Saturday, September 26, 2009

Warming the Inside

Now that September is almost over with (say it ain't so!) it seems that the weather that has been oh-so-cooperatively seasonal over the months of June, July and August feels right at home. It's settled itself in and all too soon we will find ourselves wearing ankle high snow boots, but standing knee-deep in a snowdrift. I know I'm already layering sweaters on, and the flannel bedsheets and socks have once again made their appearance in an attempt to keep my feet from turning a rather odd shade of grey by two in the morning!

But no amount of external blankets and wool fuzzies can truly warm your core. The human furnace has to be stoked from within, with rich hearty stews, steaming cups of apple cider, and bowls of oatmeal. One of the favourite tricks of mine to warm up in a hurry is to have a bite or two of raw fresh ginger - all on it's own. The flame from the tiny morsel is enough to kick-start the rest of my sluggish system, and when the annual flu strikes me down (as it always does!) a good dose of it chopped into a cup of green tea helps chase away the edge of nausea.

This cake is one of those snacks that is the perfect cold-weather type of food. Rich with ginger, stuffed full of comforting, hearty oatmeal and even with a bittersweet edge of dark molasses, a simple batter transforms in the oven to something that nestles comfortably next to that mid-afternoon cuppa you enjoy in your fuzzies.

I actually decided to make this dessert - known as Parkin Cake - back in the summer when I was planning a visit to my old elementary school stomping grounds. I know of my favourite teacher there's love for ginger, and it simply wouldn't do for me to show up there after some 8 months incommunicado without some sort of nosh! When I was a student there (eons ago!! Haha) my family (in particular, my mom) were known for being the ones that always showed up to bake sale Friday and field trip fundraisers with something home made. No Snack Packs of Timbits or pre-wrapped Rice Krispie treats for us! Usually when it was our group's turn to bring something in it was a batch of my mom's trademark chocolate chippers, or if it was still within our apple-glut season her my mom's famously delicious apple squares, that made it onto the table. Even if it was just brownies from a mix (a very rare occurrence, in fact I only remember once or twice) it was mixed and baked in our kitchen, and there never seemed to be any leftover freebies for the staff to hoard after class. I do try to continue the tradition of bringing a piece of our home to my second home when I can, and with a recipe this simple to execute and comforting to eat I couldn't pass it up. Even if you can't eat the whole pan yourself (or simply want to save a few squares for later) this keeps rediculously well - either wrap it in plastic and keep (at room temperature) for up to a week, or wrap it once more in foil and freeze it for at least 3 months. I reccommend cutting it and wrapping individual squares before freezing them in a heavy-duty Ziploc for easy emergency snackage!

Nouveau Parkin Cake
Serves 8
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup barley flour
1/2 cup large-flake rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup low fat plain yogurt
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup golden syrup
1 tbsp blackstrap molasses
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease a 9" square pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
  3. In another larger bowl, beat together yogurt, ginger, sugar, butter, syrup, and molasses.
  4. Add the dry ingredients and mix well, but do not beat.
  5. Bake 40 minutes.
  6. Cool 1 hour in the pan, then turn onto a wire rack and cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 229.2
Total Fat: 6.7 g
Cholesterol: 17.1 mg
Sodium: 133.1 mg
Total Carbs: 39.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.7 g
Protein: 4.3 g

Monday, September 21, 2009


My mom was in a conference for work a while back, which involved three days of non stop group pow-wows, ranting sessions and international who's whoing with barely a bathroom pause and definitely no chance to sneak out for a lunch break. Given that everyone had chosen to convene in Toronto, it wasn't too much of an issue for my mom as she brings her lunch regularly anyways and eats at her desk, but for the visiting professionals, meals were formulated based on what the office cafeteria decided to schlep up in a cart. Now, I don't mean to put that particular cafeteria's food down in any way, but really - it is a cafeteria, outsourced to the max and serving cling-wrapped, stickered and soggy sandwiches. In my entire memory I can recall eating there once, a pre-packaged lemon poppyseed muffin the size of my head, and to me it was the best thing in the world. But not lunch.

If you've read any of my bread-baking adventures, you know that I am unabashedly the source of the majority of my mom's carbo-loading during the week. I try to keep things interesting at the very least, at least mostly healthy (even the Nutella bread had whole grains and flaxeed!) and of course free of the additives and preservatives every pre-packaged sponge on the shelf is laced with. Luckily my imagination hasn't hindered the stream of loaves, bagels and rolls emerging from the oven, and since there are so many ardent bread-bakers out there to inspire me I doubt I'll struggle soon!

So, my mom was toting slices of this fragrant, sweet and packed-full-of-stuff loaf with her the week of her marathon meetings, and apparently it caused quite a stir with the visiting staff from Brazil, Moncton and Fairfax! In fact, the recipe was requested almost immediately when my mom relinquished a slice for them to taste and one of the gentlemen asked my mom if I shipped my goodies internationally. Well, I don't (namely because I can't afford to, and partially because I doubt that most things hold up well to shipping) but I did spend the afternoon after my mom's call to tell me what he said making up another loaf just for him! I didn't want to brew envious thoughts towards anyone nearby, and really... bread doesn't get much more comforting than this one.

My mom adorned her slices with honey and occasionally a thin smear of peanut butter, though I think the loaf would make a fantastic peanut butter and jelly sandwich too! I wonder if anyone looking at YeastSpotting on WildYeast this Friday will attempt this, and top it with something else??

Hit The Trail [Mix] Bread
Makes 16 "sandwich" slices
5 oz bread flour
4.5 oz whole wheat flour
2 oz spelt bran or oat bran
2 tbsp ground flaxseeds
1/4 tsp salt
1 pkg instant yeast
3/4 cup warm, unsweetened almond milk
1/3 - 1/2 cup water
1 1/2 fl. oz honey
1 tbsp canola oil
3 cups cranberry-based trail mix, large pieces chopped (mine had cranberries, golden raisins, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds)
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flours, bran, flaxseeds, salt and yeast. Set aside.
  2. In a smaller bowl, combine almond milk, water, honey and canola oil.
  3. Pour liquids into the flour and yeast mixture, mixing well.
  4. Add the trail mix and continue mixing until the dough forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl (a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment makes this easier).
  5. Knead (by hand or mixer) for 12 minutes, until very smooth and supple.
  6. Place into a lightly greased bowl, cover and allow to rest 30 minutes.
  7. Press the rested dough into a rough rectangle and roll up into a log, pinching the seams to seal.
  8. Place in a large greased loaf pan, cover and allow to rise 1 hour, until dough rises 1" above the rim of the pan.
  9. Preheat oven to 350F.
  10. Brush the top of the loaf lightly with water, then place on the centre rack and bake for 35-40 minutes.
  11. Turn bread out of pan immediately and cool on a wire rack completely before slicing.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 259.4
Total Fat: 11.6 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 31.3 mg
Total Carbs: 31.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.5 g
Protein: 8.0 g

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I Call it "Rustic"

It used to be a Fall tradition with my family that as soon as there were apples to be picked at our faourite orchard, we would be there. Bundled up in sweaters and coats as kids, my sister and I would waste the afternoon running between saplings and tasting every new kind of fruit we came across. In late October, when the gigantic, rock hard Northern Spies finally made their appearance, we'd be back - and sure enough the first thing to come out when we came home would be our Fall baking bible - a tattered, splattered copy of Apples, Peaches and Pears by Elizabeth Baird. We still have that book, complete with a few torn pages, a binding that no longer is really doing it's job and about 20 years' worth of cinnamon, butter and sugar crusting the well-loved pages. I've even gotten mom to leave it to me in her will.

In the past couple years, mom and I haven't done much in the way of making apple recipes together. While I gladly put together apple pies, crisps and squares any chance I get, my mom is so busy between work at "work", work at "home" and conforming herself to everyone's vastly different and incompatible schedules that what used to be the highlight of our season is now up to me to keep alive.

I knew the perfect way to breathe the life back into those tattered pages when I spotted the first "new crop" Ontario apples at the market, alongside the huge local peaches and even a few early pears. I would re-create that book, as a pie, and take my own first step into tradition. Unfortunately, as fate (or Murphy's Law) would have it, I caught the first "wave" of the seasonal flu bug and all of a sudden the double-crust, super flaky dessert of my imagination felt more like running a marathon than a simple kitchen task. But darn it, I wanted to make that pie. And I sure was NOT going to waste the fruit by letting it waste away on the kitchen counter or in the fridge! So I did the next best thing: galette. Same dough, same filling, different assembly. I didn't have to mess around with centering pie dough in a pan, fluting edges or remembering to dock the top crust. Nope, just rolling out the whole wheat pastry dough, shoving the fruit in the middle, a little bit of folding and voila - dessert.

So while it may not be traditional, or heck... even pretty, it is exactly what it sets out to be. A humble, rustic reminder of what once was, blended with the promise of new tradition. Not to mention, it's pretty darn tasty too!

Apple, Peach And Pear Galette
Serves 8
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup cold butter
4 tbsp cold water
1 large apple, peeled and diced
1 large pear, peeled and diced
1 large peach, peeled and diced
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp tapioca flour (not the granules)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
  1. In a bowl, whisk together flours, salt and sugar.
  2. Cut the butter in until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  3. 1 tbsp at a time, gradually add water until a dough forms (you may not need it all).
  4. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead 1-2 times to bring the mixture together, then wrap in plastic and chill 1 hour.
  5. Meanwhile, combine the fruits in a medium bowl.
  6. In a small dish, mix sugar, tapioca flour and cinnamon.
  7. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the fruit and toss well, let stand 10 minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 400F, line a large cookie sheet with parchment or silicone.
  9. Roll out the dough into a rough circle, move to cookie sheet.
  10. Place the fruit mixture in the centre of the dough and smooth into an even layer, leaving at least 2" of plain pastry around the edges.
  11. Fold the edges up and over the sides of the filling, leaving the space in the middle open.
  12. Bake for 35 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking.
  13. Cool completely before slicing.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 163.3
Total Fat: 7.3 g
Cholesterol: 18.3 mg
Sodium: 49.8 mg
Total Carbs: 24.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.6 g
Protein: 2.2 g

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Dinners of Summer

Some days, dinner is devised by the wills and wiles of the stomach, the wristwatch (and sometimes the wallet!). Those days are full of adventure to be sure: they bring about the 4-alarm curries, the occasional cold cereal and ice cream dinners, the ramen noodles and the cheesiest, greasiest pizza from the joint that's still open and delivering at 11PM. Good times, to be sure, and the world of gastronomy today would be without heiarchy if not for the powerful decisions made by our gullets!

But it is the dinners determined by the height and even the waning breaths of Summer that I look forward to every year. It's the time when the garden is full of new and constantly changing possibilities every time you step outside, where the farmer's markets are essentially throwing their produce at you and even though the kids are once again ensconced in schoolrooms nobody is quite ready for the warm, golden nights to end. Nights like these lend themselves to simple grilled chicken or fish on the barbie, the first hot soups garnished with giant leaves of basil and of tomato salads varying between the simplest Caprese appetizer to a full-meal vegetarian affair with lentils and chickpeas. It is nights like these, like tonight, where it's okay to pause for a while, and just absorb the atmosphere - and even if that atmosphere has changed to a drizzly grey blanket outside, there is still warmth in your meal. In ratatouille.

Straight from my mother's and my hearts in ingredient components, my garden in provision, and a mixture of both Flickr feeds and a certain Disney film in style, this is a baked ratatouille that is perfect just in the last days of summer - especially if you have access to your own garden's vegetables. Everything but the onion and garlic we used came straight from our garden that morning, and was still warm when I sliced and layered them into the casserole dish. The frozen, leftover dregs from last year's passata formed the perfect base for caramelized onion, white wine and herbs to transform into a rich sauce, and after a long, slow bake in the oven it's finished with a smattering of crumbled chevre and popped under the broiler to brown. Perfect the day it's made (the family ate it over couscous and broiled salmon), my mom also swears by leftovers the next day stirred into a spoonful of chickpeas and stuffed into a pita.

Vive le Jardin Ratatouille
Serves 6 as a side, 4 as a light main
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/3 cup white wine
1 tsp Herbes de Provence
1 cup crushed tomatoes
3 baby eggplants, thinly sliced into rounds
3 large beefsteak tomatoes, thinly sliced into rounds
2 medium zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds
1 red bell pepper, carefully cored and thinly sliced into rounds
2 sprigs fresh thyme, de-stemmed
3 1/2 oz soft goat cheese, crumbled
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Cut a piece of parchment paper the size of a 12" long oval casserole dish and set aside.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook slowly, stirring, until golden brown - about 10 minutes.
  3. Add crushed garlic and cook until just fragrant, then add wine, herbes de Provence and tomatoes, stirring well. Remove from heat and pour into the bottom of the casserole.
  4. Arrange alternating slices of the thinly sliced vegetables in overlapping rings from the outside to the inside of the baking dish.
  5. Sprinkle the thyme leaves over the vegetables and cover with the piece of parchment.
  6. Bake for 45 minutes, then remove parchment and bake a further 15 minutes, topping with goat cheese for last 5 minutes of baking.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 151.5
Total Fat: 6.4 g
Cholesterol: 14.6 mg
Sodium: 237.6 mg
Total Carbs: 18.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.0 g
Protein: 6.0 g

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Not "A Nutter" One!

You guys are getting off light this year... if you remember any of my garden harvesting or use-up posts from last year you know that our garden can become a bit of a monster when the season starts winding down. And the story should have been the same this year, really! Rows of carrots, beets, pumpkins, peppers, beans, corn, cukes and both summer and winter squash were planted faithfully in their newly mulched and turned beds, accompanied of course by a host of tomatoes, and for the first half of the summer, everything was moving along all hunky-dory and it looked I'd be enjoying beet and carrot salads and making pickles for months!
Then we had the first of two major blows to our gardening pride. A massive storm cell smashed right into the GTA, bringing at the very least gales of wind with torrents of rain and hail and at the worst end tornadoes that brought destruction to the region. Our neighbourhood was more or less smack-dab in the middle of the mess, so while we didn't get the funnel clouds we sure did get a healthy dose of the wet and windy! When we went out to assess the damage the news was not good... while our gazebo survived the fray (unlike last year!) most of the young shoots were not so fortunate. All the corn, along with most of the cucumber, half the winter squash and a good portion of the pepper plants looked like they had never been planted in the first place, and the only trace of some sort of "bed" for them was smushed up against the fencing around the vineyard. But, we still had the tomatoes, and the root vegetables, and the rest of the vegetables were slightly sheltered by the house and weren't hit too hard.
Then along came the second plight to befall the garden... at the hands of none other but famous garden thief Peter Rabbit. In just under three days, every last beet had been unearthed and eaten by the fat brown bunnies from the backyard's forest. Ironically, almost all the carrots were spared, and I hastily thinned out the seedlings so that the remaining Purple Hazes could grow to full size. None of the baby roots went to waste, however! In addition to eating them at every meal and pawning bags of them off on some fellow foodie friends I still wound up with a large Ziploc in my crisper stuffed with slowly wilting carrots! Knowing that there were only more to come, I put sails to the wind and made... yes... another carrot cake.
Want to know the kicker of this long-winded story? The next time I went out to check on the garden (after the cake was done) the rest of the carrots had been carted off. No beets, no carrots, no cucumbers... tomato salad anyone?
So, you get off light. Only one carrot-fuled recipe for you this year, but it's actually more of a fruit and vegetable melange as I sought out to not only conquer the rest of the carrots, but to finish the last bits of slowly decaying fruit and ends of the home made nut mix that was going nowhere fast. And all the components - backyard carrots, strawberries from a local farm (Whittamores), and the last of the maple syrup from a sugar bush in the Purple Woods Conservation Area - came together at the perfect moment to celebrate Sugar High Friday (Locavore Treats!) hosted this round by Mmm... Tasty!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Naturally Addictive Summer Candy

I couldn't take it any more. The complete and utter destruction, the casualties climbing, victims rotting forsaken on the ground and slowly seeping out their remains while their skin slowly shrivel and wither away in the scorching sun. Yes, dear readers, I am talking (yet again) about the poor, grey wasteland of a garden that I am ashamed to say is all that remains of this Spring's proud seedlings. Those beautiful tomatoes - just perfect for eating right off the vine like an apple, slicing up into salad or even simply spread on a plate with some salt and pepper - are under the "iron curtain" no-touch rule imposed by the "powers that be". So, alas... I have to watch (not to mention smell!) from my bedroom window as nobody fills the role I would have more than willingly filled. Picking, weeding, watering, pruning... all those tasks I was more than willing to perform this Summer, but instead I've been all but shackled (with the few, rare exceptions that bred some delicious tomato salads and even some Ninja-esque salsa!).

But I couldn't, and wouldn't, take it any more. I had to do something, even if it was just so I could get my personal fix! Honestly - more than any other garden produce we've ever grown, cherry tomatoes in particular are the one thing I crave from the moment the tiny fruits start appearing on the vines until well after the frost has fallen and there's no hope for any new ones for another year. I eat them off the vine like the candy that nature intends them to be. I dry them for winter storage. I freeze them for later sauce making. I even add pieces of slightly damaged cherries to sauces and chili without bothering to peel them at all! Not to mention that their naturally self-contained bubbles of Summer would be fabulous in an application as unique as Thunder Cake.

So the last say of my Summer vacation, while the [step]parentals were out, I pulled my Ninja trick once again and filled a relatiely small bowl with bright red, full-to-bursting with juice marbles of tomatoey goodness. I already had a fairly solid idea of what I would do with them too: a perfect end of the season pasta filled with bites of ever so slightly charred, roasted tomato, fresh basil (again from my own garden!) some rice-based spaghetti and a decadent knob of (fairly) local goat's cheese. And I wasn't disappointed in the least! The cheese melts just enough to meld seamlessly with the sugary-sweet, hot juices from the burst tomatoes, and together the sauce forms a gauzy blanket over a bed of pasta before being showered with a chiffonade of bright green herbage. Like the second time (in a week, no less!) that I made this recipe, it's even better if you toss a very al-dente cooked vegetable like broccoli into the pan sauce and pasta mixture and allow the flavours to soak into each other and the denser plant fibres.

I still can't believe that I was able to write this post without seriously drooling on my keyboard - just looking back at the few photos I snapped pre-bite is sending me into another craing cycle! I hope the readers at Ruth's Presto Pasta Nights round up (hosted by The Crispy Cook (AKA Rachel) feel the same!

Summer's Candy Pasta
Serves 2
10 oz cherry tomatoes
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tsp lemon juice
4 oz whole wheat pasta (short cuts work best, like rotini)
5-6 leaves fresh basil, chopped
3 oz soft goat cheese, crumbled
  1. Preheat oven to 375F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Wash cherry tomatoes, then toss with salt and pepper while still wet.
  3. Place on the sheet with the garlic and roast for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven, toss with lemon juice and set aside.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  5. Add pasta and cook to al dente.
  6. Drain, reserving a quarter- to half-cup of cooking water, and return to the pot.
  7. Add basil, cheese and tomatoes with enough of the pasta water to make it slightly saucy, stirring well.
  8. Divide pasta between bowls and serve with additional black pepper if desired.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 338.2
Total Fat: 10.6 g
Cholesterol: 38.0 mg
Sodium: 165.3 mg
Total Carbs: 51.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 7.7 g
Protein: 15.1 g

Monday, September 7, 2009

In From the Cold

So I guess it's official: Summer is over. Not according to those crazy Gregorians of course, who have it in their minds that the warmest quarter of the year lasts until the 22nd, but to gazillions of students and parents out there the lazy dog days of the season have wagged their tails for the last time this year. The Hallowe'en stuff has been out in stores near me for a good week now, probably longer, and tonight all the spiffy new outfits for the big "first day" are laid out for the all too early alarm clock's rude awakening. Thank God (for us Canadians, at least) that Thanksgiving's long weekend is only - gulp - 35 days away!

At the end of every Summer, it seems that all of a sudden our house is full of so many things that were never actually come around to over the break. Unfinished home improvements, un-hung pictures bought on vacation, photo albums half-filled and baskets (so many baskets!) of the season's peak produce are no longer able to be dealt with at leisure, and we have to relegate ourself to the "quick-fix" technique of dealing with them - gathering up everything that seems related to each other and shoving them somewhere out of the way to "get around to" when we have time! The end result (at least in the kitchen) is that eventually, it all comes bursting out at the seams - or the freezer, refrigerator and cupboard!

So it was in an attempt to get rid of utilize the remnants of last year's frozen fruit stash that I whipped up this loaf - a simple quick bread that can be in the oven in 15 minutes and left to cool on the countertop overnight, just perfect for slicing off a chunk for breakfast as you head out the door on your busy way. In taste, at least, it's a little bit of Summer made portable, and it's so good you may run out of that troublesome freezer fruit before you can replenish it!

Freezer Haul Quickbread
Serves 14 (if you're feeling like sharing!)
1 over-ripe banana, mashed
1 1/2 cups pitted cherries
1 large peach, pitted and roughly chopped
2 small plums, pitted and roughly chopped
1/3 cup cranberry juice
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp honey
1 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup barley flour
1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 325F, grease a large loaf pan.
  2. In a bowl, combine fruit, cranberry juice, vanilla and honey. Set aside.
  3. In another bowl whisk together flours, oats, flaxseed, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.
  5. Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate additions of the flour and fruit mixtures to the butter, blending well after each addition.
  6. Spread in the pan and place on the lowest rack of the oven.
  7. Bake for 1 hour 40 minutes, or until tests done.
  8. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 263.7
Total Fat: 7.6 g
Cholesterol: 17.4 mg
Sodium: 106.1 mg
Total Carbs: 46.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.5 g
Protein: 4.5 g

Friday, September 4, 2009

Just Call Me "Garden Ninja"

I've probably bored you all stupid with my talk about my new cat (AKA furbaby) named Dish. But one more indulgence! I promise it's even partially relevant!

So anyways, besides being solid black from nose to tail (with the very slight exception of about 6 grey hairs on her neck) as well as tiny (only 6 1/2 lbs!) and super-silent means that Dish can be exceptionally hard to find if she doesn't want to be. Couple that with her nervous tendency to lash out with claws flailing when she is found (and picked up), and it's no wonder that my sister has given her the nickname "Ninja". The next time I pop into PetSmart, though, I'm buying a collar for her - again, taking a note from my ongoing dreams where she's sporting baby pink bling! My sister wants me to get a hot pink or sparkly one, but even I have limits when it comes to spoiling (or embarrassing) the girl!

So, the Ninja reference is my segue into something I actually managed to make! Being banned from the garden as I am, any veggie-reconnaissance has to be done very incognito, and any actual cooking or eating of said produce has to be - literally - in hiding. So I have become the Garden Ninja. Earlier this week, I was able to sneak to the tomato and pepper patches while the rest of the household was out and quickly rescued a huge bowl of the near-rotten, super colourful bounty. Because damn it all, I wanted SALSA this year!

I knew that whatever wound up going into the food processor that night, it would be roasted. I adore roasted tomatoes and especially hot peppers when their skin is all blackened and bubbly and the flesh is sweet with a touch of kick left! I decided, given the rather sad state of the bowl contents, that I might as well just go whole-hog and roast everything I picked, as well as a languishing half-onion in our crisper. Hey, no one could say I wasn't resourceful! Heck, I was even able to make this salsa in time for the Grow Your Own Event that's being hosted at Masala Heaven this week instead of Andrea's blog.

The heat is a stealthy one too - since the peppers, tomatoes and onion are all roasted it starts off mellow, then brings a punch from behind! As with any sauce or salsa, play with the peppers to control the heat level and find a blend that you like. The lime really adds a nice touch too, and I thoroughly enjoyed this both over some steamed broccoli and mixed into brown rice!

Ninja Salsa
Makes 32 2-tbsp servings
33 oz assorted tomatoes, halved or quartered if large (cherries can stay whole)
1 green bell pepper, cored and quartered
1 red bell pepper, cored and quartered
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and halved
1 Hungarian wax pepper, seeded and halved
1/2 large red onion, cut into 2-3 large pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
juice of 2 limes
zest of 1/2 lime
1 bunch basil, shredded
  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line three large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Combine vegetables, oil and salt in a large bowl, tossing well to coat.
  3. Spread on baking sheets in a single layer.
  4. Roast 40 minutes, rotating sheets after 20 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes.
  6. Place 2/3 of the roasted vegetables, lime juice and zest into a food processor and puree. Remove to a non-reactive bowl.
  7. Add remaining vegetables to the processor and pulse just to chop coarsely.
  8. Add chopped mixture to the puree and fold through to combine.
  9. Cover and chill before serving.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 13.7
Total Fat: 0.6 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 3.1 mg
Total Carbs: 2.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.6 g
Protein: 0.4 g

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It's Baaack!

And better than ever! Do you remember the Nutella bread recipe I posted a couple years ago, in honour of the second annual World Nutella Day? Well, I revisited that sucker for another, newer reason - this month's Nutella challenge at Bell’alimento!

Now I know it's really easy to get all gung-ho excited about this bread... there is something very luxurious about working the chocolatey, creamy spread into the supple but deceivingly wholesome dough! The whole mass, nestled in my mom's old aluminum mixing bowl (or our "bread bowl" as we call it!), warm and cozy on top of the stove, smells amazing even then! Needless to say, about 15 minutes after the shaped loaf hits the oven you are going to want to snatch it right back out and devour it straight, but bide your time - I promise it's worth it. The smell is almost identical to a thick slice of hot toast that's been slathered with the chocolate-hazelnut goodness, and it only gets better.

Ironically, for all the delicious aromas that fill the kitchen as this bread becomes reality, the finished loaf is not cloyingly sweet. In fact, it's hardly sweet at all - there is more of a nutty, earthy rich flavour to it reminiscent of a good pumpernickel that is made stronger if you let the dough proof overnight in the fridge for it's first rise. Of course, it would still make fantastic peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches (oh yes, I said it!), but I don't think it would be out of place with some ham and cranberry mustard either.

You'll notice this is a different recipe than before - a few ingredient tweaks took this bread from fantastic to sensational in my book - softer, but with more of a nutty flavour due to the addition of whole spelt bran and flax seed meal. I would definitely make it like this again - or better yet, a half and half dough with part peanut butter and part Nutella!

Nutella Bran Bread

Serves 16
1 pkg dry active yeast
½ cup warm water
¾ cup warm, whole milk
1 tbsp + 1/3 cup Nutella, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 2/3 cup whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup spelt bran (or oat bran or wheat bran)
1 tbsp flaxseed meal
¾ cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp salt
  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water, let stand 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in milk and 1 tbsp Nutella.
  3. Gradually stir in AP flour until a loose batter is formed.
  4. Cover and let rest 1 – 1 ½ hours.
  5. In a medium bowl combine whole wheat flour, bran, flaxseed, oats and salt.
  6. Beat flour mixture into the risen sponge, then add Nutella and continue beating (a stand mixer is handy for this) until a cohesive dough forms.
  7. Knead (by mixer or hand) for a minimum of 15 minutes, until dough is mostly smooth and a little glossy.
  8. Place in greased bowl and turn to grease the top. Cover and let rise in warm place 1 hour (you can also cover with plastic and place in the fridge overnight).
  9. Punch down and knead gently, then form into a loaf and place in a large, greased loaf pan.
  10. Cover and let rise 40 minutes - 1 hour, until almost doubled.
  11. Preheat oven to 350F.
  12. Bake loaf 55 minutes.
  13. Turn out immediately onto wire rack to cool.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 136.7
Total Fat: 3.4 g
Cholesterol: 1.2 mg
Sodium: 120.4 mg
Total Carbs: 23.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.6 g
Protein: 4.6 g