Monday, February 21, 2011

Treats and Snacks

This recipe was a long time in the making.

No, I'm not talking about mixing -> baking -> assembly time. Well, that was a long time too, but a heck of a lot less time than it took for me to actually get into the kitchen and make it. No, this took a long time for me to figure out from start to finish.

Now, I consider myself pretty able in the kitchen. I can bake up a storm, make a mean pot of soup and have even been known to can a few things. Gluten free stuff isn't too foreign to me either. But candy and chocolate crafting is another whole ball game. I'm the first to admit that I'm not a fan of dealing with molten sugar, gooey melted chocolate, or even frosting and decorating cakes. I know - aside from the sugar thing, there are definitely instances of those on my blog. I'll do them... I just don't like to.

Still, I really couldn't say no to this.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Eat Yer Beans!

We all know that we should be eating more legumes. Full of fibre, vitamins, minerals and all sorts of good stuff, there’s no denying how healthy they are. But aside from a smear of refried pintos in a burrito, the cannellinis in a bowl of minestrone or a bit of hummus with pita and crudités, beans are still a bit of a mystery food to most people. Far from boring, beans are incredibly variable in taste and application potential – and when you consider that they’re also one of the cheapest foodstuffs around, it’s no wonder that so many cultures worldwide rely on them as a staple food. From salads to spreads to a delicious topping on a baked potato, the possibilities are as endless as the varieties, and once they discover how simple it is to prepare a satisfying, meatless meal for a crowd many people wonder why they didn’t do it before.

However, beans come with that stigma – “beans, beans, the musical fruit” – and yes, if you start eating bowl upon bowl of them after a meat-heavy, fibre-poor past, well, the rhyme might ring true for a while until your gut bacteria adjust. But starting slow and gradually adding more legume-y dishes to your repertoire will keep you from becoming a public disturbance (or, for some of the less mature set – you know who you are – a musical icon!). Half the battle is the mind game most folk have surrounding any meatless meal – it’s not a “real” meal because there’s no meat. While many people now “get” that beans and lentils provide more than ample sustenance for a meal – thanks to a slew of food bloggers, cookbooks and the general vegetarian / vegan movement – I still come across a few that ask how “meat-freers” get their protein!

Thankfully, most adults out there are pretty adventurous when it comes to trying new foods and manners of cooking. Kids, however, are a whole other ball game. Poll an elementary class as to whether they want black beans and rice or chicken nuggets and fries for lunch and (assuming we’re talking about North Americans) it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what would sell out. Their “new” palates and taste buds undeadened by years of experience mean that half the time you can’t even successfully hide them in their favourite foods.

But just try getting anyone – especially a child – to resist a cookie. By and large, they are the favourite after school or teatime snack regardless of their “specifics”: after all, a cookie is a cookie is a cookie! I’ve already whipped up brownies, muffins and bread with different beany boosts, but aside from a tofu-based chocolate chipper way back in 2007 (it was 2007? Whoa!) I’d never tried the legume thing in a cookie. But I had this recipe from an old bean cookbook I took out of the library years ago and photocopied that used pureed navy beans as a base, so why not at least try? Even though I knew my sister (who’s miraculously maintained her super-taster ability over the years) would never touch them, my peers at IHN sure would – especially since it was simple enough of a recipe to veganize and I had a slew of ideas for modifications I wanted to try. One of the first things I messed around with was the very base of the cookie dough. Gone were the navy beans, in came the nutty, almost buttery chickpeas. Vanilla got boosted way up – ¼ tsp in a cookie? Yeah right. Butter and shortening had Earth Balance take their places, and instead of straight whole wheat flour I broke out a mix of spelt and oat flours, finally throwing in a handful of rolled oats just because.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I Come in Peace

I’m finally getting around to actually looking through some of the books I got for Christmas. While I always start with good intentions, I’m distracted so easily that it’s a wonder that I’m still in school. Mind you, I’m writing this post in class, but I at least look like I’m doing something. I can’t help it – if I’m bored by something (hello, another Anatomy and Physiology course after two years of it in college?) the mind wanders away on it’s own and I don’t pay attention to anything. Ironically, this system (which is basically a variation of how I do my homework: TV on, even though I’m not technically watching it) works wonders for my retention capabilities. Not only do I accomplish a bunch of other tasks, but I remember the lecture too... go figure.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lovey Buns

So it’s coming around to mid-February, which can only mean two things: one, that the Superbowl and all it’s over-priced ads, is over and done with and two, that the freakishly pink and chocolate-inundated Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Though I have nothing against the lovebirds that flock to the bistros and flower shops this time of year, the sheer prevalence of chocolate and jewellery filling the stores these days is always a bit of an amusement factor for me. After all, Saint Valentine was clubbed stoned and finally beheaded after trying the whole religious conversion trick (a common practice for the priesthood, even today) on the Roman emperor who imprisoned him for being Christian in the first place. Now, I don’t know about you, but not only does that story sound like an absolutely horrible excuse to indulge in the excesses marketed by Hallmark, but it also makes me wonder about the intelligence of this Saint in the first place. I mean really – if you had been arrested and thrown in an ancient Roman prison for simply helping any Christian countrymen, why on earth would you then go to the guy in charge of that law in the first place and say “hey, how about accepting this Saviour and atoning for your sins”?

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Fresh Look at Lemon – Poppy Seed

Lemon poppy seed muffins and cakes are a favourite of both my mom and I. When I used to accompany her to her office as a kid with a day off school, we’d often traipse down to the cafeteria mid morning for a drink and a snack. Mostly, I think this was probably to keep me quietly occupied when my mom was in a meeting, especially if she was on the phone and using the whiteboard I loved to draw on. Rather than opt for a sugar-crusted chocolate chip muffin (I hated then – and still detest now – the rock sugar topping that’s commonly caked on top), I’d make a beeline for the basket of the dotty lemon muffins wrapped in cling film and pick up a bottle of Evian on the way just for the “eliteness” of it all.

Sounds like a healthy snack, right? I mean, I passed up chocolate and sugar for citrus and seeds! Weeeellllll, not so much. While I have no clue what really made up either of the cafeteria’s jumbo muffins, you can bet that there was a lofty dose of the white stuff (both sugar and flour) and more than a few glugs of oil lurking under even the tangy crispy crowned option. Granted, given the lurid yellow tint they possessed, I’m sure there were far more heinous nutritional crimes than simple sugars and fat being committed. Since mom’s schedule barely allowed for preparing cookies once every two months when it was my turn at donating bake sale goodies, any muffins we had at home were a rarity, and out of a box mix at that.

Unfortunately, most homemade recipes for lemon-poppy seed muffins and cakes aren’t a whole lot better if you’re looking at fat, sugars and the like. Where the freshly-concocted recipe flies high above any other option of course is the quality and creative control you have. Need or want a vegan version of your favourite cookies? Done and done. Want to make sure those oranges in the screwdrivers you’re going to serve on Oscar night are organic? No problem. For me, I took control of the creative aspect of it all and turned the more or less even dispersion of poppy seeds in the traditional cake into a blue-black vein running through the centre of the loaf. The end result looked amazing, and smelled way better than anything I’ve found in a Starbucks!

Poppyseed - Layered Lemon Loaves
Makes 2 medium loaves, 10 slices each
¼ cup poppy seeds
2 tbsp icing (powdered) sugar
3 tbsp ground flaxseed
½ cup hot water
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¾ tsp baking soda
½ cup shortening (or vegan margarine)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon extract
Grated zest of 2 lemons
1 ½ cups buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F, grease a large loaf pan.
  2. Whisk together poppy seeds and icing sugar. Set aside.
  3. In a small cup, whisk together flaxseed and hot water, let stand 10 minutes. 
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar. 
  6. Add lemon juice, lemon extract, lemon zest and flax mixture, beating well.
  7. Beginning and ending with the flour mixture, alternate additions of flour and buttermilk mixtures, beating well after each. 
  8. Portion ¼ of the batter into the bottom of each pan and sprinkle with ½ the poppy seed mixture.
  9. Spread the remaining batter overtop.
  10. Bake 35-45 minutes, until they test done.
  11. Cool completely in the pans before turning out.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 172.0
Total Fat: 6.4 g
Cholesterol: 0.7 mg
Sodium: 20.5 mg
Total Carbs: 26.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.1 g
Protein: 3.5 g

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Steak n' Potatoes

Sometimes you just need something meaty for dinner. I’m not talking about the folks like my stepfamily, who decided long ago that any dinner without cooked animal flesh, but that sense of umami goodness that warms and contents you from the inside out. Cooked, especially roasted, veggies like mushrooms and potatoes are just as good, if not better! There’s a reason why a slab of porterhouse tastes better with some sautéed mushrooms and garlic mashed potatoes, and that BBQ sauce (inherently umami-containing) is so popular.

I will admit, though, that I used to be quite the sucker for a good roasted chicken, and even would be able to put away a Chicken and Ribs combo at Swiss Chalet. The funny thing, as I discovered by accident when I made these marinated eggplant slices, that it wasn’t the meat that I had the penchant for, but the marinade and sauce they used. The rib sauce, in particular, same flying back to me with this blend of sauces, garlic and vinegar that I smeared onto the cut eggplant to serve as a marinade and sauce. After a stint in the oven it had caramelized into the same thick, finger-licking coating I remembered, which makes me wonder if it’s akin to the restaurant’s “secret sauce”!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sticky Timing

I was holding back on sharing this recipe with you, since I figured given all the gluttony of the winter holidays (not to mention New Year’s) it would just be mean to put your diet resolutions through the ringer. I figure, though, that the Superbowl is to the food world what Labour Day is to the ix-nay on wearing white pants. In other words, let the good times roll (again!).

I actually made this cake a while back after seeing a TV show where the California restaurant Bashan was highlighted as part of a “night on the town” aspect of whatever tour they were taking. Being the foodie that I am, I hopped onto the restaurant’s website to peruse their menu, and being the baker and general sweet tooth that I am I inevitably wound up on their desserts page. Unusually for me, as a chocolate freak who would order absolutely anything on the menu with the dark stuff, the thing that drew my eye instead was their "Peanut Butter Banana Sticky Toffee Cake". I know. Oh trust me, I know.

I had to try to make a version of my own. But finding a recipe that incorporated peanut butter, bananas, and the decadent British sticky toffee pudding was proving to be impossible. So I made my own, with the added bonus that, while undeniably sticky and sweet, I could make a portable form without the traditional sauce for my dad to enjoy. Of course, you can’t have sticky toffee pudding – in any form – without the toffee, so to get that decadence into the neat little packages I tossed in toffee bits. With the heat of the oven, those bits melted into hidden pools of golden yumminess which actually stayed more-or-less molten even after the miniature forms of the cakes I made cooled. It was a little twist on tradition that I would even pass up a slice of Flourless Chocolate Valentino for.

Sticky Peanut Banoffee Cake
Inspired by Bashan Restaurant in Glendale, CA
Serves 8
8 oz pitted dates, chopped
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups boiling water
2 tbsp butter, softened
1/3 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup Demerara sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
1 large banana, mashed
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup toffee bits
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease a 9" springform pan.
  2. In a small bowl, combine dates, baking soda and boiling water. Let stand 15 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter, peanut butter and sugar.
  4. Beat in vanilla, banana and date mixture, then stir in the flours, baking powder, salt and toffee bits.
  5. Bake 35-40 minutes, until it tests done. Cool 40 minutes in the pan before unmoulding.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 440.0
Total Fat: 12.1 g
Cholesterol: 14.3 mg
Sodium: 120.5 mg
Total Carbs: 87.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 6.4 g
Protein: 8.3 g

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sweeping Clean

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! This cycle brings in the year of the Rabbit - so out of respect for that revered creature, I'm pleased to announce that 2011 will be a completely rabbit-free term on my blog ;-). Okay, yes, that was a bit cheeky... but in all seriousness I adore taking part (as much as I can) in all the world's cultural celebrations - I find them fascinating! At the very least, reading up on the customs and seeing how the world celebrates important events is a refreshing change to my "white-bread", suburbanite existence.

Seeing as it is Chinese New Year today, I figured I'd embrace it with my take on one of the traditional customs surrounding this event. According to traditional Chinese custom, at the end of each year a common practice is to clean out all the "old" aspects of your life in order to make space for all the new good luck the coming year has in store. So it was fitting that I chose this time of year to "clean sweep" my pantry and fridge, shoving all the remnants I found into this rich, moist cake! This made use of pretty much everything that you could think of - three kinds of nuts, three types of dried fruit and even a handful of pureed berries that I found hiding in the fridge.

Not only was this cake a good "sweep" exercise for me in terms of cleaning house, but with all the fibre from the dried fruit, nuts and whole wheat it just might be a good "clean sweep" of a different, digestive kind too!

Out with the Old Tea Cake
Serves 12
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup almond meal
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup canola oil
3 oz chopped dates
5 oz raisins
2 oz chopped prunes
2 oz chopped cashews
2 oz chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup pureed strawberries
1/2 cup 100% fruit juice
1/2 cup unsweetened plain almond milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
  1. Preheat the oven to 300F, grease a 9" springform pan.
  2. In a small bowl, mix flours, baking powder, baking soda, almond meal and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a pot over medium heat.
  4. Add dates, raisins, prunes, cashews and walnuts. Cook just slightly (about 1 minute), stirring well.
  5. Add sugars, berry puree and fruit juice. Cook until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is beginning to bubble vigorously.
  6. Remove from heat and cool 2 minutes, then stir in the almond milk, lemon juice and flour mixture.
  7. Pour into the prepared pan and bake 1 hour, until it tests done.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 367.0
Total Fat: 11.9 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 13.7 mg
Total Carbs: 65.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.5 g
Protein: 6.9 g

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Orange, Awesome and Oh-So-Good!

Occasionally, I like to roast, as opposed to steam, my vegetable selections come dinnertime. In fact, I adore the nutty, slightly bitter flavour of Brussels sprouts and green beans, or the buttery-ness of beets far more after they’ve taken their time in the oven. Parsnips and carrots are fair game too – especially when cut into “fries”!

Me, being – well, me, with a history of chronic overeating (seriously - you could never guess though, could you?), my eyes were once again bigger than my stomach the last time I roasted up my roots. I ended up with about 2 carrots’ worth of “fries” left over. As much as I fully support the fight against food waste and espouse eating leftovers, cold, limp and slightly “clammy” textured carrots just don’t sit right. That’s not to say that I was about to waste perfectly decent, mould- and other-nasty-thing -free food. There was nothing wrong with them, except for the whole “texture” thing – completely my perception, I’m sure. Obviously they would be of no use in carrot cake, soup or a stir-fry, being far too soft to stand up to any sort of further cooking. I would have pureed them and used them as baby food, but neither I nor anyone else I knew had a little bundle of joy around.