Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Final Festive Fruits

The year is almost over, and while a lot of others are busy making their lists of resolutions or "best of's", I'm still trying to catch up from Christmas. I would definitely be remiss if I didn't mention the awesome (if I may boast) mincemeat pie I baked for my dad's holiday dinner yesterday... he is the mincemeat-eating king, and even though nobody should really be chowing down on the stuff en masse, it's a one-a-year treat he really looks forward to. Besides, I make both crust and filling from scratch - which is way better than the stuff out of boxes and jars!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Berries and Grains for a Holiday Recovery

Bet that lured you into thinking that this post would be all health food and diet guru-y-ness... well, I hate to disappoint, but I've still got holiday goodies to tell you about! At least these ones are physically gone from the hous - to my mom's relief. She's actually said that she wished I didn't cook and bake so well because all my goodies were addictive. Well, I don't know about that, but I can't be taking the credit: I had a few really good teachers!

I suppose that there has to be something to be said for the fact that these cookies were a little bit closer to the "healthy" side of the holiday table, and as far as I know they tasted great, since my mom actually hoarded some for her own personal "work stash" and the guests that had a taste went back for seconds. I figured that I had to make the holiday gig my last real baking "hurrah" for a while, so I was going to make it worthwhile! A few of my loyal taste-testers / eaters have recently been bemoaning their apparent weight gain (just where they're gaining it, nobody else can see!) and I've been taken on as a personal nutrition consultant for a handful of them - I've turned it into a self-fulfilling job hunt, I guess! (By the way, I am taking online clients... you can email or Tweet me for details).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Love Me / Hate Me Fudge

If you were to poll my family members as to their favourite sandwich spread, anyone hailing from the Italian region of the globe would give you the same, sweet answer: Nutella. My sister would tell you the same thing, although you would have to specify on or in what the chocolate-hazelnut butter would be a part of.

For instance, there's no way she'd accept this fudge as a viable carrier for it's flavour. For one thing, it's not straight Nutella. Even if it was made with all milk chocolate and contained a full jar of the spread, it's got chunks of filberts and a dash of booze... which would make for an instantaneous exclusion from her menu!

Luckily, when I was making this chocolate-hazelnut fudge, I didn't have to worry about those details. It was a gift-y kind of good, and so I was able to keep it away from her - though hiding it from the others took a bit more squirreling away! If I hadn't known that even so much as a crumb of this passed my lips I'd really regret it (and would be writing this from an ER cot), I somehow doubt that  the packages I made up for my friends would have made it to the post office!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Staying Up for Santa

So, Christmas Eve, eh? I don't know how many of you fall into the same trap I did this year, when it comes down to (literally) the eleventh hour and all of a sudden - gasp - you realize that you haven't wrapped a carefully - hidden gift you bought ages ago, or that you need to be at a potluck in four hours and you, planning to be the source of the desserts, discover that some cookie-monsters have eaten all the shortbreads on the platter!
Thankfully, cookies are fast, and if you get those sneaky elves to help you out with the little bits and pieces, you can boast not only a beautiful plate of sweets but a few leftovers to keep for Santa. Considering that he has the whole world to deal with in one night (can we say overbooked?) he'll need a bit of a boost!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pretty Perfect Pretzels

With the overabundance of sugar and butter that seems to accompany the holiday season, sometimes I crave a simpler snack. Now, I still love my sweets - I have yet to meet a woman who doesn't - but at the same time, when you spend a good portion of your day up to your elbows (sometimes literally!) in different sugars and cookie doughs the opposite end of the spectrum starts calling your name.

To give our hard-working digestive tracts a little bit of a break before the whole 15-person shenanigan fest of Christmas Eve's dinner and Christmas Morning's brunch (yeah, my Mom cooks for both of those - she's a bit of a glutton for punishment that way!), I wanted to come up with a nice, basic complex-carb snack that people could grab on the go or munch while wrapping gifts. For me personally, I wanted to make something that would give my skin a break from constantly being abused by the whole wheat-flour-flying antigen factor that seems to constantly arise when I bake - which meant making something gluten free.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ginger (and) Mint

I think I'm pretty good at pegging what people like when it comes to the whole dessert / snack thing. Certainly I've become better at it over the years - I generally know how far "outside the box" I can go with my offerings before I start meeting resistance or (perish the thought!) outright rejection. It's all about picking up on the subtle cues people leave in conversation - even if you aren't talking to them about food (what, there's another topic of conversation out there?), people do drop hints as to their personality and generally their likes and dislikes.

A classic example I've come to realize over the years is that, for the most part, adults are perfectly content with desserts and snacks that are more spicy than sweet. They are the dark chocolate people, the ones who eat the actual gingerbread of the gingerbread houses (rather than people like me and most kids who would rather pick off the candy and royal icing), and those who lean towards fruit and nut types of concoctions rather than a sticky-sweet nougat or caramel.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Bite of Biscotti

I think some of the quintessential Christmas cookies out there are biscotti. Thinking about it, it really does make sense: you can make them well ahead of time, they never really go stale (come on, they’re cookie croutons after all), can be jazzed up a gazillion different ways and make great gift-basket or cookie swap additions. And really, you can dunk them in pretty much any hot beverage – I’ve made apple butter biscotti that went great in hot apple cider, for instance, and there’s even brands of them for sale that specify that their perfect pairing is tea. Of course, you can’t go wrong with the standard espresso dunk either, but I have to say my favourite combination was chocolate-malt cookies that I had with a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

I do go through phases with my Christmas cookie baking, I’ve noticed – this year it seems to be that I’ve done a lot of fruity mixes, and with luck I’ll get them all posted before the 25th! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a few chocolatey goodies on the dial too, but in general I think maybe this whole nutrition thing is wearing off on me. Thankfully, it’s not rubbing off too much, because if I was to take everything we were taught as the be-all-end-all gospel truth, I don’t think I’d even be breathing, let alone driving home in my gas-powered car, firing up my electric oven and making something that just *might* involve non-organic, shipped goods and sugar. Moderation, I say. And when better to test the boundaries of this “moderation” concept than at Christmastime?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Deviance and Deliciousness

Ever felt like you’re going full-tilt, in a gazillion places at once, and yet you just can’t seem to get anything done? That’s me this holiday season. I am honestly so behind on everything these days – writing, gift wrapping, even baking for gifts I’m giving out this holiday have all somehow become stuck in the proverbial mud. I’m of course going to blame the obvious time-suck for me these days – school – but I’m not alone in my heel-dragging this year. My mom and I, usually so “on the ball” when it comes to our holiday shortbreads, only made our first batch of the year this past weekend!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Bread From a Coffee Shop Order

I found myself in Starbucks for the first time in ages this week. Even when I was a die-hard coffee addict (oh yes, I was addicted to the stuff), the one place's brew I just couldn't stomach was the 'bucks. But it was cold, and windy, and I had just spent 3 hours fighting my way along the highway to try and make it to class. Only making it halfway there by the three hour point, I was too tired to even try thinking, and more than anything else I really needed to find a spot with a restroom and a working heater. The first spot I found to fit the criteria was... the Seattle empire of espresso. I hate to admit it, but that bitter, almost acrid smell of the dark-roasted beans and stale coffee that permeated every orfice of the cafĂ© was enticing.

Come in, sit down, it called, stay awhile.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Kissing Up

And of course, by kissing up, I mean with these babies:

I know, aren't they awesome?? And addictive!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Holy Hemp!

There is quite the trade going at my school for "natural" energy bars. The office sells them, along with all our textbooks - but even without the "inside" sales, I see more vega, soyjoy and larabars being eaten than anywhere else. I have to say I'm a bit surprised. After all, we are a nutrition college, which does emphasize whole food and actually eating breakfast, lunch and dinner (though if you talk to my current prof we'd all be on a week-long juice fast right now), so the thought of the processed, pre-wrapped bars is kind of contradictive.

But the demand is there, and seeing as I had a review copy of Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich standing by (review is forthcoming!) I figured I'd page through it and see if she had a nice, "wholesome" bar I could bring in. I did find a good base recipe - if you have the book it's her Honey Hemp Bars - and after making the original (according to mom: yum!) I knew I had something I could work with. I needed to make a fair amount of changes to it though: I make whatever I bring into the school vegan (if you saw the demographics of our program you'd totally understand!) and I try to bring in mostly gluten-free items, especially since one of my friends is gluten-free herself!

Then of course I set about emptying my pantry of every possible gluten-free and vegan add-in I could find: tahini, cacao nibs, bittersweet chocolate, flax, poppy, hemp, sesame and sunflower seeds, two types of nuts and every kind of dried fruit I could find! All the additions expanded the recipe so much that it essentially doubled in volume, which was fine by me... after all, I was feeding a goodly amount of people!

After baking them and letting them cool down (trust me, you need these to be completely cool before you cut them!), I figured I'd make them look like their $2.50 counterparts by wrapping them each in plastic wrap and slapping a label on them. I thought they were pretty nifty myself - and was asked more than once how much I was selling them for!

Wholesome Hemp Energy Bars
Makes 16
1/4 cup toasted buckwheat kernels (kasha)
1/4 cup water
2 cups puffed millet cereal
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup hemp seeds
1/4 cup whole flax seeds
2 tbsp black sesame seeds
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
3 tbsp miniature chocolate chips
2 tbsp currants
2 tbsp dried blueberries
2 tbsp gogi berries
2 tbsp dried cherries
2 tbsp dried cranberries
1 tbsp cacao nibs
1/3 cup dark agave nectar
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
2 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp fresh-grated ginger
  1. Preheat oven to 300F, line a 9x13 pan with parchment.
  2. Combine kasha and water in a microwaveable dish, cover and microwave on HI for 2 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.
  3. In a bowl, combine kasha, millet cereal, nuts, seeds, chocolate, fruits and cacao nibs.
  4. In a small saucepan, heat agave, corn syrup, tahini and ginger, stirring until smooth and liquefied.
  5. Pour over the cereal mixture and fold in, stirring well to coat everything. It may not appear as if everything will be incorporated, but it will blend!
  6. Scrape into the prepared pan and with a spatula (I use an offset palette knife) press down into an even layer.
  7. Bake for 1 hour, covering pan with foil after 30 minutes.
  8. Cool completely, then lift out of the pan and cut into bars.
  9. Wrap individually in wax paper or cling wrap and keep at room temperature for up to 5 days or in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 175.9
Total Fat: 8.9 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 13.6 mg
Total Carbs: 22.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.1 g
Protein: 4.4 g

For those in the Durham region or who is a student at IHN that is interested in purchasing these bars, I am selling them for $1.75 each or as a box of 16 for $24 (a savings of $4).

I also specialize in made-to-order holistic, healthy baked goods and meals, lead grocery store tours (for those beginning new eating plans) and if there is enough demand will expand to cooking classes on a variety of topics. For those interested in nutritional counselling, cooking classes or ordering products (I am working on setting up a portfolio, but anything is fair game - if you have an idea let me know),
please e-mail me at