Friday, April 17, 2015

(Very) Vanilla Persimmon Jam: Toast Topper #59

If you absolutely had to choose, which flavour would you cut out from your life forever - chocolate, or vanilla?

I'm solidly in the chocoholic club, and while I'd miss the rich, floral notes of vanilla bean in unadorned ice cream, pudding and cake, it's so often a background nuance that I never really take time to consider it on its own. That said, most of the men in my life (Dad especially) are vanilla lovers through and through. You will never see a chocolate cake at their birthday party (unless someone brings a second cake), and if they, for some reason, have to choose a piece of chocolate they go straight for the white stuff. Which is fine, really - the more Amedei Chuao for me the better!

Since I made the frosting for my mom's birthday cake (a riff on Super Vanilla Frosting, where I added vanilla custard powder for more oomph) I've been trying to give vanilla a bit more mind in the kitchen. My taste project was aided further by my grandmother, who upon returning from the Dominican Republic, gave me two vials of vanilla extract from there. They smelled absolutely unlike any other vanilla I've used - sweet and almost fruity, with a delicate tropical note I can't quite place. I don't think they're true vanilla extract, judging by the research I've done, but taste and useability wise it's about on par with the bottle of Mexican stuff that I bought (still short of my favourite Tahitian, though), and lends itself well to fruit-based applications as well as things where it's baked (unlike frostings, ice creams, etc).

When I found myself with some extra vanilla persimmons kicking around, I decided to give making jam with a "vanilla" theme it a shot to see if I could marry dessert flavours with the idea of a breakfast spread. I wanted to keep everything relatively low-sugar, so the amount I did put in needed to be flavourful - in this case, obviously, vanilla sugar. The sticky, meltingly soft persimmons went in next, along with the seeds from half a vanilla bean and the extract. The buttery spread goes on smooth and luxurious, perfect as is or offset with a salty peanut butter on toast. In short, think the vanilla equivalent of Nutella... i.e. irresistible!

Vanilla Persimmon Jam


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Low n' Slow Baked Asian Pears

One of the best things about biting into an Asian pear is their crunchy, almost explosively juicy nature. They're totally unassuming on the surface, unlike peaches which - when perfectly ripe - demand you be over the sink or outside to break into. No, Asian pears are for all intents and purposes an apple to the outsider, but once their thin skin is punctured those napkins or faucet best be nearby for the deluge of sweet nectar hiding inside.

I wondered, then, if I could take advantage of both the aspects packing this favourite fruit of mine and transform it into a dish that was the best of both. I had been hoarding a Dorie Greenspan recipe in my bookmarks folder for what seems like ages, and since I had these very appley pears in my possession I thought this would be the perfect time to try it out! 

Low n' Slow Baked Asian Pears

What I loved was that the whole thing is nothing more than fruit, sugar, spices, and a touch of butter. In my case, I used wafer-thin slices of Asian pears, a slightly exotic-smelling spice mixture, vanilla sugar and fruity, cold-pressed coconut oil. Then, like how Mother Nature makes diamonds, time, pressure and heat work their magic little by little until out comes this wonderfully silky, comforting, melt-in-your-mouth creation that you can't help but want to dig right into. The original recipe used ramekins, but since mine are in storage in the loft in the basement somewhere unknown to me at this moment I substituted a 6" square glass dish weighed with a small cast iron skillet. 

Low n' Slow Baked Asian PearsWhen I say you want to eat it with everything, you truly do - my family dug into this with vanilla and caramel gelato, plain Greek yogurt, morning oatmeal, pancakes, and simply au natural. In fact, my mom was looking at serving this alongside a pork roast for dinner, but then someone - ahem - ate the last of it as a midday snack.

Shared with Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Gluten-Free Wednesdays

Monday, April 13, 2015

Moroccan Chicken and Saffron Soup

I was really hoping to make it through the rest of the school year without getting sick, but life definitely has other plans! Luckily, we're big soup eaters here, and a bowl of broth is never too far away, ready to be jazzed up with whatever my stomach can handle at the time (which, at the moment, is plain brown rice and maybe a diced carrot or two). Over the Winter, my mom ate a lot of hearty soups herself, and she still attributes her ability to avoid the bulk of the flu season to her daily bowls of comfort. It's easy to see why - they're always homemade, packed with veggies, lean proteins and healthy spices that fend off even the most stubborn colds.

Moroccan Chicken and Saffron Soup

Take, for example, this gorgeous and exotic concoction. Iron and protein packed chicken thighs, chickpeas and veggies toting fibre and vitamins and comforting pearls of whole grain couscous are just the headliners in the pot, backed up by an exotic array of spices including the elusive, expensive saffron. It smells like absolute Heaven while simmering, which would be reason enough to cook up a pot every few weeks if those darn crocus stamens weren't so pricey these days (and those darn squirrels would stop eating my calendula - a passable substitute - every year).                 

Whether you're beginning your foray into Moroccan food (and really, you know my love for all things Moroccan!) or you're needing one of those mid-day "pick-me-up" meals at work, this soup is perfect. Filling, flavourful, with that little "something extra" that keeps you coming back for more, it's a delicious "bridge food" for the seasons too!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Toast Topper #58: Peach-Mango Jam

Even though the warmer weather is starting to arrive around here, it's no secret that Summer is still a long way off. In a way, that's a blessing - I've only just started my heirloom tomatoes (and haven't touched my squash seeds yet), plus the fact that June is still a little ways off means I have a little bit of breathing room before the year-end school presentations begin! The warmer weather also means the seemingly endless amounts of ice and snow are starting to dwindle (yay!), being replaced by dreary, grey rain (boo!). According to Mr. Weatherman, around here we're destined for a full 24 hours of the wet stuff - meaning a lot of grumpy kids stuck inside and a host of grumpy adults with pressure headaches!

Peach-Mango Jam

Until the bright sunshine sees fit to come out and play again,at least I still have a few jars of Summer goodness tucked away in my pantry that I can enjoy all year! Last Summer was perfect for peaches in my area, so taking advantage of their super-affordable price at the farmer's market I bought a few extra baskets, making jam immediately with some of them and freezing the rest (peeled and sliced) for later. We also had a bumper crop of mangoes in the grocery stores mid-July for some reason, which was inspiration enough for me to cherry-pick the Mango Jam recipe out of the Best of Bridge Home Preserving book and give it my own, Ontario twist. Rather than simply mango pieces with sugar and pectin, I opted for a chunky mash of ripe peaches and mangoes with a flavourful mix of brown sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and white pepper for an exotic spread that radiates warmth and good weather all year round. Thankfully, I managed to can a few jars of this before it was eaten right out of the pot (yes, it is good enough to risk mouth blisters for) because if this past Winter is any indication of the future year to come, the weather's going to need all the help it can get!

Shared with Waste Not Want Not Wednesday, Gluten-Free Wednesdays and Gluten Free Fridays

Monday, April 6, 2015

Shannon's Lemon-Cranberry Scones

I absolutely hate when favourite products of mine are discontinued, changed or simply no longer carried where I shop. This happens to me so often these days with food items, my mom and I have taken to buying stuff en masse and hoarding it in our pantry and freezer. Of course, a good reason for my dilemma is that I do require some "specialty" items (mostly vegan, allergy friendly and/or very low-fat), but even when it comes to run-of-the-mill food shopping for the whole family we've been forced to hit two or three stores in search of an item.

Understandably, what's worse for my household (and most others' I know of) is when a favourite restaurant changes their menu or (horrors) goes out of business. For instance, we were frequent visitors at a few local pubs (one of which was run by a friend of the family) when, out of the blue, they closed within months of each other. Gone were one's decadent fish and chips doused with malt vinegar and their classic pickles, away went the other's to-die-for pasta and British curry bowls. Sad days, friends... sad days. Our local bakery changed their homemade, super-buttery croissants and danishes formulae over to par-baked, frozen dough, neither of which lent the (more expensive) treats any real flavour besides sugar and salt.

Thankfully, when it comes to the restaurant dishes at least, I learned to cook and developed a sense of adventure in the kitchen. I love to experiment with recipes anyway, and as I became aware of what the elements in recipes did (especially in baking) I found more and more ways of making foods close to, or better than, the originals. More than that, I could do them from scratch, and cheaper! Last year one of my co-workers and friends was telling me about the "death" of Starbucks' old formula for lemon scones - most notably the lack of glaze on top in lieu of a crunchy sugar sprinkle. Now, I have to admit, I go to the 'Bucks for the coffee and espresso alone, so never thought to look at their display case. A little Googling later and I had a few lemony scone recipes at my fingertips, which I combined with a little extra ingredient know-how to come up with the ones I'm sharing today.

"Shannon's" Lemon Cranberry Scones

These wedges are the perfect balance of buttery, sweet, tangy, rich, tender and fluffy - the dried cranberries add just the right amount of texture and colour, while lemon comes around in the forms of zest, juice and extract. As the recipe makes a fair amount - and my coworker would likely only have one or two others willing to share the lemony bliss - I used a blend of shortening and butter and added a pinch of soy lecithin granules so that they wouldn't go stale or dry after a day or two, nor would they suffer if frozen. In fact, I actually froze the dough pre-baking because I knew I wouldn't get to it immediately, and when popped right into the oven from frozen the scones were the fluffiest and softest ones I'd ever made. Glazed with their tangy powdered sugar icing, they looked and (from what I hear) tasted better than their predecessors, and I've had requests for more!