Sunday, May 31, 2009

Greening Up

Some days, you just need something quick and dirty to feed yourself in between the demands of home, garden, work and family. On those days, nothing beats a light and simple stir-fry. Especially when the Summer months come, bringing days of camp sessions, late night drives to the cottage and times where it's too darn hot to even turn on the BBQ, you can't go wrong with a single pan, lots of fresh veggies and about 20 minutes to make the magic happen.

Such magic is infinitely variable, so of course this recipe and it's ingredients are not etched in stone! It was a good blend of ingredients, mind you - and I got to use my new julienne peeler! I'm going to axe the snowpeas next time though, possibly in favour of some shredded beets - I'm not as fond of them today as I used to be.

Super Spring Stir Fry
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
1/4 white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, julienned
4 oz shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 oz snowpeas, halved
6 oz parboiled cauliflower florets
1/2 medium zucchini, julienned
3 oz beansprouts
8 oz baby bok choy, halved
  1. Heat a non-stick saute pan over medium-high.
  2. Combine pepper flakes, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar in a small dish, set aside.
  3. Add a splash of water and the onions. Cook, stirring, until the onions begin to colour - about 5 minutes.
  4. Add garlic, carrot, and mushrooms, along with a bit of extra water if needed. Cook a further 3-4 minutes, stirring well.
  5. Toss in snowpeas, cauliflower, zucchini, beansprouts and bok choy.
  6. Cook, stirring, until bok choy is crisp-tender, 3-5 minutes, then pour the soy sauce mixture over the whole works.
  7. Toss well and serve immediately.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 231.0
Total Fat: 2.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 700.4 mg
Total Carbs: 49.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 15.0 g
Protein: 14.6 g

Of course, if your early Summer nights are more like ours up here and are more suited to jackets and jeans than jugs of iced tea, firing up the oven and roasting some seasonal greenery isn't totally out of the question! Anyone hitting the markets in the northeastern part of the USA, or anywhere from southern Ontario eastward, will probably have seen these funky little spiral veggies in the produce bins - for about three weeks each Spring. What are they? Well, because the people that name vegetables apparently were lacking in inspiration when they discovered these immature ferns, they're called fiddleheads, due to their resemblance to a certain string instrument's top. Apparently (at least according to Wikipedia) these tops of the ostrich fern are also available in Oceana (coastal Asia, New Zealand and Australia).

These are supposed to be fully cooked in order to neutralize the "mystery toxin" that was linked to some food poisoning episodes in Canada, and the most common method is boiling the heck out of them. I have somewhat of an abhorrence to boiled vegetables of any kind (I don't think I've boiled a veg in my entire life, after being raised on Grandma's broccoli and carrots), so I was eager to find another way. Any other way. Well, what could thoroughly cook a vegetable more so than popping it into a blazing hot oven for 20 minutes and serving it with lashings of Sriracha? If the heat doesn't kill everything on it, the hot sauce sure will.

There's even less of a recipe for these babies than there was for the stir fry. Essentially, you clean off all the papery brown ends, dirt and slimy bits, dry them well, and place one layer of fiddleheads onto a non-stick spray coated sheet pan (or two, or three if you have lots... I had about 5 oz of them and it took up one large cookie sheet - and that was pushing it). Put the pans into a preheated 400-425F oven (it doesn't have to be exact, I was roasting potatoes between those two temps so I piggybacked) and cook them for 20-25 minutes, stirring the greens halfway through. In the end you'll have delicious, asparagussy tasting tender fiddleheads with the tiniest bit of charred goodness and no hint of anything that will make you sick!

In case you were wondering, 1/2 cup (3.5oz) of these seasonal beauties have only 34 calories, .4g fat, 2g fibre, 4.6g of protein and 72% of your RDA for Vitamin A! They're gone from the markets now, the parent plants having matured into their equally pretty (but inedible) Ostrich Fern counterparts. Ah well, only 11 more months until the next harvest!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Fridays and Fruitcake

Whew. It's the end of the week! Even though most of the lucky readers across the border had a short one, it still feels nice for it to be Friday, doesn't it? For us, today was anything but a nice, relaxing end to the week - my sister had her prom to prepare for! All I can say is that it can't be true! My little sister simply cannot be growing up this fast - I still have photos of the two of us (at 3 and 6, respectively) all dressed up in our Hallowe'en garb before putting on winter coats (it was snowing, after all!) and trolling our street for candy! Now she's a big girl of 18, fancied up to the nines in the only dress I've seen her in since my mom's wedding (and complaining the whole way). It's a bittersweet experience, knowing that soon she'll be graduating and moving off to university, getting to do the whole postsecondary thing while I'm still here at community college! My comfort is that I'll still be graduating from before she does, since my program is a paltry 2 years long!

Being home does have a lot of upsides to it, though. For one, I have a full sized kitchen at my disposal most of the time, and enough cupboard space to store all the random ingredients I come across! I also get free-range access to the leftover pieces of fruit and bags of nuts my family decides are "too leftover" for their tastes. Whether it's overripe bananas, slightly bruised apples, or in the case of the nuts, part of a handful or so, all the food is still perfectly good, and perfect for baking! Fruit breads and muffins are prime for throwing the bits into... how else would we get deliciously moist banana bread or applesauce muffins? I know many a zucchini loaf that wouldn't have been made if the star ingredient was tossed rather than shredded too! These days, with the economy in the hole such as it is, it's more than worth it to turn leftover ends of things into fresh, delicious food!

I came across this recipe (well, a version of it) at the blog
Kate in the Kitchen around the same time I found yesterday's inspiration. Kate had found the recipe on AllRecipes - though when I looked for it later I couldn't find it for the life of me - and her pictures of the finished loaf sucked me right in. I knew I had to make that bread. A peek into the baking pantry determined that the bread could be made, but a modified version of it. A banana again butted out the egg, and canola oil stepped in for Ms. Butter. Spelt flour, spices and two different nuts instead of one snuck their way into the mix too. The dates stayed put - those weren't going anywhere anytime soon! I've also listed the paltry amount of sugar as optional - I didn't find I needed it in the end because my dates were sweet enough on their own, but if you have a sweet tooth (or sour dates!) you may want to add it. The original recipe called for 1/4 cup, though!

I later decided making all the changes was a good move - especially since within 3 days of being sent into my mom's office I had orders for two more!

How fitting that this bread should come around right at the time when Fun and Food is hosting Sugar High Fridays - an event originally created by fellow Canadian Jennifer over at Domestic Goddess. I'm sending it in to join the party... you can come too if you like, the deadline is June 25!
Most & Fruity Nut Bread
Serves 12
13 1/2 oz pitted, chopped dates
1 2/3 cups boiling water
1 medium banana, mashed
2 tbsp low-fat milk
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp packed brown sugar (optional)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup spelt (or whole wheat) flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup toasted, slivered almonds
1/4 cup toasted whole hazelnuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the dates and water. Let stand 15-20 minutes.
  3. Mix in the banana, milk, oil, vanilla and sugar (if using) until well blended (I found it best to use a potato masher).
  4. Combine the flours, baking soda, baking powder, spice and salt.
  5. Stir into the wet mixture until just blended, then mix in the nuts.
  6. Pour into the prepared pan, filling no more than 2/3 full (I got 4 medium muffins as well as the loaf).
  7. Bake 50 minutes (20 minutes for muffins), or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. Cool in pan(s) 20 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 253.1
Total Fat: 8.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.1 mg
Sodium: 3.3 mg
Total Carbs: 45.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.7 g
Protein: 3.9 g

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Borrowed Baking

I love when I can bake with confidence... not necessarily by sticking hard and fast to a written recipe (since we know how well that works for me!), but instead taking something tried and true and using it as a base for my own whimsy. The food blogging world (and if you follow me you know of my latest obsession with Twitter) have become indespensible for this. How and where else can you (to paraphrase Nicole) get an answer to any question in under 2 minutes - on any topic? I begin most of my time online perusing FoodGawker too.

The weird thing is that half the time I don't know when or how I stumble onto most of the base recipes I use! Most of the time, I record the source (simply because the recipe is usually locked into my IE "Favourites" folder), but as to how I got there? Anyone's guess!

Such is the case with one of the best, fruitiest and balanced sweet breads I have ever made. I know that Wendy from A Wee Bit of Cooking wrote the initial post I came onto, and I know I'm not alone in being drawn to her title: Fool Proof Baking. Inside the previous post, she had written about her latest baking escapades and frustration with not finding a good recipe to take to a bake sale. Blog world to the rescue once again - in the form of a fruitcake recipe from Jacqueline (AKA Holler) at Tinned Tomatoes. Her mom's fruitcake. People, if a mother's recipe is not tried and true, I don't know what is! I snatched up both versions of the recipe and started investigating their nuances, such as what was the actual amount of butter used? The recipes both called for fractions of a "block" (and as it turned out, Wendy's used half the amount that Jacqueline's did).

In the end, I wound up drastically modifying the recipe, and while I'm not going to say it's better than Jacqueline's mom's (I don't mess with the mother!) I am thoroughly pleased by my results.

I eventually wound up making the risky switch from the solid fat (butter) to a blend of canola oil and applesauce. The sultanas became a mixture of dried cranberries and dark raisins (soaked in juice rather than the called-for water), while the egg became an (equally binding) banana. Given the extra sweetening power of the juice and banana I cut down the sugar and used dark brown rather than white. I didn't have any self-raising flour (and it's pricey to buy for one recipe) so I made my own, blending baking powder, salt, all-purpose and whole wheat flours with the spice blend and baking soda. The baking time and temperature stayed the same, and while I can't vouch for the taste myself - it went into work with Mom - the lack of even a crumb on the returned plate can speak for the addictive qualities of this snack. Certainly if the aroma that filled the kitchen while it baked was any indication, you'd be hard pressed to even let it cool before cuttting yourself a piece!

Just make sure you don't open the oven door until it's at least 30 minutes into the bake time - the low, long bake is key to the moisture. Next time I make this I'm going to try adding dried cherries and apricots to the mixture. You could probably get up to 8oz of dry fruit total into the cake at any rate.

(Not) Holler's Mom's Fruit Loaf
Serves 12
2 1/2 tbsp canola oil
1/2 cup applesauce
3/4 cup fruit juice or water (I used a 100% cranberry-grape cocktail)
2/3 cup brown sugar
4 oz raisins
2 oz dried cranberries
1/2 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 over-ripe banana, mashed
1 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
  1. Bring oil, applesauce, water, sugar, raisins, cranberries and spice to a boil in a medium pot.
  2. Cook, stirring often, 2 minutes, then cool 30-60 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 300F, grease a loaf pan.
  4. Add vanilla, banana, flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt to the pan mixture and mix gently but thoroughly.
  5. Bake 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until tests done. Cool 15 minutes in pan, then turn out and cool on wire rack.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 209.0
Total Fat: 3.4 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 9.2 mg
Total Carbs: 44.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.5 g
Protein: 2.9 g

With thanks to Wendy and Jacqueline, I'm passing this off to the Bookmarked Recipes Blog Event.

Monday, May 25, 2009

What Seymour Made!

Remember Seymour? You know, the weird flower-head growing out of my garden's giant rhubarb plant? Yeah, I named him Seymour, and then proceeded to behead him (the flowering stem is inedible, and saps the nutrients from the rest of the plant... it had to be done!) and kidnap some of the "offspring" (read: stalks) to make these muffins! I figured that with the Spring gifts of the earth clearly being bestowed on us this year, it would be heresy to let it pass me by! I heard the call of the oven and I had

I had a triple berry blend in my freezer and a blackening banana on the countertop, so they became prime candidates for muffiny inclusion too. Then it was just dry + wet, and into the oven went the fruit, veggie (cause you know that's what rhubarb is!) and whole grain batter-filled paper cups. I then had to resign myself to waiting... for what seemed like forever... while these baked up, perfuming the whole house with a sweet bran aroma. When the time came and I pulled them from the oven, I saw...


Yes, despite using a muffin recipe with the most basic of ingredients, the weight of the berries and rhubarb overpowered the strength of the batter. Even though they passed the "toothpick test", to be extra safe I broke one apart. Sure enough it was cooked through, just full of stuff. If I was going to serve these to company (they'd probably make delicious brunch fare) I'd simply fill the void with something like a slightly sweetened strawberry cream cheese - you can't go wrong with that!

If you have fresh berries, I highly reccommend using those to cut down on the sinkage. Likewise, if all you have is frozen rhubarb, toss it in a little bit of flour and add the bits to the batter while they're still frozen.

Banana - Berry Rhubarb Muffins
Makes 14
1 large banana, mashed
1/2 cup skim milk
2 tbsp nonfat plain yogurt
3 tbsp canola oil
1/2 tbsp vanilla
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup All-Bran cereal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 cup chopped rhubarb (fresh or frozen unthawed)
2/3 cup assorted berries (fresh or frozen unthawed)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F, line muffin cups with wrappers or lightly grease.
  2. In a large bowl, combine banana, milk, yogurt, oil, vanilla, sugar and All-Bran, mixing well. Set aside.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together flours, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  4. Stir dry mixture gently into the wet ingredients to just moisten, then fold in the rhubarb and berries until the flour is just mixed through. Do not beat.
  5. Portion into the prepared tins and bake 30 minutes.
  6. Cool in the tin 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 123.6
Total Fat: 3.3 g
Cholesterol: 0.2 mg
Sodium: 14.4 mg
Total Carbs: 23.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.7 g
Protein: 1.9 g

I still have a glorious glut of the stuff in my garden, with an entire season ahead of me! I'm hoping I can find enough nibblers to test out some ideas I have going!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Take A Walk

Our garden is waking (and perking) up for the year! Though it's now grey and beginning to drizzle outside right now, yesterday was just prime for the green thumbs out there. Now, my thumbs may be a bit more pink than green when it comes to starting the garden's seedlings (or maintaining the houseplants), but I do an apt job of general plot maintenance (politically correct "weeding") and Andrew and I are almost always the ones harvesting!

Harvest time is so far away to us, though - with the exception of the plants that are coming out of dormancy we have nothing in our soil beds! However, our dining room's only window is crowded half to death with trays and trays of baby seedlings. You may recall a similar state last year when we had explosions of seedlings, mature plants, and harvested results! Our seedling tally is actually fairly small so far this year, though there are a few plants going into the garden that will be purchased this week! So far, we've got a myriad of peppers (hot, sweet and even blue!), giant pumpkins, zucchini, 3 types of tomatoes (including these rainbow heirlooms, left) and some assorted ornamentals going inside, and most are prime for transplanting this weekend. For straight seed-to-earth planting, I've also got some purple carrots and Chioggia beets (can we say hello, salad?). I'm just keeping my fingers are crossed that we don't get smacked upside the head with frost and hailstorms this year!

When I went out "exploring" our reawakening backyard yesterday, I found out just how hardy some of our perennials really are! The funny thing, though I shouldn't be surprised, is that our strongest plants out back aren't even ones we really planted! Lining the back fence that separates our property from the forest and conservation area is a virtual field of wild raspberry plants, that even with all our local wildlife will give us some sweet nibbles this summer, and the 1/4 of rhubarb bulb that Andrew and his family gave me two years ago is now so strong and big - I can only hope strawberries are plentiful in the fields this year so I can get some pies made!

Apparently the rhubarb plant is hitting puberty too - it's generated it's own seed pod on it's centre stalk that reminds me of the plant in Little Shop of Horrors:
These are the pumpkin babies on the right... I know that when they're fully grown they won't be "pie-friendly", but I may be able to steal the seeds out of them and at the very least we'll have our very own "Pumpkin Kings" for Hallowe'en!

And here's the aforementioned giant rhubarb... strong (but not too thick) stalks that are such a beautiful balance between ruby red and green!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wheatless, Not Sweet-Less!

It took me forever to find out what this month's SHF theme was, and I'm so happy I discovered it before time was up! For those of you who don't know about Sugar High Fridays, it's a dessert-centric event created by Jennifer, the Domestic Goddess. Basically, each participant makes a dessert involving the specific theme, which is different every month. This month (until the 25th) is Sweet Without the Wheat, being hosted by Climbin' the Walls (I love that blog title!).

So what does that mean? Well, in short, exactly that - desserts without wheat! No all-purpose, whole wheat, durum or semolina flours can be used, nor any wheat berries, bulgur, or wheat pastas like couscous. Heresy, you say? Well, what about rice and tapioca pudding, heck - most pudding - or meringue, or French macarons?? None of those have any wheat! Craving something "traditional" for dessert, say cookies or cake? Think it can't be done without traditional flour? Well, I would say look at the amazing variety of gifted food bloggers out there (Karina made a list, and there's a gluten-free blog search option for Google too!) who are cursed with a wheat allergy, or worse - Celiac (ergo NO gluteny products - wheat, rye, triticale, barley, malt, spelt, or Kamut). Those with wheat allergies and Celiac deal with a wheat free life, including desserts, all day, every day. For one dessert, one time this month, no wheat is no problem!

Serindipitously, I already had a recipe that I wanted to make for brownies - courtesy of Hannah at BitterSweet - that just so happened to be wheat free! It is lower in fat, gluten free and vegan, but isn't completely flourless. It uses a combination of sweet rice flour (also known as mochiko) and potato starch with a hefty dose of cocoa powder to bring it all together, and it results in the fudgiest, most decadent bar cookies you've ever imagined. Out of both personal preferences and sheer necessity (i.e. no way of getting to the grocery) I switched up the recipe, reducing the sugar and using part dark brown, using a banana instead of the pumpkin and canola oil for margarine. I also added in some coffee to boost the rich chocolate flavour, and in place of the walnuts in the original I tossed in some peanuts and semisweet chocolate chips. Note to self: melty chocolate bits = yummm. One of the great things about the batter is that without gluten, there's no overbeating it, so it's great for kids to learn with too! No matter which version of the recipe you try, I can tell you it will be a winner... and nobody will ever guess it's wheat free.

Awesomely Delicious GF Brownies
Makes 12
2/3 Cup Cocoa Powder
1/3 Cup Potato Starch
1/3 Cup Sweet White Rice Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Canola Oil
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Large Banana, Mashed
2 Tablespoons Warm Coffee
1/2 Tablespoon Vanilla
1/4 Cup Peanuts, Roughly Chopped
2 Tablespoons Semisweet Chocolate Chips
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease or line an 8-inch square baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, potato starch, rice flour, salt, and white sugar.
  3. Mix the oil, brown sugar, banana, coffee and vanilla until smooth.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and stir well, until smooth.
  5. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips to evenly distribute them throughout the batter.
  6. Smooth the batter into your prepared pan, and bake for 20 – 24 minutes.
  7. The top should no longer look “wet,” and a toothpick should come out mostly clean, with a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
  8. Let the brownies cool completely in the pan before cutting.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 194.3
Total Fat: 8.9 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 3.9 mg
Total Carbs: 30.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.3 g
Protein: 2.2 g

Monday, May 18, 2009

Creature of Habit

When I first decided to write about Andrew's and my pizza dough making experience today, I didn't realize that I was repeating myself, in a fashion. If you're one of the brave souls who's been reading my ramblings for a year or so (or you know, you know how to click into the archives) you'll see that for Victoria Day 2008 I also did a pizza post! Eh, what can I say? Victoria Day = parties, and if it's as chilly outside as it was today (though it was sunny, a rarity for the 2-4 weekend!) you don't want to be the poor guy out on the deck tending the BBQ! However, if you are lucky enough to be blessed with a climate that's more awesome than mine - say San Antonio or where my friend Johana is near Bogotá, this pizza crust would hold up well on the grill too.

This dough, like my earlier Nutell - Umpkin Crescents, is the result of too much pumpkin in the house and not a logical use for it in sight! Andrew always comes to my rescue when it comes to alleviating my overburdened fridge, even when I'm sure he doesn't really want any more food! He brought over a myriad of stuffings for the calzones we wound up baking with the dough - a fat free recipe since I swapped the 1/4 cup of olive oil for pumpkin. Vegetarian pepperoni and chicken, along with a packet of mixed Asiago and Provolone cheese cubes, got layered on top of an herby tomato paste base, then I sealed them up, cut some steam vents and popped 'em in the oven.

The smell was divine - and I can understand why Andrew was hovering over the freshly baked packets while they cooled just enough so that he could take a bite without being burned! He claimed it was so I could take a picture, so I'll go with that excuse theory. Anything to keep him happy, healthy and fed!

I think this dough is an adaptation of a Reinhart recipe, though I'm really not sure (all my IE favourites bit the dust recently *sob*). It will make a regular-thickness, 16" crust, or (my personal favourite) a minimum of eight mini pizzas. I'm a sucker for the cracker-thin type of pizza - I like my toppings unhindered - so I can usually get 10 good-sized flats. The trick with the thinner crusts is to bake them immediately, at least partially, so that the yeast gets killed off and it keeps the thinness (you can also "dock" them like pie dough to keep them flatter). Of course, if you prefer the doughier texture, letting your shaped rounds rest about 20-30 minutes before firing them is best!

Pumpkin - Herb Pizza Dough
Serves 8
1 1/4 cups flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp gluten flour
1 packet instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
1 1/4 cups warm water
1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
  1. In a large mixing bowl (this is easiest in a stand mixer), whisk together the flours, gluten, yeast, salt, herbs and garlic powder.
  2. Mix together the warm water and pumpkin, then add to the flour mixture and mix well.
  3. Knead with the dough hook or by hand for 7-10 minutes, until cohesive and fairly smooth (it will still be a little sticky).
  4. Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning to coat the top. Cover and let rest 30 minutes.
  5. Deflate the dough gently and divide / roll out as desired.
  6. For a thin, crisper crust, par-bake immediately at 425 for 5-7 minutes before topping and finishing your pizza. If you want a thicker crust, allow the rolled out dough to stand 15-30 minutes to slightly rise again.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 178.1
Total Fat: 0.8 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 20.4 mg
Total Carbs: 37.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.3 g
Protein: 6.7 g

I'm going to hand this off to Susan of WildYeast this week (I know I'm really early!) for her YeastSpotting event!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

At Least ONE Promise Kept!

See? I couldn't go back on my word about promises and planning after that discussion I had with myself this morning!

This is a good fruity quickbread, albeit a simple one, with a crunchy crust all the way around from the caramelized brown sugar and fruit juices. There's very little fat, but it adds a ton of moisture from unsweetened, rich apple butter. It's dairy free, and can be made eggless easily - the flaxseed trick or Ener-G work equally well here. I can't wait for apples to be back in our orchards!

Fresh Apple Muffin - Bread
Serves 10 generously
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup apple butter
2 tbsp canola oil
2 tart apples, peeled, and chopped coarsely
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a loaf pan.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the sugar, egg, apple butter and oil. Stir in the sifted ingredients. Fold in the apples.
  4. Bake for 45-50 minutes.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 158.6
Total Fat: 3.5 g
Cholesterol: 21.3 mg
Sodium: 13.1 mg
Total Carbs: 30.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.2 g
Protein: 2.0 g

No Reservations - A Rant

We've all had to reserve things in advance. Whether it's for someone else's event - a birthday party, restaurant dinner or wedding - or one we invite others to in our own home, we still have to go through the motions of selecting a date, a time, and a method of ensuring our presence there once we commit. It's a promise, and no matter who it's to, be it your best friend or a major restaurant franchise, it's expected that it will be kept. And so they should!

Case in point: doctor's appointments. We all know the drill - call, wait "on hold" for 15-20 minutes, finally get through and book a 15 minute slot that's 6 months away, show up 15 minutes early and sit in the waiting room for 20 minutes past your appointment time. Been there, done that. With specialists (and I'm sure most readers can empathize) it's worse. I had waited for a consultation - not even a real appointment - for 8 months (with two of those waiting for the referral to go through and actually book a time, and being bumped up the line after a cancellation!). This doctor is apparently more holy than God when it comes to internal medicine, so it's not really a surprise that trying to get a space in his queue is harder than a table at The French Laundry. So Mom and I made the hour-long drive to this tiny, barren hole of an office and showed up nice and early. As soon as the receptionist saw us, she sighed.
"He's running late. At least an hour. He started late, and there are two procedures before you."
At this point I KNEW we were screwed. Each of those was essentially a surgery, and those run easily 30 minutes apiece. Not to mention that I could see more than two people in the waiting room, meaning at least one of them hadn't been prepped. I asked when the next appointment slot was and got late August. I really didn't care about this appointment (at this point it's essentially lip service to the family, because "they worry", just apparently not about my happiness) so I said okay, but mother dearest cut me off and said no, we'll wait.

People, she made me wait TWO HOURS - and we still had one person ahead of us (unprepped). I laid out the ultimatum that either we re-book and go, or I would hitchhike / cab / bus back home myself and she could wait herself. Finally we got out of there... with a shiny new re-booking in September. One of the other prospective patients left right after us (also with a rebooking) and asked me what time my appointment was. We had the same time slot. No way should a doctor - let alone a specialist - double book themselves! And we wonder why we wait eons!

What really irks me is that as acting "God", doctors can afford to show up late, double book appointments and take their own sweet time - it's expected that you'll be waiting a good long time even with an appointment. As an employee, you show up late, you get the axe. Students skipping class get suspended. Why do we even bother booking appointments anymore? I mean, sure, it's nice to know that you're on their radar, but it's sad that we've come to expect being rudely treated by an institution that we rely on. It's abuse of power - even though we pay for their salaries (either direct or through taxes) - it's a sad fact that we do rely on the few healthcare professionals that are out there, and that they can get away with their behaviour because the talent is stretched thinner than phyllo. Classic supply and demand. Sure, there are some chefs that can get away with showing up late, if they have a crack sous team, but not many! And God forbid you run your service late - there are so many restaurants out there that you'd be out of customers, a job and a reputation.

Sigh. At least I convinced my family to stop forcing me into any more appointments if this one doesn't work out. I'm freaking 21, I shouldn't have to have these childish arguments over going to the doctor any more! I don't want to sound ungrateful, but trying to "get better" is costing me my happiness, sanity, and my ability to heal. I'm taking control of myself and my body for the first time in my life and I'm going to expoxy that control to my wall if I have to!

If you read all the way through this, thank you. I will post a few goodies for you all later tonight!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tangy, Tasty Buns for BBD #20

Guess what day it is, everyone?? It's Bread Baking Day!!

Bread Baking Day was started by the fabulous Zorra, and is in it's 20th roundup! Rachel at Tangerine's Kitchen is hosting this time, with the theme of "Multigrain Breads". Not only does she tell a great story in her post for the event, but she shares some awesome tips for incorporating different grains into your loaves too!

To give my mom a break from bagels this week - I've been making a lot of them, and will eventually compile them all into one mega-post - I made these swirly buns instead. These soft, sweet rolls are made with rich, thick Greek-style vanilla yogurt (organic, no less - I would link to Liberte's site but it keeps crashing my browser) and my mom's weakness: honey. Rolled into ropes before being shaped into spirals, they rise and bake up beautifully - you'd never guess they were full of fibre!

For the grains, I used white bread flour, whole wheat flour, and a multi-grain cereal (Bob's Red Mill High-Fibre Hot Cereal with Flaxseed) that I also wrote about here. According to the package, the cereal has "stone ground oatmeal, nutrient rich flaxseed, wheat germ, high fiber oat bran, and wheat bran". Not a bad mix, but if I had thought about it at the time, I would have added in a bit of amaranth that I have in my cupboard too.

Though these buns are high in nutritional value, they aren't precisely "healthy" because of the rich, full-fat yogurt (mine had 15g of fat per 175g!) and creamy butter. You can definitely make this lower cal with low-fat yogurt (but don't go the nonfat route!) and by leaving out the butter, but where's the fun in that? The slight sweetness and vanilla flavour in the yogurt blends with the slight tang, and mellows the intensity of the honey. When I get a chance to make this again - not likely anytime soon, since mom went on a diet - I'm going to search out her favourite buckwheat honey and use that. These were inspired by a recipe I found here.

Greek Yogurt Honey Buns
Makes 10
1/2 cup warm water
3 tbsp runny, flavourful honey
1 tbsp dry active yeast
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda (Yup, both baking soda and yeast! Don't know why!)
1/2 cup high-fibre hot cereal (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups full fat, thick vanilla yogurt, room temperature or slightly warm
2 tbsp melted butter

  1. In a large bowl or a stand mixer, combine water, honey and yeast, stirring well. Let stand 10 minutes.
  2. Combine flours, baking soda, cereal and salt in another bowl.
  3. Beat half the flour mixture into the yeast slurry, then mix in the yogurt and butter.
  4. Beat in remaining dry mixture and continue to beat 5-6 minutes, until it begins to clear the sides of the bowl and smooth out.
  5. Place into an oiled bowl, turn to grease the top.
  6. Cover and allow to rise 1 hour.
  7. Punch down the dough and make into 10 balls (mine were about 4.3oz each).
  8. Roll each ball into a thin rope shape, then curl each rope into a tight, flat spiral. Pinch the "tail" of the spiral to seal it together. Cover and allow to rise 45 minutes.
  9. Preheat oven to 400F, line a large baking sheet (or two smaller ones) with SilPat or parchment paper.
  10. Bake the spirals for 16 minutes, rotating sheet(s) halfway through.
  11. Remove from pan immediately and cool on wire racks.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 282.7
Total Fat: 4.9 g
Cholesterol: 6.5 mg
Sodium: 37.0 mg
Total Carbs: 53.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.7 g
Protein: 8.1 g

You know, I'm betting these would be a great entertain-the-kids activity to do over the summer holidays - depending on how young they are, the full fat dairy is actually beneficial - and they can make fun shapes out of the dough that are all their own! For those A+ report cards, you could even knead in a few mini chocolate chips, or hide them in the middle of the swirl! Be sure to save yourself one or two (batches - haha), because they'll go fast!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More Seed Than Bread

Are you over your meat-induced shock now? Does this mean I can write again? I promise it doesn't involve protein in any form... it's all (vegan) bread and carbs here, baby! Actually, not only is today's bread vegan, but it was a component in an earlier vegan meal I made this week!

You may recall that my Mother's Day pasta dinner involved toasted bread cubes - coming from a loaf I proudly claimed as my own! I was actually asked by a fellow Flickr user if they were seasoned, since in the dish they really do look like they are crusted with pepper and cheese, or done "Caesar-style". However, the loaf is nothing more than flour, water, yeast and a bevy of seeds and grains, shaped into a baguette and baked to crispy-crusted perfection. When I started out making the dough, I knew I wanted something with a ton of flavour - and I wasn't disappointed. The texture (not to mention the size, it's a demi-baguette) is not something I can reccommend for making sandwiches, but it would be perfect for croutons, bruschetta, crostini or even panzanella salad. Even mini French toast rounds would be good, especially if made savoury.

I'm sending this to WildYeast's Susan's event YeastSpotting this week.

Seed - Filled Crostini Bread
Makes enough for 10 crostini
1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup coarse cornmeal
2 tbsp flax seeds
2 tbsp poppy seeds
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup warm water
1 tsp dry active yeast
  1. In a bowl, combine flours, cornmeal, flax seeds, poppy seeds and salt. Set aside.
  2. Mix water and yeast in a large, deep bowl. Allow to stand 10 minutes.
  3. Beat the flour mixture into the yeasted water to form a stiff, smooth dough.
  4. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise 1 hour.
  5. Punch dough down and roll into a small baguette shape. Place on a lightly greased (or parchment lined) baking sheet.
  6. Cover again and allow to rise 45 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 400F.
  8. Bake loaf for 25 minutes, until golden and hollow-sounding when tapped.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 98.1
Total Fat: 1.9 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 2.8 mg
Total Carbs: 17.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.1 g
Protein: 3.1 g

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

We Interrupt This Blog...

To quote Galen Weston - "A warning to all vegetarians". Usually, this includes me, so trust me, I know, I know how ironic this post is. However, I also freely admit that when Charlie Kondek approached me with this review offer - a chance to try out the new "President's Choice Naturally" line of fresh beef, pork and chicken products - I heartily agreed. I'm the only one in my family that eschews meat products, and I know Andrew loves pork and chicken (though he doesn't really groove on the red meat - except lamb).

What came to my door, though, was way more than I could have expected! Along with the vouchers for free chicken drumsticks, a boneless ribeye steak, and pork ribs (which I unfortunately couldn't find), I was given a cute picnic basket and tea towel filled with a salt and pepper grinder (which I have officially fallen in love with - you can adjust the grind coarseness and it has both seasonings inside, in a good ratio... no huge chunks of salt!), as well as a grilling sauce and a bottled marinade.

The meat in both the steak and chicken is clearly high-caliber: look at the marbling in the steak! It wasn't mushy or "fake plump" feeling like so many other store brands, and though it is more expensive, if you really value the taste of simply cooked meat (ie not drowned in steak sauce, ketchup or gravy) it's worth it.

Since I wouldn't be partaking in the meat tasting, I came up with some good uses for the marinade and sauce that I could utilize instead. Turns out that the steak spices in the Steak Spice Marinade were great when poured over tofu and left to sit for a day or so, and equally good as a "toss together before work, cook for dinner" flavouring on carrots, mushrooms and broccoli. The Dad's Grill, Maple, Apple & Beer sauce was pretty good on oven fries and in my Sloppy Joe mix. It does need a bit more "oomph" though - I added a touch of garlic powder, Tabasco and a little bit of honey to pump up the flavour, which worked nicely.

I do have plans for the chicken thighs, which will work themselves into a mini-cacciatore soon for Andrew, and if I can convince my mom to try the marinade on the (gigantic) steak before I cook it, I can make the three red-meatheads dinner too. Once I find those pork ribs, I'll put the stepdad to work on his new BBQ - which my mom had to assemble for him...

If you happen to be in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Halifax and Calgary from 4-6:00 PM tomorrow, keep an eye out for President's Choice street teams dressed in butcher aprons! They will be distributing vouchers for free meat products at the busiest commuter transit hubs until all the coupons are distributed.

With grilling season soon to open, it's a great deal for the conscious-minded meat eating set!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mommy's Meal

Did everyone have a wonderful Mother's Day? Did you hug something or someone motherly? Good children you all are!

Ironically (though as seems to be the usual case around here), I didn't actually get to see much of my mother yesterday. When I woke up, she was already out and about... this time with my stepdad to the cemetary for his mother's day visit. When they came home, she spent about 15 minutes rushing around to get ready for the lunch that SHE had to book and organize, and I couldn't attend due to my dietary issues (FYI, the stepdad filled this break by watching TV). Then, grandparents arrived to go to lunch and ZAP! gone again for another 5 hours. It was late afternoon before I got to properly tell her "Happy Mother's Day"!

But, that doesn't mean I wasn't doing anything for her! I may have forgotten to buy a card (thank you Andrew!) and I couldn't afford a nice gift, but I made her dinner and dessert last night. And just because I can never do anything simply, I chose to make a recipe that required multiple components, meaning multiple steps, which actually worked out into multiple days! To capitalize on time (and kitchen space) I actually began preparing elements of this meal on Wednesday. Actually, if you count me making (and freezing, for relative freshness) the loaf of bread for the toast cubes, I started this project the Sunday before. Yes... I made bread specifically to dry it out. Wednesday was full of onions and garlic slowly caramelizing in the oven before being pureed silky smooth (I thought I had died and gone to heaven), Saturday saw me cutting the bread into cubes so it could sit and dry out, and roasting the other "croutons" (yummy, healthy chickpeas - they came from a can but that was it!) for the topping. But, as with all labours of love, it was worth it! Everything (but the bread, which had to toast a la minute) was prepped and ready to go come dinnertime, meaning that all I had to do was boil water, chop some veggies and throw together a basic saute - 20 minutes. Beat that, RR! I'm going to ship off this dish to Ruth's event Presto Pasta Nights for this Friday's roundup, hosted by Patsy of Family Friends & Food.

Summer Pasta With Broccoli Rabe And Croutons
Serves 6
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 large Vidalia onion, roughly chopped
5 cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
2 tbsp water
2 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and patted dry
3/4 cup small cubed, preferably grainy bread
1 pound broccoli raab (sometimes called rapini or broccoli rabe), trimmed and washed
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tbsp fresh basil, shredded
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 lb whole grain pasta (I used spelt linguine, but I reccommend a chunkier, short cut)
  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. In a bowl, toss 1 1/2 tbsp oil with the onions and garlic, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Pour into a deep casserole dish and tent (do not seal completely) with foil (or use the lid if it isn't airtight).
  3. Bake 45 minutes, then stir the casserole contents.
  4. Re-cover lightly with foil and continue roasting a further 15-20 minutes, until onions and garlic are soft. Allow to cool.
  5. Place the onions and garlic, with any liquid and the extra water, to a small food processor bowl or blender and puree. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  6. Heat oven to 375F and lightly mist one or two baking sheets with non-stick spray.
  7. Spread the chickpeas onto the sheet(s) in one layer, then spray with the non-stick spray.
  8. Roast for 25 minutes, then stir / shake the pan to prevent sticking.
    Return to oven *NB: if serving immediately add the tray of bread cubes at this point* and bake 15 minutes longer, watching carefully to prevent burning.
  9. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta and cook according to package directions (reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water), and prepare a steamer pot for the broccoli raab.
  10. Steam broccoli rabe 5 minutes, remove from heat immediately.
  11. Meanwhile, add remaining oil to a large pot over medium heat. Add the steamed broccoli rabe, tomatoes, pasta water and onion/garlic paste, tossing well.
  12. Stir in the lemon zest, pepper flakes and basil. Remove from heat and toss with lemon juice and drained pasta.
  13. Just before serving, toss the pan mixture with the bread cubes and chickpeas to maintain their crunch.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 337.2
Total Fat: 9.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 322.7 mg
Total Carbs: 56.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 10.9 g
Protein: 12.3 g

I am actually kind of ashamed to say that dessert started out as a major fail, then fell into the "afterthought" category of my daily activities. The fail came when I tried to use the last of the free bottles of POM juice that I received from the company. I had enjoyed one straight ages ago, used another in a (forthcoming) fruit bread, and given one to Andrew. When I found a recipe for Chocolate Cupcakes with the juice on their website, I couldn't wait to give it a go. Mom loves chocolate, and fruit (especially since the bottle I had was my personal favourite - with added cherry juice), so I figured it would be a hit.

Well, um, it wasn't. I even followed the recipe to a T - unusual I know, but I wanted something for mom's dessert. The batter was so liquid it was water - we're talking thinner than crepes - and even then I forged ahead, rationalizing that cake batters are usually on the thin side. But I knew, ohhh I knew (and all us cooks can empathize!) it wasn't going to fly. The cupcakes sunk... no wait, imploded... into little cakes of what looked like charcoal, smelled like caramel and was totally unsalvageable. So into the bin the batch went, and I let the idea of dessert slide by. Until yesterday morning.

Because I'm just good like that, I got the idea to do a fairly light, fruity dessert from scratch to cap off the meal. A granola-topped, custard, blueberry and mango parfait, to be specific. And I wanted to do it all from scratch. So I spent my morning alone roasting up a vanilla and honey granola, cooking a delicious (though slightly runny, which I fixed for the recipe below) vanilla custard with a touch of lemon zest and creating the most delicious (I ate half of it the first time, then had to make more *blush*) compote with the two unlikely fruits. Everything got squirreled away until I could assemble the two layered glasses later that afternoon, leaving off the granola until just before I served them.

Mothers Day Spring Parfait
Serves 2
1 tbsp custard powder
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup of whole milk, divided
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp grated lemon zest
150 g fresh (or frozen, thawed, juices reserved) mango, cubed small
1/2 cup fresh (or frozen, thawed, juices reserved) blueberries
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp cold water (or reserved fruit thawing juices)
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp water
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 tsp canola oil (if needed, included in NI)

For Custard Base
  1. Combine powder, sugar and 1 tbsp of milk to a paste in saucepan, add remaining milk and heat to just under the boil.
  2. Cook 5 minutes or until thickened, stirring, then remove from heat and let cool 2 minutes.
  3. Stir in the vanilla and lemon zest and chill before serving.
  4. Can be made 1-2 days in advance.

For Compote

  1. Combine the fruit, 2 tbsp water, honey and brown sugar in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer and cook 6-8 minutes, stirring frequently, until the fruit begins to break down.
  2. Whisk together cornstarch and water (or juice) in a small dish until smooth.
  3. Stir the slurry into the cooking mixture and simmer, stirring for 1-2 minutes until thick and the fruit is coated.
  4. Can be used warm over pancakes and waffles, for this parfait cool completely.
  5. Can be made up to 5 days in advance.

For Granola Topping

  1. Preheat oven to 275F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl - I find tossing and mixing by hand works best - until everything is evenly coated.
  3. Spread evenly on the lined sheet, as close to one layer as possible.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan in the oven.
  5. Bake a further 10-15 minutes, or until the oats are crispy, toasted and mostly dry.
  6. Cool completely on sheet, then stir to get the clusters.
  7. Store in an airtight tin. Can be made up to 10 days in advance.


  1. Layer an even smount of custard on the bottom of each serving dish.
  2. Top with a generous amount of fruit, then add equal amounts of granola to the top of each dish.
  3. Serve immediately.
Amount Per Serving (NB: this included all the granola - I used maybe 1 1/2 tbsp per portion)
Calories: 550.9
Total Fat: 7.8 g
Cholesterol: 6.1 mg
Sodium: 535.7 mg
Total Carbs: 115.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 7.9 g
Protein: 10.5 g

So the verdict on my home cooked dinner? My mom loved it - it was light, full of vegetables, colourful and the perfect mix of texture for her. She adored the finishing touch of lemon zest and juice with the sweetness from the roasted garlic and onions and cherry tomatoes. The only thing she mentioned changing (and I agree with her) is the size of the croutons. I'd probably halve them once again to balance out the texture, especially if served with linguine like I did. I think rotini or rigatoni would be okay with the bigger chunks though. The broccoli rabe was perfectly cooked (for once - I think mom comes from the school of "veggie mush"). I can't wait to make this again in the Summer when the cherry tomatoes can be our own! Mom also made a good point that this would be delicious as a cold pasta salad for BBQs, and that without the pasta it would be great over some greens on it's own. Dessert was deemed "really good" by Mom too - not too sweet, and the perfect portion especially after the large meal. My stepdad, however, didn't have any of it (he preferred microwaving popcorn).

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Not From a Box!

But from a couple cans and a jar! Come on, you really think I could make spiral buns this flaky and perfect without a little help from the Doughboy? Actually, yea I probably could, but I never would have because a) I'm lazy and b) making these buns was totally and completely serendipitous. After making my delicious and totally awesome cake again (I need to get more Just Like Sugar!), I was left with a partial can of pumpkin puree and no potential use for it! I really didn't want to see it wasted (not to mention that blue fuzzies churn my stomach no matter how nice blue and orange combine) so I called up Andrew with a question: would he like some pumpkin foccacia, or perhaps pizza dough? I didn't want to resort to yet more muffins, especially since nobody around here has that much of a sweet tooth.

We began comparing leftover lists between our houses to see if there was something that filled both our quotas. Well, it turned out that Andrew had a couple tubes of crecent rolls and a partial jar of Nutella that were nearing expiry. My brain immediately sprung to a version of chocolate croissants (hey, I'm a woman, chocolate flows in my veins!) that used Nutella instead, but it was Andrew who mentioned combining the nutty, chocolatey goo with my pumpkin!

They came out of the oven perfectly - soft, flaky and with a great balanced filling to dough ratio (ahem, thank you, thank you). The pumpkin and Nutella combination formed a whole other taste, according to Andrew, not like one ingredient or the other, and he used leftovers (what he didn't eat straight, that is) on toast!

Have a happy Mother's Day to all those celebrating - I'll share my adventures soon!

Nutell - Umpkin Crescents
Makes 16
2/3 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/3 cup Nutella
1 tbsp tapioca starch
2 tubes Pillsbury Crescent roll dough (8 pcs each)
  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
  2. Beat together pumpkin, Nutella and tapioca starch in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. Unwrap and separate crescent roll dough into the individual triangles.
  4. Spread each triangle lightly and evenly with the pumpkin mixture, covering the whole surface.
  5. Roll up as per package directions, then curl each rope of filled dough into a spiral shape and place on sheets.
  6. Bake for 13 minutes, then cool 5 minutes on sheets before removing to a rack or eating warm.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 147.8
Total Fat: 7.9 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 225.1 mg
Total Carbs: 16.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.5 g
Protein: 2.6 g

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Slow Day

Today has been one of total vacuity. Nothing has been done in the house (oh - I did empty the dishwasher... and I got dressed, albeit at 2PM) and frankly, I'm kind of glad. It's the first day in a while that I have had nothing to do. So, instead of being the industrious person I could have been and caught up with all my blogging, I hovered on Twitter for most of the day. If you'd like to keep up with me (I'm more industrious there than on Blogger) and you haven't followed me yet, you can here. I'm still looking for an answer to my in shell to shelled meat yield for mussels... my (pricey, btw) Book of Yields textbook is of no help!

Normally, being alone in the house and having nothing to do would leave me in an incredible fit of boredom... the type that breeds gratuitous baked goods... you know, like bagels and brownies and loaves of bread. But I couldn't do it. Not today. I don't know if it was that I woke up an hour late (I'm so not used to sleeping in!), or if the black clouds and humidity were the culprit, but I had no energy to do anything but read, occasionally Tweet, and watch TV. I didn't even have the energy to nap (yes, it does take energy, and effort, for me! Two prescription sleeping meds can't be wrong!). I did find plenty of things that I would adore making though, provided I had a willing, and hungry, audience. A certain Milk Chocolate Cherry Twist would be near the top, and the total die-hard chocoholic in me is calling for brownies.

Instead of giving some fresh-from-the-oven goodies to you today, I fear I'll have to resort to actually making a dent in the backlog of treats I've made thus far and haven't shared yet! I'm tripling up again, this time with three equally delicious, equally stuffed-full-of-bits cookies. The best part about these recipes is that you can either bake them off all at once, immediately, or opt to wrap and chill (or even freeze) the batter for later baking. If you're feeling really industrious you can even pre-portion the dough before freezing it, so you get the whole bake-as-needed portion control. Each of these recipes has something going for it nutrition wise, too... except for the fact that they're well, cookies, they could be health food!! Right?? *crickets chirping* Hello??

Before I proceed to the recipes, I'm looking for some feedback on a recipe idea I was passing around with @ceto on Twitter after they posed a "favourite ice cream flavour" question: a Chocolate Stout Cake (a la this recipe) ice cream with a cream cheese ribbon. Any ideas how to start concocting a recipe?? I'm thinking a dark chocolate / stout ice cream base with cake chunks and the cheese ribbon. I've never made ice cream before (not having a machine will do that) so I don't know where to start... but I'm game!

Okay, so cookies, here we go!
This batch features everything you could look for in a healthy snack: Nuts? Check. Fruit? Double-check. Seeds? Check. Whole Grains? Another double-check. And oh yeah, CHOCOLATE!

Chewy Checklist Cookies
Makes 64
10oz lite, firm silken tofu (good ol' Mori-Nu)
1 tablespoon vanilla
8 oz sugar
8 oz brown sugar
6.5 oz salted butter (room temp)
6 oz shortening
14 oz flour
4.5 oz whole-wheat flour
3.5 oz multi-grain cereal (I used Bob's Red Mill High-Fibre Hot Cereal with Flaxseed), or thick-cut rolled oats
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
14 oz assorted add-ins (I used roughly equal amounts of chocolate chips, sultanas, craisins, pumpkin seeds and chopped pecans)

Preheat oven to 350F.
Puree tofu and vanilla in blender or processor until smooth, set aside.
Cream the sugars, butter and shortening until fluffy.
Add the pureed tofu to the creamed mixture, beating well.
In separate bowl, mix flours, cereal, baking soda and salt.
Add flour mixture to creamed mixture and mix until flour just disappears.
Fold in additions.
Make balls with the dough and place onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake for 11 - 12 minutes. Cool completely on sheets.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 139.7
Total Fat: 6.8 g
Cholesterol: 7.7 mg
Sodium: 29.3 mg
Total Carbs: 18.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.1 g
Protein: 2.0 g

I found this next one on someone's blog, but now I can't find it again! I did find the same base recipe I used here. If you know what blog featured the recipe, please let me know! I used half / half butter and shortening for sturdiness, added brown sugar for flavour and decorated them with pepitas and a Craisin centre. I also watched these like a hawk in the oven - they can be finicky because they contain (gluten-free) chickpea flour as part of the batter and spread like crazy!

Indian Butter Biscuits
Makes 14
1 oz salted butter, room temperature
1 oz shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3.5 oz flour
1 oz chickpea flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 300F. Line or lightly grease a cookie sheet (I reccommend lining, especially with these as they can get greasy).
Cream together butter, shortenning and sugars very well, until fluffy. Add vanilla and beat smooth.
Whisk together flours and baking powder in another bowl.
Using a wooden spoon or spatula, mix in the dry ingredients gently.
Make dough into small (1-oz or so) balls and press down very slightly. Decorate if desired.
Bake for 10 minutes, cool completely on sheets.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 104.9
Total Fat: 3.8 g
Cholesterol: 5.4 mg
Sodium: 28.1 mg
Total Carbs: 17.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.3 g
Protein: 1.1 g

A variation from a King Arthur Flour concoction, these are nutty, crunchy and chewy all at the same time, with a double hit of rich sweetness from dark honey and chocolate. Kasha is toasted buckwheat groats.

Buckwheat Honey - Chip Cookies
Makes 30
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/4 cup hot water
3 tbsp butter, softened
3 tbsp shortening
1 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp buckwheat honey
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup dark buckwheat flour
2/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup Craisins
1/3 cup toasted buckwheat kernels (Kasha)

In a small dish, whisk together the flaxseed and water. Set aside.
Cream the butter, shortening, sugar and honey.
Add vanilla, vinegar and flax mixture,beating smooth.
Whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.
Beat into the creamed mixture.
Fold in the chocolate chips, Craisins and buckwheat, mixing JUST till combined.
Wrap dough well in plastic and refrigerate 8-24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment.
Bake tablespoon-size cookies 11 minutes, until they’re starting to brown.
Cool 5 minutes on the sheet before transferring them to a rack to cool completely

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 118.7
Total Fat: 3.9 g
Cholesterol: 3.1 mg
Sodium: 12.0 mg
Total Carbs: 20.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.4 g
Protein: 1.7 g

Lastly, and I can't even believe I'm justifying this "news" with a thought process - must have been a slow news day, too. In proof that the world has nothing better to talk about... what's with the Dijon / Obama fiasco? God forbid I ask for extra ginger with my sushi plate then, or order my sub with honey mustard... Christ, it isn't like the man asked for his fries to be coated in Fleur de Sel and cooked in rendered duck fat before being served Grey Poupon with a mother of pearl spoon. So the next time I make breakfast, should I put some Aunt Jemima syrup on French toast - note FRENCH, not that weakling "patriot" crap... or is that too "elite"? Should I stick with a dry crust of Wonder Bread instead?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

For Stan.

There are few people in this world that can raise your spirits by simply being present. Everybody probably has one or two of them in their lives at any given time - a best friend, a sibling, a lover - and if you are lucky enough to recognize and realize these special people for who they are and what joys they can bring to your life you need never have a day without a smile. For me, one of those perpetual smile-generators (and general goodwill ambassadors!) is a special professor of mine from this past year's Intro to Psychology class named Stan. One of the most selflessly giving people I have ever met, this man has gone through incredible personal turmoil over the years, and yet still manages to come into work every day with a smile, an upbeat attitude and a great story to tell. In his classes, three hours passed in what felt like thirty minutes, we all knew his phone extension because of it's correlation with a Swiss Chalet story he told us on day 1, and somebody would always return from break with a cup of tea from Timmy's for him, which he would always pay for. Stan has run marathons, owns real-estate for profit, raises a family and somehow manages to put together the most entertaining, YouTube video filled lectures I have ever had the pleasure of attending.

I was asked by Stan (shortly after the Copper Chef event) to bake and donate a cake for an event that the Simcoe County branch of Autism Ontario was holding. I jumped at the chance, not only because it meant I got to bake a cake (*happy dance*) but that it meant that I was finally able to do something - even in a small way - to give back to someone who had done so much for me! I was fully prepared to make and give the cake to him gratis, but he wouldn't hear of it after seeing me whine about the chocolate cost! He not only graciously paid for the ingredients, but put himself in charge of transporting my cake - plus two others - to Barrie for the event. What did he get out of all of this, you may ask... after all, he didn't even get a taste of the cake!... well, I can't say for certain, but I have a feeling that Stan is just that type of person - if he can brighten your day, he's succeeded in his own mind. We should all be so lucky to be able to do that!! At the very least, I also gave him a bag of cookies (recipe forthcoming) and a packet of my favourite carrot seeds. Hopefully he and his family will enjoy them as much as I do (and share them with the community - yes, they community garden too!)! So, to Stan and all the people out there like him,


The Fourth Annual Evening for Autism was a resounding success - the cake auction alone raised $2300! My donation sold for a hefty $120, blowing me completely out of the water, and I can only say that I honestly hope the top bidders thoroughly enjoyed the decadence that is my Chocolate Stout Cake... since I thoroughly enjoyed making and decorating it! The recipe I used is the same one I made for my mom's birthday, the only exception being that instead of the traditional Guinness, I used a new beer I found at the LCBO: Young's Double Chocolate Stout.

If anybody out there has any information on the dietary / nutritional management of conditions such as Autism, feel free to pass it along. I know that there are many parents out there who would appreciate another resource!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Finding My Marbles!

This week was a very emotionally charged one for many of my friends - not only did I finish exams (and the accompanying school year), say goodbye to my friends and professors, and take a great trip to Yorkville with my mom today, but I had the chance to really brighten a few people's days too! Of course, I opted to bring the smiles with sugar and chocolate (is there anything better?).

This was actually the second cake I was commissioned to make this week, though it was due first so got prime ranking in our (already overburdened) fridge! It was a cake that served a double purpose, as it turned out... both as a celebratory gesture for my friend Magdalena's work anniversary and a sorrow-drowning tactic for the team as they had to say goodbye to my mom, who was shuffling jobs (and therefore offices). While it's depressing to think that I won't be able to drop by and hang out with everyone at once as easily as I used to, at least we don't have to move across the province for her new position (or out of province - that would really suck). In fact, mom's the only one who's doing any moving at all, since her new office is a grand 15 minutes down the street!

Magdalena (who the cake was actually ordered for - by my mom no less!) is a huge fan of my banana bread, and I had also heard through the grapevine of women at the office that there was a call out for something chocolate too! I knew the combination was already a winner... heck, banana chocolate chip bread was one of my absolute favourite snacks as a kid... the trick was how to combine them into a somewhat fancy cake-like object that would serve the horde, decorate it and transport it in one piece! I wound up deciding on marbling the two flavours - I've always adored marble cake! - and figured a double-decker sheet cake would fit the bill nicely since I had the perfect filling in mind!

Nicole at Baking Bites (as seems to be my go-to source these days) gave me the perfect inspiration for a recipe: her Black and White Marble Sheet Cake looked just what I was after. After flipping back and forth to the recipe a couple, oh, dozen times, it occured to me that it was basically only the method that needed to remain the same. I ditched the notion of sheeted layers for a triple-decker round instead, with a base of chocolate instead of the vanilla in the original. That part was fairly simple, since all I had to do was remove a smaller portion of plain batter to flavour / colour with banana before making the large portion chocolate. The fun part (speaking as someone who abhors math in any way, shape or form) was realizing that everything needed to be multiplied by 1 1/2, not simply doubled as I thought before. Sigh! I guess that's what calculators are for, right??

At any rate, the cakes came out beautifully, smelling to high heaven of caramelizing sugar and rich cocoa (as I HOPE heaven smells like - really, if I can't bake in the afterlife I'm not too sure I'll strive towards nirvana, thank you very much!). A simple peanut butter buttercream filling glued the works together, before I got down to work smearing gratuitous amounts of espresso-fudge frosting over the body. Two hours after starting that little endeavour, I chucked it into the fridge to firm up, then later I finished it up by making a gorgeous (if I do say so myself) banana-chip sunflower with a dash of sanding sugar for sparkle. It may not have been the fanciest cake I've put out, but it was one of the most special to me.

Marbled Banana Cake
Serves 20
3 cups flour
1/2 cup spelt flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (if using unsalted butter, use 1 1/2 tsp)
1 1/4 cups sugar
5.5 oz salted butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup full-fat, Greek-style vanilla (or plain) yogurt
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tsp banana extract
1 tsp yellow food colouring (optional)
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup hot water
2/3 cup buttercream icing
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (preferably unsweetened)
1/4 cup icing sugar, sifted
Chocolate-Espresso Frosting
2 cups buttercream icing
3 tbsp unsweetened (preferably Dutch process) cocoa powder
1/2 tbsp instant espresso powder

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F, grease two 10" springform pans well and line the bottoms with parchment.
  2. Whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together butter and white sugar until light.
  4. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla and yogurt.
  5. Alternately add flour mixture and milk to creamed mixture, ending with flour, mixing thoroughly.
  6. Scoop out about 1 1/2 cups of the batter and put into a separate bowl. Add banana extract and food colouring if using.
  7. Combine brown sugar, cocoa powder and water in a small bowl, then stir into vanilla batter, beating well.
  8. Pour chocolate batter into pans.
  9. Top with dollops of the banana batter, then drag a skewer or knife through to create a swirling pattern - don’t over marble.
  10. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until tests done.
  11. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing, filling and frosting.


  1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl until thick and rich-textured. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.


  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, beating until thoroughly blended.
  2. Mask and finish cake as desired. Store in fridge.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 423.6
Total Fat: 17.2 g
Cholesterol: 51.7 mg
Sodium: 157.3 mg
Total Carbs: 64.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.6 g
Protein: 6.7 g

The guys at the office got the honour of hacking dividing it up, but I don't think the women minded at all! I only wish I could have been there to watch the sugar comas that ensued!