Tuesday, May 8, 2018

District 13 Bread #BreadBakers

Two loaves of multigrain bread are made with no refined sugar and packed with sunflower and pumpkin seeds for good measure. You won't "hunger" after this!

District 13 Bread

I have a confession: I am a horrible 30-something when it comes to keeping current with TV and movies. I completely lack the ability to focus on something as long as a typical feature film (my brain is just too busy with everything else these days) and I miss too many weekly serials to really get involved with their plots - exceptions being The Good Doctor and Law & Order SVU which always seem to fit with my schedule. Since the bulk of my day is reading for school, when it comes to decompressing books are not high on my list these days either. So it should not come as a surprise that I have not read, nor seen, The Hunger Games. It's not that I think the franchise sucks - I like to reserve judgement until I actually experience something like Waiakea volcanic water - but I haven't had the time or willpower to devote to the series. Perhaps when I finish school... in 2021...

District 13 Bread DoughAnyways, just because I haven't experienced the original stories doesn't mean I haven't been able to connect with the food in the books. I had borrowed an e-copy of The Unofficial Recipes of The Hunger Games from the library and the recipe for "District 13 Bread" caught my eye. I know that the land of the Hunger Games is supposed to be rather spartan and generally horrible, but the composition of the loaves definitely appealed to me and my chief bread-eater at home, so I couldn't wait to make them. Dense and low-rising, the dough is filled with hearty, rustic grains you don't normally see in today's storebought loaves: buckwheat, barley, rye and oats make up a good chunk of the volume, while ground flax adds body and a great nuttiness as well as helping keep the loaf moist and tender. As if that's not enough, soaked barley, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds get kneaded in too, each lending their own bite to the bread. The finished loaves aren't sweet (even with the molasses and honey in them), and are delicious alongside soup or stew as well as lightly toasted and smeared with butter or (my longtime favourite) cream cheese and cherry jam. The best part is that a small slice is plenty filling, so you won't get the refined-carb crash an hour after breakfast, nor will you feel bloated or weighed down with 6 ounces of bagel with schmear on your stomach. Not that a good (Montreal style) bagel and schmear isn't warranted some days... but this is perfect working-day food that tastes so much better than the supermarket stuff, not to mention you know what's in it!

The #BreadBakers are making BREAD WITH SEEDS this month, and I can't wait to see everyone's creations! #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 foodlustpeoplelove@gmail.com.


District 13 Bread

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Vegan Churros

These crisp-chewy churros are baked - not fried - and coated head to toe in cinnamon sugar. Even better? They're vegan and nut free!

Happy Cinco de Mayo! While I've never been to Mexico (it's on the bucket list) I do appreciate "real" Mexican food when I can get it. The one exception that I will always make is guacamole - don't hate me, but I can't stand avocado in any form (except perhaps as a cookie or brownie). Mole, arroz negro, cajeta or fideos though- those are fair game, especially when paired with the gorgeous fresh fruit that is so abundant there. One of my all time favourite treats is the churro, and growing up there was a Mexican bakery near the mall that made them in a few different styles. The "basic" sticks, simply coated in cinnamon-sugar, were perfect for on-the-go munching and were never greasy or prone to weighing you down. For more immediate enjoyment, they served the sticks filled with either jam, dulce de leche or Nutella - if that isn't Heaven on a plate, I don't know what is. They had dipping sticks too for the rich, thick hot chocolate, all alongside some of the best, freshest tasting smoothies I ever had. 

Fast forward 20 years and I'm now making them with my Home Ec classes. Churros are, in their very essence, an extruded sweet-ish choux paste, and while they are usually fried to delicious golden perfection, I have a deep-seated fear of deep frying and opted to try a baked version. One of the cardinal rules about choux dough is that it is so temperamental in poor weather, and our egg-and-dairy originals fell flat and doughy by the time I got them into the oven. Not having any extra eggs on hand, I quickly scoured the 'Net for a way to approximate the recipe without the key ingredient (ludicrous, I know, but it was 8PM and I didn't feel like going to the store). Finally, armed with a few well-reviewed recipes, I concocted a slightly modified version of Nature's Emporium's. I didn't need to keep things gluten free, so regular flour fit the bill just fine, and I added a touch of nutmeg for that doughnutty flavour.

Vegan Churros

Out of the oven and rolled in that classic cinnamon sugar, these tasted amazing, and the dough smelled a heck of a lot better than the standard choux paste I'm used to (I can't stand the smell of eggs). These held up to storage a bit better than their pastry cousins as well, keeping crisp for at least a day. I would suggest, should storage be your aim, refrigerating or freezing these "naked", then reheating and sugar-coating them as needed. Of course, a caramel or chocolate dunk is purely optional, although delicious!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting

This is hands-down my favourite vanilla frosting recipe - it is decadently butter-rich, not too sweet and is stable enough to stand out at a party for a few hours without melting. My picky sister gave it her seal of approval too!

Red Velvet Birthday Cake

While I'm no professional, making cakes is something I really enjoy doing. The cake recipe itself is probably the most nervewracking part of the experience, since without a well-done (and tasty) base, no amount of frosting or chocolate in the world is making that dessert a hit. Case in point: this year my mom asked for red velvet cake, one of her (and my) favourites. I had a few recipes in my arsenal, but I wasn't 100% happy with them, especially since I knew they'd have to stand up to a fairly hefty frosting a long decorating process. I turned instead to a recipe I had bookmarked for a while - Alton Brown's, which stated it made 3 layers (precisely what I needed). Imagine my surprise when the batter barely made one layer, was definitely not the red shown on the TV or online, and while it was tasty in its own right, it was not red velvet. I couldn't bear to throw it out, so that dense, super-moist layer became the bottom of my stack while a half-batch of the Waldorf Astoria recipe perched on top. 

Red Velvet Birthday Cake

Since the cake was not going to be my crowning achievement this year, I set about making a killer frosting. I knew I wanted to make a cream cheese style frosting (cream cheese frosting is my favourite) but I also knew it couldn't be one that screamed cream cheese, since the crowd is a divided group on the subject. The one person I didn't even try to impress was my sister - she is traditionally a canned chocolate frosting-or-die girl, and has the palate of a well trained connoisseur when it comes to tasting "anomalies" in her food. 

With my parameters set, I started modifying my go-to cream cheese frosting, adding more (and better quality) butter and less cream cheese until I had something undeniably rich and decadent with enough tang to offset the sweetness of the cake without giving away the cream cheese. It spread beautifully at room temperature and set well in the fridge without becoming rock hard, and even avoided the super-saccharine flavour of most decorating frostings when I stiffened it with extra icing sugar. I tinted it dark red for the lettering and Russian tip flowers and the colour stayed true. The flavour was incomparable though - to the extent that my sister complimented it, and asked for me to make it again for her birthday cake! If that's not prime testimony, I don't know what is.

As for the rest of the decorations, I guess you can say I was in a "Beauty and the Beast" frame of mind (one of our classes is doing the play this year and I'm immersed in the song and dance a lot). I decided on a "mirror" theme with silver spray for the "glass" and dark chocolate filigree with gold flecks for the "frame". The final touch was a chocolate line-work rose. Delicate, delicious, and chocolate... all the chocolate!

Red Velvet Birthday Cake

Do you make birthday cakes at home? What's your favourite recipe?

Monday, April 30, 2018

Two Toned Biscotti

These two toned biscotti are crispy, dunkable and a great combination of chocolate and vanilla-berry flavour.

Two Toned Biscotti

Most people know I have a thing for making biscotti. Every year, the holiday baskets get at least one variety tucked inside, but just because there's no snow on the ground (finally!) doesn't mean the crisp, dunkable cookies are off the menu. I love making the cookies for their ease and versatility - you can have any flavour under the sun, add nuts or not, and making them gluten free, vegan or both is a snap compared to something like cakes or sugar cookies.

The funny thing is, when it comes to eating biscotti, I take a pass. I'm definitely in the chewy cookie camp, and I never liked even dunking chocolate chip cookies in milk, so the whole "dip in your coffee" aspect is kind of lost on me. That said, almost everyone around me - even haters of the gourmet, coffee-shop biscotti - love mine on their own, so I guess I could give them another go some day! One thing I had always wanted to do but never tried was making a two-flavour biscotti. Originally my idea was to make something akin to a marble cake, with random bits of vanilla and chocolate throughout the cookies. However, for simplicity's sake (and because I wasn't sure if the cookies would bake into a cohesive whole) I opted to simply layer the dough, which made for an equally stunning presentation. Rather than go for "plain" vanilla on the bottom, though, I folded in some pulverized freeze dried berries, which added a hint of flavour but no real colour to speak of. In the future, I would definitely leave some of the fruit in larger "bits" for that visual pop, but the flavour is spot on!

One thing I forget about biscotti when I haven't made them in a while is that the initial log does swell and spread in the oven slightly. Layering the slightly heavier chocolate dough on top of the vanilla forced the log to become wider than normal, which was fine but made the sliced fingers very long. To compensate, I sliced each cookie in half crosswise so that it was more manageable, and next time I'd make sure that the log was long and very narrow before going into the oven!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Asian Pear and Cranberry Crisp

Asian Pear and Cranberry Crisp is so easy thanks to a topping of pre-made granola. Its a comforting dessert or (mostly) healthy breakfast!  

Asian Pear and Cranberry Crisp

When Spring rolled around on the calendar this year, I was more than ready to start breaking out the fresh, bright flavours of the season and re-energize my cooking. However, Mother Nature made other plans and gave my sister and I the birthday gifts of ice storms and blinding cold. The awful weather outside, coupled with the end of my university term complete with papers galore and exam week, meant only one thing could possibly be on rotation: comfort food.

When I think of comfort food, I automatically revert back to the autumns of my childhood where, after an afternoon of apple picking, mom (and sometimes us kids) would bake scads of pies, squares and crisps which were eagerly devoured once they feel just below burn-your-mouth temperature. To this day, the combination of warm, juicy fruit and toasty grains makes me feel like curling up in a big cozy quilt with a book or a good Disney classic movie.

This crisp was beyond easy to make from the fruit I had on hand, and was the perfect blend of sweet, tart, nutty and grainy. I love the sweet, crisp, juicy bite of Asian pears (especially the brown "Korean" pears) and always stock up when they look their best at the store. However, some weeks my eyes are bigger than my stomach, and they sit in the fridge becoming just a little too ripe for me to enjoy out of hand (I'm picky!). However, they have lots of life left, and rather than turn them into sauce or leather (two of my other favourite "use ups") I peeled and chopped up the stragglers, tossed them with fresh cranberries, a bit of sugar and some spice before finally topping the works with a bag of pre-made granola. Granola - whether homemade or store-bought, is by far my favourite "cheat" ingredient for crisps - you don't need added butter or sugar, most already have a good mix of grains and other crunchy "bits" for texture, and it's sturdy enough that it won't sog out or burn up in the baking process. Now, I will never knock my mom's crumb mixture for her apple squares - that stuff is legend - but for a weeknight dessert? This hits the spot.

Asian Pear and Cranberry Crisp