Friday, August 27, 2010

Oh, For Goodness Cake!

I've come to discover that I'm totally and completely a creature of habit. In a way, of course, I did know that - being human! I'm quite comfortable in knowing what is what most (if not all) of the time, and even when I don't plan things to recur whenever the same catalysts are present, they always seem to! Take, for example, the vegetable garden I've been keeping since we moved in. Every year, I plant heirloom tomatoes, radishes, candy-cane beets and purple carrots. Every. Freaking. Year. Do I ever know what I'm going to do with everything once it's all ripe and ready? Am I forethinking in the amount of weeding, thinning, turning soil and general maintenance keeping any organic veggie garden (and especially one with heirlooms like mine) requires? Nope. If anything, I forget all those details by Christmastime (if not sooner), instead creating a notion that I was always able to deal with a tiny harvest. After all, it's just a few plants, right?

So I just continue on every season with the seed-starting, and only when I've been out weeding for two hours because I left the plots alone for two weeks does it come rushing back. Then comes the harvesting. Now, I love my veggies and all, but even I was sick of seeing cucumbers, radishes and carrots in my salad bowl! If the tomatoes would come, that would be a different story - I can eat them by the tonne, but I'm still waiting on my heirloom fruits to ripen.  

So I suppose it comes down to the fact that I'm now just admitting that I'm ridiculously habitual. And like previous years - remember the Carrot Glut of 2008? - there will likely be a rash of "holy crap I have all these vegetables" creations. I've already started with the pickle-fest this year, making almost 12 litres of the tangy, delicious snacks, and it's only the generous offer from a friend of mine to take the majority of my second (almost 12 lb) harvest that I'm not currently marketing cucumbers to everyone under the sun.

I'm not complaining that my garden, overflowing as it is, is doing so well - I too remember several years where we'd get nothing all Summer - not even a single cherry tomato. But sometimes, you just have to throw up your hands at all the insanity. It's a darn good thing that homegrown veggies are so tasty, otherwise I'd just ignore them to turn into compost!

For the cake (made as a way of both using up fresh produce and what was in my pantry), I was lucky enough to have a good amount of the fruit and veggies either come from my garden or the yards of nearby producers. I can't think of a better way to enjoy the local harvest when you just can't face another salad!

For Goodness Cake!
Makes 1 10" tube pan, 16 slices
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/4 cup hot water
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup psyllium fibre husks (optional)
2 tbsp chia seed (optional)
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 large banana
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup pumpkin (or butternut squash) puree
1 1/2 cups pureed strawberries
1 Ataulfo (honey) mango, peeled and diced
1 medium peach, peeled and diced
1 tbsp vanilla
3 large, finely shredded carrots
1/3 cup sultana raisins, soaked in hot water and drained
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 10" tube pan.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flaxseed and hot water. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together the flours, wheat germ, psyllium, chia seed, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a food processor, blend together banana, ginger, sugars, oil, oumpkin puree, jam, mango, peach and vanilla. Pour into a large bowl and beat in the flaxseed mixture.
  5. Add the dry ingredients, beating well.
  6. Fold in the carrots, raisins and nuts.
  7. Bake 1 hour. Cool completely in the pan, then turn onto a serving plate and glaze if desired.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 305.0
Total Fat: 10.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 32.8 mg
Total Carbs: 53.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.6 g
Protein: 4.4 g

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Case for Purity

So, who out there is a die-hard tomato farmer? Our backyard, once again, is host to way more plants than we can harvest half the time, let alone eating everything fresh! We (well, my stepfather) did cut down on our tomato-seedling purchasing though - I get a free pass because I didn't buy any pre-started plants but started my heirlooms from seed. We weren't sure if my tomatoes would even take in the garden, but oooh, boy - did they ever! In fact, this is now my best "from seed" growing season to date, with 6 plants of my own strong and beginning to produce fruit! In total, we've got 9 rows of 4 plants each and my seeds made 3 rows of 2 plants each, so to do the math... well, we've got a lot of tomatoes on our hands right about now.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Allergies? Schmallergies!

The kitchen can be an unnerving, frustrating and occasionally dangerous place to find yourself in. The sharp knives, water-electric hookups, plugs and of course the stove and oven are obviously risky business when handled incorrectly. But for those with food allergies the place that so many families centre their lives around, and parties take off in, can become the equivalent of running the gauntlet. When the allergies are environmentally aggravated in one way or another (as in some cases with wheat and gluten due to flour in the air) even abstaining from eating the culprit can't help.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Stocking Stock (and Soup)

I am a soup-making fiend. Thankfully, my mom is a soup eating fiend throughout all the four seasons of the year, but I've taken her lunches at work to a level a wee bit above the standard "can of whatever" she originally settled for mid-day. In addition to whipping up soups with whatever inspiration strikes me that day, I've gotten into the habit of making the bare bones of the meals as well - the stock.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back to Bagels

So most of you know that if you hear about me making bread, chances are it's the weekly (or twice-monthly, depending) offering for my mom's workplace snacks and lunches that's going into the oven. I pride myself on being able to come up with one unique combination of flavours after another, without much advance notice. Of course, it helps when you have a pantry stocked to the gills like mine is, but even with the very basic elements of flour, water, salt, yeast and maybe a touch of sugar and a dash of spice it's more than possible to churn out a batch of bread in as little as two or three hours!

Of course, if you want to get fancy with your doughs, all bets are off. You can take that lightning-fast, incredibly simple 4 ingredient loaf and add fruit, vegetables, nuts or seeds to it. You can stretch the fermentation period out, mess with the flours, enrich the mixture with egg and fat or simply change the shape of the final baked good. If you're feeling particularly frisky in your ventures, you can even bring a big pot of boiling honey water to the party and make one of my favourite kinds if bread - a Montrealer style bagel.

This recipe has some fun new goodies in it that I was fortunate enough to win from a Foodie Blogroll contest, too: dried cherries and tart cherry concentrate courtesy of Michelle's Miracle®. I also kneaded in ground almonds, minced pecans and a crushed All Bran cereal bar. Boiled up and baked in a hot oven, they're perfectly dense, filling and wholesome rings fit for breakfast. Wonder what else will be on the YeastSpotting table this week at WildYeast?

Very - Cherry Crunch Bagels
Makes 10 bagels
1/3 cup pecan halves
1 All-Bran "Honey Nut" Bar, broken
1/4 cup ground almonds
1 tbsp instant yeast
2 tbsp sugar
2 cups flour
2 cups whole wheat bread flour
1 tbsp gluten flour
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup warmed (1%) milk
1/4 cup tart cherry juice concentrate (like Michelle’s Miracle®)
1 egg
2 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup dried cherries, soaked in hot water and drained
1 tbsp honey (for boiling)
  1. In a food processor, combine pecan halves, All-Bran bar and ground almonds. Process until pecans and All-Bran bar are ground to a coarse, mealy texture.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine yeast, sugar, flour, whole wheat bread flour and gluten flour, whisking to incorporate everything.
  3. Add warm water, warm milk and tart cherry juice concentrate and begin mixing on low speed.
  4. After about a minute, add egg, honey and salt. Continue kneading for 15 minutes, until the dough is very elastic.
  5. Cover the bowl and allow to rest 45 minutes.
  6. Turn onto a floured board and knead in the ground nut mixture and dried cherries by hand.
  7. Re-cover and allow to rest 15 minutes.
  8. Bring a large pot of water to a boil with the honey, and preheat the oven to 375F.
  9. Divide dough into 10 even balls and shape each into a ring.
  10. Place the bagels, two at a time, into the boiling water for 2 minutes per side.
  11. Drain well, and place on lined baking sheets.
  12. Bake for 30 minutes and cool on a rack.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 298.7
Total Fat: 5.4 g
Cholesterol: 21.9 mg
Sodium: 35.3 mg
Total Carbs: 54.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.0 g
Protein: 9.8 g

Monday, August 16, 2010

Blueberries, Baby!

 This Sunday was all about the blueberries for those of us in the GTA. Well to be totally honest, I really should say for those of us in the know this Sunday was all about the blueberries. Why, you ask? Well, you'd have to ask the good folks of the Evergreen Brick Works for the answer to that one. They were the organizers and hosts of the first annual Wild Blueberry Festival held on the property, and let me tell you, it was a BLAST! Tons of stuff was all going on at once - from beer and wine tastings, to pancake making kids, to live entertainment - by the time I got there with my grandparents, who I wanted to introduce to the whole market's atmosphere. Being just this side of the "traditional" mindset, my grandparents were more than game to face the fairly "liberal" crowd that frequents the Brick Works - even if it did involve them making a few comments about the "hippies" and "hemp wearing and smoking" crowd they felt dominated the day (which then makes me wonder - I love that market, so what am I then?). At any rate, I was incredibly grateful to have them along, since not only did I want company for the day, but I needed my own cheer squad.

You see, I had entered their blueberry pie bake-off contest with my own kind of "crunchy granola", healthified version of the pastry. I know I've posted a blueberry pie already this summer, but for the bake-off I wanted something a little bit more "out there", something that would mirror the eclectic crowd at the festival's general ideals of healthful, natural, minimally processed and (preferably) organic food for the people. So instead of your traditional (albeit tasty, I'm sure - mind you I don't particularly like blueberry pie!) thickened sugar, citrus and berry filling in a buttery, lily-white crust, I went way out of left field when I wrote this recipe. I mean, the fresh, local blueberries were still the front and centre star of my pie, but other than that there was pretty much nothing "traditional" about it. However, just because it wasn't your commonplace pie didn't make it any less delicious - nor did it really reduce the whole "guilt" factor of the fat-laden crust!

I suppose if you really wanted to break the whole thing down, my pie was one of the more "wholesome" ones on the table of 17 - call it my obsessive nutritionist mentality if you will. My crust, while containing "evil" and highly "ungourmet" shortening (trans-fat free stuff, though) and regular unbleached flour, also had a hearty dose of wheat germ for colour, flavour, protein and fibre. Why shortening, with all that goodness? Well to be honest with you I grew up making shortening-based pie doughs. I've made all-butter and part-butter crusts before, and frankly they're way more hassle than they're worth. Heck - you're having pie anyways, you might as well go out all the way. I'll save my butter for shortbreads, thankyouverymuch. The filling of my pie was completely unlike any other that I've seen, and in my ever-so-humble opinion way more flavourful. In place of white sugar, good for sweetening but not a whole lot else, I decided to bring in two of the best natural sweeteners I could think of: luscious, local honey (from a Brick Works merchant, no less!) and sticky, rich dates. The combination of the three flavours in the partially cooked filling (I followed the same method I used before, cooking 1/4-1/3 of the berries with the thickener and sweeteners before folding in the rest of the fruit) was exotic, almost reminding me of a Canadian-esque baklava, and nobody in my taste-testing pool could place just what that flavour was, though they all declared it delicious.

In the end, my pie didn't find top favour with the "celeb" judging panel. The flavours, though delicious, were just "off" enough from the standard blueberry-ness of a blueberry pie to throw the votes, but the crust (I heard through the gravevine) was a favourite. You know what though? I may not have won the battle of the day, but I won the war in my own household: making a dessert that everyone I served it to liked!

Honeyed Date Blueberry Pie
Serves 12, one 10" pie 
7.5 oz (2 cups + 2 tbsp) all-purpose flour
2.9 oz (2/3 cup) wheat germ
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2.4 oz (1/3 cup) butter-flavoured shortening
4.8 oz (2/3 cup) "plain" shortening
5 tbsp Grand Marnier
3 - 4 tbsp ice cold water

1/4 cup water
4.3 oz (2/3 cup) sugar
1.6 oz (1/3 cup) diced dates
3.7 oz (1/3 cup) honey
2 1/2 pints (5 cups) fresh or frozen blueberries
1.6 oz (1/3 cup) tapioca flour
7 1/2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 egg, beaten (for brushing crust)

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, wheat germ, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.
  2. Cut in both shortenings with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  3. Add Grand Marnier and stir in well, then add water by the tablespoon until a crumbly but workable dough forms.
  4. Turn onto a well floured board or counter and divide - one portion roughly 2/3 of the dough, the remainder 1/3 of the dough. Wrap the smaller portion of dough in plastic and chill.
  5. Roll remaining dough into a large circle and fit into a 10" pie plate. Place into the refrigerator while preparing the filling.
  6. Preheat oven to 400F and place rack on the bottom shelf of the oven.
  7. For filling, combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, dates and honey in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes over low leat, stirring occasionally.
  8. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the blueberries and cook until they begin to burst - about 5 minutes.
  9. In a small bowl, whisk together tapioca flour and remaining water.
  10. Stir starch mixture into the cooking berries and cook gently over low heat until the mixture thickens.
  11. Remove from heat and stir in nutmeg, then fold in remaining berries and pour into the chilled pie shell.
  12. Roll out remaining 1/3 of dough into a rough rectangle and cut thin strips of dough with a sharp knife or pizza cutter.
  13. Brush outside rim of crust with beaten egg.
  14. Weave a lattice pattern with the dough strips overtop of the filling, pressing into the crust edge to seal.
  15. Brush lattice with remaining beaten egg and place pie on a baking sheet.
  16. Place onto the bottom shelf of the hot oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 375F.
  17. Bake for 40 minutes.
  18. Cool for a minimum of 12 hours before cutting and serving.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 387.1
Total Fat: 17.3 g
Cholesterol: 17.7 mg
Sodium: 10.5 mg
Total Carbs: 49.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.1 g
Protein: 4.7 g

Friday, August 13, 2010

Spreading Good Taste

Depending on who's place you're visiting, the "chip and dip" station at a party can be a nutritional minefield... or a tastebud's nightmare. Over the years, I've eaten more than my fair share of over-buttery, over-creamy offerings with enough potential to stop an elephant's heart but posessing a decadent taste to match - while thanking God I was only at that cousin or aunt's house once a year. On the other hand, I've also choked back an equal amount of pureed cardboard masquerading as different spreads or dippers, prepared by well-meaning, waist-watching hosts and served with nothing but celery and carrot sticks, broccoli and (if you were lucky) a few cherry tomatoes. Having gone through that transformative period myself, I'm guilty of doing both to my guests, and though I'm sure I've improved my ability to balance the elements of flavour and nutrition the fact remains that it's always a bit of a crapshoot in that department.

There is one dip that I believe I inherited an innate ability to create: hummus. My grandfather has an uncanny ability to whip up this chickpea spread with his eyes closed (and one hand behind his back), laced with a ton of roasted and raw garlic, a touch of tahini, lemon juice and spices. I've done different versions of hummus over the years, with additions from yogurt to pumpkin to orange zest and honey, but I think this is the first "mostly raw" one I've ever attempted. This dip combines three of the healthiest things I know of in a super-garlicky blend: chickpeas, fresh garlic, and the process of sprouting.

Never sprouted legumes (or anything, for that matter) before? Don't worry. Sprouting anything - provided the seeds or beans are viable in the first place - is incredibly simple. All it takes is a jar, fresh water, a piece of cheesecloth and a cooling rack, and you've got yourself a sproutatorium that rivals the $25 behemoths at the health food store. If you need instructions beyond what I've got written here, there's an incredible resource put together online to peruse at your leisure. Whatever you decide to do in preparation for sprouting  up some hummus, do try it. No, it won't taste like the common tubs of the dip you buy at the store. But that's part of it's allure - it's a fresh, beany, vegetal flavour that gets tempered by the garlic's heat and the bouquet of the ground spices.

There's one other striking difference between my hummus and more traditional recipes - mine has no tahini. None. Nada. Zilch. And because it uses sprouted, rather than cooked or canned chickpeas, it's an almost raw concoction! Why almost raw? Well, in order to replace the tahini (which I didn't have on hand), I settled on an equally flavourful, richer fat for body: toasted sesame oil. Of course, the fact that it's made from toasted seeds pops the flavour to the forefront, but also strips away the "raw" label. No matter - the taste it brings is more than worth any type of category-shuffling it incurs!

Almost-Raw, Tahini-Free Hummus
Serves 8
1/2 cup dry chickpeas
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp full-bodied olive oil
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp smoked sea salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp Spanish paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp nutritional yeast
  1. In a wide-mouthed jar, soak chickpeas in cool water overnight.
  2. Drain and rinse well, place back into the jar.
  3. Fit jar with a square of cheesecloth and place onto a rack upside down to allow drainage.
  4. After 12 hours, rinse and drain chickpeas, again following the procedure with the jar and cheesecloth.
  5. Repeat the rise-drain operation for 5 days, ensuring each time that you drain as much water as possible before placing back into the upside-down jar. Seeds will start to sprout and split.
  6. In a food processor, combine sprouted chickpeas, garlic and sesame oil.
  7. Process until peas are coarsely ground, then add olive oil, water, lemon juice, smoked salt, garlic powder, paprika, cumin and nutritional yeast.
  8. Process until a relatively smooth puree forms, adding water (or oil) if necessary.
  9. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 302.1
Total Fat: 29.5 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 3.3 mg
Total Carbs: 8.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.3 g
Protein: 2.7 g

Hummus on Foodista

Monday, August 9, 2010


I'm sure I can't be alone in thinking my family is singlehandedly keeping the banana producer industry afloat. Oddly enough, I actually can't stand the fruit - I find it way too sweet, and even as a sugar-loving (i.e. typical) kid the only time you'd find me eating a banana was if it was almost entirely green. The soft, velvety sweet flesh of a perfectly ripe fruit was lost on me. My sister, on the other hand, was the banana queen for most of her childhood. As soon as they were yellow and fragrant, she'd be into the bunch like a dirty shirt - and mom would be left wondering where the hand of 6 or 7 bananas disappeared to! Ironically enough, T now detests anything to do with bananas. The smell, the taste and certainly the inherent ability of the fruit to go south in a matter of hours, drawing fruit flies to our kitchen from what feels like all over Ontario as they swarm towards the pile of no longer yellow food.

So these days, a potential household of five banana eaters has been reduced to one - my stepdad. My mom is eschewing the starchy banana in favour of grapefruit segments for her fruit selection, I prefer the Divine apples or Ontario peaches in our fridge, and my sister and stepbrother... well, they just don't eat fruit. And although my stepdad likes bananas, he still insists on buying three times as much fruit as anyone in the house can possibly eat (especially him, being a Type II diabetic), often leaving the quickly softening tropical selection to rot on the counter. By the time he's ready to declare them unfit for consumption (we have yet to convince him to put most fruit and vegetables in the fridge even after several mould incidents) the bananas are just this side of walking out the door under their own power, and sometimes it really is a matter of a day or two that separates banana bread-suitable and composter-fodder fruit.

Luckily, my stepdad, grandfather and dad (all diabetic or pre-diabetic) all love banana bread. And given the constant state of the union here, I make a lot of it! So while the baked treats aren't as healthy as a fresh piece of fruit, I'm able to control the sugar, fibre and total carb counts moreso than what storebought mixes or pre-made cakes can offer. Needless to say, the loaves I make are not "diet food"... I mean sure, you can dial back on the fat and add applesauce or something like that, but my stepdad in particular (are you getting the sense he's a bit picky?) turns his nose up at anything overtly whole grain, low-fat or low-sugar. Sigh. Well, I can try, right?

This first batch of banana bread came courtesy of the fact that the "adults" in the household (read: mom and stepdad) had gone away for a few days, leaving a bunch of the fruit sitting out in the summer heat. By the time I got to them, they were a little worse for wear, and there was a handful each of roasted chickpeas and soybeans dusting the bottom of two large containers in the pantry. I started out attempting to grind a mixed-legume "butter" out of them in my food processor, but after only managing to achieve a fine mealy mixture I opted to just shove the blend into a good old fashioned nanner concoction. To cover up any sort of "off" flavour or texture, I threw in some coconut and chocolate chips too. Hey, it's banana bread, how bad could it be?

"Back From Vacation" Banana Bread
Makes 12 Slices
7 oz dry-roasted soy beans
4 oz dry-roasted chickpeas
2 tbsp canola oil
3 tbsp water
1.5 oz butter, softened
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup agave nectar
2 large, over-ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 oz shredded, sweetened coconut
1/2 cup chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease a loaf pan.
  2. In a food processor, grind soy beans, chickpeas, oil and water until a fine mealy texture is formed. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together butter, coconut oil, sugar, and agave nectar until well blended.
  4. Beat in ground mealy mixture, bananas, egg and vanilla.
  5. Stir in flour, flaxseed, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, coconut and chocolate chips.
  6. Bake for 55 minutes. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes before turning out onto a rack.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 326.3
Total Fat: 14.7 g
Cholesterol: 25.2 mg
Sodium: 44.2 mg
Total Carbs: 44.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.0 g
Protein: 10.2 g
Of course, the problem with getting rid of the "banana problem" one week means that one or two weeks later, the same glut of fruit will be hanging around again. This time, there was quite the large bunch of them turning their merry selves black on the countertop, and when I offered to make a loaf out of them to spare the composter, my mom agreed - on the condition that whatever I made was moist at the same time as not wreaking havoc on the pancreases of potential eaters. I had always thought of my banana breads as being moist creations... certainly nobody had ever complained to me about them before... but I figured I'd take it up a bit considering the textural concern was worth a mention at all. So I doubled the bananas and added eggs, ricotta cheese, honey and oil to my basic recipe, and played around with the flours a bit - adding chickpea and almond meals to balance out the carb load a bit and bump up the fibre. Roasting the bananas brought their sweetness and rich, velvety texture to the forefront, which both helped override the taste of the artificial sweetener I used (Splenda, this time) and allowed me to use less total sweetening in the batter.
Low(er) Carb Banana Bread
Makes 12 Slices
6 medium, over-ripe bananas, broken into chunks (not mashed)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup almond flour (ground almonds)
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tbsp low-fat ricotta cheese
1/3 cup Splenda Granular (sucralose)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup Demerara sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 400F, grease a baking dish.
  2. Place banana chunks in one layer in the dish and roast 25 minutes. Mash with a fork and set aside.
  3. Reduce oven to 350F and grease a 9x5" loaf pan.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, wheat germ, flaxseed, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, beat together butter, oil, ricotta, Splenda, honey and Demerara sugar until well blended.
  6. Add eggs and vanilla, beating well, then add the mashed bananas and stir in.
  7. Add the flour mixture and stir just to combine.
  8. Pour into the loaf pan and smooth the top.
  9. Bake for 65 minutes, until it tests done.
  10. Cool in the pan for 25 minutes before unmoulding onto a rack.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 270.2
Total Fat: 11.7 g
Cholesterol: 46.4 mg
Sodium: 45.6 mg
Total Carbs: 41.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.4 g
Protein: 5.4 g

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Must Be Karma

Ever think there are some things that are just "meant to be"?

Bad things sure, like when you get a speeding ticket while you were trying to make up for being late, or letting your kids have that "one last candy" only to have them bouncing off the walls and fighting each other for a long drive home. But good things can be meant to be too. Good things like how buying an acquaintance a cup of coffee can lead into a weekly ritual and a blossoming best friendship, or how a simple smile becomes a laugh and infects all those around you. I'm a firm believer in doing nice things for others, particularly those that deserve it but also the ones that haven't quite received their come-uppance yet. It took me a long time, but eventually I realized that by treating those people that abused their situations badly I was doing nothing more than stooping to their level. Call it maturity if you will - I call it the bumpy learning curve of life. Enough people have helped me out in my life without asking for nor expecting anything in return that when I sense the opportunity to give back a tiny bit I try to make it happen.
Most of the people who directly impact the direction of my life's wanderings happen to be in the medical field, but there are a few special gems out there who for me an appointment is almost like a visit with them instead. One, my RMT, is a bona fide foodie at heart who taste tests everything I've thrown at him, listens to my aimless ramblings (as you all do here!) and shares his band White Noise Conspiracy's  incredible, unreleased songs with me. So when I was at my massage therapy appointment a few weeks back and my RMT mentioned he and his girlfriend were craving the "Sweet Karma" snaps from ShaSha but hadn't been able to find them in years, I was immediately interested in a "clone" attempt. Except for one thing - I had no idea what the heck Sweet Karma snaps were. I (of course) knew ShaSha's baking company, and their line of spelt-flour cookies in general, but not those specific ones. So I did a little digging, and discovered the answer to the mystery - swirled snaps, using both the Company's whole grain ginger and cocoa doughs in a marble of flavourful goodness.

Hm. Cocoa dough, no problem. Gingersnaps, easy. But marbling dough? How the heck would I do that? I struggle at the best of times making icebox sugar cookies, and all I could think of was to stack the doughs side by side, cut super-thin slices and cut out the shapes from those. Until - da da da daaaa! - the happy karma gods smiled on me by pointing me along to Zoom Yummy and Petra's recipe for "cookie lollipops". She had a spectacularly detailed play-by-play of how she marbled the dough, and I figured there was no better way I could think of that would look that good in the end!

It was remarkably simple, I have to admit, once I had both doughs made and chilled. The tricky bit was getting the final dough rolled to the right thickness, which is something I always struggle with when it comes to cut-out cookies. I knew it would have to be quite thin, thinner than standard cookie dough, to get the crisp "snap" texture right. But it had to be thick enough to not burn on the sheets in the heat of the oven. I settled on about 1/8" after a half-sheet of quarter-inch cutouts spread too much. A few batches in I realized that the best looking biscuits were ones I had chilled, rolled, cut out and frozen on parchment lined (rather than SilPatted) sheets, so I finished up the four-hour experiment by stashing trays of tiny heart cut-outs in our deep freezer, baking them the next morning.

Now, the cookie recipe I used stated it made 30 standard-sized cookies. But I made minis, so I knew there would be more, and I figured on about double to triple the yield depending on what the original author had used as a cutter for their snaps. I wound up with more. A lot more.

So all in all, how many cookies did I make out of that one batch of dough?

Yup. 334. You need a ton of tiny cookies? You got em. Share 'em around and earn some good (sweet) karma for yourself!

Mini Marbled Snaps
Be careful when "marbling" the dough - you don't want to take it too far because then the whole thing turns into one colour.
Makes 330(ish)
3/4 cup salted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp fancy molasses
1/4 cup honey
1 ½ cups whole spelt flour
1 ½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp nutmeg
3 tbsp dark cocoa powder
1 tbsp water
  1. Combine butter, sugar, molasses and honey in a saucepan and melt together, stirring to prevent burning. Remove from heat.
  2. Stir in the flour and divide dough into two separate bowls.
  3. To one bowl of dough, stir in ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, stirring well to combine.
  4. To the other bowl add the cocoa powder and water, mixing well to combine.
  5. Cover dough in plastic wrap and chill 2 hours.
  6. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  7. On a plastic-lined countertop, roll out a third of one portion of the dough to about 1/4" thickness.
  8. On another floured surface, roll out 1/3 of the other portion of dough to 1/4" thickness (keep remaining dough in the fridge).
  9. Transfer the dough on the plastic wrap to the top of the other dough and press lightly to adhere the two sheets.
  10. Gently gather the doughs into a ball and re-roll into a 1/8", marbled-looking sheet (you may have to lightly knead it to marble, don't do it too much!).
  11. Cut out cookies using a miniature cookie cutter or fondant cutter. Freeze trays 30 minutes - 1 hour.
  12. Repeat rolling/marbling/cutting/chilling process for the remaining dough (doing three batches ensures it stays cold and won't require as much re-rolling).
  13. Preheat oven to 350F.
  14. Bake for 12 minutes. Cool on the sheets, set on a cooling rack, for 30 minutes before transfering the parchment to the racks and cooling completely.
Amount Per Cookie
Calories: 9.6
Total Fat: 0.4 g
Cholesterol: 1.1 mg
Sodium: 3.1 mg
Total Carbs: 1.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.1 g
Protein: 0.1 g

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Going Grainy: Honeyed-Raisin Corn Bread

Corn in general gets a bad rap in the culinary world - it's the butt of "seniors" jokes, the pallid, over-processed, out of season cobs in the store, the ubiquitous creator of dishes named "mush" and of course the base of muffins and breads that all too often are either sandpapery-dry or drenched with butter or bacon grease. Not that there's anything wrong with some butter or bacon grease, mind you. But it's true that it's almost impossible to dig the grain out of it's carby hole - which goes double if you've been following the whole HFCS thing, and triple if you're an Atkins fan.

But corn - and more importantly cornbread, can be good! Heck, it can even be great - moist without being oily, textured without grittiness, and the perfect balance of sweet and savoury "bready" flavours. I've adopted the habit of adding a touch of cornmeal to my yeast doughs, which not only add a hint of crunch (and make for beautiful toast!) but a buttery golden colour too. For this particular loaf of bread, I added a second corn element with some toasted corn germ that I found at the local Bulk Barn. Then I played off the subtly sweet, nutty mix of the two "corns" with a drizzle of local honey, and studded the works with plump dark raisins. I didn't even think to break out the sourdough starter for this one, though perhaps I should have (it needs a workout!). No matter, though - a nice, long overnight rest in the fridge helped give it a bit of character nonetheless!

If you're worried about the loaf being dry at all (really, you shouldn't be, but hey who am I to be your brain?) the secret to a decadent, meltingly soft crust is to brush some good old fashioned melted butter on the thing while it's still piping hot and in the pan. And about the pan - keep it in there for a good half hour to cool instead of turning it out right away. But I warn you - you'll be ripping into the loaf with your bare hands that way rather than slicing it for toast. Either way, I hope you enjoy this week's submission to Susan's YeastSpotting event at WildYeast!

Honeyed-Raisin Corn Bread
Makes 1 loaf, 16 slices
1/2 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
3 tbsp honey
1 cup warm, 1% milk
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup corn germ
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 tbsp vital wheat gluten
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup raisins, soaked in hot water and drained
  1. In a large bowl or bottom of a standing mixer, stir together warm water, yeast and 1 tbsp of honey. Set aside to let foam for 10 minutes.
  2. Add remaining honey and milk, mixing well.
  3. Stir in flours, corn germ, corn meal and gluten.
  4. Knead for 10 minutes, then add salt and knead for 3 minutes longer.
  5. Place into an oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise for 1 hour.
  6. Deflate dough and gently knead in plumped raisins.
  7. Re-cover and allow to rest 15 minutes.
  8. Shape dough into a loaf and place in a greased loaf pan.
  9. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 12 hours.
  10. Preheat oven to 350F and remove loaf from the fridge 1 hour before baking.
  11. Bake loaf 45 minutes, covering the top lightly with foil after 30 minutes.
  12. Unmould immediately onto a wire rack and cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 150.4
Total Fat: 0.7 g
Cholesterol: 0.8 mg
Sodium: 10.1 mg
Total Carbs: 32.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.3 g
Protein: 4.9 g

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Plethora of Pretty Pickles

I am a vinegar addict. Thinking about the mass amount of the stuff I consume not only in it's natural, liquidy state but also in foods and condiments, I could probably keep the industry in business. Or not. I assume it's a pretty big business, given the French fry / potato chip popularity out there. Usually I'm getting my "sour fix" via one of two items - mustard (any kind - we have 4!) or pickles. As a kid, I would regularly ask for my hot dogs or burgers with "just mustard", extra pickles and tomato. Maybe lettuce and onion, if it was on offer, but always mustard and pickles! Clearly, both have been dear loves of mine forever (you may recall my earlier pickle (and pepper)-obsession post), but it was only last year that I branched out into actually making my own pickles.

Good thing, too... because I also planted dill and cucumbers that year, and though neither crop actually took hold, the delicious, super-ripe cukes I scored from the Brick Works farmers market downtown were more than sufficient. Either way, it was an opportunity to dip my toes into the world of preserving the harvest without resorting to mass freezing, and the copius amounts of another favourite - garlic - didn't hurt matters at all!

I did go a tad bit overboard this year, although in a sense I had to (yes, the excuses reign supreme). I replanted the cucumbers and dill this year, not really knowing if I'd face the same climate-related issues as last year. As always, I dug in my heirloom tomatoes, purple carrots and candy-cane beets, as well as picking up a new veggie to try: watermelon radishes! Well, lo and behold, every freaking thing I planted (excepting my groundcherries... *sob*) took hold like nothing else. All of a sudden, the radish greens were the size of lettuces, the beets were crowding and the dill was as high as my shoulder. And can we talk about the cucumbers?? Holy moley, in just my 4 plants (the stepdad has 4 of "his" ones that he can let over-ripen to his heart's content), in one harvest session, I scored just under 11 pounds of them. All ready at once. What would you have done? I wasn't about to let them get the "zucchini treatment" where you can allow them to balloon as big as your leg and drop the flavourless log on a neighbour's porch. I wanted to taste my cukes. Enjoy them. In the best way I knew how, which also happens to be the best keeping way I knew how. Yup, you guessed it - it was pickle time again!

I decided to do two different styles of cucumber pickle this year, both because I lacked the resources and the energy to take care of everything at once, and I wanted to be mindful of the storage space I'd have to allocate to whatever I made. So I started with the easier, faster ones first - refrigerator cured, deliciously garlicky and definitely dilly (you can shoot me for the corny alliterations later). Those beauties took up four litres or so, and have found suitable "aging" space in the back of our basement's fridge. But really - the fridge is full enough as it is down there (especially after a shopping trip) and since I had both jars and equipment for canning (finally got a jar lifter!) I figured I would do the rest of the batch as canned dills and store them in our cantina. For the canned ones, I added a good deal more garlic, like vampire-repellent amounts, and also spiked the jars with chili peppers, mustard seed and turmeric. I'm not sure where I read it, but I knew that grape leaves helped keep canned pickles crunchy (and possibly it's a memory of my grandma's ones that had that element). Problem is, grape leaves aren't exactly in the produce aisle at the Superstore, nor are they usually on hand at the farmer's market. So if you really wanted to source them, you'd have to find a vineyard willing to part with a few.

Oh wait - we have a vinyard! If nothing else, thank goodness for my stepdad's green thumb - he can make pretty much anything grow, even lemons and killer eggplant, and apart from having "fruiting" zucchini so far this year I have to give him credit - his success rate is pretty good. So boo-yeah for grape leaves! Did I ask? Are you nuts? No way, these were pilfered. Unabashedly. And it's not like he's going to be eating tany of them anyway, so who needs to know?

That left my harvest basket with a small handful of baby beets I thinned out, a few carrots and a good haul of (very) large radishes. The radish greens, a request by Mr. Foodie411 himself, I blanched and froze in a Ziploc, and while pondering the fate of the bulbs (and staring at the jars of cooling dills) it hit me. Pickled radishes are delicious in their own right - think takuan at sushi restaurants, while the beets and carrots added a gorgeous colour and a pop of earthy sweetness. I opted to go the sweet/sour route this time, with Asian rice vinegar, and layered in thin-sliced fresh ginger too - another of my favourite sushi noshes (I always ask for extra).

So now I've eliminated the glut of pickle-able goodness for another week or so. Good thing I a) have so many great friends willing to take jars off my hands and b) I can eat through a jar myself every few weeks!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

All I Can Say Is...

Thanks to Gilding Calm for sharing this, and to Huffington Post for posting the YouTube vid!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Bittah Bettah Buttah

How can I possibly describe these things? I mean, really... just saying that they're "Black Bottomed Banana Bars" would be doing the whole shebang a major disservice. They are so much more than that - and as anyone who's ever indulged in a peanut butter, Nutella and banana sandwich knows (what... that's just me? You HAVE to try it!), somewhere in that simple marriage of ingredients a spark of magic happens. The ingredients no longer define themselves as parts of a whole. They are the whole. When the balance of each element is spot-on, not the hardest thing in the world mind you, bitter, salt, sweet and creamy notes hit your tongue at exactly the same time, and it can blow you away. Trust me.

Oddly enough, even though I do have the original source of the recipe I worked off of (a Taste of Home magazine published in April / May 1994), I have no idea as to what sparked me to look it up in my ancient cache of magazine clippings. I know I'd spotted it on a few blogs, and probably have an electronic copy saved somewhere now, but regardless I've made a few changes to the original. For one, I halved the recipe. Anyone who knows this household knows we have a bit of a penchant for chocolate, peanut butter and bananas. The second thing I did was decrease the sugar a tad... nothing new in this kitchen. The last thing was the kicker - and I swear what sealed the fate of these bars forever. I added  a little bit of a bettah buttah. Yes... smooth, unctuous peanut butter got to play the game, in more ways than one! I chopped up some peanuts for the "blonde" top layer too, finally crowning the whole pan off with a mess of the best legal crack (IMHO) there is - diced, miniature peanut butter cups. The cups made the top of the bars look like the surface of the moon before they baked, like skyscrapers poking up from and into the raw dough.

But after? Well, all I can say is, look. And drool. Because every time you bite into one of those little craters of molten, peanutty decadence, it's like you're discovering a motherlode of diamonds. Over and over again.

Bettah Buttah Banana Bars
Serves 12
3 tbsp butter, softened
2 tbsp peanut butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 large, over-ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup baking cocoa
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
10 miniature peanut butter cups, chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease an 8" square pan.
  2. In a bowl, beat butter, peanut butter and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Add vanilla and bananas, beating well.
  4. Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to the creamed mixture, blending gently but thoroughly.
  5. Divide batter in half.
  6. To one portion of dough, add cocoa and stir in thoroughly.
  7. To the other portion of dough, fold in chopped peanuts.
  8. Spread chocolate batter in the bottom of the prepared pan. Top with peanut batter and sprinkle with peanut butter cups.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
  10. Cool completely in the pan before cutting.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 171.8
Total Fat: 8.0 g
Cholesterol: 8.1 mg
Sodium: 33.3 mg
Total Carbs: 24.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.1 g
Protein: 3.8 g