Sunday, November 28, 2010

As If You Needed Another One...

Banana breads are really one of the culinary universe's chameleons. You can do pretty much anything you want to them - leave them spartan, plain and proud, or go crazy adding everything from different spices to nuts to fruit and even candy. Ranging from the ├╝ber rich, full-on butter and egg cake-like creations to a  dairy-, oil- and sugar-free loaf and even a raw vegan dessert, pretty much anything is fair game. But usually all banana breads we make are reliant on a single basic formula - we find one that works for us and our kitcheny circumstances and stick with it's ratios of fat/flour/binder/banana, just tweaking here and there.

So why even bother posting yet another banana bread recipe? After all, I fall victim to the "tweaker" mentality too. And yet, I have still managed to post almost thirty banana-filled quickbreads, muffins and cakes. Probably because with each progressive incarnation, each addition or flair, the results are so welcomed by those I give them to that I can't not share with everyone!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Craving Some Kale

Well, now that both us Canadians and our neighbours to the south have had their first meal of the pig-out season known as Thanksgiving-through-New Years, there's a tiny bit of leeway in between feasts to give our bodies (and jeans) a bit of a break. What better than to balance out the turkey, potatoes, stuffing and gravy than with a good hearty bowl... of greens?

No, I'm not talking a giant bowl of shredded iceberg lettuce (though there is nothing wrong with that!) - I'm talking some good, hearty greens. Kale, to be exact. And yes, I cook it. I have to admit, I never used to like kale in any variation - raw, stewed, in soups, sauteed, even as chips. I just couldn't get my head around enjoying the bitter, dark leafies.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Who's Getting Buttery Bliss??

First off, I want to say a HUGE thank you to the six participants in my fist ever giveaway - it was more than I thought ever read my blog in the first place at all, and your feedback was definitely good reading (and made me hungry!). Unfortunately, as much as I would love to give each of you a prize, I only have one gift basket from Gay Lea to give out. Thanks to the random number generator, we have a winner...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

After the Frost

Don't forget, Ontario residents - enter to win a Gay Lea baking basket of goodies worth $60! Deadline is midnight tonight!

Well, we had our first "major" frost snap last night - not surprising, seeing as it's mid-November now, but stil a little bit of a depressing sign that all too soon that "white stuff" will be sticking around for a while. Our grass is back to it's dead brown blah-ness and our vegetable garden is bare - I picked all the remaining tomatoes (even the green ones) a few weeks ago and it's been far too late in the season for the plants to even think about doing anything but "kicking the bucket", so to speak.

But what was I then to do with all those "reject" tomatoes that didn't get their butts in gear fast enough to mature? I'd already done jars and jars of mincemeat, enough to last my dad (the only real mincemeat fan) for years. Then again, I did have a ton of apples still hanging around from our orchard trip, and some way-too-hard green pears that for some reason would not soften up. So what the heck - pie filling it is.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jacking (Up) the Apples n' Flax

I've never liked cereal. Even as a kid, when faced with a dizzying array (even back then) of sugar-crusted, "froot" flavoured boxes of the stuff when I went to a friends house, the grocery store or even hotels with continental breakfast options, I just didn't go for it. Don't know why, really - I mean, what kid would say no to Count Chocula or Corn Pops when you know your mom's not looking? But there you have it. I won't say I never ate cereal, since it was kind of hard to get away from it as a convenient, on-the-go breakfast when our family went up to our boat at 5AM, but even then - it had to be dry (I still believe milk + cereal is heresy), and I didn't want any sugary junk in it. For the longest time if I ate it at all, I'd chow on plain old Cheerios, Shreddies or a big brick of Shredded Wheat. Back then (God I sound old, don't I?), the only real "varieties" of these three were the Honey Nut Cheerios and plain frosted Mini-Wheats - there was no "Vanilla Shreddies", or "Cocoa Rice Krispies", or Mini-Wheats in 9 different varieties. I think the extent of the typical lines of cereal extended to maybe a Holiday colour trio of Rice Krispies each year.

When I hit university for some odd reason I developed a craving for cereal. And not just any cereal - I was craving a fake-flavour laced variant of an old love: the Apple Cinnamon Cheerio. And not just a handful or seven out of the box for a snack - I actually ate bowls of it for breakfast, too. Far from getting "tired" of it after slaking my craving, I just loved it more. Though it doesn't necessarily love me back these days, I still do crave it on occasion.

Times have sure changed - for one thing, now when I hit the cereal aisle it's more like shopping in a candy store! But if you search on the lowest shelves, or hop into the nearest bulk store, you can still find the old, plain classics. So I decided to fix my current craving for the apple-cinnamon rings by baking them. Rather than making cookies or marshmallow bars with the plain Cheerios I picked up, I did what I do best: bread!

So though I've been remiss in my general posting and certainly in my submissions to events like Wild Yeast's YeastSpotting (I admit it, I'm in class right now and thoroughly ignoring my prof's "beans + rice always = deficiency in your diet, ergo bad" rambles), I hope to start making it up soon. God knows, I have enough posts in backlog!

Apple Jacks n' Flax Bread
Makes 14 slices
2/3 cup warm apple cider
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup warm, unsweetened applesauce
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat bread flour
1/4 cup potato flour
1/3 cup ground flaxseed
1/3 cup whole flaxseed
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tbsp instant yeast
1 medium tart apple, peeled and diced
1/2 cup Cheerios cereal

  1. In a medium bowl, beat together cider, egg, applesauce, honey, butter and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl or basin of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, whisk together flours, flaxseed, cinnamon and yeast.
  3. Add the liquid ingredients and mix well.
  4. Knead for 12 minutes, until dough begins to form elastic "strands".
  5. Cover and let rest 10 minutes.
  6. Knead a further 7-8 minutes on medium speed, then re-cover and let rest 15 minutes.
  7. Scrape onto a floured counter and knead in apple pieces and Cheerios cereal. It will take a while, but it will all fit!
  8. Shape into a round, cover and let rest 30 minutes.
  9. Lightly deflate dough and shape into a loaf, place into a greased loaf pan. Cover and let rise 1 1/2 hours.
  10. Preheat oven to 350F.
  11. Place bread on the lowest rack of the oven and bake 50 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 175.0
Total Fat: 4.9 g
Cholesterol: 19.5 mg
Sodium: 28.6 mg
Total Carbs: 29.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.5 g
Protein: 5.2 g

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beautiful Bliss with Butter - and a Gay Lea Giveaway!

With Christmas season fast approaching (eek!) I know my mom and I are scouring the grocery stores each week looking for the best deals on butter. I'm pretty sure that, in baking alone (mostly shortbreads too!), we are probably responsible for using up the dairy output of an entire cow during the month of December. Last year - not a word of a lie - we burned through seven pounds of butter in our shortbread marathons and our two loaves of intensely rich (but oh so freaking good) Holiday Brioche. That is a lot of butter. Considering that as a whole our family uses maybe one pound of the stuff throughout the rest of the year, it's almost gluttonous to think of the exponential upswing in our fat intake in just 31 days!

But you have to admit, butter has that undeniable feel-good factor inside. As healthy as it may be, you don't get a comforting feeling from toast drizzled with olive oil and cinnamon! Any baker knows that there is a world of difference too between a cake with a bland shortening base and one made from rich, creamy butter. The one recipe I will never ever swap out the real stuff in are my mom's shortbreads - and for good reason. They work. They taste great. And they're cookies - if you want health food at Christmas, you'll have better luck chewing on some organic pine tree bark as a Christmas snack!

Usually the shortbreads we make around this time of year are just that - plain, vanilla, no-fuss butter and icing sugar concoctions. No chocolate, nuts or fruit to mess with the velvety texture. Then the folks at Gay Lea - a great butter producer in Ontario - sent me a few rather unusual recipes for the treat: a savoury Chipotle & White Cheddar Shortbread Cracker, and some ooey-gooey-delicious Banana Coconut Cream Shortbread Stacks. While I dont think I can ever convince mom to use these in place of her coveted prize-winners, I can't wait to give them a whirl myself!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cookies with a Kick

These cookies were almost a case of a good idea gone horribly, horribly bad. Why, you ask? Well, it began with a recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies and a jar of jelly.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Emptying the Bag

It's a toss up for me as to how I feel about the holiday food scene. I mean, though I despise pumpkin pie and think mincemeat is something best buried deep underground, I make several versions of both, and given their reception by both family and the foodie community I would say they're recipes worth keeping around for a while. Even though my grandma's famous mashed potatoes with their lashings of cream cheese and butter are off the menu for me now, I still adore mashers with the simple additions of salt, pepper and garlic. Oddly enough, I reserve my cranberry sauce use for mixing into those potatoes when they're day-old, and when I was a meat-eater it paired with cold turkey, Miracle Whip and whole-grain toast. It's not overly gourmet, but I love the way the cranberries pair with the other, drier ingredients, and my lower-sugar, stevia-sweetened sauce that I made last year is still one of my favourites.

But not everyone adores cranberry sauce as much as I do - except possibly my mom, who uses it almost as much as me! So every year we make a half-batch, which then leads to the random half-bags of the fruit sitting in the freezer. Of course something like that can't stay stashed for long around here... not with my "boredom baking" tendency! I had bought some organic almond butter and whole almonds a while ago for what I think was a batch of cookies, and I had seen a recipe somewhere for an almond and poppyseed cake. So what better than an almond-cranberry-poppyseed loaf?

So I chopped up those tart little morsels and chucked them into a decadent quickbread batter, topping the raw mix with some of the whole almonds just to be pretty. Because who doesn't want some pretty, glittering gems in their day?

Almond - Poppyseed Loaf with Cranberries
Serves 10
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp poppy seeds
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp baking powder
1 cup 1% milk
1/4 cup melted butter
2 tbsp almond butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract
1/3 cup slivered almonds
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, roughly chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease a loaf pan.
  2. In a bowl, whisk flours, sugar, poppy seeds, nutmeg and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat milk, butter, almond butter, egg, vanilla and almond extract.
  4. Add flour mixture and stir just to combine.
  5. Fold in almonds and cranberries.
  6. Bake 1 hour 10 minutes.
  7. Cool in pan 30 minutes, then turn out and cool on a wire rack
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 268.2
Total Fat: 10.4 g
Cholesterol: 34.7 mg
Sodium: 51.7 mg
Total Carbs: 38.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.2 g
Protein: 7.2 g

Sunday, November 7, 2010

You Can Never Have Too Many Brownies

Are you one of those people in the die-hard "chocolate or bust" camp? Or are you more attracted to the rich, smooth velvetyness of the custards, the flans... the cheesecakes! I can never decide for myself. I mean, I adore chocolate - what girl doesn't after all? - but like my dad, I have a penchant for rich, creamy rice pudding. I picked up a love for Boston Cream Pie from grandpa. And cheesecake? Well, that's all mom's doing, for sure.

But finding good combinations for the two is tricky. The texture thing, for one - brownies are fudgy to cakey, easily eaten out-of-hand, slightly gooey and just brownie-ish. Rice pudding is thick but spoonable, requiring a bowl. Boston Cream Pie and cheesecake (for the most part) require forks. Then there's the whole taste factor: both the creaminess of the non-chocolate desserts and the fudgy qualities of the brownies are rich, and easily overpower a dessert. I've tried recipe after recipe over the years that combined the two - brownie batter-swirled rice pudding, brownie crusted cheesecake, and yes, even the common cheesecake swirled brownie, but there was always some sort of sway one way or another that meant one side won out over the other.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Baby, it's a Brand-New Day

I'm a huge fan of breakfast. I know it doesn't really show on the blog (okay, heck, not much in general has shown up on this blog recently), but to me a day simply cannot get started without some sort of nosh. Whether it's hot or cold, sit-down or on-the-go, as long as that food gets into my belly I'm happy.

Of course, I do prefer the hot (or at least warm) breakfast when I get the chance. Be it a bowl of nuked leftover rice from the night before (I stir in jam... nummy!) or a couple toasted corn flatbreads with cinnamon-sugar, the heat seems to keep me a bit more "up" the rest of the morning than a plain bowl of cereal. I know that a lot of people both my age, younger and older than me hate the whole concept of breakfast, though. My dad and sister, for example, could basically eat one meal at "lunch" and another around "dinner" and be done for the day. A couple of my friends who take transit into class in the early morning or work weird shifts simply say they have no time for breakfast. And then you have some of my clients with allergies - one girl who I've mentioned before, a celiac allergic to fungi, corn, strawberries, dairy and brassicae, is both run-off-her-feet busy with school, 4 jobs and army cadets is simply overwhelmed by the prospect of fnding anything convenient and safe to grab in the morning rush.