Saturday, October 31, 2009

Black [Sesame] Magic

Happy Hallowe'en, everyone! I hope your evenings were safe and fun, and if you have children that did the rounds tonight that they didn't get blown away by the gales storming outside!

I never cease to be amazed by the imaginations of the food bloggers around the world that I have the fortune of keeping up with. From new marketplaces and restaurants, to unique ingredients, to whole other worlds of cuisine that I never thought of before, my eyes are constantly being drawn to article after article - and my "ideas book" is filling up faster than I can cross off the entries! I'm not complaining in the least though. Who else can sit in an otherwise dry and dull three-hour lecture and pipe up every three minutes with a new fact to build or contradict the prescribed material? While I may be a bit of a shit disturber (if you'll pardon the term) in class, I also am able to lay claim to re-igniting the passion of some of my teachers who otherwise only re-hashed material they learned in the same program only a few years before at my college! I enjoy being able to share whatever bits of knowledge I can, to whomever will listen (or at least put up with me)... especially when it comes from people all around the world!

These cupcakes are an example of the power of other cooks have over my imagination, and also of how a good idea is always worth making your own! Carrie, who writes an incredible blog you may know as Fields of Cake and Other Good Stuff, posted an entry way back in March to the Iron Cupcake event for a goody akin to the Vosges Black Pearl Bar - a Dark Chocolate Sesame Wasabi Cupcake. Now, if you know me and my love for all things wasabi, you know this would be a shoo-in for my favourites list on any normal occasion. But as luck would have it (of course!) it's also full of all the kinds of goodies I can't enjoy - eggs, dairy, and the critical ingredient sesame oil! Not to mention that the process of brittle- ganache- and buttercream-making scared the jeepers out of me (particularly the brittle... hot sugar + me are not a happy pair!). But I knew people who would love eating the cupcakes as much as I would love making them... and cupcakes, I could make. I can do cake with my eyes closed (most of the time!). Perhaps later, when time, money for butter and cream (and good chocolate!), and bravery are on my side, I will put everything together like Carrie did and it might just look half as good! For now, I settled on veganizing her creation, and I was very pleased with it! Not oily at all like I worried, and just aromatic enough without taking over the luscious chocolate flavour.

Without the embellishments of the original recipe, the cupcakes themselves seemed kind of... plain. Not boring, really (because who else puts such a decadent, aromatic and flavour packed oil in a dark chocolate cupcake?), but not really wow worthy. Enter my good pal and fellow foodie Joel (AKA the Foodie411) with his recipe for Manda Muffins, and newly-proclaimed love for black sesame seeds! Perfect. They would be the smile-marring ninjas of my recipe... I'm not mean enough to go through with my initial plan of a heaping spoonful of wasabi powder, but this addition worked nicely. Mind you... I still have some ancho paste hanging around in my fridge...

Double - Dark Chocolate Sesame Cakes
Makes 24
1 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
5 oz low-fat silken tofu, pureed
1 cup cooled, strong coffee
1 cup fat free soymilk
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup toasted sesame seed oil
3 tbsp black sesame seeds, toasted
  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. Make a well in the center and pour in the tofu, coffee, soymilk, lemon juice and oil.
  4. Stir until smooth, then mix in the sesame seeds.
  5. Spoon the batter into prepared cups, dividing evenly.
  6. Bake 25 minutes.
  7. Cool in the pan set over a wire rack for 20 minutes, then unmould and cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 126.2
Total Fat: 5.7 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 11.5 mg
Total Carbs: 18.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.8 g
Protein: 2.6 g

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pimpin' the Pumpkin

Well, it's finally arrived - the eve pumpkins all around the world fear from when they're nothing but flower buds on the vine! It's the night before Hallowe'en, and here, it's when everyone in my household crowds around our kitchen table, and armed with a variety of somewhat battered, tarnished knives (and sometimes a pasta spoon or two for the really thick-walled ones) we proceed to inflict massive carnage upon the poor orange vegetables.

Of course, pumpkins don't just exist around here for carving into various miscreants - though if you are my sister, you delight in that sort of thing... this year was "attack of the zombie" themed. In the kitchen, at least, I embrace this time of year by cranking up the oven for a good week or so to churn out anything my wee brain (and even wee-er muscles) can handle. So in the spirit of All Hallows Eve, Samhain, and good old candy-grabbin' Hallowe'en, I've got three recipes - yup, a whole THREE of 'em - for you! Of course with cans of pumpkin puree lining the shelves (pumpkin shortage? Apparently our shops didn't get that memo!) it's just as simple to make these same things in the middle of May. It just might not feel the same to eat them with a glass of iced tea than with some hot mulled cider!

The first thing I whipped up was (suprise, suprise) a quickbread of sorts - subtly spiced, with a hint of fruity sweetness from both banana and pockets of dates and raisins! I added some rich, toasted pecans to the batter too, and taking a cue from a recipe in Cooking Light I even added cornmeal with my usual psyllium husk "spike" for some added texture.

Banana - Pumpkin Loaf With Dried Fruits And Pecans
Serves 12
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup psyllium
1 cup cornmeal
2 tsp powder
2 tsp soda
1/2 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp salt
1 banana
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 cup soy milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
80g dates
85g raisins
100g chopped pecans

  1. Heat oven to 350ยบ F, and grease a loaf pan.
  2. Whisk together the flour, psyllium fibre, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, pie spice and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. In a large bowl, mash together the banana and pumpkin puree, then stir in soy milk, oil and brown sugar until well blended.
  4. Stir in the dry mixture until just combined, then fold in the dates, raisins and pecans.
  5. Bake 50 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in the pan before turning onto a wire rack and cooling completely.
Amount Per Serving

Calories: 268.8
Total Fat: 11.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 61.3 mg
Total Carbs: 40.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.2 g
Protein: 4.0 g

Of course, I couldn't do just one loaf - they're so easy to whip together and they are such a great use-up for random ingredients, after all! Since everyone in our house has had the flu at least once so far (with the exception of my stepbrother, who seems to be irritatingly immune to such things) we have a good deal of ginger and related gingery things stashed around our house. This includes a rather embarassingly large amount of ginger ale, which luckily for me works great as a sweet replacement for beer in a traditional "beer bread" type of concoction like the one I made from my mom's old, 25-cent "Bread Book". Instead of 1/2 a cup of melted butter in the recipe, I used the same amount of pumpkin, and added a couple tablespoons of oil for a bit more lightness to the texture. The resulting loaf was quite cakey due to the soda content but not at all cloyingly sweet, it was actually used as a lunch side for my mom and stepdad.

Ginger Ale Pumpkin Bread
Serves 10
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 1/2 cups ginger ale (not diet)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease a 9×5" loaf pan.
  2. Whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together oil, brown sugar, pumpkin and fresh ginger.
  4. Add the flour mixture and stir briefly, then pour in the ginger ale and mix until just combined.
  5. Bake 55-60 minutes, until tests done. Cool 10 minutes in pan before unmoulding onto a rack and cooling completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 206.2
Total Fat: 4.7 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 6.4 mg
Total Carbs: 37.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.5 g
Protein: 4.4 g

The only "problem" (and I put it in quotes because it's only a problem if you make it one!) that seems to always arise around here when making anything from a can is the inevitable tablespoon or two left over that the recipe beforehand simply refused to take into account. What the heck are we supposed to do with such a teeny bit of anything, let alone plain ol' canned pumpkin? Well, luckily I happened upon Stef's recipe at Cupcake Project for Pumpkin Graham Crackers, which lo and behold use those last 2 tablespoons up! Not having the graham flour called for in her recipe, though, I ad-libbed a blend of whole wheat flour and spelt bran (you can certainly use wheat or oat bran too), which worked perfectly fine for me. It's not vegan, since I still used honey in the dough for the whole traditional "grahamy" flavour, but if you want to veganize it I'm sure agave, light molasses or even corn syrup would work just fine!

Jolly Roger Pumpkin Grahams
Makes 36 squares, though I cut some of mine into Jolly Rogers!
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup wheat or spelt bran
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
1 oz Earth Balance "Buttery Sticks" margarine (or butter), softened
2 tbsp pumpkin puree
6 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup honey
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, place 2 cookie sheets in the freezer to chill.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, bran, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, salt and flaxseed. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together the cornstarch and cold water in a small dish, set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream the Earth Balance, pumpkin, and sugar.
  5. Add the cornstarch mixture and the honey, stirring well.
  6. Add the flour mixture, blending thoroughly. The dough should be fairly stiff (at least manageable).
  7. On a well floured surface, roll the dough to about 1/8".
  8. Cut out squares (or other shapes) and place on the cold, ungreased cookie sheets.
  9. Bake 15 minutes.
  10. Remove from the oven and cool completely on the sheets set on racks. They will harden as they cool.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 47.2
Total Fat: 0.8 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 9.0 mg
Total Carbs: 9.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.8 g
Protein: 1.0 g

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


These cookies deserve an entrance. Not only are they huge frisbees of sweet, rich chocolately delerium, but they're made with hardly any flour - full instead of coconut, chocolate chips, cocoa, and of course the legally death-defying narcotic that is Nutella! I based this recipe off of one of my standard peanut butter chocolate chip cookie formulas, tweaking the sugar a bit to compensate for the sticky sweetness of the chocolate-hazelnut spread, and added in a touch of unsweetened cocoa powder and a handful of shredded, toasted coconut for good measure. With such a "small" bowl of cookie dough to play with (I had to cut the recipe down a ton since - perish the thought - we were running low on Nutella!) I figured I couldn't go halfway on the size with standard tablespoon balls of dough... after all, I was going to share the creation with Bell' alimento's Paula and the rest of the Nutella Blogroll this month for the Nutella Challenge. It should be a showstopper!

Needless to say this recipe makes enough dough for 16 cookies, but with Nutella in the mix, you wouldn't really be able to stop at one "normal" cookie now, would you? Make 8 jumbo discs... you'll be glad you did.

Whattalottachoca Cookies
Makes 8
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
pinch kosher salt
2 tbsp shortening
1/4 cup Nutella
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp cornstarch mixed into 3 tbsp cold water
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, line two baking sheets with silicone or parchment.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, coconut, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, cream shortening, Nutella, sugar and honey.
  4. Add the cornstarch slurry and beat well.
  5. Add the dry mixture and stir just to combine, then add the chocolate chips and fold in.
  6. Bake for 12 minutes and cool completely on the sheets.
Amount Per Serving

Calories: 206.9
Total Fat: 10.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 6.1 mg
Total Carbs: 29.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.6 g
Protein: 2.2 g

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Melding the Seasons with Quickbread

It's funny sometimes how the seasons start to meld together over the years - for instance, I can recall times when I knew precisely when Summer had "officially" started (as soon as we went up to the marina the first time in May), and when Winter made itself known (via the first snowfall, or when Mom started making us wear our winter boots). These days it seems like we don't even get a Spring or Summer season anymore, just a "not freezing cold" lull of a few months when all the construction crews come out.

I think a large part of this "melding" of seasons is that now people in general are so busy with everything else in their lives that we hardly ever slow down to appreciate the different elements that appear throughout the year. For myself, I don't even really look at the changing foliage outside anymore - it's a given that leaves go from green to red before falling off and leaving the ugly tree skeletons behind. The only time I see enough trees at once for a decent length of time is actually when I'm stuck in traffic driving into Toronto (and locals will know the whole DVP corridor I'm talking about!). Even the foods that used to be so season specific are now commonplace at the local grocery store, and people still think nothing of picking up a strawberry shortcake or peach pie from there either regardless of the fact that without copious sugar and cream to carry it, the key ingredient is totally flavourless!

I know I'm not one to throw stones either. My family (though not necessarily me) still buys tomatoes in December and acorn squash in May, and regardless of how gaudy the markup is my mother still puts clamshell containers of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries into the grocery cart every week. I would, over the Summer at least, take any dwindling berries from the baskets and freeze them on trays before storing them in freezer bags. I had plans for some kind of cake or pie too, or possibly even a jam, but all of a sudden school started and lo and behold the freezer was still full. Couple that with some delicious, creamy and seasonal "buttah", and a general lack of willpower or motivation to do anything remotely scholarly, and somehow this loaf came about. It melds the warmth of Summer with the chill of Fall, and the intoxication of sweetness with the homey scent of toasting oats and comforting spices. It's a blending that I'm not ashamed to embrace.

Changing Seasons Quickbread
Serves 12
2 1/3 cups Roasted Sweets and Apple Butter (or pumpkin pie filling - not pure pumpkin)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/2 cup 1% milk
1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant or quick cooking)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup fresh or frozen (unthawed) small blueberries
1/3 cup sliced fresh or frozen (unthawed) strawberries
  1. Preheat oven to 375F, lightly grease a loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, beat together butter or pumpkin pie filling, sugar, egg, vanilla, flaxseed and milk. Set aside.
  3. In another bowl whisk together flours, oats, baking powder and baking soda.
  4. Gently fold into the wet ingredients, stirring until just moistened.
  5. Fold in berries and stir just until combined.
  6. Bake 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350F and bake a further 20 minutes.
  7. Cool in pan 20 minutes before turning out onto a rack and cooling completely.
Amount Per Serving

Calories: 197.2
Total Fat: 1.9 g
Cholesterol: 18.2 mg
Sodium: 81.2 mg
Total Carbs: 42.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.8 g
Protein: 4.1 g

Friday, October 23, 2009

Like Buttah

Fall is my favourite season. It's unlikely, especially for someone like me (who is always cold - even in July I wear long sleeves!), but I can't help it - the colours of the changing leaves, the smells of burning leaf piles and the end of the season flowers clinging to the last rays of sunlight are just the final, pretty touches on a season so rich in every sensory experience. In fact, if you enter the kitchen of almost anyone within easy driving distance of an apple orchard these days, you might just walk into a cloud of flour and sugar, or at the very least be enveloped by the enticing aroma of caramelizing juices and warm spices.

Though I know (or my rational brain does, at least) that those smells and flavours are pretty much seasonless these days, given the year-round availability of everything from kiwis to strawberries to pomegranates, there really is nothing quite like arriving home from a pick your own farm with a giant bag or two of right-off-the-tree, hand selected apples in tow. The work ahead of you, if you're an en masse baker of pies like my mom used to be when I was younger, never seemed like much effort - with a couple kids roped in to help with turning the peeler machine, tossing fruit and spices, or even doing the basic pastry prep, an afternoon passes in the blink of an eye. No sign of the toils you undertook spoil the atmosphere either, just the lingering mixture of butter, sweet fruit and cinnamon and a pie (or three) cooling on the countertop. When we were younger we knew we hit the jackpot at the orchard when Northern Spy season came. Spies meant two things to me then, and still do today: one, that my favourite Russet apples were out too, and two that apple square season was upon us!

For the past couple years, at least, my Autumn treats after mornings of apple picking have been relegated to nothing more than fresh out-of-hand snacking. Don't get me wrong - it's still my favourite way to enjoy the bounty of any in-season produce (even the perfect, tiny purple Brussels sprouts discovered last weekend were delicious raw!), but there is something about the oh-so-buttery combination of pastry and fruit that makes home made pie that much better.

Since every year we always wind up with about a trillion more apples than we could ever go through raw, and after a while the freezer threatens to revolt if we add one more pie to it's hold, the task of "dealing with them" is usually left to me. When my mom first gave me that responsibility, I'm not sure if she really realized how potentially dangerous that could make me! I've done apple cake, pancakes, latkes (my personal favourite combination paired sweet potatoes and shredded Spies), mincemeat, muffins, crisps and more applesauce than we could care to assimilate in our minds, but somehow morphing the fruit from a solid ball into each new format somehow makes the same taste completely new again. This season I got an early jump on the apple crop when I discovered that one of my favourite local varieties - the Red Free - was out in the market. Five minutes and $3 later I was the owner of a large bag of apples, and upon arriving home found out that we also had a hefty load of *cough* imported fruit sitting in the crisper as well. Subsequent scavenging for dinner items later that night revealed some sweet potatoes just starting to edge past the peak of awesomeness, and lurking in the back of the fridge was a lone orange too.

With those ingredients at hand and a great basic recipe from Kevin (@ Closet Cooking) for roasted applesauce as a guideline, I set about making my own version of what I can only really call a "Fall butter". It's not apple butter, to be sure, but nor is it a mashed yam dish, and the flavour is one of those savoury-sweet blends that worked wonders on my morning bagels but was also used by my grandparents as a side dish with a Sunday dinner. What I couldn't finish on my own, I baked into "hand pies" and wrapped in a lightly sweetened cookie shell as well for a couple different "carry case" experiment. The crumbled graham crackers added a great crunchy texture and nutty flavour too, which helped break up the richness of the puree.

Roasted Sweets and Apple Butter
Makes 3 cups, 24 2-tbsp servings
1 large apple, chopped
2 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed and chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp honey
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3 graham cracker sheets, crumbled

  1. Preheat oven to 375 and lightly grease a shallow casserole dish.
  2. Toss together apple and sweet potato chunks and pour into the dish.
  3. In a measuring cup or bowl, combine brown sugar, honey, orange juice and pumpkin pie spice until well blended and smooth.
  4. Pour over the apples and sweet potatoes, stirring to coat.
  5. Cover casserole and bake for 50 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
  6. Uncover the dish and bake for a further 20 minutes, until the liquid is reduced and the mixture in the pan is caramelized.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  8. In a food processor, finely crush the crackers. Remove to a small bowl.
  9. Add the roasted mixture to the food processor (no need to clean) and puree completely. If you dislike the texture of the skin (albeit pureed) use a food mill for a very fine consistency.
  10. Add the crumbs back to the processor mixture and pulse to combine.
  11. Serve as a pudding or pie filling.
Amount Per Serving

Calories: 51.1
Total Fat: 0.5 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 24.0 mg
Total Carbs: 12.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.3 g
Protein: 0.5 g

Monday, October 19, 2009

An Unlikely Story

I doubt you'd believe me if I was to tell you I wasn't always a foodie. In fact, not only was I not particularly interested in new and unusual meals and menus (God forbid I let anything like sushi past my lips), but I was a bone fide case of the meat + pasta + butter and cheese for dinner crowd. Vegetables, if they had to grace the plate, were smeared with butter or doused in cheese sauce or salad dressing. I did like fruit, however, which probably saved me from a childhood of scurvy, but the thought of sleep did not come for me as a kid unless there was a "bedtime snack" involved. If we were lucky and Mom had made some sort of cookies or cake for a school bake sale (or if she was just feeling nice) that was left over, a veritable slab of indulgence would fit the bill. At the very least there would always be something like ice cream in the freezer or Nutella and peanut butter in the cupboard for me to make a sandwich. I needed my chocolate - and to this day that hasn't changed.

What did change, though, was how I approached my love of food, and in turn developed a love for myself. At the goading of my parents, I signed up for a gym membership at the small club they went to managed by a friend of the family's named Louise. Louise was the first die-hard nutrition, exercise and general health "freak" I ever knew. Not only did she run grueling fitness classes 6 nights a week and keep the gym open almost 24 / 7, she was a certified personal trainer and nutritionist! She would preach the benefits of kale, beets, tofu and spinach for dinner (pasta was the Devil, white rice equally so!), drinking brewed, roasted chicory instead of coffee and doing away with any milk products (horrors!), and even the notion of this chocolate cake made with PRUNES. I thought she was absolutely nuts! Today, I still think she was a bit nuts, but I'm more like her now than I ever thought possible. I make it a point to go to my gym class every week if at all possible, and I sorely miss those days I don't. I eat more healthfully now than almost anyone I know (more a necessity than a wish, sadly), and even enjoy those previously dreaded nemesis foods from my childhood.

It was from a crumpled scrap of paper that I made this loaf cake recipe spring back to life, and I think Louise just might be proud of me for doing it. That is, if she believed it was me behind the scenes.

Louise Cake
Serves 12
6 oz pitted prunes (about 1 cup)
Boiling water
2 bananas, mashed
1/2 cup oil (you can use applesauce as well, to make it low-fat)
1 tbsp vanilla
1 cup fat free soymilk
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder

  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease a large loaf pan.
  2. In a small bowl, combine prunes with enough boiling water to cover. Let stand 20 minutes, then drain.
  3. In a food processor, add the prunes, bananas, oil, vanilla, soymilk, and lemon juice. Puree completely smooth.
  4. Add sugars, cocoa and salt to the processor and puree well.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda and baking powder.
  6. Pour in the wet puree mixture and stir well to combine thoroughly.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes, until tests done.
  8. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes before turning out onto a rack and cooling completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 288.3
Total Fat: 9.8 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 16.1 mg
Total Carbs: 49.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.8 g
Protein: 4.4 g

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bread and Wine

Well, World Bread Day may be almost over for another year, and I know I've already shared with you a wonderful recipe for a beautifully festive loaf, but I couldn't resist mentioning the beautiful creation that was my contribution to last weekend's Thanksgiving meal tonight. This bread has quite possibly the most involved recipe development process out of any that I've made in recent memory - it took a combination of website scouring, grilling fellow foodies on their likes and dislikes, selecting the ingredients and converting them all to a standard weight! Finally, when the whole thing was finally assembled and in the oven, I started acting like an expectant father who's waiting on the birth of a child - I kept pacing from my bedroom (where I was supposed to be doing homework) to the kitchen and back again, peering into the dimly lit appliance through the peep window to check the progress!

By the time the bread was finished, cooled and wrapped up for it's trip to the grandparents' place for dinner, I was beat... and I just hoped that there would be at least a slice left over from Thanksgiving's bread basket so I could photograph the wonderful purple interior!

Yes, I said purple! You see, the obession I had with creating this decorated boule was with adding a combination of walnuts and red wine to the dough. I had no idea if the alcohol would be damaging to the dough's condition (alcohol does not allow for gluten development at the same rate as water or milk) or moisture, and I knew that walnuts often will tint a bread dough blueish just be their volatile oils. What better (or prettier!) way to celebrate? For the dough that formed the cluster of grape leaves on top of the bread (I figured grapes, wine, why not?) I made an entirely different recipe - this one a basic, slightly sweet white bread with saffron infused water. The delicate fragrance and beautiful colour lent a special touch to the recipe that wasn't apparent until the first cut was made!

Decorated Wine and Walnut Loaf
Serves 30
2 fl. oz warm water
1 fl oz (2 tbsp) honey (or raw sugar if vegan)
2 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
3 fl oz warm unswetened almond milk (or regular milk, if you like)
10 fl oz red wine
14.5 oz (4 cups) flour
7 oz (1 1/2 cups) whole wheat flour
1 tsp vital gluten
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp salt
7 oz (scant 1 3/4 cups) chopped walnuts
2 fl oz boiling water
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp saffron (optional, for colour)
1/4 tsp dry active yeast
2.6 oz (3/4 cup) flour
1 egg white, for glaze (optional for vegan)
  1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fit with the dough hook, combine water, honey and yeast. Allow to stand 10 minutes.
  2. Add almond milk and red wine, mixing well.
  3. Whisk together flours, gluten, nutmeg and salt.
  4. With the mixer on low, add the flour ingredients to the liquids and allow to mix for 12 minutes.
  5. Add the walnuts and mix 2 minutes longer.
  6. Cover the bowl and allow to rest for 2 hours.
  7. Punch dough down and shape into a rough ball.
  8. Place ball seam side up in a well floured towel-lined bowl or couche form. Cover and let rise 1 1/2 hours.
  9. In a medium bowl combine water, sugar and saffron. Allow to steep and cool enough that you can touch it comfortably.
  10. Stir in yeast and allow to stand 10 minutes.
  11. Beat in flour to form a smooth, supple dough. Cover and allow to rise 1 1/2 hours.
  12. Punch dough down and on a piece of parchment, shape the mirror image of a grape cluster from pieces of dough, leaving a small space between balls for rising. You will be flipping it onto the boule so make sure to assemble it backwards.
  13. Preheat the oven to 475F and allow to sit at temperature for 30 minutes.
  14. Turn the boule out onto a lined baking sheet.
  15. Brush the exposed side of the grape cluster with some egg white (or water if vegan) and carefully turn onto the boule.
  16. Brush the cluster with more egg white.
  17. Bake loaf on the lowest rack of the oven for 15 minutes, spritzing the oven walls with water every 5 minutes.
  18. Reduce the temperature to 425F and bake 35 minutes longer.
  19. Cool completely on a rack before slicing, or wrapping in cling wrap and freezing.
  20. Store at room temperature wrapped in cling wrap for up to 5 days, or slice and freeze wrapped in foil.
Amount Per Serving

Calories: 157.0
Total Fat: 4.8 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 5.5 mg
Total Carbs: 23.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.7 g
Protein: 4.6 g
This will also be my entry to next week's edition of YeastSpotting at Wild Yeast.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Saying Thanks

If you mention the word "Thanksgiving" to most U.S.A. and Canadian residents, you will likely find yourself swathed in their memories of lavish dinners, pumpkin pie and the feelings of realizing that Fall has made itself at home by now, and Winter is on it's merry way! For me, now at least, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are rather interesting occasions. These days (I'm ashamed to admit), you are more likely to find me trying to weasel out of the family pow-wows filled with food, wine and cheer. For me, and I know that it's incredibly selfish to say it, the fact that these holidays revolve almost exclusively around food makes me more and more aware each year how different I now am compared to the rest of the "normal" people in my life. Normally I take most if not all of my meals alone these days, unless I'm in school or out for a sushi lunch or dinner with friends - mostly for logistical reasons, since I have to cook everything for myself separately, and those around me are generally not too thrilled with the idea of tofu or lentils for dinner. So when it comes to big occasions where I'm forced to try fitting the square peg of myself into the round hole of society, it's awkward all around... and more often than not the talk winds up revolving more around what I'm eating than catching up with family.

My point in my sad (melodramatic, if you will) little ramble is that only now do I realize just how much we've strayed from the real reasons we celebrate these days in the first place - being grateful for those around you, the love that you are able to both give and receive along the pathway of your life, and for the little things everyday that we take for granted. I had been thinking about it for a little while when I decided to make these scones - not that the recipe is particularly tied into any sort of event or holiday, but who I was making them for.

I realized that, just like we take the everyday things like TV and running water for granted most of the time, we tend to also take a lot of people for granted too. Bus drivers, pharmacists, tech support and even the stockists at the grocery store all too often only noticed when they make an error or omission, and regardless of their control of the situation are essentially walking targets for the anger and frustration of those they have contact with every day. Even though I regularly bring treats of cookies or muffins to my doctors, friends, teachers and even people I was meeting for the first time, I wanted to let the people I see almost more than any others know that I really did value and appreciate the fact that they come into work and do their jobs every day! To me some of the most deserving people are the wonderful staff at our local health food store and Bulk Barn. They've always been there to help me out with restocking an ingredient, special ordering supplements for me if they were out of stock, and filling me in on news with new products and offerings they think I'd be interested in. They all know me on sight, by name, as I do them, and regardless of what either of us have gone through that day it evaporates in that short space where our lives intersect.

It was for no other reason to say "thank you" that I brought out these scones, without any sort of real recipe, but rather an emotion that couldn't really be conveyed by words alone. I'm not sure if they have realized it even now, but the look of appreciation for such a relatively simple gift made me feel like I had just received the best Christmas gift in the world.

Nutty Mesquite Oatmeal Scones
Makes 12
1 cup flour
1/3 cup mesquite flour
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup almond flour (meal)
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 egg
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup miniature chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 400F, line a baking sheet with parchment or silicone.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flours, oats, almond flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.
  3. Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
  4. In a small bowl or measuring cup beat together egg, buttermilk and vanilla.
  5. Stir into dry mixture until everything is moistened. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts.
  6. Turn onto the silicone or parchment lined sheet and shape into a rough disc.
  7. Score with a bench scraper or sharp knife into 12 wedges.
  8. Bake for 25 minutes and cool completely on the sheet before cutting through the score lines into separate pieces.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 243.1
Total Fat: 13.4 g
Cholesterol: 28.1 mg
Sodium: 65.9 mg
Total Carbs: 29.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.1 g
Protein: 4.6 g

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Holidays Come Home

This weekend marks the official kick-off of the Fall / Winter holiday season for us Canadians. Tomorrow, those with the typical Western cultural traditions running through our veins will sit down to dinners of turkey, stuffing and all the sides (inclusing my two favourites - roasted beets and mashed potatoes) along the way. Of course, after eating more than most of us would dream of ingesting in a week, let alone one sitting, we all look forward to what I think is the best part about this weekend... the LONG weekend!

We've given up the task of doing the whole turkey dinner thing at our house since we moved, which in a way is a good thing that saves us not only money but time and energy as well. If anyone who's tried to orchestrate any sort of festive or celebration meal knows full well, the work begins well before the actual day, and doesn't stop until the last of the "company china" is back in it's safely secluded armoire at noon the next day. In another way, though, the lack of hosting either Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners here leaves me feeling sort of empty emotionally, as the experiences I so valued while growing up and helping my mom prepare dinner those holidays are now lost to time and memory. A few of my most treasured rememberances include the "bath" the bird would get in our huge laundry sink as it defrosted, followed by the ceremonious slicing of the plastic wrapping and removal of the "icky bits". I still don't know why she did it (for any reason other than it was a highly amusing thing to watch), but my mom would always pick the large bird up underneath it's "armpits" and dance with it in the middle of our kitchen - anything from a quick jitterbug to a waltz! Of course after the turkey was stuffed (yes, stuffed - we've never had a problem) and safely in it's firey home, the attention would turn to making sure the cranberry sauce was ready, the veggies were ready to be steamed and slathered with my mom's famous cheese sauce, the salad was prepped and the critical detail of ensuring that just enough room was left in the oven to warm the buns and my paternal grandma's amazing cheesy mashed potatoes before everything hit the table. My mom's parents usually came supplied with a tureen of corn or green beans and a pumpkin pie, though if we were lucky enough to had found decent cooking apples this early in the season we would also have apple squares or a pie of our own as well (bonus for me, since I detest pumpkin pie!), not to mention a chocolate cake for my pie-hating sister. The combined smells that filled the entire house those days are some that I will never be able to forget, nor do I want to, as I'm sure that being someone who can't take part in any sort of "traditional" fare any more I doubt I'm tops on the hosting roster. If it was offered to me, though, it's a job I'd gladly do, just for a chance to revisit those October sundays again.

When I set about making my mom's lunchtime bread this week, I decided that I would try to steal back just a little piece of that memory - the rich aromas of toasting, slightly sweet and earthy dough, of carmelizing nuts and subtly spicy cranberries. The result was a pan of tender and fluffy buns that would have more than fit in with the rest of the dinner rolls in the bread basket.

Have a glorious Thanksgiving, to all who are celebrating, and for the rest of the world have a wonderful weekend!

Thanksgiving - Inspired Dinner Rolls
Makes 12 "dinner-roll" sized buns
1 cup active sourdough starter (preferably rye fed)
1/2 cup warm milk
1 cup warm water
1 tsp dry active yeast
3 tbsp sugar
2 cups rye flour
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp gluten flour (vital wheat gluten)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp canola oil
3 oz dried cranberries
3 oz chopped pecans
  1. In a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the sourdough starter, milk, water, yeast and sugar. Let stand 10 minutes, until foamy.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flours, salt, cinnamon and fennel seeds.
  3. With the mixer on low speed (or a sturdy wooden spoon), add half the flour mixture to the proofed yeast.
  4. Add the canola oil, followed by the remaining flour mixture.
  5. Increase the speed to medium and mix / knead for 10 minutes.
  6. Add the dried cranberries and pecans and mix / knead briefly to incorporate.
  7. Turn dough into a lightly greased bowl, turning to grease the top.
  8. Cover and let rise 1 1/2 hours, until doubled.
  9. Deflate dough gently and press evenly into a lightly greased 9 x 13" rectangular pan.
  10. Use a lightly greased bench scraper or sharp knife to cut the dough into 12 pieces.
  11. Cover and allow dough to rise 40 minutes.
  12. Preheat oven to 350F.
  13. Bake the rolls for 30-35 minutes, then turn out of the pan immediately, separate rolls and cool on a wire rack.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 268.1
Total Fat: 7.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.8 mg
Sodium: 6.0 mg
Total Carbs: 46.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 6.3 g
Protein: 6.5 g

These rolls are off to next week's YeastSpotting event at Susan's blog, Wild Yeast.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bibbity Bobbity Babka

I'm not religious, and neither is anyone in my family, but the clan of us have a seemingly unquenchable thirst for experiencing as many of the cultural and faith-related elements of the world as we can. It doesn't matter to us what country the traditions began in, or what (if any) historical doctrines mandated their imposition or abolition over the year. We just revel in the whole emotional aspects and celebrations associated with the times special to our friends and family. In fact, the very idea of religion in general fascinates me so much that if I didn't love them all as much as I did, I'd probably be one heck of a devout follower to one of them!

One of the largest groups of friends that my parents had growing up and into their young(ish) adult years were members of Toronto's "Jewish neighbourhoods" of Bayview Village and the Danforth. Sadly, those areas are now largely devoid of the religiously-driven bustle (the Danforth, though always known as Greektown, is now exclusively so) and the families my parents knew from before have long since dispersed around the country. However, my sister and I were lucky enough to wind up immersed in a huge array of cultural elements throughout our primary school years, including a multi-religious "end of the year" celebration before Winter break filled with music, storytelling, games like Dreidel spinning and of course tons of delicious international fare. At home every December too, my mom and I would get up early one morning and braid our yearly Challah loaf (a tradition we've kept up to this day!). Even the years my dad worked at a small IT company in Markham, the four of us would get to attend a Chanukah party where the woman of the household would fry up the most delicious latkes and treat every kid there with a piece of chocolate gelt.

This intricate, doubly-swirled and stuffed bread that took form in my kitchen is an adaptation of a recipe provided from a dear fellow blogger - Hannah of BitterSweet. Traditional, eggy creation this is not, but rather a vegan behemoth of a bread that was similarly rich and tender and ribboned with my self-created combination of almond butter, ground almonds, cinnamon, chocolate and dried cranberries. The major difference between Hannah's recipe and your typical Bubbie's is the addition of a generous helping of grated zucchini to the dough - a trick that undoubtedly makes for it's unfailing moisture even without a glut of eggs.

I have to admit that this bread was far, far larger than I would have ever imagined. As you can see from the photos, there is a lot of dough, which translated into a ton of bread to fit into that 9x5" loaf pan. Next time, I think I'll stick to a free-form twist baked on a cookie sheet to avoid the bread blowout problem I experienced. However, the resulting product was just so good according to the 4 "test groups" I passed it out to that there will most definitely be a next time to try it!

This delicious concoction is my entry to both this week's edition of YeastSpotting and also to Zorra's yearly roundup of World Bread Day (get your entries in by the 16th to participate!).

Almond - Zucchini Babka
Serves 20, generously
1 cup unsweetened almond milk, warmed
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp active dry yeast
4 cups all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange
2 tbsp ground flaxseeds
1/2 tsp salt
12 oz shredded zucchini, squeezed dry (about 2 cups or 2 medium)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 Cup Earth Balance (or other vegan) margarine, cubed, room temperature
3/4 cup almond butter, warmed until very runny
2 tbsp Earth Balance (or other vegan) margarine, melted
3 oz miniature, bittersweet chocolate chips
3 oz dried cranberries
2 tbsp ground almonds
1 tbsp cinnamon
  1. In a large bowl (or stand mixer), combine almond milk and brown sugar.
  2. Sprinkle the yeast overtop and let stand 5 minutes, until foamy.
  3. Combine flours, nutmeg, sugar, orange zest, flaxseeds and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  4. To the foamed yeast mixture, add the zucchini and vanilla, stirring well.
  5. Add 3 cups of the dry mixture to the bowl and begin mixing (on low speed), until the dry ingredients are incorporated.
  6. Add in remaining dry mixture, and allow the mixer to begin kneading the dough.
  7. Continue working the dough with the dough hook, slowly beating in margarine cubes one at a time. It should become very shiny and soft.
  8. Continue kneading for 10 minutes.
  9. Turn into an oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in volume.
  10. Lightly grease two loaf pans, set aside.
  11. Punch down the dough, divide in half and roll one portion out into a rectangle on a (very) well-floured surface. Roll it out lengthwise as far as possible- The longer the dough, the more spirals you will get in the finished bread.
  12. Beat together the almond butter and Earth Balance in a small bowl until very fluid.
  13. Spread the rectangle with half the almond butter, leaving 1/2" on one long side clear.
  14. Mix together the chocolate chips, cranberries, ground almonds and cinnamon, then sprinkle half evenly over the dough.
  15. Starting with the long edge that is completely covered, roll up the dough as tightly as possible.
  16. Arrange the log with the two ends next to each other (like a squashed horse shoe), then twist together.
  17. Carefully fit the twist into one pan.
  18. Repeat with the remaining half of the ingredients. Cover and let rise 1 hour, until just about doubled.
  19. Preheat oven to 350F.
  20. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, until golden and hollow sounding when tapped.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 289.5
Total Fat: 12.5 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 65.3 mg
Total Carbs: 41.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.5 g
Protein: 6.3 g

Friday, October 2, 2009

It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

I don't know about you, but this Fall it seems like the particular varieties of colds and flu that are circulating the schools, malls and generally every public place have been particularly vengeful. Not only did I get sideswiped with the stomach flu - twice - but even friends and family of mine that pride themselves on stellar immunity have managed to catch it and are at the very least feeling under the weather. I've been hard pressed to do anything lately... schoolwork, e-mails, snail mail, Twitter and of course keeping up with my poor blog!

Now all the backlogs in my life caused by my self-imposed downtime are coming up from behind to kick me into gear - it's been what feels like an endless climb to catch up but I can see the top of the pile now and with luck getting back to regular blog updates will be next on the agenda! Thank you to everyone who's sent me messages of good luck and health, they came through and I'm definitely halfway there.

One of the things I had made way back when school started at the beginning of September was an homage to the good old lunchbox staple of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Neither I nor my sister actually got to be a part of that stereotypical lunchtime crowd, though, since for our entire elementary school careers we had to live the allergy-free schoolroom life. Even at home, for some odd reason, neither of us ever really favoured the PB&J. My sister in fact never developed a fondness for either condiment, and though I liked both peanut butter and jam just fine on their own, I was way more inclined to make myself a plain (thickly slathered) peanut butter, peanut butter and honey or my personal favourite the peanut butter and golden syrup sandwich than to "taint" the mix with something like fruit! Jam, to me, had better be raspberry or cherry, and was for toast, nothing else.

I was quite particular about my peanut butter sandwich methodology too. The bread was either a single white or "plain" whole wheat regular-thickness slice, not too thick and never toasted. Crusts were fine (I was actually one of those crazy kids that adored the heel of the loaf), but they couldn't be so distinct or hard that they took away from the single-textured nature of the slice. My specifications were, of course, purely due to the whole mechanics of my perfect sandwich construction. Given the choice I would always make myself the fold-over style, so that I would get twice the amount of filling. Folding over the slice also eliminated the nasty single soggy slice phenomenon that would occur everytime the honey or syrup soaked into the unprotected slice (and no, it was- and is - not ever okay to butter the bread before making any sandwich other than a grilled cheese... even then it's only outside buttering). I hated the whole "toasted bread" factor because the warm bread would melt the peanut butter, giving it an unnerving texture contrast and odd flavour. Was I an OCD-disposed child? Sure. But I knew what I liked and I never had an issue making it for myself to assure "quality control"!

However, both my dad and my grandfather adore their peanut butter, honey and banana sandwiches, no matter how they come. It was with them in mind that I first started putting together the components of this recipe, and then as a nod to the traditional recipe secreting a ribbon of jam away inside the depths of each rich, dense loaf. I chose to make the use of some end-of-the-jar remnants of both a strawberry and blueberry preserve, one in each, so a variety of good taste could be sampled over the coming weeks. I divided the loaves between us, my grandparents and my dad, and even then we had to freeze some of our share since we were (in my mother's words) innundated with tasty, sweet things that were doing damage to her waistline and my stepdad's blood sugar. At least we know it freezes exceptionally well! In retrospect, I suspect that if you were to individually wrap and freeze slices of this bread you could simply pop them in your lunchbag in the morning and they would be ready to go by noon.

PB & J Banana Bread
Makes 2 loaves of 12 slices each
2 cups flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups thick Greek yogurt (full fat)
8 large, over-ripe bananas, mashed
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 tbsp smooth peanut butter (not natural-style)
1 tbsp vanilla
2/3 cup all-fruit jam or preserves (like Smuckers Simply Fruit), warmed until easily drizzled
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease and flour 2 loaf pans well.
  2. In a medium bowl combine flours, oats, cinnamon, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together yogurt, bananas, sugar, peanut butter and vanilla until well blended.
  4. Add the dry ingredients and stir quickly yet gently to combine. A few lumps are okay.
  5. Divide 2/3 of the batter between the pans, then spoon a line of preserves down the centre of each loaf.
  6. Top with remaining batter, covering the preserves completely.
  7. Bake on the lowest rack of the oven for 65-70 minutes, tenting with foil after 30 minutes.
  8. Cool 20 minutes in pans, then turn onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 202.0
Total Fat: 3.3 g
Cholesterol: 2.7 mg
Sodium: 62.6 mg
Total Carbs: 40.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.4 g
Protein: 4.3 g