Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Delicious War: Doughnuts

Who doesn't like, no, love the aroma of freshly made doughnuts? Early in the morning when you swing through the drive-thru on your way to work, or as a special treat for yourself and the kids on a Sunday afternoon, I don't think there is a more enticing smell for the sweet teeth in all of us. Even the people that work at doughnut shops (and believe me, I know a few, and I was even a Timmies bitch myself for a summer!) love the delicious disks of slightly sweetened cake or biscuit when they're fresh, covered in glaze, frosting, or simply rolled in sugar!

The inevitable problem with these delightful snacks is, well, the fact that they aren't exactly all that good for you. Granted, they were not intended as an everyday breakfast item when they were first created in Holland (even then, their name translated to oily cakes!), rather, they were a festival and holy day food! However, since they have seemed to become that type of commodity these days, I'm sure that many waistbands have been loosened as a result of this ever-craved food. I did a bit of number crunching with two popular brands (the Canadian coffee Mecca Tim Hortons and the US favourite Krispy Kreme) to show you exactly what I mean by the not-so-fine status of the (in this case plain with glaze) doughnut.

For one doughnut:

Tim Hortons:
Calories: 270
Fat: 17g
Sat. Fat: 8g
Cholesterol: 10g
Fibre: 1g

Krispy Kreme
Calories: 200
Fat: 12g
Sat. Fat: 5g
Cholesterol: 5g
Fibre: 1g

I was actually quite surprised that the Krispy Kremes were lower in calories and fat than the Timmies ones, but really, 200 calories is still nothing to sniff at.

Enter: the oven. Yes, I know, doughnuts are supposed to be fried, but why do we have to stay in that rut all the time? With the help of a little friend I call Aunt Jemima, I made these tangy sour-cream doughnuts rolled in cinnamon sugar. And, come to think of it, they smell even better than the fried kind because the oven smell permeates the whole house and leaves you watching the oven intently for the few minutes they do take! If I had had more time (and more doughnut-eaters) on my hands, I would have made these baked doughnuts from Heidi, but they are on my list with their own variations, without fail!

Since these are relatively quick to whip together, they are not that big a deal to mix up as an afternoon snack or a late breakfast on the run. Just remember, though... they are still essentially pastries and they are covered in sugar, so don't make it a habit, OK? If you are looking for more of an indulgence than my (semi-virtuous) doughnuts are offering, head on over to either Tartlette or Peabody's sites for their Time to Make the Doughnuts event, and look after Feb. 15th for a delicious doughnut roundup!

Sour Cream Baked Doughnuts
Makes: 10 servings (1 doughnut each)
2 cups buttermilk pancake mix (not complete)
3 tbsp brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup low-fat sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp buttermilk
1 large egg, beaten until light and frothy
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Mix pancake mix, brown sugar and nutmeg until well blended.
  3. Stir in sour cream, vanilla and egg.
  4. Place dough on lightly floured surface; knead 1 minute.
  5. Roll dough to ½ inch thickness. Cut with floured 2” doughnut cutter.
  6. Repeat rolling and cutting with dough scraps until all of the dough is used.
  7. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, flipping once.
  8. Mix remaining sugar and the cinnamon in shallow dish; set aside.
  9. Spray both sides of hot doughnuts with cooking spray (or brush with melted butter).
  10. Press lightly into sugar mixture; turn to evenly coat both sides.
Amount Per Doughnut
Calories: 138.7
Total Fat: 2.0 g
Cholesterol: 26.0 mg
Sodium: 184.9 mg
Total Carbs: 28.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.4 g

And everyone, don't forget that tomorrow is Wear Red Day for Heart Disease awareness! Their goal for now is a 25% reduction in women's heart disease and stroke risk by the year 2010. 32% of all male deaths in Canada in 2002 were due to heart-related diseases and with women, the toll was even higher: 34%. Whether you volunteer your time, sponsor a jump roper or shop from either store, you will be doing your part to help leave these statistics in the dust!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

You Wanna Burrito?? I'll Give You a Burrito!!

Well, with Super Bowl Sunday coming up this week, the talk of many foodies is turning to football party fare, including nachos, dips, chilis and pizza. I'm going to dive into the fray too even though I'm not all that into the whole football thing (I'm not really into hockey either, which is bad, being a Canuck!). What can I say, I'm a girly girl! Gimme a Disney cartoon or Pierce Brosnan movie over 6 hours of sports any day.

And yet, I am still in love with the whole sport party food thing. And what I came up with would fit the bill perfectly, even though it was inspired by a place far and away from New England or New York. Can you guess where? I'll give you a hint: this pyramid isn't in Mexico!
Yup, these rolled-up bundles of deliciousness are inspired by my all-time favourite meal at Walt Disney World in Orlando, the Wet Burritos found at Cantina de San Angel in EPCOT's Mexican pavillion. The menu description reads: "Soft Flour tortillas filled with beef, black refried beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream and Adobo sauce". They are SO much more than that, and though these aren't exactly the same, they're similar enough to evoke memories of days gone by. I gave these a veggie twist with my aforementioned ground meat replacement TVP, and I like mine with a little extra kick, so I throw in a little chipotle chili powder along with the "hot" style chunky salsa. The result is ooey, gooey, crispy and all-around decadent. Just make sure to bring your knife and fork!

Veggie Wet Burritos
Makes 10 burritos
1 ½ cups dry Textured Vegetable Protein
1 ¼ cups boiling water or vegetable stock
2/3 cup chopped onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup diced green chile peppers
1 ½ cups black beans, slightly mashed
2 cups spicy vegetarian chili
½ cup salsa
1 (10 ounce) can enchilada sauce
10 (12 inch) tortillas, warmed
2 cups shredded lettuce
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup shredded sharp cheese
½ cup chopped green onions (optional)
Sour cream to serve (optional)
  1. Pour hot liquid over TVP, stir and let sit 10 minutes.
  2. Heat a spray of PAM in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  3. Add onion, and cook until translucent.
  4. Add reconstituted TVP, and season with garlic, cumin, salt and pepper.
  5. Stir in the chiles and black beans until well blended. Turn off heat, but keep warm.
  6. In a saucepan, combine the chili, salsa and enchilada sauce.
  7. Mix well, and cook over medium heat until heated through. Turn off heat and keep warm.
  8. Place a warmed tortilla on a plate, and spoon a generous portion of the TVP and bean mixture onto the center. Top with lettuce and tomato.
  9. Roll up tortilla over the filling. Repeat for remaining tortillas and filling.
  10. Spoon a generous amount of the sauce over the top, and sprinkle with cheese and green onions.
  11. Bake at 375F for 10 minutes and serve immediately.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 402.9
Total Fat: 10.4 g
Cholesterol: 11.9 mg
Sodium: 1,017.4 mg
Total Carbs: 56.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 8.8 g
Protein: 20.2 g

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Nummy Moroccan Stew

Today was definitely a comfort food day for us. Andrew was coming over to stay the night after pulling a nasty 3-12 shift at Tim Hortons, and I know how he loves a good stew (or chili) to warm up his belly! He's trying to eat a better, more balanced diet still (as is his father) even though he gave up his quest to be a vegetarian after Christmas. Even though he's given up the lifestyle I'm more or less forced to live, he doesn't mind eating my veggie cuisine. In fact, more often than not he still eats meatless meals when he's cooking for himself!

Andrew was a great help to me today (though he was falling asleep at the chopping board!) while we were preparing the squash and onions for this Moroccan-esque meal, so he's sleeping it off now so that he's all prepared for a few rounds of bowling tomorrow! It is definitely a little labour intensive but the heartiness and flavour of the chickpeas, butternut chunks and spices is worth it, trust me! Full of vitamins and protein too, this is definitely going to be a keeper in my book. Good thing it gets better as it keeps, because it makes a bunch and that way Andrew will have some work meals for the coming week! Save yourself the hassle of cooking chickpeas fresh, since the canned is perfectly fine, and definitely add the cumin to the couscous water for some extra smokiness. Whole wheat couscous is also highly reccomended (both for nutrition and flavour) as a bed for this meal.

Given that couscous is, in fact, a type of pasta, I'm selecting this stupendously yummy recipe to send in to Ruth's Presto Pasta Nights (which gets rounded up this Friday!!). There's also a decadently put-together Facebook group for it, so check that out for past editions!

Tomato Butternut Stew With Couscous
Makes 7 servings, 1 1/4 cups stew over 1/2 cup couscous each
2 lb whole butternut squash
1 cup chopped sweet onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cumin, divided
1 ¾ cup vegetable stock
2 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 19 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 ½ cups water
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups whole wheat couscous, uncooked
  1. Peel and remove seeds from squash. Cut into 1-inch pieces; set aside.
  2. Heat ¼ cup of water in a 6-quart saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in garlic, paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg and ½ teaspoon cumin. Cook 1 minute more.
  5. Add broth, squash, chickpeas, and tomatoes.
  6. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  7. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 25 minutes or until squash is tender.
  8. Heat water to boiling in medium saucepan.
  9. Stir in remaining cumin and salt; then stir in couscous.
  10. Cover, remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with fork.
  11. Serve stew over couscous in large shallow serving bowl.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 296.4
Total Fat: 2.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 816.1 mg
Total Carbs: 62.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 9.3 g
Protein: 10.6 g

Monday, January 28, 2008

ARF / 5-A-Day: NOT George Brown Bran Muffins!

Well, Week 3 at George Brown brought us two projects: Bran Muffins and Tea Biscuits. We definitely had a good time with these two recipes, especially a few choice comments over the appearance of the muffin batter when we used piping bags to dispense it into the muffin cups! I guess a note to the faculty of the college though would be that bran muffins don't really go over well with the students in the class as far as the eating of them... most groups were debating over who didn't have to take home more of the muffins! The only minor glitch in our class was when we came to making the tea biscuits. Somehow through the mixing process my partner and I neglected to add the leavening agents, resulting in flat, pale and rock-hard hockey pucks. We binned them after a taste test proved them kind of gross, even though my dad later suggested that I should have donated them to the Toronto Maple Leafs for practice. Actually, come to think of it, I should have given the muffins away to the Food Bank, which would have been a batter use of the ingredients. Where are all the homeless people in Toronto when you need them? (Note: I do NOT wish the plight of homelessness on anyone!)

So what about these decadent-looking, clearly nut and bran filled muffins is so ominous anyway? Well, they had better look better than Cindy Crawford, considering what went in them! Each one of these regular-sized muffins is not exactly a blessing to those on a health-kick, even though they contain the ever-sought-after fibre that the TV commercials for cereal laud about. Check out the breakdown for these bad boys:

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 322.3
Total Fat: 16.6 g
Saturated Fat: 1.9 g
Polyunsaturated Fat: 10.6 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 3.2 g
Cholesterol: 23.8 mg
Sodium: 51.1 mg
Potassium: 207.1 mg
Total Carbohydrate: 41.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.0 g
Sugars: 1.2 g
Protein: 5.3 g

Unfortunately, I can't tell you what exactly goes in them (darn those copyright laws) but I can tell you that there is a significant amount of oil in them, and not realllllly all that much bran. Silly marketing execs, making us think bran muffins are healthy! (Of course, if you saunter over here, you'll find my actually decent-for-you cranberry blueberry bran muffins!)

OK, so enough about the bad stuff. I do have a pretty (and tasty) "mini" recipe for Sweetnick's ARF / 5-A-Day roundup that was baked as well, and though it is intended for two to share, your thighs won't kill you if you have to down it all at once! This is a colourful, fibre-filled miniature loaf that includes all the good stuff: veggies, maple syrup, oats, apple cider vinegar and ginger! Delicious and variable, you can throw in anything that you have lying around with the grated veggies, I'm sure - mashed banana, grated apple, orange zest, or berries!

Rainbow Maple-Ginger Mini Loaf
Serves 2
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
3 tbsp oats
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 small zucchini, shredded
1/4 large carrot, shredded
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
3 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp low-fat sour cream
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a mini-loaf pan.
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients in a small bowl.
  3. Whisk together wet ingredients, including grated vegetables and ginger.
  4. Fold into the dry ingredients. Do not over mix.
  5. Bake 25 minutes, turn out immediately and cool on wire rack.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 187.3
Total Fat: 3.3 g
Cholesterol: 8.8 mg
Sodium: 55.3 mg
Total Carbs: 37.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.8 g
Protein: 3.8 g

By the way, if you want any pointers on the components of baking, and how to make them healthier and more nutritious (not necessarily lower-fat), check out my seminar notes, which I've posted here. Happy baking!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lollipop, Lollipop, oh, Lolly Lolly Lolly...

Okay, I couldn't help it... I'm notorious for having songs stick around in my head for days on end without an apparent reason! This one popped in after watching (what else?) Food TV Canada with Andrew last Friday, where on This Food That Wine they made lemony chicken lollipops (recipe here). Andrew was making some "yummy sounds" as we watched it and I knew they were onto something. However, the recipe they had, while good I'm sure, was lacking something... I wasn't sure exactly what, but I knew I could jazz up the basic idea and give it a bit more oomph. As soon as I can get my hands on some panko (looks like a time for a trip to the St. Lawrence Market!) I will be force-feeding this recipe to the honey, possibly after one of his hellish night shifts baking over at Timmy's when he's mostly incoherent (tee hee!). For now, here's what I came up with, and if anyone gets a chance to try it before me give me a shout to let me know how you fared!!

Lemon-Pepper Chicken Pops
Makes 24
12 whole chicken tenders, cut widthwise in half
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
4 egg whites, lightly beaten
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
3 Tbsp canola oil
Juice of 2 lemons
24 Short bamboo sticks

  1. Preheat oven to 200F.
  2. Place flour, breadcrumbs, and eggs into individual bowls.
  3. Add lemon zest to the bowl of panko and the pepper with the egg whites, mixing each lightly until evenly distributed.
  4. Coat the chicken pieces in the following order: dip the chicken piece into flour, shaking off excess, then dip into the egg mixture to coat, and finally dip the chicken into Panko, coating well and making sure to shake off the excess.
  5. Place onto a parchment lined tray and repeat with remaining chicken.
  6. Place a large, high-sided pan over medium high heat.
  7. Add vegetable oil to the warmed pan and allow to heat thoroughly.
  8. Place 4-5 chicken pieces in the pan and allow them to cook (without touching) 1 minute.
  9. Flip and cook other side 1 minute.
  10. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to the pan and toss the chicken with the juice.
  11. Remove chicken and place on a paper towel lined tray.
  12. Place tray into the preheated oven to keep warm and continue to cook the remainder of the chicken.
  13. Repeat the same process until all the chicken pieces are cooked.
  14. To serve, place one piece of chicken on each bamboo stick.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 118.4
Total Fat: 2.6 g
Cholesterol: 34.2 mg
Sodium: 53.7 mg
Total Carbs: 7.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.3 g
Protein: 15.1 g

Friday, January 25, 2008

SHF: Candy - Screeching into the End of the Week

Eeek! I can't believe I almost missed this month's SHF! Hopefully I'm in time for the round up of this edition over at CandyRecapper, the theme of which is (of course) candy! I have to say that this is one blog I haven't had the pleasure of exploring as of yet, but now that I know of it I will be making an effort to poke through it thoroughly!

This event, if you are new to it, was created by Jennifer the Domestic Goddess, and is in it's 38th reincarnation! Lots of sweet, sweet goodies out there, folks, and the re-caps are all at the link.

So, onto my entry. As with most of my creations, this was a fortuitous blend of the gifts my kitchen was giving me: an old banana, some leftover Coffee Crisp candy bars, and assorted nuts along with the flour, oatmeal and sugar hiding in the pantry. Along with an excuse to play with the miniature spring-form pan that Andrew gave me for this past Christmas, I had a plan!

This is what emerged from my oven, smelling absolutely divine and studded through with chocolatey, nutty goodness. I wrapped it up after it cooled and put it safely away in the freezer for Valentine's day, when Andrew will finally get to savour it!

Canadian Banana - Coffee Cake
Serves 4(ish)
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp rolled oats
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 medium overripe banana
1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp chopped pecans
2 "fun size" Coffee Crisp bars (16g each), chopped
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 4" pan with baking spray and set aside.
  2. Combine flour, oats, baking soda and baking powder in a small bowl.
  3. Separately, mash the banana with the brown sugar, oil, water and vanilla.
  4. Gently stir the banana mixture into the dry ingredients and fold in the pecans and chocolate pieces.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes and cool completely on a wire rack.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 191.2
Total Fat: 11.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 35.1 mg
Total Carbs: 23.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.8 g
Protein: 2.4 g

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Revolution Continues... Round Up the Sweets!

A storm's a-brewin' in the baking battlefields, and it's both a sweet and savoury fight! I'm talking here about the infamous mini-pie, brought to the public awareness by the awesome TV show Pushing Daisies, and made famous in the blogging community with a beautifully-phrased manifesto by Karyn. Remember back not so long ago when I posted about my dad's favourite mincemeat tarts? Well, that was pooled into a beautiful roundup this past January 1st, and the response was so good that the Revolution is going for a second round! The focus this time is strictly sweet stuff, which works for me because, heck, what else do I do with my time in the kitchen?

So, without further ado (it's late out here!) I present my (poorly photographed, admittedly, but still delicious!) mini-pie to join the forces in taking over the blogosphere. It's spunky, sweet, and just a little fruity, but is easy enough to create that it gets along with pretty much everybody. Ladies and gentlemen (and assorted pets, because if you are like me they live on your computer), I present... Choco - Ginger Mini Tarts!
Choco - Ginger Mini Tarts
Makes 12
12 pre-baked miniature tart shells
6 tbsp chocolate chips
5 tbsp strawberry or cherry preserves
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

  1. Set tart shells on a baking sheet for easier assembly.
  2. Melt together the chocolate and jam, stirring to combine well.
  3. Mix in the ginger thoroughy to avoid lumps.
  4. Fill the tart shells with the chocolate mixture and leave to set.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 154.6
Total Fat: 8.4 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 1.6 mg
Total Carbs: 13.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.8 g
Protein: 1.3 g

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Buttermilk Biscuits, Bacon and... Raisins?

*Yawn*. Yes, I'm awake now, if I have to be! I was battling the elements yesterday (blowing snow and feeling like -12C) shuffling back and forth to my sister's school, her dermatologist and the bank, and after all that I was in the mood to make something comforting. Granted, I couldn't eat what I'd make, but for me the act of creating is more therapeutic than the eating of it! Taking my and bakery's famous (and my family's favourite) buttermilk biscuit recipe, I tweaked it this way and that until I had not one but two variations on the theme!

I love cooking with buttermilk, the rich creaminess and subtle tang it brings to everything from the biscuits to bread and both chocolate and vanilla cakes is unlike any other ingredient out there, in my opinion! Add in the calcium boost and the fact that it's low-fat (despite it's rich name), and it's possible that a baking superfood is at your fingertips!

So, this first recipe gets a double hit of tenderness to it, with the divine buttermilk teaming up with cornmeal and leftover mashed potatoes (which you know makes outstanding bread, if you follow these Daring Bakers). Add in some freshly grated, real Parmesan and some fake bacon bits (the recipe is actually vegetarian!) with a serious hit of garlic and yummm! These are definitely great warm, but as with all biscuits you need to freeze them if you can't down em in a day or two!

Pierogi Puffs
Makes 10
1/2 cup smooth, cold mashed potatoes (lefover's fine)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp simulated bacon bits
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan
1/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Combine potatoes, dry ingredients and cheese in a large bowl.
  3. Cut in shortening until a coarse-meal texture forms.
  4. Pour in buttermilk and mix just until blended. Do not overwork the dough!
  5. Pat out on a floured board, cut with a cookie cutter or rim of a glass and place on ungreased sheets.
  6. Bake 12 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking time.
  7. Remove immediately to wire rack.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 142.5
Total Fat: 6.4 g
Cholesterol: 2.9 mg
Sodium: 116.1 mg
Total Carbs: 17.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.0 g
Protein: 4.0 g

These second tasty treats are rich, sweet and buttery with a great flake. Perfectly spiced with a hint of cinnamon, the dough works perfectly with dark Thompson raisins and (if you like) even pecans (I left them out). Again, best warm out of the oven, but can be frozen and microwaved for a quick nibble.

House - Made Oatmeal Buttermilk Bikkies
Makes 10
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup quick oats (not instant)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp shortening
2 tbsp cold butter
3/4 cup buttermilk, well shaken
1/3 cup dark raisins
  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Cut in butter and shortening until a coarse-meal texture forms.
  4. Pour in buttermilk and mix just until blended, mix in raisins. Do not overwork the dough!
  5. Pat out on a floured board, cut with a cookie cutter or rim of a glass and place on ungreased sheets.
  6. Bake 12 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking time.
  7. Remove immediately to wire rack.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 166.9
Total Fat: 5.3 g
Cholesterol: 6.8 mg
Sodium: 77.0 mg
Total Carbs: 26.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.1 g
Protein: 3.4 g

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

School Daze, and Blondies, anyone??

Well, I promised you that I would tell you about my first few classes at George Brown College, and tell you I shall. I doubt I will be able to go into as much detail or eloquence as Ivonne or Eric, but do check out their adventures in the wonderful program that I attend as well!

Nervous probably couldn't even begin to describe what I was feeling when I first walked into the class kitchen, I mean here I was back in school of all things! I didn't know how I should address the professor, call him Chef, Sir, Mr./Ms. ______ or something different! At least the equipment looked familiar (twins of the J. Clarke kitchens) but I didn't know just how much us students were trusted with on our own. Turns out I didn't have to worry at all. The prof came breezing in with a big smile on his face and introduced himself heartily to everyone. I instantly felt "this is a guy who loves his job". Turns out I was right. Chef Amjad (just Amjad to us students) was full of stories about his experiences with food, starting out in culinary school in a butchery class where they docked 10% for each piece of meat left on the bone, and joking about how with a plastic bowl scraper (my arch-enemy, never will I own one I tell you!) you will make enough money to buy a condo in Florida. Not only is the prof a great guy, he genuinely cares about the students, taking the time to explain certain questions and quirks with the recipes and paying attention to how each of us worked from start to finish on our pie doughs. For any J. Clarke Richardson kids who happen to read this, Amjad reminds me of Mr. Kondracki! It was a great relief to me to have the experience start off so well, God only knows if we had been given a Gordon Ramsay!

As you can no doubt see by the photos, our first two classes were focussed on the art of pie dough and apple pies. My partner (Ferdie) and I scaled out our ingredients as quickly as possible, given the 24:3 student:scale ratio we had, and my somewhat sad hand-peeling technique (12 kg of apples with one able peeler and me... that takes patience!). After that, it was a breeze... we had plenty of time to chat amongst ourselves (and on week two a group of us even went to Starbucks while the pies baked). I have to say I am glad to have met all the people in my class and I hope to continue fostering the friendships. Here's my cheesy shout-out to both Ferdie and Phil, who unfortunately are the only two names I can remember (I will get better, promise)!

But anyways (and no more apples for a few days), wow, who knew there were so many random foodie events in the world? Today is Blondie Day, which is awesome! Back when I was a starry-eyed young'un, banging my head against the wall while being stuck in Political Science at Carleton University (why I chose that major is beyond me, though it is an awesome university, IMHO - gotta love those underground tunnels in -40C weather!) their all-you-can-eat cafeteria had some of the most amazing blondies I'd ever eaten. Sigh... good old Aramark and your factory-produced delicacies!

For a still delicious and slightly less processed gooey-chewy blondie sensation, I teamed up butterscotch chips, caramel candies and marshmallows with the brown sugar and butter base. I tell you, it is hell to chew if you have fillings, but heaven in your mouth once it melts! These make a big batch, which is good if you do a lot of bakesales for school or charity.

Mmmarshmallow Blondies
Makes 20 decent-sized squares
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
4 oz chewy caramel candies
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 cups mini marshmallows
1 cup dark chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease a 9x13" pan.
  2. Melt butter, butterscotch chips and caramels together, stirring. Cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together brown sugar, eggs, & vanilla.
  4. Stir in the melted mixture, then add the dry ingredients, mixing until smooth.
  5. Fold in marshmallows and chocolate chips.
  6. Bake 15 minutes being careful not to overbake!
  7. Cool completely before cutting.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 217.0
Total Fat: 8.6 g
Cholesterol: 34.9 mg
Sodium: 103.9 mg
Total Carbs: 34.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.1 g
Protein: 2.4 g

Monday, January 21, 2008

Presto Pasta Nights: And They Ate the Whole Thing...

Hey, there! I'm back from school with a foodie day to share with you! Today is Cheese Day, which is a ridiculous and unrequired excuse to celebrate all things cheesy, from the mild and creamy, unassuming Brie to the repungent, gag-inducing Limburger! Though I cannot eat cheese now, I can still remember the days of playing with mozzarella Cheesestrings, gooey quattro-formaggio pizza, goat cheese stuffed meatloaves and of course, cheesecake!

Of course, one thing that simply couldn't be without the gooey stuff is baked pasta. Any form of traditionally baked noodle dish is laden with the stuff, and like all things is glorious in moderation. My latest make – ahead freezer dish for my mom during the busy weeks was just that... ooey, gooey, vegetarian lasagne. Interesting that I specify vegetarian lasagne in this case, if you have followed my random whiny posts about my carniverous stepfamily. I didn't simply omit the meat and double up on the cheese, because then not only would the sodium and fat levels fly off the charts but they would probably opt for some chicken nuggets on the side. Their questionable eating habits do not ever deter me from slipping them some healthy stuff on occasion, but most often it's worse than trying to feed preschoolers spinach.

So, with the family safely out of the house, I turned to one of my good old friends in the pantry, Textured Vegetable Protein. Though I've mentioned it's merits before of course, being high-fibre, cholesterol free and low in fat, it was probably the best substitution in this case because it picks up on all the surrounding flavours in the dish, and, well, looks like ground beef. This turned out to be not only a great and healthy dish, relying on whole-wheat pasta, 1% cottage cheese, frozen spinach and the TVP, but an economical recipe too! The best way to top off the sauce is simply throwing in a good glug of red wine and some dried herbs from your cupboard! This is definitely a good make on the weekend for Wednesday night type of thing too, since it needs to rest overnight before baking, and maintains flavour and texture even after a lengthy freeze. The one that was demolished by my family this past week was actually made in early December, and my mom and the unsuspecting "victims" *cue evil laugh* claimed it to be one of the best meals I'd ever made them.

This cozy, comforting dish is hopefully one to find itself cozied up amongst the other stars at Ruth's Presto Pasta Nights roundup this Friday! Don't forget that, like almost every other pasta dish, you have the power to play! That's the best part about the kitchen, everything is a learning experience and whatever you do will keep your mind buzzing!

Que Sarah Sarah Lasagne
Serves 8 (or 6, when your stepbrother eats for 2!)
2 cups 1% cottage cheese
1 tbsp garlic powder
½ tbsp oregano
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 10-oz pkg frozen spinach, thawed and drained
½ large white onion, chopped
½ lb cremini mushrooms, chopped roughly
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup roasted red peppers, chopped
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 cup TVP granules
1/3 cup red wine
Pinch crushed chili flakes
½ tbsp basil
½ tsp lemon zest (optional, but good!)
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 box whole-wheat lasagne sheets, par-cooked and drained
1 oz finely shredded mozzarella cheese
1 oz finely shredded Fontina cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. In a blender or food processor, puree cottage cheese through black pepper.
  3. Pour into a bowl and fold in spinach until well combined. Set aside.
  4. In a large non-stick skillet, saute onion and mushrooms until golden.
  5. Add garlic and roasted peppers and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes.
  6. Pour in tomatoes, TVP, red wine, chili flakes, basil and lemon zest.
  7. Stir, reduce heat to low and mix in tomato paste.
  8. Turn off heat but keep skillet on burner.
  9. Spread a thin layer of the tomato mixture on the bottom of a 9x13" baking dish.
  10. Top with 4 par-cooked noodles, then layer the 1/2 the cottage cheese mixture on top of that.
  11. Follow with 4 more noodles, and 1/2 the remaining red sauce.
  12. Layer the final noodles on top.
  13. Stir the rest of the red sauce into the cheese mixture and spread on top of everything in the dish. Top with shredded cheeses.
  14. **Dish can be frozen at this point for later, if so, thaw out completely before proceeding with recipe.
  15. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until completely heated through and bubbly, tenting with foil if necessary.
  16. Let stand 5 minutes before cutting.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 353.9
Total Fat: 3.7 g
Cholesterol: 8.4 mg
Sodium: 834.3 mg
Total Carbs: 61.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 11.5 g
Protein: 24.7 g

Friday, January 18, 2008

ARF / 5-A-Day: Asian-Style!

Why is it so hard to bake pretty things that are also good for you? Sigh... I guess I will never have a destiny as a food photographer, but I figure that if I can write the recipes and feed the camera crew (on my make-believe Food Network set), someone else can worry about those details. After all, eating's more fun than styling, isn't it? Besides, beauty is really only in the eyes of all beholders this go-around. These are yet another result of me playing with a combination of several factors: 1) my new, awesome food processor, 2) leftover rice in our freezer that no one was going to eat, 3) super-quality, imported whole-leaf Chinese green tea and 4) way too much time on my hands. Though I started out attempting to make cookies that were crisp around the edges and chewy in the middle (like my favourite "Family Secret" cookies), what emerged was very different, and according to Andrew, very tasty.

So, though theses are more like chewy, free-form mini-cakes than cookies, these are healthy snacks are filled with the goodness of green tea, whole grains, ginger, rice and almonds! Andrew (like I said before) said they were a great treat for his midday snack with (what else?) a cuppa the good green stuff! The tea leaves and fresh ginger ground into the dough adds a great boost of antioxidant power, and helps these snacks shuffle their way into Sweetnick's ARF / 5-A-Day roundup this week! A testament to these "cakies" awesomeness is the fact that even though Andrew hates ginger in all forms, he downed two of these today and replied with a very satisfied, sugar-high happy "mmm... these are amazing, hon!".

Well, I guess tomorrow will be sans-post, seeing as I'm off to Week 2 of school and all, but I will be sure to tell you about my apple-pie class when I get back (you know, in case this recipe wasn't good enough... the prof threatened 2 kilos of apples though, so I may never want to look at another one of the fruits again!)

Japanese Tea-Cakies
Serves 12
1 cup cooked white rice
1/2 cup brewed whole-leaf green tea (with leaves)
1" piece fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp stick margarine
1/2 cup raw sugar
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup rolled (not instant) oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup slivered almonds

  1. Preheat oven to 375F and lightly grease 2 baking sheets.
  2. In a food processor, blend together rice, tea with leaves, ginger, cornstarch, extract and vegetable oil until smooth and thick.
  3. In a bowl, cream margarine and sugar.
  4. Add processed ingredients and mix well.
  5. Stir in flour, oats and baking soda until blended.
  6. Fold in almonds.
  7. Scoop equal pieces onto prepared sheets.
  8. Bake 10 minutes, cool 5 minutes on sheets and then (with a lifter) transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 126.4
Total Fat: 4.1 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 45.2 mg
Total Carbs: 21.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.4 g
Protein: 2.3 g

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Here There Was Dragons...

Yesterday was Dragon Appreciation Day, and I had a nice post all planned but then wouldn't you know it, life got in my way! Andrew and I had tickets to go see a play that my sister was doing set design for at our old highschool (co-incidentally, dragons are his favourite animals and Mushu is his idol), and since I didn't get home until almost 10:30 I just didn't have the energy to type up a post. So, happy Belated National Dragon Appreciation Day!!

I still have the recipe I was going to post for you, a delicious, super-garlicky chili pie (so we can all have Dragon's Breath!). Basically, you get not just a beautiful, cheesy, low-fat chili, but you get essentially a Chicago-style stuffed pizza too! The major bonus for me is not having to make the pizza dough from scratch. Though I have done it before and don't mind making it, when you want dinner, who wants to be fiddling with yeast and flour and cornmeal and everything! If you haven't worked with TVP (or Textured Vegetable Protein) before, I have a post on working with it, and of course if you need more help, clarification, or places to find it, the internet is a wonderful resource!

Deep n’ Delish Chili Pie
8 Servings
14oz pizza crust dough (home made, canned or frozen)
4oz part-skim Monterey Jack cheese, shredded, divided
½ lb ground turkey breast
¼ onion, diced
28oz diced tomatoes with liquid
1 ¼ c TVP granules, dry
2 tbsp chili powder
¼ tsp cayenne powder
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp cumin
3 tbsp garlic powder
  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Unroll pizza dough and press into the bottom and ½ way up the sides of a 9x13” pan coated in cooking spray.
  3. Sprinkle ½ the cheese over pizza crust.
  4. Cook turkey and onion in a non-stick skillet until browned, stirring to crumble. Drain off fat (if any).
  5. Return meat to pan, with diced tomatoes, TVP and seasonings. Cook 1-2 minutes, until TVP has rehydrated.
  6. Pour tomato mixture into crust.
  7. Bake uncovered 12 minutes. Top with remaining cheese and bake an additional 5 minutes.
  8. Let stand 5 minutes, serve.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 230.2
Total Fat: 6.4 g
Cholesterol: 8.2 mg
Sodium: 510.9 mg
Total Carbs: 22.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.5 g
Protein: 19.5 g

Monday, January 14, 2008

Paupers to Princes: Beautiful Breadsticks

I got cooking in the kitchen again for Andrew a few days ago, and the recipe I wound up with reminded me of an old fairy tale. Remember the story of the Prince and the Pauper? Well, instead of switching ingredients for these snacks, I opted to combine the two sides of the story! What emerged smelling divine from my oven was a variation on these crunchy, savoury breadsticks, using rustic, “peasantry” ingredients like rolled oats, whole wheat flour and cornmeal, which I paired with the luxurious additions of rich honey, extra-virgin, imported olive oil and... drumroll please... ground saffron. With such an amazing combination on my hands, I almost had to steal them for myself!

Since Sweet Sins is busy hosting Zorra's event brainchild BBD (AKA Bread Baking Day) #6 and picked the theme of shaped breads, I thought I would humbly submit my photos of my kitchen adventure (which was more like playing with Play-Doh!) for the food world's scrutinization. Even if they aren't the prettiest looking things on the 'net these days, I'm sure they were pretty tasty... I'll have to wait on word from Andrew for that!

Princely Pauper's Breadsticks
Serves 14
½ cup white flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
3 tbsp yellow cornmeal
¼ cup quick oats
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tbsp dried oregano
½ tbsp dried basil
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne
¼ tsp ground saffron
½ cup water
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp honey

  1. Mix all the ingredients in order listed.
  2. Knead dough for 5 minutes, then divide into equal pieces.
  3. Let rest for 10 minutes and shape each piece as desired.
  4. Place on a lightly greased baking tray.
  5. Bake at 350 F for 10-15 minutes, then turn off the oven and let dry 1 hour inside the oven.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 58.5
Total Fat: 1.3 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 15.9 mg
Potassium: 36.8 mg
Total Carbohydrate: 10.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.0 g
Sugars: 0.1 g
Protein: 1.5 g

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Birthdays and Buttermilk: Vanilla Cake

My grandma's one lucky lady... not only is she very well travelled (having toured western Europe, most of the United States and all of Canada excepting the territories), but she is being taken down to Florida again by my grandfather for 4 weeks starting this week! Since she's going to be missing her own birthday celebration this year (her birthday falling in early Febuary), we're throwing her a little party tonight. Of course, this gives me a chance to get back into the kitchen (even though I had my first 4-hour class at George Brown yesterday... amazing BTW with more explanation later) and bake up a storm! We had some buttermilk in the fridge, left over from making one of my sister's favourite cakes earlier, and I knew that the family wanted a vanilla cake. Chocolate, though enjoyed occasionally by the family, isn't usually the choice when there is an alternate available.

So, this wound up being the cake I made for my grandmother's birthday party. I altered a recipe from a cupcake recipe by Nicole from Baking Bites. Deliciously moist and very vanilla-y, I think this would be a perfect all-purpose cake for all occasions, or even just because! I cut out all the salt from the original recipe, even when I doubled it (Nic's made 12 cupcakes), and the lack of salt in this recipe definitely allows the sweetness of the sugar, the subtle tang of the buttermilk and the rich creaminess of the butter shine through. Thank you so much, Nicole, for a great basic recipe for me to tweak! Hopefully everyone will enjoy it as much as I think they will, provided they ignore my shoddy decorating technique!

Buttery Buttermilk Vanilla Cake
Serves 12
2 2/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cup sugar
¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup shortening
2 eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
2 cups buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease & flour two 9" cake pans.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter, shortening and sugar together until creamy.
  4. Beat in the eggs and the vanilla.
  5. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir until almost combined.
  6. Add buttermilk and stir, again, until almost combined.
  7. Add the rest of the flour and stir until all ingredients are mixed in.
  8. Pour into prepared pans.
  9. Bake 40-45 minutes.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 298.9
Total Fat: 9.6 g
Cholesterol: 49.8 mg
Sodium: 54.4 mg
Total Carbs: 48.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.7 g
Protein: 5.3 g

Friday, January 11, 2008

Presto Pasta for My Sickie!

There's a flu going around. Surprise, surprise. What's shocking to me is that not only did I avoid catching it this go-round, but Mr. I-Never-Catch-So-Much-As-A-Fly got smacked sideways with the worst case I've ever seen him with. Luckily for him, it only came to the forefront after we watched the Oshawa Generals massacre the Ottawa 67's last night (10-4, anyone?) including a fight and a very, shall we say, uncomfortably located injury during the third period!

Andrew's menu for today was chicken-noodle soup, grapefruit juice and tea (I love taking care of him... *hugs*), but yesterday and earlier this week as well he had me whip up a new noodle dish for him. He loves spicy things (probably as much or more than me!) and he was craving the arrabbiata dish from Mrs. Vanelli's at the mall, complete with garlic bread. I set about boiling the water for the pasta (salted, of course!) but upon opening our pantry I discovered a shocking lack of tomato products. Literally, all we had was 3 kinds of ketchup, and not much else! After a quick conference with Monsieur, I got the go-ahead to use the spicy ketchup along with some more herbage and (surprise surprise) crushed red pepper flakes! It got the 2 thumbs up and a lot of "yummy sounds", so I guess it isn't as bad as it seemed to look when I was making it!

This is a verrrrry spicy addition to Ruth's Presto Pasta Nights, so play with the levels to your taste. If you use regular tomato sauce and not ketchup (spicy or otherwise) add about 1 tsp lemon juice too. It's a meal designed to be about what you've got on hand already, not about what you have to run out to the store for! Go with the flow, and enjoy your noodles!

Pasta a la Refrigerateur
Serves 1
2-3 oz dry noodles (whatever you have on hand, I used these pretty tricolour corkscrews)
About 3-4 tbsp ketchup
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp each dried oregano and basil
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add pasta and cook according to package directions.
  2. Drain, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking water.
  3. Return pasta to pot, add ketchup and spices.
  4. Mix well, adding a spoonful of the cooking water if necessary.
  5. Serve hot with a grating of fresh Parmiggano-Reggiano if desired.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 345.0
Total Fat: 1.5 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 570.0 mg
Total Carbohydrate: 75.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.0 g
Sugars: 13.5 g
Protein: 10.5 g

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Sweet Snacks for Apricot Day!

As if we needed an excuse to enjoy these wonderful, golden orbs! Today is Apricot Day (I'm serious!), and I for one endorse it. Apricots are an excellent source of Vitamin A (almost 19% per fruit!), a tremendous source of vitamin C, has dietary fiber and contains potassium as well. The apricot is a wonderful addition to the diet, sweet, dripping with juice beneath a thin skin when fresh and wonderfully chewy when dried. I love eating them as a snack, or baking them into muffins, but in this case I'm using them in something a little different, just as easy and a LOT more nutritionally sound... a low-fat, all natural energy bar, lacking only the chemicals and preservatives that lie under those foil wrappers! That said, I'm sending this on over to Cate at Sweetnick's for her ARF / 5-A-Day roundup!
This bar is a gluten free, lowfat, vegan and finally easy to make bar for kids and parents who are on the go and don't have time to fix breakfast or a midday snack. These bars can be made in bulk and frozen for future use, and if you never seem to have any time with the kids it's a great family activity - the little ones can measure out the ingredients and guess what is what, taste some of the fruits and even help wrap the cooled bars after they're cut!

Gluten-Free Fruit n’ Nutbars
32 servings
1 cup dried apples
½ cup dried chopped apricots
2 cups apple cider
1 cup water
½ cup dried kasha
1 cup Craisins
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup apple butter
1 cup sultana raisins
1 ½ cups buckwheat flour
2 cups sliced almonds
2 cups sweetened coconut
1 egg replacer
½ cup applesauce
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon baking powder
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Put dried apples, apricots, and Craisins in a pot with kasha, water, apple cider, cinnamon, and vanilla.
  3. Bring contents of pot to boil and stir until mixture is creamy.
  4. Add the apple butter and stir until well blended. Remove from heat.
  5. Blend in raisins, flour, almonds, coconut, egg replacer, baking powder, apple sauce, brown sugar, and maple syrup to pot, stir until well combined.
  6. Place mix in two well greased 9 x 13 inch pans.
  7. Bake 25 minutes.
  8. Cut immediately, place bars on cooling rack.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 158.2
Total Fat: 5.1 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 7.0 mg
Total Carbs: 28.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.1 g
Protein: 2.8 g

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sweet, Secret Cherries!

A quickie for today, I think, with something so simple that you can whip it up right now and chances are you won't even have to make a trip to the store! This was something I came up with on a whim while trying to think of a recipe for a family tea-time gathering while using up waning fridge and pantry goods. The secret for these sweet (but diabetic-friendly, for Cel) mocha-cherry muffins is in the everyday, basic pantry staple that is the base ingredient! Who would have thought, good ol' Aunt Jemima can whip out more than fluffy pancakes!

Secret Success Mocha-Cherry Muffins
Serves 6
1 cup buttermilk pancake mix (not complete)
3 tbsp Splenda (or sugar)
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp Nutella
2 tbsp cherry pie filling
1/2 cup brewed espresso, hot

  1. Preheat oven to 400F and grease 6 muffin cups.
  2. Mix pancake mix, Splenda and cocoa powder in a medium bowl.
  3. Add Nutella and cherry filling to centre of dry ingredients.
  4. Pour hot espresso over and stir until well combined.
  5. Bake 18 minutes, cool 2 minutes in pan before turning out.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 96.5
Total Fat: 2.5 g
Cholesterol: 8.3 mg
Sodium: 262.5 mg
Total Carbs: 17.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.1 g
Protein: 2.5 g

Monday, January 7, 2008

And Ever...

It's a special day for Andrew and I... our three year anniversary! Though we weren't able to go out for a lavish dinner (darn those gym classes, haha!) I did get him a little something, which was actually supposed to be part of his Christmas gift except that I couldn't find it in the stores until Boxing Week (sigh). What did I get him? Well, it wasn't a ring (that was last year), or a new car (he doesn't drive), but instead I got him a box of root-beer flavoured candy canes. I know, isn't it romantic??*cue sarcasm*

Hear me out, though, and yes, this is a sappy romantic thing, so skip down if you don't want that. The very first year I gave Andrew a Christmas gift, we were still in the "just friends" state of awkward social interaction (back in the good ol' days of Grade 12). I didn't really know what to do since I really did like him in "that way" but didn't want to be hurt by an outright rejection (yeah, I'm a social scaredy-cat!). Anyways, I resorted to a cheap, traditional Christmas standby: the candy cane. I decorated it with pipe cleaners to make it a reindeer, and stuck it to a card, and that was it. Little did I know that two short weeks later we would become a couple, and inseperable (at least at the heart) ever since! Every Christmas since then, I've given him a candy cane in some form to replicate that tiny spark of magic on our first Christmas gift exchange. However, this Christmas I was so enrobed in cookie, bread and cheesecake baking, that not only have I been slow in posting it all, but I was slow in keeping up this tradition. Ah well, today's his day for that, and I'm sure he won't mind!

In fact, Andrew's father (and probably at Andrew's request) asked for me to make them a cheesecake after Christmas, with "something like strawberry" as a guideline and "a chocolate crust, pleeeeease!" from my fiance's sweet tooth. Well, the Beatles lover that I am teamed up with my previous cheesecake-creation experiences for this recipe, and no I wasn't cooking with Lucy!! This was what my girly side kicked in with, after some deliberation: a delightfully pink, sinfully rich strawberry-vanilla cheesecake with a chocolate crust! Needless to say, Andrew loved it, as did his dad and brother. Good to know, since they may just be getting my Strawberry Cheesecakes Forever!

Strawberry Cheesecakes Forever
Serves 12
1 1/2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
250g (8oz) light cream cheese, softened
500g (16oz) regular cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup full-fat sour cream
½ Tbsp. cornstarch
¾ cup pure strawberry puree

  1. Preheat oven to 325F.
  2. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan and wrap in heavy-duty foil.
  3. Put the cookie crumbs in a large bowl.
  4. Add the melted butter and stir the mixture until the crumbs are evenly moistened with the butter.
  5. Transfer the crumbs to the buttered pan.
  6. Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom of the pan.
  7. Bake the crust for 6 minutes. Let cool completely.
  8. Beat cream cheeses, sugar and vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.
  9. Add eggs, sour cream and cornstarch; mix just until blended.
  10. Beat in strawberry puree.
  11. Pour into prepared crust.
  12. Bang the cake on the countertop to settle batter.
  13. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes, in a prepared water bath, until center is almost set.
  14. Turn oven off, leave cheesecake to cool in oven 30 minutes, then remove from oven and water and cool completely on a rack.
  15. Refrigerate overnight before serving.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 367.2
Total Fat: 27.6 g
Cholesterol: 107.8 mg
Sodium: 276.2 mg
Total Carbs: 23.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.8 g
Protein: 7.8 g

...oh, and if you were wondering what my wonderful fiance gave to me that first Christmas? Well, it was a cheerful-looking bracelet with my name on it, and my gorgeous (though slightly battered-looking) lucky bunny keychain Philip!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Soup For When the Skies are Grey

It's been grey, gross and drizzly here for the past few days, both weather and health wise. While my maladies are nothing new to me, my family, or anyone reading this blog, my stepbrother (AKA the human garbage disposal) is sick with a nasty chest cold and stomach bug (which he seems to have passed my way, thank you ever so much, Dan). To top things off, my baby sister (who is a fantabulous visual artist and champion horseback rider with the Ontario Pony Club) was thrown off today in a lesson, smacking her head before being kicked by her horse as she hit the ground. She's okay, and was fully cleared at the emergency room (not even a concussion, thank God) but stiff and bruised, as can be expected. However, I have just the thing for dreary days of any sort! Home-made soup mixes are a great gift for anyone who is recovering from a bout of illness or who tends to get cold in the winter (a la moi), or anyone who you feel could use a little homespun cheer now and then but doesn’t have the time to make soup from home.

This first soup-in-a-jar recipe is completely vegan, completely wholesome, and completely delicious! I invented it while trying to figure out a good gift for Andrew's parents at Christmas, and though I don't think they've made it yet, I can tell you that my small bowl (made with the remnants) was mighty delicious and satisfying, especially after the exhausting mall-crawling.

Beans n’ Barley Soup in a Jar
Serves 6
2 envelopes vegetable bouillon
1 tablespoon dehydrated onion
½ cup dehydrated soup vegetables
1 tablespoon dried parsley
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
½ tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon paprika
2/3 cup barley
½ cup dried split peas
¾ cup dry lentils

  1. In a large, wide-mouth jar, combine bouillon granules, dehydrated onion, soup vegetables, and seasonings.
  2. Place a layer of cellophane or Saran wrap over the seasonings in the jar, bringing it up the inner sides of the container.
  3. Layer in the barley, split peas and lentils.
  4. Seal the jar and decorate as you wish.
  5. Attach a recipe card with the following directions:
    - Place upper layer of jar contents in a large stockpot and cover with 6 cups water and 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, with liquid.
    - Stir in seasonings and bring to a boil.
    - Lower heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
    - Check after 30 minutes and add additional water if necessary.

Per Serving (dry):
Calories: 117.0
Total Fat: 0.4 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 29.0 mg
Total Carbs: 24.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.1 g
Protein: 4.9 g

This next mix is a great quick-fix lunch if you're on the go, or only have access to a kettle at work or school. Creamy, tangy and richly flavoured, this was my gift to Andrew's dad so that he could actually have a spot of lunch while slogging through shifts at Tim Hortons.

Instant Buttermilk – Potato Cheese Soup in a Jar
Serves 4
1 ¾ cups instant mashed potato flakes
1 ¼ cups dry skim milk powder
¼ cup buttermilk powder
½ cup powdered white cheddar cheese (like from macaroni and cheese mixes)
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
2 teaspoons dried minced onion
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried chives
¼ teaspoon pepper

  1. In a bowl, whisk together all ingredients until thoroughly blended.
  2. Pour into a jar, and decorate as desired.
  3. Attach the following instructions:
    - To serve, place 2/3 cup soup mix in bowl.
    - Stir in 1 cup boiling water until smooth, let sit 2 minutes and enjoy!
Per Serving (dry):
Calories: 397.5
Total Fat: 17.2 g
Cholesterol: 28.1 mg
Sodium: 1,712.4 mg
Total Carbs: 43.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.3 g
Protein: 23.6 g

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Here's a Heart as Sweet as His...

What's your favourite flavour? As a kid, we always had the three basic choices to fall back on, whether it was ice cream, cake, or frostings: chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla? Well, I know that hubby Andrew loves all three, though he freely admits that when presented with a box of Neopolitan, he's all about the strawberry in the beginning of the binge. Well, I was musing today as I travelled to and from George Brown College in Toronto today (in the process of making a "dry run" with the TTC and Go Trains before class starts on Saturday, which I've never taken alone before), and I came up with an idea, just a tiny, random idea, for a sweet nibbly gift for my love to enjoy on our three-year anniversary on the 7th. I do promise that I will stop talking about how excited I am about this occasion after Monday, really!

Anyways, we had a small glut of (out of season, sadly) strawberries left over from my mom's New Year's Party that were languishing in the fridge, along with about 1/3 of a container of sour cream from my mom's amazing stroganoff, so I took that little notion I had and ran with it in a small-batch run. I mean, what's the worst that could happen in the kitchen? Wait... don't answer that!

I have to say that I am extremely pleased with the turnout of these cupcakes. I don't even know if you can call them cupcakes, since they have no frosting and aren't all that cute, but they aren't wholesome enough for the "muffin" label. Whatever you call them, these are a taste sensation: creamy, slightly tangy vanilla and chocolate batters sandwich a sweet, succulent strawberry heart. All I can say is wow! I used a store-bought, plain baking mix as the base (I know, the nerve of me!), but if you have a favourite vanilla cupcake batter or plain muffin blend, mix the dry ingredients and divide it into two seperate bowls before proceeding with the recipe. If you don't have a favourite mix of your own, and don't want to start out of a box (I don't usually, but I was lazy today!), here's the recipe I usually use for my muffin batter, scaled for this recipe.

Basic Muffin Dry Mix
Serves 6
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
  1. Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl until thoroughly blended.
  2. Store in a cool, dry place.
For plain (vanilla) muffins, add to the above:
2-3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  1. Stir all ingredients together until just blended and still slightly lumpy.
  2. Bake in greased tins 20-25 minutes at 400F, unmould immediately and cool on wire racks.

Well that's all well and good, but what about my recipe? Well, now that you know how to do the base (or are waiting patiently with your recipe), I will explain the rest.

Sweetheart Neopolitan Cupcakes
Makes 6
  1. First, pre-heat your ovens to 400F, and grease 6 muffin cups.
  2. Take either 1 batch of the recipe above or 1 1/3 cups of your dry mix, and divide it roughly into two bowls.
Now you will need:

2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup water
3 strawberries, cut in half lengthwise

  1. Stir the cocoa powder into one of the two bowls.
  2. Melt together the chocolate chips and the butter, then stir in 2 tablespoons of the sour cream.
  3. Add the chocolate mixture to the cocoa muffin mix and add 2 tablespoons water. Stir gently to combine without overmixing, and set aside.
  4. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons sour cream, the vanilla and the rest of the water to the plain mix and bring together gently.
  5. If either mixture is too dry, add 1-2 teaspoons of water.
Now, for the layering!

  1. Put a large dollop of chocolate batter into the bottom of the greased tins, dividing it evenly between each cup.
  2. Place 1 strawberry half, cut-side down, on top of the chocolate batter.
  3. Top with the vanilla batter, again dividing it evenly and making sure the chocolate batter and strawberries are covered completely.
  4. Pop 'em into the oven for 20 minutes, remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack. And... voila!
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 181.7
Total Fat: 5.4 g
Cholesterol: 6.9 mg
Sodium: 6.0 mg
Total Carbs: 32.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.9 g
Protein: 3.0 g

Friday, January 4, 2008

When You Have to Pawn Stuff for Cookies...

Back a while ago (was it really November?) when I was doing bakery inventory, I mentioned that part of the bounty included macadamia nuts for a certain someone's Christmas gift. Christmas came and went, and though I made and gave those cookies I totally forgot to blog about them!! Shame on me, they were the most stellar cookies I've ever invented, turning out much better than I ever dreamed! My sister helped me package them into two cellophane bags tied with super-shiny ribbon (we are definitely ribbon girls at our house), and on Christmas day the still somewhat sleepy Andrew tore into them, chomping down one (or was it two?) while we opened our gifts after my mom's stellar brunch. With no comments about the cookies other than emphatic mmm hmmms, I guess that means he liked them!

Curious about the name? Well, the pawnbroker's symbol is three spheres suspended from a bar. The three sphere symbol is attributed to the Medici Family of Florence, Italy, owing to its symbolic meaning of Lombard. This refers to the Italian province of Lombardy, where pawn shop banking originated under the name of Lombard banking. The three golden spheres were originally the symbol which medieval Lombard merchants hung in front of their houses. Since pawnbrokers are notorious for overcharging their clients, I thought this could be an ever-so-cheeky name for these, given the cost of the ingredients! I've since lost the recipt for all the stuff, but I know the people at the Bulk Barn thought quite highly of me that day!

These cookies sound like a labour of love (and the wallet), but they really aren't all that bad to make work-wise. Heck, you don't even have to toast the nuts beforehand, since they brown beautifully in the oven, and though I made my own macadamia nut butter with raw nuts, you can buy it pre-made. Note that the recipe makes 30 cookies - I made 16 huge (and I mean HUGE) ones for Andrew's gift, but for everyday snacking count on small cookies, they are rich!

Rich Pawnbroker Cookies
30 Cookies
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup spelt or whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup packed powdered (icing) sugar
3/4 cup cocoa or carob (reduce icing sugar to ½ cup if using carob)
1/3 cup margarine, softened
1/2 cup macadamia nut butter
1 egg replacer, mixed
1 teaspoon vanilla
45 whole macadamia nuts, halved
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment (*note* spring for the parchment paper... greasing sheets won't cut it).
  2. Mix together the flours, baking powder and salt.
  3. Blend in the sugars and cocoa.
  4. Add margarine, nut butter, egg and vanilla. Mix well.
  5. Shape into walnut sized balls and place 2 inches apart on sheets
  6. Flatten slightly with the bottom of a glass.
  7. Gently press 3 macadamia nut halves in a triangle fashion on each cookie.
  8. Bake at 350F for 9-11 minutes.
  9. Cool 5 minutes on pans, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 142.8
Total Fat: 9.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 29.2 mg
Total Carbs: 15.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.1 g
Protein: 2.0 g