Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ratatouille Sauce

The culinary highlight of my gardening season is always right at the end, when the last glut of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash all make their appearance. It's only then, when frost is threatening the tender leaves of those plants we worked so hard to grow, that we find our table, fridge and cold cellar bursting with produce of all colours, shapes and sizes that are begging to be enjoyed right this minute lest they self-destruct overnight. When not a single vegetable more can fit into our household, my mother and I silently and instinctively know what must be done: ratatouille.

Ratatouille at home was, for the majority of my childhood, a running joke my dad, mom and I shared. At the time, Mom was really the only person who liked the stewed vegetable medley, and for reasons that became obvious in the hours after the evening meal the recipe became known as "rataTOOTie". Of course, a lot has changed since then - namely, Mom and I eat a lot more vegetables more frequently, making our digestive tracts more receptive to fibre-rich, vegetable-packed main dishes. We've also taken the classic components of the French recipe and twisted them around a couple different ways, from a cumin-laced Moroccan version to a Disney-esque baked casserole and even a flash-in-the-pan microwaved version. This year, I took the theme of savouring Summer a little further and ventured into canning the sunshine-filled bounty of our garden, turning our favourite chunky ratatouille stew into a pasta-perfect sauce.

Ratatouille Sauce

Creating this pot of flavour was (at the risk of sounding crazy) quite transcendent for me. There was no recipe to use as a base, no required sofrito or roux or complex techniques, only the "voices" of those vegetables and herbs that were, until mere hours before, still growing and thriving outside. They told me when to add them, and with what - from a palmful of fresh thyme leaves and a spoonful of fennel seeds that evoked thoughts of sausage to the magical hint of nutmeg that adds an addictive aura to the sweet-tart tomato base. Stirred into a bowl of rotini, brown rice or wilted greens, it is a rich, fragrant and hearty meal that is perfect after a long day.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies #creativecookieexchange

When the weather gets that distinctive "Fall" nip in the air and I finally have to drag out the jacket for morning recess duty, I know it's definitely time to start thinking about the heartier "comfort" foods out there. Breakfast-wise, there's nothing more warming and stick-to-your-ribs than oatmeal - and if you're anything like me, the only way to make a breakfast (and/or bedtime snack) worthy bowl of that is to add fruit and chocolate!

My current favourite combination whenever I whip up a big ol' bowl of oats is dark chocolate chips, cocoa and mashed banana. That way, there's no need for sugar or milk at all - the rich creamy texture from the stirred flakes and fruit is almost risotto-like, and nothing short of decadent. When it came time to thinking about making a "comfort food" cookie for this month's #creativecookieexchange, I knew exactly where to turn for flavour inspiration! I found the perfect base recipe for my cookies on Your Homebased Mom, and not only did I bump up the dark chocolate flavour with bittersweet couverture dark chocolate wafers, I was even able to add the "creamy" component I love in it's hot cereal form by using a hint of cream cheese. One of my favourite "extras" to toss into any cookie, especially ones with whole grains, is flaxseed - it is such a subtly nutty ingredient that really amps up the other flavours, not to mention packing a boatload of nutrition too!

Banana Oatmeal Cookies

I wish I could go as far as to say these cookies fit the bill as breakfast fare, but let's face it... they're still cookies. Better for you than a storebought, cardboardy behemoth pastry, for sure, but a treat to savour and have for dessert. Besides, when you need comfort food, you're not necessarily concerned about the bottom (or waist) line at the time, are you?

Like I said, I'm participating in the #CreativeCookieExchange this month, started by Laura from The Spiced Life and Rebecka from At Home with Rebecka.  Each month they decide upon a different theme or ingredient, and then an ever-growing gang of baking bloggers whip up their own spin on the topic! This month is Comfort Food Cookies, and the offerings look stunning!

What cookie says comfort food to you? If you are a blogger and want to join in the 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:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Roasted Peaches in Vanilla Syrup

Peaches are truly Summer's gold. It's hard to pinpoint another piece of produce so rich in colour, flavour and sweetness, oozing pale amber, sticky and fragrant nectar with every bite at their peak. Sinking your teeth into the fuzzy, soft fruit is nothing short of divine for members of my family, especially since real, local and truly ripe peaches have a season just as fleeting as perfect snowflakes in Winter.

Roasted Peaches in Vanilla SyrupLuckily for us, though, perfect Summer peaches are plentiful in that short window, and take kindly to freezing and canning when eating them fresh just isn't possible (it's hard, even for three peach-aholics like us, to eat a bushel+ a week!). By saving them in various ways, we're never at a loss for a taste of Summer even if there's 3 feet of snow outside! This year, along with jam and a "butter" type spread (made by combining zucchini and peaches!) I made this decadent dessert topping. Simplicity and elegance in one, opening a jar reveals chopped, peeled peaches from a nearby orchard swimming in a peach nectar and vanilla syrup that I thickened ever so slightly with gelling (pectin-containing) sugar. While a batch or two did make it into the canner (and this year's Christmas gift stash), I couldn't resist saving a couple BIG jars for us to crack into right away... and let me tell you Sunday pancakes and weekday morning oatmeal have never been the same!

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays and Waste Not Want Not Wednesday 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sweet and Tangy Pickled Beets

You know, with all my yakking lately about zucchini this and zucchini that, it's easy to think that the squash is the only thing my garden blessed me with this year. While the zucchini, eggplant and cucumber were definitely the most abundant crops we had this year, colder-weather treats like my heirloom carrots (yellow this year!) and beets are just coming into their prime and I couldn't be happier (we did get a few tomatoes this Summer, too, but the weather was too wonky for a sizable harvest). While the carrots are definitely my go-to sweet and crunchy snack during the day, the beets are my pride and joy - this year I grew a variety called Lutz, a heritage breed that stays rich and tender even when it gets to it's average size of 5-6" wide! Not only are their roots delectable, but the greens (especially those from thinning early in the year) are perfect leafies without any of that minerally bitterness I normally associate with dark greens.

Sweet and Tangy Pickled Beets

Wanting to save some of my bounty to share with others this Christmas, I opted for the most classic preservation method for the roots: pickling. To jazz them up a bit, though (I am the first to admit standard pickled beets are, well, blah) I raided my pantry and spice cabinet, spiking the vinegar brine with dark, luscious honey, BC red wine, cinnamon, allspice, black peppercorns and turmeric. Roasting the beets brought out their natural sugars for contrast, and once canned they were shelf ready to last the Winer (or at least as long as it takes for us to get through them!). The colour is as rich as the flavour too, providing a gorgeous addition to any gift basket this year that only tastes better the longer it sits on the shelf.

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays and Waste Not Want Not Wednesday

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tofu Vegetable Soup #SundaySupper

After a week of enjoying 30C+ temperatures here, a thunderstorm has sent our temperatures diving. Don't get me wrong, we're not in the -40C range (yes, I remember you, December), but there's a distinct September nip in the air that makes a walk outside the perfect reason o cook up a pot of soup. Of course, the garden is still thriving enough that we're able to "shop" for ingredients to make produce-heavy lunches and dinners, a real treat - especially now that school and work have both ramped up again, keeping us from spending 24 hours a day ankle deep in dirt. We're also in that "interseasonal" period between Summer and Fall, packed with the sweetest of peppers and tomatoes, the last of the herbs, zucchini and eggplant, and the first gorgeous carrots, beets, potatoes and winter squash. The merest touch of that truly fresh flavour from the backyard adds such wholesomeness to our meals that it's impossible not to want to showcase it in a dish all its own.

Such is the case with this soup. A coupling of the desire for a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs soup after coming in from the rain and the gorgeous colours of a bounteous harvest, pretty much our whole garden and fridge stock found its way into the pot. Eggplant, zucchini, carrots, onions, tomatoes and herbs came straight from the backyard (freshly rain-washed, I might add), while locally-grown kale, garlic, leeks,and cauliflower met up with organic tofu to round out the rest of the broth. For a bit of a richer, "gourmet" edge, I tossed in a Parmesan rind as well, and finished the works with a handful of whole grain pasta. Whether freshly made or reheated the next day, it's a fabulous way to bid the height of the growing season farewell for another year and hunker down for the Winter with the jars of home-preserved goodness I made this season (recipes appearing here soon!).

Tofu Vegetable Soup

We're celebrating the bounty of squash this week for #SundaySupper, be it the Summer goodness of zucchini, crookneck and pattypans, or the Fall / Winter pumpkin, acorn and butternut varieties. Alice of A Mama, Baby & Shar-pei in the Kitchen and Christy of Confessions of a Culinary Diva are co-hosting this week. Thanks ladies!

Starters – Appetizers & Cocktails:

Pickles & Relish:

Soups & Salads:

Main Dishes

Side Dishes:

Sweets to Start or End the Day:
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.

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