Saturday, 19 June 2010

Geranium Infused Chocolate Covered Pistachios

In keeping with the floral theme of the menu we're planning, we decided to create a unique floral chocolate to serve with after dinner drinks. We had tried chocolate infused with geranium before, and it makes a surprisingly good combination. So we wanted to create something using geranium and chocolate.

We bought some Geranium Dainty Dollops from Montezuma's. These are great little milk chocolates with geranium oil. The chocolate is creamy and just melts on your tongue leaving the geranium aroma to fill your mouth. We thought they could be even better, though, if combined with another texture and taste. We brainstormed, and finally we came up with the perfect combination: geranium, chocolate, and pistachio nuts.

We bought salted and roasted pistachio nuts and shelled them, removing as much of the papery inside lining as possible. Then melt the dainty dollops (always double boil chocolate). Put the pistachio nuts into the chocolate, then spread out on greasproof paper and allow to cool. Then enjoy:) The smooth, creamy, sweet chocolate and the crunchy, salty pistachios are perfect together. This is a combination you haven't had before, but once you taste it you'll wonder why not.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Best Early Summer Starter Ever

My husband and I are planning a small garden dinner party to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary in a couple of weeks. People keep asking me if I can believe it's really been five years. On one hand, it seems like a milestone type of anniversary, and I think Wow. 5 years already!. Usually, though, I can't believe that it hasn't been longer. We have two beautiful little girls together, and are so close, that when I think of things that happened before then, it's hard to believe that they weren't a part of it. As we're not normally overly social people, we decided it would be fun and throw a little party to celebrate. We're really enjoying planning it together, especially coming up with the menu.

We tested out our appetizer, and I am thrilled with how it turned out. I've decided this is the perfect starter for early summer, especially here where we can get fresh local asparagus. So here it is:

Steamed Asparagus with Poached Quails' Eggs and a Hollandaise Sauce, Garnished with Fresh Dill and Herb Flowers

You should allow four spears of asparagus and two quaills' eggs per person if serving as a starter.

The Asparagus

Buy the best freshest green asparagus spears you can find (local and/or organic if possible). Snap off the bottoms (the cut end will naturally snap off). Steam for about four minutes. They should still be vibrant green. A sharp knife should slice through them easily, but they should still stand up straight if you hold them up.

The Hollandaise

Hollandaise is one of those intimidating sounding French sauces. On chef programmes, you always see them whisking away and talking about all the things that can go wrong with a Hollandaise. Actually, Hollandaise can be pretty easy to make, plus it looks and tastes great. A home-made Hollandaise really adds a wow factor to dishes like this.

To make the Hollandaise, put two egg yolks (room temperature) and 1 Tbsp of lemon juice in your blender. Yes, your blender. It makes a really smooth sauce and is way faster and easier than using a whisk. Blend them until it makes a really smooth mixture. Then, with it still blending, slowly add a 200g of butter (use the real unsalted stuff and melt it first). Blend until it reaches a nice sauce consistency. Your Hollandaise should be smooth and creamy with a pretty yellow colour. Salt and pepper to taste.

The Eggs

I like using quails' eggs because they are so small and dainty. They really add an extra elegance to the dish, and taste perfect with it. If you can't find quails' eggs, though, you can use small chickens' eggs.

They should be poached and then placed on top of the asparagus. To poach the quails' eggs, let them reach room temperature first. Half-fill a large frying pan with water and a dash of vinegar, and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, find some small cups. Crack the eggs into the cups (one each). When the water is boiling steadily, slide the eggs from the cups into the water. Putting them into a cup first and then sliding them in helps them to stay together better, and avoids problems like the eggs sticking to the bottom of the pan. The quails' eggs are so small that they cook really quickly. It will only take a minute or two for them to be ready, so watch them closely. They're ready when the white is solid and cooked, but the yolk is still runny if you cut into it. Use a slotted spoon to take them from the pan so that excess water can drain off.

The Garnish

Not only do the fresh herbs and flowers look great, they really elevate the flavour of the dish as well. Tear up a little fresh dill over the top of the dish. (Dill is really easy to grow, and will grow well in pots--we used fresh dill from the garden.) We're having a floral theme to our party menu, so we're incorporating some type of edible blossoms with each course. We sprinkled just a few fresh herb blossoms (thyme and oregano) over the top of the dish. When you bite into them, you get a strong burst of the herbiness that makes it all taste fresh and summery.

This was possibly the most delicious savoury dish we've ever cooked at home. Delicious.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Birthday Cakes

It seems like there have been a lot of birthdays lately, and so we made several birthday cakes in May. I always think that a cake makes a nice birthday gift that is home-made and yummy.

This cake was a gift for a student of mine for her 14th birthday. She likes doodling, and loves the way that I doodle, so I did some food coloring painting on her cake. The fondant work isn't as nice as I'd like, but she still loved it.

Chocolate Cake Recipe


1 cup plain flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup vanilla sugar (if you don't have it, just use normal sugar)
2 Tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup milk (room temperature)
1 egg (room temperature)
1/4 cup butter (room temperature--it should be soft, but not melted)
1 Tbsp vanilla


1. Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Grease and flour a medium sized cake tin.

2. Sift in the dry ingredients, then stir lightly. Add the remaining ingredients and mix into a smooth batter.

3. Bake until a knife comes out clean (about 25 minutes).

To decorate:

1. Either make and roll out fondant icing, or roll out pre-made fondant.

2. Heat jam of choice in a saucepan, stirring constantly, until it starts to boil. (I used home-made rosehip and apple jam.)

3. Paint the jam over the cooled cake. I used a silicone pastry brush.

4. While the jam is still hot, lift the fondant over the cake and smooth.

5. Use a small paint brush or point (the point of a wooden skewer works well for details) to paint the cake with food colouring.

My daughter Miriam celebrated her 4th birthday in May! On one hand she seems so big and grown up, and on the other hand it's hard to believe that my little girl is already four. The only thing that she asked for was a pink bike with a pink helmet, so she was very excited to get a bike for her birthday. (We're still working on learning to ride it...unfortunately her little sister gets a bit jealous and tries to climb on with her, so it's hard for Miriam to really ride it. Also, she has a weird tendency to petal backwards.) She enjoyed some other goodies, like new art supplies, as well.

Miriam's favourite food in the world is strawberries. So it wasn't really a surprise that she asked for a strawberry birthday cake shaped like a butterfly.

Strawberry Cake Recipe


1 1/3 cup flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup strawberry milk powder (like strawberry nesquick, only I used Asda's brand)

2 Tsp baking powder

2/3 cup milk (room temperature)

1 egg (room temperature)

1/4 cup butter (room temperature)

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

(if desired: add a handful of chopped dried strawberries)


Follow the same instructions as for the chocolate cake above. (Sift dry ingredients, then blend all of the ingredients. Bake in a greased and floured pan at 350F/180C.)

To decorate:

1. Roll out fondant.

2. Boil strawberry jam. (Do not overboil because it will go too thick and sticky. Bring it to boiling point and then remove from heat.)

3. Paint the cake with the jam, and then cover with fondant.

4. Smooth and cut off any extra fondant.

5. Decorate! I cooked this in a butterfly shaped cake mold, so then I just decorated with coloured icing and candles.


Miriam wanted to bring cupcakes to preschool to share with her friends. Here's a recipe for easy plain cupcakes.


1 1/3 cup flour

2/3 cup sugar

2 Tsp baking powder

2/3 cup milk

1 egg

1/4 cup butter

1 tbsp vanilla extract


1. Mix all ingredients with an electric mixer to make a smooth batter.

2. Bake in paper or silicone cupcake cases at 350F/180C for about 17 minutes.

3. Decorate. I piped on a simple chocolate butter cream (butter, icing sugar, vanilla extract, a few drops of milk, and cocoa), and then Miriam added pink sprinkles.

All of the cake recipes are variations on my standard cake recipe that can be adapted to pretty much any flavour and always turns out perfectly. To see the full recipe (adapted for lavender cakes), click here.

Happy Birthday to anyone else who's celebrating birthdays right now!