Thursday, November 29, 2012

Beet and Walnut Spice Muffins

I'm so ashamed - I totally forgot to write my post for the 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats! Luckily, the list is open for a few more hours, so I'll sneak this one in. These muffins came about after I harvested my garden plot of candy cane beets this year and was looking for something to do with the extras that my mom and I just couldn't get through. Like the last beet muffins I shared (also for this event!), these use the beets for moisture as well as a rich, somewhat earthy flavour that really plays well with the spices. I added a simple warmed Crab Apple Jelly glaze on each to add a bit of sweet tang and make them a bit more festive than your usual "coffee shop" fare.

Though I was inspired by a recipe I found in 500 of the Healthiest Recipes and Health Tips You’ll Ever Need, the original used xylitol which, though available in the local health food store, as a poor girl still squatting with her mom and stepdad I just couldn't afford to buy. I did have stevia for baking and honey on hand though, since I use both of them in my personal cooking, and so I opted for the combination. I also cut down the oil in the original (for a "healthiest" recipe there was a lot of it!), adding homemade applesauce instead. The spices and nuts were a nice rich element that helped them stand out at the office!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Schmee's Favourite Brownies

If I know a true chocoholic, it's my sister. Give her a 70% Aero bar or a bag of bittersweet chips for her pancakes and she's happy! But far from being content to simply nosh on solid bars of the stuff, she prefers her chocolate in baked form - namely cake, frosting, and especially brownies.

When it came time for her to box up her stuff and move back to university, she asked for a couple things to go in her food kit: pasta, boxed mac and cheese, Pringles, and brownie mix. While I can't speak for her taste in cuisine, I did know that there was a recipe in my copy of the Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook that would blow any brownie mix out of the water. I wheedled her to let me please, make her real brownies for once, to trust that I wouldn't put "weird stuff" in them and that they'd be "normal". Finally, she caved - and I got my butt into the kitchen and fired up the oven before she could change her mind!

I broke out the good stuff for these guys, since I was cooking for the Queen of connoisseurs. Seriously - it doesn't matter what she's tasting, if there is the slightest off flavour or texture, it's a no-go. She'd make a killer sommelier, coffee cupper or taste tester if she liked wine, coffee or a variety of food! Callebeaut bittersweet chocolate and a Ghirardelli 100% cacao baking bar made up the base mixture with a good helping of cultured, salted butter, and got bound by Omega-3 organic eggs and just enough oat flour to stick together. Instead of nuts (which are definitely not on the "normal brownie" list), I tossed in some extra chocolate chips. It all came together beautifully, and I popped it in the pan, baked it and crossed my fingers that she would like it.

Well, Schmee (my pet name for her) left for school without tasting them, taking the cut pan with her to share with her housemates. Her first phone call home, though, she waxed poetic to my mom about how good the brownies were, and that I'd have better saved the recipe because she wanted them again! Given that she and her two friends polished off the lot in under a week, I told her to give her body a chance to recover first - they may be delicious, but boy are they rich!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Toast Topper #15: Spicy Peach Jam

I'm still getting around to showing off the goodies I canned over the Summer! While most of my jams and chutneys are going to make their way into Christmas baskets next month, we do save a few jars for "quality control". Honestly, I don't think I could have kept my mom away from this jam if I tried - peaches are her favourite fruit, and after she finished the Chunky Blueberry Peach Jam she started eyeing the jars of this spicy, all-peach concoction I adapted from Quick and Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food.

One spoonful and she was hooked - and of course at the end of the season, good peaches were in short supply so I couldn't do a second round! Freestone peaches are the best for making jam since the fruit doesn't cling to the stone, which makes them easy to pit. However, I really lucked out at our local orchard / frozen food supplier - they had IQF, flash-frozen peaches on sale that were already peeled, pitted and chopped! Win. Since they were picked, peeled and frozen in season, they had that "ultimate sweetness" the fresh ones did, so I didn't need to add as much sugar!

Submitted to Gluten Free Mondays, Gluten Free Fridays, and Foodie Fridays

Sunday, November 25, 2012

12 Grain Buttermilk Pancake Mix for a Helping Hands #SundaySupper

One of the things I remember fondly about growing up were Saturday morning pancakes. pretty much every Saturday saw us kids first mixing up the batter (we always fought about who got to break the egg yolks with a whisk), then waiting at the table with chocolate chips, maple syrup, pancake syrup (my sister doesn't like the real stuff) and margarine (butter was for Christmastime only) while mom did the cooking. Stacks of fluffy pancakes shaped like whatever my mom decided to do with the ladle (she would always do our initials, and was really skilled at getting dogs done and off the pan in one piece!) would be devoured greedily, and mom allowed us to eat our fill before dishing up her own portion.

Of course, mom took a little help from a certain Aunt when it came to Saturday breakfast. Since she was the main cook in the household (though my dad does make stellar pancakes, especially at our trailer!), as well as wife and mother to two constantly fighting girls and working full time and commuting 45 minutes minimum to and from work every day (does this sound familiar?), I think she's entitled to take a few shortcuts here and there. Whole grain options for "quick mixes" didn't exist back then, but I'm sure she would enjoy this one of mine - just as fast as good ol' Auntie's, but with 12 grain and whole wheat flour, a dash of spice, healthy stevia and a spoonful of the superfood maca!

If you live in the US, I'm sure that now, after the holiday feast (and extended weekend, if you're lucky enough to have it), the last thing you want to think about is something rich and heavy for breakfast. If your meals for Thanksgiving were anything like ours were at Christmas, you didn't want to see food for at least a week afterwards! But, sad glad but true, we all have to eat - and breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

This is also a special #SundaySupper, dedicated to help those impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Whether this is your first time hearing about our movement to bring back mealtime around the family table, you're a long time fan or you're a contributor yourself, let's show what #SundaySupper Power is all about!!! You can join in the force to get everyone back on their feet and better than ever by checking and helping out the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund and Hope Force.

Here are our Helping Hands offerings this week:

Breakfast and Brunch:
Comforting Casseroles and Entrées:

Warming Soups and Sides:

Sweet Endings:

Please join on us on Twitter for #SundaySupper on November 25, 2012, throughout the day. In the evening, we will meet at 7 PM EST for our weekly #SundaySupper live chat. All you have to do is follow the #SundaySupper hashtag or you can follow us through TweetChat

We’d also love to feature your recipe ideas for #HelpingHands on our #SundaySupper Pinterest board so we can share them with all of our followers.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Chewy Chocolate Candies and Crispy Bars

I found myself with a sizeable bag of candy corn the other day. It was the result of an impulse purchase - marked down Hallowe'en candy (that was more or less shelf stable) was out and as soon as I saw "candy corn" I immediately remembered my Homemade Butterfinger Bars and was determined to make them. What can I say?

It is hard to mess with a good thing though, especially when that "thing" is candy! The original formula works so well that I wondered if a variation with a chocolate flavour would work, and for a while doubted any sort of success would come my way! Nevertheless, I made a small batch, using both peanut butter as well as rich Nutella and even chocolate frosting! The mixture wasn't quite as easy to form as I remembered, so I tossed in some butter and it all worked out! The resulting candy actually kind of looks like a red velvet confection too, thanks to all the colours swirling. 

After I made my successful "test" batch, I made another - but this time I jazzed it up a bit by kneading in some crispy rice cereal, which made the resulting mix too hard to form into the turtle mould I used for the smooth version. Instead, I pressed it into a square pan, and on cutting it I definitely got memories of the Crunch bars I'd eat as a kid, but better! As I was writing up the recipe, I did some quick fact checking and found out that not only were both versions of this new creation delectable, but they're gluten free too (double win!). Of course, that was dependent on the specific ingredients I had, but the Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge frosting and the cereal I picked both are so the rest of the story followed suit. 

I coated them in a mix of (conveniently) GF milk and dark chocolate (I didn't have enough of either to do one kind) and then decorated them with melted green coating wafers and white chocolate so they'd look pretty enough for Christmas gifts - like the ones offered in the 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats (the roundups and Pins!)!

In the end, I think I even like this version of the chewy, nutty confections better than the originals, both because I love peanut butter and chocolate together and because I got to use my turtle chocolate moulds :-D.

I can't believe that Christmas really is just around the corner, it seems like Halloween was just yesterday!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Citrus Whipped Sweet Potatoes - a Vintage #RecipeRedux

I love a good baked sweet potato. I'll gladly have one in it's "jacket" any day of the week, but I hate the "traditional" recipes for mashed, whipped, pureed, gratinéed, marshmallow-topped or what-have-you versions of what should, technically, be a rather nutritious side dish. Most of the older recipes, like the one below, contain needless amounts of fat (usually via butter and/or cream) and sugar, some are high in salt, and none of them, in my opinion, taste that good. If I'm going to eat a sweet potato, I'm eating it because I like the flavour of sweet potatoes, not butter and sugar. Besides, adding all that excess to the vegetable negates any sort of good you'd get out of them in the first place, and as a society we all need to learn to live a more "whole" life with less adulterated food.

So this is my dad's girlfriend Martha's recipe for her favourite "holiday" sweet potatoes. At 350 calories, 17.5 grams of fat and 50 grams of carbohydrates per serving, it had better only be on the menu once in a blue moon! Keep in mind that this is a side dish, meaning that when it's served, it's alongside buttered peas and carrots, dinner rolls and a large hunk of roasted meat!

Mashed Silky Sweet Potatoes
serves 4
4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tbsp salt
pinch cinnamon

Before adding the green onion and parsley... oops!
While I'm pretty much a purist when it comes to my vegetable dishes (a throwback to the fact that most accoutrements I can't eat), I appreciate that not everybody can deal with "naked" sides. I devised this "redux" of Martha's sweet potatoes during my grandmother's birthday party with the help of my great aunt, a fantastic cook in her own right. Firstly, roasting the cubes of potato instead of the original "boil to death" method preserves more nutrients and concentrates the naturally sweet flavour  of the tubers. A touch of olive oil and blood orange juice replaces the butter and cream, and the whole dish gets a wallop of flavour from garlic both roasted alongside the cubes and minced fresh into the mix with a green onion. Fresh parsley, black pepper and a dash of salt finished up the side, which I pureed in a food processor for presentation (though my personal preference, if I have to have mashed sweets, is skin on and lumpy). They were a hit with everyone at the party - even the kids - and I even heard comments lauding the "lightness" and "flavour" of the dish!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cinnamon Chips and Toffee Bits

If you're like me, you can't always get certain ingredients for a recipe you're dying to make after spotting it online or in a cookbook. Sometimes, it's a case of not wanting to buy a container of something to use a spoonful or two (like Thai curry paste, fish sauce, pickled radishes or apricot jam). Other times, economics rule - I personally can't afford to go out and buy 100% organic ingredients, or always use butter, or pick up items only found in the health food shop... particularly if I won't be eating them in my day-to-day life (case in point: so many of my recipes don't use eggs or dairy because I don't eat them myself!).

Of course, if you live out in the sticks like my neighbours and I do, some things just aren't available - no matter how much you're willing to spend. Around here, if I can't find something at the local superstore or Bulk Barn, I'm S.O.L.. And things come and go, too. For a while, I used to be able to find cinnamon baking chips no problem in the bulk bins. I was on Cloud 9 - finally, I could bake like all my American co-bloggers! And I did, for a while. Then one week I went to go stock up on my new favourite confection and it had disappeared. Poof - gone. No sign of it anywhere, nor any indication it was going to be discontinued. I hoarded the few tablespoons I had left, constantly checking back to see if it would one day re-appear, but no luck.

Then there was the case of the toffee baking bits. Now these are pretty commonplace, even around me. The thing is, the commercially available ones contain both almonds and chocolate, neither of which I wanted in a basic "pantry" ingredient. Not only do I have some clients / taste testers with allergies, but sometimes I don't want those accessory flavours in the finished goodies either!

However, the internet gave me the answers to my ingredient dilemmas - and I didn't have to place online orders or pay insane markups for shipping and duties either! Nope, the solutions lay in two extraordinarily simple, relatively cheap recipes that anyone can make on their own at home. No special equipment is required for either formula, just an oven, a stovetop, a pot, a couple bowls and some baking sheets lined with parchment. Of course, if you're anal about candy temperatures (or, like me, suck at gauging "ball" firmness with hot sugar) a cheap, reliable candy thermometer will help you out with the toffee. Mine was about $7 at the grocery store and has been invaluable!

The great thing about making either the cinnamon chips or toffee bits at home is that not only are they cheaper, but they're fast! Making your own ingredients, instead of scouting around for them all over the city, keeps you out of the grocery store and "in the black" when it comes to baking this holiday season - something we can all appreciate!

Have you ever made your own ingredients? What did you make?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Potato Frosting for a Leftover #SundaySupper

I'm always surprised at how big of a deal Thanksgiving gets in the United States. Somehow, it seems like a more important holiday than Christmas, and between the TV shows, online shopping specials and movies coming out around this time of year I'm kind of glad our Canadian Thanksgiving isn't as lauded, and is a fair ways away from the December season blitz. That way, we get to have two big feast meals without feeling like gluttons, and we also have all of November to work off the Halloween candy!

That's not to say that we don't have our share of leftovers over the season, though. Now, my (step)family has some odd vendetta against leftovers of any kind - be it pasta, rice, roast turkey or veggies. I personally used to adore leftovers growing up, especially from the holidays. To my childhood tastebuds, there was nothing better than a  leftover cold turkey sandwich with a schmear of cranberry sauce on top of a toasted crusty bun, smothered with reheated gravy. Chopped meat made it's way into macaroni and cheese, cauliflower and broccoli with cheese sauce was heated and added to with freshly steamed veggies, and cranberry sauce became the sauce de jour for our weekend pancakes in place of syrup. Come to think of it, the leftovers really were the best part of the whole holiday shindig, be it Thanksgiving or Christmas! These days, I can't wait for the "big days" to be over usually - not having much in common with those eating the "traditional" meal anymore, I feel very awkward at the table. Luckily, there are wonderful and supportive people in my family and in the foodie community online that help me get into the holiday spirit and muddle through until the relative calm of the new year.

Just because we didn't have a whole holiday meal to contend with this weekend doesn't mean we don't have leftovers of our own! One of the items that never seems to be as good "as is" the next day is the crock of mashed potatoes. It's not often that we do have leftovers of those, since my mom and paternal grandma both make spectacular versions of the side, but it has happened! Rather than be disappointed with dried out or gluey second-day mash, I've worked with it before to turn it into fritters, pancakes, bread and cheese stuffed croquettes. But I've never tried anything sweet with them, until now! I decided to take a leaf out of the traditional "Potato Candy" book and make a spreadable, rich and fudgy frosting with them! The cool thing is that you can use any mashed potatoes you have left over, as long as there's no cheddar cheese or herbs. That means you can salt and pepper away, add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, even a scoop of plain cream cheese for your hot dish, and still make a fabulous spread!

Since the US is celebrating their Thanksgiving this coming Thursday, our #SundaySupper crew is getting in on all things "leftover"! If you've ever wondered what to do with all those leftovers after a major holiday feast, this is the perfect opportunity to find some inspiration for reinventing your uneaten fare before it turns into a science experiment! Check out our wonderful contributions below:
Breakfast & Brunch

Main Course

Soups, Salads, Sides & Starters

Sweets & Desserts

Please join on us on Twitter throughout the day during #SundaySupper on November 18. In the evening we will meet at 7pm EST for our weekly #SundaySupper live chat. All you have to do is follow the #SundaySupper hashtag or you can follow us through TweetChat. We’d also love to feature your recipe for Thanksgiving Leftovers on our #SundaySupper Pinterest board to share them with all of our followers, too.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Apple - Peanut Pie Cookies

I don't do many pies anymore. They're finicky to transport, require a fork and plate, and aren't exactly the "grab n' go" indulgence of muffins or cookies. It's unfortunate, since I do like making them - the pastry, the filling, even the tenuous assembly process. To me, the sight of a pie with a perfectly browned, flaky crust is a badge of honour, and when you break into that crust to find a not-too sweet, perfectly spiced filling... yum.

But alas, in this world of go-go-go, the relative ease of sharing a homemade pie with friends or family has become more of a rarity, a special occasion experience laced with undertones of fuss and bother. I found a great "happy medium" while paging through Petite Treats: Mini Versions of Your Favorite Baked Delights by Morgan Greenseth and Christy Beaver, though - the pie cookie. Essentially a freshly made, unfrosted Pop Tart, the filling is enclosed in pastry circles and baked into an easy-to-handle, quaint treat. Using the method and idea as a "jumping off" point, I swapped in my Sweet Potato Spelt Pastry for the buttery crust (which would have been delicious, but I had leftovers to use) and, being loath to make another apple filling recipe when I had some extra Maple Apple Cake - Ball Filling in the fridge I decided to just use that.

Unfortunately (or fortunately in retrospect!), I discovered after the crust was all rolled out and cut that I wouldn't have quite enough filling at my disposal. Being out of apples, I cast around my pantry for some inspiration, and spotted my mom's container of peanut butter that she takes to work. I love peanut butter on apples, and with some chopped toasted peanuts from the freezer the creamy, salty spread helped to temper the sweetness of the apple filling and sweet potato crust. I definitely didn't regret the decision - the outcome was gorgeous as well as delicious (according to my taste testers!), and in the same situation I'd do it again in a heartbeat!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chocolate Rocks! Cookies

You know how I love Bulk Barn. I'm fairly sure that if my finances and space allowed I would buy out my local store. The employees know me by name, have special ordered me cases of ingredients (yes, cases!), opened fresh bags of product for me when I needed something free of possible allergy contamination, and they are always bringing in new stuff for inspiration. Essentially, anything classified as a "pantry" item that you see me use on this blog? Bulk Barn.

I guess the one downside of my shopping addiction there is that I wind up with a lot of stuff that is really only intended for one use or another, or I use part of a bag of something and then don't know what to do with the rest, which is not enough to make another batch of whatever but is too much for me to justify throwing away. That's one of the reasons so many recipes on this blog use random ingredients! What can I say, I'm cheap.

Anyways, I had a small bagful of chocolate rocks left over from cake decorating, and my mom "donated" the remains of a bag of thick-cut rolled oats after we made a few batches of apple squares on the weekend. I love oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, especially the chewy ones that are ever so slightly crisp on the outside! I dug out a bunch of cookbooks from my arsenal and cobbled together a recipe that had the best of all worlds - “thin” and “thick”, "chewy" and "crispy", “oaty” and “chocolatey", "chunks" and "dough". And I wasn't the only one who thought so - I brought a part-batch to one of my CUTCO demos and half the lot was gone in an hour!

Because the family I shared them with told me in our conversation that they often cooked and baked with those who had issues with dairy and gluten, I provided some options for those swaps as well. Any way you make them, they are delicious and a great addition to lunchboxes, holiday gift bags (like any of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats) or simply your own cookie jar!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Toast Topper #14: Chunky Blueberry Peach Jam

I think, for me, this year is the year of the Jam. Ever since my mom decided that she liked the concoctions I was coming up with enough to go through jars on her own, making and canning jam was no longer simply a means to fattening my Christmas gift larder - I was legitimately making a pantry staple for the household. Much like the bread and soup I often make for her, the jam is a welcome addition to her lunchbox, and livens up the dreariness of the office environment mid-day. It doesn't hurt that, since everything is homemade, we know how much sugar, salt and fat go into those things too - helpful for anyone these days, but especially when the holidays are just around the corner and we just know the indulgence they bring!

For this jam, I was inspired when I opened my freezer for some baking seeds and found a bag each of peeled, chopped peaches and blueberries that I had frozen in peak season. It was a somewhat odd combination to me, but I figured I'd give it a go! For some reason finding those bags of fruit reminded me of some chopped apples I had dried earlier in the year as well, so I decided to toss them into the pot for a bit of textural contrast and an unusual "bite" of flavour. A few spices followed - traditional cinnamon and vanilla, as well as the more unique cardamom (quickly becoming my favourite with fruit) and a pinch of black pepper for good measure. The mixture set up nicely and would have kept over a month in our fridge... if it had lasted that long!

Sent to Foodie Fridays , Gluten Free Mondays and Gluten Free Fridays 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Toast Topper #13: Tomato Chili Jam!

Are you looking for a unique holiday addition to the cheese board, for holiday gifts or simply a condiment to have all to yourself? Why not consider a totally different spread - a jam made with a fruit that doesn't present itself as a fruit? What am I talking about? Have I gone bonkers? (Okay, maybe)

But not when I'm talking about a tomato jam. This was the last thing I canned from our backyard tomatoes, using a recipe I adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook. I used not only my heirloom goodies, but bittersweet Demerara sugar (which I adore for it's sticky molasses nature) and almost my whole spice cabinet (not literally but there were a lot of spices!). Ginger, cumin, cinnamon and cloves nestled snugly with a motley crue of black, white, red and ancho pepper! While the blend is definitely spicy, it's in no way "hot" thanks to the natural sweetness of the tomatoes and sugar.

I won't lie, this is a dead-simple jam to make, but it takes about an hour and 20 minutes to cook - and about 20 minutes of that you need to be stirring often. The result though is so far beyond worth it! Thick, spreadable, the perfect mellowing of spice and sweet, I don't blame you if you just stash the jar in the fridge and forget the canning process altogether (especially since it only makes two cups!). Then, all you have to do come the next holiday party is bake some sliced, storebought pita or lavash until crispy, cut some cheeses (Brie! Chevre! Havarti! Gouda!) and you're off to the races. Bonus - if you use a wide mouth Mason jar? No separate bowl!!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Monster Cookie Mix in a Jar for a Gift Giving #SundaySupper

While I'm not a fan of the holidays in general, I do love one thing about them - making and giving gifts. It's so rewarding to see the looks on people's faces when they unwrap something you've crafted with love, just for them. Even if you (like us) make batches and batches of cookies, then divide them up between recipients, the fact that it's homemade with the giving spirit in mind means so much more than spending thousands of dollars at the store. Homemade gifts are almost always enjoyed (since there are so many things you can make and give!), particularly those involving food, and on the whole they cost a lot less per person to concoct!

I actually chose this recipe (adapted from the fabulous Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats that Shine by Shaina Olmanson) for a few reasons. First, it's a cookie mix, and who doesn't like cookies? Second, I was testing recipes from the book so that I could write my review and was hooked by the fact that it had no flour and pretty candy-covered chocolate pieces (translation: I could use Hallowe'en leftovers!). Third, I had the perfect recipient in mind - my hairstylist who loves to eat (especially sweets... I'm jealous of her svelte figure!) but who claims she can't cook worth a darn. Well, I was determined to show her that she can bake some delicious, easy cookies too! And it really is easy, and fun, to do. Neither whipping up the mix (which you can make for yourself and keep in the pantry!) nor mixing the final cookies with regular butter, peanut butter, vanilla and eggs, is likely to cause a sweat or a kitchen catastrophe. And, as most of us foodies know, once you bake your first batch of anything and taste it, you're hooked on the victory!

Susan, AKA The Wimpy Vegetarian, suggested the theme of "Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen" for this week's Sunday Supper. Our contributors - over 50 this week - rose to the challenge with a huge array of breads, drinks, condiments, snacks, and desserts! Check out what we're giving out below:

Breads / Breakfast
Condiments / Ingredients

Soup and Snacks



Please join on us on Twitter throughout the day during #SundaySupper on November 11. In the evening we will meet at 7pm EST for our weekly #SundaySupper live chat.

Friday, November 9, 2012

New Generation Apple Squares

I love my mom's apple squares. With a passion. And obviously, I'm not alone in that love for the Fall treat - our copy of Apples, Peaches and Pears by Elizabeth Baird is splattered, falling apart at the spine, dog-eared and worn to no end after many years (since 1978 when my mom got it) of love.

Every year, we make at least three pans of these classic, crispy-topped bars with an unctuous, tender fruit filling - two for a pair of my favourite elementary school teachers and one for our family. Usually we make a few more for holiday gifts, since they transport so well and are almost universally loved!

However, if you can read the  page above, you can see they're not the healthiest of Fall goodies. Oh, they're decadent, for sure, but they had better be for all the butter, sugar and white flour that goes into them! True, it's not like you're going to eat a whole pan (at least not everyday...), but with more and more people in our "gifting" circle getting older and developing issues with weight management, blood sugar or other age-related problems I figured why not see if I could slightly modify the classic?

It didn't take much, and these are still not an "every day food" (to quote Cookie Monster), but they are wheat free, 100% whole grain and a bit lighter on the fat and sugar. The crust and crumble are less sweet to counteract the sweetness of the Butterscotch Apple Pie Filling I used, and at the end of the day I think they're even more decadent than the 1978 model! I know my dad and his girlfriend's family, who I served it to, polished off the pan!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fudgy Double Walnut Brownies (Gluten-Free)

I was on a walnut roll after whipping up those Walnut Gougères the other day, and I still had some of the goodies that the California Walnut Commission (@CaWalnuts) had sent me to play with! I have to say these brownies were the crowning glory of the four recipes they sent, both because it's baked and because it's dark chocolate! They are also a fairly healthy gift (or treat for you!) - not only do you get all the goodness of  walnuts, including the polyunsaturated fats, Omega-3s, antioxidants and a wealth of minerals, there is no added sugar! Instead, these bittersweet, fudgy bars use pureed dates and the inherent sweetness in the chocolate to transform into dessert. They are also gluten free (a scant amount of cocoa, quinoa flour and finely chopped walnuts fill the "dry" role), and easily made vegan with coconut oil and egg replacer for the butter and eggs. They're so sinful though, could never guess these were nutritious!

If you decide to create edible gifts for the holidays (either to save money or add a personal flair), get the kids in the kitchen and make some memories! If you don't have kids at home, get your friends together instead and have a "bake night" and "sweet swap". Taste testing is always encouraged - whether over some coffee or a freshly opened bottle of wine (FYI, a nice Malbec or Sangiovese is a great brownie accompaniment - thanks ENOFYLZ Wine Blog!). These activities make holiday food preparation more practical, fun and meaningful. Of course, if you are working with a common allergen like nuts, peanuts or wheat, make sure your guests are aware and can take adequate steps to stay safe!

When wrapping your goodies (including any of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats you try), look at the choices you have!! For cookies, I like either good ol' paper bags or "grind your own coffee" bags. For larger batches of baked goodies, pans of brownies and biscuits (like
Walnut Gougères!), or cookies that are delicate (i.e. shortbreads), there are tons of places willing to help you out with decorative, practical storage and shipping options. Near me, a place called Creative Bag Co. Ltd. has hooked me up in the past with both the stereotypical "Chinese take-out boxes" (which, FYI, I have never received Chinese take out in!) and some other "bakery" boxes. Fancier boxes are available at a couple online retailers. Bulk food retailers and dollar stores are other good places to look for a deal around this time!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Maple Apple Cake - Ball Filling (and Apple Pie Cake Balls!)

I think what I like best about cake balls like this is that they really remind me of the good old fashioned TimBits (AKA doughnut holes). Now I know that most of them out there are glazed, chocolate coated or otherwise decorated (you can definitely see some great examples in Dede Wilson's book Cake Balls: More Than 60 Delectable and Whimsical Sweet Spheres of Goodness - some of them are so gorgeous I feel inadequate! However, I had a few things working against me: time, energy and the fact that I'm lazy. I'll admit it - I hate coating things in chocolate, it's messy, a long process and three quarters of the time the chocolate never sets up properly regardless of what kind I use.

So, when I was looking at the components of these "Apple Pie" cake balls, I figured why cover up the delicate flavour of the perfectly caramelized apples with chocolate? No. That would just be sacrilege in my books. Instead, I wanted to enhance the filling's flavour and hearken back to my memories with the bake sale TimBits... and what could be a more logical choice than a toss in cinnamon sugar??

So here's the filling recipe that I adapted from Dede Wilson's book - I scaled back the recipe since I wasn't cooking for hundreds, and I added some extra flavour with maple sugar, fresh ginger and a whisper of cardamom (my new fave with apples). The process to cook down the diced apples takes less time than the actual dicing, but it is so worth it for the flavour, colour and texture you get! It's actually best to make this (and the Vegan Vanilla Loaf Cake) a day or two in advance - the flavours blend in the filling and the cake gets a chance to dry out (cube it first for speed!). This also makes spectacular tartlets and "pie cookies" (I'll show you some of the ones I made soon!), so it's definitely not a one-trick pony.

Maple Apple Cake - Ball Filling
Adapted from Cake Balls: More Than 60 Delectable and Whimsical Sweet Spheres of Goodness by Dede Wilson.
Makes about 3/4 cup
2 tsp salted butter
1/3 cup maple sugar
3 medium-small or 2 huge apples, peeled and diced
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
pinch cardamom
  1. Melt butter in a medium, non-stick skillet over medium heat.
  2. Stir in the sugar and cook, stirring once or twice, for 3-4 minutes until the sugar melts.
  3. Add apples and ginger, stirring well.
  4. Sprinkle with spices and stir in.
  5. Cook, stirring often, for 5-10 minutes, until the apples are soft and the mixture is syrupy.
  6. Cool completely before using in cake balls or tarts.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 38.8
Total Fat: 0.7 g
Cholesterol: 1.7 mg
Sodium: 4.9 mg
Total Carbs: 8.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.9 g
Protein: 0.1 g

Cake ball recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Vegan Vanilla Loaf Cake

Surprisingly enough, I have never had a simple vanilla loaf cake in my arsenal. Banana? Tons. Lemon? You betcha. Carrot? Yup, that too. But vanilla? Apparently, I'm not a big enough fan of the "plain Jane" flavour to dedicate an entire unadorned dessert to it.

Normally, this is where you'd expect me to say "but wait! I've come around and now I love vanilla cake all on it's own!". Yeah... notsomuch... sorry. I'm still in the "ambivalent" camp on vanilla treats (including vanilla frosting - I'd much rather have peanut butter, cream cheese or chocolate fudge). However, this vegan, perfectly plain vanilla loaf cake is such the perfect base for so many other desserts that to not share it would be a crime. Try it toasted (or pressed in a panini press or waffle iron!) and topped with any of my previous sweet Toast Toppers, chocolate fudge sauce or melted ice cream for a real treat, or cube it up and let it sit out overnight so that it's just ever so slightly stale - the perfect texture for soaking up a nice rich cake ball filling like the one I'm sharing tomorrow!

Sorry for the lack of photo - it turned into cake balls too fast!

Vegan Vanilla Loaf Cake
Makes 1 loaf pan, 10 slices
1/3 cup canola oil
2/3 cup low-fat, vanilla soy milk
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F, grease a loaf pan.
  2. Beat together the oil, soy milk, vanilla and vinegar.
  3. Add the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt, beat smooth.
  4. Bake 35 minutes, until cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a tester comes out clean.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 143.1
Total Fat: 6.9 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 6.6 mg
Total Carbs: 19.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.5 g
Protein: 1.8 g

Monday, November 5, 2012

Walnut Gougères

I'm a huge fan of the homemade gift, both because it's personal and it's economical. I know that I always loved homemade fudge or cookies from a friend's family, and I love seeing the looks of joy on people's faces when they're presented with something homemade just for them. Homemade gifts are also practical not just for the recipient (who won't go through a cookie or two?) but for the budget too. Even a recipe with more "extravagant" ingredients than you'd usually use (good, cultured butter, nuts and quality chocolate, full flavoured cheeses, vanilla beans, even the occasional drop of alcohol) can make a lot of gift bags, taste better and come in at far less than buying all those gifts! This goes double if you're going to a holiday party or potluck (we have at least two every year) - anyone can go buy a bottle of wine, but if you offer to bring an appetizer or treat for the sweet table? You'll be loved by everyone there!

If you decide that delicious homemade gifts are the way to go, first create a basic list of recipes that will suit multiple people first, to help ease the burden of multiple cooking days! Recipes that you know off by heart (like my mom's shortbreads) or are simple to "whip up" (like cake / cookie balls) are good to start with and are usually easy to make with what's already in the pantry.  If you're used to doing to mass food-gift frenzy (like I am!), why not bring a fresh twist to the favourites? 

When the California Walnut Commission (@CaWalnuts) contacted me about sharing some of their wholesome, delicious giftable goodies for the holiday season, I was spoiled for choice! These are just some of the savoury treats the #CaWalnuts folks are offering up for you to bring a homemade touch to the party. Each is packed with the delicious and nutrient-rich goodness of California walnuts, are easy to make and can be pre-prepped and frozen for convenience and safe storage:

Walnut Gougères Great for freezing and to have on hand as festive hors d’oeuvres:
A classic French cheese puff with the tasteful addition of delicate walnut crumbs. These versatile mini delights make for impressive hors d’oeuvres or the perfect accompaniment to a wine tasting.

Walnut Arroz Con PolloA perfect hostess gift or contribution to a holiday pot luck!
A wholesome, Spanish-inspired recipe, Walnut Arroz Con Pollo is a delicious, hearty one-pot wonder meal perfect for all occasions.

Walnut Cannelloni – These freeze well and can be made in larger batches too.
This meat-free entrée is a delicious indulgence and the addition of walnuts adds flavour, crunch and protein.

The first treat I wanted to make was something I've always wanted to do but never had the occasion to: gougères! I played around a bit with the original recipe as I scaled it back, opting for extra old white Cheddar and chipotle chili pepper in place of the cayenne. I tried making the puffs two different ways - first with "fresh" dough, then after piping them out and freezing them until I needed them. I have to admit that I liked the texture of the "baked-from-frozen" ones better, but I found that the baking method needed tweaking regardless. My updated version is after the jump!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Rule of Thirds" Soup for a Warming #SundaySupper

Have you noticed the chill in the air? I know we are around here - just putting groceries into the car both my mom and I lost feeling to the tips of our fingers! As soon as our thermometers dropped all I could think about was the people either still without power or who just got it back after the storm - more than anything, they need this soul (and body!) warming #SundaySupper at their tables. Even here in the safety of our heated, electricity-fed home, that biting wind and constant icy drizzle outside slams the cold right into your bones, and it takes very fuzzy PJ pants and several cups of tea to thaw them out again.

But when it comes to warming, stick-to-your-ribs main dishes, the bowls have it. Whether it's a hearty pot pie, a scoop of casserole, a tureen of rich soup or a serving of simple stew with a hunk of crusty bread, few things are so comforting to both eat and make! The time and love it takes to prepare something hearty enough to stand up to Old Man Winter is soothing to the souls of diners worldwide, and the very crafting of the meal is a very zen-like experience for most cooks on a Sunday morning. The smell of dinner cooking, intensifying with every passing hour, calls kids, parents, friends and visitors to the table, all ensured a fabulous reward for having waited so long.

After our Thanksgiving meal back in October, I wanted to re-harness all the roasted goodness the turkey had given to the holiday table. The first thing I did was make stock, sticking the bones into a mesh produce bag with a half head of garlic, a chopped onion, some backyard carrots, 4 stalks of celery, half a sliced lemon, a few bay leaves and peppercorns and a pinch of salt. After simmering all day, all I had to do was remove the bag and reduce the liquid a touch! The next day, I set about making a more or less "traditional" turkey and vegetable soup. With a brilliant shade of yellow from vibrant (and healthy!) turmeric, the broth soon filled with scents of rosemary and thyme. Carrots, peas, leeks, celery, new potatoes and a White Swan squash rounded out the mix before I added the leftover cooked meat.

While I was writing out what was going into this most recent soupy incarnation, I noticed that (almost) everything that went into it was divisible by 3! I didn't even realize I was doing it at the time, but go figure - my OCD must be acting up again! I decided, as a result, to name the final product the "Rule of Thirds" Soup, which photographers and artists out there will appreciate but still makes total sense to us lay people!

We have over 50 contributors to our warming #SundaySupper (hosted by The Girl In The Little Red Kitchen) this week, bringing you their best warm you up dishes. We have everything from stews, soups, main entrees and even some hot drinks and desserts. Just look at the list below that is coming to the #SundaySupper table this week!

Main Entrees: 




White Swan Squash

Join on us on Twitter throughout the day during #SundaySupper. In the evening we will meet at 7pm EST for our weekly #SundaySupper live chat. All you have to do is follow the #SundaySupper hashtag or you can follow us through TweetChat. We’d also love to feature your Sunday Supper Soul Warming Recipes on our #SundaySupper Pinterest board and share them with all of our followers, too.