Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Taste of Summer in the Midst of Spring

Well, it may be 40°C outside (and heck no I'm not complaining - bring on the heat!), but believe it or not it’s still the month of May. Spring is still technically still here, though the gardens, lawns and weeds would rather think otherwise! When I think sunny, warmer weather, I think of bright colours, fresh berries, BBQ’s and corn on the cob. And I always tend to crave things that incorporate those bits of Summer once it warms up, like lemons, cherry pie, and even though it’s been years since I’ve eaten any sort of grilled or barbequed food (both my mom and stepdad prefer the “char first, ask questions later” method of cooking outside, and I prefer not to eat charcoal), we host enough grill-outs in our backyard that I’m always tuned into good dessert-like things I can bring to the party.

Being that it is warm outside, lighter, fresher fare is usually preferred (and fruit is always a plus!) and portability just makes things easier all around. Adding one more plate and fork to the equation equals more dishes, and while the family doesn’t necessarily care that much about carting around the dishware I don’t know how mom feels about washing it all. Besides, buttercream, mousses and airy whipped cream toppings (or fillings) don’t play well in the heat, nor do puddings or meringue. Pretty much anything I’ve made for the cook-outs has been an easily sliceable, easy-to-pick up and eat cake or muffin of some kind.

So, it should come as no surprise that I latched onto my recent roasted corn craving (if you haven’t tried roasted corn, do the next time you BBQ – you will never go back to boiled!) and general Summery feeling by packing in as much of the grain as I could along with a few hits of warm-weather berries when I made these treats. While admittedly, I had to use the blueberries I froze last year (after the pie trials!), which turned the previously lemon-yellow batter a kind of interesting green, their sweet/tart flavour came through full force and played off the roasted corn, cornflour and cornmeal beautifully. Unlike a lot of cornmeal-based items, these are supremely moist and tender – a result of the tenderizing, thick buttermilk and yogurt as well as the high ratio of gluten-free dry ingredients. Though we had them on the dessert tray, I’d wager they’d be fine for breakfast or an after-school snack.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

I Had Extra

After another Costco haul that overlapped our usual shopping day, we found ourselves with an inexplicable amount of apples. It was quite ridiculous, really – they couldn’t fit between the already bulging crispers in our two fridges, so we stashed a bag in the wine cellar and somewhat put it to the back of our minds.

Of course, the day came when those were no longer crispy and delicious for out of hand eating, and some of them were threatening to start growing appendages. So I broke out the casserole dish and made apple butter with the saddest looking ones. Problem solved, right?

Well, not quite. See, I’m the only one that really eats apple butter, and even I don’t use it that much. So the giant jar I made would have to get put to good use in short order. Being, well, me, the most logical thing that came to mind was bake it into something. Or more accurately, several somethings. The rest of the apples made their way into baked goods too, not only the ones with the apple butter base, but in another cake that I have yet to post (which also helped clean my freezer out of excess cranberries and some candied pineapple). But that is another day. For now, I’ll direct you to the two fruitiest concoctions of the apple butter batch – which disappeared a whole lot faster than those apples would have!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Flying Fig

*Note: sorry about the crappy photo - it's an old one!*

I got the yen to get back into the kitchen again after the long weekend, which I spent in a whirlwind of activity between schoolwork, a bbq, seeing Pirates of the Caribbean and starting up this year’s garden. I figured something simple, something that would go over well at school, and something that only used stuff I had around – I was not about to take a shopping trip!

I rummaged through my baking stash, and raided the separate shelf I keep stocked for when I make my mom’s all time favourite “snacky mix” (to be featured in one of my New-trition booklets!). A quick blitz in my food processor later, a sweet, moist and slightly chocolatey cake was in the oven. It took on just a little hint of “tang” from the rye flour that nipped the sweetness from the sweeteners and fruit. I added some soy nuts to the batter just for a little more dimension, and because they fell on me when I was getting out the figs!

Figgy Chocolate Teacake
Makes 1 loaf cake, 10 slices
Egg replacer for 1 egg, prepared (I used Ener-G)
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup honey (or agave for vegan)
½ cup canola oil
6 oz dried figs, soaked in boiling water and drained, chopped
2 oz prunes, chopped
1 cup chocolate soy milk
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp orange extract
2 cups flour
1 cup rye flour
1 ½ tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup soy nuts

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F and grease a large loaf pan (or a 9" springform).
  2. In a food processor, blend together egg replacer, brown sugar, honey, oil, figs, prunes, chocolate soy milk, vanilla and orange extract until smooth.
  3. Pulse in the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then the soy nuts.
  4. Bake 40-50 minutes.
  5. Cool 15 minutes in the tin, then unmould onto a wire rack.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 408.0
Total Fat: 14.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 10.9 mg
Total Carbs: 68.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.2 g
Protein: 8.9 g

Monday, May 23, 2011

Another Shot

You'd think I was a glutton for punishment by trying constantly to please the stepfamily. They don't like "weird" food, things that are whole wheat or lower fat (like milk), and their idea of a good meal is something they didn't have to prepare. Left to their own devices, Ramen noodles and takeout would be de rigueur at the table. While I try my best to make things they like - and stay as far away from their "bad lists" as possible - when given the choice between homemade and storebought Coscto wins out every time.

Unfortunately, my stepdad's penchant for fruit also leads us down the path of "too much fruit", and while in the winter the house is usually cold enough to stem the onslaught of fruit flies and mould (yep, I said it), with Summer coming having to bugspray the kitchen every other day was not something I looked forward to. When I came home from school last week to find yet another bunch of bananas on top of the more-or-less blackened ones in the bowl and a dribble of cream from Mother's Day still sitting in the fridge, I figured "why the heck not. I'll make banana bread". And since my stepdad and grandparents (who often drop by) both adore banana bread, it seemed like a worthy adventure.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Subject of Luck

It always bewilders people when I tell them I hate math and chemistry when they know I love to bake. I've always been somewhat amused by it myself, as well as by the fact that I am very perfectionistic in other aspects of my life like spelling, grammar and organization of things in "my space" (as well as my obsession with symmetry and within the past 10 years, the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder. But thats not the point.). I was never "good" at the sciences besides biology, and detested math even though I was actually pretty decent at it. I just found both subjects boring! There were too many hard-and-fast rules about what had to be done, and what the end results had to be. I became a bit of an annoyance to my teachers, I think, by asking why, and if there was ever a case where it didn't fit the mould. I didn't care that it wasn't in the textbook. I wanted to know!

But wait, I hear the die-hard bakers out there calling, baking is the same thing! There are formulas and ratios and specific things that have to get done for a good end product! Well, yes and no. There are wet / dry ratios in baking, but as long as you get those basic numbers down, get a binder or two in there, and some leavening in most cases, you can usually get away with anything else. I was on a mission to find a use for both my jar of boozy cranberry sauce and a bag of shredded carrots I had lurking in the freezer, and came across an awesome looking cake on King Arthur Flour. However, it used three eggs, half a cup of oil and a whole cup of sugar. Was it possible to make it without eggs, and with healthier fats and more fibre?  

Well, I figured I didn't have much to lose. The sauce and carrots weren't going to be eaten any other way, and I had all the rest of the stuff kicking around the pantry waiting to be used. Throwing any sort of conventional baking lore to the wind and relying on my instincts instead, I soon had the batter in the oven and baking away.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Two For the Show

Considering my previous success with the gluten free chocolate-cranberry cookies I adapted from Karina's  blog, I decided to see what other goodies my pantry could give me. I definitely had the stuff to use, and (for once) the people to eat them, so it was really up to me to see what flavour combinations I could pull out of my hat.

My first “cookie monsters” to get the latest batch of my baking experimentation were the awesome practitioners at my acupuncture clinic. The last time I came in, I had brought muffins which, although vegan and whole grain, were not gluten free. I hadn’t realized that there was someone on staff who actually had celiac disease, since before he had only mentioned that he was avoiding wheat for a cleanse (little did he know I had a nutrition background and passion for challenge!), but when my acupuncturist Goesha told me I knew that some form of these babies would be coming along next time. So when my appointment was coming up, I jumped at the chance to make a rich, ground pecan and butterscotch cookie riddled with butterscotch chips, laced with butterscotch extract and with a good hit of browned butter. I have always wanted to try browning butter, it’s been a nervous obsession of mine along with making candy and caramel – all because of the hot liquid burning tendency (I also refuse to shallow or deep-fry – not just for my health but for my skin!). After a nasty scald with hot oil in an elementary school Home Ec class I’ve been a wee bit leery of anything at a bubble, snap or pop.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sweet n' Sour

I’m hard pressed to think of a relationship more tumultuous than that between a mother and her daughter. While there is undeniable love and affection and genuine care for the health and happiness of each other, it doesn’t always translate into the pink hearts and fluffy bunnies you see on the Mother’s Day cards. My mom, my sister and I are prime examples of this – every so often we get into a real battle and believe that she’s the Devil, but then you have the golf (or mini-golf) games, the trips to the movies and the drool sessions over Jensen Ackles on Supernatural. Those are the times when the generation gap, the social differences, our views regarding our stepfamily or house situation – none of those matter anymore. We are simply a group of friends sharing a moment, with an intense bond that lasts well after the final credits roll or putt is made.

This mother’s day went unmarked by a card or bouquet of flowers from my sister and I – she was off fishing the day before and I simply forgot until the day of. Mom on the other hand, had invited her parents to our house for dinner. But she hadn’t planned anything other than a homemade quiche, and sensing a lack of “dessertyness” I felt that I should at least do something for the occasion. While my mom and stepdad went out to brunch (in my opinion a clever ploy to get her to tag along to his family’s mausoleum since that was his intended destination) I jumped at the chance of a free, mostly clean kitchen and quickly whipped up this cake with what I had hanging around without much of a pre-thought as to what I would make. I knew. I had cherries from last year as well as a bag from MacMillans in the freezer, and the end of a block of butter in the fridge. Since I was trying to go for a lighter feel for the dessert (being Spring and all – finally!) I wanted to really drive home a citrusy flair with the little pops of cherries throughout. We always have lemons in the house... except, for some reason, that day (I found out later they made a huge jug of ice water and used all three of my lemons in it. Boo). So I resorted to bottled lemon juice and lemon extract, but next time I am definitely going to add the zest of every lemon I have – it’s my favourite combination and you can’t go wrong when you add a bit of butter to the mix too.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Perfect Snack

Everybody needs something sweet in their day – especially, well, everyone! Even if you don’t have a bona fide sweet tooth, it’s hard to pass up a little nibble when you’re stressed out or simply needing a break from the doldrums of daily life. I know my mom keeps a little cache of my trademark “snacky mix” (which will be in one of my recipe booklets that I’m releasing for sale as part of my consulting business) in her desk at work to curb the cravings for a muffin or mocha from the cafeteria, and I personally like to cap off my dinner meals with a little something sweet. Whether it’s fruit or chocolate, it helps add something to look forward to!

I’ve been working diligently on honing my gluten-free, vegan baking skills these days, since with my cache of flours and starches I have no reason not to! Being the chocolate freak that I am, it seemed logical to make some rich, dark, gluten free cookies, so I put some feelers out for a decent recipe that wouldn’t make a ton and was also free of dairy, eggs and nuts. Lucky for anyone who’s a gluten-free or generally allergy-free eater, Karina had a recipe for “Gluten-Free Chocolate Cookies with Chocolate Chips” up recently on her blog and though I took a few small liberties with the flours and starches, and flung in some dried cranberries and flax, I kept her method the same and was so pleased with the result that I brought them into school to get a sense of what people (both those used to GF baking and not) thought. Since they disappeared, along with my copies of the recipe I put out alongside it, I figure that it’s a win!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sweet Chocolate and Tart Cherries

One of the guaranteed side effects of being hit with huge assignments for a boring class is apathy spreading through the populous. I’m easily one of the least invested students in our current courses – pathology is really just not that entertaining, and between rehashing ancient material and telling us flat out not to expect high marks on our papers the prof is not exactly doing anything to stimulate full attention. But, marks are marks, and we still have to show up, so I try to give people a little sweet incentive not to leave me sitting in class alone!

Like I’ve said before, the bulk of students at school are vegans, and more often than not there are other accessory allergies floating around in addition to those who avoid milk, eggs and meat for personal reasons. The one thing absolutely all of us have in common is the “ugh” factor of Mondays, the anticipation of the vegan, gluten free lunchtime soups (yay, Stella!), the knowledge that the girls’ two-stall bathroom will almost never be empty, and the pure love of food. Chocolate is always a plus too – one of my classmates performed an “information” presentation on that heavenly substance complete with samples (!!). Somehow I don’t recall the tiny nibbles she passed around reaching my table... but no matter. I brought the goods last week and even with 28 of these chocolate and cherry mini-cupcake bombs there still wasn’t enough to go around! It’s a nice feeling to see two people going “halfsies” on a tiny two-biter, then pop into your classroom and ask for the recipe... that’s my kind of Monday.

Aside from being vegan, these wheat-free cupcakes are also packed with a wealth of flavour and a lack of fat from pureed cherries and cherry juice I made from the last of my bottle of Michelle’s Miracle tart cherry concentrate. I love the flavours of Kamut and oat flours, which are almost buttery in my opinion, and I’ve gotten into the habit of using balsamic vinegar in my chocolate “crazy cakes” for it’s little bit of sweetness. Having coconut sugar and stevia powder on hand, I chose those to sweeten the cake portion, and ground up some sucanat for the slightly bitter cocoa frosting (I added a little agave too). Every little morsel got capped off with a jumbo chocolate chip for good measure! With the need for only one bowl and a food processor I didn’t even have to roll up my sleeves for the dishes!