Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gedd - OPA! - Here

You really can’t go wrong with cheesecake. Even if you’re lactose intolerant, vegan or diabetic, you’re sure to find one or another that pleases your palate. You can have low-fat pies (even Paula Deen’s got one!) or total calorie bombs (mmm, Caramel Brownie!), crustless or on a bed of super-thick cookie dough.

Then comes the types of cheesecake you can have. The Italians have their ricotta and mascarpone blended into a smooth and creamy, somewhat crumbly batter. Go to France and you get the airy gelatine and Neufchatel baked into rather thin cakes. Japan has cottony, matcha-laced confections. Check out the US or Canada and you get all sorts of them – from the sour-cream capped to the notorious New York Style.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Two Tasty Treats

Muffins are far and away some of the easiest foods to whip up. Not only are they easy, but they’re infinitely variable, and one heck of a good way to use up all the “bits and pieces” lurking in your fridge and pantry. I can’t imagine any other type of food that can take vegetables, dregs of milk, the last of the honey and a handful of cooked or raw grains and combines it into a portable, tasty and (if you play your cards right) healthy meal on the go that even picky kids will like. They can be packed with oats, sunflower seeds and applesauce with hardly any sugar and nary a trace of fat, or you can channel Costco or the local bakery and plug in gads of butter and chocolate while the whole wheat flour hangs out in the back of the cupboard. Likewise, muffins can become breakfast, snacks or even dessert. It’s all in the presentation.

Usually when it comes to making muffins though, it’s because I’m bored and looking for a quick way to both avoid things that I “should” be doing (like homework, or cleaning my room, or writing blog posts... I can’t focus!) and make something fun and unique to take along to appointments or give to my classmates.  It’s always a bonus if I don’t have to run to the store, or if I’m already there finding a cheap goody to make a fairly “standard” batter unique.

That was how I came about making these rather random, somewhat Asian-y flavoured bites. Already in the Asian grocery store picking up some veggies and chicken for that purple soup I concocted (meat is so much cheaper there than at the “box box” guys, and amazing quality too!), I breezed by the “death bin” of produce and found some gems. Not only did I get some beautiful mushrooms and a giant parsnip for a steal (I don’t know why they were in there but they were!) but I also found a bag containing a couple limes and a slightly over-ripe mango. I had some tahini waiting patiently in the fridge for someone to use, and a partial can of coconut milk in the freezer, and I already had the purple rice out to be simmered away in the soup. It all seemed like a perfectly logical combination, especially when I remembered the beautiful bread that I baked in July with the cooked wild rice mixture. Once the rice was done and the coconut milk was thawed, it was a flash-in-the-pan (or rather “mix-in-the-bowl”) before I had these flavour bombs cooling on my counter.

Tasty Thai Muffins
Makes 16
1 ½ cups cooked purple rice (also called "forbidden rice") - about 2/3 cup dry
½ cup tahini (sesame seed butter)
1 egg
uice and zest of 1 lime
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
¼ cup honey
¼ cup corn syrup
¼ cup sugar
2/3 cup coconut milk
¼ cup shredded coconut
1 cup flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 Ataufo (honey) mango, peeled and diced
  1. Preheat oven to 400F, line 16 muffin cups with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, combine rice, tahini, egg, honey and milk.
  3. Stir in flours, baking powder and salt until just moistened.
  4. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 199.7
Total Fat: 7.3 g
Cholesterol: 13.3 mg
Sodium: 21.2 mg
Total Carbs: 31.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.3 g
Protein: 4.6 g

Still on my muffin-making kick while my mom was away in Texas, and without any “good excuse” to hit the shops, I turned back to the random bits in my fridge for answers. If you remember the super-flavourful cranberry, honey and wine sauce I cooked down a little while back, I figured it, along with some cereal and dried cranberries, would make for some pretty healthy and delicious snacks for my dedicated “eaters”. Of course, that same sauce also had a shot of curry and thyme leaves too, but that fell by the wayside as I folded it into the grainy batter. If anything, it probably tempered the super-sweet factor of the honey and the pre-sweetened dried fruit, while adding a touch of “ooh la la” to the baked outcome. Of course, I’m sure this would have worked just as well with a can of the “whole-berry” stuff, but I’d take out the maple syrup in that case or you wind up with sticky-sweetness coating your mouth.

Completely Cran - Tastic Wholegrain Muffins
Makes 12
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1/3 cup warm water
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup 100% Bran cereal (the twigs, not buds)
3/4 cup V8 V-Fusion® Pomegranate Blueberry juice blend (or 100% cranberry juice)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp fresh-grated ginger
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup (preferably homemade) whole-berry cranberry sauce
1/4 cup dried cranberries

  1. Preheat oven to 350F, lightly spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick coating.
  2. In a small bowl, combine flaxseed and warm water. Set aside for 10 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, combine oats and bran cereal, the pour juice and syrup overtop and set aside 10 minutes.
  4. Add vanilla, ginger and flax mixture to the soaked cereal and blend well.
  5. Gently stir in flour, baking powder and baking soda.
  6. Finally, gently fold in the cranberry sauce and dried cranberries.
  7. Bake for 18-19 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in the pan before turning out.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 146.5
Total Fat: 1.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 57.4 mg
Total Carbs: 33.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.0 g
Protein: 3.3 g

Friday, January 21, 2011

What I've Learned

Cooking for kids - any kids - is always a touch and go experience. Sometimes, they blow you out of the water by scarfing down the most unlikely things. I remember the first time I ate dinner at my friend Lyndsey's house - I had never had asparagus before in my life (it was a "grownup" food that people assumed my 9-year-old tastebuds wouldn't take to) and so "didn't like it", but lo and behold what appeared before me at the table was a plate filled with two of the three things I believed that I detested: steamed rice (I know, weird) and - gasp! - asparagus. But it wasn't just asparagus, it had "stuff" on it - which I later discovered was the delectable goody known as Hollandaise. Needless to say, after that first bite, I was hooked. I cleaned my plate that night, and discovered by the end of it that it didn't even need the sauce... the rice, on the other hand got a bit more than a drizzle! So you can imagine my mom's look of shock when I came home proudly declaring my newfound love for the vegetable... as a kid where basically broccoli with a whack of butter or cheese sauce and Caesar salad were the only greens on my plate, an unadorned veggie was as alien to her eyes as it was to my tastebuds. But it was delicious - and obviously as the years went on I discovered a love for almost every root, stalk, leaf and fruit out there.

But then you have those kids that, no matter what you try to give them, it's a no-go. My sister? It's like pulling teeth to get anything healthyish into her. Those boxes of Mac and Cheese that have pasta with cauliflower in them but "tastes like white pasta"? Forget it. Ditto on the whole wheat stuff - the glare she'd give you would send you running for the hills. The "smart pasta" and "white whole wheat" Wonder bread get similarly snubbed. She will eat peas, baby carrots, the occasional apple and tiny salad, but it's been my experience that it only ever happens when they have been prepared for her. You'd think that it would make just making everything from scratch the only way to have anything she likes on the menu... but again, not so much. Apart from occasional waffles, scrambled eggs, broiled plain chicken and maybe a morsel of steak, nothing "homemade" masses muster. Boxes, cans and the frozen aisle are the way to her heart. She even passed up my mom's homemade red velvet cake for her last birthday in favour of a boxed mix and can of frosting! And if a cake is being made - you can bet she won't let me do it. The ones I do from the mixes apparently "taste weird", regardless of how closely I follow the directions.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lady Marmalade

Ever found yourself with an ingredient or a random food in your pantry that you neither remember buying nor have a clue what to do with? Yup, that's what happens to me - about... every day. And usually it's not something like the cranberries from yesterday that I can rid myself of in a one-shot deal, but it's the cans of tuna, the wasabi powder and the tiny jars of "gift basket" jams and jellies I find in the pantry, long abandoned by the rest of the household. Or the tins of evaporated milk, the used-Once can of Ovaltine powder and the packages of cook and serve pudding that I find wasting away in my baker's nook. Periodically I do try to clean out the works, tossing ancient foodstuffs or those that should be learning to talk rather than be cooked, but I hate to waste things that are still "good" - even if I have no idea what I'll do with them, they become my new project elements. Come Hell or high water, I will figure out how to incorporate that random ingredient into a recipe!

It was exactly that line of thinking that brought me to making these two sweet treats. Somewhere along the course of last year, one of us had been gifted with a jar of guava jelly. Now, I don't mind guava jam, but I'm not big on toast these days given the whole issue with my GI tract gluten seems to give me, and nobody else in my family was about to touch the stuff (sigh, they don't know what they're missing!). I really didn't want to throw it out, but at the same time there was no way I'd find a gaggle of willing eaters for a lavish jam-filled cake or even a crostata type of pastry. Seems like I've become so popular at my mom's office that my treats have been eaten with a bit more gusto than most of the ladies' jeans were willing to accept. So I've had to put a bit of a damper on my idea generator, or at least the manifestation of it!

Regardless of their diets though, I do know that everyone at the office is quite fond of muffins. Particularly, if I can bring them something that matches the quality and spectacle of their cafeteria or the meeting caterer's goodies, the fact that I almost always add something healthy pushes me up a bit above the rest. These babies were inspired by these ones that I found on Pioneer Woman's site. I won't say they were adapted, per se, because that would be a lie... it was basically just a jumping off point I used for the basic ratios of flours : leavening : jam. So I don't wanna hear anything like this about me, okay? 

Phew. Okay, sorry about that. I think I need a muffin.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Gift, Some Booze, and a Bit of Honey

My friend Johana recently gifted me with a partial bag of frozen cranberries. Now, she is not familiar with a lot of more "native" North American foods, being from Columbia and living in a Columbian household after immigrating to Canada. While she wasn't up on what cornmeal was (let alone cornbread - in any sense of the word), she is a wealth of information and great ideas and recipes that she considers commonplace at home. She came over around the holidays to discover what the deal was with those shortbread cookies I had talked her ear off about, and to learn how to make apple pie - something she had asked me about before. I had to default to my mom on those fronts... I might be a baker, and I am proud of my pies, but Mom is still the quintessential "benchmark" of perfection in my pastry kitchen. In exchange for the "lessons" she's be learning by my mother's side, my mom asked for Johana to show her how to make one of the meals I had talked her ear off about! I never did get down the full recipe, but I know there was rice, shrimp, peas, tomatoes, onion, garlic and a red pepper in there. Looked and smelled divine though!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

I'm sure that if anyone was to peer into the pot of almost black, inky liquid that made up the broth for this recent batch of soup, the idea of it as a chicken-and-rice preparation wouldn't ever cross their mind. But that was exactly what this warming, wholesome melange was, in essence. Carrots, onions, potatoes and rice were all in the mix with a whack of celery and shredded chicken. The only difference was that those four aforementioned ingredients were rather... well, purple. And given their hue, and the tendency of most veggies of that colour family to bleed rather heavily, they combined to turn the otherwise "normal" coloured broth the colour of India ink.

Not that it really mattered, in the long run - the soup tasted just like any other homemade chicken and rice soup that's packed with veggies of all persuasions. What I particularly liked about my soup was that anything that was even remotely pale - from the parsnips to the chicken breast - turned violet! Of course, being the garlic hog that I am, the 6 minced cloves didn't hurt... and my mom was quite fond of the zucchini, bell pepper and mushrooms! Ironically, my mom claims to hate parsnips too, but I didn't tell her of their addition to the saute and she ate them all without comment! I'd be willing to bet that a soup like this is just "off the wall" enough that kids would eat it without complaint (especially if you were to leave out the mushrooms, which seem to be the bones of contention with most children) - perfect for getting a serving or two into their recommended 5-a-day!

Purple (Poultry) Eater Soup
Serves 10
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small white onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 stalks celery, diced
5 large (purple, if you're keeping with the colour theme) carrots, sliced into coins
1 parsnip, diced
3 mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 zucchini, chopped
1 red pepper, diced
6 cloves minced garlic
2 cups triple-concentrated, homemade chicken stock (or 2 cups canned / boxed stock + 3 sachets dry bouillon)
8 cups water
1 bay leaf
1/2 tbsp dried thyme
1 tsp Herbamare Aromatic Sea Salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 lb purple potatoes, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup purple rice
3 cups cooked, shredded skinless chicken breast

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot until it begins to shimmer.
  2. Add onions and cook over medium heat for 5-6 minutes.
  3. Add celery, carrots and parsnip and cook a further 3-4 minutes.
  4. Stir in mushrooms, zucchini and red pepper, cook another 3-4 minutes.
  5. Stir in the garlic and cook just until fragrant - about 1 minute.
  6. Pour in chicken stock and water, then add bay leaf, thyme, Herbamare, pepper, potatoes and rice.
  7. Cook 45 - 50 minutes, until rice and potatoes are tender.
  8. Remove bay leaf, stir in chicken and serve
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 246.1
Total Fat: 6.7 g
Cholesterol: 35.8 mg
Sodium: 271.7 mg
Total Carbs: 28.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.6 g
Protein: 18.1 g

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Pound of Grain

Sometimes you just don't need a story to back up a killer recipe: this is one of those times. I do have a reason for making it, though - I made this pound cake filled with pureed sweet corn (not cornmeal!), which I adapted from Hannah's recipe on Bittersweet, way back in my co-op days for the kids at the Boys and Girls Club. Though a lot of them had had a West Indian style of cornbread (savoury and often filled with peppers), not many of them had tried pound cake, and none of them had tasted anything like this! Indeed, I had never made anything quite like this myself, but I tell you, it was well worth it - in fact, it was so popular with the kids that I made it for a family BBQ this past Summer and it was a hit there too!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Happy Herbivore Cookbook!

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes - almost fat free!
 Just when you thought you couldn't eat a single more piece of food after the holidays, a cookbook comes out that dares you to get back into the fray of the kitchen. And often, that spells disaster for your New Year's resolutions, but if you've decided to work on cutting down on the meat and fat in your diet or are even going (or are) all-out vegan and just want to feel healthier, this time there's a book for you. I was fortunate enough to be a tester for Lindsay (AKA Happy Herbivore) as she was writing her first ever print cookbook (congrats, Lindsay!) and if the food I made was any indication of the rest of the book's goodies I can bet I'll be in the kitchen for some time after I get my hands on a copy. One of the best things about it (especially after this glorious season of excess) is that the recipes are all very low-fat or fat free, without sacrificing flavour or nutrition. It's a great balance between the cook and nutritionist in me!
Yum! Apple Spice Cake

The only downside is that I, like everyone else, have to wait for it!! You can pre-order it on Amazon so you can get it ASAP after it's released on the 25th of January, and it should be in stores around then too (at least in the US, I'm not too sure about Canadian release dates). Stop by the HH site and say hi, and check out all our delicious tester photos on Flickr for some awesome vegan foodie pRon!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Impulsive Buys and Tasty Mistakes

How many of you out there have an impulse shopping problem? You know the kind I mean... you run to the grocery store for "just a couple things" midweek, and somehow wind up returning with a bagful of goodies that were nowhere near appearing on your list? 

Me too. In particular, if you find me alone in an Oriental grocery store, you can pretty much bet your bottom dollar that some extra bits and pieces are coming along for the ride in my grocery cart. Not that it's always a bad thing, of course... in general, everything you see me buy on a whim will get used in one way or another! That's one of the main benefits of being a foodie, a baker and (especially) a blogger: you are never short of inspiration sources! I can even find uses for my purchases when those particular impulse buys turn into a bit of an "oops". Just like what I did with these bakes.

It all started when I purchased a big bag of what appeared to be quickly blackening bananas for a steal - 75 cents - at my local Asian market, with a mind to make some roasted banana muffins. It was not until I got well into the recipe that I realized that those bananas that should have been sickly sweet and oozing with sticky goodness just didn't smell like bananas! Turns out that I had bought a mix of plantains and bananas, which I wasn't sure would work at all: after all, plantains are a starchy, almost vegetal ingredient, and I was looking for sugary caramel flavour. In the end, I decided to heck with it all - I wasn't about to waste my money and ingredients on the trashcan! And you know what? Being so ripe they lent almost a pumpkiny note to the sweet cakes... what an unexpected plus!

Fruit and Yogurt Cinnamon Spiked Muffins
Makes 8 jumbo muffins
3 large, over-ripe bananas
2 large, over-ripe plantains
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/4 cup hot water
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup (3.5 oz) soft palm sugar (or brown sugar)
½ tbsp cinnamon
3/4 cup all purpose flour
½ cup oat flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ cup yogurt chips
½ cup cinnamon chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and arrange the bananas (whole, peels on) in a ceramic roasing dish.
  2. Bake 25 minutes, then peel into a large mixing bowl and mash thoroughly. Reduce oven to 350°F and grease or line 8 jumbo muffin cups.
  3. In a small dish whisk together flaxseed and hot water, let stand 10 minutes to thicken.
  4. Add flax mixture, vanilla and sugar to the mashed bananas and beat in well.
  5. Add cinnamon and blend in completely.
  6. Add flours, baking powder and making soda, stirring just to combine, then fold in the yogurt and cinnamon chips.
  7. Bake for 38 minutes. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before unmoulding.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 316.0
Total Fat: 7.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.2 mg
Sodium: 10.1 mg
Total Carbs: 67.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.9 g
Protein: 5.7 g

I was so glad that I had forged ahead with the muffins that I used up the remainder of the bag in two chocolate-hazelnut loaf cakes, both of which were thoroughly (and quickly) enjoyed!

Plantain-Banana Gianduja Loaf Cake
Makes 2 loaf cakes, 20 slices
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
3 tbsp hot water
2 large, over-ripe bananas
2 large, over ripe plantains
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp Nutella
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup oat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup Frangelico
4 oz (about 1/3 cup) chopped chocolate disks
3 oz (½ cup) whole hazelnuts, chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F, grease 2 loaf pans.
  2. Whisk together flaxseed and hot water in a small dish, let stand 10 minutes.
  3. Mash the fruit in a large bowl with the sugar, Nutella and vanilla until smooth.
  4. Add flaxseed mixture and beat in.
  5. Blend in the cocoa powder until very well incorporated, then add ½ cup of the all-purpose flour and all the oat flour.
  6. Stir just to mix, then add buttermilk and Frangelico, stirring.
  7. Add remaining flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt, stirring just to mix, then fold in the chocolate and hazelnuts.
  8. Bake for 50 minutes, then reduce the heat to 300°F and bake a further 15 minutes.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 159.8
Total Fat: 5.9 g
Cholesterol: 0.4 mg
Sodium: 12.5 mg
Total Carbs: 25.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.3 g
Protein: 3.4 g