Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mongolian Beef Stir Fry

Some nights it seems like there is no time at all to put together a decent dinner at home. I've been there - the clock is ticking and your stomach is grumbling, you're fretting because you haven't been to the store yet so all you have are bits of this and that leftovers and payday is still a few days off, making take-out a no-go. Those days, I turn to my trusty deep saute pan and basically empty the kitchen into a stir-fry: fast, easy and really hard to mess up, especially when you have a few key things in the pantry to rely on.

Obviously, you need some sort of starch to sop up all the juices and sauce from your concoction, and for that I almost exclusively pick a brown Basmati. Not only does it taste out of this world delicious on its own, but the grains stay more or less distinct, fluffy and fragrant (the word 'Basmati' actually means 'queen of fragrance' in Sanskrit). It's also one of the healthiest rices, with the most amino acids and essential nutrients as well as a fairly low Glycemic Index (45). Can you tell I freaking adore this stuff??

For me, veggies are the be-all and end-all of a good stir-fry, so I always try (try, mind you) to keep a bunch of stuff in the fridge. That said, when I'm cooking for one it doesn't always make sense to buy full packages of snow peas, bamboo shoots and the like, so I scope around until I find a frozen mix that looks good. No big deal. 

Then the crowning glory - the sauce. I've written before about my love of San-J's cooking sauces and tamari, not only because they're gluten free but they are consistently delicious! The company was gracious enough to reach out to me at Christmastime with a box of their product, and recently contacted me again to ask if I'd be interested in trying one of their new cooking sauces - Mongolian Sauce. We love Mongolian BBQ here and couldn't wait to give it a taste!

It was a twist of fate that the day the sauce arrived at my door was also a "grill night" at our house. I had originally planned to make a stir-fry with fresh ingredients and raw meat, but the leftover steak presented itself and made me wonder if marinating it overnight would help re-tenderize it, as well as infusing it with the sweet and spicy elements of the sauce. I whisked up a fairly simple blend of both the Mongolian and Szechuan Sauces, some red wine, beef broth, sesame oil and chili flakes, then sliced the cooled steak and popped it in. The next night, I stir-fried the beef with my go-to frozen veggies and poured the marinade overtop to form a sweet and spicy sauce that soaked into the rice, making the whole bowl one of deliciousness. I can't wait to try the sauce on tofu, or even grilled mushroom caps!

San-J is online - visit their website, facebook or twitter page for more info. Canadians can get some awesome coupons for the company's Tamari and Cooking Sauces on The Healthy Shopper site too.

Mongolian Beef Stir Fry

Shared with Gluten Free Friday - turns out Cindy likes San-J too!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fruity Yoghurt Snickerdoodles

I never had snickerdoodles growing up. I know - that seemingly iconic piece of childhood was totally absent from our cookie jar, in favour of my mom's shortbreads, chocolate chip cookies and banana bread. I do love cinnamon though - give me a chunk of coffee cake or a gooey cinnamon roll and I am one happy camper - so it made sense that one day I would finally get around to making cinnamon-sugar dusted cookies!

At school, everybody's been in "get through to the end of the year" mode (times 10) and I've noticed that more and more guilty-pleasure comfort foods are cropping up in the staff room. Obviously, the rich cakes, pies and other treats are not conducive to reducing the stress levels of anyone wanting to fit in their bathing suit anytime soon, and while I wanted to bring something delicious to add to the mix I didn't want to exacerbate the problem!

Yoghurt SnickerdoodlesI have no idea where my inspiration for yoghurt-based snickerdoodles came from (since I was bad and didn't save the link) but I do know I made a few changes based on what I had at home and the number of cookies I wanted. I also wanted to reduce the sugar a bit - not so much that they didn't qualify as a treat, but enough so that the fruit in the yoghurt could bolster the overall sweetness and the cinnamon could stand on it's own. A touch of Truvia that had been sent to me for review fit the bill nicely and the cookies baked up just how I pictured snickerdooodles would be - puffs of "dirty" dough, fragrant with cinnamon and with a sweetness not like what plain sugar cookies emanate. The dash of oat flour, to me, really made the cookies feel homemade and special, without chunks or flakes of oats getting in the way of sheer cinnamon bliss.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Hot and Sweet Pepper Confit - Toast Topper #46

It's definitely a toss-up in our family as to what we love more from the Summer garden - our wide assortment of tomatoes (heirloom to conventional, beefsteak to cherry!) or our equally diverse range of peppers! We have the tongue-searing Thai and Scotch Bonnets for the fire-eaters in the family, middle-range hot cherry and Hungarian wax for the majority of our cooking and the mild sweet cherry and bells for tempering the flames of all the others! A good portion of the medium and mild peppers (especially the "cherry" varieties) are claimed by my stepdad for his Spicy Italian Peppers in Sauce, but when there are more cropping up on the plants than he can handle, I get into the kitchen too.

Personally, I'm a bigger fan of spicy than sweet peppers, especially pickled ones - but for the grilling season it's nice to have something unique to go with the usual fare. Confit is perfect because, unlike pickles, it's not sour (which can conflict with certain marinades) and it is a great addition to not only sandwiches but grain- or potato-based salads, grilled pizza and things like grilled fish. I took the idea of a pepper confit from Martha Stewart, but had to make it my own - not only with the pepper choices but by swapping in a locally-grown onion for the shallots. Rather than relying on a low and slow oil simmer for the "melt-in-your-mouth" texture, this Toast Topper cooks in a luscious Sauvignon Blanc bath, soaking up all that delicious flavour. In fact, the finished confit would be at home at a fancy dinner party, paired with those garden tomatoes on a few pieces of baguette!

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays

Hot & Sweet Pepper Confit

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fancy British "Pub Sauce"

Well, now that BBQ season is officially underway, it seems like everyone is itching for the best new burger recipe, cooking method, marinade or sauce. Funny enough, even when I did eat meat, I hated stuff "grilled" (AKA charred) on our backyard 'que. In fact, the only grilled stuff I ate willingly were hot dogs and foil-wrapped pizza pockets made on our rickety old mini-grill on the back of our sailboat. Over the years my mom pretty much gave up the grilling ghost, but my dad seems to have honed his skills and now makes to-die-for potatoes, corn, steaks and even pizza in his propane contraption, not to mention non-blackened steaks and even melt-in-your-mouth fish.
Fancy Brit-Pub Steak Sauce
Regardless of your personal preference when it comes to grilled fare, it never hurts to have a killer sauce alongside it. The right condiment can elevate even the cheapest cut of meat and enhance vegetables from the traditional portabella cap to tofu, slabs of sweet potatoes, romaine hearts and eggplant steaks. Over the summer months, I go through far more BBQ and "steak" sauce than I care to admit to!

My love for the thick, dark condiment is what piqued my interest in creating my own. Last year at the end of BBQ season, I found this recipe in Chatelaine, and saved it to ring in the new year's summer menu. I finally got around to cracking open my jar, and let me tell you it is better than any fancy-schmancy, $10 a bottle gourmet sauce, and you get a lot more bang for your buck than with the finishing "drizzles" you get at high-end steakhouses. Not only that, but the blend of vinegars, port and Worcestershire is heavenly on all sorts of vegetables (grilled, roasted or sauteed), French fries, fish (battered, breaded or plain-jane grilled) and can even add that je ne sais quoi to steamed rice, pasta salads and savoury baked beans.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tropical Teacake - a #RecipeRedux

I was excited when I saw the theme for this month's #RecipeRedux event - cooking with tea! Our pantry has one of the most packed tea shelves I've ever seen - from run of the mill Orange Pekoe to imported green, flavoured white, green and black looseleaf and an array of herbal selections too. Rather than being hoarders, our household simply drinks a lot of it - at least 2 cups per person daily, if not more - and I (being the foodie) also like to cook and bake with it. Recently I discovered the allure of cooking brown rice in genmaicha - the resulting nutty, "popcorn" flavour is unmatched! Then today I spotted this gem on Rachael Ray, which I would totally be making if I a) ate meat and b) wasn't terrified of frying!

My favourite things to make with tea, though, are still of the baked variety.  From cookies (including biscotti) to cake and even bagels, I'm game to try it in almost anything. That said, it's hard to overly improve on something as fabulous as the Rich Tea Cake from The Vegan Baker, but a variation doesn't have to mean improvement - simply a difference! With a change of tea as my inspiration, I took the loaf-cake to the tropics - packing it with candied ginger, apricots, macadamia nuts, dates, cranberries, almonds, pumpkin seeds and raisins. Without any refined flour or sugar, the vegan recipe is really able to stand on its own flavour-wise and each element is distinct while still part of the larger whole. It's a perfect snack to have with, well, tea - any time of day. For our family this found a spot on the plate after spicy sandwiches, soup or grilled burgers (with or without a scoop of frozen yoghurt for good measure).

Tropical Tea Cake

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Potato - Herb Waffles

Potato Herb WafflesYou may have noticed that a bunch of my #SundaySupper pals are raving about potatoes today. Specifically, the gang is participating in a potato salad roundup courtesy of the Idaho Potato Commission. I don't live in Idaho - or even in the USA - but I do love our native spuds from PEI and wanted to share one of my own favourite potato recipes now that our herb garden is cropping up again!

I actually brought this recipe into the classroom for Shrove Tuesday / St. Patrick's Day back in March, but since then we've made it a to-die-for special dinner side. Not only is it relatively cheap (come on - potatoes, flour, eggs and milk?) but when cooked to crispy perfection they taste like gourmet French fries. In fact, just by sticking my head out into the backyard, I'm able to get all the greenery I need to add my herbaceous flair: chives, thyme, green onions and parsley all add colour and pops of flavour. I'd love to try this with truffle oil or horseradish too.

Now, just because this recipe makes a ton of waffles doesn't mean you should pass it up - not only does it halve beautifully, but cooked waffles can be frozen on sheet trays, packed into plastic zip-top bags and stored for over a month. Simply pop a couple in the toaster (a la Eggo) and *poof* - an instant dinner side (or savoury breakfast - try it topped with maple syrup and bacon, or molasses baked beans!).

Potato Herb Waffles

Friday, May 16, 2014

Dark Spice Cake

The end of the school year (and consequently, my school year) is in sight! Tomorrow I write the first half of my final exam (fingers crossed my internet holds out), and the whole shebang takes it's final bow with my practical the first weekend of June. I still haven't secured long-term, paying employment (a familiar theme here) but I know there's a volunteer slot for me where I'm completing my co-op so at least I won't be twiddling my thumbs all day.

As bitter as leaving my school friends and the relative security of "student life" is, I am exceedingly happy to be free of the stress of practical tests, scrambling to assemble school albums (some with over 500 pages) and the humdrum of spending each and every Saturday sitting in a tiny chair at a tiny table. As a last hurrah for our class, I brought in cake - after all, it is a celebration of year end. Rich, moist and spicy, I also made it gluten free and vegan so that everyone could have a piece (speaking from experience, nobody likes being left out of the party). Having to transport it, I skipped any sort of topping or adornment, but there was fruit alongside (and cheese too) and it made for a perfect mid-morning break. I wrapped the leftovers for my gluten-free friend to take home too - nothing is sweeter than sharing in my opinion!

Dark Spice Cake

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fruit Butter Spice Cake

It really is no surprise to me that our fridge has a constant supply of fruit puree. We tend to buy slews of produce in spurts (especially if my stepdad makes a Costco trip alone) and although we are a family of fruit and veggie lovers, we can only go through so much of it before it starts to turn. By cooking down the softer apples, pears, nectarines, berries and even some of the sweeter or blander veggies (like carrots, baked winter squash, and zucchini) we keep their shelf life a little longer - and in the case of the veggies, being pureed with the sweet fruit is a great "extender" of both volume and calories. 

Whenever we have too much puree on our hands (which doesn't happen often, but it does happen), I turn to the oven for inspiration. Applesauce is almost completely commonplace in baking these days, having the ability to partially replace the oil in things like quickbreads and cake. I simply take that a step further by taking one of my multi-ingredient mixtures in place of plain-jane apples. One of my favourite uses for any thick puree of fruit (or fruit and vegetables!) is as the base of a spicy snacking cake. Without the distractions of excess sugar, chocolate, frosting or chunks, the flavours of the sweet masala stand out along with the fruit, becoming a pan of fragrant, light, moist cake perfect for morning snacktime. In fact, the only adornment I bothered with was a "cheater" streusel of crumbled graham crackers - adding the merest hint of crunch and honey-sweetness and bringing the whole medley into perfect balance.

Fruit Butter Spice Cake

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Chocolate Almond Prune Bread - A Mother's Day #SundaySupper

I know I talk about my mom a lot on this blog. The fact is, she's one of my best friends, worst (yet most constructive) critics, a psychologist, a nurse, a punching bag, a maid, an accountant, a sous chef, a taste-tester, a student, a teacher and even a classroom assistant. It's my mom that helps me study for my exams and spends hours helping stuff sheets into page protectors or colouring worksheets. It's my mom that (until she retired) would re-arrange her work schedule to be able to come with me to doctor's appointments when I didn't feel comfortable going alone. She helps us clip the cat's nails, makes me tea when I'm feeling down, and listens with never-ending patience to my rants and raves about the day at school. In short, I wouldn't be where I am today without her, in every sense of the word.

One of the things my mom has really become in the past few years (partially thanks to this blog and my cookbook reviews) is a foodie. She was always a fantastic cook, but a simple, practical one more focused on feeding two kids and a husband than branching into haute cuisine. These days she's more or less out of the "kid food" genre, but still has to contend with my equally picky stepfather who is perfectly content to just eat pasta and meat all day, every day... especially if he's not cooking it. The saving grace (and the window of opportunity we have to bond culinarily) is her weekday lunches. For the last few years, they were her work lunchbox staples - a soup, stew, pasta or stirfry over rice, a couple pieces of bread or a bagel and some homemade jam - and today she still asks if I have anything coming down the pipe to make for her lunches even though she's retired. We've traveled the world with those meals, and thankfully she's an adventurous eater (with a spice-tolerant palate!) so I really can run the gamut when it comes to ingredients.

For this Mother's Day, though, I wanted to bring it home by making something that embodied a host of my mom's favourite things. Firstly, it's my mom's favourite food in general - bread. Secondly, it's packed with whole grain "bits". Third, it's sweet and nutty thanks to almond butter and an almond/dairy "milk blend". The last two are the most obvious - the filling ingredients. Mom's been a long, long-time fan of prunes, and I've yet to find a woman who is as in love with dark chocolate as she is. I wasn't overly conscious of the fact that I incorporated all these favourites while putting the recipe together, since I basically took my inspiration recipe and tweaked it here and there to answer the questions "what do we have in the house?" and "what does mom really like?". In the end, it turned out that a slice of this loaf really is a taste of everything my mom seems to be, palate-wise and as a person: sweet, with a grown up "edge", wholesome, a little "fruit & nutty", healthy and with the capacity to get you moving when you need a push (insert prune joke here).

This week's #SundaySupper is, appropriately, all about our moms and what brings Mother's Day home for us. Whether our mothers are with us at the table tonight or always by our side in spirit, it's a special day for us all and I invite you to take a look at what we have to share as well as to join in our Twitter chat tonight (details below). That is, if your kids / parents will let you!

Happy Mother's Day everyone!

Mother’s Day Breakfast:

Mother’s Day Appetizers, Soups and Salads:

Mother’s Day Main Dishes:

Mother’s Day Desserts:
Sunday Supper Movement

Join the #SundaySupper conversation on twitter on Sunday! We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. Our weekly chat starts at 7:00 pm ET. Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat. Check out our#SundaySupper Pinterest board for more fabulous recipes and food photos. 
Would you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here—>Sunday Supper Movement.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Baked Rosé Bowties with Turkey and Peas

Does your family have any "cult favourite" dinners? You know them - the ones that came out of sheer desperation and the ends of too many leftovers (none of which make a full meal) one night, that tasted so good that they're given "craveable" status. For some families I know, it's "spaghetti pizza", for others, the go-to is fried rice, casseroles or fritattas.

In our family, we always had leftover Kraft Dinner, tomato sauce or salsa, and usually some sort of roasted meat. Now, pretty much everyone knows that reheated mac & cheese is not the tastiest thing in the world - it never really un-congeals - and leftover roasted or broiled chicken breasts are no treat either. However, when my mom took that brick of neon-orange pasta, dumped in the dregs of a jar of pasta sauce, whatever meat was left in the fridge and a couple handfuls of peas, dinner became something out of this world. We didn't care that it wasn't whipped up a la minute, or that when she was really pressed for time the concoction was microwaved, not baked or stovetop-cooked. It only tasted "right" with leftovers too - especially post-Thanksgiving turkey - making the "problem" of a too-big holiday feast more of a delight.

Baked Rosé Bowties with Turkey and Peas

The problem with relying on leftovers for that dish meant that as the years went on and the fridge stores dwindled with our growing appetites, that slap-dash cacophony of flavour became less and less common. Eventually it stopped altogether, due in large part to my sister's resistance to eating it and the fact my mom and I were trying to lose weight. It's been years now since I've had one of those "mom's macaroni" meals, but I've never forgotten them - which is why I decided to pay homage to my childhood and my mom's creativity by making my own version of the dish. While I still used leftover bits and pieces from my kitchen, I cooked up the dregs of a few boxes of whole wheat pasta and mixed up a rosé sauce with the last of my herb and garlic Ever - Variable Cooking Creme, tomato paste, milk and Parmesan rather than boiling a box of mac & cheese. Frozen turkey meat from Easter dinner went in along with the prerequisite frozen peas, and for a touch of extra texture I topped the pan with Panko and baked it just until crispy on top.

True, my pasta mashup is not the one from my early years, but it is darn tasty regardless - not only does it help use up leftovers, but you can make a lot of it and freeze a pan for later without loss of texture. If that doesn't sell you, maybe the fact that it's got less of a day-glo hue than the "original" will!

Friday, May 2, 2014

"Loaded Stupid" Brownies

When you have as many die-hard chocolate fans in the household as we do, we tend to be picky about the bars and candy we keep around. My mom and I are almost exclusively bittersweet chocolate devotees, but my sister and dad will choose milk over dark any day. Regardless of the cacao content, we do our best to find brands that are eco-friendly and fairly produced, while still economical. Not that we eat a bar a day or anything, but swallowing the cost of a $5 bar can keep us from actually enjoying it.

Nestle Cocoa Plan

Recently, Nestlé contacted me with a gift of some of our classic childhood favourites - Aero, Coffee Crisp, Smarties and Kit Kat - and an information package regarding their newest initiative: The Nestlé Cocoa Plan. According to their website, their attention to the wellbeing of others and the environment is simply business as usual at  Nestlé - the difference is that it now has a name: Creating Shared Value. Firstly, the company supplies quality cacao saplings to farmers, each helping to produce 20+ years of high-yield, high-quality cocoa beans. Then, Nestlé provides training to those farmers, including how to adopt better farming practices (like properly pruning trees, controlling pests with both responsible pesticide and natural deterrent methods and harvesting while caring for the environment). One of the most prevalent examples of their training initiative their investment in a farmer field schools in West Africa, where 20-30 farmers meet at a local cocoa farm for their training every two to three weeks.

By keeping the supply chain short, Nestlé helps ensure farmers are paid fairly and can continue to farm sustainably, building partnerships with organizations like UTZ Certified and Fairtrade. In fact, the Canadian-based Cocoa Plan co-ops and farmer groups are producing enough cocoa to cover 100% of the cocoa needs to produce Aero, Coffee Crisp, Smarties, and Kit Kat bars in Canada, and at present 30% is UTZ Certified (their goal is to be 100% UTZ Certified in 2014).

Cleaning out the Candy

One of the most important aspects of the Cocoa Plan to me as a teacher is that Nestlé is a strong participant in the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), which is dedicated to ending child and forced labour in the world of cocoa farming by eliminating child trafficking and abusive labour conditions. As a coalition between the public and the cocoa industry, they work to prevent children from being exposed to unsafe tasks and exploitation, at the same time providing assistance to those who have been abused in the past. The ICI also helps to increase access to education, which I believe is a huge leap forward in the fight to become a more cooperative and overall peaceful society.

So, when I opened up my box from Nestlé to reveal a treasure trove of their Cocoa Plan-certified bars, I knew I had to make something with them that shone. I know I could have just noshed away on them au naturale (and I'll admit the Aero met it's fate that way), but I wanted to share the chocolate love - not to mention rid myself of a few other chocolate goodies that were sitting within temptation's grasp. To me, the unequivocal chocolate dessert has got to be brownies. Cakes, muffins, cookies, cheesecakes and puddings, I love you all, but the fact remains that biting into a fudgy, dense brownie square has no equal - especially if you take that simple, cocoa base and load it with as much extra chocolate as you can!

I wound up using my relatively standard cocoa-powder brownie recipe as a jumping-off point, reducing the sugar a fair deal to account for the almost 300g of assorted milk chocolate candy I chucked in! The bars baked up dense and fudgy (the way I love them), with a perfect balance between bitter and sweet, crispy bits and smooth chocolate. In short, bars of awesome. 

Of course, I highly recommend you search out a few types of fair, sustainable chocolate or candy to use in your (rather smart) "Loaded Stupid" Brownies, but really the best part about them is that you can use anything, and everything in your candy stash that you feel tastes good with chocolate!  

"Loaded Stupid" Brownies

Many thanks to Nestlé for their kind gift - it was definitely appreciated!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Baked Lemon Pasta with Broccoli and Shrimp - #holidayfoodparty

I think we can all agree that no matter how many years we've spent in the kitchen, how many stars attached to our name or followers attached to our blogs and instagram accounts we have, none of us will ever be able to match our mom's homemade cooking. I've waxed poetic about my mom's culinary skills before, and it's only fitting that I credit her for giving me the love of cooking too. Granted, I may not have always liked the meals she made us eat growing up, and today she concedes that a few of my recipes are better than her classics, but the fact remains that when she's in the kitchen, much more is being made than food. 

For Mother's Day, it's always hard for me to figure out what to do for my mom, since she's not one who enjoys going or eating out all that much (and she loathes shopping). I'm ashamed to say the past few years have garnered her only a card and an apology, and unless I'm struck by an epiphany soon this one will be no different. However, I do know a few edible ways through to my mom's heart (that aren't chocolate - shocking!). She's an indiscriminate carb-lover at heart, who would probably murder any dietitian who told her to adopt an Atkins-style diet. She's also a major veggie-holic (like her daughter!) and recently re-discovered a love of yoghurt, as a snack, a condiment and in main dishes. 

Baked Lemon Pasta with Broccoli and Shrimp

So, while I can't make meals just like mom's, I can make her something that she'll enjoy on "her" day - comforting, indulgent-tasting (but surprisingly healthy), and packed with veggies, carbs and yoghurt - not to mention enough leftovers for good "take to work" meals too! I'll even do the dishes. 

This #holidayfoodparty is celebrating moms far and wide, with 13 recipes that are perfect for the special day. Check out all the offerings below and say hi - after you call your mother!

1. Coconut Cupcakes from That Skinny Chick Can Bake
2. German Apple Cake from Magnolia Days
3. Baked Lemon Pasta with Broccoli and Shrimp from What Smells So Good
4. Cinnamon Pear Cake from Roxana's Home Baking
5. Strawberry Whiskey Sour from Girl in the Little Red Kitchen
6. Huevos Rancheros from Crumb Blog
7. Triple Lemon Cake from Created by Diane
8. Banana Chocolate Chip Bread from Chocolate Moosey
9. Lemon Thyme Shortbread from Jen's Favorite Cookies
10. Pineapple Coconut Sweet Rolls from Pineapple and Coconut
11. Caramilk Stuffed No-Knead Brioche from Gotta Get Baked
12. Mom's World Famous Sponge Cake from Hungry Couple NYC
13. Brown Butter Pecan Fudge Ripple No-Churn Ice Cream from Cupcakes and Kale Chips