Friday, March 27, 2015

Easter Coconut Nest Cookies

Easter is just around the corner, here is a fun recipe to give you a head start. I made these little nests for Easter last year. They were not only adorable but easy and delicious too! They can be made a few days in advance and stored in a single layer in an airtight container. If you must stack them, place a piece of parchment or wax paper between layers.
Till next week... Happy Easter and Bon Appetit!

EASTER COCONUT NESTS   ~Yield: about 20 cookies (if using a #30 scoop)
These cute little nests can be made 2-3 days in advance. Store in an airtight container on the counter.
*CHEF'S NOTE: You can substitute 1 cup of chocolate hazelnut spread instead of making the chocolate ganache.
Easter Coconut Nests with Chocolate Ganache

2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 large egg white
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
3-1/2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut

*Chocolate Ganache:
1/4 cup whipping cream
3-1/2 oz. good quality chocolate, chopped finely
1-1/2 tsp. liqueur or flavored syrup

60 chocolate mini egg candies 

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, stir together the sweetened condensed milk, egg white, vanilla extract, and salt. Stir until combined. Add in the coconut and mix well.
With a scant #30 scoop (
about two tablespoons) portion up the dough and place onto the prepared baking sheet. Form the cookies into the shape of a bird nest. Press down the center with your thumb.
Bake cookies for 17 to 20 minutes, or until slightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and press your thumb down in the center of the nests again. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for about five minutes or until they are firm and set. Remove with a spatula onto a cooling rack. Cool completely.
*To make
the Ganache; in a small saucepan, heat the cream but do not boil, remove from heat. Add the finely chopped chocolate and stir until fully melted. Pour into a small bowl and stir in the liqueur, set aside to partially cool. Place about a tablespoon of partially cooled ganache (or chocolate hazelnut spread) in the center of each nest. Place three egg candies in the center of the nest. 
     Happy Easter! 

Photo by Sally Rae 

Friday, March 20, 2015

What is Stevia?

'Stevia' is a small, leafy plant that was first discovered over 200 years ago by the native people in South America. It is part of the sunflower family and its leaves are naturally sweet. They contain different sweet tasting components scientifically called, 'steviol glycosides'

Purified stevia leaf extract (or stevia) is a plant based, zero calorie, high intensity sweetener that is 200-350 times sweeter than sugar. You will find it in many foods and beverages including; soft drinks, yogurt, salad dressings, sauces and more. To see if a product is made with stevia, check the ingredient label for; stevia, stevia extract, stevia leaf extract, rebaudioside A, Reb A, stevioside or steviol glycosides, depending on the country and manufacturer.

Regulatory  health agencies around the world have approved high purity stevia leaf extract for safe use. This includes special populations such as pregnant and nursing women, children, people with allergies and diabetes. It is safe for people with diabetes because it does not contain any calories or carbohydrates and therefore does not affect blood glucose or insulin levels. This also means it does not feed candida. For people trying to manage their weight, stevia provides a way to cut calories without having to sacrifice taste... and it is tooth friendly!

When it comes to cooking or baking, you can use stevia in almost anything that uses sugar, honey, maple syrup or other sweeteners. Since stevia is so much sweeter than sugar, it is not a one-to-one substitution when using tabletop stevia in recipes. A manufacturers conversion chart is a good place to start but be prepared for some trial and error to find your desired level of sweetness. It is also important to remember that stevia will provide sweetness but lacks in sugar's quality to brown foods or add a tender texture to baked goods. Some recipes may require a mix of sugar and stevia to ultimately produce the qualities you desire in the recipe. I recently found the following tip on a blog but have not yet tried it myself, "...if you have added too much stevia to a recipe, or if the taste is too strong, don't throw out your hard work, instead, freeze it for a day or two (letting it sit in the fridge works well too). Don't know the science behind it but for some reason this dissipates the unpleasantness resulting from too much stevia."        

A few different brands of Stevia; available in packets, powder and liquid
Most people find stevia has a distinctive taste. Some find it unpleasant while others are oblivious! Taste buds on the human tongue contain receptors to identify sweet and bitter chemical compounds. Chemical compounds found in the stevia plant interact with both the sweet and bitter receptors, leading to its bitter aftertaste. Just be aware it can be an acquired taste, the more you try it the less you will taste it. This said, not all stevia extracts are created equal. Over the years, I have tried five different brands, while some are palatable, others just do not make the cut! Do a little experimenting, try liquid and powder, (I prefer liquid) and see what is best for your palate.

For the gardeners out there, try planting a few stevia plants. It grows like any other herb or flowering plant and requires lots of sunshine and water for the best yield.   
For recipes and more information, visit the Global Stevia Institute website at

Till next week... Bon Appetit!

Photo by Sally Rae

Friday, March 13, 2015

St. Patrick's Day ~ Emerald Pasta Salad

According to Wikipedia, 'The color green and its association with Saint Patrick's Day grew throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and has been associated with Ireland since at least the 1640's.' On March 17th it is customary to wear shamrocks and/or green clothing and accessories.
The 'wearing of the green' has spilled into the culinary world... from breakfast to dinner, drinks to dessert, all is green on St. Patrick's Day! Carry on the tradition with this 'Emerald Pasta Salad', the avocado dressing offers bright green color along with big flavor! 
Celebrate the luck of the Irish!

Emerald Pasta Salad                Yield: 4-6 servings
Serve this pretty pasta dish as an appetizer or side salad. 
*Chef's Tips: mince all the garlic at one time then divide for each dressing. Chicken stock or coconut water will keep the avocado color bright, yogurt will soften and dilute the color.

8 oz. (250g) small pasta shells, radiatori or fusilli  
   3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

   2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
   1 tsp. Dijon mustard
   1 tsp. honey
   1/2-1 clove garlic, minced
   Generous pinch sea salt
   2-3 cranks fresh ground pepper 
Avocado Dressing: 
   1 large, ripe avocado
   1 lime, grated zest and juice
   1 clove garlic, minced
   1 tsp. honey
   1/2 tsp. sea salt
   1/4 tsp. coarse ground black pepper
   2-4 Tbsp. plain yogurt, chicken stock or 
           coconut water       
4 green onions
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced

Measure all 'Vinaigrette' ingredients into a small jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake well and set aside. Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente (firm to the bite, just tender). Drain well, transfer to a mixing bowl and toss with vinaigrette to coat while still warm. Set aside to cool. 
Meanwhile, prepare the 'Avocado Dressing'. Halve avocado and remove the stone. Scoop flesh into food processor or blender and add lime zest, juice, garlic, honey, salt and pepper. Puree until smooth, thin to desired consistency with yogurt, stock or coconut water. Stir in green onions and parsley, add to cooled pasta, toss well and serve chilled.

Till next week.... Bon Appetit! 

Recipe and photo by Sally Rae 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Vietnamese To-Go

Restaurant 'take-out' has taken on a whole new perspective since moving to Denman Island! We don't rely on it often, but it is a treat after spending a long day off Island to come home and not have to make supper. Although no longer as simple as picking up the phone for delivery or pick-up.... the process now involves impeccable timing to; order, pick-up and get to the ferry in time for the sailing with an arrival time suitable for dinner. And of course, a second cooler with ice packs in the car ...can't put the raw and fresh groceries in the same cooler as steaming hot take-out!! Ah, life on the rock!
Prior to my recent trip 'south', I researched for the 'Best Vietnamese in Nanaimo' and was surprised to find a top rated restaurant in the vicinity of my normal shopping haunts. 
#6-Hoanh thanh sup - Wonton Soup
'Huong Lan Vietnamese Restaurant' boasts the 'Best Vietnamese Noodle Soup on Vancouver Island'. You will find them located in the Bowen Centre, 1925 Bowen Road, Nanaimo, BC. Open 7 days a week 11am-9pm and Holidays 11am-8pm. 
#3-Cha gio (2 cuon) - 2 Spring Rolls with Fish Sauce 
#37-Com ga uop xa nuong - Lemongrass Chicken/Rice

My order consisted of a #6 large-Wonton Soup, #3 -2 Deep Fried Spring Rolls, #37-Grilled Lemongrass Chicken with Rice and #80-Mango Bubble Tea with Coconut Jelly instead of pearls (for the hour drive to the ferry). The Bubble Tea was very creamy, yet chewy with the 'jelly'... a great substitute!

The 'Wonton Soup' had 2 components... I was pleasantly surprised to find a zip type baggie with fresh beansprouts, a whole fresh chili and a wedge of fresh lime, packaged separately. The 12 wontons were plump and the broth had good flavor. There was plenty for two of us. The 'Spring Rolls' were very crispy and the fish sauce dip was a flavorful addition. The rice did not fare well through the travel delay. The 'Lemongrass Chicken' had good flavor, although I would have preferred it to be pounded thinner and more caramelized, almost charred on the edges. I search for a very high standard when it comes to Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken. My next planned trip to Nanaimo, will allow scheduled time to 'eat in' and enjoy a fresh, hot meal at Huong Lan. I am already looking forward to the experience.
Till next week, Bon Appetit!

Photos by Sally Rae 
Food from Huong Lan Restaurant~Nanaimo, BC