Raw caramel squares

raw caramel squares

I don’t tend to visit the past unless something jogs my memory. When I bit into one of these raw caramel squares a vivid memory appeared:

It’s early university years. I’m hosting a small impromptu dinner gathering at the place I’m renting. For desert I serve a frozen Mars bar. It’s the only sweet thing I have around.

It’s frozen because all day it’s been sitting on the dashboard of my father’s car in frigid winter temperatures. His car is in my driveway because he’s in town for a meeting or convention and he bought the chocolate bar for the car ride. He was always loaning me his car. He was very generous about that.

I remember noticing the Mars bar earlier in the day. I run out and get it, bring it inside, cut it into thin slices with a heated butcher knife, arrange the pieces on a plate and serve.

raw caramel squares

raw carmel chocolate squares

Which brings me to this recipe.

Like that Mars bar I served for desert all those years ago, these squares are served straight out of the freezer, too.

What makes these squares special is the combined three layers, especially the caramel layer.

Unlike traditional caramel, which is delicious and made with sugar, water and cream, this one is made with dates, almond butter, maple syrup and a pinch of sea salt. Great if you want a caramel experience without the dairy.

You will need a food processor or blender to make this recipe.

Raw Caramel Squares

Base:

3/4 CUP (120G) ALMONDS

1/3 CUP (25G) DESICCATED COCONUT

6 FRESH DATES, PITTED

1/4 CUP (60G) COCONUT OIL, MELTED

Place the almonds, coconut, dates and oil in a food processor and process for 1 – 2 minutes or until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Press the mixture into the base of a 20cm x 20cm pan lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate until set.

Middle:

12 FRESH DATES, PITTED

1/3 CUP (95G) ALMOND BUTTER

2 TABLESPOONS MAPLE SYRUP

2 TEASPOONS VANILLA BEAN PASTE. I used vanilla extract and it worked fine.

PINCH SEA SALT FLAKES

Place the dates, almond butter, maple syrup, vanilla and salt in a food processor and process for 1 – 2 minutes or until smooth. Spread over the base and return to the fridge.

Top:

1/3 CUP (35G) CACAO POWDER

1/4 CUP (60ML) COCONUT OIL, MELTED

1/2 CUP (180G) RICE MALT SYRUP. Honey works as a substitute but makes it much sweeter.

Place the cacao, oil and rice malt syrup in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and stir for 2 – 3 minutes or until smooth. Pour the mixture over the date caramel and refrigerate for 2 hours or until set.

Freeze for 30 minutes before slicing into bars to serve. This recipe needs to be served chilled. You can also keep them in the freezer until ready to serve if you prefer a harder set.

raw caramel squares

This and that

Here are five things that caught my attention lately:

1.these lemons

lemons

because I’ve been to the garden where they grew.

2.these tulips

tulips

because I have friends who know how to lift spirits.

3.this green tea

dragon's pearl tea

because it unravels so beautifully.

4. this incense

incense

because it helps turns our home into an oasis of well-being.

5. this paella

paella

because Simon made it two nights in a row it was so good.

 

Noticed elsewhere:

contemplating corpses can make you happier

work with insects

a kitchen tour

grandma’s linen

most commencement speeches are garbage

I love this feed

Chocolate and pear skillet cake, gluten-free

chocolate and pear cake, gluten free

Here’s my spin on a delicious cake known as torta di pere, adapted from this excellent recipe.

My version is made with almond flour and honey instead of wheat and sugar. Plus I bake it in a cast iron skillet. A country cake with rugged ingredients and the sophisticated and unexpected combination of chocolate and pear seems perfectly suited to being baked in skillet.

You can use a spring form pan but if you have a 10-inch cast iron frying pan give it a try.

A cast iron skillet is an excellent baking vessel because cast iron enhances brownness and promotes a slightly crisp exterior. Baking this cake in a skillet results in a wonderful crust; the edges and bottom become golden and caramelized yet the inside is moist.

There’s a learning curve to baking with cast iron. Cast iron gets very hot and stays very hot so timing is everything. Once you get the hang of it you can really nail certain recipes, especially things you want soft in the middle with a nice crust.

You can pour your batter into a cool greased pan and then put it in a preheated oven. However, for best results, preheat the skillet by placing it in a cool oven and allowing it to heat as the oven heats before you grease it and add the batter.

chocolate and pear cake, gluten free

chocolate and pear cake, gluten free

chocolate and pear cake, gluten free

chocolate and pear cake, gluten free

Chocolate and pear skillet cake, gluten-free

2 cups almond flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

4 eggs, separated. Beating the egg whites and then folding into the batter results in a lighter cake.

1/3 cup honey

6 tbsp olive oil or oil of your choice. Melted coconut oil or butter works, too.

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 pears, peeled and in a small dice. I used Bartlett pears.

3/4 cup dark chocolate chunks

 

Place 10-inch cast iron skillet in cool oven and turn oven to 350 F or 325 F if using convection. Allow skillet to heat for twenty minutes while you make batter.

In a small bowl mix almond flour, baking powder and salt.

In a larger bowl cream the eggs yolks, honey, oil and vanilla. Add the almond mixture and combine well.

Beat the egg whites and fold into batter.

Carefully remove the heated skillet from the oven and grease it by adding add 1 teaspoon of oil, butter or coconut oil, brushing to coat the bottom and sides.

Pour in batter and top with diced pear and chocolate chunks.

Return to oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and light to the touch. Doneness is more important than baking time so be sure to check by light touch or the toothpick method.

Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Best served at room temperature or slightly warm.

Store any remaining slices in an airtight container in the fridge.

Chocolate and pear skillet cake, gluten-free

Coconut flour pancakes

coconut flour pancakes

If I were to compose a list of favourite recipes this would be my pick for best and most satisfying gluten-free pancake. Even if avoiding gluten is not essential for you or your family, it’s simply a great pancake recipe. It results in pancakes that are light, tender, and delicious.

Beyond taste and texture you can love them because of the many nutritional benefits of coconut flour. It’s high in fibre and protein, rich in trace minerals and low in digestible carbohydrates.

Don’t care for the taste of coconut? You might still like these pancakes since coconut flour doesn’t have a strong coconut flavour.

Be warned: you can’t treat coconut flour like wheat flour and it will not work as a direct substitute. Coconut flour, made from dried and ground coconut meat, is very very absorbent. You only need 1/2 the amount of coconut flour you would of regular flour and you double the amount of egg.

This recipe doesn’t make a large amount of batter but don’t worry. A little goes a long way. These pancakes are exceptionally filling; two pancakes, especially when served with an ample side of berries, satisfy beautifully.

Hopefully there’s coconut flour in a shop near you. This brand might be familiar.

See the original recipe here.

coconut flour pancakes

Coconut Flour Pancakes (makes 6 small pancakes)

4 large eggs

1/4 cup of milk. I use almond but you could use cow’s milk, soy or any other nut milk.

3 tablespoons oil. I use melted coconut oil or melted butter or ghee.

1/4 cup coconut flour

1 tablespoon sweetener. I use maple syrup or honey but you can use sugar.

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat.

In a large bowl, use an egg beater or whisk to combine eggs, milk and oil. If using liquid sweetener add it here as well.

In another bowl, whisk the coconut flour, baking powder, salt and sugar (if using) until well blended.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring until no lumps remain.

Grease griddle or skillet with oil or butter.

Drop 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto the hot griddle.

Cook 3-4 minutes until small bubbles begin to form on top, then flip.

Cook on the other side 1-2 minutes more.

Serve warm with berries or topping of choice.

Drizzle with maple syrup.

My favourite cracker recipe

life changing crackers

A cracker recipe is, hands down, my most popular blog post. Not the recipe for Raw Chocolate Chewy Squares or Pineapple Upside Down Cake but a wholesome flaxseed cracker recipe.

I wonder how much traffic this cracker recipe will get because I think it’s even better.

I prefer the consistency of this cracker dough and I like rolling the dough between sheets of baking paper instead of trying to spread it evenly with the back of a spoon.

These crackers taste great and have the satisfying crunch of a crisp bread. The oatmeal and maple syrup lend them a subtle sweetness. They are high in nutrients and fibre, and gluten-free.

The other day, just as I was pulling the second sheet of crackers from the oven, a delivery man appeared at my doorstep with a parcel from France; a jar of marmalade made by a friend with hand-picked oranges from in her garden. Magical timing.

life changing crackers

life changing crackers

This is a basic recipe but you can make your crackers even more flavourful by adding extra ingredients. It makes about two regular size cookie sheets of crackers. Find the original recipe and ideas for seasoning here.

Life Changing Crackers

1 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup flax seeds

1/3 cup pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1 1/2 cup rolled oats

2 tbsp chia seeds

4 tbsp psyllium husks, 3 tbsp if you use powder

1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1 tbsp maple syrup

3 tbsp melted coconut oil

1 1/2 cups water

In a large bowl combine dry ingredients.

Whisk oil, maple syrup and water together. Add to dry ingredients and mix well. If the mixture is too dry add more water, a little at a time. The dough should be thick but manageable.

Gather into one ball or two. Dividing dough into two balls gives you nicer sizes to manage, plus you can flavour each differently if you like.

Place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, firmly roll into a thin sheet. The thinner you can roll the dough without it ripping the better. Then you get a nice crisp cracker that’s a pleasure to bite into.

Remove the top layer of parchment and set aside for later use.

Score the dough into the shapes and size you want. Let sit on the counter for two hours, all day or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grab the edge of the baking paper and slide onto a cookie sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove cookie sheet from oven. Place the extra piece of parchment (from earlier) on top and flip over. Slide back on cookie sheet and bake another 10 minutes until dry, crisp and golden.

Let cool completely before storing in a lidded container for up to three weeks.

life changing crackers

Oven roasted pecans with maple syrup

oven raosted pecans

I bought raw grocery store pecans recently. Guests were arriving and I wanted something to nibble with our wine.

Once home, I discovered the pecans were ho hum both in texture and in taste; they were a chore to chew and rather bland.

Turning on the oven and roasting them transformed tasteless raw pecans into something remarkable, sophisticated and complex.

oven raosted pecans

oven raosted pecans

Roasting nuts in the oven is a treat for all the senses. It deepens the flavour of nuts. The texture gets delightfully crisper and they turn a beautiful darker shade. You might even hear them crackle as the bake. Your home will smell wonderfully fragrant, too.

If you serve to guests before completely cool, they become a tactile pleasure. “Hmmm, these nuts are still warm,” murmured one guest.

oven roasted nuts

oven raosted pecans

oven roasted nuts

Roast nuts plain or flavour them how you prefer. I gave mine a good splash of maple syrup along with sea salt and lots of pepper.

The thing to keep in mind when roasting nuts is they can go from not done to ready in a nano second. Check them, on and off, and move them around to ensure even roasting, especially if your oven has hot spots. Also, the nuts at the edges of the baking pan can brown sooner than the nuts in the middle.

These are great as a companion to drinks before dinner or as a snack. A small jar would be a great gift to bring the host of a party. They’re also great in a salad.

 

Oven Roasted Pecans with Maple Syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F or 325 degrees F if your oven runs hot.

Place pecans in a bowl. Drizzle with maple syrup, add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss well.

Spread pecans in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. I line sheet with parchment.

Place in oven.

Check after 5 minutes, stir or redistribute the nuts and continue roasting.

Check the nuts again after 3 to 5 minutes.

You know they’re done when there is a nutty smell in the air and the nuts are slightly darker.

Return to the oven if needed and check again after another 3 minutes.

Nuts rarely take longer than 15 minutes to roast, usually closer to 8 to 12 minutes.

oven roasted nuts

 

Inspiration found; an ornament exchange party

food, ornament exchange party

Next week we’re hosting an office party of 30 people in our home. I know what has to be done but I need inspiration.

One snowy evening last week I bundled up and headed a few blocks away for an ornament exchange party at Cindy’s. Inspiration found.

Every year in early December for the last ten years Cindy’s been welcoming about 20 neighbourhood moms into her home. I wrote about it here and here.

Having a camera makes you pay close attention to elements that make any gathering, not only a holiday gathering, a pleasure to attend – good lighting, good company, delicious food and drinks, a host enjoying herself. Comfort and joy.

outdoor christmas decorations, porch

Holiday cheer spills out of Cindy’s home and onto the porch.

simple decorating for the holidays

ornament exchange party

Welcomed, warm and cozy inside. Fire, lots of greenery, ornaments, candles and lights.

hosting a holiday party

holiday drink, cranberry juice and champagne

cranberry juice and champagne

hosting a holiday party, special drink

Offerings of wine, fizzy water, and a special drink – cranberry juice and champagne plus naughty drink markers.

food at ornament exchange party

food, ornament exchange party

 

cheese tray, ornament exchange party

vegetable tray, ornament exchange party

Savory eats are served from the beautiful walnut topped island in the kitchen – pickled this and that, canapes, delicious cheeses, fresh figs, grapes, nuts, crackers and an inspired vegetable tray.

dining room, ornament exchange party

dining room, ornament exchange party

dessert table, ornament exchange party

Desserts are served in the dining room. Some are sneaked away in napkins for children’s lunches the next day. Cindy doesn’t mind.

ornament exchange party

ornament exchange party

We end the evening with the ornament exchange. It’s an opportunity to give and receive with added elements of randomness and surprise – the drawing of the numbers from Cindy’s hat and then deciding which wrapped ornament to choose from under the tree, not knowing what’s inside.

ornament exchange party

ornament exchange party

ornament exchange party

ornament exchange party

This and that

wreath in window

Here are five things that caught my attention lately:

1.this juice

carrot, oange and ginger juice

because it’s an elixir when I’m feeling less than vital – 3 carrots, 1 orange, 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger.

2.these candles

bees wax candles

because I love the smell of bees wax and how it burns.

3.these wee poinsettias

tiny poinsettia

because they’re precious and I’ve no space for bigger versions.

4.this food waste bag

saving eggshells for the garden

because it’s perfect for storing egg shells for the garden.

5.these shingles

turquoise peeling paint

because they inspire me to embrace imperfection.

 

Noticed elsewhere:

favourite colour palette lately
this is sure to kick start my Holiday spirit

Air drying chamomile, mint and sage

 

dried chamomile, tea

November arrived and I’m giving myself a pat on the back for getting the garden to bed before things freeze up.

Potted hostas are in the garage covered with a blanket. Pots of mint and catnip are safe in the ground until I retrieve them in the spring.

I hate to waste so I gathered the last of the chamomile, mint and sage, and I’m air drying them.

Air drying takes longer than using an oven or dehydrator, but it’s an easier method for preserving fresh herbs. Plus air drying means the oils in the leaves (wherein the flavour lies) aren’t depleted and you get more pungent herbs.

air drying herbs, chamomile

air drying herbs, chamomile

Any herbs still growing in your garden? Harvest them now and air dry them before it’s too late.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Remove only the healthiest blossoms and branches.
  • Lay chamomile flowers in a single layer on a flat surface and store in a container once thoroughly dry.

drying herbs from the garden, sage

air drying herbs, mint

bundle of sage for air drying

air drying herbs, sage

  • Cut mint and sage branches, give them a good shake and remove any discoloured or damaged leaves. Rinse in cool water and pat dry with a clean towel.
  • You can strip the leaves from the stalk and allow them to dry individually, laid flat on a clean towel.
  • Or, bundle four to six branches together, securely tie, and hang in an area free of dust, moisture and direct sunlight, with plenty of air circulation.
  • Hang undisturbed for 1 to 3 weeks. Bundles shrink as they dry so check every so often to ensure branches are secure and not slipping.

air drying herbs

air drying herbs, mint

 

dried mint leaves

  • You can also place bundles inside brown paper bags and hang to dry if dust poses a problem. Make sure to punch a few holes in the bag for good air circulation.
  • When leaves crumble between your fingers your herbs are ready to be taken down and stripped from the branch.
  • If using the bag method vigorously shake the bag and a give it a few squeezes. The bag is great as it catches all the dried leaves.
  • Store herbs in a tightly lidded container.

dried chamomile, tea

This and that

suzanne-mccarthy.com

Hello readers. If you haven’t already discovered it yourself, I added a new page to my blog titled “Inspiration.” It’s a list of links to lead you to blogs I love. Who knows! Maybe you’ll find inspiration there, too.

Here are five things that caught my attention lately:

1. these hazelnuts

Porello hazelnuts

because they taste so fresh and good and a thoughtful friend recently gifted me two packages (from Italy.) I’m already on the second bag.

2. these crab apples

crab apples

because another thoughtful friend invited me to pick them from her glorious backyard tree.

3. this crabapple jelly

crabapple jelly

because I love food gifts (see items 1 and 2) and I will never get around to making my own. What about that colour!

4. this palo santo wood

palo santo

because this old house can smell musty sometimes and nothing refreshes it better, faster.

5. these marigolds

marigolds

because removing blooms keeps plants producing more and more. Plus the orange and yellows leave me spellbound.

Noticed elsewhere:

we all live in different ways in different places, according to where we are in time.

I always want to know what she thinks.

school teachers take note! using newspaper text to write a blackout poem.

this house has me feeling all the feels.

party decoration goals

such a beautiful effect