Saturday, June 30, 2012

Recipes with Blue Dragon Stir Fry Sauces

I was a demonstrator for Blue Dragon Stir-Fry Sauces the other day for my job at Infield Marketing. When I was looking through the company's website at the three "stir-fry sauces" I'd be using and trying to convince people to try out, I decided to write a few recipes to really showcase the potential of these (relatively convenient) pouches of flavour. Each packet is 140 mL and according to the packaging "serves 2" - however, during my demo I found them very thick and gloopy, needing additional water to prevent it from sticking and burning in the pan. All the recipes I'm sharing serve 4 thus use one full pouch of sauce, plus another form of liquid to make more of a "coating" that also helps it soak into the rice or noodles you happen to serve it with and keeps the finished mixture from "gumming up" upon standing.

*Disclosure: I was not paid nor asked by Sobeys, Infield Marketing or Blue Dragon to review this product. All recipes and opinions are my own.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Toast Topper #3 (Small-Batch Almanac Pear Butter)

Continuing in the theme of nummy fruit-based options for your favourite toasted carb, I broke out one of the staples in our fruit basket for the next spread, also adapted from the Old Farmer's Almanac Garden-Fresh Cookbook. Pears were historically called the "gift of the gods"- and it's easy to see why. Filled with fibre, vitamin C, vitamin K and copper, pears are also considered hypoallergenic and have such minimal levels of oxalates and purines that they're not reliably measured. The riper they are (until they go rotten), the higher in antioxidants they are, and the sweeter they taste!

Since I picked perfectly ripe-for-eating specimens of the already candy-like forelle pear for my small batch of pear butter, I let them sit out on the counter another two days or so to solidify their flavour. The extra ripening time, coupled with the long, slow cooking, meant that the natural sweetness of the pears condensed into a dark gold caramel all on it's own, no sugar required! At the end of the cooking time, the flavour was more of a rich butterscotch than a fresh, crisp pear, but it was perfect to go with pancakes, waffles and of course the family favourite bagels! If dulce de leche had a fruity cousin, this would be it.

I'm passing on this rediculously decadent and nutrient-packed spread to Ricki's Wellness Weekend!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Toast Topper #2 (Blueberry Butter)

I'm probably one of few people on the planet who doesn't particularly like berries. I'm okay with them, don't get me wrong - I'll eat them off a fruit platter or as a jam, but given a choice between a pint of blueberries and a Granny Smith or Honeycrisp apple? I'm the teacher's pet the whole way.

But, like I said, I will eat them as a spread! Especially if they're mixed together in a blend like the "Summer Fruit" or Superfruit. When I was going through my review copy of The Old Farmer's Almanac Garden-Fresh Cookbook last week, I saw this "Blueberry Butter" recipe and thought I'd give it a whirl. Firstly, I liked the fact that it would help me use up the wild blueberries in our freezer before they got burned. The light spicing and apple components won me over completely. I scaled down the batch so that I wouldn't have to go to the store, and set to work.

Partway along the cooking process, I came around to stir it and smelled a heady dose of vanilla. I wasn't sure why my house smelled like an orchid processing plant until I looked at the bag of sugar I used and found out I had used exclusively vanilla infused sugar instead of the standard granulated I thought I grabbed from the pantry! At the end of the cooking, though, the smell dissipated enough that it left a noticeable, but not smack-you-stupid element that I think really made the jam for me. A quick schmear of it on a crust of bread and I knew I had some good stuff going. If anything, I would have bumped up the nutmeg a touch, but I'm a spice addict at the best of times!
Small-Batch Blueberry Butter
Makes about 1 1/2 cups, 12 (2-tbsp) servings
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen (unthawed) wild blueberries
2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 cup vanilla sugar (or regular sugar + 1 vanilla bean)
pinch salt
1/4 tsp allspice
pinch nutmeg
1/4 cup water
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed saucepot.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer 1 hour, stirring frequently to prevent sticking and mashing the fruit against the sides of the pot to smooth it out.
  3. The butter is done when it is thick and spreadable.
  4. Can in a water bath or spoon into clean jars and keep in the fridge up to 6 weeks.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 88.0 
Total Fat: 0.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 1.1 mg
Total Carbs: 22.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.2 g
Protein: 0.1 g

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Toast Topper #1 (Vegan Strawberry Curd, Slightly Soused!)

We love our bread around here. In particular, we love our toast - everyone thrives on a good whole wheat or even grainier slice crisped to golden perfection, except the white-bread-only stepdad (who still prefers his toasted!). Whether for breakfast, lunch or a snack, it's the perfect comfort food and the vehicle for all sorts of spreads, sauces and other toppers. In my childhood, I was extremely partial to peanut butter or Nutella (if the toast had cooled) and either honey or cherry preserves on bread or bagels hot from the toaster. Granted, if my dietary restrictions allowed, a thick schmear of Nutella topped with a tart cherry preserve would be my manna (and I'd be back to my 230 pound self!). My sister is still a Nutella-only girl, and Mom always has been a extra-fruit spread fanatic.

I'm more like my mom these days, preferring choices with the most fruit and least "other stuff". Usually, we buy our jam (with the exception of last Summer when we had the Backyard Grape Jam!), since it's cost- and time-prohibitive to make and can our own when we all work and have other obligations during the week. However, over the past few weeks I've found three super-simple spreads that are either lightning-fast to throw together or cook unattended for long enough that other things can get done in the meanwhile. All of them have become favourites with not only me, but my immediate family and the guests we have hosted recently due to the recent loss of my grandfather. Not only is that slice of piping hot bread smeared with a home-made spread wonderfully familiar and comforting to eat, by making them it was a way for me to do something I knew and was confident in, a wonderful culinary hug in this unsettled time.

The first one I decided to make was actually thanks to one of my favourite food bloggers and a person I'm glad to have as a friend - Carla of Chocolate Moosey. At the beginning of June, she had a whole week of strawberry recipes on her blog, including delectable Strawberry Jam I have on my to-do list and the Vegan Strawberry Curd I eventually decided to make! I still had a jar of (very) well-aged Soused Strawberries in my fridge and decided to make the curd with those instead of fresh ones. Since I wasn't sure what I'd be using it for (provided there were leftovers!), I also decided to use the freezing-stable tapioca starch as a thickener. Since it was out for another recipe, I used SucaNat as well, but the total amount of sugar was so small anyway you could easily just use regular sugar.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Toast Topper #2 - Blueberry Butter!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Music and Events at Toronto’s Upcoming Festival of Beer

Even though I cannot drink (and so won't be sampling any of the over 200 labels on parade), the Festival of Beer in Ontario's capital has tons of other stuff to do - I cannot wait to go!

First of all, there's a grilling tent (sponsored by Napoleon) featuring Chef Ted Reader. Not only will he and his "friends" be sharing great grilling tips, but they'll show you how to keep your grill clean and keep it the perfect summer cooker. Other fabulous local chefs scheduled to appear on the grilling stage are Matty Matheson of Parts & Labour and a guest on Top Chef Canada (Season 2, Ep. 4), Rodney Bowers of Hey Meatball and Food Network's The Delinquent Gourmet, Rob Rainford of Food Network's License to Grill, Joe Levesque of the International Centre, Craig Harding of Campagnolo, and Mark Cutrara of Cowbell Restaurant.

Then, of course, they have the Brewmaster's Dinners. Each of these are at a different restaurant in the city and feature a special menu that evening focusing on the beer being served that event. So far, these Dinners are:

July 10 @ Oyster Boy featuring Propeller Brewery
July 16 @ Wvrst
July 17 @ Barque Smokehouse featuring Brasserie McAuslan Brewery
TBA @ The Monk's Table

For the non-drinkers or -foodies out there (horrors!) there is an amazing musical line-up at the Bandshell Park as well. With good food, good beer, lots to learn and tunes to enjoy it all by, it's promising to be quite the event!

More information on the musical line-up, tickets and dates is in the media release below. You can also follow Toronto’s Festival of Beer on Twitter @TOBeerFestival, Like it on Facebook and get tickets (and extra information) at

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Superfood Peanut Butter n' Cookies Fudge

I know, I teased you with fudge yesterday! Well, this may not be "true" fudge in the sense of the intense butter/sugar overload (yes, I know... that's what makes it good), but if you fell in love with my earlier "Saintly Smooth Fudge" you'll probably like this one! I had such successful taste tests of the dark chocolate and black bean combination that I wondered if I could do a white bean, white chocolate creation with peanut butter and cookie chunks. After making the Kamut® Cookies for Creme, I broke them up and added them to the puree. I would have pulsed them in with the food processor, but the old thing is a little worse for wear these days and doesn't want to work very well.  

When I first made it, I was stymied by what I could use to replace the cocoa powder. Obviously the colouring and flavour would be wrong for a "peanut butter" fudge with it, so I started to look through my pantry for possibilities. When I found my small stash of maca powder, I wondered if I could use that - but I also knew that the stuff raw is not great eating (I find it slightly sour/bitter, so I add it in smoothies to cover it up).
After scouting the intarwebs and my nutrition textbooks, I got schooled on the whole world of the superfood, and found out that when raw (i.e. unroasted / ungelatinized) maca can be difficult to digest and is a goitrogen (which can mess with the thyroid). The unpleasant taste of the raw stuff is just nature's way of saying stay away or cook me! The digestion and thyroid inhibitors are reduced  or deactivated by heat. So toasting it would be the way to go. As a bonus, roasted maca reportedly tastes like caramel or butterscotch, with some coffee-like notes thrown in (I found more like a pecan / vanilla caramel flavour in my taste tests FWIW). Nevertheless, it would go nicely with the rest of the mixture.

But just what is maca anyways? Well, long story short, maca powder is an ancient Peruvian energy and libido booster, containing large amounts of amino acids, carbohydrates, and minerals like calcium, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium, and iron. It's also packed with the vitamins B1, B2, B12, C and E and is an adaptogen - basically helping support the body's adrenal and pituitary gland health to help protect against physical and mental weaknesses (including stress and disease!). Overall, it's a huge tonifying agent for all of the body's glands and hormones, which can improve fertility, sexual function, digestion, and brain and nervous system activity. Whew!

So I had part of the "dry" mixture, but I didn't want to use all maca - for one, it's expensive ($1.37 an ounce or more), and for another, I didn't want the taste of it to dominate the peanut butter. I decided to use ground almonds for half the volume in a small batch, which worked but left the texture a little too soft for my liking even when stashed for 2 days in the fridge (frozen chunks, however, are delicious "cookie dough" additions to ice cream / pudding). Then, when at one of the health food stores downtown, I found "partially defatted roasted peanut flour" by Protein Plus and picked it up on a whim. The package said it was a good thickener, so I figured that it would help with texture as well as boost the peanut taste. The half and half maca / peanut flour version was far superior in texture and full of balanced nutty, sweet, caramel and chocolate, and my taste-testers (who had no idea what was in it!) fell in love too.

I'm going to cross my fingers that Ricki will accept this into her Wellness Weekend - after all, she (and Gretchen) started my obsession with beany fudge! Obviously, I used vegan white chocolate here (I found Bonvita white chocolate made with rice milk and raw cane sugar at the same store as the peanut flour), but if you aren't vegan go ahead and use your favourite brand. The nutrition information is almost the same regardless of whether you choose peanut flour or ground almonds too!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Kamut® Cookies for Creme

Sometimes a food is so perfect on it's own that we neglect to think of the other possibilities it presents. Greek yogurt, ice cream, nut butter, applesauce or even the ubiquitous chocolate chip cookie are loved for their own natures, but when you add something extra, you can take them up a notch. If nothing else, you can broaden your scope of possibilities with your original favourite. Most things, I find, are never hurt by a touch of chocolate. Even savoury items can contain the treat in some degree - from subtle hints in rich, spicy mole, chili or (my current favourite) Dark and Rich Sundried Tomato Sauce to the blatantly obvious or strange combinations of chocolate covered bacon, Salmon with Chocolate-Soy Sauce and Mushroom and Chocolate Risotto.

While chocolate cookies may not be as versatile in the savoury realm (though crushing these for a pepper-laced crust on meat or tofu is delicious too), they fit in just fine when it comes to the sweet "mix in" world. Keeping a small stash of chocolate Teddy Grahams was almost a rule with us, and they found their way into our mouths not only au natural but also mixed into pudding, cherry pie filling (yes, I used to eat that like pudding...), yogurt, and even fruit salad. For the fudge I'll be sharing in the near future, I opted to make those delectable, crunchy cocoa crisps myself, with no preservatives or additives, no weird "artificial flavours", less sugar and whole grain Kamut® flour. Health food they are not, but they are tiny and a great pep-up to something more nutritious and boring.

Need another idea? Make sandwiches with melted bittersweet espresso chips!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Strawberry Tartlettes - #RecipeRedux !

It's been a crazy few weeks around here (and it's only going to get crazier in my offline world), but it's that time of the month again! No, not that... it's time to break out the Recipe Redux fun! This month marks the event's first bithday, and it's popularity and it's wonderful ability to spread the message of nutritious, delectable eating is definitely cause to celebrate! Twelve months ago Regan Jones (The Professional Palate), Serena Ball (Teaspoon Communications) and Deanna Segrave-Daly (Teaspoon Communications) took on the task of rejigging the theory of what was "healthy food" by taking a flavour-lead tack - and I can't say it any better than the Redux website:
"We aim to inspire the food lover in every healthy eater and inspire the healthy eater in every food lover".
Well, they certainly did with me!

This month's theme is perfect for any Summer celebrations, while still staying "up" on a popular feature in fancy restaurants these days - mini desserts! One to two bites of delicious, yet healthy, sweetness that can cap off a meal or be part of a dessert cocktail party! Being that the warmer weather is here, smaller sweets take precedence thanks to their portability and "light" factor. For my submission, I'm bringing some tartlettes made with a lower-sugar, whole wheat crust and a sugar free strawberry "jam" filling (using chia!). The result is still rich, yet not guilt inducing, and perfect for anything from a BBQ to a Midsummer's wedding.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Grandma's Beef Stew

Funny thing, time. On one hand, we often have too much of it at our disposal. On the other, we never have enough for the things that matter - and we only realize what those are when we're left clinging to hours, minutes, seconds. When I was in university, I spent so much time miserable at being away from home that I missed out on what could have been the best years of my life. Later on, I became so "busy" that I skipped out on family functions, knowing that there was always another event around the corner that I could use to catch up. It was always tomorrow with me.

My grandfather, on the other hand, was always at the right place at the right time. Meticulous in his documentation of debits, credits, appointments, phone numbers and all manner of things that struck his fancy, you could always count on a quick, über specific response to almost any question you might have. Was the tip at dinner last night ten percent or twenty? A quick check of his "little black book" and even faster backwards math would tell him it was nineteen, since we decided to round it out. Where did he last fill up on gas? That would be pump #4 at the gas station just down the road from his house. Even a simple question of what the time was would garner an answer backed by Grandpa consulting his digital, almost neo-scientific watch - he would never give a rounded number like 2:30 if the time was in fact 2:28 or 2:31, and depending on the circumstances you'd get the chronology to the second. I'm sure that if I had been more like him this morning I would have not only been at his hospital bedside but would have paid attention to the clock. Sometime between 5:50 and 6:00 this morning, my grandfather's internal timepiece stopped, and it was not anyone's power nor wish to try and re-wind it.

As much of a shock as it was, I'm almost ashamed to admit that not a single time during his illness was I really sad. Grandpa always did things with expedience and at the best possible time - including this. He waited until after Father's Day passed and he knew my uncle and his sister were on their way before finally allowing his body to stop fighting. In a way, I feel horrible that out of all the worthy people in his life, I was the last one to speak with him. I got one last "hi" the one and only time I went to see him - yesterday, for Father's Day. I will never forget how hollow he looked on that hospital bed, but at the same time I'm almost glad that I didn't recognize him except for the pale band of skin that had been covered by his watch for almost 60 years. The only regret I have is that I didn't have my camera yesterday to document that epically infamous watch tan, by the time I saw his body today it had all faded away. The last remaining piece of him had faded away. It was then that I really knew he was gone. I was fortunate enough to get a photo of that arm, his hand still bearing his wedding ring, and I hope my sister can do her magic with it art wise and transform it into a living memory. My Grandma is letting me keep his beloved timepiece as well - she saved it for me since she knew how much it meant to my memory of him. He will never be forgotten.

Around the time he first got sick, I was clearing out old emails from my archive and came across a file of notes from Grandpa, dating back to the years I was at Carleton. As old as he was, Grandpa  was still incredibly tech-savvy, and probably the only grandparent I know who was actively on Facebook and the Internet almost daily. One of those emails was a recipe for the beef stew my Grandma had sent in a care package to combat the -40C winter weather. It was such a comfort to me then that I wanted to return the favour with a batch of her homemade goodness ready and waiting when she was in search of a taste from the past.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Peanut Butter and Honey for Father’s Day Breakfast (A #SundaySupper Post)

Happy Father's Day, everyone!

When I think of my dad, I think of a few things - his goofy sense of humour, his love for Tinkerbell (which I've canonized on my leg in tattoo form), his amazing ability to make box-mix pancakes taste out of this world good, his trailer potatoes "with the spice rack" that he'd foil grill on the Coleman every summer, and his favourite breakfast/snack/anytime food: peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Ideally, he'd opt for sliced bananas on top of the gooey PB and honey combo, and the bread could be white, whole wheat, toasted or not - it was all about the sweet/salty/gooey concoction, not the mere vessel for it's journey into the mouth.

That said, in my own idealization of the dish (I guess you could call it that, although a recipe for it would be rediculous to write down), I'd pick a nice simple whole wheat slice, Kraft "Light Smooth" peanut butter (I grew up with it and hate the taste of "regular", and really hate the texture of any "chunky" PB), and either a local buckwheat or a rich Manuka honey. Bananas for me are in general too sweet (I am the kind of person who eats them mostly green with just a trace of yellow), and the texture of them along with the "too-runny" consistency of peanut butter on hot toast weirds me out. Oh, and the open face combo trumps a top "crust", IMHO.

Sheesh, I thought I wasn't too picky about my PB & H, but apparently I'm wrong! If you'd like to see more of the incredibly delicious offerings for the Father's Day #SundaySupper you can take a look at the links below, hop over to my live feed of #SundaySupper tweets or search #SundaySupper on Twitter (PS, I'm on there too!).

Father’s Day Brunch:
Dad’s Favorite Soup, Salads and Bread:
Father’s Day Favorite Main Dishes:
Dad’s Sweet Tooth:
Wine Pairings for Father’s Day ENOFYLZ

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

One Day at a Time Lasagnettes with Dark and Rich Sundried Tomato Sauce

I'm an impatient person. When I want something done, be it a mental task, a physical exploit or even a loaf of bread, I want it done now. I'm always being told to hang on a second, wait a minute, or that something will get done "soon". I detest the last one - especially since it's always in reference to something I have no control over, have no skill set for, and yet for some reason still believe that I could do it better. The strange thing is that I'm always thinking towards the future, but I over-think along the way and either find myself too distracted or afraid to make any sort of movement towards the next day. That's probably the reason why I have such poor time-management skills, though the actual chemical imbalances in my brain don't help - I'm doing everything and nothing for tomorrow and yesterday, and forgetting to live in the now. When that happens, and it so often does, I dwell on it, fretting and humming and hawing about how I failed or coulda-shoulda-woulda. These days more than ever, I really need to learn to take life one day at a time.

Our whole family is being forced to take that "one day at a time" mentality on these days, due to my grandfather's recent illness. As much as we'd like not to think about it, we must, and the best way we've found to cope with the stress is just by living each and every breath and blink as it comes. Of course, I also try to keep the days going by keeping meals and treats coming, which may come back to bite us all on our (larger) rear ends. For my mother and grandmother's sakes, I've been trying my best to keep their eating patterns as regular as I can - while my mom is pretty good with it since the rest of the household is eating with her, my grandma is alone at home right now and during the day the hospital's food is either too expensive or impractical for her to have, or the offerings are so imbalanced that they would never constitute any sort of nutritional meal. Because of all this, she hasn't been eating well, and coupled with her not sleeping well, it's causing me a fair amount of concern. Now I know why families in crisis are stereotypically given tons of casseroles.

Mom's Artichoke Version
When I was creating these individual, easy-to-heat-and-eat "lasagnettes", I wasn't necessarily making them with an eye towards antioxidant and anticancer benefits. However, that seems to be what happened - especially in terms of the sauce. I broke out the garden tomatoes I had canned and dried last year and teamed them up with some fresh and dried herbs from our backyard and pantry, enriched the sauce with balsamic vinegar, turmeric and cocoa, and finally tossed in some extra veggies from the depth of the fridge. While that cooked out, I whipped some homemade ricotta with a can of navy beans and a full package of frozen Cookin' Greens™ all-natural spinach. Meat was replaced by some rehydrated TVP (except for a few of mom's where chopped artichoke hearts fit the bill) and the whole shebang was enveloped in hearty whole grain pasta and capped off with some low-fat Mozzarella cheese. I baked a few of them to send home with my grandma on Sunday night and froze the rest "raw" so mom could have them over the coming weeks. Either way, they are delicious, and a great minimal-thought, high-impact meal for however many you have at the table.

I'm sharing this with Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this week by Elizabeth of The Law Students Cookbook.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Buckwheat Apple Pan Fritters

I have fond memories associated with apple fritters. Not the yeast-based brick of deep fried dough with a tablespoon of dried fruit you can find at the doughnut shop, but the "real deal" - rings of fresh apple dipped in almost a tempura-like batter and deep fried just until done. When we'd go to pick apples every fall, the farmstand was making them to order. There was no extra batter on the fruit, they weren't greasy or heavy, and they never sat around longer than it took to get them into your mouth without scorching yourself.

Of course, those fritters may have been based on a nutritious and perfectly ripe option, but they were still encased in white flour, white sugar and (of course) super-hot oil - given the times back then, it also could very well have been lard! A single brown bag of (maybe) 4 or 5 rings would easily run about 190 calories and 9 grams of fat, not exactly a step to your 10 a day. I guess the comforting fact is that those bakery style ones are worse - 300 calories and 11 grams of fat in each greasy (yet admittedly delicious) ball. But I loved them all the same and wanted to try and recapture that feeling in a less "bad for you" setting.

When I found this recipe last year I couldn't get it out of my head. It made so much sense! Slice an apple or two, add it to a pancake batter and make pancakes instead - no need to mess around with deep fryers, oil temperature, draining and filtering the oil... not to mention saving yourself a good amount of calories and fat and trading it for a few more nutrients. For my own sake (and because mom was helping me taste test), I opted for a gluten free and vegan, low fat batter made with a mix of whole-grain buckwheat flour and ground flaxseeds (mom loves buckwheat pancakes!). I kept things very appley with apple cider and added a touch of Canadiana with dark, rich maple syrup. Only half peeling the apples lent a great texture and even more nutrients, perfectly creating just the  slightest crisp shell and tender middle. Of course, we drizzled on a bit more maple syrup after the fact, but chunky applesauce would have been tasty too!

I'm going to submit this breakfast / snack / dessert goodness to Ricki for her Wellness Weekend - you should go check it out!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sourdough Cinnamon - Raisin Bagels

It's been a while since I've broken out the bagels around here. Ever since mom began reducing bread in her diet (it is her one diet weakness) I've had nobody to make it for - until my sister mentioned she missed the bagels we used to buy every weekend at The Great Canadian Bagel. Back then, we'd go with mom or dad to pick up a baker's dozen of the huge, chewy rings - I was partial to the sourdough and the French toast versions, my sister would divide her picks between plain, chocolate chip and cinnamon raisin. We'd no sooner get them home before we'd pluck our "treat" out of the paper bag (mom insisted on slicing and freezing the rest of them), smear it with margarine (no money for butter) and stick it in our rickety toaster oven to melt everything into gooey, crispy bliss. I swear, given the option, the two of us would have gladly lived off of toasted bagels with margarine, peanut butter, honey, cherry jam or even corn syrup (yes, I know!). Highschool shot me off in a different direction on the weekends, and our bagel-buying sprees ended. For a good long while, it was only on the occasional road trip that we'd get our fix at the local Tim Hortons. Nowhere near as authentically "bagelly" as the honey-water boiled circles we grew up with, they were still in appearance bagels and came in a few of the varieties we both liked.

When Teaghan brought up the Great Canadian goodies, I knew I could make a pretty decent facsimile in our own kitchen - and if possible, even improve on the classic. First, I tweaked the basic dough formula to convert it to a sourdough - whenever it comes to sweeter yeast bread, I like the tangy edge and overall character that the prefermentation adds. Then, given that in her maturity, my sister has in fact garnered a taste for whole wheat bread, I decided for a 100% whole wheat dough that I proceeded to lace with a goodly amount of cinnamon and sweeten with barley malt and dark brown sugar. For the final touch, both Thompson and sultana raisins (a rough 50 / 50 mixture) took a bath in some lukewarm water while the sponge fermented before I kneaded them in by hand.

The whole batch, from preferment to boil-and-bake, took just under two days - but the results were well worth the wait! Crispy, chewy crust with a toasty hue from the high heat oven and the alkaline pH bath, they sliced open to reveal a tight crumb and a smattering of raisins. Perfectly fitting in the toaster or simply chewed on au naturale, they are similar to Montreal's famous bagels but with a distinctly "Oshawan" kick.

Submitted to this week's YeastSpotting at Wild Yeast

Monday, June 4, 2012

"Momma Wants" Soup

I wrote this recipe title originally as a kind of joke: a reference to the ingredients my mom asked me to put into the stock I made from yesterday's Double-Lemon Roast Chicken. But as I was beginning to put together the writeup for this vitamin and mineral-packed one-pot meal, our lives took a turn of events that really solidified the need for something comforting and familiar. My maternal grandfather hadn't been feeling himself the past week or so, not sleeping much at night or eating during the day. For him to even admit that change in his usual routine is striking enough in itself - but when my grandma called this afternoon to say he was on morphine in the hospital it was like a ton of bricks. To make it worse, they still don't know what's going on, and my mom was out in Guelph helping out my sister with her new place - unable to get to the hospital stat to be with my gran.

I talked to my mom mid-commute, when she was snarled in gridlock on the highway, and she declared she wanted nothing for dinner. I wheedled her a bit and got her to agree to one thing - this soup.

I'm sure that under different circumstances I'd have some witty banter about my mom's picky to unpicky behaviour, but right now, all I can think of is that soup, and how much I hope it brings even a tiny taste of comfort to my mom tonight.

"Momma Wants" Soup
Makes 8 hearty bowls
1 tbsp olive oil
1 rib fennel, chopped
5 large carrots, sliced
4 large ribs celery, sliced
1 medium-large zucchini, sliced
18 button mushrooms, halved if desired
1/4 cup white wine (I used Ogio Pinot Grigio IGT)
9 cups homemade (or low sodium) chicken stock
3 tbsp dehydrated onion flakes
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 cup wild rice
1 skinless, boneless chicken thigh, cooked and chopped
3/4 cup cannellini beans
1/4 cup minced Egyptian onion greens (or green onion)
  1. In a large, deep pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the fennel, carrots, celery, zucchini and mushrooms and cook until the vegetables have begun to soften and the mushrooms have begun to brown.
  3. Raise the heat to high and pour in the wine, stirring vigorously, then pour in the stock.
  4. Add onion flakes, rosemary, pepper, salt and wild rice.
  5. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook (uncovered) 20 minutes.
  6. Stir in the cooked chicken, beans and green onion and cook a further 35 minutes.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 128.5
Total Fat: 2.5 g
Cholesterol: 7.2 mg
Sodium: 772.5 mg
Total Carbs: 17.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.1 g
Protein: 8.9 g

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Double - Lemon Roast Chicken & Rum Raisin Minicakes with Maple Frosting for #SundaySupper

I come from a history of agrarians. On my dad's side of the family, we can trace our heritage back to the first immigrant farmer in Canada, and even further back, to the native culture in North America. I may not look it, but I am in part Métis. My dad's background is a motley crew of cultures including Spanish, African, European, Mediterranean, Cajun and native North American - the darker skin and hair being very apparent in my sister as well as the rest of the family on my dad's paternal side. I look far more like my maternal background describes - a mix of western European cultures, mostly British, Scottish and Irish, are where my red hair, light blue eyes and skin that burns in 10 minutes when unprotected by SPF 45+ come from.

But regardless of original location, both sides of my family survived for a time as farmers. A favourite story of my maternal grandfather's is how his great grandfather burned down a fellow farmer's barn and silo after being stiffed payment for something (a lesser known tale is that a political activist in that genetic lineup tried and failed to burn down the British parliament). Even today, my mom and I are passionate gardeners, and if it were legal here I'm sure we would have our own backyard chickens.

For these historical famers, Sunday nights meant big, hearty meals around the family table, where children, parents, grandparents and occasionally family friends would converge over great food and better conversation. A centrepiece of roasted meat flanked by a starch (usually potatoes), steamed veggies and a salad was that night's menu, often in such quantity that Monday's meal was taken care of too. That Sunday meal is comparable to today's Easter or Thanksgiving feast, slightly scaled down depending on the number of clan members attending.

When it came time for me to pick an offering for this week's Sunday Supper event (the theme of which being "Celebrating Family Heritage"), I turned to one of my new favourite cookbooks - The Old Farmer's Almanac 2012 Garden-Fresh Cookbook (stay tuned for an upcoming review on Read, Write, Cook). It was hard to choose at first, but then I found the page titled Lemon-Balm Roast Chicken, and I knew it was a match made in Heaven. Not only did it play into my historical (and not so historical, since my aunt and uncle raised chickens for a while) poultry-farming roots, but it also was filled with a compound butter that I could proudly say I made from scratch. Butter created from the last of a long ago holiday's whipping cream was beaten with lots of fresh lemon balm from right outside my back door, then stuffed under the skin of a fresh, organic chicken. I built onto the recipe by adding lemon thyme and chpped fresh lemon to the cavity too, which kept everything so moist it melted onto the fork.

For dessert, I took another piece of my background puzzle - my dad's rum-running grandfather and father - and coupled it with a touch of Canada to come up with tiny mouthfuls of sweetness: Rum Raisin Mini-Cupakes with Maple Frosting!

Check out more #SundaySupper participants here:

  • Scotch Eggs and Brotchen Rolls – The Meltaways
  • Aunt Mary’s Pasta Salad – BG Garden
  • Apple Kuchen – Mrs. Mama Hen
  • Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken) – Beetle’s Kitchen Escapades
  • Spaghetti Carbonara – Katherine Martinelli
  • Slow Cooker Chicken Paprikash – Make Dinner Easy
  • Potato and Spinach Knishes – The Girl In The Little Red Kitchen
  • German Potato Salad – Magnolia Days
  • Sausage and Broccoli with Orecchiette – Daddy Knows Less
  • Chicken Enchiladas Suizas – The Weekend Gourmet
  • Strawberry Tiramisu – Chocolate Moosey
  • Chocoflan – Juanita’s Cocina
  • Egg Liqueur Cake – The German Foodie
  • Bucatini all’Amatriciana – Mooshu Jenne
  • Rasmalai (Ricotta in Sweet Coconut Milk with Almonds and Pistachio) – Sue’s Nutrition Blog
  • Mediterranean Couscous Salad – In the Kitchen With KP
  • Rouladen – Midlife Road Trip
  • Keftikas (Turkish Meat and Leek Patties) – The Little Ferraro Kitchen
  • Croque Monsieur with a Béchamel sauce – The Daily Dish Recipes
  • Momma’s Meat Pie with Poutine Sauce – Momma’s Meals
  • Polish Rustic Plum Tart – Comfy Cuisine
  • Drop Scones (Scottish Pancakes) – Cositas Bonitas
  • Jamaican Cornmeal Pudding – The Lovely Pantry
  • Borscht Shooters – Cookistry
  • Shepherd’s Pie – Big Bear’s Wife
  • Parsnip Cakes – Mama’s Blissful Bites
  • Roasted Curried Vegetables – Hot Curries & Cold Beer
  • Portuguese Mussels in a Chorizo Sauce – Family Foodie
  • Bulgogi Kimchi Grilled Cheese – Damn Delicious
  • Wine pairings for all the recipes – ENOFYLZ

  • How do you celebrate your cultural heritage at the dinner table?

    Friday, June 1, 2012

    Saintly Smooth Fudge (with Variations!)

    One of the things I loved about summer as a kid was the trips that we would take as a family. We had a sailboat until I was about 9, when my sister's scoliosis made it hard for her to get on and off the craft as well as up and down the ladder into the cabin. We transferred our vacationing habits to
    pulling a trailer all over Canada (and the US), seeing provinces from PEI to British Columbia and northern American locations like Yellowstone National Park, Bar Harbour, and Wall Drug.

    The constant through it all was the tourist-trap gift shops that my sister and I adored - both for the knicknacks and (for me especially) the edible treats they offered. My weakness was fudge - actually, it always has been, a sugary sweet staple of every fair or convention I've gone to where it was offered. I was a bit picky on the flavours, though - if I was eating it, it had better be either "chocolate peanut butter", "chocolate hazelnut" (essentially solid Nutella) or just plain chocolate. No chunks of anything, no maple, just smooth, crumbly chocolate.

    Then again, my childhood self didn't concern herself with portion control or nutritional information. A "serving" of fudge candy is packed with 90 calories, 3 grams of fat and almost 17 grams of SUGAR! Did I mention that "serving" is only 22 grams (just shy of 0.7 of an ounce), or 1 cubic inch? How many of us actually adhere to that serving size? I'm not immune to creating gut-busting fudge candy myself - take a look at this sucker if you're looking to indulge on a massive scale - but given that summer is also code for swimsuit, I wanted to also offer some decadence that wasn't devastating to that likely goal. I lucked out by finding this post on the blog The Gluten Free Edge, where Gretchen made a silky smooth variation of Ricki's (AKA Diet, Dessert and Dogs) (and further back, Affairs of Living's author Kim's) more nutritionally sound variety. All these inspirational recipes were unique because of their major ingredient: not 22 ounces of chocolate and a jar of marshmallow creme, but a can of black beans!

    I liked Ricki's and Gretchen's versions most because they also used a shot of nut butter and not just coconut oil, but I had no almond butter on hand and at any rate I wanted to try making one that tasted like the Nutella fudge of my childhood. I had a few tablespoons of the fantastic chocolate-hazelnut butter from Justin's Nut Butters in my pantry, and in the course of my search for it I also found the remains of a tub of SunButter with flaxseeds that I had bought earlier in the month and a bag of dried black beans, which I soaked and deliberately over-cooked in lieu of opening a can. When I made the final product, I actually divided the initial paste in half before adding the "butter" and made two versions - one with SunButter, the other with luscious chocolate-hazelnut spread. To maximize the chocolatey goodness, I added an extra ounce of semisweet, and I used the sweet amber agave nectar that I had from Nature's Agave since there is nowhere remotely near me that has yacon syrup or food-grade vegetable glycerine. I pressed each batch into a mini loaf pan (in retrospect I should have used something like the 4 x 3" foil pans I made individual lasagnes in to have a better depth ratio) and let it set up into rich, smooth yumminess.

    Not only were both fudges gluten free and vegan, they used no refined sugar in their creation! Even Justin's products use evaporated cane juice (AKA SucaNat) in place of refined sucrose, and thanks to the natural super-sweetness of the agave and some vanilla-laced stevia adding any extra is unnecessary. A "normal" piece of my fudge only has 1.6 grams total sugar in the SunButter version and 0.9 grams of total sugar in the chocolate-hazelnut version! With the goodness of fibre from the beans, it's a candy you can actually enjoy eating and sharing (like I'm doing for this Wellness Weekend roundup). Plus, if you wanted even less sugar you could make Ricki's version of Nutella - something on my to-do list for sure!