Friday, October 31, 2014

SPOOKfetti Cupcakes!

Halloween is one of my all time favourite holidays, and like every holiday its usually such a flurry of activity that everything else - including timely blogging - falls by the wayside. However, now that all the wee candy monsters are off in bed, and since I don't have to be up in the wee hours to drive to work tomorrow, I can finally get in a quick blurb about the spooktacular cupcakes I made for our school's Halloween party this year!

You may remember waaay back in time (okay, 2008) when I made two cupcake varieties for another school's Halloween bakesale, including one with "eye" decorations. Those super-easy confections were such a hit that I couldn't resist re-creating the design this year, with a little refinement and a touch less work along the way. I knew I wanted to try making "funfetti" cupcakes again (despite all the issues I've had over the years with bleeding sprinkles and whatnot), so I took my (now) go-to egg and nut free, sinfully rich-tasting "French vanilla" cupcake recipe and tossed in a handful of Halloween nonpareils right before baking. To decorate, I took a standard vanilla buttercream and enriched it with custard powder and a dash of yellow colouring for the eye's "jaundiced" whites, then squiggled red gel "blood vessels" and pressed a coloured chocolate "iris" in the centre. Everything is edible (and, IMHO, delicious), not to mention perfect party food!

Spookfetti Cupcakesf

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Gluten Free, Vegan Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies #12WksXmasTreats

There are definitely three distinctive camps of chocolate chip cookie fans out there. First, there's the crunchy, crispy, crumbly gang, who mow down the milk-absorbing Chips Ahoy bretheren with abandon, relishing every last mote of sugary dust. There are the soft and cakey clan members, who love the muffin-top-like versions of the classic, often fortified with cornstarch or pudding mix and which have an ever-so-slight "bite" before melting away. I on the other hand belong to camp #3 - the Chew-aholics. For us, a good C^3 needs a certain level of jaw work to appreciate - each bite releasing buttery, caramel-esque liquor before finally dissolving.

Gluten Free Vegan Chewy Chocolate Chippers

While I wasn't one to seek out the heartier, oat-filled cousins of chocolate chippers growing up, as an adult I realize that the addition of flaked grains to any cookie dough is one more avenue to a great, chewy result. Not only that, but they add a touch of heartiness that translates into needing fewer cookies for satisfaction (did I just say that?!). With the rise of food intolerances these days, though, I'm meeting more and more people who have been relegated to snacking on the (usually) starchy, sawdusty storebought varieties of gluten free biscuits - but with a little time and a stocked pantry, a hearty, chewy cookie packed with chocolate chips can be in your cookie jar - fresh and delicious! I actually make 2-3 batches at a time (thank goodness for my trusty 7-quart stand mixer) because they freeze so well, either in one big lump or pre-portioned into balls for "bake what you need" use. Kid- and adult-friendly, not to mention delicious no matter if you have restrictions or not, they are a staple in my food-gift boxes during the holidays and make regular appearances in the staff room too!

Shared with 12 Weeks Christmas Treats at Meal Planning Magic and Gluten Free Fridays

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Triple Berry - Carrot Bran Muffins and a @Truvia Baking Blend #Giveaway

Fall is definitely a baker's dream season. With all the hearty fruit and sweet root vegetables coming into the market, not to mention the cooler weather and concentration of holiday feasts demanding dessert and bread, it's all too simple to get lost in the once-again crave-able spices and rich flavours emanating from the oven, hearkening classic recipes your great grandmother once made.

Sometimes, though a favourite recipe needs a revamp. Waaay back when, in the infancy of this blog (and before George Brown, nutrition college or teaching ever crossed my mind) I shared my mom's favourite (at the time) recipe for cranberry blueberry bran muffins. After homemade bread made a more or less regular appearance in our kitchen, the muffins fell by the wayside, but serendipity has it's ways of turning the tides! This year, when cranberries came into season and were cheaper than chips at the market, we bought up a few bags for the classic Thanksgiving side dish. However, we had fewer people than usual at the house and only wound up needing half of one bag, which left the rest for me to play with!

Triple Berry - Carrot Bran Muffins

I knew I had to make the filling, slightly sweet quickbread with at least some of them, and about that time I was contacted by the awesome folks at Truvia. They wanted to know if I wanted to try out and review their latest product, Truvia® Baking Blend. Always trying out new baking goodies (especially healthier alternatives) I jumped at the chance, and when the package arrived I got right to work, adding pomegranate juice, extra cranberries and homegrown carrots to the batter for more flavour and texture. I couldn't have asked for a better result - moist, sweet and hearty, without the weird "leftover" taste in the back of my mouth that I normally find with white sugar. Flavour wise, it's on par with my current favourite cup-for-cup stevia, but the price is slightly lower at the grocery store and you use less per recipe, making the savings even greater.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Smoky Carrot-Garlic Soup #RecipeRedux

I hate to admit it, but Winter is just around the corner. Most mornings as I pull out of the driveway in the pitch blackness of 7AM, my breath is white and puffy, not to mention the windshield scraper has come out on more than one occasion! After an hour on the playground and another in a not-all-that-warm classroom, a hot lunch is definitely in order - and luckily I've managed to create one that's not only hot in terms of physical heat but spicy-hot too!

This bowl is not for the flavour or spice shy - while it looks like (and really is) a simple puree of carrots, red lentils and zucchini on the surface, there's a little sneaky twist under the first sweet and nutty spoonful. By adding over half a head of fresh garlic, plus hot and smoky chipotle pepper, spicy-sweet ancho pepper, smoked paprika and bright red achiote powder the vegan combination dances on your tongue and keeps the inner furnace lit for hours!

Smoky Carrot Garlic Soup

Our #RecipeRedux theme this month is Spoooooky Spices - anything and everything you might have lurking in your cupboard or seen in the store and wondered "what the heck do I do with it?", as well as flavours that might scare or shock you!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pumpkin Chip Bars #creativecookieexchange

For as long as I can remember, my favourite holiday has been Halloween. While Christmas was fun (and gift-filled) and Easter had it's chocolate, Santa's visit demanded wearing fancy, "don't get anything on it" clothes and the Easter Bunny's calling card almost always detracted from my birthday party attendee list. Halloween, on the other hand, allowed for the wearing of (usually) comfortable, custom-made-by-mom costumes and more candy exposure than I got the rest of the year. Given that the holiday fell right after we polished off the last of the Thanksgiving turkey, it was the perfect pick-me-up in the Fall too.

Ironically, with all the pumpkin that abounds around Halloween and Thanksgiving, I never was the kind of person to crave squash-filled desserts. When served a sliver of Grandma's pumpkin pie (with the "just try it" look alongside), the crust disappeared way before the filling would, and the orange-tinted cookies and cupcakes on the bake sale table at school were simply ignored in favour of the chocolate Rice Krispie balls or Jell-O "Jiggler" shapes. As an adult, I've come to enjoy pumpkin's slightly sweet, rich flavour and texture in savoury dishes, and while I still don't like it's "pie" format I don't mind a stack of pancakes, the occasional muffin or nibbling a well spiced cookie laced with the vegetable.

So, given that the theme for the Creative Cookie Exchange this month is Halloween, and when I think of Hallowe'en the first things I recall are pumpkin picking (and carving) and the candy haul, what better treat to share than a candy-laced pumpkin bar? It's the perfect home for any end bits of chocolate and toffee left after the trick-or-treaters sate themselves, and with tofu, applesauce, wheat bran and wheat germ mixed into the batter, it's even slightly healthy too! Luckily, the recipe makes a nice big batch, because you'll want to freeze a bunch for lunches and snacks down the road. While I haven't done it myself, I hear tell that semi-frozen bars make delicious ice-cream-sandwich "bread" too!

Pumpkin Chip Bars

If you are a blogger and want to join in the #creativecookieexchange fun, contact Laura at thespicedlife AT gmail DOT com and she will get you added to our Facebook group, where we discuss our cookies and share links.

You can also just use us as a great resource for cookie recipes--be sure to check out our Pinterest Board and our monthly posts (you can find all of them here at The Spiced Life). You will be able to find them the first Tuesday after the 15th of each month! Also, if you are looking for inspiration to get in the kitchen and start baking, check out what all of the hosting bloggers have made:

Pumpkin Chip Bars (with Homemade Toffee!)