Crostini: a little something for everyone

Rye Humour -- Crostini: a little something for everyone

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I catered an event this past weekend and thought I’d share the ideas and photos here. The goal was something simple that could be assembled quickly with a small team and would appeal to a wide variety of taste buds. I opted for crostini topped with an assortment of sweet and savoury toppings, and they were a hit! If you’re looking for something simple to set out ahead of a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, allow me to recommend the humble crostini.

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For the crostini themselves, I used par baked baguettes (which you can find at any grocery store). I sliced them diagonally in thin slices (about 1/4 inch or just less than 1 cm), arranged them on a baking tray, and baked at about 400°F (200°C) for 15-20 minutes, flipping halfway through. You want them to be crunchy and just turning brown. Underbake them and they’ll turn soggy; overbake them and your guests will break a tooth.

For the toppings, I chose five different flavour combinations:

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Gorgonzola with chopped dates

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Mascarpone with chilli jam

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Sundried tomato paste with prosciutto and rocket (arugula)

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Cream cheese with hot-smoked salmon and dill

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Goat cheese with honey and apples

I’ll admit that there were a few gorgonzola and date ones left over at the end of the night, but you can’t force people to understand blue cheese. All in all, they were a hit and will be making a repeat appearance at Thanksgiving this Thursday!

All photo credits in this post go to Christian Adams, for his heroic capturing of snacks in a crowded room with very little lighting!

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Building Blocks: Chocolate Cake (and a cookbook review)

Rye Humour -- Building Blocks: Chocolate Cake

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I grew up spending summers in Alaska– first in Denali National Park and later on way out in the middle of nowhere, accessible only by bush plane. This was a fantastic childhood: running around in breathtaking wilderness all day with my brother, learning social skills by schmoozing the wide variety of guests staying at the backcountry lodges my dad managed, and coming inside at the end of the day to gourmet, wholesome, creative, beautiful meals cooked by an incredibly talented kitchen team. I also spent a lot of afternoons “helping” in the kitchen (don’t tell the food hygiene inspector) and even earned my own apron.

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Years later, one of the cooks (also a dear family friend, as many of my dad’s coworkers became) published a cookbook with her daughter. The taste of my childhood, wrapped up in hardcover and presented to me as a college graduation gift: priceless.

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The cookbook is called The Abundant Table and is available for purchase here. Go ahead. I’ll wait. It’s worth it. The recipes are creative, seasonally-inspired, whole-foods-based works of love and art, with plenty to keep vegetarians and omnivores alike happy for years. This is my number one go-to cookbook, as you may have inferred from the cocoa powder smudges all over this recipe for Black Magic Cake.

Speaking of which, from the first time I baked this particular cake, I have never tried another chocolate cake recipe. I’ve never needed to. Liz’s Black Magic Cake is impossibly moist, incomparably chocolaty, and impeccably adaptable. It veganizes well, it handles gluten free adaptations with grace, and pairs smoothly with any number of icing choices. Did I mention how all you need is two bowls and a whisk? Everyone needs a solid chocolate cake recipe in their arsenal, and this is mine.

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I made cupcakes and topped them with a simple vanilla buttercream and a dusting of cocoa powder this time, but I often pair this cake with a chocolate or salted caramel buttercream… use your imagination!

Liz’s Black Magic Cake
Makes 16-24 servings or approximately 3 dozen cupcakes

2 1/2 cups (500g) sugar
2 1/4 cups (281g) flour
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup (94g) plus 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups (295ml) freshly brewed, strong coffee, cooled
1 1/4 cups (295ml) buttermilk
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp (125 ml) vegetable oil
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 10 by 15-inch Pyrex pan or two 9-inch round cake pans. Measure the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Sift the remaining dry ingredients into the bowl of sugar and whisk together. In another bowl, whisk together all of the wet ingredients until well blended. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk until evenly incorporated and blended.
  2. Pour this batter into the prepared pan and bake for approximately 40 to 45 minutes, or until the cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan and the top of the cake springs back when it is lightly pressed with your hand. A toothpick inserted into the cake should come out clean. Let cool on racks for 10 minutes before removing from the pan for further cooling.

My notes:

  • For a vegan cake, replace buttermilk with nondairy milk + a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir together and let sit 5 minutes to sour. Replace eggs with flax eggs: 1 tbsp ground flaxseed (linseed) + 2 tbsp water = 1 egg. Stir together and let sit 5 minutes until slightly gummy.
  • For a gluten-free cake, simply replace flour with your favorite gluten-free all purpose flour.
  • Baking time is for a 10 by 15-inch cake. Reduce time to about 30 minutes for 9-inch cakes, about 20 minutes for cupcakes.

Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Skillet Meal

Rye Humour -- Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Skillet Meal

You know those videos all over your Facebook feed right now that hover above one bowl or one pot and watch someone making a meal in superspeed until you’re starving and also convinced how easy it would be to make that? This is one of those, but without the video because I don’t have four hands or a hanging tripod.IMG_3436

Extreme comfort food, extremely easy, one skillet, done in about 30 minutes.

Rye Humour -- Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Skillet MealChicken, lemon, garlic, and olive oil? Yes, please!

IMG_3419And broccoli? Is it Christmas?IMG_3431

Anyway, let’s get down to business.
Rye Humour -- Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Skillet MealGet some olive oil hot, toss in some chicken and garlic, sprinkle it all with lemon juice, and sauté until it starts to get a caramelly-brown crust on the outside. (Don’t worry too much about whether it’s done inside at this point– it will continue to cook as you add the other ingredients.)

IMG_3420Add your broccoli and toss it together, just to get some of that chicken juice on your vegetables…

IMG_3421Add your rice and chicken broth, give it all a good stir, bring it to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed…

IMG_3423Like this.IMG_3425Add your milk (or milk and cream, if you’re feeling dangerous)…

IMG_3427And cover and simmer again until almost all the liquid is absorbed.

IMG_3429Add some slices of sharp cheddar, and pop the whole thing (skillets are wonderful!) in the oven or under a hot broiler for just a few minutes…

IMG_3433Until bubbling and brown.IMG_3438These are a few of my favourite things…

Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Skillet Meal
Serves 4-6

2 chicken breasts, cubed
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt & pepper
Splash lemon juice
1 crown broccoli, chopped into florets
2 cups (370g) rice (I used Basmati, but anything is fine)
3 cups (710ml) chicken stock
1/2 cup (120ml) whole milk
1/2 cup (120ml) cream (or more milk)
Sharp cheddar cheese

  1. If using an oven to brown the finished dish, preheat to 200°C (400°F).
  2. Heat a splash of olive oil in a large skillet, add chicken and garlic, season generously with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice, and sauté until the chicken begins to brown. It may not be cooked all the way through at this point, which is fine.
  3. Add broccoli and toss with the chicken to coat.
  4. Add rice and chicken stock, stir together, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until all liquid is absorbed (about 15 minutes, depending on your rice). Preheat broiler now, if using.
  5. Stir in milk (and cream, if using), cover, and simmer again until liquid is absorbed (about 5 minutes). Taste and season with salt and pepper. If rice is still crunchy, stir in 1/2 cup more chicken broth.
  6. Cover with slices of cheddar (grated works too) and place in preheated oven or broiler for just a few minutes, until cheese is bubbling and starting to brown.
  7. Handle skillet carefully! Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Salted Caramel Walnut Cake

Rye Humour -- Salted Caramel Walnut Cake

If you hate walnuts, now might be a good time to move on.Rye Humour -- Salted Caramel Walnut Cake If you’re ambivalent about walnuts, though, and just waiting to be convinced…IMG_1314

Walnut cake made an appearance on the Great British Bakeoff this year, and I was intrigued but just couldn’t quite bring myself to pair it with the traditional boiled icing (“white tar icing,” as my friend and fellow GBBO fanatic Mary calls it). The caramelised walnuts used as a garnish got me thinking about alternative icings, and this British-American fusion cake came into being. A classic walnut cake, which is a staunchly British institution, paired with a salted caramel buttercream icing– a trademark American flavour. Perfection. I’ve made it a few times now, and it is quickly earning itself a place in the regular rotation.IMG_1321

I used one of Sally’s layer cakes (Sally’s Baking Addiction is one of my go-to blogs!) as a base recipe, switching out her stir-ins of raspberries and chocolate chips and opting instead for finely chopped walnuts. For the icing, I adapted this recipe from BBC Good Food, but can I be honest? Follow my instructions, not theirs. I threw out a few botched batches of caramel before piecing together some information (10 minutes! Don’t stir!) that would have been helpful.

The cake itself was fairly straightforward, and you’ll find the recipe below. Once it is in the oven, you can get started on your caramel. If you’ve never made caramel before, don’t panic! It can be a touchy process, but if you avoid a few common mistakes you’ll be fine. Nothing compares to homemade caramel.IMG_3397

Whisk the sugar and water together in a saucepan over medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved completely. THEN PUT THE WHISK DOWN AND DON’T PICK IT UP AGAIN. (Mistake #1: whisking while caramelizing will cause your caramel to seize and turn into white, snowy-looking cement.)IMG_3398

Increase the heat to medium-high, bring the mixture to a gentle boil, and just let it simmer… (Mistake #2: impatience will kill you here. Don’t hover, but don’t walk away. Just check on the colour every few minutes.)IMG_3401

Watch the bubbles grow stickier…IMG_3402

And eventually turn a gorgeous golden-brown! Remove from the heat while it’s still on the golden side of golden brown. (Mistake #3: overcooking your caramel will leave a bitter, burnt taste in your final product.)IMG_1301

At this point, smoothly and carefully pour your cream into your caramelized sugar while whisking to combine. Whisk vigorously until it all comes together. It’s going to splatter and fuss for a minute, but carry on whisking until the magic happens and it all turns a beautiful, creamy caramel colour.IMG_1303

Whisk in the salt and vanilla, and set the mixture aside to cool completely.IMG_1307To make your icing, cream the butter and icing sugar together until light and fluffy…IMG_1308Add your caramel…IMG_1309

And mix until combined.IMG_1310

You can give it one last minute on a high speed at the end to fluff it up.IMG_1311

Assemble, ice, devour!

Salted Caramel Walnut Cake
Makes 3 8-inch or 2 10-inch layers

For the cake layers:
3 1/4 cups (405g) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, melted
1 3/4 cup (350g) caster or granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 cups (480ml) buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (400g) walnut pieces, finely chopped

For the icing:
1 1/8 cup (250g) caster or granulated sugar
2/3 cup (160ml) double or heavy cream
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup (300g) salted butter, softened
3 cups (375g) icing sugar

  1. Make the cake layers: Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F). Grease and flour your cake tins. Line bottom with a parchment circle for easier removal.
  2. Whisk dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and soda, salt) together in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl, vigorously whisk melted butter together with sugar until mostly dissolved. Add eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla, and whisk thoroughly to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix gently until just combined (using a whisk will help you to avoid overmixing). Fold in walnuts until evenly incorporated.
  3. Divide batter evenly among prepared cake tins and bake until set (a toothpick inserted in the center should come out with just a few moist crumbs) and lightly browned. This should take between 18-24 minutes, but the exact time will vary depending on the size of your cake tins. Allow cakes to cool in pans.
  4. Make the caramel: Whisk sugar and water together in a saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar has dissolved completely. Increase heat to medium-high and allow to simmer untouched (do not stir!) until mixture thickens and turns golden-brown. This will take between 10-20 minutes, depending on your pan and stovetop. Remove pan from heat and pour in cream (mixture will bubble and spit– watch your hands!), whisking as you pour. Add salt and vanilla, adjusting to taste, and set mixture aside to cool completely.
  5. Make the icing: Cream butter and icing sugar together until smooth and fluffy (4-5 minutes). Add cooled caramel and mix on low until combined, then on high for 1 more minute.
  6. Decorate and serve!

Insanely Simple Roasted Tomato & Red Pepper Soup

I woke up this morning to a to-do list a mile long, the kind of fog outside that means you can’t see your neighbour’s house, and a significant amount of anxiety about some health-related things going on in my life at the moment. The antidote? A simple, multitask-able, nutrient-packed, warming, comforting bowl of soup.Rye Humour -- Insanely Simple Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup

Hands-on time for this recipe is maybe 15 minutes. And the ingredient list consists of three things (six, if you count olive oil, salt, and pepper). Want one more reason to make it? I spent a whopping total of £2.50 on the ingredients.Rye Humour -- Insanely Simple Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup

The first step is to roast everything. You’ll stick some halved, oil-brushed, salted-and-peppered tomatoes in a hot oven…Rye Humour -- Insanely Simple Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup

And roast until bubbling and caramelised.Rye Humour -- Insanely Simple Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup

The peppers (I used sweet pointed peppers, but ordinary red bell peppers will do just fine) get the same treatment: you’ll chop them into flat-ish pieces, oil and season them, and roast until gorgeous.

Rye Humour -- Insanely Simple Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper SoupThen they’ll all get chucked into the bowl of a food processor, along with a good handful of fresh basil leaves, and pureed until smooth.

Season to taste, and that’s it.Rye Humour -- Insanely Simple Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup

Roasted Tomato and Bell Pepper Soup
Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a starter

10-12 medium tomatoes
6 sweet pointed (or red bell) peppers
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
Handful fresh basil leaves

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F).
  2. Slice tomatoes in half. Quarter peppers and de-seed. Arrange tomatoes and peppers on separate baking sheets (line with baking paper for easier clean-up). Brush or drizzle lightly with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast until tomatoes are bubbling and beginning to caramelise (20-25 minutes) and peppers are soft, with just a few black edges (about 20 minutes).
  4. Blend tomatoes, peppers, and basil in a food processor until smooth. Season to taste and serve.