Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Almost Grandma's Mashed Potatoes

Almost Grandma's Mashed Potatoes are rich, creamy and decadent - perfect for your holiday meal. Baking the tureen ensures a delectable crust to pick at too!

I have a 100% soft spot for my grandma's mashed potatoes. In fact, if I could only eat one holiday food the rest of my life, it would be them. Baked in one of her earthenware tureens, the sight of the slightly crusty-topped spud smade my heart sing - and underneath the coveted top layer was some of the most decadent, silky mash I've ever had in my life. Over the years, it was extremely common for half my dinner plate to be heaped with them, no gravy necessary.

Ironically, it was only after decadence (at least in my traditional understanding of it) left my diet that I started to really try and nail down my grandma's recipe. Being the family heirloom (and "secret recipe") that it was, there was no written copy to be found anywhere, and when I asked my grandma she gave me the list of ingredients but no amounts or method, so after many cookbook and Google searches I cobbled together a recipe for our Canadian Thanksgiving this year and gave it a whirl.

The outcome was shockingly - and I mean shockingly - similar to the original, and dare I say it may even be slightly better (shh!). The potatoes had a perfectly smooth mash without the need for a ricer or fancy tool and each scoop was a perfect golden colour thanks to the cheese and Yukon Golds I used. My whole family (including N and my sister's boyfriend D) raved about them and took home leftovers, which were polished off within a day. While they are absolutely not a weeknight mashed potato (or one for dieters!) for the holidays, these shout "home" to me and will definitely be the start of a new, old tradition.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Chewy and Soft Spice Cookies

These spice cookies are perfectly chewy and soft, with a bite from the candied ginger bits on the top. Whether you're looking for a dessert for a potluck this Thanksgiving or are simply trying to get ahead for Christmas, this is an awesome back-pocket recipe to go for!

I have always loved the scents of holiday spices. Growing up, as soon as the apples were picked in the orchard for pies, we knew it was mulled cider season. I would stand at the crockpot while my mom would dump in the fresh pressed cider and the milk-carton looking container of mulling spices, and only after being admonished for putting my face in the food did I retreat to the couch and wait for it to be ready. The cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves would coat my throat and make even the most blustery fall day a non-issue.

Ironically, I've never been one to go out of my way for spice in cookies. Cider, cake, muffins - all absolutely passable vehicles for the warming spices of the season. But my experience with spice cookies - and especially gingerbread - was the hard, verging on stale storebought ones coated in sanding sugar that we used to be served with school Christmas lunch. I don't care what kind of cookie it is, I do not like it when it's hard and crunchy (sorry biscotti). That said, my coworkers, friends (and now co-workers of N) like spice cookies in any form, so come holiday time my house is thoroughly perfumed with butter-bloomed cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves, amongst other things.

These cookies were made as a "thank you" for one of N's coworkers who has always supported him and allowed him to switch shifts for whatever reason. The cookies themselves are not fancy in any way - looking at them, there's no icing, no sprinkles, nothing but a few bits of candied ginger poking through the thin, shiny crust. However, their simple looks give way to a perfect balance of texture and flavour. The egg whites allow the cookies to be light with a hint of chew and a shiny surface, while the judicious use of spices add a warm hum to every bite without smacking you over the head with heat. The cardamom is, and will always be, my favourite spice of the lot when it comes to spice baking, and since I get little bits at a time from a high-turnover bulk store you can certainly smell it when it's in play! The perfect two bite size makes these cookies great for a snack or bake sale table and I know I have requests to make them again for the staff party. Let the warmth of the fall season begin!

Monday, October 7, 2019

A New Treat for Fall with @CacaoTeaCo

With the cold weather coming in fast and furious, I am turning my attentions (grudgingly) from the garden fresh produce (beets and carrots excepted) into the warming flavours of soups, spices and tea. Luckily, I was approached by a fellow tea lover who had a rather ingenious idea when it came to both the world of brewed beverages as well as reducing environmental waste - "tea" made from the discarded husks of cacao beans. Jessica, one of the two creators of the Northwestern startup, spoke with me on the phone and let me know some of the tea's benefits - not only does it have the flavour and aroma of cacao, but it is free of sugar, gluten, dairy and caffeine, getting it's energy boosting properties from theobromine. Side note - theobromine is awesome for us humans (it lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease, boosts brain function and even helps strengthen tooth enamel [source]), but it is toxic to our furry canine friends - I don't have dogs but the friend I shared some of the tea with did and she kept it tightly sealed and on a high shelf!

When I made my first cup of Cacao Tea, I didn't know what to expect! The smell of the husks from the bag is deeply cocoa-noted and slightly fruity-floral. While the instructions suggest 6-8 minutes of steeping, I poured the water into the tea and had a shower so I'm estimating the steep time for me was more like 20 minutes. With the longer steep (and cooling off period) I was able to taste the tea right away, and I was pleasantly surprised - the first sip tasted just like a 90% dark chocolate bar (which I love) but in an easy drinking "tea" texture. It was not at all like hot chocolate made with milk, which made it perfect for a mid afternoon treat that was indulgent but not "heavy". 

Next, I wanted to see how well I could marry the decadence of Cacao Tea with my usual morning brew - coffee! What can I say, this teacher / student's brain is 3/4 caffeine. I stuffed a little tea ball with a spoonful of the Cacao Tea and steeped it in the freshly brewed coffee while it cooled to drinkable temperature (about 10 minutes). I don't put milk or sugar in my coffee, but the Cacao Tea rounded out the flavours of the coffee and removed any and all acidity while adding a subtle hint of chocolate. While it may not be the conventional way to indulge in this tea, I am definitely adding it to my roster of things to enjoy!

I originally had plans to use some of my stash to make some goodies, but I really can't imagine parting with something so tasty that I can actually enjoy! As someone with multiple food allergies and a fat intolerance, my days of chowing down on a chocolate bar are long gone. This tea satisfies my dark chocolate love while leaving me energized and not feeling weighed down. I know I'll be savouring this as much as I can this winter, and since they have an easy online ordering system on their website getting more is as easy as a few clicks!

Thank you so much Jessica and the team at Cacao Tea Co. for this opportunity, I always appreciate having the chance to test and review new and innovative products, especially when they come from small businesses. For my readers, do check them out and give them a try - your inner chocoholic will thank you!

Cacao Tea Co. website

Monday, September 23, 2019

Cherry Pinwheel Cookies

These Cherry Pinwheel Cookies are given a hint of tang from cream cheese and lemon juice while super concentrated cherry flavour brings a hit of fruit to the pink swirl! It will be a hit in any lunchbox or snack table!

Sigh - where did the Summer go? It seems so crazy that September is almost over, we're almost a whole month into school and the Thanksgiving sales are on. That said, since school is back in session (even for me!), a sweet pick me up in the lunchbox is always appreciated. I came across the original recipe for these cookies on Simply Recipes and fell in love with their adaptability and relative simplicity.

Being me (and wanting to use up the random stuff in my pantry and fridge!) I tweaked the recipe to my tastes. I love a hint of tang in my sweets, and by adding lemon juice to the cherry stripe and using cream cheese for some of the butter I got the slight cheesecakey tartness I looked for. The cream cheese also helped these cookies keep their shape in the oven - no crazy spread like I always have with all butter cookies. To get a slight crisp on the outside, I used egg whites in the dough as well. Finally, I was tired of eyeing the bag of white whole wheat flour in my pantry (which I was using for brownies for my sister) and tossed it in for the all purpose.

The one thing I will say about these cookies is that they do take time - at minimum 24 hours - so you need to plan ahead. However, they also freeze beautifully and I can't wait to make a few more batches for Christmas giving! I can't imagine a prettier platter than one with a variety of colourful swirls... I'm thinking chocolate and orange perhaps, or a vanilla-mint, maybe even a coconut and rum? The possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Amaranth and Honey Bread #BreadBakers

Amaranth and Honey Bread is sweet with a hint of orange zest with a delicate texture from cooked amaranth. Spread with marmalade its a great addition to the weekend morning lineup!

I adore my pantry of many strange and wonderful grains and flours. While most of them I found either at the Bulk Barn or local Asian grocery, I also saved up for when Mom and I would go to the St. Lawrence Market in the summer to buy one of my favourite specialty flours: amaranth. In retrospect, it's actually funny for me to wax poetic about this grain, as Nightwish (one of my new favourite Spotify finds) has a song called Amaranth that N loved long before I knew they existed. It's become somewhat of an anthem for us, and I couldn't think of a better celebratory bread to bake up for Bread With Seeds this month!

While amaranth is looked on as a grain by most people, like quinoa it's actually a seed that can be treated as a grain (i.e. boiled, puffed, or ground). As I've been staying gluten free personally due to skin and digestive issues, I've been enjoying amaranth as cereal and pressed with rice into rice cake / crackers all summer as it has a lightly nutty, buttery taste. When I stumbled across a recipe pairing the flavourful seed with honey on Melangery, I couldn't wait to try it out as Mom (the resident breadaholic) loves that flavour combination as well.

I did make a few changes to the loaf as I went along, and was pleased overall with the results. I soaked the grains rather than boiled them since I had time to spare and didn't want mushy grains in my bread. Butter became a mixture of sesame oil (for flavour) and canola oil for balance, and I used soy milk due to it's beneficial effect on the yeast activity. The rising took longer than a standard loaf as it is a heavy dough, but the flavour was worth every minute spent hovering over the bowl. Lastly, I upped the amount of honey because we love it's flavour and browning capacity.

The loaf came out of the oven crusty and smelling amazing from all the various seeds toasting. Visually, it's a stunning loaf with the sun-like design sliced into the top, and after it cooled (an agonizing wait!) each slice was dense but moist and perfect for smearing honey or jam on in the morning. It's a shame that amaranth flour is still a bit on the pricey side or I'd be making this every week!


#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page.

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.