August 16, 2011

Spicy Pecan Blue Bites

Now this is one FABULOUS dish!

Like spice? Like blue cheese? You'll LOVE these. I am not going to lie, I know blue cheese is an acquired taste - one which I've been sooo lucky to acquire - and I also know not everyone likes spicy food. If you don't like either, avoid this bite recipe that is bursting with those flavours. 

This recipe is from my Aunt Gayle. I have one word to describe Gayle: FABULOUS! But, I digress. She, like the rest of my family, is a fantastic cook. If only I lived in Kelowna so I could enjoy more of her awesome dinner parties - which go far, far beyond fine food. 

I would serve this with with another small bites recipe or maybe a dip as an appie before dinner. They are very easy to whip up for guests and in my experience, they disappear fast. 

40 pecan halves - they need to be full halves and if you're like me you will want extra for snacking!
1 tbsp olive oil
A soft blue cheese like Gorganzola
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp sugar
Honey to drizzle

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Toss nuts in olive oil. Mix cayenne and sugar in a bowl, adjust by adding more of either one to your taste preference. Toss nuts in spices until nicely coated. 

2. Lay coated pecans on a baking sheet and bake until toasted. The time will vary depending on your oven, and there is a fine line between toasted pecans and burnt pecans, so keep a close eye. Mine took about 10-12 minutes. Cool pecans fully.

At this point you can seal the pecans in an airtight container for up to 2 days. 

3. You'll want to leave your blue cheese on the counter for awhile so it is soft. Roll a small ball of blue cheese with your fingers and press it between 2 pecan halves. I make the ball about the size of one pecan half. 

4. Line the "pecanwiches" on a serving tray and drizzle with a very small amount of honey. 

Serve and prepare to take your praise!

August 03, 2011

Mini Black Bottom Cupcakes

I'm not an avid baker. I may have mentioned before, and I won't hesitate to mention again, cooking is an art, baking is a science. (No, Mom, you did not come up with that quote.)

Where you can mix and match and swap and scratch (no rhyme intended) any ingredients in your cooking, with baking you have to be pretty precise. That is, of course, unless you're Julia Child or the likes of her.

When I do bake, however, I typically have one, Nathan has 2 or 3 and the rest of the treats head to either Nathan's or my own office. Nathan nor I eat much dessert at all, but we just don't want that temptation sitting on our counter. But I do like to dabble in baking here and there, and I do love dishing out treats to happy coworkers.

I was asked to be chairperson of our fortnightly (haha, another Aussie term, which means bi-weekly) staff meeting and I thought what better a time than now to bring in a treat. I immediately thought of these delightful little bites that I've never made myself but my girlfriend, Lara, has mastered.

Of course, although she has more than likely provided me the recipe, I couldn't find it, and the time change here meant I couldn't ask her. So the recipe I used is from America's Test Kitchen but it has been adapted to make mini cupcakes rather than their normal sized counterparts. I think with this recipe, mini is definitely the way to go - and less guilt is associated with your indulgence!

As I am sure you can imagine, the combination of chocolate cake and cheesecake was sure to impress and they disappeared before the clock struck 12 pm!

Makes ~36 cupcakes

1 cup cream cheese (8 oz) softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 large egg white
1 tbsp sour cream

3/4 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup water, room temperature
6 tbsp sour cream at room temperature
4 tbsp (half a stick) butter, melted and cooled
1/2 tsp vanilla extract 

TIP: get your cream cheese and sour cream out before you start prep, and melt butter to sit and cool!

1. Preheat oven to 350F, and adjust oven rack to middle position. Line a mini muffin tin with muffin liners. 

2. For the filling - In a medium bowl beat cream cheese, sugar and salt in bowl on medium speed until smooth, about 45 seconds. Add egg white and sour cream and beat again until smooth, about 1 minute. Set aside. 

3. For the cake - In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add in water, sour cream, butter and vanilla and whisk until combined and smooth (don't overdo it). 

4. Fill the muffin tin with batter so each is about half full. Drop about 1/2 tbsp of filling into each cupcake. (You might play around a bit with portions, but you should have them almost full, they rise a bit but then fall in the center as per picture). 

5. Bake for 14-16 minutes, turning the pan half way through baking. The chocolate part will be firm, the filling might be soft. Remove from oven and leave in pan for 5-10 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely. These are good at room temp or chilled. 

Serve and prepare to take your praise!

August 01, 2011

Tortilla Soup

One thing I didn't expect when migrating across the world, was a big difference in food. I mean, I'd always heard that Aussies are so similar to Canadians and that the cultural shock is slim to none. This is true on most fronts. I have already gone into details about some of the different words they use, but I haven't noted a food type that is not nearly as prevalent as it is back home - Mexican.

And I LOVE Mexican food. In general, stores in Australia do not carry a large variety of Mexican style food or ingredients. The main brand you see is Old El Paso (of course) but others are hard to find. The lack of Mexican food is also felt in the restaurants. Not sure if you know, but apparently Adelaide has more restaurants per capita than any other city in Australia. I've seen 2 Mexican places, that's it!

Why would I have expected any different though? I mean, Mexico is as far from here as any place! I guess I didn't really think about it at all. And I must say, any lack in Mexican food is more than made up for in the abundance of awesome Asian restaurants. From Thai to Chinese to Indian and everything in between - you can find some amazing Asian dishes in Adelaide.

So, needless to say, I try and make Mexican food at home so we never have to miss it too badly.  This tortilla soup doesn't require anything out of the ordinary (so I can find the fixings at a regular grocery store) and it certainly brings a taste of Mexico to my kitchen which is miles and miles away.


1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped medium
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1tbsp paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1.5 L chicken broth
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes (3 cups)
2 bay leaves
2 tsp salt
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (you can grill, bake or fry, or use a whole chicken from the store)

1 avocado, chopped
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup green onions, diced
1/2 cup pickled jalapenos
Tortilla chips, crushed
Lime wedges
1.    Heat oil in large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and toss for about 3 minutes. Add paprika, cumin, coriander, chili and cayenne and stir for another 3 minutes.

2.    Add broth, tomatoes, bay leaves and salt and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Add chicken and simmer for 5 more minutes.

3.    Prepare with toppings, or let people dress their own.

Serve and prepare to take your praise!