Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sweet and Spicy Noodle Toss (A Spirited #RecipeRedux)

Since my mom is the sole cook for the majority of the family (I'm the exception, since my own meals necessarily have to be separate), she's occasionally hard pressed to think of ways to jazz up the nighttime meal for her palate while catering to the whims of my picky selective stepfamily. Even though she's retired, she's often pressed for time too - not only does she volunteer during the school year (with spot fill-ins during the Summer), but she golfs, gardens, takes care of the dog and sees to the individual needs and wants of my sister and I. My stepfamily works during the week, sometimes with late hours or unpredictable schedules, which can mean we're 4 for dinner or 2, unless my soon-to-be stepsister-in-law or grandma (or both) is over.

One of the "happy mediums" the family has managed to achieve regarding dinner routine is the stir-fry. Obviously, it's a quick method, but it's also incredibly versatile and over the Summer months is a fabulous use for the squash, carrots, onions, beans, peas and tomatoes growing in the garden. Thanks to the incredibly kind gifts that the folks at San-J sent to me last Christmas as well as a few months ago, we've been spoiled for choice flavour wise. My personal favourites are the Mongolian and Sweet & Tangy varieties, while my mom favours the spicy Thai Peanut and Szechuan sauces, especially when mixed up with a pinch of brown sugar or a dash of honey. One rare night I was given the task of helping create dinner for the family and soon took over, combining sweet, spicy and savoury in a veggie-laden, gluten free medley of fresh produce, brown rice vermicelli and crumbled "soy burger" (don't tell the stepfamily!). For kicks, I punched up the saute with Szechuan peppercorns, Chinese five spice, ginger and garlic - you can't go wrong with that combo! The merest splash of sherry helped deglaze the pan along the way, making sure all the decadent flavour stayed with the noodles and veggies and not sent to the sink.

Sweet and Spicy Noodle Bowl

This month's #RecipeRedux is featuring spirits of all kinds - be they liquor, wine, beer or extracts. Be sure to check out the rest of the gang's offerings and say hi! We'll bring the booze!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Chocolate Chip Lentil Cookies

Some days I wonder if people think my whole family eats nothing but cookies and other desserts all day. Granted, we do indulge in one or two "treats" a day (in modest portions!), but in general most of the baked sweets make their way to the staff at assorted doctor's appointments, the library, the hair salon or school. Usually, I also try to give a little something to the folks at our local greenhouse every year, since without them I'd be mighty short of dinners (and blog posts!) each year. So far, pretty much everything I've distributed has been met with approval (I even wound up on TV once!) - and these cookies are no exception. They passed the taste test with not only my mother (who is infamous for liking pretty much everything but okra and bleu cheese), but the staff at school and young kids!

Chocolate Chip Lentil Cookies

I shouldn't be surprised. These cookies are a combination of three of my favourite things: chocolate, lentils, and Chef Michael Smith. Okay, so there's no Chef in the cookies, but they are essentially his recipe - he definitely spearheaded the whole lentil PR campaign and it's associated contest! I've yet to be disappointed by a recipe of his, so when I saw these they piqued my interest immediately and I couldn't wait to make them. I made a handful of changes (namely adding whole grains and veganizing the formula with shortening, coconut oil and my Homemade Egg Replacer), and opted for both "regular" and "miniature" bittersweet chocolate chips for extra texture (plus it "feels" like more chocolate!). Obviously, if you only have one kind, just use it! I opted to leave my lentils just ever-so-slightly shy of pureed smooth, but again, if you have texture-phobes in the family (I do!), smooth is the way to go here. You'll never have to tell what that elusive "nutty" aspect is!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Two Tomato Chutney for a Summery #SundaySupper

Nothing screams Summer to me more than the first, vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes from our backyard garden. There's something divinely sweet about their juicy, sun-warmed flesh that is unlike anything you can buy, and that candy-like intensity is even greater after roasting in the oven, dehydrating or even the briefest exposure to heat via a hot saute pan or fresh from the pot pasta. During the season, I try to eat the bulk of our garden's bounty fresh (can you really pass up freshly sliced, perfect tomatoes on garlic toast?), but with upwards of 12 plants at the moment all producing fruit in bulk, not even my dehydrator can keep up with the volume regularly.

To cope with the remaining produce each year, I turn to preserving. Not simply tomato sauce and roasted tomatoes (as delicious as those are), but variations on popular condiments like ketchup and chutneys like this. Over the years, I've become known for my various chutney configurations, from watermelon rind, rhubarb and Moroccan-inspired to tart green tomato and apple mixtures. It's ironic to me, since I have never been a fan of the topping in any form - mostly due to the fact that it generally contains vegetables and fruit together, which I can't get my palate to accept. My family, on the other hand, adores the stuff, and my mom in particular will hoard a jar to herself just for use in  lunches and solo dinners.

When BBQ season lights up the backyard grill (and depending on who's manning it, the backyard in general via a lighter fluid-fed fireball) a jar or two will emerge from the fridge along with the pickled hot peppers, ketchup, mustard, relish and salsa, waiting to be chosen as a complement to my stepbrother's hamburgers or the ever-so-slightly charred steak. Meals of leftovers, often repurposed into stir-fries with extra veggies and sticky rice or brown rice vermicelli, get lashings of the sweet and spicy mixture at the table in lieu of hot or soy sauces, and even mid-Winter a freshly opened jar hearkens memories of garden plots past when its contents are dolloped onto roasted vegetables and grilled chicken.

Two - Tomato Chutney

In this particular medley, I combined both fresh and homemade dried tomatoes with sharp onions, garlic and ginger, spicy curry and pepper flakes and sweet dried fruit and honey. Cooked down into a thick, luscious mixture and allowed to "mature" for a few days (either canned or in the fridge), the family deemed it perfect for year round eats, especially afternoon BBQs with the family where everything from burgers to pizza, fish, vegetables and even tofu are fair game! 

This #SundaySupper Jennie of The Messy Baker and Melanie of Melanie Makes are hosting a Summer BBQ Party. Check out all the great seasonal eats below and stop by the Twitter party tonight at 7PM!

Beverages

Appetizers

Sides and Accompaniments

Main Dishes

Desserts
Sunday Supper Movement 
Join the #SundaySupper conversation on twitter on Sunday! We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. Our weekly chat starts at 7:00 pm ET. Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat. To get more great Sunday Supper Recipes, visit our website or check out our Pinterest board.

Would you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here: Sunday Supper Movement.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Banana Walnut Cake

Looking at the countertops and grocery carts of most families these days, I'm amazed that bananas aren't an endangered species. Considering that over 100 billion of the berries (yes, they're berries) are eaten annually (27 pounds per person in the US alone), I'm sure there are some pretty grumpy monkeys out there somewhere fighting for the last bunch on the tree. My family buys bananas at least once a week year round, but over the summer containers of local berries, peaches, nectarines and other seasonal fruit start piling up as well (mostly from Costco, since my stepdad practically lives there). Given that there is no way the 3-5 of us (depending on whether my sister and stepbrother are home at the time) can mow through everything before it goes south, a lot of it ends up in either the freezer or the compost bin.

Banana Walnut Cake

As much as I love my plants, I prefer to save the fruit we buy for our consumption - bananas and berries in particular freeze beautifully, and I often open up the freezer door to find a surprising quantity of either, or both! Luckily, my family adores fruit in any form (except smoothies - we're just not big on those), so finding uses for the excess is never an issue! Most recently, I was going through my copy of Amy Green's Simply Sugar & Gluten Free when I came across her recipe for a Banana Walnut Cake. Like everything else in the book, it was dairy, refined sugar and gluten free - but it contained eggs, which I don't tend to keep on hand due to my allergy. I did have a decent amount of egg replacements open to me in the pantry (flax, chia, tofu and starches), but in the end I decided on my Homemade Egg Replacer and it worked perfectly fine.

The original recipe doesn't use a gum-based binder either, which likely factored into the cake's supremely tender nature (it sank slightly in the middle despite baking through, and was meltingly soft on the tongue). For extra structure, though, I tossed in a few spoonfuls of psyllium husk, something I've been doing with most gluten free or low-gluten recipes with great results. The soft texture of the cake is to die for on its own, but I loved the occasional crunchy bites of walnut peppering the crumb - next time I'd capitalize on the light flavour of the almond milk with slivered almonds (and a shot of Amaretto).

This is definitely unlike any banana bread I've had before, and now I can't wait for another excuse to raid my freezer!

Banana Walnut Cake

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays (#100!) and  Waste Not Want Not Wednesday 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Merry Berry Cookies

I think cookies are one of the most perfect desserts out there. Not only are they perfectly portioned, portable and quick to make, but they're infinitely variable too. It's hard to find a type of cookie that can't be modified in some way, be it for dietary restrictions, using what's on hand, boosting nutrition or simply personal taste. Cookies have a relatively seasonless quality to them as well - I mean, how can you pass up a chocolate chipper, whether it's -30°C or blazing hot and humid outside?

Obviously, some flavours are more suited to say, July than December. I think of the "spice" cookie family (i.e. gingersnaps, speculaas) fitting into the menu once the temperature drops, but they're not what I consider "summer" fare. Fruity versions, though, especially those with a slight acid note like lemons, limes and berries, are perfectly at home on the picnic table or cookout dessert tray. Take these cookies for example. When I found the original recipe in Joanne Fluke’s Lake Eden Cookbook, it looked like the perfect treat for summer camp - packed with mixed berry jam, the fruit lightens up the richness of the butter and ironically cuts the saccharine nature of the sanding sugar topping. I took some licenses with the mixture - cookies are aching for variations, after all - swapping in silken tofu for the eggs, using a canola oil and butter mixture, and tossing in cardamom, oats and oat flour for flavour and texture. The coarse sugar called for was so boring, so I used coloured sanding sugar for a pretty dazzle too.

Merry Berry Cookies

The resulting cookies are soft, tender and ever so slightly cakey, but travel well and are packed with flavour. Eight dozen cookies is a ton to bake (and eat) all at once, obviously, so unless you have a small army of cookie monsters to feed I would strongly suggest freezing batches of dough (I divided mine into 4 lots). Baked cookies make awesome sandwich "bread" for a smear of peanut butter too, if you need something other than simple, berry goodness!