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Tis the season…autumn meets winter, the appearance of parsnips to confound French people, it’s that period of in-between-the-Thanksgiving(s) plus the Halloween call for pumpkin head carving that will create a lot of pumpkin gut spilling. What to do with it?

pumpkin pie

Pie! This is a weeks worth of breakfast right there so that alone will make it worth your while.

Pumpkin Pie, nothing revolutionary for some people but I had never made one. No idea what it actually tasted like either.  Minor details. I somehow unintentionally avoided it up to now.  Turns out it’s an acquired taste, a good one, a great breakfast food and it begs to made in savoury form (as most of these pies do). Unsweetened canned pumpkin puree is mostly used for this kind of recipe but canned was not to be found and secretly I didn’t want to go down that road. (The slippery slope of canned goods and all…) Smaller pumpkins or the natural “slices” of the large ones made good candidates for the filling. Carve it up into hunks and roast it for about an hour with a little olive oil until you can put it in the food processor.

A little spice in the filling adds a necessary bit of flavour and the nuts on top give a little toasted crunch to an otherwise rather mushy affair…

Happy Halloween!


- about 3 good chunks of a large pumpkin (the big slices) chopped and slowly roasted until you can puree it and set it aside to cool (maybe do it in advance)
- 3 eggs
- 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
- 150gr brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

- one pate brisée – make a pastry of short choice and prepare your crust in a wide pie tin
Use half wholemeal flour if you feel like it – this is not a delicate dessert so the crust can take a sturdier flour.
- 1/2 cup finely crushed hazelnuts (the other half you can sprinkle on top)
- 1 tablespoon of maple syrup

Optional (but so important!)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon of freshly grated cloves

- 1 inch of fresh ginger (grated)


You can roast the pumpkin flesh well in advance. An issue may be that the pumpkin puree becomes a little too liquid. The cornstarch will offset that so it’s not a problem. Even if it seems a little “wet” once out of the oven, time in the fridge or time to cool will sort that.

Make the crust in advance, prick the base with a fork and brush the edges with the maple syrup. Instead of baking blind, scatter a layer of the nuts over the base in order to prevent the pumpkin filling from making it soggy. You could experiment here – crushed biscuits, toasted almonds…this will help to create a barrier between the filling and the base. Adds a little something to the taste too. The rest of these crushed nuts or cookies can be your topping.

Once the pumpkin flesh is blended and cooled beat in the eggs, the vanilla extract and the sugar along with any spices you want to add for flavour.  Pour the filling into the base and sprinkle with the rest of the hazelnuts creating a topping.
Bake for about 50 minutes at 190°C.

Serve chilled or a room temp with vanilla ice cream or fresh cream.

Butter tarts. A tart made of butter? Surely not. But it is exactly that, give or take the eggs and sugar and your choice of flavouring. Beyond that detail however, and more importantly, this is by far the best way to gain the love of a Canadian. Or, at the very least, their attention for a few minutes. And with Canadian Thanksgiving approaching it seems only right to showcase some of their culinary highlights. Yes, Canadian Thanksgiving. Earlier then the US but with similar feasting. We’re still unsure of what they’re giving thanks for though…if anyone knows, feel free to share.

Seemingly only known and loved by the poutine guzzling canoeists of the great north, these little tarts are sweet, sugary and delicious. Possibilities for flavourings are endless but the simple butter tart stands alone. Raisins and walnuts seem to be the most popular but I’ve also encountered coconut, toffee, caramel and peanut. All courtesy of The Sweet Oven – a bakery in a strip mall in Barrie, Ontario of all places – where they churn out butter tarts and only butter tarts by the dozen, each day of the week corresponding to a certain flavour. If you happen to live in this location or you’re a Torontonian taking regular trips to nearby cottage country, you should stop and grab a dozen.


These little tarts do not require baking blind and thus the filling seeps into the crust making it a few bites of crumbly, buttery sugar kick..

Make the pastry in advance and chill for at least an hour before attacking. Once made these will keep for a few days and are good served chilled or at room temp.



175 grams all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
(14 grams granulated white sugar
113 grams unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into pieces
30 – 60 ml ice water

Ingredients – for the filling:

70 grams unsalted butter
215 grams light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
60 ml light cream
1/2 cup raisins or 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts (toasted and chopped) (optional)


Pre-heat the oven to 190°C and prepare 2 tart trays/muffin trays will do.

Pastry: I recently read an article on pastry making in an Australian wine magazine. Apparently one should not treat pastry as if it were bread dough. Wonderful advice. Over-kneading develops the gluten in the flour making for tough pastry. Barely touching your dough as it forms a ball is the best way to go allowing the butter to streak your pastry and ensures a moist flaky short crust pastry. Good tips..

Rub the chunks of butter into the pastry to form a loose crumb, using a little water bring it all together to form a ball of dough and turn it out onto a floured surface. Handle as little as possible before placing the ball of dough into some cling film and refrigerating for at least an hour.
When ready, divide the dough in half and roll out onto a well-floured surface in order to cut into rounds. Use a small round bowl or a cutter to make your tarts – these will be placed in the trays and then filled so ensure they’re generous enough to accommodate the batter without being too big.

Once the rounds are in the baking trays place in the fridge while you make the batter.

Make the filling
Cream the butter and the sugar. Beat in the eggs and add the vanilla extract. Stir in the cream until you have a smooth batter.

If using nuts and/or raisin fillings place a spoonful in the base of each tart. Then pour a tablespoonful of batter into each one.

Bake for about 20 – 30 minutes at 190°C until golden brown and crunchy looking on top.

PS: This one goes out to Matt The (Great) Canadian without whom I would never have eaten a butter tart or indeed discovered the hidden delights of a Barrie strip mall.

Healthy brownies are all the rage. Adapted from a cookbook dedicated to cooking with agave nectar by Ania Catalano,  Heidi’s infamous black bean brownies have taken the food blogs by storm.  Now we’ve got red bean azuki brownies. The beans replace the flour, give texture, lend their crumbly nature and render something sinful slightly less so. Can a sweet red bean and rice bowl become a brownie? I don’t see why not. These are light and crumbly and best served chilled. Definitely a winner, a chewy dense chocolaty brownie with none of the guilt…or very little…


200g bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
150g unsalted butter
200g cooked adzuki beans
3 tablespoons dessicated coconut
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4  eggs
300ml maple syrup and/or agave nectar (use about 2/3 maple syrup and 1/3 agave – agave is very sweet)

Chopped nuts would be optional


Melt the butter and chocolate over a low heat and mix in the vanilla essence, salt and then the cocoa powder. At the same time put the beans and the coconut in the food processor and pulse until crumbly. Separately, beat the eggs and the maple syrup mixture until fluffy. Fold the bean mixture into the chocolate then the chocolate mixture into the eggs and sugar. Pour the resulting batter into a well-greased 9 inch brownie tin and bake for about 30 – 40 minutes until done. Chill before serving as they get quite crumbly. Serve dusted with icing sugar.

Book of the day – Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

mangoes&curryleaves This is a beautiful book – I felt bad exposing it to the chaos of the kitchen as I worked through a couple of their recipes but despite the pretty pages and coffee-table decoration appearance,  this book has some very solid content. Rich in stories, advice, methods and a love for the sub-continent, this book will give you itchy feet that at least can be appeased by getting your teeth into some of the recipes. Discover Pakistani Pulao (a curried rice dish) and North Indian dhal – travel through Nepal before deciding whether it’s Bengali fish or Sri Lankan spices that will take your fancy.

That is, if the Goan sunsets and other fabulous images don’t have you booking a one way ticket…

Having recently picked up some atta flour I wanted to try their chapati recipe. It’s always satisfying to tackle and somehow succeed in making some kind of bread, flat or otherwise.  Atta flour is a strong durum wheat flour used for making many Indian flat breads, it’s got a rich brown colour and flavour and is very strong. You can replace it with regular whole wheat flour if needs be but I was surprised at the difference the atta flour made. The chapatis turned out to be quite easy to make if you don’t mind getting a little hot and flustered in the kitchen. Also, best not to have any feeling in your finger tips. Tossing them about the pan as they bubble and bake requires a willingness to get a little burned! They’re best served warm but they keep their crunchiness as they cool and are great for scooping up curries and sauces. The fresh peanut and coriander “chutney” (see below) is a pretty good smeared on top of a warm chapati and served with drinks as an alternative canapé.

Chapati - atta flour

250gr atta flour (or whole wheat)
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt


In a bowl, add the salt to the flour and then slowly add the water to form a dough. Knead well on a floured surface until you have a smooth tacky dough as you would for any bread. Then cover (wrap in cling film) and leave to rest for at least two hours. If you put it in the fridge take it out a half hour before you intend to use it.  Divide into small pieces – you’ll get about 15 or 16 from this amount of dough and shape into small balls before flattening and rolling them into thin “pancakes” using plenty of flour to keep the dough from sticking. Heat some ghee, butter or a little oil in a flat pan or skillet before cooking each one.  Cook for only about 30 seconds on each side – until they start to brown and bubble. Quickly keep flipping them before moving onto the next one.  This is where the numb finger tips help. They take no time at all and resist leaving them too long on the heat as they become tough.

Keep warm until serving time.

Fresh peanut and coriander “chutney”

Wandering through the recipes earmarking this and that, the peanut and coriander recipe caught my attention seeming  like an Indian pesto requiring  minimum work and ideally a food processor.  To be served with fresh fish or chicken as a simple sauce, it’s also a good alternative dip for chips or veggies.

Peanut coriander crush

After roasting fresh raw peanuts (about 2 tablespoons – no more, otherwise it will be too dry and powdery), let them cool, then blitz them in a food processor until they’re crumbly. Then add a few handfuls of fresh coriander leaves. Pulverize the lot. Remove from the food processor and blend in the juice of a lemon, diced hot chili pepper and a tablespoon of brown sugar. Serve almost as soon as made.  The flavours need to be enjoyed fresh.

Note - use more coriander and juice then peanuts for a moister dip – too many peanuts makes it dry. Also, add the juice of a lime too for more flavour.


Take this recipe and remove the cherries…and add whatever you feel like….smoked duck breast, feta, cream cheese, broccoli, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, ricotta, tofu…


What to do with a kilo of cherries?

A spicy cherry compote is one thing you could do (and I did)  but that’s for another day. As it is picnicking and cherry season, a little love for a traditional French grandmother cake is in order. Clafoutis is an old-school cake which comes from the Limousin region. It’s also very easy to put together.  I dare not play around with such things and so this recipe is straight (well, not exactly but…) from the latest edition of the ever trustworthy Cuisine et Vin magazine. The debate about whether or not to leave the pips in the cherries seemingly rages on in certain parts of France, probably where they haven’t much else to do. I left the pips in. Who has time to take them out unless it is truly called for?
Those in the know (and at the centre of the aforementioned debate) say leaving them in gives a better flavour. Who would I be to argue with this? However, you really need to watch your teeth. And that’s coming from a pip swallower…

Note: This recipe could be taken apart and its crepe-like batter used to make all kinds of sweet and/or savoury treats. Think broccoli, tomato, peach, smoked duck, ricotta, bacon, feta, roasted vegetables…

Also – did you know? When in the Auvergne region of France, the clafoutis is known as a Milliard and is often made with other kinds of fruit.



100gr sugar + 20gr for the pan

4 eggs

about 500gr dark coloured cherries (enough for a layer along the bottom of your pan)

Leave the nuts in. It’s tradition. Just warn your eaters first…

350ml (or 35 cl) milk

150 ml (or 15cl) pouring cream

75gr flour

(A little kirsch liquer is usually added too)

icing sugar for dusting afterwards


Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, grease a baking tin. Don’t worry too much about the size or depth.

Beat the eggs into the sugar and add the flour little by little. Add the milk and cream and mix well.

Layer the cherries (leaving them whole if you wish) onto the tin and sprinkle the bottom of the pan with the leftover sugar. Pour the batter over the cherries gently hopefully leaving them in position. Bake for about 30-35 minutes until just golden on top. When done sprinkle with icing sugar and serve warm. Also good when chilled.

Paris. The tenth arrondissement – foodies beware….The rue Faubourg Saint Denis holds a few off-beat treasures.  From Julhes with their cheeses, exotic mustards, gourmet deli and never ending wine tastings to the coffee bean man just up the street  (Brulerie Lanni) and his giant roasting machine passing by the Passage Brady and the Kurdish sandwiches, you could spend hours here snacking and discovering.

On a recent wander hunting cardamom pods and other random pantry staples, I picked up some lemon grass powder in the Passage Brady.  A key ingredient of Thai, Malay, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine this pale green grassy  powder has a long history and is potent, lemony, sweet and tart in your nose.

Here’s a basic flour-less chocolate cake with a playful side. Use agave instead of sugar for a more healthful cake and a different kind of sweetness.


The basil plant on the window-sill is inviting, demanding to be added to everything. I figure a solid chocolate cake can be played with, dark chocolate can always take a little flavouring. I recently had sesame chocolate and Darjeeling tea flavoured chocolate. Amazing. Especially the sesame. To be exploited in an upcoming dessert recipe – tea, dark chocolate and sesame…

Flourless chocolate cake with lemongrass and fresh basil


125 gr good quality dark chocolate
100 gr unsalted butter and some for greasing
half teaspoon salt
150 gr sugar – or 1 cup agave syrup
1 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
3 eggs50gr cocoa powder
1 generous  teaspoon of ground lemon grass powder (available in good spice stores or Asian good stores)



Pre heat the oven to 180 c. Line and grease a cake tin. (about 8 inches – not too big or you’ll have a rather flat cake!)

Melt the chocolate and the butter over hot water stirring constantly until smooth. Add the salt and set aside.

Beat the diced basil into the sugar and add this to the chocolate mixture.  Add the eggs one at a time mixing constantly.  Then  fold in the cocoa powder slowly mixing until smooth. Stir in the teaspoon of lemon grass powder at the end.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for about 20 minutes then turn out onto a rack to cool. Serve warm with a sprig of fresh basil.


Following up on Sunday’s flat bread dough.…use it also to make a healthy pizza. Once you’ve made  your dough and are ready to roll, brush the edges of the rolled out dough with maple syrup or honey or agave syrup should you have some on hand.

Blanch some fresh broccoli in a little boiling water with some fresh coriander leaves and chopped garlic for a few minutes until cooked but crisp. Let it cool.

Sprinkle the dough liberally with chopped tomatoes, feta, the cooled broccoli and some zaatar and black pepper. Bake in a hot oven for about 15-20 minutes. Done.

Itching to make some kind of pizza, comforting bread or just a floury mess in the kitchen I decided to attack the flat bread recipe in one of my favourite armchair travel cookbooks. This book is a homage to the Lebanese cooking that is integral to the heritage of Greg Malouf, one of the authors. Well over three hundred pages of mezze, meats and sweets. Recipes but much more. A simply written account of a journey back home but also an exploration of Lebanese culture and cuisine as well as those of Syria. There is a real sense of a humbling personal experience and genuine love of the food of the region whether it’s because it evokes childhood dishes served up by aunts or grandmothers at home in Australia or his palpable awe at the prospect of visiting the homeland. But more then that, the recipes are authentic, easy to follow yet challenging, a joy to cook, aromatic, comforting and elegant and a reminder of all the other ingredients out there and ways of making food there are. I judge cookbooks often more by how entertaining they are to read then how useful they are in the kitchen. These recipes are given in a cultural context, with detailed descriptions of each region, different local producers and methods so the reader can take the time to understand where a dish came from, the regional influences and nuances that led to the appearance of a certain recipe on a given page and if nothing else it will transport you to a sunny street in Damascus or a busy Beirut street cafe in a matter of pages.

IMG_0963- Manoushi bread dough – recipe taken from Saha – A chef’s journey through Lebanon and Syria by Greg and Lucy Malouf, published in 2005.

This kind of cooking is the real slow food movement, short cuts not recommended. We’re often talking ingredients not found lying around the kitchen and methods that require a bit of elbow grease. But no matter. Part of the fun is seeking out those ingredients and seeing if you can knead and slice and smell your way into producing something like Aleppo style lamb with a cherry sauce or roasted quail in flat bread with a pistachio sauce. Even just a good home made hummus or moutabel.

I enjoy making bread, kneading far more then is necessary but enjoying the therapeutic process required to make that smooth soft seamless ball of dough from the chaos and mess that is flour, water and yeast.

This bread is essentially a basic pizza dough and is a basic snack food of Lebanon and Syria served either simply with a scattering of sumac ansd  zaatar or used as the base for a hearty sandwich. Sumac is a rusty reddish coloured berry that is dried and ground to make a spicy flavouring for soups, sauces or meat. It is also an ingredient of zaatar which is another condiment made with a mixture of thyme, salt and toasted  sesame seeds, a salty topping for the traditional Lebanese galettes or Manouch’e….use it instead of salt to brighten things up.
When the dough is ready divide it up into about twelve small pieces. Or as many as you’ll need. The dough you don’t use you can freeze or refrigerate.

Here is their recipe, keep the dough in the fridge overnight if you’re not ready to use it. Cover it well in plastic when putting in the fridge so it doesn’t absorb any strange flavours or yeasts. Once ready to use, tear off pieces of dough to make mini pizzas in a matter of minutes if you so feel like it…or maybe make one big ‘pizza’….as you wish.

355 grams plain flour
1 teaspoon dried yeast
a half teaspoon salt
a quarter teaspoon of sugar
6 or 7 fluid oz. of warm water
1 tablespoon of olive oil

Mix the flour, yeast and salt. Add the olive oil. Dilute the sugar in the water. Add the water slowly and pull the mixture together until it forms a sticky dough. Don’t worry if it’s a mess and stringy and difficult. Just tip it out onto a floured board and start kneading. Push and fold adding flour or a little water depending on how sticky the dough is.
When you have a smooth tacky but not sticky ball of dough, smooth a little oil around it, cover it and put it in a warm place to rise for a couple of hours.
Then, when ready to use, have your oven pre-heated and roll out and press a small piece of dough with the idea of making a mini pizza, throw it around until it’s thin and stretchy but not too thin.
Spread it with a little olive oil, salt, sumac and zaatar or whatever you wish and bake for about 8 minutes preferably using a pizza stone.

What to do with a small bottle of sirop de poivre de Penja?

Good for glazing pineapple, chocolate cake or meat, this sugary syrup is made from filtered white Penja peppercorns. Penja peppercorns get their flavour  from the volcanic soils in which they are cultivated, in Penja,  Cameroon. These fragrant special white peppercorns are in a category of their own and are fast becoming a hot culinary property around the world.

Something told me a rich gooey chocolate cake could take some seasoning. These mini mi-cuits take minutes and could easily take on a dash of cinnamon, chili powder or other flavours

Melty, chocolatey, chewy, easy to make, mi-cuit mini cakes

I found this recipe at Epicurious – I felt a layer of the sweet and savoury sticky penja syrup would be perfect for these easy melty fudgey cakes that are perfect for any cook who “doesn’t do dessert”. Top them with goji berries to make you feel more virtuous…



4 ounces dark semisweet baking chocolate
4 tablespoons butter

1 large egg

1/3 cup sugar

Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon flour


Preheat the oven to 180°C

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a small saucepan.

Whisk the egg, sugar, and salt together until yellow and light. Fold in the melted chocolate batter. Mix in the flour until fully incorporated.

Lightly butter the cupcake tins. Pour the batter into the tins and bake for about about 12 minutes, just until the tops crack.

Remove the cakes from the oven. Using oven mitts, place aluminum foil on the top of the cupcake tins and seal on all sides. Turn over onto a flat surface and bang the bottom of the cupcake tins. Remove the cupcake tins to leave the cakes upside down on the aluminum foil. Carefully turn right side up and place on the plate.

Spoon some of the penja syrup over the top of each one and serve immediately with vanilla ice cream should you feel the urge. Here goji berries make a nice topping not to mention a great super food boost to an otherwise sinful dessert!

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