 2 minutes, tossing often with tongs or chopsticks. Add the onions and cook 2 minutes more. Add the peppers and mushrooms and cook for two minutes, continuing to toss the vegetables. Cover with a lid and let cook 2 minutes.
  • Return beef to pan and combine well with vegetables. Add well-drained noodles and toss to combine, then drizzle remaining sauce over top. Stir fry for 3 minutes until noodles are warm and well-coated with sauce. Add greens and stir fry 1 minute longer until greens are wilted.
  • Transfer mixture to two warmed bowls and top with sliced green onions.

Makes 2 generous servings; can easily be doubled or tripled.

Korean-style sweet potato noodle stir-fry

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Small Batch Maple Bacon Cupcakes

Bake up a favourite Canadian flavour combination

The quickest way to my husband’s heart (and my kids’ too, come to think of it) is to serve up anything with maple and bacon. I came up with this small-batch recipe as a way to make a decadent dessert that wouldn’t have a lot of leftovers to torment me. You know, the way a half-eaten cake just winks at you every time you walk into the kitchen? These cupcakes are dense, moist and absolutely packed with flavour. If bacon’s not your thing, chopped walnuts would be fantastic on top as well. If you are big bacon fan, you could add some bacon bits into the batter as well, for an over-the-top Canadian treat.

Small Batch Maple Bacon Cupcakes

Ingredients

Cupcakes

  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) softened butter
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) imitation maple flavoring
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) milk
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) plus 2 tablespoons (30 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) baking powder
  • pinch salt

Icing

  • 5 teaspoons (25 mL) maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) soft butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) maple flavouring
  • Pinch salt
  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) powdered sugar
  • 2 slices crispy cooked bacon, crumbled

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin pan with 6 medium or 5 large paper liners.
  • To make the cupcakes, put sugar, butter, vanilla and maple extracts into a medium-sized bowl. Beat for 3 minutes on medium speed with an electric mixer, until fluffy.
  • Add egg, milk and maple syrup then beat again until well blended.
  • Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to butter mixture and beat until smooth (about 1 minute).
  • Spoon batter into muffin cups. Bake for 18 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool in pan for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack and let cool completely. Once cooled, put in an airtight container if not frosting immediately.
  • To make the icing, beat 3 tablespoons maple syrup and next 4 ingredients (syrup through 1/8 teaspoon salt) at medium speed of a mixer 1 minute. Gradually beat in the icing sugar until the mixture is smooth. Store at room temperature until cupcakes have cooled.
  • Spread the icing over the cupcakes and top with crumbled bacon. Store in a covered container for up to 48 hours before serving.

Makes 5 large or 6 medium sized cupcakes.

Maple Bacon Cupcake Pinterest

 

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Fragrant Rice with Cauliflower, Turmeric, Ginger and Lemon

Spice up any meal with this colourful, delicious main or side dish

Sometimes called aromatic rice, versions of this dish are really popular in numerous Middle Eastern, Indian, North African and Asian cuisines. Not only do they look beautiful thanks to the vibrant colour that is sometimes achieved with saffron instead of turmeric, they’re also delicious and extremely nutritious. Cauliflower, turmeric, ginger and lemon all have amazing health benefits and taste fantastic together. I usually keep things on the simple side and just add some toasted almonds, chopped dried apricots and fresh herbs to the rice when it’s cooked, but you could easily switch things up with walnuts, pine nuts, dried cranberries or dried cherries.  This dish is fantastic on its own, but it’s also great alongside your favourite meat or fish dish.

Fragrant Rice with Turmeric and Ginger

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) olive or canola oil
  • 1 shallot, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) fresh turmeric root, peeled and grated (or 1/2 teaspoon/2.5 mL ground turmeric)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup (250 mL) basmati rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup (250 mL) finely chopped cauliflower florets
  • 2 cups (500 mL) water
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) slivered or sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) finely chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) finely chopped parsley

Fragrant Rice

Method

  • Put the oil in a medium-sized pot (one with a tight lid) and place over medium heat. As soon as it’s warm (about 90 seconds), reduce heat just a little and add the shallot and ginger to the pot. Sauté for 2 minutes, then add the garlic and turmeric; sauté for 2 minutes more until the mixture is very fragrant.
  • Add the salt, pepper, rice and cauliflower and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the water and increase heat so the mixture comes to a boil. Put the lid on the pot and reduce heat to low.
  • Cook for about 15 – 18 minutes, until the rice is tender and all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat stir in lemon juice, apricots, almonds, mint and parsley. Transfer to a serving dish and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4.

Fragrant Rice with Turmeric Ginger and Lemon

 

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Peach Tarts with Ricotta and Arugula

Freeform pastry makes for an easy, impressive brunch or lunch dish

Peach Tart with Ricotta Almonds and Arugula

As I kid, I ate a lot of canned peaches, especially during the bleak winter months when fresh fruit options were sparse and expensive. Today, we are fortunate to have an extensive selection of produce year-round, but some of it is shipped great distances to get to our grocery stores. Whenever possible, I try to buy local first, then I look and see what the next closest geographic option is. I’ve started applying the same principles to canned goods and was recently astonished when I took the time to read labels more closely to discover that some of the canned fruit was from halfway around the world! When developing this recipe, I opted for canned California cling peaches, partially because they have no preservatives and are often packed in their own juices. Plus, they are an easy and economical way to enjoy the awesome flavour of perfectly-ripened peaches anytime you want. Did you know that when cooked, canned peaches maintain their shape and firmness better than fresh or frozen? That was important to me for this recipe because I wanted the peaches to look pretty on the tarts, even after baking.

Canned California Cling Peaches

I opted for a buttery, freeform pastry because I find this kind of dough so much easier to work with than traditional piecrust. These tarts were a snap to put together and were so gorgeous and flavourful – I know I’ll be making them often. The combination of sweet, juicy peaches with creamy ricotta and peppery arugula is absolutely irresistible.

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 1 1/4 cups (310 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) white sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) cold butter
  • 1 egg yolk (reserve the white for brushing the crust before baking)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons (45 – 60 mL) ice water

Filling 

  • 1 can California cling peach slices, in fruit juice
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) ricotta
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) sliced almonds, toasted
  • Egg white (reserved from pastry), beaten
  • 1 cup (250 mL) baby arugula (or chopped regular arugula)
  • 1/2 fresh lemon

Method

  • Make the pastry by putting the flour, salt and sugar in the workbowl of a food processor; cut the butter into 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) sized pieces and add to the bowl. Pulse just until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs (about 15 seconds).
  • Beat together the egg yolk and 3 tablespoons (45 mL) of the ice water. With the machine running, pour the egg yolk mixture through the feed tube in a steady stream. Turn off machine as soon as you have finished adding the water. Pinch a teaspoonful of the dough with your fingers to see if it holds together. If it seems a bit dry, add one more tablespoon (15 mL) of water and process for 5 seconds more.
  • Alternatively, to prepare the dough by hand, put the flour, salt and sugar in a medium bowl. Grate the cold butter into the flour mixture and toss with two forks to combine. Add beaten egg yolk combined with 3 tablespoons (45 mL) of ice water and stir quickly with a fork. Pinch dough to test, as above, and add more water if needed, stirring briefly.
  • Turn the pastry out onto the counter and use your hands to gather it into a cylinder about 4 inches long. Cut into four even-sized discs and wrap each in plastic wrap then refrigerate for one hour. If you’re in a rush, pop the wrapped pastry into the freezer for 20 minutes or so. It’s much easier to roll out when chilled. Note that the pastry can made and refrigerated up to 2 days ahead, or frozen for up to a month.
  • Once the pastry has chilled, remove from refrigerator, unwrap, and sprinkle both sides of the pastry with a little bit of flour. Place between two large sheets of parchment paper. Working always from the centre of the discs, roll each one into a circle about seven inches (18 cm) in diameter. Lay the pastry circles out onto two parchment-lined baking sheets and refrigerate or freeze for 5 minutes.
  • To assemble the tarts, start by preheating oven to 400F.
  • Drain the canned peaches, reserving 2 tablespoons of the juice. Cut the peach slices in half lengthwise with a sharp knife.
  • Remove the chilled, rolled-out pastry from the fridge or freezer. Spread each one with 2 tablespoons of ricotta, leaving a one inch (2.5 cm) border on the outside of each pastry circle. Arrange six halved slices of peach on each pastry circle, on top of ricotta, being sure to maintain that outer border. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top of peaches. Scatter 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of toasted almonds over each tart.

Peach Tart in process

  • Carefully fold the empty pastry border towards the centre of the tart, pinching the dough gently as you work your way around the circle. Brush the border with the beaten egg white.

Peach Tart assembled

  • Put baking trays into the preheated oven and let tarts bake for 25 minutes. Remove trays from oven; scatter arugula over top then drizzle 1 1/2 teaspoons (7.5 mL) of the reserved peach juice over the arugula. Return to oven and bake 2 – 3 minutes longer, until arugula is just beginning to wilt.

Peach Tart Baked

  • Remove trays from oven. Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over the arugula on each tart and serve.

Makes four tarts.

Peach Tart with Ricotta and Arugula Pinterest

Disclaimer: I received compensation from the California Cling Peach Board for developing this recipe, however all opinions expressed are my own.

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Mini Chocolate Cakes with Salted Ganache

A rich, satisfying gluten-free treat

A few months ago, a fan of my blog pointed out what should have been glaringly obvious to me: there are not nearly enough chocolate recipes on here. (Thanks, Erin!) There’s a simple reason – while I absolutely adore chocolate, my husband detests it. As a result, whenever I am making desserts for a family meal or dinner party, I tend to gravitate towards fruit flavours. Well, it’s time to right this wrong. Bring on the chocolate, I say, and I’m going to start with these beauties. They’re a snap to make and they bake up with a nice fudgey centre that is perfectly complemented by the ganache. I love that they are gluten-free and very low in sugar too. The cake is delicious on its own, but of course you can serve it with whipped cream or ice cream too!

Mini Chocolate Cakes with Salted Ganache

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) dark chocolate chips
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) 35% whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) dark chocolate chips
  • pinch Maldon salt or Fleur de Sel

chocolate cake with salted ganache

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease two 4 inch (10 cm) springform pans or one 6 inch (15 cm) pan. Place pans on a baking sheet and set aside.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, microwave butter and ½ cup chocolate on medium power for about a minute and a half, in 30-second increments, stirring after each interval until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside.
  • In a separate, smaller bowl, beat eggs and sugar with an electric mixer on high speed for 3 minutes, until mixture is frothy and pale yellow. Beat in vanilla. Fold egg mixture into chocolate mixture one-half at a time, combining gently until evenly blended. Spoon batter into prepared pan(s).
  • Bake for 14 – 15 minutes for smaller pans or 17-19 minutes for larger. Centre should be set (i.e., not jiggly when you wiggle the baking tray) but still soft. Let cakes cool in pan(s) for 20 minutes then remove from pan and place on a serving tray. When completely cooled, cakes can be placed in an airtight container and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.
  • 5 minutes before serving, make ganache by putting whipping cream in a microwave-safe jug or measuring cup. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the 1/4 cup of chocolate chips, but do not stir. Let stand 5 minutes then stir until smooth. Spread ganache on cooled cake and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
  • To serve, cut smaller cakes in half or larger cake in 4 pieces. Garnish with fresh berries and ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

Serves 4.

Mini Chocolate Cakes with Salted Ganache

 

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Chinese Five-spice duck with scallion pancakes and salad

A fun and flavourful meal that’s sure to impress

While I initially created this menu in honour of the upcoming Chinese New Year, it’s one I now plan to serve regularly. It’s one of those meals where each component is delicious on its own, yet in combination the flavours absolutely shine and though it’s impressive enough for a dinner party, it’s simple enough for a weeknight too. The Chinese five-spice powder used to season the duck typically contains cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise, and Szechwan peppercorns; if you don’t want to make your own blend, you can get a great one by mail order from Cardamom and Cloves. The scallion pancakes are based on a traditional Chinese dish, but I’ve simplified it to make this quick version. The salad is based on something called Yusheng which is very popular in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia during Chinese New Year celebrations. While there are a number of bold flavours in this meal, there is no strong acidic component, which made wine pairing much easier. I served it with Southbrook Vineyards’ 2015 Triomphe Pinot Noir and it was absolute perfection, with the wine’s bold cherry notes a fantastic match with the duck.

Chinese 5 spice duck with scallion pancakes

Ingredients

Duck

  • 1 boneless duck breast (approximately .5 pound)
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese 5 spice blend

Sauce for Duck

  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon water

Salad

  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons plum sauce
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/2 cup shredded daikon
  • 1/2 cup shredded watermelon radish or white turnip
  • 1/2 cup shredded cabbage
  • 1 pomelo or two limes, segmented and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied ginger
  • 1/2 cup chopped peanuts

Scallion Pancakes

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup water plus 3 tablespoons
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions (green onions)
  • Canola oil, for cooking

Chinese five spice duck with scallion pancakes

Method

  • Prepare the duck by taking a sharp knife and scoring the skin side of the duck breast into a 1/4 inch cross-hatch pattern, being careful not to cut through to the meat. Sprinkle the five-spice powder onto both sides of the duck breast and rub it in with your fingers. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least one hour or up to eight hours.
  • Prepare the sauce by combining honey and soy sauce in a microwave-safe jug. Cook over high heat 1 minute; stir and cook for 1 minute more. Stir, then add water and stir until smooth. The sauce should be thick but pourable. Set aside.
  • Prepare the salad by whisking together the cinnamon, plum sauce and canola oil; set aside. Prepare the vegetables and fruit for the salad and put them in a broad, shallow bowl. Put the ginger and peanuts in small bowls and set aside.
  • Prepare the pancake batter by whisking together the egg and water in a medium bowl. Add flour and salt and whisk until smooth. Stir in scallions and set aside (cover and refrigerate if not cooking pancakes within 1 hour).
  • About 25 minutes before you are ready to serve, preheat oven to 300F. Heat a small, heavy frying pan (cast iron is ideal) over medium heat. Add the duck, skin-side down to the pan and let cook slowly so the fat renders.
  • While duck is cooking, heat a second, larger frying pan over medium heat. Add just enough oil to coat the bottom then pour in pancake batter, about 1/3 cup at a time (to make pancakes approximately 4 inches in diameter). Cook until nicely browned on the bottom (about 2 – 3 minutes), then flip and cook on the other side. Transfer cooked pancakes to a baking tray and put in preheated oven. Repeat with remaining batter.
  • Once duck fat has been rendered and skin is uniformly crispy (this should take about 15 minutes), use tongs to flip duck breast onto one of the sides; cook for 1 minute, then flip to other side for 1 minute. Lastly, flip back to skin side up and cook the bottom of the breast for 2 minutes. Use a digital thermometer to check the temperature – the ideal finished temperature is 145F. If more time is needed, flip it again so it is skin side down and watch closely, checking temperature often, to be sure you don’t overcook it. When duck is at desired temperature, remove from pan and let rest for 2 – 3 minutes before slicing thinly.
  • Finish the salad by drizzling the plum sauce and oil mixture over the top then toss to combine well. Sprinkle ginger and peanuts over top.
  • To serve, put three pancakes on each plate. Fan out slices of duck over the pancakes, then drizzle a little bit of the honey-soy sauce mixture over the duck. Add salad on the side.

Serves 2; can easily be multiplied.

Chinese 5 spice duck with scallion pancake pinterest

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