Grilled Chocolate Sandwiches? Yes Please.

For all the grilled cheese sandwiches I ate as a kid, I’m kind of surprised I didn’t discover these a little earlier. It’s weird with chocolate. Everyone’s cracked for it, but the thought of it on a sandwich is a little strange. Unless you think about it really hard. And then realize it’s actually genius. I guess for North Americans chocolate is strictly a treat, a dessert food, an Easter food, something to put in your cookies when you bake them after school with your mom. Chocolate had rules like that when I was growing up. I distinctly remember the day my sister Robin came home from a sleepover at a friend’s house, eyes wide and glazed over as she tried to explain to me this mysterious chocolate spread that came out of a jar. At her friend’s house they were allowed to eat it on toast for breakfast. It was Nutella of course, something my mother was smart enough not to buy for us because she knew deep down what she’d have on her hands. I was the child who gave herself heartburn for the first time at the age of seven after eating too many tacos, so she knew all bets were off if I was allowed to have chocolate for breakfast. My mother is a very smart lady, as I now enjoy Nutella far too often, most often by the heaping tablespoon at three o’clock in the morning standing at the kitchen counter.

So yes, these little chocolate sandwiches do break the rules. If you’re North American and these things make you feel dangerous. My friend Darka sometimes lets her kids have a couple of squares of chocolate after breakfast…she’s from Slovenia, is the best cook I know, and I trust her when it comes to European chocolate sensibilities. I thought of her when I made these for the first time. They turned out to be a late night snack with a couple of girlfriends after a show. But I would make them for breakfast in a heartbeat.

These sandwiches are loosely based on a recipe that comes from Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue (Workman Publishing, 2010). If you even remotely enjoy barbecuing (I love it, I’m awful at it, even putting a barbecue together makes me cry) get your hands on a copy of this book. This guy went to sixty countries and came back with over three hundred barbecue recipes from all over the world, including Jose Andres Grilled Bread with Chocolate. I was a little hesitant to make these without all the gorgeous ingredients that would be so readily available in Spain but not so much down at the liquor/convenience store. But I was kind of stuck for a new recipe and gave it a go with what I could find. I don’t have the exact recipe in front of me, the book belongs to my brother-in-law, but get your hands on something remotely close to these ingredients: Spanish style white bread, extra virgin olive oil, some thin rectangles of bittersweet chocolate and some coarse sea salt.

My sister read this recipe to me over the phone, and from what I can remember, there were some pretty elaborate instructions that involved grill settings, etc. No disrespect to Jose Andres intended, but I made them like grilled cheese sandwiches. Lucky for me my breadmaker makes passable baguettes, but I couldn’t get my hands on a single square of bittersweet chocolate and had to use a couple of Hershey milk chocolate bars. There was extra virgin olive oil, but no sea salt, just regular. I don’t know who Jose Andres is, but I’m guessing right about now he would be furrowing his brow and yelling at me in Spanish.

So here’s what I did seeing as how it was raining and I wasn’t up to cooking outside…I spread the pieces of bread with olive oil, laid them oil side down in a pan, placed a few squares of the chocolate on them (four worked much better and was nice and oozier than three as we found out for batch number two) and laid another piece of bread oil side out on top. Then, like the sandwich from my childhood, cooked them over a medium heat until the bottom was golden and the chocolate was melted. Flip. Squish. Wait for other side to do the same.

Drizzle the sandwiches with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, watch eyes widen around the table. Nice with a cup of tea I would imagine, but we had ours with a few glasses of cold milk. The sweet of the chocolate together with the salt is a combination that will really surprise you.  So will the olive oil, just don’t use anything but extra virgin.  My sister Robin (the other Nutella-deprived child) first told me about this recipe and she was right….it’s like I can’t imagine my life without these sandwiches in them. I’m gunning to make them again in a few weeks when I leave Cow Head and have access to dark chocolate and good European-style bread. It’s hard to believe these things can get much tastier. But I think they can. And I think that’s pretty great.

Curry Stew For a Campfire: Week 30

Second camping trip of the summer. An hour and a half hike up the coast with Didi and Darryl. A little secret cove we’ve been trekking to for over ten years now, where the tourists (or the park rangers) can’t find us. And let me tell you something, a hike with those two doesn’t mean hotdogs. Well it does sometimes, nothing wrong with a hotdog now and then.  God knows I’m guilty of the scatter hotdog binge when the season is almost over and the greens are few and far between. “Hotdog binge”. That looks pretty gross when you see it in writing. I think I’ve been cured.

My rule when camping or hiking is eat what you want. You hiked there, you need the food and the fuel to keep you warm at night. And if that means two or three meals in the run of a few hours, so be it. The sun started to go down and I’m not going to lie, I was pretty excited to be hungry again. After eating cookie dough, cooking over a fire might be my favourite thing in the world. Between the three of us we had ingredients for a curry. It was a bit of a haphazard deal, and no doubt the fact that we ate it in a sunset next to a fire in the prettiest spot on earth enhanced our taste buds a little. But we definitely kicked some serious campfire ass.

This might be the fanciest/easiest thing you’ll ever cook on a fire. And with the exception of the potatoes and onions, everything packs up nice and light if you’re packing gear and food for a few days in the woods. Everything we had was roughly chopped and thrown in a pot (one that’s old and safe to put directly on a campfire) with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. A few cloves of garlic, an onion, a thumb-size piece of ginger. A red pepper and a few smallish potatoes, peeled and chopped into pieces small enough that they wouldn’t take too long to boil up nice and tender on the fire. A few dried shiitake mushrooms. Sounds weird, but Didi and Darryl swear by them in camp curries, so in they went. We “sauteed” all of that to give it a nice roasty, smoky flavour. Took if off the fire briefly to add the rest of the ingredients: A huge heaping tablespoon of red curry paste, one packet of powdered chicken bouillon, and enough water to cover everything. Onto the fire.

After a couple of minutes we added 1/2 cup of coconut milk powder. I’d never used this stuff before and I don’t even know where to find it (anyone?)…it was in the goody bag that Nell brought us over from England. Beats carting around a couple of cans of coconut milk, and there was no difference in the taste.

We left the arranging of the pot on the fire to Darryl. I’m pretty patient when it comes to campfire cooking, but Darryl likes to move hot coals around with his bare hands to find the optimal cooking spot. I left that to him and gave it a stir once in a while so I felt useful.

In between moving of coals we made Darryl light up the camping stove and make us some vermicelli. The stew was nice and thick by this time after the potatoes had cooked, but it was camping and were all about the carbs. We were just trying to survive in the wilderness, people, that’s all.

Done.  A bit of coriander on top.  Beauteous, beauteous curry. And pretty impressive for some stuff thrown into three separate backpacks. Hot and spicy and the perfect base before hunkering down in sweaters and hats and drinking whiskey. More than enough for three with a few mouthfuls leftover for before bedtime.

Really nice on the noodles. Would definitely stand on its own as a stew with some good bread or bannock for dipping. Even nice at home on the stove, but you’d miss that smokiness for sure. And falling asleep in your tent later on with a warm belly full of curry and whiskey.

Chimney Sweep’s Gelato

So here’s something that’s bound to make my fall a whole lot more fun and fattening…eggless, machine-less homemade ice cream. Sarah and Jess, two guest directors in Cow Head this summer, found a random recipe online for this crazy easy ice cream that shocked me when I tasted it. Crazy because I couldn’t believe how few ingredients were in it, and crazy because I knew then and there that I would need to buy new pants.

Jess and Sarah made their first batch with bananas and walnuts, Didi tried her first with mangos and marshberries. They were both too good to be believed and I knew I had to try this out on my own. I found the perfect recipe in one of Little Red Chicken’s kitchen bibles, The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook. In the Italy chapter. Chimney sweep’s gelato (gelato spazzacamino…ooh, pretty) calls for homemade gelato or “a premium-quality bought vanilla ice cream”. Knowing I wouldn’t find the latter down at the Riteway, I decided this was the right time to make my first batch of homemade ice cream. Three ingredients: 500 ml of whipping cream. 1 can of sweetened condensed milk. 1 vanilla pod. Hello track pants.

Here’s the thing about sweetened condensed milk. When you open up a can, everything in the world gets a little bit better. I’m convinced there’d be peace in the Middle East if they just went around and let everyone stick their finger in a can and lick it. Some of my favourite food memories are attached to this stuff. From Nan Kean’s carmel tarts (who knew homemade dulche de leche was a tradition in Pound Cove too) to that little sweet white stripe in the bottom of a clear glass of hot coffee in Cambodia. It’s used everywhere, it’s loved everywhere, it’s perfect. It’s so bad for you. Who cares.

This is what you do. Whip the whipping cream until it has a bit of shape to it, you don’t necessarily need stiff peaks. Add the can of sweetened condensed milk. Cut the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape out the tiny seeds using the back of a knife and throw those in. Give everything a good stir, making sure you squash any little clusters of seeds you come across…one tiny dark cluster will burst into hundreds of little seeds, it’s kind of really something. You can substitute the vanilla pod with one teaspoon of vanilla extract if you’re stuck, but man oh man, you have to splash out at least once and try one of these things. It will make you want to fire all your little bottles of artificial vanilla extract out of a cannon. Don’t throw out the pod when you’re done, it still has a ton of flavour. Some people use them to flavour vodka…I’m not a vodka girl myself ever since that episode with the lawn chair and the White Russians, so I use them to flavour little bowls of sugar instead. Stick the scraped out pod in a container of white sugar and give it a poke and a stir to release as much flavour as you can. That particular container might need to come with a word of warning however, as the vanilla pod will look like a praying mantis in your sugar bowl. Make sure nanny knows this before she has her tea.

Put the ice cream mixture in the freezer and stir it every hour or so until it’s completely frozen. I don’t think the type of container matters, I used a plastic bowl with a cover. It’s best left overnight, especially if you like your ice cream hard. Just try to get in a few good stirs before you leave it to harden completely. As easy and as dangerous as that.

Chimney Sweep’s Gelato
(Gelato Spazzacamino)

This simple yet unexpectedly wonderful dessert can be made using homemade gelato, or equally well using a premium-quality bought vanilla ice cream. For each portion of vanilla gelato or ice cream, sprinkle 1 teaspoon of finely ground espresso coffee over the top. Pour on 1 tablespoon of whiskey or bourbon and serve immediately.

From The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook
(Bay Books, 2005)

And that friends, is how you impress the hell out of guests at a dinner party. Homemade or not, if you make sure you have a good quality ice cream, you can’t really go wrong. Make sure your espresso is finely ground, and just as freshly ground beans work best for coffee, same goes for this dessert. Admittedly, this ice cream recipe is pretty sweet and rich (I know, weird) so the bite of the whiskey and coffee counter it perfectly. Even people who don’t like espresso or hard booze (I know, weird) will give this a go to be adventurous. Just tell them it’s how the Italians do it and everyone will be game.

This recipe is dedicated to my friend Robert, who loves Jameson whiskey more than anyone I know. And who came to Cow Head for a visit and left a full bottle of it at the house. We patiently await his next visit.

I’m curious about the bourbon and in googlings of similar recipes, I came across a version called Jamaican chimney sweep’s gelato that uses rum instead of whiskey. Umm…you may come across an alternate definition for Jamaican chimney sweep in your google search. The recipe you are looking for does not require a sock and a handstand, so consider yourself warned.

I’m thinking of bananas in the homemade ice cream, with the espresso and rum on top. It worked beautifully for Jess and Sarah with the walnuts, so I imagine booze and coffee would only compliment that combination. Maybe not. I’m planning several experiments. They might not all work, but I’ll have a lot of fun trying them out.

Little Red Gluten-Free Chicken

Not really. Chicken loves gluten too much to do something that crazy. However, chicken does have a downstairs neighbour this summer who can’t eat the stuff. I took my favourite dessert recipe and turned it on its glutenous head for Sandy, invading her newly acquired library of fun flours. And with the help of Didi’s rhubarb hacking skills, we borrowed nan’s (or is it mom’s) rhubarb meringue shortbread recipe and made a magic gluten-free, guilt-free (debatable) piece of heaven. However, those who have an aversion to butter, sugar and eggs, best look away now.

I don’t really know where this dessert came from…a friend of mom’s back in Labrador I think. We always had an abundance of rhubarb in our garden (stuff grows up there!) and never really knew what to do with it all. This will fix your rhubarb problem. A little too well. This is the only dessert I can eat for supper. And yes, sadly (or happily depending on your outlook), this has been done.  A few times.  If you like rhubarb, you’ll love it. Some people don’t like tart desserts (weirdos) so don’t make it for your mother-in-law if she’s one of them. And maybe don’t call her a weirdo.

We had a bag of fresh rhubarb in the fridge for a couple of weeks that disappeared. Off the face of the planet. Didi said she remembered cutting it up to put in the freezer. No rhubarb in the freezer. No doubt we’ll find it at the end of the summer behind the sofa or under someone’s bed, but in the meantime, I was in a panic because Sandy was coming up from the apartment downstairs to make this dessert and the star of the show was missing.

Didi said “There’s a patch of rhubarb at the cat pee house.”

“The what?”

“You know, that house I lived in down the road a few years ago, the one that smelled like cat pee. It has a huge patch of rhubarb in the front yard. No one lives there, it’s just going to go to waste. Let’s go.”

So we hopped in the car and drove to the cat pee house. I stood on the side of the road in my flip flops, on lookout while Didi hacked away at the rhubarb, a little too good with her knife if you ask me. It looked like she’d been to war in the jungle or something. I got a little freaked out when one of the fourteen year old ushers from the theatre biked down the road and said hello. I didn’t think he’d say anything about the rhubarb….I saw him sneaking a smoke behind the theatre last week, so it’s cool. I think we like, have an understanding. When we got home Didi said, “Give that rhubarb a good wash. A lot of slugs out there.” Gross. Like I wouldn’t wash rhubarb from a place called “the cat pee house.”

Gluten-Free Rhubarb Meringue Shortbread

(Original gluten-type ingredients in brackets)

2 tbsp sugar
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all purpose baking flour (1 cup regular flour)
1/2 cup butter

Blend together. Bake in a 9×9 pan at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. If you’re using the gluten-free flour, it’ll be a little messy, like a batter, so spread it in the pan with a spoon (In the case of regular white flour, mix the ingredients together with your hands like you would a pastry, until it looks like little breadcrumbs…the shortbread will be crumbly, so press it firmly into the pan).

1/2 tsp cornstarch (2 tbsp flour)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups chopped rhubarb
dash salt
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup milk

Cook together and stir until rhubarb is tender and the mixture has thickened.


Remove from heat and set aside.

3 egg whites
6 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Using a handmixer, whisk egg white mixture until stiff peaks form. Spread the rhubarb filling onto the baked crust, followed by the meringue, taking care not to mix the two together. Place in a 350 degree oven until meringue has puffed nicely and is a little golden, about 5 minutes or so. Broil for the last minute or two if you like, watching that the meringue doesn’t burn. I never took my eyes from the oven window, it can happen that fast…the first time I made this dessert ten years ago I ran to the bathroom while the meringue was on broil in the oven. Not pretty. But pretty burnt.

I was a little worried with the experiment, especially when I had to spread the shortcake like batter instead of pressing the crumbly bits down into the pan. But it turned out to be as good as the real thing, as good as the gluten. The shortbread bottom was crispier and saltier…nothing wrong with that. This could work with any number of gluten-free flours, I think.  I might try rice flour next time. If anyone has any ideas, let me know? The beauty of this dessert is that it all gets put in a square pan and you get that pie feeling without having to worry about shaping anything into a gluten-free pie crust, a feat which I’m not yet brave enough to try. In the meantime, Sandy and I have been experimenting with recipes I’ve already blogged about. I’ve discovered that potato cakes (July 17th) work beautifully with brown rice flour and a teaspoon of baking powder. I’ve been making Nigel Slater’s raspberry ricotta pancakes (June 8th) religiously and wanted to make a gluten-free version for Sandy. She came up with a sorghum flour/arrowroot flour/potato starch/xanthan gum mixture that was so much like the real thing I want to write Nigel a letter. I have a few friends who can’t do gluten at all so I’m excited about tweaking my favourite recipes for them. With Sandy and her arsenal of flours downstairs, we’ll see what else we can come up with by the end of the summer.