Monday, December 31, 2012

Bubble Sugar and Coffee Bean Brittle

If you're like me, the whole New Years Eve thing is a bit of a non-event. I've never been a big partier or drinker, and in all honestly by 11:30 I'm beat and just want to hit the hay. That said, I do like to see all the "best of" lists that come out around this time, though I'm sadly lacking in any real "milestones" in the past 365 days myself and I'm too indecisive to pick favourites when it comes to my recipes. The other fun thing for me is to vicariously live through others and see the creative things people do for the night, whether it's just opening up a bottle of champagne with friends or glamming up 6 ways from Sunday to go out on the town.

That's not to say there isn't bubbly tonight. Nor will we be lacking for caffeine or sugar! While I seriously doubt anyone's about to go about making candy today, certainly not this late, these two treats are relatively simple to put together, need a minimum number of ingredients, and look dang impressive either as decorations or wrapped for gifts.

Fancy PantsBubble sugar (inspired by Grace Massa Langlois' book Grace's Sweet Life) is one of these, and definitely looks like artwork on top of a simply frosted cupcake! It's hard-crack sugar that's poured onto an alcohol-laced baking sheet and allowed to bubble into a beautiful, champagne like texture. While vodka is most traditional, being flavourless and colourless, you can certainly play with the alcohol you use to lend subtle flavouring to the finished candy. Try out a mix of Grand Marnier and Kahlua for chocolate cake decorations, or either a spiced or coconut-flavoured rum when making it to garnish a key lime pie!

Passing these on to Mom's Test Meal Mondays #23 and Gluten Free Monday #14

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Indian Pancake Syrup

Indian Pancake SyrupSooo, now that you have two pancake mixed to choose from in your (or my) arsenal, we're missing a topper to make your New Year's pancakes shine. I mean, sure, you could pick from any one of my Toast Toppers, maybe even that other syrup... but sometimes you need a good table syrup. Well, when I found this baby in one of my Indian recipe bookmarks (can't remember where, sorry!) I had to make it - it's refined-sugar free, using rich, amber honey (I used some local goodies) and a pinch of stevia. But what's the flavour? That thing that makes this - and almost all the other "mock maple" syrups you see out there - taste the way it does? Well, it's a single spice that, if you're a fan of home masala-making, you'll know well.


Not sure what its like on it's own? Take a package of the seeds, open it up and inhale. That bittersweet, caramelly-maple aroma is essentially the flavour it brings to the liquid it's cooked in. Add in the honey, boil it down a bit and *poof* - get those pancakes or waffles on the go, because your breakfast is almost ready!

Of course, this syrup isn't just for breakfast... oh no. I can't be alone in pouring maple syrup over ice cream, cornbread, yogurt... yup, the possibilities are endless!

Sent to Gluten Free Fridays

Indian Pancake Syrup
Makes 12 (1/4 cup) servings, about 3 cups total
3 cups filtered water
3/4 cup fenugreek seeds (AKA Methi)
3/4 cup amber honey
1/8 tsp (2 tiny scoops) pure stevia extract (I like the Now Foods Organic "Better Stevia" Extract Powder)
  1. Combine the water and fenugreek seeds in a saucepan. Let sit for 30 minutes.
  2. Bring pot of water and seeds to a boil and cook for 30 minutes, until seeds are soft.
  3. Strain into a bowl and stir in honey and stevia.
  4. Pour into bottles and store in the pantry up to 3 weeks or in the fridge up to 2 months.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 64.4
Total Fat: 0.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 0.8 mg
Total Carbs: 17.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.0 g
Protein: 0.1 g

Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster

Ever heard of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster? Well, if you've read (or seen) Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you know of Zaphod Beeblebrox' intensely potent cocktail of interstellar potables. The effect of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is apparently similar to having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon (wrapped around a large gold brick). It has also been described in the novel as the alcoholic equivalent to a mugging; expensive and bad for the head.

For this New Years' Eve, while I won't be having a huge blow-out fiesta here I know a few people who'll be hosts, and this is a great way to ensure your guests only have one or two drinks during the night! Of course, this is potent stuff just like it's literary inspiration - with 151 proof rum, 190 proof grain alcohol and nothing to cut the booze with, you will definitely need to pace yourself, and your liver!

Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster
Makes 4 (2-oz) shots
2 oz Bacardi Limon (or lemon flavoured rum)
3 oz Absolut Citron (or lemon flavoured vodka)
1 oz Bacardi 151
1 oz Goldschlager
1 oz Everclear 95% (or Alcool)

  1. In a tall pitcher, stir together all the ingredients with a long, narrow swizzle stick or spoon handle.
  2. Chill thoroughly.
  3. Pour into rock glasses over an ice cube and serve immediately.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 198.8
Total Fat: 0.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 2.0 mg
Total Carbs: 4.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.0 g
Protein: 0.0 g

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gluten Free Superfood Pancake Mix

If you're still entertaining guests this weekend, I don't envy you. Actually, guests (especially if they're family) are great to have, since it really does give the cook (or food blogger) the chance to flex their culinary muscles. I've found myself getting into a bit of a "rut" when it comes to my meals, but when the holidays showed up with all their assorted people, I got into my element. I'm still not a huge fan of the crowds, the travelling and the late nights, and I still do feel guilty about receiving so much when I can give back so little, but I know that I can whip up something unexpected and delicious for those many, many friends and family I share my life with who have seen fit to spend a little holiday time with me.

Since I simply can't afford to shop for holiday gifts (the joys of unemployment), I made gift boxes for everyone on my list. I love making gift boxes, because you can customize them for each person's needs, wants and tastes. What floors me every year is the response - I take it for granted as a foodie, a nutritionist and a generally creative person with cooking skills, but the simplest things were treated like the Holy Grail. Things like Tomato Sauce, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Tomato Paste, and Spicy Peach Jam. Cheap, easy, but so appreciated by others and best of all - something that would be used. You're not going to stash a bag of candy or cookies in the back of your closet for years. Combine the roasted tomatoes, tomato paste and whatever veggies and meat you have kicking around (leftovers!) and BAM - instant sauce.

Then there were the mixes - I did cookies, brownies, pizza dough and pancakes this year, and I have to say I'm proud of all of them, but making this pancake mix was amazing. Mixing the dry ingredients takes all of five minutes, and the flavour... ooh the flavour! Caramelly maca, tart (home dried) blueberries, sweet stevia and a hint of nutmeg. High in fibre and iron and packed with superfoods,so it's über good for you as far as pancakes go... oh, and did I mention it's gluten free?

Gluten Free Superfood Pancake Mix

Uh huh. WIN. I gave this away in gift boxes for my gluten free friends, but then I made more for us. It's a great Saturday morning treat you can enjoy worry free! I'm sending this to Ricki's Wellness Weekends with my options for veganizing the preparation method. Also sent to Gluten Free Fridays

Friday, December 28, 2012

Holiday Supper Stuffing

So, even though the bulk of the celebratory season is behind us, who's still nursing holiday leftovers? How many of you don't want to eat another iota of turkey, potatoes, cranberry sauce or gravy for as long as you live (or at least for another year)? I hear you - really I do. Our household played chief cook and bottle washer for a big Italian Christmas Eve meal, Christmas morning brunch and that night's feast as well - and our freezer has gone from being packed with raw ingredients to being stuffed with bits of turkey, vegetables, fish and various breads. Even though it may be the 28th now, if you can believe it we still have one more big shindig to host and cook for before it's all over!
Thankfully, the majority of my stepdad's birthday party is catered by a third party (taking the pressure off my mom) but, just like home-cooked holiday meals, there's always too much food left over at the end! While a lot of the items (particularly the cooked and sauced veggies and the salads) aren't great the day after, some of the items on our holiday table are not only tasty, but better after a stint in the fridge. This stuffing (or dressing, if you prefer) is one of them. 

Now, I'm the first to admit that I really don't like stuffing at all - the greasy, damp texture and odd blend of flavours has been putting me off since I was old enough to hold a fork. I don't like bread pudding either, so that may be a sign! However, if you don't think of this as the traditional, shoved-in-the-carcass side dish, and more of a savoury bread casserole, the piquant sourdough and sweet-spicy mixture of herbs and aromatics is somewhat endearing. The day it's made, it has a delectable crunchy top that crouton lovers and fans of anything au gratin will covet. Then, with each passing day, the flavours of sourdough, wine, dried fruit, nuts and other ingredients meld more and more into a whole unlike any traditional stuffing I've seen.
I have to tell you, though, that I was as surprised as ever to find myself writing a recipe for the holiday food I most detest. You can blame my mother (she gives you permission), who came to me in the midst of my cookie baking spree and asked if I knew how to make stuffing that was not intended to fill the Christmas bird and that didn't involve the inclusion of meat. Of course, I had not a whit of a clue (why would I?) but I told her I would find out - and thanks to the interwebs I found many different ideas that I more or less pooled to create our Holiday Stuffing.
Even though this recipe keeps and is fantastic for days, it does have one major downfall - there are very few leftovers! My normally casserole, bread and leftover-hating stepfamily gobbled up a good portion of the dish on Christmas night, and my stepbrother even took a big container of it to his fiancee's home the next day!

While I wish I had made the loaf for this stuffing, I was busy making baguettes. Nevertheless, I'm sending this bread-based treat to YeastSpotting on the blog Wild Yeast.

Holiday Supper Stuffing

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hot "Coco" Cookies

Happy Boxing Day!! If you're lucky enough to be in Canada, I hope you're enjoying your day off, and if not, well, I hope Santa treated you kindly. I'm slowly catching up on all the goodies I made for the holiday gift boxes I put together, and I couldn't wait to finally include my twist on the Hot Chocolate / Cocoa Cookies I spotted around the blogosphere.

Rocky Road Sundae CookiesFor my cookies, I chose to try out the Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil that Tropical Traditions sent me in place of the butter. I slightly cut down on the added sugars, but tossed in a shot of chocolate sundae syrup along with some chocolate extract. Of course, the packets of sweetened cocoa mix, chocolate chips and marshmallows boosted the sugar quotient too! I'm glad that I made only a part batch, and that I made them small - they were rich and definitely indulgent! The coconut and chocolate worked so well together, it was almost like being able to eat a coconut milk-based mug of cocoa. The best part? You can take it with you and it won't slosh in your car!

What was your favourite cookie this holiday season? Mine is still my mom's good ol' shortbreads!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays

Just wanted to take a minute to thank you all for reading and wish you a wonderful rest of the holiday season! I'll be back soon with more of the Holiday treats we shared (and my mom's new favourite stuffing recipe!)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mom's Paella for a Home for the Holidays #SundaySupper

This (almost) Christmas Eve, our #SundaySupper group is sharing the dishes, traditions, and snacks that reflect what it means to be Home for the Holidays. Some of us are rekindling memories of a far away home. Others are hungry for the tastes we shared as families and friends now too far away to reach. Many of us are building and cementing new and old traditions for their children, both food and rituals. For if there is one thing that brings us all together, it's the table and the stories we share around it.

This Sunday I'm bringing my mom's recipe for a moderately traditional paella - we used to make it every New Year's Eve (followed by midnight chocolate cheesecake!) in my teens. I had long been interested in the saffron, seafood and sausage pilaf - ever since I discovered the dish in my favourite picture book: Around the World with the Word Gang by Anne Civardi and Graham Philpot. I've written about it before, but never shared it since I never had a photo. I still don't have a photo (you can see a facsimile here), but when it comes to the holiday season I think of her white casserole dish (we don't have a paella pan) piled high with chorizo, clams, mussels, chicken, shrimp and veggies nestled in vibrant yellow rice. We still have little bags of Spanish saffron from my grandparents' last trip to the country, and it really does make paella, well, paella.

The whole recipe is a bit pricey and rich, but it's definitely an exotic, comforting meal for a special occasion, and one I crave with a passion and longing for days gone by. Here's what the rest of us are sharing this week:

- Orange Refrigerator Rolls by The Wimpy Vegetarian
- Eggs Benedict by Cindy’s Recipes and Writings
- Holiday Cream Cheese Tea Ring by That Skinny Chick can Bake
- Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake by Small Wallet Big Appetite

Appetizers & Snacks
- Chicken Liver Pate by Tora’s Real Food
- Bindaetteok {Mung Bean Pancakes}by Kimchi Mom
- Crab and Asparagus Soup by The Urban Mrs.

- Potato Salad {Schwaebischer Kartoffelsalat} by Galactopdx
- Italian Orange Salad by Shockingly Delicious
- Sweet Potato Casserole by Magnolia Days
- Carrots au gratin by Juanitas Cocina 

Main Dishes
- Char Siu Bao – Chinese Roast Pork Buns by The Girl In The Little Red Kitchen
- Savory Crepe Cake by Vintage Kitchen Notes 
- West Indian Curried Goat by The ROXX Box
- Pot Cheese and Potato Cheese Pierogies by Cupcakes and Kale chips
- Seafood Gumbo and Grilled Oysters: A Louisiana Christmas Tradition by the Catholic Foodie
- Mom’s Paella by What Smells So Good?
- Portuguese Chorizo Crown Pork Roast by Family Foodie
- Dorie’s Chicken in a Pot by Gotta Get Baked
- New Year’s Eve Buckwheat Noodles with Mochi by The Ninja Baker
- Crab Cakes for Christmas Eve by Daddy Knows Less 
- Mile High Lasagna by Cravings of a Lunatic 

- Pizzelles {Italian Wafer Cookies} by Chocolate Moosey 
- Fudge by Dinner Dishes and Desserts 
- Crescent Cookies by Cookistry
- Christmas Stollen by Hezzi D’s Books and Cooks 
- Pfeffernusse by The Foodie Army Wife
- Creme De Menthe Cake by I Run for Wine
- Panettone Bread Pudding by the Country Girl in the Village
- Spiced Gingerbread Gooey Butter Cake | A twist on a St. Louis Favorite by Daily Dish Recipes 
- Chocolate Gingerbread Layer Cake with Eggnog Cream Cheese by Crispy Bits and Burnt Ends
- Jamaican Christmas Pudding by Lovely Pantry
- White Chocolate Cranberry Santa Cookies by Mooshu Jenne
- Christmas Tree Cookies by Damn Delicious 
- Old Fashioned Lady Fingers {Creamhorns} by The Meltaways
- Rose Milk Almond Falooda {Indian Dessert Drink} by Sue’s  Nutrition Buzz

- Wine Pairings by ENOFYLZ Wine Blog
- Cinnamon Infused Hot Chocolate with Southern Comfort WhippedCream by Mama Mommy Mom 

Please join on us on Twitter throughout the day during #SundaySupper on December 23rd, and chime into the chat at 7pm EST to talk about our Holiday Traditions. All you have to do is follow the #SundaySupper hashtag or you can follow us through TweetChat.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Pecan Pie Biscotti

I love being able to take twists on old favourites or ingredient combinations and turn them into something else entirely. My mom loves her pecan pies, but not all the sugar, fat and other stuff that goes into them - especially around the holidays. Seriously, when you buy (and use up) 6 lbs of butter, 2 cups of whipping cream, 4 cups of half and half and more eggs, sugar, bread, chocolate and cheese than I can count in the course of twenty days, the last thing you need is more excess! By the way, those amounts don't count the rest of the gluttony that entails my stepdad's birthday party on New Years' Day - cheese stuffed, breaded chicken, risotto and some array of vegetables, appetizers and sides plus lemon meringue pie. Yeah. See what I mean about not needing anything more?

That said, we still had holiday parties to schlep to and gift boxes to make, and biscotti is one of those simple, variable and easy to store treats that are perfect on the cookie tray. Since I knew there would be "biscotti butts" that my mom would undoubtedly go for, I figured I might as well make something she'd actually love (as a usually non-biscotti person). What could be better than encapsulating all the decadence of that classic pecan pie in a bite? 

Pecan Pie BiscottiI decided to use both chopped and ground toasted pecans for a world of flavour and a bit of buttery "crunch", helped along by a scattering of toffee bits, dark, rich coconut sugar and a hint of nutmeg. Whole wheat flour helped things along in the wholesome department and the whole thing was made oh-so-rich tasting with a touch of real, salted butter. Need I say more? Didn't think so. Dunk this in your coffee and sit back... you can hit the gym tomorrow.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rich Root Cake - #RecipeRedux

So, the end of the world seems to be a bit late in coming around. In that sense, it and I are fairly similar, since I made (and intended to share) this delicious, rich yet still somewhat nutritious spicy "root" cake back in October! My grandmother turned 80 this year and for the "big party" my dad asked me to make her cakes. Yes, cakes. I wound up toting the "main" slab (made of two 9x13" oblongs - one of this recipe, the other a French vanilla cake I'll share soon) and a batch of bittersweet chocolate cupcakes to feed the crowd - and not a speck was left!
Shredded Roots
When the posting call went out for this month's #RecipeRedux ("Gadget Gifts") though, I knew I had to wait to show you this cake, for the sheer fact that I did a huge part of it's prep work in one of my two favourite kitchen appliances - the food processor. Call me lazy, call it a cop-out, but honestly one push of a button turned an hour-long ordeal into a slap-bang half-hour task. Since this cake not only called for shredding raw carrots, but grating beets and chopping dates, dried pineapple and macadamia nuts too, I just kept it out on the counter and "fed" it the ingredients. The rest of the batter whipped up my hand in my mom's old mixing bowl without a problem.

The finished cake was moist, spicy, with a touch of earthiness and just enough sweetness and "chunks" to keep it interesting. People loved the "different" flavour and texture of this cake compared to standard carrot cakes from the bakery, since nobody I know of nearby uses spelt flour, coconut flour, peach butter, oats, macadamias and beets in their mixture! It's actually lower in fat and higher in fibre than many other carrot cakes too, without being "diet food" (it is cake, of course), and without any frosting the cake is dairy free too.

Rich Root Slice

Being that it was a fancy-pants birthday cake though, I whipped up a cream cheese frosting out of my copy of Dede Wilson's Cake Balls and crafted some woodland creatures out of a "special" marshmallow fondant I made (again, will share soon! I hope...). The rest of the scene played out with frosting, sprinkles, and sanding sugar, while sugar flowers and chocolate rocks added dimension. The crowning glory of the decorations was the "sand" - a mixture of instant cappuccino mix and cocoa powder that mystified everyone who looked at it until they took a bite! This has definitely been my favourite cake to date!

Birthday Cake

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Milky Mochi Cookies

Mochi Milk CookiesWhen it comes to holiday cookies, I'll admit I don't usually go for those that call for breaking out the piping bags and royal icing. After the work of making, chilling, rolling, cutting, baking and cooling, I really just want to be able to chuck the biscuits in a bag and forget about them (though if you've ever received one of my gift boxes, you'll know it's never that simple). This year, for some odd reason, I made three batches of cookies calling for frosting. While the other two were fairly run of the mill vegan sugar cookies (one "normal", one gluten free), the texture, taste and snowy-white porcelain finish of these so-called "mochi biscuits" I found on the blog The Indolent Cook captivated me. I had never seen a gluten free recipe with such a simple combination of ingredients, made in such a fool-proof fashion before. I made a few changes to get the texture just the way I wanted it - and with a dough like this it really does depend on the heat and humidity in your kitchen.

But the results? Unlike any cookie - gluten free or not - I've ever had. Slightly chewy, slightly crisp, tender yet toothy, plain yet complex. They hold their shapes well when baked and the surface stays snow-white, uncracked and almost identical to when it's raw - the only difference being a slightly firmer texture upon cooling. To add a touch of holiday flair to the cookies (especially since they needed to be decorated anyway) I made a rich egg nog royal icing which turned out better than expected - setting firm enough to stack the cookies, but not so rock hard you wind up with cookie lollipops instead of nibbly treats.
Mochi Milk Cookies
I actually liked these best after chilling the dough, rolling and cutting it into smallish shapes, then freezing the cut-outs before baking them from frozen - a technique only discovered out of necessity, timing and trying to mete out my energy over the season! I did the chill-portion-freeze-bake technique with all my cookies this year and am so glad I did! It's the secret to success when you're making enough recipes to fill an Excel spreadsheet in the span of two weeks!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cinnamon Walnut Coffee Cake

If you follow my cookbook review blog, you know that I recently reviewed Shaina Olmanson's (author of Food for My Family) book  Desserts in Jars. Lo and behold, I then found out that this week our #SundaySupper group is actually having a #DessertsInJars Twitter Party at 8pm EST tonight! I fell in love with the book, as did ten of our members, who are giving us all the gift of their favourites from this cookbook over the course of the week. After the Twitter party be sure to check out their blogs for an extra present - the chance to win one of the 10 Desserts in Jars Cookbooks they are giving away!

Here's the breakdown of the goods this week:

  • Pam Clark from The Meltaways will be warming us up with the Spiced Hot Chocolate Mix with Cinnamon Marshmallows
  • Heather Gonzalez is the girlichef who can’t wait to share Orange White-Chocolate Cheesecakes with Cranberry Sauce
  • Jaime Rippy the blogger behind Mama Mommy Mom couldn’t resist the Pumpkin Cheesecakes with Gingersnap Crust
  • Renee Dobbs from Magnolia Days had so much fun preparing Monster Cookies Mix
  • Jen Martinez form Juanita’s Cocina is raving about the Basil Strawberry Lemonade Granita… oh yeah
  • Lane Richeson from Supper for a Steal loves the twist on an old favorite Strawberry Shortcake

Cinnamon - Walnut Coffee CakeLike I said, I fell in love with the whimsical goodies in DiJ, and have already shared one of them with you - and for a #SundaySupper no less! Since the Monster Cookie Mix in a Jar was so great, I picked out another mix to make while testing the book and jazzed it up the second time around (yes, it was that good). I had a bagful of California Walnuts and some homemade cinnamon chips, and thought this would be the perfect time to bust them out. A bit of sweet and nutty flavour from whole grain spelt flour added another welcome dimension and a delightful tenderness to the cake. I highly recommend picking up (or trying to win!) a copy - you'll find treats for holidays and "everydays" to try and enjoy!

Shared with Mom's Test Meal Mondays

Monday, December 17, 2012

Vanilla Almond Biscotti

Since my family blended, each winter holiday season has had me concoct at least one type of biscotti to give out with the wrapped gifts. For the most part, this is a practical move on my end - being hard and dry cookies anyways, it's hard to tell how long they've sat around, and with one "base" recipe you can create any combination of flavours you could care to. Because of their inherent "purposely stale" state, they're also extremely hard to mess up - if the dough is dried out looking when you slice into it, it simply means you don't have to keep the oven on as long on the second bake!

I wound up making three types of this crunchy Italian-inspired biscuit this year, all in small batches so I could give out a variety all at once. I've already told you about the Cacao Coconut Biscotti with Pistachios, which was definitely the most exotic of the three, but I think today's Vanilla Almond Biscotti were my favourites. In university, Special K Vanilla Almond cereal was my breakfast every morning, and often made it's way into the TV lounge as a crunchy, satisfying snack too. I had long considered myself a "chocolate only" person, and one who hated sweet cereals, but I became an addict.

Vanilla Almond BiscottiI decided to try and recreate the slightly sweet, exotic crunch of that cereal in these cookies, piling on as much vanilla flavour as I possibly could and amping up the wholesome "breakfast" feel with rolled oats and whole wheat flour. The almonds lent just the right amount of richness to the cookie along with their crisp, toasted texture, and while the cookie themselves is vegan I took it upon myself to frost the sticks with melted white chocolate* and crust them with even more almonds! After all, it is the holiday season, so why not go all out?

*Note: you can get vegan white chocolate as well, I just didn't have any on hand

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Potato Leek Soup for #SundaySupper Holidays

So, nine sleeps left until the Big Day arrives for another year. Whether you love the hustle, bustle, tinsel and bows of the holiday season or (like me) wish you could hop onto a pane bound for Tahiti for a month and avoid it all, the fact is that most of us will be entertaining at least a few extra people in the next couple weeks, and that obviously means preparing extra (and extra-special!) food and drink too.

This year is a first for us in terms of the sheer number of holiday / celebratory meals we've got on the go, especially the ones we're hosting. Today was a potluck lunch/dinner shindig at my second cousin's home (which I managed to avoid!), which is always a (mostly) delicious mashup of crockpot meatballs, shrimp rings, 7 layer dip and of course the dessert tray to end all dessert trays. Along with our go-to Caesar salad (which admittedly comes out of a boxed kit), Mom's bringing her (now favourite) Italian Salami Pasta Salad with Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette. My contribution,even though I wasn't attending in person, was pecan pie biscotti.Then, keeping in the Italian traditions of my stepfamily, we're once again hosting the big seafood feast on Christmas Eve. Although this is a source of enjoyment for my stepfather and stepbrother, it's a lot of work to plan, prepare, time, cook and serve everything - especially since we only have one kitchen and my mom is stuck doing all the work! Christmas day is usually our day of relative relaxation, since we normally just do a simple brunch of peameal bacon, scrambled eggs, challah and brioche and then head over to my grandparents' house for turkey dinner. Of course, this year, things have changed slightly in the family - and so my grandma's not shouldering the brunt of the work for one big meal, my mom is taking the torch for that dinner too!

One of our favourite easy-yet-elegant special occasion starters is a warm bowl of Potato-Leek Soup. My version's a little different than my mom's heavy cream, roux-thickened decadent (and delicious) potage, though it's still a rich, "special treat" course. It starts with a buttery saute of leeks, onions, potatoes and parsnip, gets fleshed out with evaporated milk and flavoured simply with a few select herbs. At the end, for presentation's sake, a garnish of fresh chives (and chive blossoms, if you have them) seals the deal.

Potato Leek Soup

With all those meals to contend with (not to mention the normal day to day eating in between!) it helps to have some ideas for treats to get the festive mood started. The #SundaySupper Team is having a Holiday Cocktails and Appetizers party, and everyone's invited! With an amazing assortment of recipes, it's easy to have a party for two or twenty this holiday, on any budget and for any style. Conni from The Foodie Army Wife is our host this week.

Party Beverages

Appetizers or Hors d’oeuvres

In honor of the Sandy Hook victims and their families, we have cancelled our regularly scheduled #SundaySupper Chat this week. Let this be a time when we renew our faith in the power of love and realize the importance of time with our families.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Sauce

Roasty ToastyAre you a fan of tomato sauce? I know I am - I'll put that stuff on almost anything: pasta, rice, veggies, fish, tofu, bread... That is, as long as it's good tomato sauce. I'm not talking about fancy-pants, pay-$12-a-jar stuff you can only order from Italy, I'm talking about real-deal, homemade, richly flavoured sauce cooked down enough so that the flavours are perfectly meshed together but not mellowed out to nothing. I always start out with a smooth sauce as a canvas, because then you can serve it to those who don't like "chunks" or meat in theirs, and jazz up portions with chopped onions, carrots, zucchini, peppers - what have you - when the need arises. But rather than just saute the basic mirepoix and be done with it, I love when the veggies (especially the tomatoes) are roasted first. Roasting also lets you add in as much garlic as you could possibly want - if I was making this just for myself, I'd probably be adding two heads to this baby, but I did have others to consider! I settled for 12 cloves, which turned into a delicious golden butter after their stint in the oven, while the onion and tomatoes melted into a caramelized, sticky-sweet pool of yum.

Garden CandyAre you hungry yet? The best part about all of this was that I could make it all year long! The first batch (inspired by Tomato: A Fresh-from-the-Vine Cookbook) I did over the Summer, with a handful of teeny Egyptian onion bulbs in place of the onion and a ton of my heirlooms. After our garden gave up the ghost for the year (cursed frost!) I wondered if the sad-looking grocery store variety of tomatoes would work just as well. They did, since the roasting pulls out whatever flavour they have, and the other ingredients simply step up their game and help make the flavour come through. While it's a fairly simple sauce, you'd never guess it!

Submitted to Ricki's Wellness Weekends, Gluten Free Fridays and Foodie Friday 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Vintage Speculaas (Speculoos / Biscoff)

I was really struggling to figure out what I should share for the last week of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats! I have so many holiday goodies to share - should it be my Rocky Road Cookies? More biscotti? Truffles with a secret ingredient? I was spoiled for choice. I'm at the point now (as I am every year) where I have more goodies to write about than days before Christmas - not to mention all the other real food I've been making!

SpeculaasIn the end, though, I decided to go back to the ye olde cookbooks and find the most "authentic" version of one of this year's popular cookies - the speculoos, also known as Biscoff. Now, the one I found, and wound up making, is the more Germanic version - my great grandmother was German, and very much so, so the white pepper and baker's ammonia make an appearance, as does a somewhat touchy ingredient in the baking world - lard. Yes, I said lard. Get over it - it's an old recipe, you can get fantastic-quality leaf lard at a butcher and even Tenderflake's isn't bad for a cookie like this. Of course, if you're vegetarian, swap it out for a good quality shortening. Unlike the amoniaczki they don't smell nearly as potent while baking, since the spices take over. The cookies themselves are crisp, spicy but still tender inside. I can't wait to make these again and turn them into a clone of the spread!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Roasted Apple Rye

It's been a while since I shared a loaf of bread with everyone. Not that I haven't been making it, mind you - but I've been making a ton of other stuff (read: cookies!) too and figured that right before Christmas was a better time to share those than after the holidays when everyone is trying to work them off! This bread, though, is definitely not something you'll regret having on your table!

Roasted Apple RyeIf you're a fan of sourdough rye, hearty, grain and seed filled dough or fruity, spicy bread, you will love this Dutch-oven baked masterpiece. With 12 grain, dark rye and whole wheat bread flour, it's packed with nutrition that's compounded by the (blood pressure-lowering) calcium, magnesium and potassium in the figs, the energy boosting riboflavin and iron in the pumpkin seeds, and the polyphenols and vitamin C in the apples. The dough itself isn't a sweet one, either, unlike many other fruited breads, but it's packed with spice notes from cinnamon, cardamom and ginger and just a hint of bittersweet flavour from rich, dark maple syrup.

Sound like a winner to you? I thought so! The only price you pay for all this delicious, healthy bread is time. And I mean a lot of time - easily three days. I know, I know. But it takes three long, cold rises to develop that flavour and texture, and believe me, the lack of hands-on time plus the end result more than makes up for the wait! I adapted the recipe from King Arthur Flour and definitely enjoyed the result - it disappeared within the week and was soft inside and crusty outside the entire time!

Shared with YeastSpotting

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Spicy Tomato Doughnuts (or Cake)

I don't know about you, but around me our stores' produce in Winter is nothing short of sad. It's almost not worth hitting the greenmarket section of the supermarket anymore, since what was a rainbow of bright, shiny and plump lettuce, zucchini and peppers is simply a collection ground for an insipid, lifeless palette of pastels. The items bear the labels of "fruit" and "vegetable", but to taste or feel them you'd never guess.

It was in a quest to use one of the most egregious of these seasonal crimes against vegetation - the softball-like, never-ripening tomato - that I turned to an old favourite formula of mine - the green tomato cake. Instead of chocolate this time (I know, I love chocolate, but we all need a break sometimes!) I went a bit more seasonal with rich, earthy spices, dried fruit and nuts. The cake (or doughnuts, if you choose) is moist, dense and heady - definitely a Fall/Winter treat - but the under ripe tomatoes give it just that little bit of tang so it doesn't feel like you're eating one of those clove-studded oranges.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gluten Free 5-Spice Granola

One of the things I made a few batches of for holiday gifts this year (that wasn't cookies!) was granola. When you think about it, it's one of the best homemade gifts for both giver and receiver - it's easy and cheap to make at home, infinitely variable, and can be made into a decadent or health-freak food depending on who you're giving it to. Everyone I give it to marvels at how good and flavourful it is, since it hasn't been sitting in a box on a shelf for months, and it's not like you're going to find something like this spicy, Asian-esque, vegan and gluten free cereal at the local supermarket! 

As soon as I saw the Millet & Buckwheat Granola on Vanilla and Spice last week, I knew I had to make something similar myself. Using the kasha and millet base as inspiration, I took it all the way to Asia with black rice, coconut, sesame seeds, Chinese 5 spice, fresh ginger, pineapple and almonds. It's a crunchy, munchy, sweet and spicy snack or breakfast everyone can enjoy! My mom added sprinkles to a bowl of warm, chunky applesauce for a snack, and its a great addition to  bowl of oatmeal for a punch of crunch, protein and flavour. I bet that it would also be a perfect fit over ice cream or poached pears for dessert!

Shared with Ricki's Wellness Weekend,Gluten Free Mondays and Gluten Free Fridays 
Gluten Free Asian Granola

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Amoniaczki (Ammonia Cookies) for the #SundaySupper Holiday Cookie Exchange

I love taking the opportunity around the holidays to really flex my baking muscles. I try to embrace new and unusual recipes or ideas from around the world all year, but when a holiday season of giving comes around I get the opportunity to make a bunch of my earmarked "must try" treats without risking over burdening those loyal and ever giving taste testers I have. With this year's developments in the family, it's a little dicey figuring out how much is too much to do, but since cookie dough is seemingly meant for the freezer I haven't had any disasters yet!

This time around I've been finding some European gems in my cookbook travels, from the biscotti I shared on Thursday to two speculoos doughs (a gluten free one and my great grandma's vintage recipe which I'll share this week) and finally these very unusual vanilla peppermint cookies rolled in sugar. Called Amoniaczki (literally Ammonia Cookies), these old Scandanavian / Polish cookies use the potent smelling, but very effective, baker's ammonia for leavening and sour cream for a little extra tang. The combination of the peppermint oil and ammonia causes the cookies to reek to high Heaven in the oven, but the good thing is that once your kitchen stops smelling like you poured a gallon of javex on the floor and added some mouthwash (appetizing, I know), they're done! Cooked through, the cookies are light, crisp on the outside and slightly cakey inside, and full of lovely vanilla and peppermint flavour.

Amoniaczki Fingers (Ammonia Cookies)
Amoniaczki "Fingers"
I chose this cookie purely because of the strange ingredient combinations, and have to say it really delivered as a cookie I'd make anytime during the year for someone who loves the flavour of candy canes. I even used light sour cream since we had it on hand, and of course a good quality, non-hydrogenated shortening (the recipe uses it to keep the cookies white). The dough is very sticky, so you can opt to make it into "drop" cookies if you'd rather not roll it out between sheets of waxed paper and cut "fingers" similar to Italian savoiardi. Either way, make sure to generously coat the tops of the unbaked cookies with coarse "sanding" sugar for that crunchy mouthfeel when you bite in! Baker's ammonia can be purchased at most grocery and baker's supply shops by the baking soda and powder.

This week's #SundaySupper Theme is all about our favorite cookies to share during the Holidays with family and friends. We've got our top recipes at the ready and any (or all) of these will surely be the first to go from the holiday party, Cookie Exchange or Santa's snacking plate! We even have our own special host - Janet Keeler, Food & Travel Editor for the Tampa Bay Times and Author of Cookielicious! She'll be joining us at 7:00 o’clock EST on Twitter (follow #SundaySupper) with tips on baking for an "Ultimate Cookie Exchange" and answer baking questions. We are also giving away 5 signed copies of Cookielicious! Don't want to wait for the giveaway? Check out Cookielicious now while a Buy One Get One Free special is on and pick up a copy for a friend too!

Here are our #SundaySupper Cookie Exchangers: 

Do you have a favorite cookie to take to a Cookie Exchange?  Please join on us on Twitter throughout the day during #SundaySupper on December 9th.  In the evening we will meet at 7pm EST for our #SundaySupper Ultimate Cookie Exchange 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 The Ultimate Cookie Exchange on our #SundaySupper Pinterest board to share them with all of our followers, too.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cacao Coconut Biscotti with Pistachios

Having a "loud and proud" Italian step-family means there's a lot of "to do" surrounding the holiday season. This is usually tripled (or more!) by the fact that my stepdad's birthday falls on the 23rd of December, followed by the Christmas Eve feast, then Christmas brunch and dinner - all at our place! Needless to say, there is a lot of cooking and baking going on that week - not the least being the gifts I make for the family!

Thankfully, because the family is generally open to twists on their traditionally Italian celebrations, while we do have the seafood and vegetarian-only, mostly Italian fare for dinner on the 24th, dessert is a more varied slew of offerings. Pretty much guaranteed is the storebought box of pastries from one of my step-aunts, and my mom usually brings out one of her infamous apple pies baked earlier in the Fall. When it comes to my turn, though, I change it up every holiday. A few years back it was cheesecake, occasionally tarts, but this year it was all about the cookies. And what better cookie to bring to Christmas with the Italians than biscotti?

Cacao Coconut Biscotti with PistachiosSo as not to be overly predictable, I took a slightly more exotic twist on the Italian classic. A mixture of whole wheat and coconut flour formed the base, and extra coconut flavour found its way in through coconut extract and coconut butter (you could also use the richly flavoured Tropical Traditions Gold Label Coconut Oil*). I added a touch of texture to the crisp, crumbly dough with the bitterness of cacao nibs and creaminess of toasted pistachios. All without eggs! Who knew you could get such decadence in a long-lasting, well travelling format? It's perfect for one of the 12 Weeks of Xmas Treats, or anytime you need a dunker for your coffee!

*If you order by clicking on any of these links and have never ordered from Tropical Traditions in the past, you will receive a free book on Virgin Coconut Oil, and I will receive a discount coupon for referring you.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Espresso Fudge Filling and Super Vanilla Frosting

So, you know how those cupcakes yesterday had those nice, big divots in them after they were baked? Well, I couldn't just leave them gaping like that, and covering them up with plain ol' frosting was just a bit... standard. I could have used jam, but didn't want to take away my mom's Toast Topper of the month. However, who doesn't like the combination of chocolate and vanilla - especially a rich, grown up espresso fudge hidden in layers of moist vanilla cakey goodness and topped with a superbly creamy, light vanilla frosting? Uh huh. I thought so.

I turned to the same book the cupcakes came from - Alice Medrich's Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts: Quicker Smarter Recipes. I modified it just barely, and the result was spectacular (and a huge hit at the hair salon I shared them with! The recipe uses instant espresso powder and Dutch processed cocoa for a velvety smooth, incredibly rich spread that I wouldn't hesitate to schmear on graham crackers (or toast... whatever), but by warming it slightly it's an amazingly rich cake or cookie filling! Let the kiddies have their vanilla pudding and jam fillings, this one's for the adults in the room!

Espresso Fudge Filling
Makes 1/2 cup, 8 servings
1 oz salted butter
Fudge, Fudge, Baby1/4 cup dark brown sugar
0.6 oz Dutch process cocoa
1 tsp instant espresso powder
pinch sea salt
2.5 tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp pure vanilla
  1. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the sugar, cocoa, espresso powder and salt and stir in until smooth.
  3. Slowly stir in the cream and continue to cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for 3 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  5. Pour into a bowl and chill at least 2 hours before use. Re-stir before spreading.
Amount Per Serving (1 tbsp)
Calories: 72.4
Total Fat: 4.9 g
Cholesterol: 14.1 mg
Sodium: 25.4 mg
Total Carbs: 10.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.7 g
Protein: 0.5 g

Super Vanilla FrostingTo make the finished cupcakes pretty, and secret away the surprise of the filling, I went all vanilla again. Again, from Medrich's book, I was amazed at how non-cloying this was - it was sweet, of course, but it had flavour and a lightness that storebought frostings lack - probably thanks to the vanilla bean steeping in the cream, plus the vanilla sugar and good extract I broke out again! If I was using it on plain vanilla or spice cupcakes I'd have added a pinch of the "doughnut spice" nutmeg too for that "little bit extra".

Super Vanilla Frosting 
Makes 2 cups
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup vanilla sugar
1/2 tsp salt
seeds and pod of 1/2 vanilla bean (optional but delicious)
1 tbsp pure vanilla
2 oz butter, cool but not hard (I suggest organic, like Kalona)
2 oz shortening, cool but not hard
  1. Whisk together the cream, sugar and salt (and vanilla pod, if using) in a saucepan.
  2. Cover and bring to a simmer, then uncover and boil gently for 1 minute.
  3. Pour immediately into a bowl and cool at room temperature, without stirring, for 45 minutes. Remove vanilla bean pod.
  4. Fill a larger bowl with ice water and set the bowl of vanilla mixture inside.
  5. With electric beaters, beat in the vanilla extract, butter and shortening until the mixture is smooth and fluffy.
  6. Use immediately or store in a covered container up to 1 week in the fridge. 
Amount Per Serving (2 tbsp)
Calories: 114.9
Total Fat: 8.6 g
Cholesterol: 17.8 mg
Sodium: 23.3 mg
Total Carbs: 9.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.0 g
Protein: 0.2 g

Both these recipes are submitted to Gluten Free Mondays and Gluten Free Fridays

*If you order by clicking on any of these links and have never ordered from Tropical Traditions in the past, you will receive a free book on Virgin Coconut Oil, and I will receive a discount coupon for referring you.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sinfully Simple Vanilla Cupcakes

Even though it's the season of cookies, I've yet to find up a kid (or big kid) that would pass up a cupcake on a holiday dessert table. I know growing up that, given the choice, anything cake or brownie like beat out the drop or rolled cookies, regardless of how pretty they looked. But "good" cupcakes are hard to come by, and vanilla ones are often just sugar and flour bombs with a fancy name. I mean, look at the box mixes and supermarket bakery offerings - do they really taste like vanilla? If you're really lucky and/or willing to shell out big bucks, then maybe. But why be passable when you can be a star?

If you're looking to stand out in the vanilla cupcake world, though, you have to up the ante. I'm talking full-on vanilla flavour, metered sweetness and a place for a decadent, contrasting filling. I lucked out when I tried to modify a recipe in Alice Medrich's Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts: Quicker Smarter Recipes. The One-Bowl Vanilla Cake (p. 222) that I tried to turn into transportable, shareable cupcakes wound up sinking horribly in the middle despite being cooked through, and I debated binning the lot. I still don't know why I didn't, but I'm glad! The flavour is intense vanilla, but not to the point where it's bitter. If you're a vanilla lover (or know someone who is), this is for you!