Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ending the Year Without Wisdom

Well, the end of another year is upon us, and I for one am kind of glad to see it go. Don't get me wrong - there's been a bunch of good things that have happened this year too, but I'm not getting any sort of "vibe" from 2009 except that this year is tired out and needs to be put to bed.
I'm not feeling overly wordy these days, and I'm blaming my lack of inspiration not on lack of material (oh God, do I have material!) but on my lack of teeth. Yes, teeth. As I have mentioned before, the procedure has put a rather sizable dint in both my abilities to cook and eat, and though it's almost completely healed now on two sites, there is still some work left for my body to do on the massively bruised side and it's been tiring me out! I did, however, make my Christmas Eve goal of having sushi rolls for our Italian seafood feast (because sushi is so Italian!). I even lucked out with the place I found... it's a recently opened place by us (in between a Starbucks and a Popeye's... go figure) but they offer brown rice for any and all of their dishes! I looove brown rice sushi, especially when I have it in veggie rolls.

However, before (and after!) my treat of sushi (almost 3 meals in a row too!) I relied on very soft foods for sustenance, and by playing around with a couple of ingredients and flavours, I ate very well!

Would it be anti-nutritionist of me to admit to eating pudding for breakfast? I wound up alternating between two (chocolatey, of course!) concoctions for the most part, for both breakfasts and snacks when I wanted something a little different than applesauce. The first one I tried out was actually the result of an error I made when I was putting together my favourite ice cream base. In trying to be full of foresight pre-surgery, I made several batches of the base, but on the last go-round, I left out a portion of the liquids! I noticed the problem as I was scraping the mixture into a container (the scraping should have clued me in!) but I tasted it and found that the omission made the ice cream into a rather delicious pudding!

"Un-Wise" Chocolate Pudding
Serves 3 (about 1 cup/serving)
1 (12.3-oz) block Mori-Nu lite silken tofu
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tbsp vanilla
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2/3 cup Splenda*
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/3 cup chocolate Unsweetened Almond Breeze
1/3 cup cold brewed coffee substitute (like Teeccino)
*if you add sugar instead, add 511 calories and 132g carbohydrate to the total mixture (170.3 cal / 44g CHO per serving)
  1. In a food processor, combine tofu, sugar, and vanilla. Puree until smooth, scraping the processor sides as necessary.
  2. Whisk together cocoa, Splenda and salt, then add to the food processor.
  3. Pour in the Almond Breeze and coffee.
  4. Puree again until smooth and velvety.
  5. Chill before serving.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 135.2
Total Fat: 2.4 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 107.2 mg
Total Carbs: 30.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.0 g
Protein: 9.0

The other ridiculously good pudding I made as an emergency "oh-my-god-I-need-chocolate-NOW" fix was an adaptation of one of Angela's recipes on Oh She Glows. I had some chia seeds in my arsenal pantry for adding to my mom's weekly breads, and though I knew that they were nutritious (just check out Angela's write-up!), I realized just how important they are for anyone recovering from injury, surgery or other physical stressors! Chia seed is high in protein (18%) and calcium (6.3% - about 5-6x that of milk!), and since it was bone that was recovering from being shattered (not to mention I have osteoperosis), I figured that any help is good!

RESTipe for Repair
Serves 1, about 3/4 cup
2 tablespoons chia (Salba) seeds
1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla Almond Breeze, hot
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 tablespoon sweetener (I used sugar, but agave nectar, honey, etc. work well)
1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Combine chia seed, Almond Breeze and hot water in a bowl, mixing well.
  2. Stir in cocoa and sweetener until blended, then place into the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  3. If desired, heat in the microwave for 30 seconds - 1 minute before stirring in vanilla.
  4. Otherwise, add vanilla to cold pudding and enjoy right from the fridge (my fave way)!
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 140.2
Total Fat: 9.1 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 45.6 mg
Total Carbs: 18.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 11.1 g
Protein: 4.8 g

And finally, soup. Ah yes, the grand catch-all of the kitchen. Basically if you throw anything into a pot with a decent amount of liquid and cook it enough, anything can be slurped off a spoon and called soup! This is spicy - perfect for when you have an ice pack slapped to your face 20 hours a day - and I added a ton of garlic (yum!) because of it's antiseptic properties... plus the fact it just tastes darn good!

Black Bean Tamale Soup
Serves 2 very generously
½ large sweet onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 cups vegetable broth
1 ½ cups water
2 oz canned diced green chiles, drained
8 oz can salt-free tomato sauce
1 cup (about ½ a 19-oz can) cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup dry polenta
Zest of ½ lime
½ tbsp lime juice
  1. In a large pot over medium heat, saute onions in a splash of water for 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add garlic and continue to cook until onions are translucent and garlic is fragrant.
  3. Stir in chili powder, oregano and smoked paprika. Stir to completely combine.
  4. Add broth, water, chiles, tomato sauce and beans, stirring well.
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook over low for 15 minutes.
  6. If desired, transfer half of the mixture to a blender and puree before returning to the pot.
  7. Add ketchup, polenta and lime zest.
  8. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  9. Add lime juice and serve.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 264.0
Total Fat: 1.1 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 2,231.8 mg
Total Carbs: 52.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 11.0 g
Protein: 11.6 g

Have a happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, December 28, 2009

[Not] Miss Fogarty's Christmas Cake

There were plums and prunes and cherries,
There were citrons and raisins and cinnamon, too
There was nutmeg, cloves and berries
And a crust that was nailed on with glue
There were caraway seeds in abundance
Such that work up a fine stomach ache
That could kill a man twice after eating a slice
Of Miss Fogarty's Christmas cake.

I honestly think that my favourite song of the holiday season is Miss Fogarty's Christmas Cake - specifically the rendition done by Sharon, Lois and Bram. I think it stems back from my childhood Christmas Eves when my parents, my little sister (who was barely a year old when the special started running) and I would curl up on the couch in our PJs with hot chocolate, coffee and a big plate of shortbreads, and sing away to our hearts' content. As the years went by and the show finally wrapped and faded away, we still catch ourselves wishing that we had a DVD of the special (all I can find is VHS!).

My dad is still the only person I know of who openly admits he enjoys traditional fruitcake. I'm talking about the doorstop logs of way too colourful fruit and nut chunks held together by something more akin to paper mache paste than batter. He is also probably the world's biggest fan of mincemeat - every year my mom and I would use the scraps of dough from a day's worth of apple pies and re-work them into tart shells, filling them with a bottle of mincemeat from the grocery store and presenting them to my dad (setting a few aside for Santa, of course! It's become the tradition now for me to be the tart-baker, and because I'm crazy like that I make my own mincemeat for them too. Last year's batch even won me a contest! However, since we hardly had any tomatoes this year (let alone spare greenies!), I looked for another formula.

And as things go, I found not one but two projects when I started flipping through one of last year's bargain-book-bin finds: The Best of Food: Marion Kane's Favorite Recipes from the Toronto Star. A vegan mincemeat recipe was there, and looked wonderful in it's own right, but on the very next page was something called Cheater's Fruitcake. What made it a "cheat", I suppose, was the use of jarred mincemeat in place of the traditional mix of spices, fruit and vegetables you would normally add to the Christmas cake.So, if you think of it, I toiled for the mincemeat in order to cheat with the fruitcake!

And what a fruitcake this turned into: while most "large" creations of it's kind average around the 5 lb mark, mine topped out at just over 6! This gigantic spice, fruit and nut concoction took over my biggest (11 inch) springform pan (that's a Canadian dime in the above photo), and took well over two hours to bake. It is the heaviest single object I think I've ever made - and though I skipped the royal icing and marzipan (nobody in my family likes it!) I'm sure that that sucker will take a good 6 months or so to nibble through!

Of course, like with all good pie fillings, I wound up with much more mincemeat than I needed for the cake - but my efforts were graciously taken by a combination of my professors and a children's charity function that was taking donations. Next year I may well make extra and can it for later, since I'm sure my dad won't mind too much if I keep on the tradition.

Mizz Rs Big Bad Mincemeat
Makes 5 cups
2 tbsp canola oil
4 shallots, diced
1 cup shredded red cabbage
2 ripe pears, diced (skin on)
2 apples, diced (skin on)
1 cup sultana raisins
3/4 cup currants
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup 100% cranberry juice
juice of 2 oranges
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup spiced rum
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp blackstrap molasses
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 tbsp pine nuts
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup ground almonds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
  1. Heat canola oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Add shallots and cabbage, cook until very tender and fragrant, about 8-10 minutes.
  3. Stir in pears, apples, raisins, currants, dried cranberries, cranberry juice, orange juice and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, stirring.
  4. Reduce heat to a simmer, add rum, brown sugar, molasses, orange and lemon zests, ginger, walnuts, pine nuts, pecans and ground almonds.
  5. Cover and cook 20 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally.
  6. Stir in cinnamon and cloves, cook (uncovered) 10 minutes longer.
*You can can this for shelf storage or freeze for later use if desired*

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 534.0
Total Fat: 19.6 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 21.4 mg
Total Carbs: 85.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 7.2 g
Protein: 5.5 g

Mizz Rs Big Bad Christmas Cake
Serves 32, easy
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
360 g (12 oz) lowfat silken tofu, pureed
2 tbsp water
3/4 cup slivered almonds
3 apples, shredded
1/2 cup maraschino cherries
1 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup barley flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
2 tbsp cocoa
4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp Chinese 5 spice
1 tsp baking soda
3 cups of "Mizz R's Big Bad Mincemeat"
  1. Preheat oven to 275F, grease a 10" springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar and honey.
  3. Add tofu and water, blending well.
  4. Stir in almonds, apples and cherries.
  5. In another bowl combine the flours, cocoa powder, pumpkin pie spice, 5 spice and baking soda.
  6. Alternating with the mincemeat, stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture.
  7. Spread into the prepared pan, smoothing the top.
  8. Bake for 2 hours, then cover top with foil and continue baking another 30-40 minutes.
  9. Cool completely in the pan, then unmould and wrap in rum-soaked cheesecloth. Wrap again in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for 5-7 days, or freeze up to 3 months.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 173.1
Total Fat: 6.5 g
Cholesterol: 7.6 mg
Sodium: 34.8 mg
Total Carbs: 26.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.2 g
Protein: 3.3 g

Sunday, December 27, 2009

From Pallid Gold to Russet Royalty

These days our household's main cooking and eating focus has been all about using up the leftovers Remember my huge apple picking expedition back in October? Well, after eating, and eating (and eating!) more tiny Golden Russets than I care to remember, we still had ourselves a good lot of them sitting in our basement cantina. While they weren't moulding or even bruised, they were beginning to get a wee bit past their fresh-eating prime. Ironically, looking back on October's post, one of the first things I did with the bevy of Russets was to make the same thing I did to finish the harvest... butter!

Normally, Russets are not the first fruit that comes to mind when it comes to making any sort of smooth sauce or puree type of recipe. Aside from out-of-hand eating, usually the only thing that's universally reccommended for them is making cider. But you know what? I don't have a cider press hanging out in my garage (nor do I want to give my stepdad any more ideas - he just came home from Boxing Week sales with our *third* record turntable - and we don't use the other two!) and at the time I was working with all these babies I didn't even have a blender - that came to me Christmas morning! So it was either apple sauce or more apple muffins or cakes than our freezer and friends could ever take. Yeah... I thought sauce sounded good too.

This time, I was more invested in using up the near 2 1/2 lbs of apples we had laying around than in adding extras like sweet potatoes or other fruits (though come to think of it we have a good deal of frozen peaches sitting around right now!), so I went for purity. Even though apple butter sounds like a crazy intensive process - and it is if you make it the traditional way - I took Kevin's method of oven-roasting his way to applesauce and went a step further, returning the blended puree to the casserole dish and baking it down into a thick, caramelly velvet. A squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of cinnamon finished it off before I spooned the slightly cooled spread into a clean jar and stuck it into the fridge. Of course, you can add sugar, maple syrup, honey or whatever you wish to your mixture... or even go whole hog and can the results. For me, though, the two cups this made were not worth the canning process - especially since the jar would just get opened that night!

Roasted Apple Butter
Makes about 2 cups
2 lbs 5 oz (1050g) apples (any kind), peels left on, chopped roughly
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar or sweetener**
**Add 104 calories and 27g carbs per cup of apple butter if you add sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Toss apples and lemon juice in a large casserole dish.
  3. Cover and roast for 2 hours, until apples are extremely soft.
  4. Allow to cool slightly, then add apples and any liquid to a food processor and puree completely, making sure peels are finely ground.
  5. Stir in cinnamon and sweetener (if using), add back to the casserole dish.
  6. Re-cover and bake another 1 1/2 hours, then remove the lid and bake a further 30-40 minutes, until dark brown and very thick.
  7. Store in a jar in the fridge for up to 3 weeks or freeze up to 6 months.
Amount Per Cup
Calories: 309.8
Total Fat: 1.9 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 0.0 mg
Total Carbs: 83.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 14.2 g
Protein: 1.0 g

Saturday, December 26, 2009


So, did we all survive the torture Hell festivities of the past few days? Hanukkah, Eid, Divali, Solstice and Christmas are over and done with for another year, while Kwanzaa is just beginning and the holy day of Ashura is tomorrow. The holidays are always a fairly rough time for me physically as well as emotionally, but with the support of my friends who are able and willing to lend a (virtual) ear and shoulder to cry on if I need it I'm glad to say I made it through another round!

I don't mind telling you all this now, and hopefully you don't mind knowing, but over the past year I've been working with a therapist to address several anxiety and depression related issues I have. It's been by far one of the greatest things to have happened to me since falling ill, and regardless of the stigma that comes with the "mental help" I'm seeking, I know I am the better for it! My counsellor, as an added bonus, is a bona fide foodie in his own right, and more often than not my counselling sessions become more rounds of "brain dumping" - I always leave there feeling about 20 times lighter than when I went in! Of course we talk about "serious" stuff too, but the fact that there's a shrink out there that's even in the same stratosphere as me is a total plus!

We also share another common link - J.R. (the counsellor) and I - food allergies! While my interest is purely selfish, seeing as I'm the only one in my immediate family with them (excepting my sister's apparent problem with something in cured ham), J.R.'s adult son was just diagnosed with four serious food allergy triggers to common items... dairy, tree nuts, peanuts and soy. They're coping extremely well (mostly) on their own, really, but while the dairy, tree nuts and peanuts have become fairly easy to avoid commercially or replace in home baking, the soy has proven to be more of a challenge. Soy is everywhere in prepared products - canned soup and processed cheese products as a thickener or texturizing agent, as the shortening in pastry crusts and cookies, even some cereals have soy protein in them thanks to their "fortification". The real kicker for this guy though is his sweet tooth. J.R. jr. (for lack of a better name!) apparently has a penchant for dark chocolate - not a problem with just the dairy and nut allergies, but soy lethicin is used in almost every chocolate bar product as an emulsifier. Aside from a very select handful of companies making dairy and soy free chocolates (mostly web-based), the only solid form I've found that's soy free is Baker's Unsweetened blocks.

When I heard about the allergy saga from J.R., I immediately became consumed with figuring out a rich, somewhat sinful chocolate treat that his son could eat safely. Butter, coconut oil and shortening were on the no-no list obviously, as was my usual go-to egg replacer of silken tofu. Now, his son can eat eggs, but I try to avoid them in my baking because my family goes through a carton of 18 a week without any baking, and I don't want to leave them in a lurch by using 4 of them in a brownie recipe! However, I found the inspiration for my answer in the pages of Lindsay's blog Happy Herbivore, where she wrote about her version of the (now infamous) black bean brownies! Having already made her recipe verbatim twice before (and oh my God is it delicious!), I brought some of the goodies in to be "judged" before Christmas. While they were rated as delicious by both J.R. and his son, his daughter didn't like the banana flavour, and they all thought the chocolate could be a bit more pronounced. Nobody knew about the beans, though, and they never suspected it either (though I did let J.R. in on it when I gave him the tweaked recipe!).

So while enjoying one of Lindsay's originals myself (actually, I realized later that I doubled the cocoa in hers as well by accident!), I set about re-writing the formula for their tastes. First, I doubled the recipe to make a 9x13" pan, then doubled the cocoa powder again (I used an extra dark kind too) to make a total 1 cup of it. Then, for even more chocolate (because really, how could you not?) I tossed in a couple soy-safe unsweetened blocks of solid chocolate, and amped up the richness with coffee. What would have equated to eight eggs in the doubled recipe (four bananas) became a rather interesting blend of ingredients, though. I did add a single banana (unripe though, to give the "body" but not the flavour), but then I used a helping of home made apple butter to replace another egg, and two "flax eggs" as well. Finally, just to be on the "safe" side, I added a real egg. Thankfully, he's not allergic to those, so at least I did have the option! Having run out of my tiny bottle of agave nectar, I used honey, which worked out fine too.

The result? Well, it wasn't a HH creation for sure, but it was definitely welcomed by the recipients - sometimes we all need is a little bit of sugar in our lives!

J.R. Jr.'s Brownie Bars
Serves 24
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/3 cup hot coffee
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
3 3/4 cups cooked black beans
1 banana
1/3 cup apple butter
1 egg
1/2 cup honey
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup dark cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
2 oz rolled oats (I used certified GF oats, you can use instant too - 2 packets)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F, line a 9x13" pan with parchment and lightly grease.
  2. Whisk together the flaxseed and coffee, let stand 5 minutes.
  3. Combine all the ingredients, except the oatmeal, in a food processor.
  4. Blend until completely smooth, scraping the sides of the processor as needed.
  5. Pulse in the oatmeal.
  6. Bake 35-40 minutes.
  7. Chill in the fridge before slicing for best results. 
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 125.5
Total Fat: 2.4 g
Cholesterol: 8.9 mg
Sodium: 31.3 mg
Total Carbs: 25.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.5 g
Protein: 4.2 g

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Naughty...

So, I'm slowly crawling me way back to the world of solid food (and actual sensical presence!) after my adventures in the dentist's chair! Yes, the wisdom teeth are gone, replaced by a golf ball's worth of swelling and a face that looks like I lost a fight with an ink stamp pad. The posting for the next little while will still remain short and sweet though, due to both my continuing recovery and the fact that our oven and fridge are now chock-full of food for tomorrow's Italian Feast and of course our fabulous Christmas Morning Brunch!
So even though I missed the last round up of Susan's Christmas Cookie roundup this year, I still have a few goodies left to whet your chocolate appetite after the turkey and stuffing daze has worn off. Two of the recipes I will share today - one primed for Bell' Alimento's Nutella Challenge, and one on the slightly more virtuous side of things!

I had seen the basic recipe for these Nutella cookies on Canadian Living's website last month and knew that I had to make them for my mom's office swap. There’s no getting around the sugar attack with these cookies... between the Nutella and the three kinds of baking chips, you might need an extra large glass of milk (or a Nutella milkshake?) for these!

Triple Chip Nutella Cookies
60 cookies
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp cold water
1 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (i.e. Nutella)
½ cup light cream cheese
¼ cup shortening
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup white chocolate chips
½ cup butterscotch chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
  2. Whisk together cornstarch and cold water, set aside.
  3. Beat together hazelnut spread, cream cheese, shortening and sugar until fluffy.
  4. Beat in cornstarch mixture, egg, and vanilla.
  5. Stir together flours, baking soda and salt in separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to egg mixture and mix until combined. Stir in all the baking chips.
  6. Drop spoonfuls at least 2” apart onto prepared baking sheets.
  7. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 97.6
Total Fat: 4.6 g
Cholesterol: 4.8 mg
Sodium: 12.5 mg
Total Carbs: 13.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.7 g
Protein: 1.7 g

I can't remember who or what pointed me to these next delicious morsels I found on Danielle's blog Delightfully Sweet, but when I found myself with not only fat free sour cream and egg whites to use up after a bevy of shortbread baking I finally had an excuse to try them out! Like anything containing both chocolate and coffee, these went like wildfire at the office and school. Hey, is there a better excuse to wish for a "lump of coal" this year?

Lumps of Coal
Makes 30
2.5 oz (1/3 cup) butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
2/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (about 2) egg whites
1/3 cup fat free sour cream or yogurt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar (you won't use it all but it's helpful to have more!)
  1. Heat oven to 350F, line baking sheets with parchment.
  2. Cream butter and brown sugar in a large bowl.
  3. Add vanilla, cocoa powder, espresso powder and baking soda and beat until well combined.
  4. Mix in egg whites and sour cream until combined.
  5. By hand, stir in the flour.
  6. Place powdered sugar in a shallow dish.
  7. Drop balls of dough into sugar, and roll into balls.
  8. Place coated balls 2" apart on sheets.
  9. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm.
  10. Cool for 5 minutes on sheets, then move cookies to wire racks and cool.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 84.1
Total Fat: 2.4 g
Cholesterol: 5.7 mg
Sodium: 23.3 mg
Total Carbs: 15.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.8 g
Protein: 1.4

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Jumping the Shark

When I was in media studies classes back in highschool, I was introduced (or rather, re-introduced) to the concept of TV shows and ideas that had overstayed their welcome in the mainstream avenues of media. Those that fell into the "death category" were known to have "jumped the shark" - an odd term still, and not one that I really have a viable background for in terms of it's introduction in modern vocabulary. Regardless of where the term came from, the amount of current TV shows, movies and even ad concepts that have become synonomous with "overplaying" are ever-growing, and the reason for that is simple: repetition is cheap and easy, and the public is so used to the same plots re-branded 47 ways from Sunday that there is no real risk involved in the practice.

So what does this have to do with me? Well, as I'm sure you've seen on this blog every December I too have fallen into the habit of repetition. Not duplicate postings, per se, but several variations on a theme - the theme of cookies. I know it's probably getting tiresome to read entry after entry of Christmas treats, and I promise, I am almost done - provided that I can keep my butt out of the sweet kitchen the rest of the year! Luckily for my family (and for you, if you are getting sick of the whole cookie thing here!), I will be more or less out of commission for the rest of 2009. Tomorrow is Wisdom Tooth day for me, involving a fairly intensive triple-impaction removal(!) so in between doses of T3' s I'll be nursing soups (inspired by recipes found across the blog-o-sphere) that I'm teaching my Mom how to make tomorrow. With luck, the fact I won't be cooking all that much means I can catch up on half a month's worth of backlog! Or I'll be asleep. Whatever!

So these three cookie recipes I'm sharing today are some of my favourites from this "December of a thousand doughs". All of them in one way, shape or form have an element that is pretty well overdone in the culinary field, but nonetheless they are all worth a nibble and a space on Santa's goodie plate Christmas Eve!

For instance, these cookies were actually the second ones I began devising a recipe for this year, around the same time I started working on Bon's Thin Mints. I happen to know of a few local fiends of smoky flavour, you see, and I had been dying to try and incorporate my newly found smoked sea salt (which I had been looking for - preferably cheap - since spying a tempting recipe of Very Small Anna's) into a sweet application. I always loved the whole sweet/salty/smoky combination. As a kid, you could bet that if I had bacon at the Golden Griddle's Sunday brunch, it would be doused in syrup! I know that now anything and everything "bacon" is so prevalent it's almost passe, but I had to try - and instead of maple syrup, I switched up my standard oatmeal cookie dough with toffee pieces and butterscotch chips mingling with liquid smoke and the aforementioned salt. I would have added some bacon bits too - but it would have been overkill even for the guys, not to mention I had none on hand!

Smoky Oatmeal Toffee Cookies
Makes 3 dozen
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
¼ cup hot water
¾ cup shortening
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp liquid smoke (one shake of the bottle)
1 cup flour
2 tbsp mesquite flour (optional)
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp smoked salt
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup toffee baking bits
1/3 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F, lightly grease baking sheets with nonstick spray or line with parchment.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flaxseed and hot water, set aside.
  3. Cream shortening and sugars until fluffy.
  4. Add flaxseed mixture, milk, vanilla and liquid smoke, blending well.
  5. In another bowl, whisk flour(s), baking soda and smoked salt.
  6. Beat into the creamed mixture until smooth.
  7. By hand, fold in oats, toffee pieces and nuts.
  8. Bake 12 minutes.
  9. Cool 2 minutes on baking sheet, then move to a wire rack to cool.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 157.1
Total Fat: 9.0 g
Cholesterol: 5.4 mg
Sodium: 89.2 mg
Total Carbs: 17.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.3 g
Protein: 2.2 g

For these next oatmeal-based treats of mine, well there's no escaping it... they are filled with all that "ancient grains" crap that's incorporated into everything these days. So yes, the ingredient list is long-winded and rather complex looking - blame the plethora of different grains and seeds that go into them! Luckily, all the nuts, grains and seeds add a touch of crunch and a whole other texture to what would otherwise be a traditional oatmeal cookie, and the added nutrition means that you can snack on a few while wrapping gifts and you can avoid the diet police. In theory!

SuperGrain Cookies with Nuts and Fruit
Makes about 48
½ cup raisins
½ cup diced dates
3 tbsp ground flaxseed
¼ cup hot water
¾ cup all purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
½ cup butter (I used salted), softened
¼ cup shortening
¾ cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp maple extract
2 ¼ cups rolled oats (not instant)
½ cup chopped nuts
2 ½ oz corn germ
1 oz poppy seeds
1 oz white sesame seeds
1 oz black sesame seeds
½ oz flax seeds
1 ½ oz amaranth grain

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Place raisins and dates in a small bowl, cover with boiling water. Let stand 30 minutes, then drain and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together flaxseed and hot water, set aside.
  4. In another bowl, whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, cream together butter, shortening and sugars until light.
  6. Beat in flaxseed mixture, followed by the vanilla and maple extract.
  7. Gently stir in flour mixture, followed by oats, nuts, corn germ, seeds, amaranth and the soaked fruit.
  8. Bake for 12-14 minutes.
  9. Let cool on a baking sheet for 5-6 minutes, move to a wire rack to cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 120.1
Total Fat: 5.2 g
Cholesterol: 5.1 mg
Sodium: 54.9 mg
Total Carbs: 17.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.6 g
Protein: 2.1 g

Last but not least are these oatmeal drops that I made after watching one of my professors at school struggle with her pregnancy-related nausea - considering that it was a kitchen lab class, I felt for her... it's hard to evaluate your students if the smells and sights of the product make you want to hurl! I adapted the recipe minimally from yet another Baking Bites cookie creation, and I have to say I'm really pleased with how these baked, and more so after chilling the dough in the fridge for a day!

Double – Ginger Oatmeal Cookies
Makes 3 dozen
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
¼ cup hot water
¾ cup all purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
1 tsp ground ginger
¾ cup butter (I used salted), softened
1 cup sugar
½ cup Demerara sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 ½ cups rolled oats (not instant)

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flaxseed and hot water, set aside.
  3. In another bowl, whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and ginger. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars until light.
  5. Beat in egg and flaxseed mixture, followed by the vanilla and fresh ginger.
  6. Gently stir in flour mixture, followed by oats.
  7. Bake for 12-14 minutes.
  8. Let cool on a baking sheet for 5-6 minutes, move to a wire rack to cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 106.4
Total Fat: 4.5 g
Cholesterol: 16.1 mg
Sodium: 86.3 mg
Total Carbs: 15.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.0 g
Protein: 1.7 g

Friday, December 18, 2009

Making a [Thin] Mint

I've never been much of a team player. Even as a kid, I was never the type to really dive into group activities, from abandoning dance troupe (I backed out of the final performance) to half-assing my way through a year of soccer because my mom told me I wasn't allowed to quit. I flat-out refused to join Brownies or Girl Guides, even though my two best friends in the neighbourhood kept asking me along. Nope, if I was going to do anything, you can bet it was going to be on my own. Call it OCD, vanity, antisocial personality, or even shyness (I had (have) any and all combinations of those!), but it's been my experience that if it's worth my time and effort into doing at all, I'm doing it right. And God help anyone who gets in my way!
And then I wonder why I don't have many friends! Ah well - those that can put up with my eccentricities and periods of total "world avoidance" while still managing to show an interest in my life (not an easy task, to be sure!) form one of the most wonderful elements of my existence. It's not a walk in the park to be friends with me, but each and every person who does is wonderful for giving it a go! Often I have no idea how to even begin reciprocating the gifts I feel that I've recieved from those around me, and the only thing I really feel confident in most days is baking. As a result, most of my poor friends (especially my like-minded foodie friends who do enough baking of their own!) wind up with bags and boxes of everything under the sun that they then have to deal with!

At least with Christmas drawing near I have a little bit more of an excuse to bake, and because all my indended recipients of treats this year gave me so many different inspirations I wound up making essentially one type of cookie per person. For Bon (of BonEats), I knew exactly what I would be making for her Christmas goodie bag - and I had actually been planning her cookies since mid-August! The only reason for that (and no, I'm not a stalker!) was because when we, along with Joel, were traipsing around Toronto's St. Lawrence Market, the talk turned to "the good old days" and how so many things we remembered as kids tasted so different (and even bad) now! One of the sticking points with Bon and I for sure was the memory of the Girl Guide Thin Mint cookies - crispy(ish) dark chocolate wafer cookie with a definite hit of peppermint, drenched in more minty chocolate and packaged 47 gazillion to a box at about 500 calories and 27 grams of trans fat per serving*... and worth every sinful bite. After their formula changed to ban the evils of trans-fats (along with everything else in this world - including my mom's gripe of Crisco shortening!) the texture and taste shifted too - subtly, but enough for us die hards to notice. My mom was a lover of the original TMs too, but after one fateful year of the "cardboard cookies" they've disappeared from our house for good. *Note: these figures are totally and completely made up. I have no idea what the NI is for them!

Until now. I'm sure most of you have seen one variation or another of a "Home Made Thin Mint"  recipe - God knows there's enough of them out there these days - but I began working with this one of Nicole's from Baking Bites, tweaking it to get the mixture from essentially sand to a respectable dough with the gratuitous addition of a vodka and creme de menthe cocktail (thanks to Joel for reminding me of the whole alcohol =/= gluten thing!), tripling the peppermint extract in the dough itself and changing the coating completely to not only set up firm at room temperature, but have an extra punch of mint from peppermint oil!

Ho. Lee. Cow. Did these smell awesome. From the time the dough came together, through slicing the frozen rolls into coins, through baking (twice - I did these biscotti-style because I fell asleep and didn't coat them the day I made them and they softened a little bit) and finally enrobing them in bittersweet, super-minty goodness, it was only because I knew I'd regret it sorely if I did that I was able to prevent myself from eating most of the batch. But that didn't stop my mom from stealing 2 or 3 of the first ones I coated and declaring them better than the boxed!

So, think I qualify for my cookie badge now? There are plenty other sweet holiday treats at Susan's Eat Christmas Cookies roundup to check out too!

Home Made Thin Mints
Makes about 40
2 cups all purpose flour
¼ cup sweet rice flour
7 tbsp unsweetened dark cocoa powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup butter, room temperature
2 tbsp shortening
1 cup white sugar
¼ cup milk
3 tbsp vodka
2 tbsp creme de menthe liqueur
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp peppermint extract
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together flours, cocoa powder and salt.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together butter, shortening and sugar.
  3. Add milk, vodka, creme de menthe and extracts. The mixture will look curdled.
  4. Gradually, add in the flour mixture until fully incorporated.
  5. Shape dough into two logs, about 1 ½” in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 1-2 hours, until dough is very firm.
  6. Preheat oven to 375F, line baking sheets with parchment or silicone.
  7. Slice dough into rounds not more than ¼” thick – otherwise will not be crisp.
  8. Place on the sheets fairly close together – they don’t spread that much.
  9. Bake for 11-13 minutes.
  10. Cool cookies completely on a wire rack before dipping in chocolate.
Dark Chocolate Coating
10 oz dark or semisweet chocolate
1 tbsp shortening
½ tsp peppermint oil (make sure it is an oil-based product, like for candy making, otherwise the chocolate will seize - I used LorAnn's)
  1. Combine chocolate and shortening in a double boiler over simmering water.
  2. Melt until chocolate is smooth. Stir in the extract.
  3. Dip each cookie in melted chocolate and transfer to a wire rack set over a piece of wax paper to set up for at least 30 minutes – 1 hour.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 116.2
Total Fat: 5.6 g
Cholesterol: 6.2 mg
Sodium: 18.2 mg
Total Carbs: 15.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.9 g
Protein: 1.3 g

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cookies for a Cause

As fun as it may be for me to make, bake and give away batch after batch of cookies during the month of December, we unfailingly always seem to wind up with more than our fair share of the goodies in our cookie tins! Seeing as I tend to use the kitchen as both my personal psychiatrist's office and a "cabin fever" cure, I always ramp up the baking action during the last "crunch" of the school year and into exam week, counterintuitive as it may seem. According to the rest of the family, though, I rarely have a good reason for making the plethora of treats I do during the season - due to the "weird" read: unique, original, out-of-the-box, etc. nature almost nothing I make anytime during the year finds a home in the bellies of my family! The only treats that are eaten here (save for my mom's weekly breads, which she bravely takes for lunch) are what I term the boring ones... plain-jane chocolate chip cookies, box-mix chocolate cake, and occasionally a muffin or two if I can convince my sister they're the "normal" kind! For Christmas eve this year (co-inciding with my stepdad's birthday) I scaled way back on what I planned... partially because I will be more or less out of commission after some dental surgery (I will be a Christmas chipmunk! Aaaalllvin!!!) and partially due to the lackluster reception my Candied Chestnut Cheesecake got last year from the attendees at dinner and thereafter. Luckily I did get to secure some breadmaking duties which includes making something I've never tried before... ciabbatta... and a sourdough one (with luck) at that!

This year, though, thanks to the amazing organization and thoughtfulness of fellow foodies Andrea Chiu and Suresh Doss, my extra cookies have found a home... and helped out some others along the way! Starting as a tiny, Twitter-based event, FoodieMeet quickly blossomed into a program that those "in the know" could look forward to regularly. Most recently they hosted a huge bake-off and tasting session benefiting a local food outreach centre known as The Stop - calling out to anyone who cared to try their luck and bring some sugar to the party! Now, I missed the boat on this one - I was a little slow off the draw with this event - but two of my favourite local food bloggers (Joel and Bonnie) took part and by the looks of things had a blast! You can bet next year I will be right there next to them, covered in flour and sugar with the best!

So what does this have to do with me? Well, I had been talking with Joel about the fundraising that Foodie Meet had planned, along with the potential price he could levy on his awesome cookies (I highly reccommend the Pig Candy of you like bacon!), and I was whining that I had missed out on the fun. Well, turns out that my cookies would be able to find a home with his donations! I added not one, but two kinds of my Christmas cookies to his donation - some "Deliciously Chewy Double Chip Cookies" and my personal favourites from this year - "Red Wine and Espresso Bean Cookies" (which I adapted from Cookie Madness)!

Of course, these will both be shared with Eat Christmas Cookies at FoodBlogga as well... and definitely take a look at the worldwide goodies on her roundup!

Deliciously Chewy Double-Chip Cookies
Makes 30 big cookies
2 cups (200 g) flour
1 ½ cups (130 g) Kamut flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
¾ cup (165 g) shortening
¼ cup (60 g) light cream cheese
1 cup (200 g) brown sugar
½ cup (100 g) Demerara sugar
½ cup (95 g) white sugar
1 tbsp corn syrup
1 tbsp egg replacer powder, prepared according to directions (or 2 eggs, beaten)
1 ½ tbsp vanilla
1 cup (185 g) chocolate chips
¾ cup (135 g) white chocolate chips
Preheat an oven to 300 F.

  1. Whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream shortening, cream cheese, both sugars and corn syrup.
  3. Add the egg and vanilla, blending well.
  4. Mix in the flour mixture until just incorporated, then fold in the chocolate chips, coconut and oats.
  5. Portion dough into roughly 2-tbsp sized balls. Flatten on ungreased sheets (though it’s useful to line with parchment!) to about ¼” thick.
  6. Bake 17 minutes. Allow to cool completely on the sheets.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 207.4
Total Fat: 8.9 g
Cholesterol: 4.6 mg
Sodium: 16.0 mg
Total Carbs: 28.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.7 g
Protein: 1.6 g

Red Wine and Espresso Bean Cookies
Makes about 20
¾ cup (98 g) flour
1/3 cup (33 g) dark cocoa powder
½ tsp salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup (55 g) shortening
6 ½ tbsp (77 g) sugar
¼ cup (50 g) packed brown sugar
1 tsp egg replacer powder, prepared according to package (or 1 egg white)
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup dry red wine (I used Merlot)
2/3 cup (118 g) miniature chocolate chips
½ cup (100g) chocolate covered espresso beans
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F, line baking sheets with parchment or silicone.
  2. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream shortening and sugars.
  4. Add egg replacer, vanilla and wine, beating well.
  5. Stir in the flour mixture, then chocolate and espresso beans.
  6. Space 2” apart on sheets.
  7. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Cool 10 minutes on sheets, then remove to a wire rack.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 115.3
Total Fat: 5.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 3.3 mg
Total Carbs: 16.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.1 g
Protein: 1.3 g

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Good Enough" Brownies

If I'm guilty of anything, it's probably of trying to do too much at once - usually in some harebrained scheme to please everyone at the same time and failing miserably in the attempt (the proverbial "eggs in one basket" phenomenon if you will). This past semester at school was a pretty stark reminder of that fact: I eventually wound up sacrificing my personal whims and standards of a 90% GPA to preserve my overall health. While it seems like such a no-brainer (even to me, after the fact!), it really was hard for me to come to terms with just "getting by". Even Christmas this year seems like the trial of all trials - and it's only one bloody day!

We had a mandatory "class party" and group marking session for my Facility Planning class last week, where not only did us students have to contribute to the potluck table, but we were expected to find ways of criticizing our comrades' hours of hard work in the span of about 15 minutes. All I can say is that I am LUCKY to have the amazingly kind and generous friends and classmates I do! If it wasn't for them, the 60 hours I plugged into my own work would have returned nothing but a failing mark (41%!). Thanks to them, though, I scored a still low (but decent!) 59%. I'll take it, I don't care! Nobody knows what the heck is going to happen with any of us next term though, now that we've seen our schedules: with three class days running late at night (and one until 9:30!), something tells me the standards are going to drop to a "will I pass this course" as opposed to a "will I succeed in this course". Time will tell!

My offering to the potluck shindig were these triple-chocolate, ultra rich brownies. I affectionately refer to them as my "Floorplan Brownies", but really... they are a gazillion times easier to put together and way more rewarding! They are nothing short of insane on the richness scale, and are basically fudge with a hint of flour and chew instead of the "crumble/melt" texture the candy has. I hope you give these a go - and check out the other goodies at Susan's Eat Christmas Cookies Event too!

Floorplan Brownies
Makes 32
¾ cup salted butter
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
300g silken tofu
1 tbsp vanilla
½ cup dark cocoa
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup flour
½ cup sweet rice flour
1 cup jumbo semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the bottom only of a 9″ x 13″ pan.
  2. In a saucepan set over low heat, melt butter and chocolate.
  3. Add sugars, stirring well to combine. Return the mixture to the heat briefly, until warm and shiny but not bubbling.
  4. Meanwhile, puree tofu with vanilla, cocoa, and salt. Add the hot butter and sugar mixture, stirring until smooth.
  5. Sift together baking powder and flours in a small bowl, then stir into the tofu mixture.
  6. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  7. Bake 30 minutes, then chill completely before cutting.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 164.8
Total Fat: 8.3 g
Cholesterol: 11.4 mg
Sodium: 35.6 mg
Total Carbs: 23.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.5 g
Protein: 2.0 g