Friendly Food Snobs

Chocolate and salted caramel pecan squares

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If you don’t like chocolate and caramel, just stop reading right now.

These squares are the stuff dreams are made of. Salted caramel swirled with chocolate spotted with pecans on a shortbread crust. You’ll curse me for this recipe.  Their saving grace – they freeze perfectly.

Chocolate and salted caramel pecan squares

Ingredients:
Shortbread base
1/2 cup soft butter (1 stick)
1 cup flour
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Pinch salt

Caramel filling
2 cups whole or halved pecans
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream or canned coconut milk (I always use the latter as it’s a pantry staple around here)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 or 1 teaspoon salt depending on how salted you like (I prefer 1 teaspoon)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with foil. Spray lightly or very lightly butter.

Combine all crust ingredients and using a pastry cutter or your hands, cut butter into dry ingredients until small lumps form.

Press mixture into pan and pack down firmly.

Evenly sprinkle the pecans on top as well as the chocolate chips.

In a large, microwave-safe bowl, combine 1/2 cup butter, brown sugar, cream, and heat on high for 1 minute to melt. (You can also do this in a saucepan over medium heat) Once warm, whisk until mixture is smooth. Then return bowl to microwave and heat for 1 minute on high power. Truth, I rarely use our microwave at all, but I do for this recipe.

Remove bowl from heat source and whisk until mixture is smooth. Add the vanilla and salt.

Evenly pour that caramel sauce over the chocolate chips and pecans. You’ll want to lick the bowl here and just do it. Totally worth it.

Bake in the middle of oven for 30 minutes, or until caramel is bubbling.

Here’s where the magic happens – you must let the squares cool and set for at least 3 hours. I often make these at night, and let them cool for an hour, then wrap well and store in fridge overnight. In the morning lift out of the pan using that clever foil and then slice with a sharp knife. These are decadent so I like to cut squares quite small. They freeze well for up to four months.

Diablo shrimp pasta

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This is a pasta you’ll want to steal just one more bite of. I too have been a victim of the devil’s ways. The combination of sundried tomatoes, garlic, shrimp, chili creates that savory umaminess that I really love. Easily doubled for four or leftovers for tomorrow. And takes from 15-20 minutes start to finish.

Diablo shrimp pasta

Ingredients:
16 shrimp fresh or if frozen slightly thawed and tails pinched off
Half of a jar tomato passata
1 onion diced
6 sundried tomatoes roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
Olive oil for pan and 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Smidge of oil from the jar of sundried tomatoes
¼ teaspoon chili powder (more if spicier preferred)
6 turns of fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste
Pasta cooked to package (I like tagliatelle, spaghetti, linguini)

Sautee the onion in olive oil and a shake of salt until fragrant. Add the garlic, and then shrimp and tomatoes. Time for the pepper and chili powder. The chili is a matter of taste. A quarter of a teaspoon will impart little to any heat, so increase as you like. Stir in the tomato passata just as the shrimp start to turn opaque. They’ll finish cooking in the sauce and stay tender. Simmer for 3 minutes and then add the balsamic and tomato jar oil. Toss the cooked pasta in the sauce. Turn onto plates and skip parmesean in favour of chopped Italian parsley if you like to garnish. Serves two. Enjoy!

Savory cheese and chive scones

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Chive and cheddar…best friends forever.

This recipe was born out of wanting to make a birthday surprise for Matt. Matt moved to Toronto from rainy London to marry sunny Kate years ago. When it’s his birthday I try to bake something I tell myself is British. These are lovely on their own, or with scrambled eggs for breakfast, or beside a bowl of soup for lunch.

Savory cheese and chive scones

Ingredients:
2 heaping tablespoons chopped chives
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
5 turns of fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ cup almond milk (or any milk you like)
2 eggs
½ teaspoon dry mustard powder
One stick of butter or 8 tablespoons
1 and ½ cups grated aged white cheddar cheese (cheddar mixed with a ½ cup of asiago or parmesan is also delicious)
Smidge of fleur de sal for sprinkling on top or any good coarse salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and throw the stick of butter in the freezer. Hot meets cold here. And get a muffin pan ready. Mix the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, mustard and pepper.

Wisk the eggs and milk with the chives. Grate the butter over top of the flour bowl. Once you get near the end of the stick use it to grease the muffin pan. Stir the milk into the dry mixture and then add the grated cheese. Taking care to touch it as little as possible. Minimal mixing means the butter stays cold. And that means the scones get fluffy.

Once everything is combined, using a tablespoon in each hand, spoon out a large dollop of batter into each muffin cup. Add a little sprinkle of good salt on top if you like.

Get the scones into the middle rack of the oven quick. After 12-13 minutes the tops will be puffed up and golden brown and you won’t be able to resist the smell. Makes 12.

Green smoothie for green smoothie newbies

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Don’t knock it till you try it. I rolled my eyes at the green smoothie fanatics for a long time. That is, until I decided to try it for myself. Then BAM. I converted too. They made me feel good, satiated and energized all morning long. This smoothie is a great re-set if you’re feeling sluggish on Monday morning or maybe overindulged the day before. I use only organic fruits and veggies. Grab your blender, throw this all in and I promise you will be riding high all morning long.

Green smoothie for green smoothie newbies

Ingredients:
2 handfuls of washed and chopped kale or spinach
1 avocado
1 heaping tablespoon shredded coconut
1 scoop of brown rice protein powder
1 cup of almond milk
½ cup water
1 banana
Juice of 1 lime

Combine all ingredients in blender and off you go. Feel free to add more or less water and milk depending on the consistency you prefer. Serves two hungry morning bellies.

Sweet + Salty Roasted Cocktail Nuts

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The recipe was inspired by perfect cocktail nuts I ate watching the sun go down on a surfing trip to San Jose del Cabo. [Sidebar: Cabo is a gorgeous and special place to visit if you can. I used to live in BC before calling Toronto home, and all the sailing and surfing and delicious food reminds me of that peaceful west coast way of life].

The best place to eat is a little farm to table oasis in the dessert called Flora Farms. Neil and I told each other stories, sipped California wine and hibiscus martinis while waiting for our table and inhaled munched on these cocktail nuts. Sweet and smoky and salty. They are divine.

When suitcases were long unpacked back in Toronto I began dreaming of these nuts. . Recipes from travels are some of my favourites because they evoke great memories.

sweet + salty roasted cocktail nuts

Ingredients:
3 cups of nuts (1 cup each unsalted almonds, cashews, pepita seeds)
½ cup maple syrup
½ tablespoon fleur de sel
¼ tsp each chipotle powder and chili powder (less chili if you don’t like spice at all, but these really aren’t too spicy)
a few turns fresh ground black pepper

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix everything together. It’s sticky business and I find it easiest to use a spatula and stainless steel bowl. Tumble onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake 10-12 mins just until cashews start to brown. Give the pan a shake and stir halfway through. Let cool on the pan. If stuck together, break up to form delicious little clusters. Highly addictive with a cold drink in hand. Store sealed in a container for up to two weeks. Taste even better the second day.

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