Friday, December 31, 2010

Bubbly & Pear Cupcakes

Happy New Year!  I really wanted to wish everyone a happy and healthy 2011, so I baked some cupcakes!  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for tuning in and seeing what's cooking here at Impeccable Taste.  I am having a such great time cooking and creating for this blog!  Now I realize most of you won't get to try my cupcakes, but having this recipe in your arsenal for future use is even better that eating one lousy (but delicious) cupcake.  I have been making these cupcakes for years and they are really divine.  They are a little different, which I love, and they are moist and yummy and so festive.  If you have a reason to celebrate, you have a reason to make these!

Bubbly & Pear Cupcakes
Origin: Yum Sugar

Notes:  You can use any type of sparkling white wine, Prosecco or Champagne for this recipe.  I've used all types over the years from super cheap bottles to more expensive ones as I did this time (because I'm bringing them to a New Year's party).  They always turn out super moist (even if you over bake them a bit like I did this time)I usually make mini cupcakes with this recipe, but I've made regular sized cupcakes with good results too.  I altered the original icing recipe slightly to increase the quantity because I had over 75 mini cupcakes to frost.


2 3/4 cups of flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored and grated (I used 5 really small pears, about 2 cups total grated)
1 cup champagne

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened (1/2 cup butter)
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar (sifted) (4-5 cups)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons champagne (4 tablespoons, just add a spoonful at a time until you get your desired consistency for frosting)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In mixer (or large bowl), cream butter and sugar until lightened and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, making sure each one is full incorporated before adding next.  Slowly add in flour mixture, 1/3 at a time, making sure it is fully incorporated but do not over mix.

Stir in vanilla and champagne.  Stir in pears.

Line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners.  Scoop an even amount of batter into each cup.  Fill to just below the top of the paper cups.

Bake for about 16 minutes (start checking at 12 minutes, the minis took 14 minutes).  They should be done when the cupcakes start to turn golden around the edges.  You can check them by inserting a toothpick into the middle of a cupcake and if it comes out clean with no goop attached, they're done.

Cool in the pan for 2 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Makes 24 regular cupcakes or up to 96 mini cupcakes.

To make the frosting, beat cream cheese and butter together. Add vanilla, sifted powdered sugar and champagne and beat until smooth (add icing sugar and Champagne alternately to desired consistency).

When cupcakes are completely cooled, top with frosting. I also added edible silver dust this time for the occasion.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sweet Potato Falafel and a Green Salad

This is my kind of cooking.  We eat mostly vegetarian at home so I am always in search of hearty vegetarian recipes, meals that come together into something greater than the sum of their veggie parts.  Now, it`s not really falafel, having eaten incredible falafel in Jerusalem, and fine specimens in many European countries where they take their falafel very seriously, I should tell you, this recipe is something different.  This sweet potato based falafel is served with chopped tomatoes and pickles, a garlicky sauce and fresh pita bread for scooping it all up.  The sweet potato mixture is baked, so it doesn't have the crunchy falafel crust but it is still very satisfying.  The cumin, garlic and cilantro is there, and the use of chickpea flour to bind it all together, makes it legit.  I originally saw this recipe on the 101 Cookbooks website.  After tasting this peculiar but delicious dish, I was hooked and have been making it regularly ever since.  I immediately ordered the Leon cookbook, where the recipe originally came from.  As I said, this is my kind of cooking and I needed more of it.  The book comes from a chain of restaurants in the UK, called Leon.  They serve healthy, fast, flavourful food, as stated in their clever motto, "food should taste good and do you good".  The book delivers many satisfying, wholesome recipes and lots of food information, all wrapped up in a pretty package with lots of style, gorgeous photos and thick matte pages.

Sweet Potato Falafel

Notes:  Leon serves this dish with a garlic mayo sauce called Aioli.  It is an absolute must with this falafel.  Here is a recipe to make your own from scratch, or you can simply mix a small, minced garlic clove with 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, a little salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  Mmmmm.


2-3 sweet potatoes, about 1 1/2 lbs total
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 small cloves of garlic, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 big handfuls of fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of half a lemon
a scant cup (120g) chickpea flour (gram flour)
a splash of olive oil
a sprinkling of sesame seeds
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Roast the sweet potatoes whole (in tin foil or on a baking sheet) until just tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Turn off the oven, cool the sweet potatoes, then peel.

Put the sweet potatoes, cumin, garlic, ground coriander, cilantro, lemon juice and chickpea flour into a large bowl. Season well with salt and pepper, and mash until smooth with no large chunks. Chill the mixture in the fridge for an hour to firm up (or the freezer for 20-30 minutes). After chilling, the sweet potato mix should be sticky but not wet, you can add a tablespoon or so more of chickpea flour if necessary.

Reheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Scoop the falafel using 2 tablspoons, put a rounded spoonful of mix in one spoon and use the other spoon to shape the balls, scraping the mixture off of one spoon onto the other until a "quenelle" or an oval shape forms.  Transfer them to an oiled tray. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top and bake in the oven for around 15 minutes, until the bases are golden brown.

Makes about a dozen. Serve with chopped tomatoes and pickles, pita bread and Aioli (see notes above). Serves 2-4 people.

Paula's Favorite Green Salad
Origin: Oprah

Notes:  I've been making this green salad for a few years now.  I don't really remember who Paula was or why I tried her favorite salad.  But I did, and it works.  I love the simplicity of it, and it pairs well with anything when you need to add a little green to your meal.


1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 ounces mixed baby greens
1/2 cup mixed fresh herbs, such as chervil, mint, basil, parsley, dill, cilantro or tarragon leaves (I used a mix of parsley and cilantro this time to compliment the falafel)
2 medium scallions, thinly sliced
1 avocado, peeled and thinly sliced

In a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, mustard and vinegar, season with salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in olive oil until blended. Add greens, herbs and scallions to the bowl and toss just before serving.  Top with avocado slices and serve.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chipotle & Rosemary Spiced Nuts


I am still in full-on holiday baking mode.  There are more parties and dinners to attend so my mind continues to flip through the old mental recipe box in search of great host gifts and party snacks.  But my usually strong, almost never failing, annoyingly present sweet tooth has given out on me early.  I can't take any more cookies or candy.  This is a good time to bust out some spicy mixed nuts (with just a little sweet).  I have made this recipe at least five times since my beloved Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, released her latest cookbook, How Easy is That?: Fabulous Recipes & Easy Tips.  Remember I gushed about Ina a while back?  She is the bomb people.  Approachable recipes, smiling face, amazing food of all kinds.  You can't go wrong with her recipes.  These nuts are easy, as in How Easy is That?.  Just throw some ingredients on a baking sheet, toss and bake.  The hardest part is trying not to loose any precious nuts on the floor when stirring.

Chipotle & Rosemary Spiced Nuts
Origin: Ina Garten

Notes:  Chipotle Chile Powder is made of ground, dried, smoked jalapenos.  I'm starting to see it popping up everywhere, you shouldn't have trouble finding it.  Even this company, which seems to be available in every grocery store across Canada, has offered it up as a new release.


Vegetable oil
3 cups whole roasted unsalted cashews
2 cups whole walnut halves
2 cups whole pecan halves
1/2 cup whole almonds
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice (1 orange should do it)
2 teaspoons ground chipotle powder
4 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves, divided
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brush a baking sheet generously with vegetable oil. Combine the cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice, and chipotle powder on the baking sheet and toss to coat the nuts evenly.  Add 2 tablespoons of the rosemary and 2 teaspoons of salt and toss again.

Spread the nuts in one layer and roast for 25 minutes, stirring twice with a large metal spatula while baking.  The nuts should be glazed, golden brown and fragrant.  Remove from the oven and sprinkle with 2 more teaspoons of salt and the remaining 2 tablespoons of rosemary.  Toss well and set aside at room temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking as they cool.

Serve warm or cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Avocado Salad with Carrot Ginger Dressing

I am already in need of a post holidays detox and we haven't even reached the worst (or best!) of it yet.  I've been knee deep in cookies and candy and Jalapeno Popper Dip and I'm starting to seriously miss my veggies.  This is a recipe I visit over and over again.  This dressing is so excellent, and matched with the crispy lettuce and creamy avocado, this salad sits near the top of my list of favorite things to eat.  Oh!  And it came from my ol' pal Gwyneth Paltrow and her awesome GOOP website.  I'm telling you, this woman really knows her food.  Enjoy this salad now, or tuck this recipe away for January 2nd, when no doubt you'll need it.

Avocado Salad with Carrot Ginger Dressing
Origin: GOOP

Notes:  This recipe makes enough dressing for two salads.  The extra is really good with seared tuna.


1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sweet white miso (I use a heaping tablespoon)
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon roasted sesame seed oil
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons water

1 head of baby gem lettuce (I used a mix of romaine and green leaf), roughly cut
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 avocado, diced (I use 1 full avocado)

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a blender, puree until combined and fairly smooth (the dressing will be thick).

Combine lettuce, red onion and avocado in a bowl and drizzle with plenty of dressing.

Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a main course, with dressing leftover.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sponge Taffy

This is so much fun to make! I felt like a mad scientist in the kitchen, and the result of my experiment was so delicious!  I always loved sponge taffy as a kid and never dreamed I could whip this up in my kitchen in a matter of minutes.  It's pretty, it has a satisfying candy crunch and the deeply sweet bubbles melt in your mouth.  I like to take it a step further, and coat big, bite-fulls of sponge taffy in luscious milk chocolate.  Crunchie bar anyone?  It's almost an exact replica.  I used the small shards that remained after breaking up the sponge taffy, to create a yummy, and oh so pretty, golden flecked chocolate bark.

Sponge Taffy
Origin: Unknown

Notes:  You need a candy thermometer to make this recipe. The instructions say to boil the sugars to 300 degrees. When mine reached 300 degrees, it was only just starting to turn golden. I let it go for another 30-60 seconds until I saw that nice golden colour.
Have your baking soda ready and your pan prepared and close by, and get that hot candy out of the pot as quickly as you can, to prevent over cooking.
I have successfully doubled this recipe (from quantites listed below) and it makes enough to fill an entire baking sheet (18 x 26 inches).


1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light/white corn syrup
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon baking soda

Butter a baking sheet and set aside. Measure the baking soda and set aside.

Bring sugar, corn syrup and vinegar to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Continue to boil until the mixture reaches 300 degrees F.  If the mixture is still clear, continue to cook until the mixture starts to turn a golden colour (see notes above).  Immediately remove from heat and stir in the baking soda, mix well. The mixture will expand and bubble up.  Quickly and carefully pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

Let cool and break into pieces.

Chocolate Covered Sponge Taffy


1 batch of  prepared sponge taffy, broken into bite sized pieces
2 cups good quality milk chocolate chips (I used Callebaut)

Melt chocolate chips using a double boiler.  Stir chocolate until smooth and completely melted.  Turn off heat, but keep the bowl of chocolate over the hot pot to help maintain the smooth melted texture while working.

Drop chunks of sponge taffy into the chocolate.  Using two forks, turn the taffy to coat and then tap off excess chocolate on the side of the bowl.  Transfer pieces to a baking sheet covered in parchment paper to cool and set.

Sponge Taffy Chocolate Bark


1 1/2 cups small, broken pieces of sponge taffy
2 cups good quality milk chocolate chips

Melt chocolate chips using a double boiler.  Stir chocolate until smooth and completely melted. 

Pour chocolate onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Scatter sponge taffy pieces and press them very lightly into the chocolate to adhere.

Transfer the tray to the fridge to cool for 45-60 minutes.  Break into pieces and serve slightly chilled.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Toblerone Shortbread Cookies

Do you have time to squeeze in a little more baking before the holidays?  I'd like to nominate these cookies for the spot, if you do.  These cookies are crispy, crumbly, buttery, not too sweet and oh so tasty!  Somehow they manage to seem as light as air even though they contain a pound of butter.  Yikes, I just put that out there eh!?  I was trying to hold back that information until I convinced you to make them...y'know let you figure it out on your own.  But it's the holidays, and you are obviously making them for guests right?  So don't you worry about it.  These are super, duper delicioso and so easy to make!

Toblerone Shortbread Cookies
Origin: Unknown

Notes:  I use a grocery store brand "Swiss Milk Chocolate with Honey Almond Nougat" in place of the expensive Toblerone bars.  No one ever knows the difference.


2 cups butter, softened
1 cup fine granulated sugar
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
300g Toblerone style chocolate, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons icing sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of an stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand held electric mixer), beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and cornstarch.  Slowly add to the butter mixture, beat until just combined.  Stir or fold in the chocolate chunks.

Drop heaping tablespoons of batter onto an ungreased baking sheet or one lined with parchment paper.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the cookies are just beginning to brown.

Cool cookies on baking sheet for a couple of minutes.  Dust the tops of the cookies with icing sugar and transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jalapeno Popper Dip

Anyone out there looking for an easy, last minute appetizer for a holiday party?  Yeah, thought there might be a couple of you.  This dip is a cinch to put together and people go crazy for this stuff!  It tastes just like jalapeno poppers!  If you are a fan of those crispy, cheesy, spicy poppers, you'll love this dip.  All the spicy jalapenos and creamy cheeses are in the base of the dip, and the topping, made with crispy panko bread crumbs, provides the taste and crunch of the crispy popper coating.  It's fiery and sinfully delicious!

Jalapeno Popper Dip
Origin: Unknown

Notes:  I always divide my dip into to two small baking dishes.  I spread a slightly thinner layer of dip in each of my dishes, then top them using double the amount of breadcrumbs.  This provides a great dip-to-crispy topping ratio and I end up with two dips for serving on two separate occasions.  Just cover one unbaked dip and store in the fridge until you need it.  One is often enough for a small gathering.  If you are having a large gathering you can use this same method and place the two dips in different locations around your event.


1 8oz package of cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise (1/2 fat is fine here)
1/2 cup grated, medium cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 small jar of pickled jalapenos
1 small tin of green chilis

1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs (I use 1/2 cup, see note above)
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (I use 1/2 cup, see note above)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cream cheese, mayonnaise, cheeses, jalapenos (with most of the  juice/brine) and chilis.  Pulse until well chopped and combined.

Combine panko breadcrumbs and remaining Parmesan cheese in a small bowl and mix thoroughly.

Pour dip into an 8 inch baking dish (or any 2 slightly smaller baking dishes).  Top with an even layer of breadcrumb mixture.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until the sides are bubbling and the top is golden brown.

Serve with tortilla chips for dipping.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Good Try

Whoa...I almost got swept away for a minute.  I have recovered from a ridiculously busy week and I am back on track.  Lots of good stuff coming up.  I just wanted to quickly fill you in on that office cookie competition I told you about last week.
On the days leading up to the competition everyone around the office was saying things like "we shouldn't even bother" and "should we just give you the prize now?".  And I guess deep down I thought they were probably right.  I just have more experience with these kinds of things than most of my co-workers.  But the day of the competition there was a major upset!  My cookies didn't even place!  Not first place, not second, not even third place.  The winning spot was earned by a woman who said she had NEVER baked a cookie in her life.  Hmphf.
The cookie I submitted was a fabulous, famous, coveted, talked about, written about, original, cookie from the world renowned NYC bakery called Momofuku Milk Bar.  Chef Christina Tosi's "Compost Cookies" have been in newspapers, magazines and on TV with Regis and Kelly and on the Martha Stewart Show.  These cookies have a basic chocolate chip cookie base but along with the chocolate, they include really special add-ins, such as potato chips, pretzels, coffee grounds and toffee bits.  I thought this cookie would be the perfect entry to steal the one-up even myself...and secure the win. This is what they should have looked like...

Photo Credit: Momofuku Milk Bar

They didn't look like that, they were ugly...but they tasted good.  I wasn't able to label my cookies to let the judges know what was in them, and could you imagine biting into an ugly cookie that contained potato chips and coffee grounds, not knowing exactly what you were eating?  I understood the loss.  I could take it.
BUT!  Redemption came the next day, when I entered an office with 4 people crowded around my EMPTY cookie tin that previously had held at least 4 dozen Compost Cookies.  They all had full mouths and with cookie crumbs falling everywhere, they were all saying how good the cookies were, asking for the recipe and one of the judges said, "you must have picked a burnt one for your submission yesterday, cause these would have changed the results!". 
Here is a link to the recipe.  This particular version of the recipe does not contain coffee grounds, but as far as I know the authentic cookies from Milk Bar contain them as seen here.  You add 2 tablespoons of dried, used coffee grinds and cream them with the butter and sugars.  I think that was the unidentified "burnt" taste the judges were talking about.  Oh well, I'm over it.  And I firmly believe these are some good (ugly) cookies.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Flourless Chocolate Walnut Cookies

I baked cookies all weekend.  Tons o' cookies.  I was training, hardcore, for our first annual office cookie competition.  I had scouted recipes for weeks and picked a couple I thought would be original and tasty.  You see, my coworkers get cookies from me all the time.  Some of my finest work has been distributed through those halls.  I had to up the ante for the competition.  So I baked all weekend.  And today, competition day.  I am giving you a cookie recipe that my coworkers enjoyed weeks ago, because it tops anything I cranked out this weekend.  Boooooo.
I'll fill you in soon as to how the competition went down, what cookie recipe I submitted and how it fared.  But for now, here is an awesome cookie recipe that my coworkers delighted in, in the off season.
This is my slightly tweaked version of a famous cookie recipe that has been floating around the blogosphere for a couple of years now. It is a simple recipe with simple ingredients but the results are outstanding.  And these happen to contain no flour or dairy so they are a great option for people with those allergies.
Simple, allergy friendly, delicious, original...I wish I had known about this cookie competion before I busted out these big guns.

Flourless Chocolate Walnut Cookies

Notes:  These are simple to make but you must follow the directions properly.  The key is to prepare all your egg whites, but only use as much as you need.  Pour in a little at a time until you have what seems like a thick brownie batter.  You should be able to scoop up the batter and not have it be drippy.  I altered the recipe  slightly because I wanted the final product to be large and chunky, instead of flat puddles, (they are sometimes known as puddle cookies).  I leave my walnuts whole (halves) and I beat the egg whites with a hand mixer just for a minute to add some volume to the whites.  This creates a chewy, gooey mound of cookie with big bites of walnut.  It's divine!


2 3/4 cups walnut halves
3 cups confectioners sugar (icing sugar)
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened good quality cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, at room temperature, whisked vigorously or beaten for 1 minute
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Spread the walnut halves on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 9 minutes, until they are golden and fragrant. Let cool.

Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and lower temperature to 320. Line two large-rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.  Lightly grease parchment paper with a neutral flavoured oil or a bit of butter.

In a large bowl, whisk (or combine in an electric mixer on low speed) the icing sugar with the cocoa powder and salt followed by the walnuts.

While whisking (or beating with electric mixer on  medium speed), add the egg whites and vanilla extract and beat just until the batter is moistened (do not overbeat or it will stiffen).  Only add enough egg whites to form a thick batter coating the walnuts.  It won't look like a lot of batter but just trust.

Spoon the walnuts/batter onto the baking sheets in 12 evenly spaced mounds, and bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked, shift the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through to ensure even baking.

Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto 2 wire racks. Let cookies cool completely, and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.