Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bitter for the Sweet

Cooking, like life, is all about balance. For every sweet, heavenly moment we experience, there has to be an equal amount of bitter, sad times we wish we could forget. But without those bad times, there would be no good times either - how would we know what "good" was without a comparison? Like adding salt to desserts, those bitter pieces elevate each acme in our days and help us to truly appreciate those gifts.

I wanted to try and take that approach of balancing bitter and sweet aspects and apply it to the world of the baker's kitchen. Salted caramel, bacon chocolate cupcakes, curried banana bread and fleur-de-sel chocolate chip cookies have already been done, so I wanted something different. I also wanted whatever I did to be a twist on tradition, an unexpected flip of a typical-looking creation. I stuck with the chocolate chip cookie idea, but took it to both sweet and bitter extremes. The standard batter became a white chocolate, super sweet concoction, and the regulation chips became small chunks of completely unsweetened baking chocolate. The sharp bitter notes perfectly balanced out the cloying nature of the white chocolate and turned the standard lunchbox treat into a more adult offering.

Bitter-Chipped White Chocolate Cookies
Makes 20
4 oz (2/3 cup) white chocolate, chopped
5 oz silken tofu
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 tbsp corn syrup
2 oz (1/4 cup) shortening
5.5 oz (13 tbsp) superfine sugar
4.6 oz (1 1/3 cups) flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 oz unsweetened chocolate (yup, no sugar or milk at all), chopped into small pieces and frozen
1 oz mini semisweet chocolate chips

  1. In the microwave or a double boiler, melt white chocolate until smooth. Set aside.
  2. In a food processor, puree tofu, vanilla and corn syrup until smooth. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl cream shortening and sugar until fluffy.
  4. Add tofu mixture, followed by white chocolate, beating well.
  5. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt until well blended.
  6. Fold in unsweetened chocolate and chocolate chips.
  7. Wrap dough in cling film and refrigerate at least 4 hours.
  8. Preheat oven to 325 °F.
  9. Drop rounded teaspoons of dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet (greasing doesn’t work well with these!), leaving at least 2” between them – they spread!.
  10. Bake for 15-16 minutes. Cool completely on sheets.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 144.3
Total Fat: 6.6 g
Cholesterol: 2.2 mg
Sodium: 9.5 mg
Total Carbs: 20.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.8 g
Protein: 2.3 g

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Another Week, Another Soup

Paella has a place close to my heart. One of my all-time favourite picture books as a child was called "Around the World with the Word Gang", written by Anne Civardi and Graham Philpot, and on the page featuring the "gang's" favoute foods - laid out as a huge banquet of goodies from all over the globe - my favourite illustration was the mantilla-clad giraffe eating the intruiging pan of food labeled "paella". I remember asking my mom what "the black things" were, and she told me that they were mussels - something that I as a 6 year old had never heard of. Even though the rest of the ingredients my mom described as being in the dish - peppers, onions, clams and even the rice - made my young palate wretch, I kept asking my mom to make it. I had it stuck in my head that I would like paella, and convinced myself that it would be every bit as amazing as I imagined.

My mom finally gave in and made her "signature" paella (a riff on the Joy of Cooking recipe) for me when I was 14 - after she felt that my tastebuds had matured enough to appreciate the tastes of the slowly cooked onions, seafood and saffron. From the first forkful of vibrantly yellow rice, I knew I had found love. I had never enjoyed rice all that much, but it somehow just worked with my tastebuds and led to me polishing off a good third of the pan. My favourite part was, and still is to this day, the mussels and clams. If there was nothing else in that pot, it wouldn't matter to me - my love of seafood had been cemented since I was about 5, and the aromatic shellfish were little treasures for me to enjoy.

Our first paella was for New Year's Eve dinner, and for years after that my family developed a unique tradition of making the dish only on that day - you would never see us making it any other time of the year, regardless of how the seafood or vegetables looked in the market. When my mom started dating again, though, a lot of our family customs fell apart, including our family "parties" filled with paella, Air Farce specials and chocolate cheesecake at midnight. The last dish of paella I ever had wasn't even one of ours - it was made at the Sightlines restaurant at the Skydome. But I never forgot that first paella.

When I came about making my mom's soup last week, I had my heart set on re-creating this memory of mine, in a modified, soupy form. To eliminate the nastiness of overcooked seafood that always happens in soups (especially those that stand to be frozen and reheated), I simply eradicated that element, focusing instead on roasted chicken, chorizo and chickpeas as my main flavouring agents. Sweet caramelized onion, smoky bacon and both sweet and smoked paprika married with the saffron for an aromatic broth that I swirled with a roasted red pepper and garlic puree in lieu of cooking chunks of the vegetables with the arborio rice.

Hen and Chick[pea] Paella Soup
Serves 8 as a main
1 1/2 cups roasted red peppers (about 3 1/2)
3 cloves garlic
2 tsp olive oil
1 Spanish onion, diced
1.5 oz chorizo
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
6 cups hot chicken stock, divided
1 tsp saffron threads, crushed
2 cups water
1/4 cup precooked, crumbled bacon
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
10 oz cooked, diced chicken
1 cup frozen peas

  1. In a food processor or blender, puree roasted red peppers and garlic, set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  3. Add onion and chorizo and cook, stirring often, until onions are beginning to brown - about 8 minutes.
  4. Stir in both paprikas and rice, coating everything with the paprika mix.
  5. Pour in the wine and stir vigorously to deglaze, then add 4 of the cups of hot stock and the red pepper puree and stir well.
  6. Combine the remaining two cups of chicken stock and the saffron in a small container, then add to above with the water, bacon and bay leaf.
  7. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer (partially covered) for 1 1/2 hours. Remove bay leaf.
  8. Stir in chickpeas, chicken and peas. Cook 20 minutes longer.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 319.5
Total Fat: 9.0 g
Cholesterol: 39.7 mg
Sodium: 1,336.0 mg
Total Carbs: 19.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.1 g
Protein: 13.8 g

Monday, June 28, 2010

A "Yes" in a Sea of "No"

Being the baker that I am, I'm constantly bringing the product of my kitchen experiments to those around me or sending them away with one of my parents. Usually, the "eaters" I have are more than willing to snack on whatever comes their way, from cookies to cakes, and with few exceptions the only allergies I have to worry about are mine! These days, nut (though not always peanut) free is just a standard practice in my kitchen, excepting what I know my mom will be eating exclusively. Keeping things nutless also opens up the floor for people to take the goodies home to share with others - my chiropractor's son, notably, has extreme nut allergies, so I pay attention to that. However, some of my friends and critics can be a bit more problematic for me to treat - and I always feel badly that the goodies I take to my counsellor J.R. (of a previous brownie mention) can't be shared with his son, who has severe tree nut, peanut, dairy and soy allergies.

But baking without any one of those things can be tricky - much more so when you're talking about all 4 and the client is a typical teenage boy! Baking without nuts, dairy and egg I can (and often do) do handily, even as a combined issue. Most problematic simply because of how common it is as an ingredient in ingredients has to be the soy. No margarine, no shortening, not even most cooking sprays can be on the menu, nor can most chocolate thanks to the soy lecithin, and the tag-team of the soy and milk issues knocks out butter and cream. But no kid should finish off his school year, so often filled with "no foods" at parties, without a treat for a job well done. So I resolved to find a treat that worked for him - and I did in these sugar-crusted muffins that I made with roasted bananas, coconut milk and canola oil. This delicious treat even gets an extra boost from crunchy banana chips! I even went one step further with the recipe and made it eggless, too... not only do I not normally use them for baking around here (they're quite the commodity with the bacon-and-eggs crowd) but it made the recipe safe for everyone in the office.

"Worry-Free" Banana Muffins
Makes 24 muffins, a 9x13" cake, or two 9" layers.
4 large, very ripe bananas, unpeeled
2 cups flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tsp banana extract (optional)
2 tbsp canola oil
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups coconut milk
1/2 cup banana chips, lightly crushed
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease 24 muffin cups, a 9x13" cake pan, or two 9-inch pans.
  2. Place bananas on a lined or greased cookie sheet. Bake 25-30 minutes, until they begin to seep and are very soft. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.
  4. In a large bowl, mash bananas with vanilla and banana extracts, oil, and brown sugar.
  5. Add dry mixture, followed by the coconut milk, and beat well.
  6. Fold in banana chips.
  7. Bake 15 minutes (muffins), 40 minutes (9x13") or 30 minutes (9"), until a toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans to finish cooling on a wire rack.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 143.7
Total Fat: 4.7 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg 
Sodium: 3.5 mg
Total Carbs: 25.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.6 g
Protein: 2.6 g

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday's Carrots

Whenever we have dinner guests at our house, the "hot vegetable" items my mom puts out are always one or two of these choices: broccoli, cauliflower, or carrots. Yes, just like those iconic, frozen medlies that peppered the cafeteria line, our grocery cart would gain an extra head or two of the green or white balls or our crisper would become home to a 2 lb bag of gigantic carrots.

Unfortunately, as is all too common when cooking for a crowd, any of these normally delicious foods are grossly overcooked. Even with a proper holding system in place, my mom is still cooking from the school of "when everything is mushy it's done". Luckily, she does make an incredible cheese sauce that can somewhat salvage the cauliflower and broccoli, but still, those tureens are never quite as empty as the rest of the meal's offerings. And since certain members of the household eschew leftovers of any persuasion, my mom is usually left to cart the remains to work for the next week. The one leftover she's not overly fond of are the boiled carrots, which I can't really blame her for, unless they're tossed in a buttery honey-citrus sauce in which case I'd eat them stone cold! Usually, though, these carrots are plain as day and as boring as any work routine, and are usually pushed to the back of the fridge day ofter day until they go bad.

However, I have to say inspiration struck the last time we had leftover carrots. Popping them into a baking dish and roasting them at 400F for a half hour gave me morsels of incredibly fragrant veggies that were just beginning to caramelize. I knew that re-cooking (already overcooked) them was counterintuitive, but in all honesty I was curious as to what I could do with them! My eventual end solution for the carrots, which as tasty as they were were still a little unnerving texture-wise, was what any logical (and frugal) baker would have done - make something sweet! I knew that at the very least it would also be an opportunity to clear out some of the other "extras" hidden in the fridge and pantry, and that more people would eat a baked good than mushy carrots!

So, I tossed the carrots into my food processor and pureed them, along with a cup of leftover coconut milk and some pineapple jam, then mixed it into an "oatmeal" quickbread batter with a sad-looking apple lurking behind the oranges. The result was reminiscent of the feel of a carrot cake in terms of smell and moisture, though obviously the texture was vastly different from the traditional layered kind.

"Sunday's Carrots" Loaf
Serves 12
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup hot water
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup pureed roasted carrots
2 tbsp pineapple jam
1 tbsp vanilla
1 large apple, peeled and diced

  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease a loaf pan.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together oats, flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flaxseed and water, let stand 5 minutes.
  4. Add sugar, coconut milk, carrots, jam and vanilla. Stir until well blended.
  5. Add dry ingredients and mix in, then fold in the apple until just mixed - do not beat.
  6. Bake 55-60 minutes, until tests done.
  7. Cool in the pan 20 minutes before unmoulding onto a rack and cooling completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 151.4
Total Fat: 5.5 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 78.7 mg
Total Carbs: 26.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.4 g
Protein: 3.4 g 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Past to Present

Even though we live in a household filled with cookbooks of every persuasion - many of them not even mine, mind you - there are three "bibles" that our kitchen would be helpless without. One of them I've waxed on and on about before - our copy of Apples, Peaches and Pears by Elizabeth Baird that is so well-used that not only are pages falling out of the binding but certain sections of the book have to be loosened from the butter, flour and sugar glue that sticks them together. I swear by the biscuit recipe I found in an old church cookbook my grandparents brought me back from a trip to Nova Scotia, and the pizza crust and bran muffins made from the old recipes are stellar. Then there is the treasure trove of recipes we have that aren't in a book at all, but are infinitely more valuable because of it: my mom's black, metal recipe box. It's been stuffed so full of not only her own carefully handwritten cards but newspaper and magazine clippings, printed recipes e-mailed to her from relatives or found online and (my favourites) almost every single recipe from us kids' years in home ec while we were in elementary school. That box holds our holiday brioche, our red velvet cake, our chocolate chip cookies and of course those infamous shortbreads.

Ironically, out of all those meticulously filed, plastic-slipcovered recipes, those four things that I mentioned above are really all we use out of her box. A handful of cards in there may have been recipes made once or twice, or were for one of those things made by special request (like her warm Vichyssoise-like soup and scalloped potatoes). For the most part, though? Neither of us even knows what's in there, much less could ever concieve of making most of the Greek- or Jewish-inspired recipes for the staunch Italian population at home. I wanted to remedy at least my lack of understanding as to the gems hidden in the box, so I sat down with it one morning and began rifleing through, pulling cards for things I had always wanted to make - like spanakopita - or recipes that had titles that begged for a story. As I worked, my mom would occasionally poke her head into the kitchen and either register disbelief that some of the recipes lasted as long as they did in her files, or would explain where one came from or who a "title character" actually was.

Such was the case with these brownie-like coffee bars, titled simply as "Timothy's Glazed Coffee Squares". Though my mom swore she had never made them, she fondly remembered where she used to eat them near her young adult home in the Greek area of Toronto's Danforth Avenue. Timothy was the name of a local (now long gone) cafe owner who was apparently famous for his strong Greek coffee and sweet, sticky, coffee-laced squares. I fell in love with the idea - I mean, who wouldn't - and set about making a pan to take with me when I went for my hair appointmet right before my graduation ceremony. The resulting squares were incredible - smelling a hundred times better than a mallfull of Cinnabons and, according to the judge, would have made the original baker proud.

Timothy's Glazed Coffee Squares
Serves 24
1/4 cup softened butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup brewed Greek coffee or espresso, cooled
1 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup dark raisins, soaked in hot coffee and drained
1/4 cup diced dates, soaked in hot coffee and drained
1/2 cup sifted icing sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 - 1 1/2 tbsp Greek coffee or brewed espresso
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease and line a 9x13" pan.
  2. Cream butter and sugar.
  3. Add egg and coffee, beat until smooth.
  4. Whisk together flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add to the creamed mixture, blending well.
  5. Fold in the raisins and dates.
  6. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
  7. Bake 20-25 minutes, until they test done.
  8. Cool 10 minutes, then glaze with a mixture of sifted icing sugar, cinnamon and espresso. Cool completely before cutting and serving.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 104.7
Total Fat: 2.3 g
Cholesterol: 13.9 mg
Sodium: 38.0 mg
Total Carbs: 23.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.6 g
Protein: 1.2 g

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Slightly Crazy, Very Healthy

Back when I was on Weight Watchers as a teen, I used to hear talk of and recommendations for all sorts of things that would in some way shape or form ease our journies through the land of falling numbers. One of the most talked about "swaps" for bread was a brand called Silver Hills that specializes in mostly organic, sprouted grain breads and bagels. The problem was, I could never find this brand out at the store... and no doubt the fact that they're sourced out of British Columbia was a main reason for that. So I sat on the sidelines and read the reviews and discussions of those lucky enough to try the 9 different loaves on offer.

Years later, with weight loss far behind me (but harbouring a newfound love for "healthy" food), imagine my surprise to stumble across an array of Silver Hills bread while out shopping with a friend of mine, K. We were, oddly enough, at a 7th Day Adventist bookstore and food shop at the time. My neighbourhood is actually home to the headquarters of the Ontario Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church - our local greenhouse is run by their residential college, which is also home to the aforementioned bookstore. The only reason I've ever shopped there, not being in any way religious, is because the traditional diet ascribed to by their culture is very "me-friendly": generally healthy, low-fat and vegetarian choices. The shop, in addition to supplying the standard vegetarian staples like vegetarian broths, TVP, nutritional yeast and vital wheat gluten, also offers a host of other foods that are generally only available south of the border - brands like Morningstar Farms, Worthington, Loma Linda, Sheese, and even some entrees from Kashi are on their shelves and in their freezer. While I don't make a dedicated effort to shop there regularly, it is nice for a change!

The main problem with the "brand name" offerings like the Silver Hills bread and the other specialty foods is that they are rather pricey. I often can't justify spending as much as they'd like for each item, especially with the breads (as I do try to limit my wheat and gluten consumption). I will often get ideas for different bread concoctions as I'm out shopping or browsing bakery websites, and I delight in overcoming the challenge of recreating the commercially available recipes at home. So when we saw the latest specialty loaf from Silver Hills - a wheat-free bread made with chia seed - and K expressed interest in trying it, I offered to try creating a version of it for her at home instead. Considering I had a rather large bag of the seeds in my pantry that I had yet to use, as well as an arsenal of other assorted grains and seeds, I knew I had everything I needed to put together one heck of a good bread. In fact, when I got around to making this extraordinarily healthy recipe (an adaptation of one from my mom's 35-cent bread book), it turned out that I had everything I needed to put together two loaves of dense, grainy, hearty bread. While one got double-wrapped and stashed in the freezer to await the next time I see K, my mom lay claim immediately to the other, slicing off a chunk of it for a taste while still warm! This is definitely the kind of bread you'd want for breakfast if you tend to get hungry mid-morning - the fibre and protein content from all the different grains and seeds is key to satiety! It's also the kind of loaf that if you happened to have a piece or two that were just over the line between "toastable" and "stale" would make a wonderful addition to stuffing or a panzanella salad.

I should add that this loaf is not entirely wheat free - I did opt to use a local 12-grain flour blend that did incorporate whole Red Fife wheat - but I think the sacrifice was worth it.

K's Crazy Seed Bread
Makes 2 loaves, 32 slices
2/3 cup chia seed
1/4 cup red quinoa
1/4 cup white quinoa
1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds
1/3 cup amaranth
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/4 cup coarse cornmeal
2 cups 12-grain flour
1 cup Kamut flour
1 cup dark rye flour
1/2 cup soy flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
2 tbsp ground flaxseed meal
1 tbsp vital wheat gluten
2 tbsp instant yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 (12-oz) can evaporated milk
3 tbsp maple syrup
2 1/2 tbsp canola oil
2 tsp salt  
  1. In a bowl, combine chia seed, quinoas, sesame seeds, amaranth, poppy seeds and cornmeal. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl (preferably a stand mixer), stir together all the flours, the flaxseed meal, the gluten and the yeast.
  3. Add water, evaporated milk and maple syrup and mix 5 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes.
  4. Add oil and salt and mix to incorporate, then add the seed mixture and mix / knead for 15 minutes longer.
  5. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes, until puffy.
  6. With wet hands (dough is sticky) deflate dough and divide between two greased loaf pans.
  7. Cover and allow to rise 45 minutes to 1 hour, until almost doubled.
  8. Preheat oven to 375F.
  9. Bake loaves 40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking time.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 147.1
Total Fat: 5.5 g
Cholesterol: 3.3 mg
Sodium: 14.1 mg
Total Carbs: 21.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.5 g
Protein: 6.1 g

These loaves are going over to YeastSpotting this week at Susan's blog Wild Yeast.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cast Iron Comfort

I recently bought myself a new piece of kitchen pride:

Yup, she's an enameled, 6-Qt, cast iron Dutch oven. It's almost too heavy for me to lift (empty!), but it has become one of the most invaluable things in my equipment cache to date. Ever since I started to cook - really cook - I have been craving one of these, whether it was a Le Creuset like the ones I saw on FoodBuzz' Daily Special today or not (this, obviously, falls in the not category). I think it's just one of "those things" you covet as a foodie, but what a useful thing to wish for! It's become my "mom pot" of sorts, because since I bought it every single soup and stock I've made for her has been slowly coddled in my red magic-maker of a pot. Not once have I burned rice in there, nor garlic, and let me tell you it deglazes like a DREAM! Which worked out really quite nicely when I started putting together all the pieces for one of my latest "comfort bowls" (I call it that since stoup is taken). My mom actually told me that this relatively simple (and economical!) ground beef soup, filled with adzuki beans, asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, a Texmati rice blend and finished with Parmesan, is her favourite concoction of mine to date. Now, how to compete with myself??

Beefy Bean and Vegetable-Rice Soup
Serves 8 generously
1/4 cup water
1/2 lb lean ground beef
2 shallots, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 cup diced celery
2 cups diced carrots
10-oz canned sliced mushrooms, drained
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup red wine
4 cups beef broth
1 29-oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup mushroom tomato sauce
1 cup dry adzuki beans, soaked overnight
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp dried basil
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, divided
6.5 oz baby red potatoes, halved or quartered if large
3 1/2 cups water
1 cup Texmati long and wild rice blend
5.5 oz chopped asparagus
5 oz chopped green beans
Salt, to taste
  1. Heat water in a large stockpot over medium-high.
  2. Add ground beef and cook until browned, stirring to crumble.
  3. Add shallots, zucchini, bell pepper, celery, carrots and mushrooms. Cook, stirring, 3-4 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle with garlic powder and black pepper, cook 2 minutes further.
  5. Add wine, stirring vigorously to dislodge browned bits, then stir in the broth, tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, bay leaf, basil, oregano and 2 tbsp of the Parmesan.
  6. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Remove the bay leaf and stir in the potatoes and remaining Parmesan.
  8. Partially cover the pot and simmer 1 hour longer, until beans are tender.
  9. Stir in the water, rice, asparagus and green beans and simmer (covered) 25-30 minutes longer, until rice is cooked and vegetables are tender. Add salt to taste.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 336.2
Total Fat: 8.0 g
Cholesterol: 22.7 mg
Sodium: 925.8 mg
Total Carbs: 46.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 8.5 g
Protein: 17.6 g

Monday, June 21, 2010

Because "Noodles with Fridge Guts" Isn't as Appetizing

There are times when I open the fridge door and don't recognize a thing that's in there, or how it came to lay resting on the shelf. If I'm lucky, it's something that's not quite "off" yet, or is at the very least salvageable. On days where I don't win the shelf-life lottery, the resulting haul can be... interesting. Think blue, fuzzy creatures that I'd be tempted to teach the A-B-C's to, or the spontaneous liquification of items that to the naked eye looked perfectly solid.

Ick? Yes.

So I try to keep that kind of thing to the barest of minimums, periodically using up, freezing or throwing out things that are nearing the end of their tasteful lives. That usually results in a batch of stock, or better yet a whole soup, that my mom can then take with her to work for lunch (she's trying more and more to eschew the convenient but not-so-great cans of salt). It's the perfect way to get rid of those things that don't look so great but still taste fine with a little cooking. If I'm really lucky, though, I'll find a wealth of ingredients that were forgotten but nowhere near "gone" - that's when I break out the saute pan and pasta pot and make myself something special!

I'm giving you a recipe for what I endearingly call my "Noodles with Fridge Guts" (but I'm changing the "official" name to something slightly tastier), however as the title implies you should simply use what you have hanging around. It's a great method not only for using up crap in the fridge, but is a wickedly-fast meal to put together too (as with most of the best pasta recipes!) and is going on it's merry way to both Marye's event "Real Food... Real Quick" and Ruth's brainchild Presto Pasta Nights (hosted by Mansi of Fun & Food Cafe) this week!

I added a spoonful of chipotle salsa to my initial saute of shallots, garlic, mushrooms, broccolli and tomatoes and I think that was the kicker for me. After a few nights of meals similar to this one, I actually had to go out and buy the ingredients to make it! If you don't need to go the gluten-free (or vegan) route, of course don't feel obligated, but I do recommend a good whole-grain kind of pasta to stand up to the chunkier veggie additions.

Pasta with Produce
Serves 1
1/2 tbsp sea salt
2 oz (uncooked) Orgran Gluten-Free Essential Fiber Rice & Corn Spirals (or your favourite short-cut pasta)
2 tbsp water
1 shallot, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 oz broccoli, chopped
1 large cremini mushroom, sliced
1 plum tomato, chopped
1 tbsp spicy salsa
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp lemon-pepper seasoning
1 tbsp rice parmesan (or regular if you like)
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the sea salt.
  2. Add pasta and cook 6 minutes.
  3. Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water and drain (do not rinse).
  4. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat water over medium heat.
  5. Add shallot and saute until wilted, about 3 minutes.
  6. Add garlic, cook 1 minute longer.
  7. Stir in broccoli, mushroom, tomato, salsa and 2 tbsp of the reserved pasta water.
  8. Increase heat to medium-high and cover the pot.
  9. Cook 3 minutes.
  10. Uncover, stir in the oregano, lemon pepper and drained pasta, tossing well.
  11. Add parmesan and stir through, then pour into a bowl.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 252.6
Total Fat: 2.4 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 217.8 mg
Total Carbs: 48.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 13.5 g
Protein: 11.3 g

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Three Muffins, Three Mornings

I've said before how much transportation magic food has. It constantly amazes me that with a meal you can go to Italy, Spain, France or even the Caribbean. And there is no food that can transform into a one-way ticket anywhere you want quite like the ever-versatile muffin. Far beyond the commonplace (though admittedly delicious) blueberry, cinnamon-streusel or lemon poppyseed offerings at the coffee shop, at home your kitchen can become a sort of laboratory that takes in anything your fridge, freezer and pantry can offer and churns out morning and mid-afternoon coffee break fodder for ages. When Spring and Summer come around with their rich bounty of fruit (and veggies!), the conquest of the world of flavour, colour and inspiraton becomes even easier. From early season strawberries and rhubarb to July's cherries and August peaches, additions of seeds, extracts and spices transform the market goodies.

Of course, living where I do, our usual local fare at the stores and farmer's market stands is usually more apples than oranges. So, while my family and I spend day after glorious Summer day stuffing ourselves with the freshest "whatever looks good" - we essentially live off vegetation May to early October - I always try and remember to set aside a few batches of fruit to IQF for enjoyment in mid-December! Inevitably some of this stuff makes its way into the "plane ticket muffins", which luckily are ideal candidates for either fresh or frozen additons. So, if you decide to take a trip with one of these babies, you don't have to say adiós when the Season does. Chase it down for another go!

Ginger Groove Fruit and Granola Muffins
Makes 18
1 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
4 1/2 tbsp (60g) apple cider drink mix
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
3 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 cups fat-free soy milk
1 large apple, peeled and chopped
2/3 cup (100g) cherries, pitted and chopped roughly
1/3 cup (40g) chopped walnuts
1 2/3 cup (200g) chunky granola
  1. Preheat oven to 375F grease or line muffin cups.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, crumbs, baking powder, ground ginger, salt and cider mix. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together brown sugar, oil, vanilla, ginger and soy milk.
  4. Add dry ingredients and mix until just blended, then add apple, cherries, walnuts and granola and fold in.
  5. Bake 26-28 minutes. Cool in tin 5 minutes, then unmould onto a wire rack and cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 172.5
Total Fat: 5.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 37.5 mg
Total Carbs: 29.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.2 g
Protein: 4.4 g

Georgian Morning Muffins
Makes 21
1 (29-oz) can peach slices in water, drained (or 4 medium peaches, peeled and chopped)
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/3 cup softened butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup EggBeaters (or 3 eggs, beaten)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup psyllium fibre husks (you can substitute ground flax)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 oz chopped pecans, for topping

  1. Preheat oven to 325F, grease a muffin pan.
  2. In a food processor or blender, puree the peaches, ginger and almond extract. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together butter and brown sugar.
  4. Add EggBeaters and blend well.
  5. Whisk together flours, oats, psyllium, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir half of this dry mixture into the creamed blend.
  6. Pour in the peach puree and stir gently, then add remaining flour and mix until just combined.
  7. Portion into the prepared muffin cups and top with a sprinkle of pecans.
  8. Bake 25 minutes. Cool in the pan 5 minutes before unmoulding onto a rack and cooling completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 136.8
Total Fat: 5.1 g
Cholesterol: 7.7 mg 
Sodium: 60.5 mg
Total Carbs: 23.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.7 g
Protein: 2.8 g

Tropical Morning Muffins
Makes 6 jumbo muffins or 12 regular
1 cup flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup rolled oats
½ tbsp baking powder
1 oz soy protein isolate
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 tbsp black sesame seeds
1 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup brown sugar
½ tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp pineapple jam (or crushed pineapple, drained)
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp coconut extract
1 cup diced strawberries
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease a jumbo muffin tin.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, oats, baking powder, isolate, flaxseed and black sesame seeds.
  3. In a large bowl beat together coconut milk, brown sugar, ginger, jam, sesame oil and coconut extract.
  4. Add the dry ingredients and blend gently – do not overmix.
  5. Fold in the diced strawberries.
  6. For jumbo muffins, bake 35 minutes, if you make regular-sized muffins, bake for 20-25 minutes.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 325.8
Total Fat: 12.7 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 80.9 mg
Total Carbs: 48.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.7 g
Protein: 10.7 g

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Canoodling Cannoli

It doesn't take much to inspire me in the kitchen, especially when I'm bored. It can be an innocuous comment on TV or from a friend, a picture (not even necessarily of food), a shopping trip, seeing a new cultural phenomenon or sometimes something my brain makes up on it's own. It can be dangerous (or at least inconvenient) if I have no real way of making the idea swirling around in my brain a reality - like when I bought a giant bag of chicken bones yesterday during an impromptu stop at an Asian grocer because it was only a dollar, it was my good fortune that I had nothing better to do today than break down those fatty, skin-clad carcasses and make roasted chicken stock. I wouldn't have even just settled for a light stock, either - since I don't get to make it often I was definitely going all out again and roasting those bones in my new Dutch oven before simmering it for hours on end (it's still on the stove!). When it comes to baking, I tend to churn out so many things when I'm sitting idle that not only do I not get to blog them all a la minute, but I wind up overburdening everybody around me and their second cousin with cookies, quickbread, muffins or the occasional cake. While they take it in stride, I still do feel badly for the waistlines of my friends... regardless of the fact that my treats (for the most part) are relatively healthy, as another blogger has quipped: there is healthy and then there's "healthy". Whole grain and eggless most things may be, but even the fact that French fries are vegan doesn't mean they should be counted as a 5-to-10 serving or that you should be eating them by the bowlful every day. So treats they are, and treats they should stay, and therein is the source of my guilt!

I do have the fortune, though, of having a mother that loves home made bread of any persuasion, and has an incredibly open palate and mind to the whims of the kitchen. Very rarely does she ask me what kind of bread I will make her that week, usually preferring to taste it (sometimes even finishing the loaf) before asking what I did. Only then does she render her final verdict, which if it happens to be criticism is always very constructive, and gives me clues as to where to head next on my culinary travels.

It wasn't anything in particular that caused me to come up with the idea to try infusing the flavours of a traditional Italian cannoli into a yeasted bread, other than the sudden donation of ricotta cheese (courtesy of the co-op, of course). I also had dried cherries stocked away in my cupboard for purposes unknown, and a bag of ground almonds hanging out in the freezer left over from either a carrot cake or a pie crust. Since my mom far prefers almonds to the (also traditional, but way more expensive) pistachios, I wanted to play up the nut flavour with as many angles as I could find. Almond milk is pretty much a staple around here, and as I am a baker almond extract is fairly commonplace too. I even had some Amaretto to soak the cherries in! For the chocolate element I envisioned flecks of chocolate shot peppering the dough, made nice and soft from the cheese.

It went almost as planned, too! I took my measurement cues from Daniel Leader’s book Local Breads, which were fine, but I failed to take into account the heat my mixer generated when it came to kneading in the chocolate. So, instead of a salt-and-pepper loaf with bright pops of cherry, I had a tender, cherry studded but cocoa-hued boule without any discernable "chocolate" flavour. My mom didn't complain - in fact she made only one comment on the bread a week after she finished it - "I'm out of bread, that last loaf was good! What did you put into it?"

Don't worry about it, mom. Leave the cannoli... take the bread. I'm taking it over to Susan's event  YeastSpotting this week, and to the third anniversary of Bread Baking Day at 1x umrühren bitte!

Cannoli Bread
Makes 1 large boule, about 30 slices
2 tbsp melted butter
5.5 oz ricotta cheese
1/3 cup vanilla sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk, warmed
1 tbsp instant yeast
2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/3 cup dried cherries, soaked in Amaretto overnight and drained
1/3 cup chocolate shot (sprinkles)
  1. In a food processor, combine butter, ricotta, vanilla sugar, water and almond milk. Process until well combined, set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine yeast, flours, almonds and salt.
  3. Add the cheese mixture and mix with the dough hook for 10 minutes.
  4. Add cherries and chocolate shot, knead 2 minutes longer.
  5. Cover bowl and allow to rest 20 minutes.
  6. Knead dough 2 minutes longer, re-cover dough and allow to rest 30 minutes.
  7. Gently deflate the dough and shape into a smooth ball. Place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet and mist with non-stick cooking spray.
  8. Cover and allow to rise 1 1/2 hours.
  9. Preheat oven to 400F with the rack on the bottom rung of the oven. Place a pan of hot water on the floor of the oven for at least 15 minutes before baking.
  10. Bake loaf 25 minutes, until browned and hollow-sounding when tapped.
  11. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 97.4
Total Fat: 2.9 g
Cholesterol: 4.7 mg
Sodium: 19.7 mg
Total Carbs: 15.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.2 g
Protein: 2.9 g
Bread Baking Day #31 - 3rd anniversary and giveaways (last day of submission July 1st)

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Buttering" Up

One of the most generous - and overwhelming - gifts I recieved from the overburdened fridge of my co-op placement was a rather large donation of whipping cream. And by large, I mean I came home with no less than 4 litres, or 16 cups, of the stuff. One measly cup made it's way into some luscious, cake-enrobing ganache, but then I was left with 15 cups of the undrinkable, not-likely-to-be-used but decadently good stuff sitting in my fridge. I wasn't planning on making ice cream or a fluffily-frosted cream cake any time soon - for one thing we were about to jet off to Florida for a week, and for another I felt...well... guilty about imposing good after baked good on the poor kind folks at my mom's office. But I couldn't just toss all that cream. 

So I dragged out the stand mixer and the cheesecloth and made butter. Well, really, what would you do? In fairly short order those impossible-to-surmount litres of cream had transformed into neatly wrapped blocks of sweet, pale yellow butter. I portioned the batches into 8-oz segments before wrapping them up, then stuffed all but one into a giant Ziploc and stashed it in the freezer. There will be no want for the good stuff in the near future... at least for me. The rest of the family? Well, they can get their own. They don't know I've got this cache anyways!

Mason Jar Butter
Makes roughly 6 1/4 lbs of butter, 8 cups of buttermilk
15 cups (organic preferably) heavy whipping cream (I used 35% fat, but something higher like 40-45% is better)
1 large mason jar
1 marble

  1. Fill half - 2/3 of the mason jar with cream, add the clean marble and screw on the lid.
  2. Shake like there's no tomorrow - a good 15-20 minutes at least - and if you've got kids enlist them to help!
  3. We were taught a rhyme called "Come Butter Come" in school to repeat while shaking it:
    "Come butter come.
    Come butter come.
    Boys are standing at the gate,
    Waiting for their butter cake.
    Come butter come.
    Come butter come.
    Dogs are waiting at the door
    To lick the cake crumbs off the floor.
    Come butter come."
  4. Eventually you'll stop hearing the marble clanking around in the jar, and the sloshing will sound runnier - that's all the buttermilk!
  5. Strain it through a cheesecloth and wash under cold water, then squeeze out the remaining buttermilk and washing water. Wrap in cling wrap and stick in the fridge or freezer!
Of course, if you have a stand mixer and a whip, just stick the cream in there and let her rip until the buttermilk floods out. Just watch for it - it really does "flood" out!
Amount Per 1-tbsp Serving
Calories: 62.2
Total Fat: 6.7 g
Cholesterol: 24.7 mg
Sodium: 6.9 mg
Total Carbs: 0.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.0 g
Protein: 0.4 g

Doesn't it look all gloriously decdent and rich in it's bowl?? At the same time as making all that luxurious butter, I was cooking up another kind of buttery treat - but without the dairy butter. Yes, that apple butter of mine was at it again, this time in an adaptation of a tried and true pie recipe by none other than Elizabeth Baird (and out of my favourite cookbook of hers, no less). As I usually do to recipes not commissioned by others, I nixed the eggs in favour of a blend of silken tofu and cream cheese, making for a rich, silky custard, and I lowered the fat content by substituting the cream (since you know, it was in use) with a can of evaporated skim milk. Then I kicked up all the spices, poured the filling into my prepped pie shells (you can use pre-made frozen if you want) and stuck them in to bake.

It smelled like Thanksgiving. Or a Thanksgiving-Christmas-apple picking ménage à trois, the apple aromas playing off the pumpkin pie-like spices and the scent of baking crust. I took one of the pies in with me on my last day at co-op as a thank you token, where both staff and kids polished it off in no time flat. All of them thought the pie was pumpkin, all of them loved the flavour, and none of them - especially the kids - suspected the tofu. I had bet my supervisor weeks before that I could get the kids to eat - and like - tofu, and I was making good on that bet! I waltzed out of there that afternoon congratulating myself with a sing-song "I got the kids to eat toooooffffuuuuu.... aaaand they liiiiiked it!".

Immature? You bet! Work rubbed off on me!

Eggless Apple Butter Pie
Serves 24, 2 pies
2 unbaked (9") pie crusts
1 12-oz can evaporated skim milk, divided
1 tbsp tapioca flour
2 cups unsweetened apple butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
5 oz low-fat silken tofu
2 tbsp low-fat cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Place pie crusts on a baking sheet.
  2. In a small dish, mix together 2 tbsp of the evaporated milk with the tapioca flour.
  3. Add remaining milk, apple butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, tofu, cream cheese and vanilla to the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth.
  4. Add the tapioca mixture and puree in.
  5. Pour into prepared crusts and bake for 60 minutes, until center is mostly set.
  6. Chill overnight before serving.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 112.1
Total Fat: 3.7 g
Cholesterol: 1.3 mg
Sodium: 98.5 mg
Total Carbs: 17.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.5 g
Protein: 2.3 g