Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Banana Muffins with Chocolate Hazelnut Crunchies

Adapted from 125 Best Vegan Recipes, these are moist and perfectly sweet muffins peppered with chocolate-hazelnut crispy bites instead of chocolate chips.

Banana Muffins with Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch

Bananas and chocolate are a match made in heaven - especially when that chocolate is dark and almost bitter and the bananas are almost caramelized in their over-ripe state. Add nuts in any form - the classic, of course, is walnuts, but anything really works - and you have a trifecta of deliciousness. 

My family tends to eat most of the bananas we buy - it is by and large my stepfather's favourite fruit, and one of the only ones my sister eats willingly - but occasionally we wind up finding out we overbought. Most of the time, the (then-spotty) bananas are peeled and stashed in my freezer, awaiting a fate of banana bread, but I wanted to try something a little different with a few on the counter. I had a copy of 125 Best Vegan Recipes kicking around with a banana- (and chocolate!) forward recipe, and since I had a freshly minted batch of Chocolate Hazelnut Crunchies on my hands I decided to use those in place of the chocolate chips called for. 

These muffins are the perfect mixture of "morning snack" and "dessert" - there is a delightful nuttiness from the spelt flour and almond milk that evokes the feeling of being healthy, but the sweetness of the fruit, agave and Crunchies definitely makes the decadence of these bites known. The crumb of these is moist and tender, without the gumminess that can sometimes occur when the phrases "whole grain", "vegan" and "banana" go together. They're not really things of beauty, to be sure - the relative wetness in this batter doesn't lend itself to super-inflation - but one bite and I guarantee you'll want another. 

Provided you like bananas and Nutella, that is - and who doesn't?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Chocolate Hazelnut Crunchies

Chocolate Hazelnut Crunchies are a decadent topping for all your dessert desires!

Chocolate Hazelnut Crunchies

I hate when items I love are suddenly discontinued. Ones that immediately come to mind are usually things I grew up on but as an adult didn't really use, like Cherry Vanilla Coke and McDonald's pizza. However, my family and I are finding more and more of our staple foods have bit the dust (at least in Canada) and we're left to find alternatives - some are good (President's Choice Louisiana hot sauce, for example), others... really not (non-British baked beans(z)). Luckily, we tend to avoid most processed food as a matter of habit anyway, and I for one revel in making my own ingredients, "mixes" and condiments (obviously).

One of the more recent disappearances was from our local bulk food store - crunchy little balls of chocolate-hazelnut goodness intended for decorating cakes and cupcakes. They tasted like Nutella meeting Rice Krispies, and were awesome for not only cakes, but cookie dough and topping brownies too. We fell in love - and then poof! gone. Not just gone from the bulk store, but everywhere - not even Google can come up with a result for us.

But not all is lost. Due to my love of recreating elements of recipes I see on TV, and pre-made mixes I find in the stores, I decided it was time to make my own version. While definitely not as "perfect" as the storebought ones, these had, IMHO, a better flavour and if your chocolate stays at cool room temperature after mixing and panning, a more defined crunch. I accidentally left one of two trays out overnight (it's warm and - more importantly - humid here right now) and the chocolate soaked into the cereal, taking away some of the character crunch. still delicious, however.

Stay tuned for a recipe using them coming right up - and its perfect for that mid morning snack too.

Bonus Tips: 
  • Sprinkle these on the Chocolate Hazelnut Beet Brownies to make them extra special!
  • Keep these in the freezer, they won't melt and the nuts won't get rancid that way.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Tofu Colombo Curry

3 pounds of zucchini go into a BIG pot of this curry, along with marinated tofu, two types of potato and a Scotch Bonnet for heat. Get out the milk, this is spicy! 

Tofu Columbo Curry

Yup, it's another curry!

With the absolute glut of zucchini coming out of the garden at the moment, we've been on the search for recipes using lots of it. There are only so many times I can wheedle my way into baking treats with it - poor Mom is the only one who can eat them at home - but savoury meals my mom can eat for lunch? No problem.

With the pile of squash growing ever higher on our kitchen table, I did what any modern-age person would do - turn to Mr. Google. After sifting through lots of zoodles, fritters and desserts, as well as a fair amount of ratatouilles (which I would have made, had our eggplants and peppers been ready), I wound up in an unlikely place, looking at an unlikely recipe - a pork-based, multi-part curry with potatoes, habaneros, eggplant and - yes - zucchini.

Like I said, our eggplants and peppers aren't ready yet this year. Not only that, but my mom hasn't eaten pork in a year or so, preferring fish or vegetarian options. Chicken has largely been off the menu lately as well, after recent shopping trips found us victims of the edible, but unappetizingly spongy woody-breast chicken. Still, the other ingredients appealed to me, and what I knew my mom would enjoy as well. She agreed when I described the combination to her, and she sounded intrigued, asking if I could swap the pork for tofu, and dropping the hint that she "doesn't like habaneros".

Lucky for me, I had the slightly fruitier, yet still fiery Scotch Bonnets in the freezer instead! I nixed the eggplant in the original recipe as well, and piled in the zucchini, as well as doubling the starchy mixture of both Yukon Gold and Caribbean sweet potato - there was a goodly amount of protein and veggies going on in there, not to mention spices, so I wanted to make sure there was enough bulk to temper it all! I pulled on some of the other goodies I had in the garden for extra flavour, namely my Egyptian onion (which tastes like scallions and/or shallots depending on the part you use) which made the bulk of the marinade, the garlic and the thyme which perfumed the body of the stew. While a whole Scotch Bonnet goes into the tofu marinade, you have the option to mince a second and add it all to the pot, or simply stab one and let it slowly infuse before removing it for a more subtle heat. I opted for the latter, although there was so much stuff in the pot I could have gotten away with the second one for sure.

Note on the spice blend - you can certainly buy Poudre de Colombo, if you can find it at your grocery store or order it online, but my town is simply not blessed with stores that carry it. Thankfully, it's super simple to whip up, and the fresh-toasted flavour is simply unbeatable. If you do use storebought, make sure to toast the rice flour separately and add it to the pot at the same time.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Beef and Sweet Potato Stew #SundaySupper

Beef and Sweet Potato Stew is slowly baked in a Dutch oven until unctuous and rich.

Beef and Sweet Potato Stew

Whether we like it or not, the Summer vacation season is drawing to a close. While we here in Ontario didn't get much in the way of Summer weather (monsoon season, maybe!), it was lovely to have any amount of time without needing jackets and winter boots. As the weather progressively cools, especially at night and definitely while a thunder and windstorm rages outside, tucking into a hearty bowl of soup or stew just feels like the right thing to do.

I don't normally cook with beef, since we don't really eat it here - chicken and fish are the main animal proteins on the menu, but beans and tofu are starting to take greater precedence due to health and budget concerns. At any rate, during a freezer purge we came across a package of flank steak originally, we think, intended to become this delicious thing - which, I just realized, I posted 10 years to the day of this stew. No, the beef was not that old... we clean out the freezer regularly I promise! Flank steak doesn't usually scream "stew me", but it had to be used (we loathe throwing away food), and I figured that with all the other "stuff" going into the pot it would be a small enough component that could fly under the radar if tough.

I needn't have worried, since this stew was stellar. The onions, mushrooms, split peas and sweet potatoes added a good deal of body and richness to the mixture, elevated by a couple glasses of red wine. The seasoning was minimal, and fairly standard, except for a pinch of cinnamon to elevate the mineral quality of the beef and the sweetness of the root veggies. The garlic mellowed into the gorgeous sweetness it does so well, thanks to the hour and a half in the oven. Speaking of the oven, that was by far my favourite part of making this - your simmering time is all in the oven, freeing up the stove or letting you wander off worry free.

Like all good stews, this is better the next day, and it freezes well for meals later in the month. If the first month of school is anything like I remember, you might be making good use of meals like this for the evening repast! The #SundaySupper gang is sharing their best "back to school" dinners this week, check them out and be sure to say hi!

Beef and Pork

Pastas, Soups, Rice and Stews


Sunday Supper MovementJoin 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. To get more great

Friday, August 11, 2017

"Locked and Loaded" Cookies

Caramel bits, chocolate chips and hemp seeds pack these whole-grain oatmeal cookies, creating treats so decadent you'll never realize they're made without butter, oil or eggs! 

Locked and Loaded Cookies

It's scary how close it is to "back to school" time! Granted, I'm in school now (taking my Sociology degree) but my teaching life doesn't begin until after Labour Day (phew). However, for those of you who are parents, like many of my friends, this crunch period is full of questions like "how many binders do I need?" "does he really need a 64-pack of crayons?" and most importantly, "what do I pack for lunch?".

Since my sister and I grew up with parents who needed to work full time during the Summer we were sent to day camp throughout July and August and always had a packed lunch. The rules for camp lunches and snacks were identical to school - no nuts, no peanuts - so nothing really changed. However, I know that if we were left to our own devices at home, we'd be scarfing peanut butter or Nutella on toast for lunch, and my mom always made killer peanut butter and chocolate chunk cookies that fit perfectly into the afternoon snack void. After a holiday like that, lunchbox treats had better be mighty fine to compete!

These guys not only compete, but score. I call them "locked and loaded" because of just how jam-packed of good (and good-for-you) things they are! Instead of butter, which for some reason we had run out of (I know, sacrilege in a baking household), I used a combination of cream cheese (which is now my "secret addition" to cookies) and SunButter for a rich nutty flavour and aroma. I almost never have eggs in the house (I don't eat them myself) so in went the flaxseed for binding the whole wheat batter. Finally, it was "raid the pantry" time - I managed to empty the last bits from bags of large flake oatmeal, hemp seeds, chocolate chips and caramel bits for good measure.

As with any whole grain cookie, especially one containing oats, a rest in the fridge is the way to go to properly hydrate everything, but once baked - boy were these fantastic! Tender and slightly chewy thanks to the cream cheese and caramel, snack-worthy but not super sweet (especially since I used dark chocolate) and just slightly nutty tasting, a single cookie satisfied any craving I might have had. The real magic came through after freezing them, though - you have got to try these frozen. Everything is just that much better, especially when its still 30C out. I haven't tried ice cream (or Frozen Yoghurt) sandwiches with them, but why not?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Pineapple Habanero Jelly - Toast Topper #83

This spicy - sweet spread is made with homegrown habaneros and canned pineapple juice - its so simple! It's low sugar too... And full of Island flavour! 

Pineapple Habanero Jelly

This is another one of those spreads that bridges the gap between sweet and savoury. Now, normally I keep my fruit all by itself - I hate chunks of apple, pear, orange or grape in salads, can't stand prosciutto and melon, and stay as far away from grilled peaches on burgers as possible.

Pineapple - at least its juice - is the one exception. Maybe it comes from being Canadian and growing up in the culture of Hawaiian pizza (you know, the pineapple and ham ones), but I loved pineapple soaked flank steak and chicken growing up and adore using the juice to make sweet and sour stir fry sauce for a quick dinner. Whenever I go for pineapple juice (I still can't deal with chunks of fruit in my dinner) I always make sure to add spice - anything from jalapenos to today's habs are a perfect counterpart to the sweet-tart pineapple juice, and depending on how long you let the mixture sit the effect can be drastically different. Used immediately, the result is one of two distinct flavours in one dish - there is definitely "pockets" of fire in a sweet ocean. Let it sit as little as an hour, though, and you get a more homogenous whole, every bite hot and sweet and sour at once. While each method is delicious in its own right, if I'm marinating or making a sauce I will try to steep the peppers ahead of time.

With all that said, this jelly has the fire from habaneros tempered with an extra jolt of sweetness thanks to sugar, and the pineapple gets a boost in the tangy department with a touch of vinegar. While you can certainly start dolloping it on cream cheese-smeared crackers or bagels as soon as it sets, I actually prefer it at least a month or so after processing in a waterbath so all the capsaicin has a chance to disperse through the jar. Of course, this ages beautifully, so if you make it with your garden's habaneros now, by the time you break it out for holiday parties it will be mellow and mild... until the kick at the end!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Cherry-Vanilla Rhubarb Butter - Toast Topper #82

Cherry-Vanilla Rhubarb Butter is sweet, luxuriously thick and a perfect marriage of tangy, fruity and floral flavours.

Cherry-Vanilla Rhubarb Butter

I love vanilla in preserves this year. In my mind, a touch of good quality extract makes the spreads not only sweeter, but lends a more rounded sweetness that sugar alone can't provide. With the goal of clearing out as much rhubarb from the freezer as possible this year, I decided to make something that relies on noting but simmering and evaporation to create a spreadable delicacy: butter.

This recipe originally started out as simply "rhubarb butter" in one of my church cookbooks, and called for 5 cups of sugar for the 4 pounds of rhubarb. Now, I know rhubarb is tart, but five cups? I couldn't do it. Instead, I decided to build flavours that invoked the feeling of sweet without drowning the works in sucrose.

Vanilla was an easy option - I'd used it with rhubarb in the Heavenly Jam and the Rhubarb Pie with great success. My second inspiration came from my Chocolate Rhubarb Preserve, where I had used some tart cherry juice for flavour and a hint of fruity sweetness. The combination is one of my all-time favourites - I love cherries and vanilla together, and rhubarb is fantastic on its own. With the extended cooking, the separate elements slowly coalesced into a dark, sticky whole with all of the flavour from each ingredient. To keep the vanilla true, I added it at the end, and for the greatest (and most even) carmelization I roasted the butter rather than simmered it on the stovetop. By the time four hours were up, I had a perfectly passable spread for breakfast or dessert!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Alice's Banana Muffins

My version of Alice's banana muffins that are featured in the book What Alice Forgot, topped with Natures Path Dark Chocolate Macaroon Love Crunch.

Alice's Banana Muffins

Okay, so my finger slipped and I accidentally published an unfinished blog post late yesterday - sorry!! In the spirit of that, here are some different banana muffins - these ones were inspired by the book What Alice Forgot, in which the main character is known for her fantastic banana muffins. Alice's muffins were banana-walnut, but we generally prefer our banana muffins and bread without chunks of walnuts (or any, if you're me or mom) so I left the crunch out of batter and added it on top instead.

I know what you (or at least those of you who read this far, after seeing the title) are thinking - another banana-based quickbread? The Web is flooded with them (this blog included), most almost identical to each other - why should I try this one? Well, all I can say is they're the perfect "entry level" muffin for those who are looking to either reduce their sugar intake or increase their whole grains, love the flavour of buttery bananas with little adornment (the only spice is nutmeg) and want something a little - just a little - different to snack on. If you're like us, anything banana is a push into "delicious" comments from guests, and since this makes 12, brunch might not be a bad idea!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Strawberry - Lemon Marmalade - Toast Topper #81

Strawberry-Lemon Marmalade is a bright burst of late Spring in a jar - and being made with Pomonas Pectin, it's a lower sugar, fruit-forward Toast Topper too

Strawberry-Lemon Marmalade

With the growing season as short as it is here, when the Spring and Summer fruit come in, we buy it up, en masse. What we don't immediately consume or can is either dehydrated or frozen, thawed out in the Fall and Winter to go with holiday desserts or morning oatmeal.

I delved into our Ontario strawberry cache a little early though, in search of a gorgeous, sweet-tart Toast Topper. I love lemon in basically anything, and since I'd made a few marmalades this year I thought I'd try my hand at a lower sugar variety. Normally with marmalades, the sugar is what causes the mixture to set - you're essentially making a candy. However, I wondered if it would be possible to do it with pectin - certainly not traditional, but I knew that I could incorporate the "peel" feeling of the usual kind, as long as I could find a way to make it tender before jamming.

Thankfully, Pomona's Pectin had a recipe on their site for exactly what I was looking for. I use Pomona's for essentially all my jams (exception is my Backyard Grape Jam - I'm not messing with that formula) so that I can control the sugar, and the batch size. They also pointed out that if you pre-simmer the peel in water before making the jam, you wind up with perfectly toothsome, yet tender, strands in each spoonful.

Since I'm a lemon lover, I amped up the amount of peel I used, but essentially everything stayed the same - just a smaller batch size. I came out with two half-pint jars of ruby red deliciousness (minus a spoonful or two - quality control), which I've squirreled away for those dark Winter mornings.

Maybe. If they last that long.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Millet Zucchini Bread

While being relatively low fat, this gluten free loaf is insanely moist, with a texture similar to a partial whole wheat loaf and the perfect balance of cinnamon, ginger and allspice. 

Gluten Free Zucchini Bread

Are you dealing with Zucchini-Geddon yet? We've been pulling in mounds of the stuff - and it's going into basically everything we can fit it into. However, there's only so much of it that we can saute, bread or casserole! When our dinner routine cries "uncle", I get the pass to use it in a sweeter avenue. I posted a spiced, whole grain zucchini loaf a week or so ago, and was planning another round with it, when I spotted this beauty on Gluten Free Baking. Elizabeth uses mostly millet flour in her loaf, which I was excited by - I never really get a chance to bake with it, always passing it over for my current favourite sorghum.

Gluten Free Zucchini Bread

So millet it was, and I have to agree that it's flavour is fantastic in this spicy quickbread. It has a great texture, and is mild and almost buttery tasting which amplifies the rich flavour of each slice. Being a higher protein flour too, the structure of the batter is definitely more sturdy than one made with, say, a rice flour base. All in all, a fantastic use for some of the zucchini glut - and with a little extra spice for kick, it was a hit during the mid-afternoon slump.

While the original recipe bakes for 40 minutes, mine took significantly longer - roughly 75. I cannot stress the importance of wringing out the zucchini enough - I squeezed the life out of mine, but since the air was fairly humid in the kitchen that day, the bread simply took longer. Start checking at 40 minutes, and go from there - the "poke test" will steer you right.

The other comment I will make is that the texture will be even better if you let the batter stand in the pan for 20 minutes before baking. The flours and guar will rehydrate and eliminate any risk of "grittiness" from the finished product. However, if you're pressed for time, forge on ahead - it's great either way! I can't wait to try this with cocoa powder for a chocolatey loaf too - how awesome would that be?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Lemon Sparklers

Glittering and very lemony cookies are always a bright addition to the dessert table. 

Sparkling Lemon Cookies

Who doesn't love cookies? Even in the middle of Summer, at a backyard cookout, I always see at least one tray of them alongside the inevitable pies. Cookies are alluring for many potluck guests because it's easy to make a lot at once, they're already individually portioned, they travel well and they are so versatile!

For a sweet, but not cloying, treat for our last BBQ, I whipped up these very lemony, very yellow cookies. They have a light, crisp texture thanks to using only egg whites, but they're tender enough to not break your teeth biting into one. Thanks to Truvia's baking blend, I was able to cut down the sugar significantly while keeping the right amount of sweetness and bulk in the dough, adding just enough sugar to allow the cookies to brown a bit on the bottom and taste, well, like cookies. The butter added a rich under-note for the lemon zest, juice and extract I used, buffering the acidity while allowing the citrusy aroma and flavour to shine through. The crowning jewel was the coating of yellow sanding sugar - crunchy and bright, and definitely sparkly, it makes sure these cookies get noticed!

All that said, I think the best part about these cookies is that the dough freezes fabulously. As in, I made a batch of dough and bulk-froze it in February, baked it mid-July, and there was zero loss of quality. I know they say six months is usually the max freezer-life for cookie dough, but I'd be willing to push it seven to eight months easily.

If you love lemon as much as I do, you've got to try these!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Honey Garlic Crackers

Gluten free honey garlic crackers are made with freshly ground black rice flour, potato flour and psyllium. Each bite is an explosion of garlic, honey and the earthiness of black rice.

Honey Garlic Crackers

Growing up, after school snack at Grandma and Grandpa's was always a plate of Triscuits. I loved those things (and still do) - provided they were the original, real-deal, full salt kind. Since then, I still love a snack of crackers, usually spread with a Toast Topper. Usually, my crackers are pretty plain and boring, but it never really occurred to me to just make my own. Sure, I've done crackers as Christmas gifts and the like, but for me? Never thought of it.

Inspiration struck in the form of a bag of black rice (not the purplish sticky kind often called Forbidden Rice, which I also have, but inky black Chinese black rice) and the dregs of a bottle of buckwheat honey. I love honey garlic tofu on rice, so why not make a honey garlic rice cracker? I busted out the Mockmill attachment for my stand mixer and got to grinding, then added a little potato flour and psyllium for cohesion, the garlic powder (fresh would be too wet and would burn) and the honey. From experience, I know that most doughs - gluten free especially - benefit from a rest, so I spent a half hour heating my oven while it hung out in the bowl. 

Rolling and cutting was somewhat challenging - unlike regular dough this doesn't "stretch" and is prone to breaking - but by rolling and cutting on the cookie sheet you eliminate the risky "transfer" between cutting board and tray. 

They smelled awesome while baking - almost like my favourite Chinese food place growing up - and once they were cooled I grabbed a taste. Excellent on their own, even better with more honey on top (what can I say, I have a sweet tooth), and even great with sour cherry jam! My mom had a few spread with peanut butter alongside a bowl of curry and gave it the thumbs up too. All that taste and full of the antioxidants and iron from the whole grain rice!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Scotchy Peach Sauce

Can you GO wrong with peaches, dark caramel and scotch? Didn't think so!

Peach-Scotch Sauce

August has arrived, and with it, the glory of Ontario peaches. I realize that fresh peaches are available in every supermarket all year round, but not only are they prohibitively expensive, they're just not very good. In all honesty, I don't touch peaches in any form until I have a basket of Niagara freestones in my hand, and while either IQF or pouched fruit is infinitely better than canned, I still prefer to use them in preserves or pies, rather than having to eat them with a fork. Let's face it - Summer peaches are intended to be eaten leaning over the sink, or wearing a bathing suit with the immediate intention of jumping in the lake.

The downside to all this sticky, juicy goodness is that fresh, ripe peaches simply don't last that long. Even with three of us in the house eating peaches everyday, the huge baskets that we buy for a (relative) song at the market simply seem to never empty! Faced with the first few, almost-too-far-gone fruits, I knew it was time to get canning - and with the taste of the peach nectar almost like a fruity caramel, I wanted to see if I could, in fact, make a caramel-kissed preserve. I found a basic recipe on Martha Stewarts' website, which I decided to use even though I've struggled with some of her formulas before, and changed up the sugars to bring even more caamel-molasses notes to the party. Because nothing adds a touch of elegance like good-quality vanilla, I added a bit of my homemade stuff, and finally a shot of Scotch turned things in my mind from "caramel" to "butterscotch". While there is no dairy in the recipe (making either caramel or butterscotch a misnomer), it is definitely rich, and perfect to top ice cream (I suggest cherry or butter pecan) or plain yogurt if you want something lighter.

Please note, though - there is "raw" alcohol in this, so keep it from the kids (as if they'll see it at all!)

Monday, July 31, 2017

White Chocolate Cherry Cookies

A shot of cherry drink mix turns these white chocolate-studded cookies a vibrant pink.

Glittering Citrus and White Chocolate Cherry cookies

I'm going to preface this by saying there's pretty much nothing "healthy" about these cookies. I mean, they're essentially the Unicorn Frappuccino of the cookie world - nothing in nature is that pink.

But that's not to mean they're not tasty. Ohh, no. Every once in a while nothing but a true dessert-y indulgence will satisfy, and these cookies also invoked the "kid" in me. Pretty much everyone I know who grew up in the USA or Canada drank at least some Kool Aid in their formative years, and while my parents were of the "half the sugar" club I do have to say it made fantastic, tongue-staining popsicles. They, along with strawberry shortcakes on our back deck, were the highlight of many summers with friends.

Thinking about making an almost "cotton candy" cookie with the powder was intriguing, and a great way to say adios to summer. I found a pretty basic cookie recipe online and played around a bit, not only adding the unsweetened powder but a dash of honey for chewiness, cake flour for an almost melt-in-your-mouth tenderness and white chocolate chips for their unabashed sweetness.

With Summer at it's height, and carnivals cropping up everywhere, these cookies are a great way to toss your baking hat into the ring. If nothing else, the kids will adore the colour and sweet cherry taste, while the grown up kids will have a hint of nostalgia for their "long lost" childhoods.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Supreme Zucchini Spice Bread

Unassuming to the eye, this moist and tender spice loaf is packed with three - count them - THREE cups of shredded homegrown zucchini.

Supreme Zucchini Spice Bread

There is no way this zucchini bread should work. According to the science of me, that 3 cups of zucchini just simply shouldn't fit into a quickbread with only 1 1/2 cups of flour. Yet, the recipe I adapted from somewhere (sorry, lost the source) does - and not only does it work, it tastes fantabulous and stays moist for ages. 

Like many gardeners (and their families, friends and neighbours), we have come into the "zucchini glut" season opener strong.Every afternoon my stepdad comes in from the garden bearing armloads of the squash, and with our fridge already full of the stuff they're being left on what seems like every available surface in the house! Unlike some of our past years, the tomatoes and peppers haven't quite kept up their end of the bargain, so something as obvious as ratatouille just isn't practical right now.

Supreme Zucchini Spice Bread

While zucchini is finding its way into almost everything savoury we eat, I had to break down and power through at least a few of the behemoths in the form of sweet treats. The problem with most zucchini bread recipes is that they either call for gluts of oil or tons of eggs in exchange for maybe a cup of grated zuke. That wasn't going to cut it here, so when I found this recipe I figured that, if it didn't bake all the way through (and how could it, with only 1 1/2 cups of flour and 3 cups of zucchini?) I could slice it up and give it the biscotti treatment. I modified it, of course, swapping some of the oil for a vanilla coffee creamer we had in the fridge, reducing the sugar and adding in a bunch of spices for flavour, but until it came out of the oven perfectly baked I refused to hold out hope. 

The first slice was delicious - and surprisingly soft and fine textured. Given the whole wheat flour in the batter I was prepared for that slight "rustic" mouthfeel, which isn't bad at all - just a given - but this didn't have any of that. Instead, it was a bouquet of aromas and flavours with an unending moisture that didn't become gummy. I took it to work and it disappeared - and that's in a staff room full of vegetable-haters!

That said, this recipe definitely has the potential to turn to spicy zucchini soup - if you don't squeeze the zucchini dry. In fact, I made the second loaf with frozen, shredded zucchini that I thawed, drained and then squeezed dry, and had to add a little extra liquid (in that case, half-and-half, I didn't have any more creamer) to compensate and get the batter looking "normal" again. I also opted for "fine" shreds (thank you, food processor), which helps exude a bit more moisture.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Chocolate Rhubarb Preserve - Toast Topper #80

Chocolate Rhubarb Preserve. It's an unusual combination: 70% cocoa chocolate, local honey and sour homegrown rhubarb, but I promise you the sweet-tart flavours willing have you licking the spoon!

Chocolate Rhubarb Preserve

If you asked me what to pair with rhubarb, I guarantee you that dark chocolate would not be one of the things I would list. Berries, raisins, honey and sugar, sure. But rhubarb has such a pervasive sour punch and never-ending stringiness that adding another bitter flavour just seemed... wrong.

That said, leave it to the brilliance of food bloggers to come up with something incredible. Skoraq Cooks had posted a recipe with just this pairing a few years ago that not only paired sour rhubarb and bitter chocolate, but added molasses as well. Since I was making this for my mom (not a huge rhubarb fan, but a lover of chocolate) I swapped out the relatively bitter molasses for local honey, and added tart cherry juice (from Cheribundi's lovely gift pack) for a hint of fruitiness.

As the rhubarb, cherry juice, honey and sugar cook down, the sweet-sour flavour comes into full force. The sugar also somewhat caramelizes, adding a rich depth of flavour to just the rhubarb alone. What got interesting was when I added the chocolate and salt. All of a sudden the mixture went from "strawberry rhubarb jam minus the strawberry" to something so balanced that it almost didn't make it to the toast. In fact, both Mom and I had a spoonful from the pot while it was still warm, and would definitely use it as a topping for cheesecake or chocolate ice cream. Here's to experimenting, and cheers to chocolate for making everything better!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Aubergine Bake 2.0

Aubergine Bake 2.0 - it's what's for dinner! Spicy, savoury and filling while staying 100% vegan, low fat and rich in fibre, vitamins A & C, protein and calcium.

Aubergine Bake 2.0

Sometimes a recipe just needs a re-jig, you know? It's been almost 9 years since I posted this layered eggplant / zucchini / mushroom dish, and since I've grown and developed my skills over the years, I figured I'd make it again. That, and I needed portable, reheatable meals to take with me on various trips where I wouldn't have anything but a kettle and microwave!

The general process of making the baked casserole is essentially the same - broil thin slices of eggplant, spread some tomato sauce and sautee up a mess of veggies with spices and a generous pinch of chile flakes. The spices I use now have been expanded a bit, lending a greater depth of flavour, allowing me to nix the vegan Mozzarella (an affordable brand of which has become impossible to find here). While I still top the works with vegan Parmesan and breadcrumbs, I opt for gluten free panko now for and extra crunch.

Aubergine Bake 2.0

While I can certainly attest it is delicious after microwaving, it is still infinitely better when reheated in the oven, and sits beautifully on top of a bed of rice (I like red rice these days). In fact, I think I might have it for lunch!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Chocolate Hazelnut Beet Brownies

Chocolate Hazelnut Beet Brownies are rich and decadent with a delicate worthiness and a wallop of nutty flavour. Perfect with a scoop of frozen yoghurt or a sprinkle of berries!

Chocolate Hazelnut Beet Brownies

I was fortunate enough to grow up in Canada, which (along with many other pluses) sold Nutella in every grocery store. My sister, in particular, was (and is) a Nutella addict, and I definitely appreciate the allure of combining rich nuts with decadent chocolate (as the peanut butter cups I recently shared clearly exhibit). The women in my family also have a deep-rooted affinity for brownies - and while I've tried making the infamous Three (really Four)- Ingredient Brownies I have to admit I found them rather lacking in hazelnut flavour, being more sweet and almost verging on hard rather than chewy and nutty.

Coincidentally, when I was cleaning out our deep freezer during the Green Two-Protein Curry purge, I came across a plastic bag with two very large, roasted and peeled, beets. Since I knew one of them was a Zentaur beet (originally intended for cattle feed, but ridiculously sweet and delicious) and I was almost positive the other one was one of my favourite Lutzes, I immediately started thinking of what I could bake up to capitalize on their sweet, earthy flavours. Anything chocolate is an absolute given win with beets (especially when they have been super slow-roasted like these), and flipping through my bookmarked recipes-to-make I came across one from Early Morning Farm for chocolate beet brownies.

Now, I've done beet brownies before. I actually made both this recipe and a batch of my Squidgy Superfood Brownies at the same time, just to use up all the beets. This recipe needed something to make it stand out, earn it a page in my brownie recipe file. Realizing I hadn't made a really good hazelnut brownie, and not a hazelnut brownie at all without Nutella, my mind was made up. It didn't hurt that we had some hazelnutty chocolate stashed in the freezer from the holidays, which I knew would make a great topping. Everything came together swimmingly, and while the hardest part is always waiting for it to cool, I stand by my belief that putting the pan directly into the freezer from the oven equals the best fudgy texture. With no leavening agents, this is nowhere on the cakey spectrum, which is exactly how brownies should be (IMHO).

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Chocolate and Roasted Cherry "Scones"

These Chocolate and Roasted Cherry Scones are gluten free, dairy free and full of Summer cherry flavour.

Chocolate and Roasted Cherry Scones

There is a good reason why I don't "get" the whole Paleo diet thing.

Growing up eating everything and anything (granted "paleo" wasn't even a thing back then), I became used to the textures and tastes of certain things. If we wanted a cupcake, we had a cupcake. Biscuits were flaky and buttery. Cookies were (ideally) chewy and full of good stuff. Flour was just something that was a "given" when you baked treats. When I started baking gluten free, most of the recipes I made were (and are) designed to emulate the "regular" treats in texture and taste, and by and large they do.

The Paleo thing, though, is a whole other ball-game. The creators of the diet claim the food "approved" for consumption is what the cavemen ate, like fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, and nuts, but no grain. Grains are what give most baked goods structure and body, not to mention the texture we're accustomed to. Take those away, and what you make might be called a cookie, but you'll definitely know it isn't. Whether the grainless diet arugument holds water is up for debate, but for my two cents, I'd rather eat a real cupcake than an unsweetened, dehydrated mass of ground seeds and nuts smeared in avocado and called a cupcake. If you're going to eat like a caveman, it's whole, unprocessed foods and that's it. None of them had Vitamixes, ovens or freezers, after all.

But I digress. Someone had given me a copy of Brittany Angell's book Every Last Crumb for Christmas a couple years ago, touting her scone recipe as being nothing short of amazing. I'm willing to give anything a go, and gave the recipe an honest shot.

As you can see above, my "scones" look nothing like traditional scones, and they certainly didn't act like traditional scones as I was trying to make them, the mixture being more "batter" than "dough". I don't understand why I had an issue that clearly other bloggers and Brittany Angell didn't (except I went for the "non-dried" fruit option), but I had to make these in a springform pan and bake them for a significant amount of time before cutting wedges was even an option. My changes are given in the recipe below, which still tasted delicious, albeit more of a cake than something to spread jam on. I wound up compromising in the end, melting some almond butter for a drizzle overtop when served.

Have you had any experiences baking Paleo? What are your tips / frustrations?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Power Packed Peanut Butter Cups

Between silky layers of chocolate is a protein and fiber filled peanut butter-maple cream. Decadent!

Power Packed "Reeses" Cups

I can't think of something I love more than peanut butter and chocolate together. Whenever we would get chocolates from Purdy's or the rare package from Laura Secord, I'd be in there as soon as I could to claim the salty-sweet treats for myself, and if we were out for ice cream in cottage country, a scoop of Chocolate Peanut Butter would be on my cone! Halloween gave me all the peanut butter cups I wanted out of my sister's bag, and I ate every last one of them with glee.

As I've grown older, though, I've become somewhat pickier with my chocolate confections. While I certainly wouldn't turn anything with the combination down, I'm more on the "bittersweet truffle" train than the "mass produced candy" wagon. Chocolates in any respect don't exactly reek of health and nutrition, but I'd rather enjoy a treat than eat something cheap now. Then I found a recipe that I had to try - a peanut butter cup reminiscent my childhood, but wrapped in dark chocolate, with limited added sugar and with an added kick of  protein and fibre too.

Admittedly, the first batch of filling didn't even make it to the chocolate coating stage. I accidentally over-processed the chickpea and peanut butter mixture in my attempt to make a smooth filling, because I can't follow directions, and it got so thick there was no "spooning" it into cups. However, I have it on good authority that the filling, au naturale, is fantastic and a great addition to ice cream or cumbled on baked apples.

The second time, I paid attention and did it properly - and while it's not a super-sweet mixture it's perfect for the adult palate. For kids, I'd squeeze in some extra honey (which is sweeter than sugar) and use a "lighter" coating chocolate. Also, unlike the packaged treats, these are relatively perishable - either enjoy within a few days stored at room temperature or keep them in the fridge (or freezer - that would be excellent!)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Nanaimo Bar Frozen Yoghurt

This dessert is a vanilla base (with custard powder) peppered with graham cracker crumbs, coconut and chocolate sprinkles. You'll never guess the secret ingredient!

Nanaimo Bar Ice Cream / Fro-Yo

Since I bombarded you with heat on Tuesday, why not enjoy a cooling, refreshing dessert to tame the fire?

I actually made this flavour of frozen treat for my grade 7s and 8s on request. While Nanaimo bars might be one of the most quintessentially Canadian desserts out there, there were two students who had never had one - and the class decided that we had to remedy that situation! Since the younger set was able to enjoy their Confetti Cake Frozen Yoghurt in class and neither time nor equipment was really on our side to make the real deal (or a nut-free version, anyway), I decided that the best, and "Summeriest", thing to do would be to make a frozen yoghurt packed with all the flavours you'd find in a bar.

For those of you unfamiliar with the delicious dessert, Nanaimo bars are basically a three-layered dessert. On the bottom, you'll find a mixture of graham crackers, sugar, cocoa, coconut, (usually) walnuts or almonds and butter that bakes into a firm, textured and sweet crust. That's where the oven requirement ends, though. The second layer is a sweet vanilla custard (traditionally made with the very British Bird's Custard Powder), which chills while a bittersweet chocolate ganache is made and eventually poured into a glorious sheet of deliciousness on top. Then you have to wait again for everything to set up - ideally overnight. See why it would be a little bit of an issue in my 45-minute class period?

However, sticking the basic elements into a frozen yoghurt couldn't have been easier. I used the same tofu-yoghurt-cream base as the Confetti Cake frozen yoghurt, adding extra custard powder, corn syrup and sugar to make up for the lack of cake mix. As it churned, in went the "crust" ingredients - graham cracker crumbs, shredded coconut and (in place of ganache) bittersweet chocolate sprinkles that I had found in a little European deli by my house. The mixture passed the "taste test" by my mom (a bona fide Nanaimo bar lover) and I packed it up for school.

I have never - and I mean never - seen anything in Home Ec disappear that fast. After seconds, thirds and fourths (!), some kids took home the scant leftovers to much acclaim by their parents. It's a good thing we did this at the end of the school year, since I have a feeling I might have been asked to make it a few more times by both young and old!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Congrats to the Taste Canada Awards Shortlist!

Since it's creation, Taste Canada Awards has honoured 208 Canadian-authored culinary books and blogs in both official languages. The winners will be announced at the awards gala on October 30, 2017 in Toronto.

A full list of the books (both French and English) can be found on the official site here. The short-listed blogs are below (unfortunately not enough French blog nominations came in to warrant an award in that category).

Food Blogs: General
Baking For Friends,
Chu on This,
Kitchen Heals Soul,
You Have Been Served,

Food Blogs: Health and Special Diet
A Dash of Compassion,
Kitchen Frau,
Oh She Glows,
The Simple Green,

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Green Two-Protein Curry

Two Protein Green Curry - a fantastic, spicy meal with chicken, tofu, loads of greens and homemade green curry paste. Rice or noodles is a must!

Green Two-Protein Curry

Yup, another curry. It has to say something about my family's undying love for the stuff that I've actually created a category for curried dishes on this blog. That said, while this is the 19th meal to make it on that page, every single one I've made has been so different from each other. One thing that stays constant, though, is that complex layering of spices and aromatics that somehow, some way, just work. With few exceptions, any vegetables that are languishing in the fridge perk up beautifully in the presence of the spices - it's one of our favourite ways to clean out the fridge and use up some of our garden's bounty (and we always add a ton of them). Herbs are never "optional" in a good curry, but the type you use can be. Again, I am always inspired by what my garden gives me - and unlike traditional curry lovers I flat-out refuse to grow cilantro (yuck!).

The best part, at least for us, is that you can essentially use anything as a protein base, because a curry variation exists for it. Since I had the last little bit of my homemade green curry paste in the freezer, along with some cooked chicken thighs and a block of tofu, I scouted around to see if mixing proteins, especially a vegetarian with a non-vegetarian one, had been done before - and would the lemony, slightly fishy and definitely spicy paste be too much?

I found inspiration in a Cooking Light recipe, of all things, and set to work, adding my own flair with both proteins, extra veggies and tons of herbs from the garden. Since the zucchini and cabbage are coming in thick and fast, they got top billing on my "shopping" list, as did the sorrel, basil and lemon balm, which all seem to enjoy the extra water we've been given!

Now, I won't lie - I made this with the homemade paste and the Thai chili flakes (we like our heat), and it was spicy. As in, "bowl of rice is mandatory" spicy. However, with all that heat there was so much flavour that it didn't matter that we were breathing fire - and for extra insurance, using the richest, fattiest coconut milk (or even cream) you can find helps temper the spice a bit more.

They do say that hot peppers are really good for you, though, so why not dig on in?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Garden Pasta Salad

A Garden Pasta Salad is a great way to get veggies and legumes into your diet, and even kids will gobble it up thanks to a lemon and Parmesan vinaigrette! Tasted and tested by my Grades 1-3 and 7-8 Home Economics classes - definitely kid approved!

Garden Pasta Salad

While the rain is certainly not boding well for my tomatoes and hot peppers this year, I'm certainly not wanting for a lot of other things in my garden! The zucchini, cucumbers, carrots and beets are particularly happy in the veggie garden, and the herbs, by and large, are taking off as well. Since we're deeply mired in the glory of Summer (well, mostly... it was below 20C this morning!) hot meals at noon are not always appreciated. Salads, though, tend not to be overly filling, and sandwiches can be kinda... beige.

That's why I love this pasta salad - packed with fibre and protein from the veggies and chickpeas, hearty with gluten free noodles and full of flavour thanks to a zingy vinaigrette, it was a breeze to whip up a batch first thing in the morning (or last thing at night), then cover and refrigerate it for up to a week, taking servings as needed. The vegetables and chickpeas become marinated by the dressing, eventually exuding their own delicious flavour as well, so every bite is satisfying to the stomach and the palate.

As someone who grew up hating pasta salad as a rule, I have to say this one changed my mind. While kids love it (I tested this out on my Grades 1-8 classes), it's definitely got enough of a "grown up" flair that any potluck or backyard party - including baby and wedding showers - would have a place for this on their table.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Heavenly Jam - Toast Topper #79

Heavenly Jam is a unique mix of pineapple, strawberries and homegrown rhubarb. Sweet and tart, it's excellent on toast!

Heavenly Jam

Diving into our freezer a few weeks ago, I discovered that we had many, many bags of chopped, homegrown rhubarb on the shelves. While I enjoy rhubarb jam, and  rhubarb pies, it's just not something I really go through en masse. Our 5 (5!) plants out back are still churning it out faster than we can deal with it (they do have beautiful flowers, though), but I had to make a dent in our freezer stash first. Since I had some lovely local strawberries from the farmer's market and some excellent pineapple (in pouches and cans) from Dole to use as well, I started looking around to see if there was anything that could use up these "bits and pieces" from the kitchen.

It so happened that I managed to find a recipe that used all three of these ingredients, and not much else! Fellow Canadian blog Rock Recipes had a recipe for Heavenly Rhubarb Jam, which sounded suspiciously familiar - that was when I realized that the same preserve was in a cookbook from Newfoundland, where Barry lives. The only major difference between the two recipes I saw was that my cookbook used both 1. Pineapple Jell-O (they make pineapple Jell-O?) and honey, while Barry's was vegan and more streamlined.

While I knew the flavours of the produce would marry together and shine as one, I still wanted to add my own little "touch". Not growing nasturtiums this year (my signature ingredient for the past few), I decided on the next best thing - vanilla. The beans I used to make my vanilla sugar were relatively floral in flavour and scent, and added a touch of "tropical" flavour to the jam as it cooked down.

That said, I almost forgot to add sugar at all! I was canning several items that day, and this rhubarb mixture had cooked for about 45 minutes before I had a chance to taste it. You definitely need sugar. It doesn't make it super-sweet, but it definitely enhances the berry and pineapple notes.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Almost Foolproof Lemon Curd

Tangy, sweet and decadent, this recipe is almost impossible to screw up!

It seems like no matter where you are, there is always a place for lemon on the  menu. Lemons have a particular ability to lighten up even the recipes that should be cloying - the Alfredos, the cheesecakes, the puddings and the compound butters. Nowhere, it seems, does lemon shine more than the sweet kitchen, since precious few menu items are hindered by the zesty, bright kiss of citrus.

Almost Completely Fool-Proof Lemon Curd

While lemon can be added to desserts simply for sourness (the juice) or as an accent, I love when the citrus gets a real chance to shine. Whenever I need a simple, to-the-point lemon accent on the plate, I almost always go for lemon curd. It's hard to argue with a silky, lick-the-plate sauce like it, rich with butter and egg yolks and a sunny bright as a summer's day. However, for the beginning cook, curds are a little nerve wracking - after all, they are essentially an unbuffered custard of tempered eggs and melted butter.

As I grew and learned as a cook I saw my fair share of lemony scrambled eggs, but within the past year or so I discovered a technique that almost guarantees success. By beating butter, sugar and yolks off the heat first, you give the egg proteins a little "pre cook" (sugar coagulates egg protein) and the butter protects everything from the heat of the pot. Because of this butter "parka", you can actually do the whole cooking process on the stovetop without fear as well - almost unheard of when I was in pastry school. The whole eggs also add a little bit of protection, the whites offering some extra water as a barrier. While the whole mixture takes a few minutes to cook to perfection on the stove, it is 100% worth it - and it stores well in a tightly lidded jar too, should you have leftovers!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Confetti Cake Frozen Yoghurt

A hybrid ice cream and frozen yoghurt, made for my junior Home Economics class. How can you say no to cake batter and sprinkles?

Confetti Cake Ice Cream / Fro-Yo

Well, now that we're in the middle of July - and arguably one of the most humid, rainiest, non-beach-worthy ones I can remember - it's finally warm enough to want to enjoy an ice cream cone (or cup). Now, if you ask me, if there isn't chocolate in some form, it's not worth it - my all time favourite is a chocolate yoghurt filled with chunks of brownie and a fudge ribbon - but when I was writing this recipe for my Home Economics class I knew it was best to stick to vanilla-based treats.

However, what kid (or adult, for that matter) doesn't like licking cake batter off the spatula now and then? That was my inspiration for this Fro-Yo / ice cream hybrid. To get the "cake" flavour I used plain ol' French vanilla cake mix, and for a confetti cake feel I tossed in a bunch of sprinkles. The creamy richness came from three sources - full fat yoghurt, a dash of heavy cream, and the secret weapon - silken tofu. The tofu acts as a bulker, as well as lending an unending creaminess and hit of protein too. Basically, think of it as similar to the eggs in a traditional ice cream, especially when it's combined with the custard powder.

Since I was making this for kids, I didn't add a shot of vodka, which would have kept things slightly softer for scooping after freezing. I did add a touch of corn syrup, which helped (you could use honey too), but I recommend letting it sit out about 10 minutes or so before trying to get a clean scoop out of it.

What's your favourite flavour?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Crunchy Olive and Rosemary Grissini

Crunchy Olive and Rosemary Grissini are 100% dunkable treats packed with flavour from fresh rosemary, EVOO and sundried black olives. All this, and they're gluten free to boot!

Crunchy Olive and Rosemary Grissini

I don't often get to flex my specialty-baking muscles these days. A few years ago, it seems like every other thing I baked was gluten free, vegan or some sort of allergy-free. It was my life, and what I was able to spend my days doing. This past year (and the one before it) were spent in a glorious whirlwind of Home Economics recipe making, baking and undertaking - which I loved, and even found sort of awkward since all of a sudden my only full-stop restriction was that I couldn't use pork. Eggs, milk... all of those were fine, and encouraged - meaning I had to re-remember "old school" baking after years of ignoring eggs and milk products.

A few weeks ago, though, my mom came to me looking for help with the menu for a dinner guest who was coming that weekend. One of the guests was gluten and dairy free, and while my mom eats everything, allergy-free cooking (and especially baking) is not her wheelhouse. After I schooled her on the proper deep-cleaning of the kitchen and basic sanitation for allergy prevention (although we never found out if it was a true allergy / intolerance or a simple preference, I wasn't taking chances), I flipped through a few of my tried-and-trues with her. We settled on Orange Crème Cupcakes for dessert - a tried and true favourite of mine, and always a hit at fundraisers - but we needed something to go with appetizers.

Given that my stepfamily is Italian to the max, that means bread. I know home baking without gluten has come miles and miles since Celiac was a public issue, but when you (like my family) have never had to eat that way... well, old habits die hard. Luckily, I had a recipe that I had made once before in my back pocket that was guaranteed not to solidify gluten free baking as the "dry and tasteless torture" Celiacs have to suffer, by the sheer fact that when done properly, it should be dry.  Grissini (crunchy, skinny breadsticks) packed with sun dried black olives, rosemary and rich, fruity EVOO were the answer!

Now, making these will not be 100% like making "regular" breadsticks - the dough will be wet and sticky to start with, and the resting time is really more to ensure the thorough hydration of the dough so that it can firm up than anything else, and "kneading" is more of a "shaping" than a "stretch and fold". My mom was helping me with these, and once she realized that you can't really "throw around" the dough like normal, it's fairly simple to roll these into their final shape. A convection oven enhances the crispness of the sticks in a shorter time, but it's definitely not necessary - if they're not as dry as you like, bake them longer! Within a day or so, they will lose their crispness, but about 10-15 minutes in a 325F oven will bring them right back to "dipper" status.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rhubarb Pie with Vanilla, Strawberries and Lemon Balm

The standard strawberry rhubarb formula gets twisted with this version, which uses 100% fruit strawberry jam for convenience without loss of fresh fruit flavour. The filling gets added notes of vanilla, cinnamon and lemon balm for a true bakery wonder!

Rhubarb Pie with Vanilla, Strawberries and Lemon Balm

I never used to think I'd be a strawberry-rhubarb kind of gal. Truth be told, in the middle of Summer I'd still pick a perfectly gooey cherry pie over anything, but I have to say, a homemade pastry with local strawberries and rhubarb would be a mighty close second!

I'm almost 100% sure my love for the sweet-tart combination comes from my Summer weekends spent with my Grandma. I would watch (and try to help) as she plucked rhubarb, dill and cucumbers from her community garden, and help (and eat) when we went strawberry picking (or choosing, depending on the energy levels that day). I never got to see her make the jam, pickles and pies, but sure as anything, come Summer's end we'd have a pie and a few extra jars in our fridge! Aside from her holiday mashed potatoes, I honestly can't think of anything else she made that was super-spectacular (sorry, Grandma). Somehow, though, she managed to get the balance of sour and sweet just right, and I was a convert.

Obviously, I have more than my fair share of strawberry-rhubarb concoctions - not the least of them being pies! This time around I decided to utilize a part-jar of strawberry jam I had made early in the Summer and do a riff on this one from last year, making a different crust (that smells like doughnuts when it bakes!). In the filling, I added layers of flavour for a truly unique pie experience: cinnamon and vanilla (just a dash of each) added a real richness and extra sweet feel to the mixture, while a dash of minced fresh lemon balm from the garden brought a slightly herbal, citrusy brightness. The homemade jam was pretty plain-jane and made with local honey, so all I tasted was fruitiness on that end, mingling with the tangy backyard rhubarb.

While it's certainly not traditional - Grandma would never make pie like this! - it is absolutely fantastic, and a perfect cap to a backyard BBQ or a leisurely meal at the cottage, boat or trailer. Don't forget the ice cream!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Seeded Potato Challah #BreadBakers

With just a few twists, this 2-Seed Potato Challah turns into a stunning centerpiece for the table.

Two Seed Potato Challah

While its no secret that I love making bread, I don't usually get the opportunity to "play" with egg-rich recipes. This is mostly because I simply don't buy eggs to eat normally, so can't justify buying a dozen just to use three or so. However, when I found myself gifted with a carton of eggs out of the blue, with only a single request to make a batch of lemon curd (recipe coming), I knew something good and Challah-y would be in order.

Ironically, at the same time I found myself with a lot of leftover potatoes in the pantry that were starting to sprout. I had purchased them for gnocchi making lessons in Home Ec, and while most of the bag was used, a few just couldn't fit into the recipe. I began scouting around to see if I could find a potato and egg-rich bread, and found a few that suited my purposes with a bit of tweaking. I'm no stranger to Challah, with three of my recipes on the site (my favourite is still the Figgy Olive Oil and Sesame Challah), so I couldn't wait to get going!

Two Seed Potato Challah

Since I had extra whites left over from the curd, I used those in place of one of the eggs in the dough. I also used warm soy milk for the liquid, both for the added moisture and for it's insane ability to nurture yeast doughs. I added butter to make up for the moisture of the lost egg yolk (not that it needed it, but it helped the richness too) and to offset the whole wheat, which can be drier to work with. Lastly, I wanted to add a somewhat sourdough tang to the bread, just to cut the richness, and a pinch of citric acid worked wonders! In retrospect, this loaf is closer to brioche than Challah, but who lets semantics get in the way?

With all the tenderizing and moisture-giving properties that were in the dough, the baked loaf also kept fresh for longer. However, should any go stale, they make for excellent toasted sandwiches or bread puddings!

This month is all about creative braiding of breads with the #BreadBakers. From the basic two stranded twists to complicated 12 stranded braid, attempt any bread around the world either with a filling or without, studded with nuts and dried fruits or plain. Create an art with your bread dough this month. Gayathri's Cook Spot is our host this month - thanks

Here is the collection of all the beautiful braided breads from our team.

#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. You can see all our of lovely bread by following our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated after each event on the #BreadBakers home page.

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient. If you are a food blogger and would like to join us, just send Stacy an email with your blog URL to