Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pasta with Swiss Chard, Ricotta and True Love

Although I haven't posted in quite some time, I was so moved by my daughter's Valentine's blog  post, a beautiful homage to her grandparents, that I simply had to share it with you. The original post appears at  .


 Her Italian Clark Gable

A few days ago I spent an evening with my Nonna. It’s rare that we find ourselves sharing some time and space together without any other family members in the mix, but on this particular night, circumstances lined up in such a way that it was just her and I. Nonna and nipote.
We put together a simple dinner – pasta with Swiss chard and ricotta – teasing each other about the “right” way to make it, a sort of a ping-ponging of questions and answers wherein I attempt (quite unsuccessfully) to enforce my points in broken dialect. We discuss the merits of handmade ricotta versus store-bought; she chops some chard and I watch over the garlic frying on the stove. Side-by-side in her kitchen, we reminisce about little details, many about my grandfather – how he liked his pasta cooked into oblivion; how he used to always help himself to seconds; how much he loved having people over for dinner, with a carafe of his homemade wine stationed on the table. His wine was practically undrinkable and we always complained that the pasta was overcooked – but we were happy.
Nonno didn’t talk much during meals, often telling us we talked too much between mouthfuls, but he still found moments to inject a zinger or two into the conversation – usually something he knew would get a rise out of my grandmother, who would respond with a small, but swift whack to the back of his head. Without fail, he would peel into laughter and Nonna would shake her head, playfully lamenting: “Oh Lord, give me patience.”
The way they interacted was, to me, completely unique. It was integral to who they were as a couple and as partners, and inseparable from my memory of them as grandma and grandpa. We often think that romance is the first thing to disappear in a marriage, especially one that is decades old. But even in their late age, I would sometimes find him bringing her coffee in bed or holding her hand. They were simple gestures, but ones that were nonetheless tangible reminders of their love for one another; they were gestures that slipped inconspicuously into their day-to-day, even in their last ones together.
Nonna&NonnoThe soul of that relationship lives on every time I talk to my grandmother about Nonno. She speaks about him with such tenderness. My mom once joked that he was her Italian Clark Gable. He no doubt drove her crazy in moments too – but when you strip it all down, what remains is the affirmation of a true partnership, one rooted in whole-hearted devotion and capable of withstanding the worst of life’s adversities.
As I sit with Nonna at the dinner table, I recognize the love she had for him. I also recognize the love I have for her and how spending this time by her side fills my heart with a warmth that is pure and unspoken and unparalleled.
Happy Valentine’s, Nonna. Ti amo. x
Pasta with Swiss Chard and Ricotta – serves 2
  • 1/2 bunch Swiss chard
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • about 1/4 tsp dried pepperoncini flakes
  • olive oil
  • 1/3 lb dry fettucine (or linguini)
  • about 1 cup fresh ricotta
Put a large pot of water on to boil.
Wash chard and dry well (a salad-spinner works best). Remove large ribs (the white part at the base of each leaf) and chop the leaves. Set aside.
Removing ribs from chard
Once the pot of water has reached the boil, add a handful of sea salt. When the water has reached a rolling boil, add the pasta. Cook uncovered until al dente, being careful to stir every so often.
Put about about 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large pan set on the stove on medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot (but not smoking), add the onion and fry until transluscent. Add the garlic and pepperoncini flakes and fry for about 1 minute, until the garlic is fragrant and lightly golden (but not browned). Then add the chopped chard and sauté for 3-4 minutes*.
(*you can add a bit of the pasta water to help steam the chard.)
Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the chard. Move the pasta around the pan (tongs work best) to coat with the chard mixture.
Pasta with chardServe in pasta bowls with a generous dollop of fresh ricotta and a drizzle of your best olive oil (and a few flecks of Maldon salt – but don’t tell Nonna).
Note: a nice alternative is to lightly broil the ricotta on the pasta before serving (see image below). Set the oven on broil at 500°F. Once you’ve mixed the pasta and chard, spoon it into a baking dish and add a layer of ricotta on top. Broil on center rack for about 2-3 minutes or until cheese is golden.
(btw: these photos do not reflect the true colours of this dish – it was late, the lighting was low, and I barely know how to use my camera.)
Pasta, chard & ricotta

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fresh Peach Cupcakes

This recipe for peach cake is adapted from my popular banana cake recipe, which is always a hit and so easy to make. It was the perfect solution for my fresh Ontario peaches, which were leftover from making my summertime preserves. Moist and flavourful, the cupcakes are perfect on their own or simply dress them up with your favourite frosting. Mine went perfect with a dollop of my homemade peach preserves. 


2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh peaches peeled and cut in chunks.
1/2 cup butter (soft)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup peach juice
2 eggs 
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the muffin tins with paper baking cups or line the bottom of a 9-inch square baking pan and grease with butter.
In a small bowl strain the peaches to remove excess moisture. Reserve 1/4 cup of the peach juice for the batter. Mash the peaches with a fork and set aside. .
In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the mashed peaches, sugar, butter, the milk and peach juice. Beat the mixture on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the eggs, vanilla and beat for 1 minute. 
Pour into 24 lined muffin tins or a greased 9 inch pan ( I also line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper). Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 20 minutes for the cupcakes and 40 minutes for the cake form.  Both are done when a toothpick or knife is inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes or cake before icing.

Frosting suggestion:

Chantilly Frosting
In a large bowl add, 2 cups of icing sugar, 1/4 cup soft butter, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and approximately 1/2 cup 35% cream. Beat with an electric mixer, adding more cream if necessary

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Best Ever Deep Dark Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Served with homemade strawberry preserve

This has to be the best chocolate zucchini cake I have ever made, just ask Rob my recipe tester. Just when I thought I could not come up with another zucchini recipe, I struck gold by totally revamping my favourite carrot cake recipe.  I simply replaced the carrots and pineapple called for in the original recipe with grated zucchini and for a deep rich flavour, added dark Dutch cocoa.  I kept the cinnamon because it marries so well with chocolate but reduced the amount of oil. The cake turned out beautifully moist and not overly sweet, perfect served with a touch of strawberry preserve made with our local berries.
So, with all those healthy ingredients and no cholesterol, who says you can't have your cake and eat it to!  

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup dark Dutch cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 eggs
1/2cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups shredded zucchini    
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Squeeze the grated zucchini with your hands to remove excess moisture. Set aside.
Sift and blend the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together the sugars, eggs, oil and vanilla. 
Stir in the zucchini and pecans. 
Transfer to two prepared 8" square cake pans 
Bake in a pre-heated 350º F oven for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mediterranean Chicken, with Artichokes, Olives and Capers

Surely I am not the only one out there who is constantly seeking new recipe ideas for chicken. Well, my daughter's blog post, Iberian ham et al.,at julia chews the fat, became the inspiration for my Mediterranean influenced chicken recipe. Swept away with her ever-eloquent prose and stunning foodie photos of her recent trip to Barcelona, Spain, I happily resolved my chicken recipe conundrum.  
My braised chicken with white wine, artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, capers and olives, might just be the ticket to transport you to the sunny coast of the Mediterranean, without leaving the comfort of your home.  Served with homemade focaccia to sop up all those rich juices and a small salad, this one pot meal is not only healthy but also rich in flavour. 

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 slices of bacon cut into 1/2" pieces
1 chicken about 2 1/2 lbs, cut into about 10 pieces
1 cup flour
1 large onion diced
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
1/4 chopped sun dried tomatoes
1 heaping tablespoon capers, chopped
24  pitted kalamata olives ( about 1/4 cup).
sprig of  fresh thyme
1/2 cup of white wine
1 1//2 cups chicken broth
1  14 ounce can artichoke hearts, drained..

Note: For easy removal of the olive pits, simply smash the olive with a knife and remove the pit.

Pour the oil in a cast iron enamel Dutch oven. Add the bacon. Cook on medium heat. Transfer to a plate, reserving the grease to brown the chicken.
Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, shake off any excess flour.

On medium high heat, place the chicken pieces fat side down in the hot oil. Working in batches, brown the chicken pieces on all sides.

Transfer the browned chicken pieces to a plate. Set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onions and garlic to the pot, scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan.Cook for about 3 minutes minutes until translucent and golden.

De-glaze with the white wine and continue cooking until the wine is reduced.
Return the bacon to the pot.
Stir in the the capers, sun dried tomatoes,olives, and sprig of thyme. Continue cooking for a minute or two.

Pour in the broth and bring to a boil.
Nestle the the chicken pieces in  the liquid , finishing off with the artichoke hearts.
Cover and cook in a 350º F oven for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the cover and continue cooking for an additional 15 minutes to reduce the juices and brown the exposed chicken  pieces.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Crispy Panko and Herb Crusted Salmon

Much like regular batter used in deep frying, my panko breadcrumb recipe with herb, tomato, leek, and sweet red pepper, seals in all the moisture; plus gives you a crispy coating that we all love but without all the added calories. 
I like to serve the baked salmon with what else...a healthy flavourful combination of sweet potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes, roasted in the oven. Simply drizzle some extra virgin olive oil, add your favourite fresh herbs and season with salt and pepper. 

Sweet potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes with garlic and fresh thyme

For other recipe suggestions, you might want to click onto my panko-crusted-cod-served-with-spanish paprika potatoes and red cabbage cole slaw


2 pound salmon fillet

1/2 leek finely chopped (white part of the leek)
1/2 red pepper diced
6 cherry tomatoes chopped
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cup panko crumbs
1/2 cup Italian parsley finely chopped
1 garlic clove finely chopped
zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash of pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


In a skillet heat 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Add the chopped onions and leeks.

Saute until translucent about 4 minutes. 
Add the chopped red peppers and tomatoes and continue cooking until soft. Set aside and allow to cool before adding to the panko breadcrumb mixture.

Using a food processor, finely chop the parsley, garlic clove, and the lemon zest.

Add the panko breadcrumbs,salt and pepper, pulse to blend.

Transfer to a bowl and toss in the the onion, leek, tomato and red pepper mixture, which has been cooled. Blend in 3 tablespoons of extra virgin oil, enough to coat the bread mixture.

Place the salmon flat side down on a cookie sheet, which has been lined with parchment paper. 
Spread the breadcrumb mixture on top of the fish to cover.

Bake in a preheated 375ºF for 25- 35 minutes depending on the thickness of the salmon fillet.

 Serves 6

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Deep Dark Chocolate Rhubarb and Strawberry Cake

Not wanting to make another crisp with the rhubarb given to us by friends, I decided to come up with an original recipe. I am happy to report that my deep dark chocolate rhubarb and strawberry cake got the seal of approval from my favourite recipe tester on the eighth floor. Therefore, if I may, I would like to share the recipe with you. This cake is definitely decadent without being too rich. The batter has no butter in it but has loads of chocolaty goodness and packed with fresh rhubarb and strawberries. Every bite has a lovely surprise, with the crunchiness from the pecans to the luscious Belgian chocolate that melts in you mouth.
By dividing the batter between my fancy muffin tin and a bundt pan, I ended up with one large cake and six mini cakes, which are fun treats to give to friends. 
Washed rhubarb stalks; the leaves are toxic and thereby inedible
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup dark cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark Belgian chocolate pieces
1 cup toasted pecan coarsely chopped
3 cups rhubarb cut into 1/2" pieces
2 cups strawberries cut into 1 1/2" pieces
3 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla 
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar


Pre-heat the oven to 350ºF

1..Start by preparing your ingredients and setting them aside in small bowls...

Cut the rhubarb into 1/2 inch pieces

Cut the chocolate into pieces as shown

Toast the pecans in a 350º F oven for about 7 minutes and chop into pieces

Wash and cut the strawberries into 1/2 inch pieces

Grease and flour the pan or pans to be used. For easy removal, (the bottom of my bundt cake stuck and broke slightly upon removal).... I suggest using a  9" to 10" spring form pan, lining the bottom with  parchment paper; then grease and flour as you would normally do.

2..Sift your dry ingredients; the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder into a large mixing bowl
3...Beat the eggs, vanilla, and sugar in a separate bowl

4...Add the chocolate pieces, pecan nuts and fruit to the dry ingredients 

5...Pour the wet ingredients, the egg and sugar mixture into the dry ingredients and with a wooden spoon mix to combine.

Do not over beat the batter but do ensure that the dry and wet ingredients are well combined. The batter will be thick and lumpy with the fruit and nuts. Do not worry it is quite a forgiving batter.

Distribute the batter into prepared baking pan or pans  

Bake for 40 minutes. If using smaller muffin tin pans you will need less time. Insert a wooden skewer in the center;the cake is done if it comes out clean.  Do not mistake the melted chocolate pieces for uncooked batter when checking for doneness.

Allow to cool on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Coconut Mango and Pineapple Custard Tart with Tropical Glaze

My coconut, mango and pineapple custard tart recipe is much lighter, yet just as decadent. You will not believe it is made with 2% milk. In addition, there is no need to fuss with pie crust. Using graham cracker crumbs, makes it so easy. 
To further enhance all those summery tropical flavours found in the custard, I made a mango and pineapple glaze sweetened with peach jam. In the recipe which follows I reduced the amount of sugar to 1/4 cup from the initial 1/2 cup I myself used (note: you might also consider leaving out the granulated sugar altogether). I personally found the combination of the sugar and jam in my glaze a bit too sweet. However, my personal 'test kitchen staff' disagreed saying it called for that extra sweetness.


Coconut Mango and Pineapple Custard:
4 eggs
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup mango puree (1 mango)
3/4 cup fresh pineapple puree or crushed pineapple (drained)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup 2 % milk

Graham Crumb Crust:
1 1/2  cups graham crumbs
1/2 cup unsalted melted butter

Tropical Glaze:
2 cups sliced fruit (mangoes and pineapple)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup peach jam
shredded coconut for the top (toasted in the oven until golden)



Graham Crumb Crust: 
Preheat the oven to 350º F. Line the bottom of a  9" spring-form pan with parchment paper and butter the sides of the pan.

In a bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and the butter. Mix with a wooden spoon and transfer to the prepared spring-form pan.

  With your hands or a meat tenderizer, press firmly making sure to cover the bottom of the spring-form  pan.

  Bake the graham cracker crust in the oven for 10 minutes at 350º F

Coconut Mango and Pineapple Custard:
In a bowl beat the eggs. Whisk in the sugar, coconut, cornstarch and the vanilla.

 Put the mango pieces in a food processor and pulse....Add the mango puree to the egg
custard batter....

 Puree the pineapple pieces

 Whisk the pineapple puree and milk into the custard batter 

Pour the coconut fruit custard into the spring-form pan

Bake for 50-60 minutes. Given the addition of the fresh fruit puree I went with a longer baking time. The interior was still moist and held together when cut to serve. Cool slightly before removing from the pan.

Tropical Glaze:
Add the sliced pineapple, sliced mango pieces and sugar to a non-stick frying pan. Cook on medium-low heat to dissolve the sugar.
Stir in the peach jam and continue cooking to liquify the jam.

Continue cooking and stirring as needed until the fruit is softened.

Pour the hot glaze on the baked tart

Spread the fruit glaze to cover the top of the tart

Sprinkle toasted shredded coconut on the glaze