Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saving the Peels

Being the apple-loving, apple-picking, apple-baking pair that my mom and I are, we are always left with a plethora of peels after a pie-making spree. In the "old days" when our Lab was still around, it was never a problem - she was our living, breathing garbage disposal! Nowadays, the compost bin gets packed to the brim with strips of perfectly flavourful apple peel that, to my mom and stepdad at least, are undesirable in pies, squares and applesauce. While I never minded a bit of peel in my baked goods (I thrive on the texture, which is probably why I love whole grain breads and cakes so much), I have no power to change the minds of the family. So I came up with a technique to save the peelings that would have a practical use down the line - dry them, then grind them down with good ol' table sugar. The result - a lightly apple-scented powdered sugar perfect for using in cookies or glazes (I suppose you could use it in pie too, but really, when your apples are this good you don't need any sugar!). I really hesitate to post this as a "recipe" because it is just so dead simple, but it's delicious and versatile - I'm hoping someone finds it of use!

What I Called "Newton's Apple"

Friday, October 28, 2011


If you've seen my whining opining on Twitter this week, you'll know that our trusty (albeit ancient) fridge/freezer bit the dust last Sunday night, thawing out all the contents by the time I discovered it (since the stepdad is not one to open the fridge at all). Mom was away on business for the week (she conveniently left before it died!) and so, with a fridge full of food that would never all fit into our smaller backup fridge and deep freeze, I resorted to three other methods of saving what I could: I resorted to the garage as a cold storage unit (thank God for the small miracle of the fridge death being in a cold month!), I made pasta sauce with all the produce I could find (including the last of our tomatoes) and I baked away the apple butter, egg whites, almonds and pineapple juice that were in the freezer. We still don't have a fridge, since Mom only came home last night, but the garage and rather packed cold bellar in our basement is doing an ample job for now.
I jokingly termed the a la minute cooking and baking that I did as working out of "stress-essity". It's always been true that my main way of managing stress of any kind was to cook or bake something, and being able to actually have a purpose to expend my nervous energy was awesome. So these two that I made on Day 1 of the non-fridge (there are more to come!) were just more stress-ipes, if you will.

As long as we have a new one within the next few days, no Hell will break loose. Otherwise, fitting two frosted cakes and a batch of cupcakes (for the charity auction I'm donating to again this year) in a tiny fridge holding twice it's intended food already will be very interesting!
By the way, are you in Toronto and want a $40 dinner for two, free? Take a look at my giveaway to enter! You have only one week left to get in on your chance, draw closes November 4!

Monday, October 24, 2011

All Thumb(print)s

Are you in Toronto and want a $40 dinner for two, free? Take a look at my giveaway to enter!

What kind of kid were you when it came to school lunches? Were you a baloney and mayo, like my old best friend? A Thermos stuffed with lukewarm mac n' cheese or pizza pockets like my sister? Or maybe you were like me, who adored a good PB & J? Maybe you were even lucky enough to be able to break out the nut butters in your lunchroom - up till grade 9, where I went to school nuts (or legumes, in the case of peanuts) of any kind were ixnayed due to allergies, so if I wanted my favourite nosh it had to be on the weekends or during the holidays.

It wasn't all that bad for me, considering that while I could enjoy spoonfuls of Kraft creamy right out of the jar, one of my friends and classmates wasn't so lucky. He taught me what an Epi-Pen actually was (my 7 year old self thought it was a newfangled marker) and made me realize that allergies weren't just something "everyone" gets when Spring comes around. Thankfully I never witnessed one of his reactions, but I'm fairly sure that's what got me into a "find out everything I can about everything" mindset when it came to medical things. I schooled myself with everything I had (we still have medicine books of mine in the basement) and always wanted to know why. Why do people get allergies, diseases, freckles, red hair, sunburns?

Well, I still don't have the answers to everything, but I do know some methods to bring back the love of life, especially in the kitchen. I was playing around with a fairly popular peanut butter cookie recipe (trying to use the last of the almond butter we had) and decided to try out a version of my old favourite sandwich in cookie form. I went all out on the almond flavour, with the almond butter, almond milk, almond extract and tossing in some ground almonds for kicks. The dough turned into a gluten-free and vegan gem, but I wanted to make it a bit more... moreish. So I dug into some of my homemade grape jam and turned the criss-crosses into thumbprints. Rather violently thumbed thumbprints, mind you. I had to laugh at myself - it had been years since I had made the last batch and apparently my thumbs are a bit bigger!
AB & J Thumbprint Cookies
Makes 40
3 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/2 cup warmed almond milk
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tbsp agave nectar (or honey if not vegan)
1/2 tsp stevia extract powder
5 oz (2/3 cup) shortening
4 oz (2/3 cup) stirred almond butter
1/2 tbsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/3 cup ground almonds
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup glutinous rice flour
1 tbsp tapoica starch
1/2 tsp guar gum
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup jam or preserves of your choice (I used homemade Concord grape)
  1. Heat oven to 375 F and line baking sheets with parchment or silicone.
  2. In a small dish, whisk together flaxseed and almond milk. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together brown sugar, agave, stevia, shortening and almond butter.
  4. Add flax mixture and the extracts, beating well.
  5. Whisk together ground almonds, flours, starch, guar gum, nutmeg, baking soda and salt.
  6. Add to the creamed mixture and stir in well.
  7. Shape into small balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  8. Press your thumb or fingertip into the centre of each cookie and fill with jam
  9. Bake 10 minutes, then cool 10-15minutes on the sheets before carefully transferring to a cooling rack.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 118.4
Total Fat: 6.4 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 4.7 mg
Total Carbs: 15.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.6 g
Protein: 1.5 g


Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Melody (Bar) of Food - Free! (Giveaway!)

When was the last time you had a free meal? In this land of touch-and-go world economics, gas prices that make your head spin faster than the numbers on the pump and grocery bills that sometimes make me wonder if food is necessary at all, dining out is becoming a luxury quickly shunted to the back burner. A nice meal in a restaurant can drain your wallet, which for me kind of sucks the joy out of the whole experience, and when you're heading into the city for food it can be even worse.

But... what if I told you that you can have a delicious, eco-friendly, local producer-friendly dinner at one of Toronto's top-rated hotels, without the need to pick up the check? The folks at the Gladstone Hotel are kindly offering one of What Smells So Good's readers dinner for two (a $40 value), at their newly renovated Melody Bar!

The Gladstone, on the previously "divey" Queen West strip in the heart of the city, has come into it's own as a very artsy boutique hotel that has something for everyone. Along with 37 nifty-looking rooms and exhibits from local artists, the hotel boasts a Cafe with a varied menu - including vegan and gluten free options (and apparently one of the best brunches in the city) and of course the 122-year-old Melody Bar. Far from it's roots as a simple hangout and booze supplier, the Melody is open for dinner from 5-10, with a menu slightly smaller than the Cafe's but still just as inclusive and local. In fact, the vegetarian burger (a panko crusted, cheese stuffed portobello mushroom cap with lettuce, tomato & zucchini pickle) is one of their most popular offerings, and gluten-free bread is always available. Omnivores will appreciate the steak frites and the duck confit poutine, and everyone can dig into a luscious pecan-cherry crusted chocolate tart for dessert (which, enriched with buttery avocado, is pure vegan bliss).

So, how do you get in on this chance to win a $40 dinner for two at the Gladstone Hotel?? Here's what you need to do:

Be in Toronto within a month of the entry deadline of November 5, 2011 (when the voucher expires)
Leave a comment on this post telling me what your favourite thing about Toronto is!

For an extra entry:
follow me on Twitter and tweet about this contest (with a cc to me, @jo_jo_ba)


Subscribe to my blog feed via e-mail or your reader and leave a separate comment saying you have done so

You can of course do both, but I'll only be counting one extra entry. Sorry!

I look forward to hearing about your Toronto gems! Good luck to you all!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Never Say Die!

I am a true child of my Scottish heritage - regardless of my financial situation at the time, I am incapable of buying anything at a "standard" (i.e. not sale) price. Even if the item is one I have coveted for ages, or that is already a rather good deal to my fellow shoppers, or is being bought for me by someone else, the part of my brain still stuck in the "you're a broke student" mode keeps me from biting the proverbial bullet and actually taking it home. Granted, my mentality is not completely unjustified - though no longer a student, I am still (for the next little while at least) broke. Busy with projects ("working to work" as I call it), but broke.

Don't get me wrong - we were never a poor family, and my sister and I always had more than enough food, warmth and clothing. The money we had was channeled into the tuition fees for Montessori school (and it's uniforms) or saved up for special family trips like driving to Canada's East coast. Sure, we kids wanted the high-end brand name clothes, or the then-trendy N64, or day passes to Canada's Wonderland. But we came to realize the value of a dollar (thank you, chore-mediated allowance!), especially once the "all powerful" debit cards came into play. I still remember the shock and embarassment I felt after my first "debit" shopping spree, where I drained my 11-year-old self's live savings (about $130) to under $25 in a single afternoon and had a purchase declined. After that, I began to appreciate what power money had, what it took to make, save and grow it, and what purchases were worth spending on (as I soon found out - not many).

It's not all doom and gloom though. This uber-frugal mindset I've fostered over the years, plus the genetic "cheapness" code I've inherited from my Mom's side of the family, has led to some wonderful "use up" concoctions around here. I learned to sew on scraps of fabric that my Mom had left over after making a Halloween or school play costume. I grew up on almost exclusively home-cooked meals, with lunches packed for me every day by my parents, and birthday cakes baked and decorated at home (albeit from a box, can and tube). I learned from an early age how to make a scrambled egg, pancakes, crepes, bread and cookies, how to grow raspberries and tomatoes so I could devour them right off the vine. My sister and I were able to have more fun at our local park with buckets and shovels, or at home with our library of Mom's old storybooks, Barbie dolls (with mansions made by my carpenter Grandpa, furnished by Grandma) or an old chalkboard than we would ever have with the most expensive plaything.
Today, my cheapness frugality plays out in the gardening realm. Like you've seen with some of my previous garden-centric posts, I can't let any of the produce that we worked so hard to grow, from April seedings to mid-June thinning and finally August fruition, go to waste. We've just had our first kiss of frost, and there's no way we're getting any more sweet, red tomatoes from the backyard plants - but there were tons of green fruits hanging off the withering vines and I couldn't let them head to the compost. I knew there were a multitude of different ways to use the unripe gems (not the least being broiled on my favourite pizza!), so I figured "what the heck, I'll pick them and see what comes".

Well, dear reader (...Reader? Are there any of you out there?) I wound up with a lot more than I thought. Those things seemed to multiply under my fingertips, and even after using some in today's recipe the bulk of them are now taking up our large mixing bowl and an entire table. So you might see more than a few recipes for the little green men (or women, I can't tell tomato gender) in the coming weeks.

The first thing that I knew I'd be making with them though was never even a question. I've been a bit latent in posting this year's version of my Dad's all-time favourite pie filling, but when I had such a beautiful array of tomatoes to use I couldn't pass up a variation on my 2008 mincemeat! A few notes from previous years (especially last year) made their way in as well, along with a dash (okay, a lot) of boozy goodness (I misread my recipe and doubled the booze. Shh!). I can't wait to get my pie on this year!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Grateful for Food

Today's one of those "two-fer" dates that happens every so often each year. Not only is it the UN's FAO International Food Day, but it's also Zorra's 6th World Bread Day event! I can't believe that I pretty much forgot about either of these (I'm a little self- / work-absorbed right now!) but I'm glad I popped onto the Yeastspotting pages and found out!

Sadly, the current eating patterns of my prime bread-eater (AKA Mom) mean that bread is pretty much not eaten (or if it is, it's usually on a special occasion). For her, the breads were a snack food temptation that she couldn't keep herself from, and since she still can't resist the yeasty goodness of a homemade loaf a la moi she prefers to not have it available at all, ergo my loaf pans have been empty in recent months (sigh). In the spirit of Zorra's event though, I do want to share a bread of some type - one that also packs in a wealth of nutrition to bring the message of the need for accessible, proper nutrition worldwide (World Food Day's credo) home. I realize that many of the ingredients in these miniature quick breads are not overly common, but like with all good things in the kitchen, anything you have on hand will work! I used only ingredients that I had in my kitchen and pantry, figuring that was a bit closer to the spirit of the WFD message, and the nutrient density of the finished product is pretty impressive!

Here are a few of the numbers:
Vitamin A 17.6 %
Vitamin B-6 7.1 %
Vitamin C 10.3 %
Calcium 6.6 %
Copper 9.1 %
Folate 4.1 %
Iron 6.4 %
Magnesium 6.7 %
Manganese 36.0 %
Thiamin 6.8 %
Zinc 6.0 %

These refined sugar-, egg- , wheat- and nut-free muffins are not yeasted, but they are still in a class of "breads" and I hope Zorra will let me sneak in on this fabulous event that I love. Enjoy them and appreciate the bounty you have to choose from in your kitchen!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The J in your PB

I have always loved the classic sandwiches of childhood. More so than the fanciest foccacia, panini, pita or wrap, I am drawn to the basics: tomato and mayo on toast, peanut butter and honey (or an old vice of mine, golden syrup!), Nutella, and of course the tried and true PB & J. If peanut butter and anything else was involved, I had a very specific ritual of sandwich construction (i.e. I smeared the thickest layer of peanut butter I possibly could on both pieces of bread to keep the other filling from soaking in) and I never, ever toasted it. Ever. Runny peanut butter was just sacrilege to my young tastebuds. Jam was always either a chunky strawberry or a ruby-red sour cherry - I was not a sickly-sweet, gooey Welch's kid, and honestly to this day I'm still not.

And yet, I made Concord grape jam. Twice. And you know what? It's tasty enough on it's own that it would be a disservice to it to smear it next to some other competing flavour. I've dipped pretzels in it, smeared it onto crackers, mixed it into oatmeal and even made an impromptu "rice pudding" of sorts by reheating the jam mixed with leftover brown Basmati, a handful of strawberries and a sprinkle of chocolate chips. It's not overly sweet - the honey does a nice job of being sweet but also a touch bitter, and of course the grapes themselves are tangy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thanks for the Memories

I think it's an age thing, at least it was for me, that as you get older, you begin to appreciate every little moment you spend with your family. It's especially true when it comes to spending time with parents and grandparents, since I've really come to the realization over the years that they won't be around forever. More than that, the traditions I grew up with and were ingrained by my family gatherings have been changing - slowly, gradually, but surely and without any hope of returning to the past.

Take our usual Thanksgiving dinner. Back "in the day" (i.e. when I was about 10-12, and even up 'til I was the ripe old age of 17), you could count on Thanksgiving to be heralded by hours of my mom's preparations. The day before, all the crusts of bread we saved in an old Ziploc would be laid out on beaten baking sheets to dry out overnight for my mom's famous stuffing (cooked inside the bird. Yes, I know the health and safety codes - but as she says, "nobody's died yet"). By noon on feast day (usually the Sunday of the long weekend) the bird would be stuffed, trussed and plunked into Mom's old black roaster (after she danced with it, of course!), when the real fun would start as the house began filling with all kinds of decadent smells. Cauliflower and broccoli would be steamed for far too long before the meal, and the storebought rolls would be haphazardly tossed into a tea towel-lined basket placed next to a cube of too-hard butter. Homemade cranberry sauce and green salad (the contribution of my maternal grandparents) and the world's most decadent mashed potatoes (from my paternal grandma) rounded out the table. Since my sister hated turkey (until very recently - she still abhors the rest of the Holiday fare), Mom would cook her a few chicken nuggets and some buttered pasta. The spread was always dug (rather, shoveled) into with gusto by everyone present. It was never a fancy production, and the breast meat was (as tradition demanded) chronically dry, but it was simply perfect for our family.

The crowning glory of it all was always pie. Each and every year, about a week before the big feast day, Mom and I would team up in the kitchen flanked by bags of just-picked apples, armed with a tiny, ancient plastic apple peeling machine and that year's apple wedger (we haven't managed to go a full year without breaking one on the Northern Spies). While I'd wheel through apple after apple, Mom would whip together her famous Crisco pie crust, effortlessly lining one of our 6 pie plates, and together we'd pile up the chunks of cinnamonny, unsweetened fruit as high as we dared. Three rounds of oven-sharing later (taking a whole day all told) and we'd have our bounty - one pie for Thanksgiving, one for the week leading up to it (we could never stay away from it for long!) and four for the freezer to pull out mid-winter. On Thanksgiving day, my mom's parents would bring Grandpa's favourite pumpkin pie too, so most people (except me, who detests pumpkin pie [shh!] and my sister, who hates any pie) could have a piece of each.

I always thought my mom's pie crust would be the be-all-end-all for me when it came to pastry making, but as luck would have it the consumerism world changed and Crisco modified it's recipe. Now, I know they did it to remove the trans fat. I know. But in making that tiny, seemingly insignificant modification, they severely messed with the behaviour of our beloved recipe. It still tasted fine, but it was always a little different than our old favourite.

So I searched for an answer. Something, anything, that would give me a foolproof, tender, easy-to-work-with pie crust without a whole lot of fuss and bother. And wouldn't you know it, I found the answer on a handwritten recipe card tucked away in the back of my mom's "black box" of recipes. It's my grandma's original mixture, likely passed down from a generation before. Although I doubt she makes it this way any more, along with the all-purpose flour, salt and a pinch of nutmeg, it stars one of the major animal fats still widely available in stores - lard.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Right Off the Vine

For so long I've been posting about the wonders of our vegetable garden out in the backyard. The tomatoes, the peppers, the carrots and even the rhubarb have filled countless posts on here, and undoubtedly tired many a FlickR viewer. But since the first year of the gardening adventure after moving to our current home (Summer 2008), I haven't really mentioned the fruit portion of what we grow. After all, I was so proud of those little cherries, peaches and figs that they should be front and centre here, right?

Not quite. The fruit trees (except for my fig, thankfully) are... well... dead.

It's not as though we didn't try to grow tree fruit. We babied the saplings, fertilized, shooed away birds, everything we could. But you can't mess around with Mother Nature's plans, and we were smacked over the head with bark-eating squirrels and a devastating (but oddly pretty) fungus that attacked 3 of our trees and forced us to remove them all. But not all was lost in this sad tale. We still have backyard fruit. Enough fruit to warrant two (more, if you count the purees) posts. And it's right off the vine.

We've got grapes.

Which shouldn't surprise anyone who knows us, given that my stepfamily is very Italian and loves their wine. Every year we get at least one wine-making variety growing (this year we have Cabernet), and this year we also had a grape-loving, juice-and-jam-maker's bounty of Concords. But those Concords are going to wait for another post. My first culinary exploration with our backyard grapes is all about the winies.

And what could you guess - it was a cake! Unlike the Vegan Torta Al Vino I made before, this one doesn't have any wine in the batter (although I'd be tempted to try it with a sweet white). It is still a moist, single-layer, almondy cake which doesn't need any type of frosting to be enjoyed to it's fullest, especially with a glass of sherry after a nice Provençal style meal like what my mom prepared out of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The original recipe came from Patricia Wells' At Home in Provence, and I modified it to remove the eggs, cut down the sugar and make it a little bit more whole-grain based - all while fully emphasizing the delicious pairing of buttery almond and tangy grape flavours. It isn't overly sweet, which is perfect after the rich food of a dinner party, and the different notes of citrus lighten up the rich cream, butter and olive oil batter while the tiny seeds in the fruit add a bit of dimension.

Provençal Winemaker's Grape Cake
Serves 10
5 oz silken tofu, pureed
1/3 cup sugar
8 packets stevia (or 3 tbsp sugar)
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup 18% (table) cream
1/2 tsp orange extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
pinch sea salt
Zest of 1 lemon
10 oz (about 2 cups) small, fresh wine-making grapes, with seeds - washed and stemmed 
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F, grease a 9" springform pan.
  2. Beat the tofu, sugar, stevia, butter, oil, cream and extracts until blended (I used my food processor for the whole recipe).
  3. Add the flours, ground almonds, baking powder, salt and zest. Set aside for 5 minutes.
  4. Stir grapes into the batter (keep a few for the top if you'd like).
  5. Bake 55 minutes.
  6. Cool 10 minutes, then remove the side of the springform pan and cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 208.9
Total Fat: 13.5 g
Cholesterol: 17.5 mg
Sodium: 36.7 mg
Total Carbs: 19.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.7 g
Protein: 3.3 g