Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sweet Asian BBQ Sauce - Gluten Free

So how was everybody's long weekend? By everybody, of course, I'm blatantly ignoring all of you wonderful people who, like me, didn't have Monday off for Memorial Day - sorry! I mean, May 21 was also "Memo Day", "Waitresses and Waiters Day" and (my favourite of the three) "Strawberries and Cream Day", so there's no excuse not to celebrate something!

Given that the weather around here is turning warmer (or scorching, as it was yesterday!), our neighbourhood has begun to transform into a street of delicious-smelling BBQ. Whether you're a charcoal or a gas chef, a steak and burgers, salmon and shrimp or veggis and tofu aficionado, there is something to be said about the allure grilled food has. And while sauce is not necessary (and some would argue drowns the flavour of the food), I believe that a well-made, lightly applied condiment can turn already delicious cooking into something special.

Because so many ketchups and barbecue sauces are rife with sugar, we don't tend to buy them very often knowing that my diabetic stepdad would abuse the privilege. Then it occurred to me that if I could make a sauce that was a bit better than the pre-bottled kind and not full of chemicals, why not? As a bonus, I made it completely gluten free so that my stepsister-in-law could also enjoy it with her sensitivities! The original recipe came via , where she paired it with beer-braised chicken. I smeared it over zucchini "steaks" and I bet it would make a perfect marinade for tofu, chicken or fish too!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Congrats to the Winners of the 9th Annual Ontario Brewing Awards

Media Release:

Ontario Crowns it’s favourite Beers and Brew Masters at the 9th Annual Brewing Awards

Toronto –The results are in for the 9th Annual Ontario Brewing Awards presented by Toronto’s Festival of Beer!

The Gold, Silver and People’s Choice Awards, presented at Beer Academy in Toronto, were given out by Roger Mittag, the “Professor of Beer” on Thursday, May 17th.

The annual award ceremony has become a tradition for beer lovers around the province, giving them a chance to meet the people that make their favourite brews as well as allowing them to test out something entirely new.

The following are this year’s winners for the 9th Annual Ontario Brewing Awards:

North American Light Lager
Gold: Cool Beer Brewing Company - Stonewall Light
Silver: Labatt - Rolling Rock Extra Pale
People’s Choice: Hogsback Brewing Company - Vintage Lager

North American Lager
Gold: Labatt - Blue
Silver: Hogsback Brewing Company - Vintage Lager

European Style Lager (Pilsner)
Gold: King Brewery - Pilsner
Silver: Kichesippi Beer Co. - Natural Blonde
People’s Choice:Kichesippi Beer Co. - Natural Blonde

Amber Lager
Gold: Cool Beer Brewing Company - Millennium Buzz
Silver:Great Lakes Brewery - Red Leaf Smooth Red Lager
People’s Choice:Nickel Brook Beers - Märzenbier Bavarian Style Red

Dark Lager
Gold: Cameron’s Brewing Co. - Cameron’s Dark 266
Silver: King Brewery - Dark Lager
People’s Choice: Mill Street Brewery - Rauchbier

Gold: Amsterdam Brewery - Spring Bock
Silver: Cameron's Brewing Co. - Cameron’s Deviator Doppelbock
People’s Choice: Amsterdam Brewery - Spring Bock

Honey/Maple Beers
Gold: F&M Brewery - Stone Hammer Maple Red Ale
Silver: Railway City Brewing Company - Honey Elixir
People’s Choice: F&M Brewery - Stone Hammer Maple Red Ale

German Style Wheat Beer
Gold: Denison’s Brewing Company - Weissbier
Silver: Magnotta Brewery - True North Wonder Weisse
People’s Choice: Denison’s Brewing Company - Weissbier

Belgian Style Wheat Beer
Gold: Amsterdam Brewery - Oranje Weiss
Silver: Mill Street Brewery - Belgian Style Wit
People’s Choice: Amsterdam Brewery - Oranje Weiss

Cream Ale
Gold: Muskoka Brewery - Cream Ale
Silver: Grand River Brewing - 1913 Traditional
People’s Choice: Muskoka Brewery - Cream Ale

British Pale Ale
Gold: Black Oak Brewing Company - Pale Ale
Silver: Grand River Brewing - Plowman’s Ale
People’s Choice: Grand River Brewing - Plowman’s Ale

North American Pale Ale
Gold: Nickel Brook Beers - Naughty Neighbour Pale Ale                  
Silver: Great Lakes Brewery - Crazy Canuck Pale Ale
People’s Choice: Black Creek Historic Brewery - Pale Ale

British IPA
Gold: Grand River Brewing - Curmudgeon IPA
Silver: Mill Street Brewery - India Pale Ale
People’s Choice: Mill Street Brewery - India Pale Ale

North American IPA
Gold: Cameron’s Brewing Co. - Cameron’s Rye Pale Ale
Silver: Muskoka Brewery - Mad Tom IPA
People’s Choice: Cameron’s Brewing Co. - Cameron’s Rye Pale Ale

Amber Ale
Gold: Amsterdam Brewery - Big Wheel Deluxe Amber
Silver: The Clocktower Brew Pub - Clocktower Red
People’s Choice: Amsterdam Brewery - Big Wheel Deluxe Amber

Dark Ale
Gold: Muskoka Brewery - Dark Ale
Silver: Black Oak Brewing Company - Nut Brown Ale
People’s Choice: Black Oak Brewing Company - Nut Brown Ale

Gold: Mill Street Brewery - Coffee Porter
Silver: Black Oak Brewing Company - Nutcracker Porter
People’s Choice: Mill Street Brewery - Coffee Porter

Gold: F&M Brewery - Stone Hammer Oatmeal Coffee Stout
Silver: Railway City Brewing Company - Black Coal Stout
People’s Choice: F&M Brewery - Stone Hammer Oatmeal Coffee Stout

Imperial Stout
Gold: Wellington Brewery - Wellington Imperial Russian Stout
Silver: Nickel Brook Beers -Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout
People’s Choice: Wellington Brewery - Wellington Imperial Russian Stout

Fruit Beer
Gold: Amsterdam Brewery - Framboise
Silver: The Clocktower Brew Pub - Raspberry Wheat
People’s Choice: Amsterdam Brewery - Framboise

Flavoured Beer
Gold: Grand River Brewing - Highballer Pumpkin Ale
Silver: Sawdust City Brewing Co. - Skinny Dipping Stout
People’s Choice: Cameron’s Brewing Co. - American Whiskey Barrel

Strong Beer
Gold: Niagara College Teaching Brewery - Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale
Silver: Mill Street Brewery -Ambre de la Chaudière
People’s Choice: Niagara College Teaching Brewery - Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale

Newcomer of the Year: HogsBack Brewing Company

Beer of the Year: Mill Street Brewery - Coffee Porter

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Rich Vegetable Curry with Chicken

Curry is one of the great "catch all" dishes of the world. Just like stew, stir fry, and the ubiquitous casserole, it's more or less simple to throw anything you find in your fridge into a flavourful sauce and have it come out tasty (and if nothing else, edible). Getting the spicing right for things like a good curry is critical, but once you get that down, anything goes. Curry can be dry, or super-saucy, red, yellow, or green, 100% vegan or packed with any and all meat or seafood under the sun. It can have nut or dairy butter, coconut, or cream... or none of the above. The "heat" of the resulting mixture is totally up to you too, from mild Tikka and sweet Kashmiri to the scorching hot Thai "Red Curry" and spicy-sour Vindaloo.  And one of the best things about making "a curry" for dinner is that it can be as expensive or as cheap as you care to make it.

Case in point? The student-style chicken dish that was originally posted by Carla way back in 2007, shortly after this blog premiered! She was in college at the time (sounds familiar!) and made a lot of it at home before getting herself published!

I've written about the versatile recipes in The Healthy College Cookbook before, both in a review and when I made Carla's incredible Thai Inspired Beef and Noodle Stir-fry earlier this month. Mom's a big fan of the book, and when I told her that Carla mentioned her curry in the book, she asked to see the recipe (followed shortly with "do you think you could do this for me for your review?"). Her only request was to use up the dearth of veggies in our fridge befor that week's grocery shop. Given that putting away the produce from our grocery hauls is always touch-and-go with fridge space - we could have a walk in and it would be stuffed! - I had a bit of work to do. In the end, what started out as a chicken curry turned into what I jokingly called "vegetable curry with a smattering of chicken". Even though there was only a single chicken breast for two servings, the bulk of all the veggies made the servings more than satisfying. Spooned over just a single cup of brown Basmati rice (mom's favourite) she stretched it to three filling meals without a problem!

What's your favourite catch-all dish?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Soused Strawberries

We had strawberry packed summers when I was a kid. Two or three of my neighbourhood friends had plants in their backyards (ironically, where we discovered my best friend's strawberry allergy!) and it was almost a ritual that if we were over at someone's house, the fruit and veggies in the garden were fair game. Since our house had raspberries, tomatoes, chives and mint (and for one fateful year, habaneros!), our next door family had zucchini and bell peppers, and a few houses away had carrots and cucumbers, there was a non-mediated trade of sorts going on our block. I can't count the number of veggie-and-dip trays we all consumed those years, usually before we were allowed to have the usual "summer" treats like popsicles from the Dickee Dee guy.

To add to the strawberry glut every year, we also had a strawberry pick-your-own place close by that a few families would clump together and go to with their kids. I remember fondly lugging white plastic buckets (which over the years turned an odd salmon pink inside) up and down the rows of low, slightly prickly bushes, eating easily as many as I put into the pail, and coming out of the field completely covered in dirt and juice with my mom trailing behind. I'm sure she was thinking the same thing she does every time we go apple picking: "What the heck am I going to do with these now?". You and I both know that the whims of children are flighty, especially when it comes to "food jags", but between giving my jam-making grandma a ton of them and eating a lot of strawberry shortcake (my mom still makes the best in my opinion) we somehow survived the summer.

While I'm pretty sure most of the neighbourhood parents never took this approach to a strawberry topping, I'm sure they would have approved of the tipsy berries with most of the neighbourhood clan running from house to house over the summer holidays.

I'd only ever take the week to make Soused Strawberries with fresh, in season fruit, and in an ideal world, locally grown as well. Our season hasn't quite started (my farming friends are saying 2-3 weeks yet), but I like to make a point of hitting our local farmers markets to buy the good stuff when I can. I've resorted to buying fruit in recent years, since none of my childhood friends live around me any more and my family has no interest in a 40 minute trip to the nearest field (our old haunt has long since closed). In a pinch, berries that have been imported to our supermarket fit the bill just fine (as is evidenced by the photo), provided it's still strawberry season (I know, I know - I'm human, come on!).

Like I said, they do take at least a week to reach "maturity" - sorry those celebrating Memorial Day on Monday - but like most booze, they get better with age (and you can use any of your favourite tipples for the booze, especially for those who are GF - Ipersonally would have used all Godiva but ran out). There are a few Summer holidays coming up, though (Flag Day, Father's Day, beginning of Summer, St. Jean-Baptiste Day, Canada Day, Independence Day...) so you can make these ahead of time to go with whatever goodies are on the dessert table. Angel food or pound cake, shortcake, waffles, or even as part of a grown-up sundae bar - anything is fair game. Mind you, out of the jar straight in the middle of the night is good too... just sayin'!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Watermelon Meyer Lemonade

As much of a lemonhead as I am, I'm a latecomer to the wonderful world of the Meyer lemon. My excuses were (at least in the beginning) lack of availability in my neck of the literal woods - unlike the "big city" Toronto, all the really fun stuff doesn't filter in as quickly. When the grocery store finally did start carrying the tiny, sweet-tart fruit, it was only in mesh bags of 10-12 and exorbitantly priced. So I did what any rational foodie / wannabe gardener would do: I bought a Meyer lemon tree. If you think that's a little extreme for a lemon, I also own a fig tree. We're growing olives, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes and grapes along with the rest of the (in my case, heirloom) tomatoes, peppers, beets and carrots too. But I really wanted that Meyer lemon tree.

That was three years ago. After buying the few-years-old dwarf tree, I had to wait "patiently" for it to mature enough to both bear fruit and be strong enough to support the lemons (which, although small, are heavy for the little tree). Then there were the bugs (spider mites to be exact) - this year I almost lost the whole plant, and only through babying and watchful waiting did I finally get my first two lemons.

As soon as those two lemons turned yellow, I knew exactly what I'd be doing - lemonade, baby! I supplemented the two lemons of my own with a few I bought downtown (where the fruit stall had them cheaper than our supermarket!), and picked up some watermelon cubes that looked, if not juicy and ruby-red, at least decent. A quick spin in the blender later and I had myself a 100% sugar free drink, sweetened with naturally super-sweet stevia, that was perfect for today's 30°C weather. Had I thought of it, I would have added some frozen berries in place of ice cubes too - I love using frozen fruit as ice cubes in drinks: one, they don't water the beverage down and two, they're edible!

What's your favourite warm-weather drink?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Nori and Two - Seed Crackers - Recipe Redux!

We eat a lot of fish and seafood around here. It shouldn't be surprising, given my stepfamily's Italian heritage and my mom's obsession love for scallops. Taking into account the weekend lunch staple of oysters and spaghetti, my stepbrother's tuna sandwiches for work, the sardines on toast my stepdad has as a snack, and the scallop-shrimp stir fries and spicy "mock patate e baccalà" that get served up for dinner during the week, I'm fairly sure we more than meet our "have fish twice a week" recommendation.

While I do eat fish and seafood, I usually reserve it for when I go out for sushi. Sea vegetables, on the other hand, are regular inclusions in my meals. A classmate back in my holistic nutrition college days got me into kelp noodles for salads and last-second stir fry additions, and I've used the delicious (but expensive) arame and hiziki in sweet-sour sautees with tofu or other veggies (mushrooms, carrots and bell peppers are delicious!). In cooking classes I was able to sample dulse, kombu and wakame (unfortunately dulse was the only one I found slightly palatable), and of course you've seen me use agar-agar in recipes like my Vegmallow Fluff.

However, I adore nori above all the other sea vegetables. Even as a kid, I'd eat the plain, toasted sheets of the seaweed like chips, and when I found these "Nori Krinkles" at the health food store I was almost giddy. I won't lie - I ate the whole bag the first time I bought them - but I started using them on salads and stirred into rice or noodles as well for that little pop of sea flavour. Nori even made it into a batch of impromptu pasta sauce for a vegetarian alternative to the anchovy paste that's in most marinaras.

One of the neatest things I've used nori for was actually as a soil additive when I was starting this year's tomato, pepper and groundcherry seedlings. I had read somewhere that seaweed made a wonderful fertilizer, and since I couldn't find a seaweed-based formula at our local garden centre I figured why not try making my own? A mix of 3 parts topsoil to 1 part shredded, soaked nori filled my little starter pots, and I have to say that the seedlings are stronger this year than any other time I've tried to grow them. I have to attribute that to the nutritional qualities of the sea vegetable, since nothing else changed in the sprouting process!

One thing I never tried to do with any sea vegetable was bake with it. The minerally, saline quality of most sea vegetables makes it a little awkward to incorporate into traditional goods, but I wanted to find something that would work for this month's Recipe Redux (featuring small fish and/or sea vegetables). I finally found my answer in an old copy of American Macrobiotic Cuisine by Meredith McCarty, where a little "variation" note on a breadstick recipe mentioned making nori crackers. I played around with the original recipe, which was admittedly very plain, and added ginger, whole wheat flour, flaxseed and toasted sesame oil along with the shredded seaweed. The result was almost like a sushi bar in a cracker - sesame, nori and a little ginger meshed beautifully into a portable, snackable form!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Caramel Apple Almond Muffins

Who doesn't love a good muffin? From saccharine, chocolate-packed desserts to healthy powerhouse meals, the baked treats are portable, no-fuss edibles that can be whipped up in a flash and house anything you have on hand. Sure, you could go out and buy one of those gigantic "baby coffee cake" - like objects from the bakery or grocery store, but they're expensive - and not just in the monetary sense. At about 625 calories and over 30 grams of fat each, you might be stuck with a bit more "muffin" on your top after a few.

You could go the low-fat / high fibre route in the muffin-sphere, for sure. Gosh knows there are plenty of those in the stores. But come to think of it, how good are most of those? Most are either so gummy and heavy that they become blocks that stick on the way down, or are dry and grainy puffs of sawdust that make you cough with every bite. Most pre-fabricated muffins that cut out the fat make up for it with gads of sugar, HFCS or chemical texture enhancers - having minimal, if any, effect on the calorie count.

At home, it's a lot simpler to control the sugar, fat, sodium and quality of what comes out of the oven. After years of dieting in my younger life (yes, I was a fat kid), and my own failed test runs in the kitchen, I think I've figured out the balance of decadence and health with these babies. Firstly, I used a thick, homemade applesauce as the base of these jumbo muffins, then thinned it out with almond milk. For sweetness without excessive sugar, I mixed a stevia baking blend with two caramel-flavoured stevia packets (both from Krisda) and just a bit of dark brown sugar. A touch of vinegar really added to the tenderness of the crumb, and the natural fat content in the almond milk and egg powder kept the moisture "real" and not hit-you-over-the-head as "low fat". Speaking of the crumb, I wanted to keep it as whole grain as possible without making it feel super heavy, so I picked whole wheat pastry flour out of my pantry and was very pleased with the overall results!

Friday, May 18, 2012


Did you ever have school bakesales when you were a kid? Back in my elementary school days, each week the designated "clean up" team of students would also be responsible for supplying and manning the Friday fundraiser. From store-bought cookies and Timbits to elaborately decorated cupcakes and homemade brownies, the table would unfailingly be laden with all things sugary - and the price was hard to beat. Each treat went for between 5 and 25 cents, and all the proceeds went towards subsidizing our year end field trip to someplace new and exotic (at least to our naive perception) - Montreal, Ottawa and even Washington DC filled the docket over the years, giving us kids (and our parents too) an escape for a few days.

There was, however, a certain hierarchy amongst the bake sale set. Chocolate in any format ruled head and shoulders above the rest of the treats, followed by anything with frosting, fried or cookie-like. Depending on who brought it in (some parents were stars of the bake-sale) the "bar" or "square" desserts would quickly disappear too. None of these bars was more popular than the classical, gooey Crispy Rice Treat. Filled with melted butter and sticky marshmallows, the squares were sturdy enough that we could buy two and save one until after school (excuse my childhood persona who is laughing her ass off at this thought).

Only a few kids avoided the bake sale madness completely. Us youngsters wrote these "outsiders" off as simply odd, but now I realize they may not have had any other option. Veganism was a foreign concept back then, but there were allergies and religious diets in our midst. The only ingredients completely banned from the school were nuts, so those brownies, cupcakes and doughnuts were still potentially hazardous materials. Even those innocuous Crispy treats posed hazards - the marshmallows made them inedible for the vegetarian and vegan students (most of whom were Hindu or Muslim) and the versions made with marshmallow "creme" were dangerous eats for the two students with egg allergies.

Flash forward to 2012. Veganism and allergies are hot topics these days, and it's rare that a substitute for most of the problematic ingredients isn't available. I know that vegan marshmallows and marshmallow creme are available - but where I life the only way to find either is through online ordering and frankly I don't use them enough to warrant the shipping costs. Since they exist at all, I knew they could be made, and after one of my fitness leaders mentioned her long-lost love for the classic RK square I figured I'd might as well give making them a shot. I opted for a "creme" based formula this time around, since I wasn't overly confident that an agar-set mixture would firm up to "real" marshmallows. A roughly half and half mix of corn syrup and Nature's Agave helped the sugar syrup melt and cook to soft-ball consistency while a touch of vanilla and sea salt rounded out the flavour and cut the cloying sweetness a touch.

In the end, I don't think I could have been any more pleased! Not only did I make a serviceable, vegan and additive-free "Vegmallow Fluff", but I created one that, when paired with Earth Balance and brown rice crisp cereal, made a gluten free, nut free, vegan and 100% kid friendly treat.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lemon Sesame Bars with Raspberry Glaze

I've never been good when it comes to dealing with change in my life. It's a highlight of my obsessive compulsive and anxiety disorders, and whether it be a happy or sad occurrence that upsets my daily routine, my stress levels and emotions fly all over the place. All that internal whirling usually becomes nervous energy, which if I don't diffuse immediately through motion causes a rather awkward and embarrassing flood of frustrated tears. Is it any wonder I became a food blogger?

Yesterday my stepbrother and his girlfriend announced their engagement - a move that I saw coming about 6 months ago when I started checking her left hand every holiday or family function. While that event itself was nothing shocking, I was a little put out by the "every parent hopes this for their children" and "grandparent" talk that ensued - especially since I was trying to reconnect with my mom after she spent a week off on business. I've made it clear that it is highly unlikely that any sort of relationship will form in my forseeable future (to quote myself: I'm too selfish to share my life with a partner) and almost guaranteed that my body won't be serving up the grandkids, but the treatment of that social status as something my stepfather "prays to his guardian angels" to grant myself and my sister left me in an awkward and anxiety-inducing situation.

Thankfully (and I can't believe I'm admitting that thanks), my mom and stepdad went off to see The Avengers without me, leaving me with an empty house and, more importantly, free reign to make as much noise with my kitchen appliances as I wanted to. The first thing I tried was a half-batch of Katie's Healthy Lemon Squares, which although they set up just fine were too thin (both crust and filling) and almost rubbery in consistency (sorry Katie!).

Now, if I had had some extra tofu kicking around I'd have reverted to my standby Vegan Lemon Bars, but I didn't. Instead, I had toasted sesame seeds from the Thai Inspired Beef and Noodle Stir-fry, the dregs from a jar of my favourite raspberry jam and a few spoonfuls of Earth Balance along with our fridge's ever present contents of lemons and an old Weight Watchers recipe that I found in the cupboard. I converted the plain lemon drop cookies into a cookie bar, then spread the jam on top for a "garnet" like appearance. It looked, smelled and (from what I hear) tasted delicious - and was a much more fun outlet for my stress than hitting the treadmill for an hour!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Hush - Hush Lasagna (or Lasagne)

I'm a huge advocate of the "get-em-while-they're-young" health and nutrition approach - get kids interested in, cooking and eating good, wholesome foods from the very start and they're more likely to continue that behaviour throughout the rest of their lives. It works, when parents and other adults are on board and stay away from the "you won't like this, it's ______" mentality, I saw it in action at the Boys and Girls Club when we would do our cooking sessions. We didn't have a luxury of a garden or a trip to the farmer's market, but you could tell that the youngsters - especially the 5-10 year olds - wanted to be a part of what they were eating, even if it was packed full of veggies and whole grains.

However, I know that most families out there are not blessed enough to have the time and patience to make mini whole-fooders out of their toddlers, especially those of us in the suburbs where the only groceries come from the two area supermarkets, mom and dad leave for work in the city at 7 AM and don't get home until 7 PM, and the only outside play areas within nearby walking distance are over-safetied school playgrounds that no kid from my generation would ever call a park.

Times have definitely changed from a short decade or two ago, where dinner was what Mom put on the table and you either ate it or you went to bed hungry - picky eaters needed not apply. Unfortunately, my sister was part of the fledgling "picky eater" generation, refusing most vegetables (except frozen peas), cycling between only bananas, only green grapes and only apples when mom could get them into her at all, and in her late childhood settling into a steady "beige" diet. Breakfast consisted of chocolate chip, margarine and pancake syrup-laden frozen waffles or pancakes, Wonder bread with Nutella or occasionally cinnamon raisin French toast, lunch was usually a few pizza pockets (or skipped altogether since during school breaks breakfast was at noon or later!), and dinner - when mom didn't want to fight her on the meal - was either a full box of mac and cheese or pasta with margarine, ketchup and parmesan with a side of chicken nuggets.

She still eats like this - more often than not skipping breakfast in favour of a "brunch" and generally avoiding produce. But I keep trying. When she came home for the Summer after her second year in college (second year? How the heck did that happen?) she brought with her both a taste for whole wheat bread and something else just as unexpected - lasagna. This was the child who, until she was 11, insisted on a divided plate so that her food wouldn't touch... and now here this young woman was talking about a casserole of noodles, cheeses and spaghetti sauce (coincidentally, another food she abhorred as a kid). Having conquered the task of making a whole wheat cinnamon raisin bread she liked, I figured it was time to take a look at this new dinner option. She told me back in the beginning that the only thing she didn't like about her school's lasagna was the chunky sauce, so I knew the food processor would be at work for this one. The fact I'd be pureeing the sauce anyway also left the door wide open for the amount of stuff I could throw into it without her knowing! While I don't usually recommend the "sneak" tactic for feeding veggies to kids, sometimes it's the only way to get those nutrients in.

I settled on grating onion, carrot, bell pepper and zucchini into a plain tomato base, and jazzing it up just slightly with a pinch of dried basil and the last of our vegan Parmesan cheese. While it simmered away, I boiled up some "Smart" lasagna noodles, shredded some light Mozzarella and beat up a low-fat cottage cheese and egg filling. Then, since simplicity and portion control was the name of the game, I made "lasagnettes" in mini casseroles that she could freeze and reheat when needed (she's working out in Guelph this Summer and having a nutritious, convenient dinner ready at her apartment is a plus). I kept my fingers crossed the first night she ate it... and she ate it! Not only that, but she enjoyed it - and I was barely able to hide my smirk at my success.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Luxurious Ricotta Frosting

So, now that you've all made and basked in the creamy deliciousness that is my Richer Ricotta, are you looking for something to use it in? Of course, the cheese is perfectly delicious on its own, filling celery boats or smeared on toast points, but after a while you might be looking for a change of pace. Am I right? I'm definitely right around here - Mom's travelling for work this week so there isn't much in-house eating by anyone other than me (and my sister, when I cook for her - more on that in a future post). Besides, over the course of testing recipes for a cookbook review I'm writing, I found myself with two cakes in need of some frosting, which took precedence over the other logical application I thought of - baked pasta.

Given that the two cakes (from Classic Artisan Baking by Julian Day) were similar in that they both contained walnuts and also had a rich flavour component to them (a carrot cake with spices and whole grains and an espresso-laced almond and spelt flour concoction), upping the ante with a tangy topping seemed appropriate. The slight zing of the ricotta really heightens the flavours of the cakes, and while neither the original "plain" frosting nor the "mocha" versions are overly sweet, they're definitely sweet enough for dessert! I'd wager that in a pinch you could use either of the frostings as a stellar filling for cannoli (or my favourite "fake-out", sugar ice cream cones!). The only thing I wouldn't suggest doing is trying to frost the sides of a cake with it - it's just a little bit too soft for that.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Richer Ricotta

Way back in February, I made my first foray into the world of cheesemaking when I made Buttermilk Ricotta - something that was so surprisingly easy and was loved so much by my family (except my sister who doesn't like ricotta at all) that my mom won't stop talking about it! I knew making the Italian-esque cheese would become a common occurrence around here, but it's rare that we actually have buttermilk hanging around and really, who keeps it on hand at all times? I began to scout around for another recipe I could do with regular milk, since though I knew ricotta was just a combination of milk, salt and acid, I had no proportions to go by. I also had a small bottle of citric acid left over from a semi-failed jam attempt last year, and I wanted to see if I could use that instead of the more common lemon juice or vinegar.

The great thing about making ricotta, any ricotta, is that it's 100% customizable simply by changing up the milk and/or adding flavouring agents like spices, citrus zests and even cocoa or instant coffee. Other additions you can mix into the finished cheese could be fresh herbs or even edible flowers! Since I had a voucher for a free litre of half and half cream to use (thanks to buying one earlier in the year that was curdled beyond recognition), I went for that plus a few cups of the stepdad's favourite homogenized milk to pump up the decadence of the finished product. Thanks to the extra fat and the more precise acidity of the citric acid powder, the curd was super-fine, almost like I had pureed cottage cheese, and the taste was "cleaner" than when I made it with lemon juice at school (since vinegar and lemon juice can both taste bitter with cooking). I let it drain in a tea towel-lined colander and probably left it a bit too long, but luckily a splash of milk could loosen things to a more spreadable texture if you're not cooking with it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Thai Inspired Beef and Noodle Stir-fry

Over the years, my Mom has done a lot (and I mean a lot) of world travelling for work. While these days her flights are headed to either Fairfax or Moncton, in the past 5 or 6 years she's been to Texas, Florida, Calgary, Budapest, South America and Thailand! Luckily, she's a big fan of all sorts of worldly flavours, especially the unforgettable combination of sweet, sour, and pungent elements in Thai food.

While I can't send her off to Thailand on vacation, nor bring the beauty of the country and it's people here, I did get the opportunity from a fellow blogger and good friend of mine via the wonderful people at Thomas Allen and Storey Publishing to approximate the flavours of the exotic land in my own kitchen! Back in 2008, Carla from Chocolate Moosey was published thrice in The Healthy College Cookbook (which I coincidentally reviewed a few days ago). I had the pleasure of trying all three of her inclusions (Peanut Butter Oatmeal, Chicken Curry and today's Thai Beef) and I must say they were gems! For more info on the book and my experiences with it click on over to Reading, Writing and Cooking - and stay tuned for my version of the curry on here! 

Admittedly, this is not Carla's recipe as it was written, either on her blog originally or in the cookbook. A combination of our fridge's overburdened vegetable crisper and a lack of the pasta called for turned a relatively basic beef, onion and pepper stir fry into a sautee pan packed full of carrots, green onions, mushrooms, peppers, snow peas and brown rice stick noodles. The goat feta added a piquant and unusual, yet completely complementary accent at the end and Mom gave it her seal of approval both right out of the pan and a few days later after reheating it for lunch!