Thursday, January 19, 2017

Manchego Tomato Soup and a National Soup Day Contest

It's soup weather. Gone is the "honeymoon stage" of winter, with it's hearty roasts and casseroles, topped off with turkey and stuffing. Now, there's hardly a speck of snow on he ground (not complaining though!), but the freezing temperatures have been replaced by chilly, grey drizzle that demands to be answered with comforting meals. Soup is the perfect food for times like this, being filling and soul-warming but not weighty, welcoming a side of bread or a salad without inviting overindulgence-guilt along for the ride. While the resolutions made for January 1 may be long gone by now, the heaviness of the holidays is (at least around here) still making itself known!

This meatless, spice-laden puree is, I like to think, a taste of summer. I had a bag of heirloom tomatoes from the summer harvest in the freezer and a pot of rosemary on the counter, roasted garlic in the fridge and local honey in the pantry. To thicken the mixture and add some filling carbohydrates and protein, I tossed in split peas and potatoes, both of which also carried the piquancy of the hot smoked paprika and the touch of astringency from the wine without allowing either to overpower the flavours. The pièce de résistance, though, was the final addition: a handful of shredded Manchego cheese, given to us at Christmastime from a relative. Manchego is a sheep-milk cheese that is flavourful but not overbearing, and melts like butter when exposed to heat. I knew it made great grilled cheese sandwiches (a chance discovery in university after wandering the local markets), and since grilled cheese goes with tomato soup, why not cut out the middleman?

Manchego Tomato Soup

The melted cheese, potato and split peas make the soup rich and creamy without the need for any additional dairy or thickeners, and the potage freezes exceptionally well as a result - cream and yogurt-based soups tend to curdle and split upon freezing. I highly recommend using Spanish hot smoked paprika and a Spanish white wine (I used this one), but if you can only find Hungarian or unlabeled smoked paprika use that, and any crisp, dry white will do.

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays

Do you love soup as much as we do? Read on to find out about a killer contest just in time for National Soup Day!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Pâte à Choux

Pâte à choux - making it, at least - entered my life back when I was fifteen and in the Culinary program at my highschool. Unbeknownst to me, I had been eating it in various delicious forms since I had teeth - French crullers (still a favourite), churros, and cheese puffs. Ironically, I quite detest the best known use for the dough - eclairs and cream puffs. The few I've had over the years have always been bland and either dry or soggy, and I'm not a fan of either plain whipped cream or industrial "whipped filling".  Likewise, the ones we made by the hundred in class were rather anaemic-looking and, well, mass produced in appearance as well, with the same disgusting filling. More than that, the stench of the cooking "roll in fat" (which, at my best guess, is some sort of margarine-shortening hybrid) and steaming dough while we added egg after egg was awful - it truly did smell of (gym) shoes, earning it the name "shoe paste" amongst us Grade 10s. After three years of churning out the mixture (along with chocolate chip cookies for 180, with 10 kilos of flour and 4 kilos of chocolate chips per batch), I graduated with the mentality that cream puff dough was anything but worth my time and nasal receptors, and swore off making pâte à choux. 

More Choux!

Eventually, in baking school, I was introduced to the "real" stuff - using nothing more than butter, flour, water and eggs. The quality of each ingredient - from European high-fat butter to filtered water and the freshest flour and eggs - was impressed on us as paramount to achieving a successfully crisp, rich-tasting and airy shell post-baking, and while we did learn a "large quantity" method on a stand mixer, we were encouraged to make individual batches for 12-24 by hand, with a wooden spoon and old-fashioned elbow grease. Rather than smelling of a gym locker room, the batter smelled of a cross between Challah and brioche dough - pleasantly eggy and buttery, with a hint of sweetness in batches intended for profiteroles and a slight air of pepper and salt in those turning into cheese-topped poppers. When our instructor demonstrated how to make pastry swans - which looked impossibly difficult - I was taken aback by the simplicity once again. 

Choux Paste Swans

When it came time for me to plan my own lessons for Home Ec, I knew I had to somehow incorporate this ridiculously simple, elegant recipe. We also did it the "old school" way - pot, burner, wooden spoon and arm strength - and while a small amount of complaining occurred over beating the fairly stiff "roux", they enjoyed piping the puffs onto the sheets and imagining what we were going to do with them in the future. I've planned a lesson on Crème Diplomat next week, after trying out both it and a standard chocolate pastry cream (used in the swans) over the holidays and finding the diplomat version more impressive (looks are everything to pre-teens). However, this sweet recipe for choux can also be filled with ice cream, whipped cream, whatever! 

Prefer savoury? Drop the sugar to 1 tbsp, use ½ tsp salt, a pinch of pepper (white or black) and either fold in or sprinkle over some cheese and smoked paprika. Like I said before, the quality of ingredients here matters - don't skimp and use margarine or shortening. They will work and puff the dough, but I won't be blamed for the offensive smell and absent taste. Don't be afraid to make the whole batch of these, either, even if you're only serving a few right away. The baked puffs freeze like a dream!

Manchego and Smoked Paprika Choux Puffs

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Beet Rye Bread #BreadBakers

Bread making is one of the biggest joys in my life. A loaf of bread holds a world of possibilities - do you make it rich with milk, butter, eggs and cheese? Sweet? Fruit and spice laced? Sourdough or straight-dough method?

A delicious slice of my Seeded Beetroot Rye bread waiting for a Toast Topper! #yummy #yum #vegetarian #bread #beets #beetroot #rye #baking #cooking #eats #healthyfoodie

While I make my fair share of heavier, richer loaves during the year, at the moment we're looking more towards lightening the palate, digestion and waistline. My mom and I both adore rye bread, especially the slow-fermented, slightly sour kind, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do this time around. I had a bagful of homegrown beets still sitting in the fridge (we got sick of them after weeks of beet-laced meals), so I slow-roasted them and added some of the puree to the dough along with more Slavic-inspired flavours - buckwheat, caraway and fennel. While the beets were sweet on their own, I upped the ante a little bit with a handful of some homemade honey roasted sunflower seeds - not only did they perk up the sweetness but they added a delicate crunch.

Beets add a fantastic colour, flavour and texture to this buckwheat kissed rye loaf. A sprinkle of honey roasted sunflower seeds adds #sweet crunch. #vegetarian #vegetables #bread #beets #rye #sourdough #wholegrain

This bread is a slow-fermented sourdough, which also helps temper the sweetness in the beets and honey. In addition to flavour, sourdough breads also spike blood sugar less than straight-yeast doughs, and rye is a highly digestible grain with a myriad of health benefits. Since the #BreadBakers are focusing on healthy loaves this month, a boule like this is perfect!

#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. You can see all our of lovely bread by following our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated after each event on the #BreadBakers home page.

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient. If you are a food blogger and would like to join us, just send Stacy an email with your blog URL to


Check out the Healthy Breads that our fellow #BreadBakers have baked this month:

Monday, January 9, 2017

Oatless Chocolate Hazelnut Granola

Are you a sweet or savoury breakfast person? As a child (and like many of the children I teach), I was almost always in the savoury camp, but aside from bacon (Canadian or otherwise) and homefries, my selections tended to be rather removed from "typical" breakfast fare. Instead, you'd find me, bleary eyed and clad in my school uniform, cooking a pot of spaghetti for oil and garlic, heating up a can of soup or baking off a pizza pocket at 6AM - maybe even digging into cold Chinese leftovers if we had eaten them the night before. Once in university, I was at the mercy of my dorm room's amenities - being a mini fridge, a kettle and a coffeemaker - so my tastes flipped over to a rotation of dry Apple Cinnamon Cheerios and Vanilla Almond Special K, both sans milk if you please (even then I wasn't a huge milk fan). I'd grab a spoonful of peanut butter between classes if time allowed me to get back to my room, or I'd back a yogurt and roasted chickpeas for protein mid-morning. Once I was able to get to and from the grocery store with regularity, I started picking up boxes of oatmeal adding a mashed banana, a drizzle of honey and some peanut butter, or if i was feeling decadent, brown sugar and cocoa.

Oatless Chocolate Hazelnut Granola

These days, breakfast is almost always an afterthought with me - by the time I'm actually hungry (my stomach sleeps later than a teenager), it's my lunch hour, so everything gets "pushed" back - save for copious cups of coffee or tea during the winter to stay warm. When and if I do get peckish, I still reach for dry cereal mixes - they're portable, easy and delicious, not to mention variable. Making my own granola is an extension of that, and with the rising numbers of people needing gluten-free options and the (often ridiculous) cost of certified "clean" oats, I made a batch for myself and a few of my GF friends that is completely devoid of oats altogether. In their place, a mix of cooked rice, seeds, rice bran and germ powder and hazelnuts married with cocoa, dried cherries, tahini and vegan honey, creating crunchy clusters of decadence that tasted far too rich to be a nutritious snack or breakfast addition. However, the mix is as nutritious as it is delicious, with almost two grams of protein and just over 80 calories in a quarter cup. Think of it as a new way to eat "rice cereal" for breakfast!

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Winchester Candy

Are you a fan of Supernatural? Around here, it is one of our favourite shows - especially when my sister's home. We will easily binge-watch hours upon hours of it, relishing the eye candy and postulating various theories as to the paranormal storylines taking place, often laughing our butts off along the way.

Winchester Candy

One of the common themes throughout the shows is the constant mention of food. Early on in the series, there is almost a whole show dedicated to the mentions of pie in diners as they cross the USA, and a couple seasons later there's an episode where the boys are told to use the phrase "fudge" rather than dropping the "F bomb". With those two things (which have quickly become inside jokes, along with the phrase "pig in a poke") in mind, I knew I had to try combining the two when I came around to making my holiday candy. A couple tweaks, a shop for cinnamon chips and a handful of dried apples later - BAM - I had my very own Winchester Candy. The best part for me was the sprinkling of ground Graham-Like Crackers on top of the soft candy, which added the "crust" missing from most apple fudges.

If you know Supernatural - and even if you don't - you'll love this Apple Pie Fudge!

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays