Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Toast Topper #18: Triple Cherry Jam

I love being able to dive into my freezer in the dead of Winter and come up with pieces of carefully preserved Summer goodness. From bags of fruit from local farms to blanched veggies from my own backyard, produce that was too beautiful and well-priced to pass up, but too much for us to eat all at once finds a home in the ice chest and waits to be discovered again when it's most needed.

Triple Cherry JamWe've had a bit of a vegetable dearth in the grocery stores these days, and I'm not ashamed to admit we've been using our fair share of the IQF goods at home. Good quality ones are easier than ever to find now, and we're lucky that one of our local farms thought ahead during the growing season and set aside a portion of the harvest for their freezers, meaning we can get local, high quality fare for a quality price too. The last time I swung in, I picked up not only some lovely dark green broccoli and a bell pepper stir fry mix, but a big bag of tart cherries too. At home, I dug out my bag of groundcherries from last year's garden and a few cans of sweet black beauties from my pantry to make this wonderful jam. Since I opted to use my Pomona's pectin again, I got away with using very little sugar - but punched up the flavour with a glug of wine and a healthy dose of lemon zest. It was a glorious melding of seasons that worked on everything from slices of baguette to pork chops!

What's your favourite frozen produce?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rather French Onion Soup for a Souper #SundaySupper

We've had a relatively mild Winter season around here. True, there has been more snow than I remember in about 5 years, but the level of bitterness is much less than the days I spent racing to and from the car back in college. The climate is still much colder than I would like it to be though - and my mom agrees with me! The two of us have something called Raynaud's disease, which is basically an exaggerated response to cold in our fingers and toes (when we get cold, our digits get numb and white). Needless to say, we are both much happier in the warm summer sun.

Be that as it may, it is winter up here, and we need something nice and warm to keep our bodies and spirits fed and comfortable. My stepbrother had been requesting French Onion Soup for weeks, a rarity since he's usually happy with "food" for dinner, and since my mom is still in love with Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking she and I began to craft our own version of the classic with Julia's recipe as a base. In addition to using a concentrated beef stock from our local butcher shop, a splash of cognac and a vibrant Sauvignon Blanc from France (which smelled amazing as it simmered), we used a combination of equally decadent butter and bacon fat to saute the onions. Oh yes - we played the bacon card. Two huge, Gruyère-topped bowls later, my stepbrother declared it "awesome" (which in this world is equal to a 5-star critique), and asked if we could make it again next week! It's certainly simple enough to do - though it requires some time and loving patience (don't all good things?). The end result is so worth it - warming literally and spiritually, and a fitting #SundaySupper for our soup week!

Rich French Onion Soup

This week, our #SundaySupper family is serving up a whole kettle of soup! Check out what's on the table below:

Do The Chicken Dance (chicken {or other poultry} soups)

Where’s The Beef (Beef Soups)

Pass The Pork. Please (Pork or Sausage Soups)

Under The Sea (Seafood Soups)

Eat Your Veggies (Chock Full o’ Vegetables Soups)

Some Don’t Like It Hot (Chilled Soups)

Of course, after we've whet your appetite with these bowls of comfort, you can't miss our  #SundaySupper conversation on Twitter tonight at 7PM ET! Just follow the #SundaySupper hashtag and include it in your tweets to join in the chat. We also have a fantastic #SundaySupper Pinterest board with more fabulous recipes and food photos.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Pralinata di Nocciole e Mandorle (Hazelnut and Almond Praline)

Are you hosting an Oscars party this weekend? I actually don't know of a single person who really does - hardly anyone I know watches the Academy Awards at all, much less plans a "viewing" for them. But, if you happen to be one of those cinephiles that can't get enough of the red carpet and silver screen, you'll need something that will impress your guests more than the most glittery dress walking down the runway.

Nuts for Praline!However, there's no need to break out the baking pans and flour to create a spectacular dessert. With a few ingredients, a pot and a few hours, you'll have a gorgeous, glistening praline on your hands, ready to go. All you'll need to do is scoop out your favourite ice cream (I'm partial to this one as a praline pairing), stick a few shards on top and - voila! Elegance at your fingertips.

I adapted the recipe from Grace Massa Langlois' book Grace's Sweet Life: Homemade Italian Desserts from Cannoli, Biscotti, and Tiramisu to Torte, Tartufi, and Struffoli, using part brown sugar for flavour and half and half almonds and hazelnuts. I also opted to add the nuts to the sugar instead of just pouring the sugar overtop, which meant a more even coat on them. I definitely suggest a SilPat for this though - for some reason the parchment in round 1 didn't want to play nicely and stuck to the candy like nothing else.

Pralinata di Nocciole e Mandorle

Shared with  Foodie Friends Friday

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Half Whole Wheat Baguettes

I've never been to France, but thanks to the wonders of the palate I've been able to travel there many a time. I adored good French cheese (especially Brie, Reblochon and Tomme de Savoie) and crepes growing up, and still have a fondness for ratatouille. But there is something iconic and captivating about French bread. From the wider oblongs to the crusty boules and the perfectly airy baguettes, the flavour always seemed to stand apart from the "usual" loaves out there, even homemade ones.

Bag(uette) EndWhen I found the recipe for real, homemade baguettes in Jane Mason's book All You Knead is Bread back in December, I knew I had found my next project. With the holidays coming up with their parties and canapes, it was the perfect opportunity to try out a classical offering. The finished loaves were nothing short of spectacular - tangy and slightly nutty from the predough and whole wheat flour I used, evenly crumbed in texture and perfectly crusty on the outside. I used wine bottle shipping cylinders that I halved and wrapped in foil for shaping and baking, which led to perfectly formed bread without the extra expense of a specialty pan.

For this month's #RecipeRedux, we're all about movies, and the Oscars in particular. Using thin, bias-cut slices of these loaves as the base for cherry tomato and green onion bruschetta made me think of the passed hors d'oeuvres at the well-to-do gala parties after awards ceremonies like this weekend's event. Loaves of bread also always evoke memories of scenes in Ratatouille, Aladdin and Disney's version of A Christmas Carol, although none of them hinge their plots on the foodstuff itself. No matter - bread is the embodiment of spirit, and homemade bread is filled with the same artistic passion as the most well-written movie script.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fantastically Fruity Rice Pudding

I have to start this post off with an apology. I know I originally had a baguette recipe up this morning, and it was a combination of forgetting to double check Blogger's scheduling and mis-remembering the date that I accidentally put it out a day in advance of the #RecipeRedux reveal. So there will be baguette, just tomorrow.

Fantastically Fruity Rice PuddingToday, though, I instead offer you a variation on a comfort classic. Rice pudding is one of those treats that is ideal warm or cold, for breakfast or dessert, and can play host to all sorts of fruit, nuts, coconut and chocolate depending on your preference.

I wanted to make the toddlers at school something pink in honour of Valentine's Day, since the older kids were getting a taste of my Red Velvet Popcorn. I used some leftover sticky rice from our dinner at home the night before, sweetened it with a mix of a stevia baking blend and regular sugar, topped it up with whole milk and  thickened it with a few beaten eggs. I let all that cook while I made chicken casserole (lunch!) until it was a creamy blend, then added a punch of colour, flavour and nutrition from frozen raspberries! It was hit and miss with the little kiddos, but the adults and most of the older kids that got it the next day licked their lips!

Submitted to Gluten Free Friday

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sugar Free Banana Almond Muffins for a Skinny #SundaySupper

I love muffins as a mid morning snack or with an afternoon tea. Give me almost anything fruity or chocolate based, and I will be all over it like melting butter on a hot biscuit. Mmmm, butter. But that brings to mind the not-so-nice members of the muffin family - the sugar and fat laden, white-flour cake bombs masquerading as innocent treats. You know those ones - the 600-700 calorie, 30-40 grams of fat mini-cakes which are admittedly to-die-for (literally) but way over anyone's logical intake for a snack. They don't have any nutritional value, except a boatload of refined carbs and a few grams of fibre.

While I'm not saying never indulge in one, for the sake of yourself treat it as the piece of cake it is - a dessert, not a mid morning snack, and definitely not a breakfast! There are much better alternatives, even if you are craving a muffin. Take these ones for example. Not only are my muffins packed with flavour and texture, they're hearty enough to keep you full, made with whole grains for a dose of natural fibre, and while they're plenty sweet, the "cake" body of the muffin has no added sugar at all.  The secret to these? Naturally sweet fruit (hello, over-ripe bananas!) and the goodness of almond stevia!

Sugar Free Banana Almond Muffins

I can't claim these are 100% sugar-free, since I did use Crunchy Maple Sunrise® cereal from Nature's Path as the crunchy granola topper, which has evaporated cane juice and maple syrup. But really - 6 grams of sugar in a muffin? That's less than an apple! These are awesome for on-the-go snacking, or have two for a light breakfast.

Keeping with the "health-conscious" train of thought, Sunday Supper is going skinny!! Don’t be scared off by thinking it's all going to be cardboard crackers, protein powders and celery sticks. Ohh no. We've got cream soup, pizza, burgers, tiramisu and even chocolate cake! And if you think wine has no place in a slimmed-down menu, remember that the French, Spanish and Italians love their wine and are some of the healthiest people on the globe! 

Sizzling Skinny Appetizers & Soups

Healthy Skinny Mains & Sides

Guilt Free Skinny Desserts & Snacks
Wine Pairing Recommendations for Skinny Sunday Supper by ENOFYLZ Wine Blog

Join the #SundaySupper conversation on twitter each Sunday. We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. This week we will be sharing out special skinnified recipes! Our weekly chat starts at 7:00 pm ET and you do not want to miss out on the fun. Follow the#SundaySupper hash tag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat. Check out our #SundaySupper Pinterest board for more fabulous recipes and food photos.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Red Velvet Popcorn

Apparently I'm a dangerous person.

Red Velvet Popcorn

I mean, just look at this - to the non-foodie eye, it could be blood-soaked gore of some kind. To the passionate, sugar-obsessed food freak like me, though, it is nothing short of a bikini-destroying super missile. This, dear readers, was my Valentines gift to the noshers at my school: Red Velvet Popcorn.

Granted, the recipe isn't really mine, per se. I adapted it, as I always do because I'm incapable of following a recipe to the letter, but the heart and soul came straight from a fellow blogger. I had been hoarding the popcorn recipe from Cravings of a Lunatic since Kim Bee posted it back in November, and with today being the "Big V" it seemed like the perfect time to bust it out. For a little twist, I added a handful of shredded coconut to the cocoa mixture (kind of like the popular frosting for the cake version), and instead of butter, I kept my mixture vegan and gluten free with Earth Balance "butter". After it's stint in the oven and a few hours to cool, it broke up into luscious, craveable bites of chocolatey, candy-coated pops ideal for midnight movies or singleton soirees.

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays

Monday, February 11, 2013

Coconut - Sesame Yoghurt Cake

I don't often get the chance to bake with eggs or large amounts of dairy at home. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind making gratuitous butter and sour cream concoctions, but since most of the family is on a diet and a lot of the other people I bake for have restricted dietary needs, the dairy/egg thing gets the kibosh more often than not. At work, there's no restriction on those two food groups when it comes to snack making, so I have a little more leeway. It is odd re-learning how to bake with eggs and dairy after so long, but I was told by a few "critics" today that I was "the bestest cook ever", so I guess it's working!

Unfortunately, being a school, there are some restrictions for allergy prevention sake - there are "less severe" allergies and intolerances (namely to raw carrots, grapes, tuna and pineapple) but we also have an anaphylactic case against sesame and nuts - which means the little one can't have the whole wheat products (high risk of sesame contamination), most store-bought "sweet" Chinese sauces like teriyaki or  hoisin, and we have to be very careful with the oils and fats we purchase. Needless to say, this cake is not coming into the building anytime soon - which is a good thing for a few others in my social circle, who have been thoroughly enjoying it!

Coconut - Sesame Yogurt Cake

Inspired by the French Yoghurt Cake in Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours, I used whole wheat pastry flour, coconut flour, coconut extract, toasted sesame oil and white sesame seeds for an exotic, moist, tender loaf cake. While my mom was gone on business, I was charged with minimizing the growth of blue or green fuzz in the fridge, which meant finding a use for the dregs of a tub of yoghurt nearing expiry, and a few eggs that had lost their carton. I don't think there can be a better use than cake!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Red Velvet Fudge for Valentine's #SundaySupper

Being single, I don't really "do" the Valentine's Day thing. Granted, as a kid (back in the days of the elementary school "mandatory" card exchange), the chalky candy and overly sweet milk chocolate shapes didn't hold a whole lot of allure either. Call me a jaded child, but the whole fact that the cards were only given and received because we were expected to have one for everyone in the class made the idea of the holiday seem a bit, well, fake. As a result, I really started to doubt the "authentic" V-Day gifts out there, not only those I was given but the ones others had as well.

Yeah, I know, what a party pooper I am. Hey, at least I'm bringing chocolate to the mix - and not the fakey, PGPR-laced, shaped into every shape under the sun kind either. No, no. I'm bringing a blood- (or happy heart if you want) red, tangy, smooth buttermilk fudge. Red Velvet Fudge, to be specific.

Red Velvet FudgeI wish I could have taken credit for the idea, and the recipe. But that honour goes to Pam of The Meltaways , who posted this way back in October for Twelve Weeks of Christmas Treats. When I saw it all those months ago, I knew I had to make it - not least because it's a great use up for buttermilk!

The first time I tried to make this fudge, I followed the directions exactly - but my results (which are what you see in the photos) looked nothing like Pam's. Unfortunately, it didn't even firm up after a month in the freezer! I couldn't let the delicious tasting, super-soft fudge go to waste, though - I coated (quickly cut) slices in dark chocolate, drizzled them with white and pink chocolate melts, and re-labeled them Valentine's truffle bars! The second time (I'm a glutton for punishment), I used a mix of white and brown sugar and cooked the candy mixture a little longer (to "firm ball" stage). I gave it a good 5 hours to cool down (I had to run some errands so just kept it covered with a splatter guard on the counter), then beat the bejeezus out of it with my stand mixer. It was much better that time around, more similar to the fudge of my childhood fairground memories. Either way, it is 100% worth it, but I agree with Pam that you should make many small batches - candy is too finicky to reliably scale up too much!

Red Velvet Fudge Scraps

Today, our #SundaySupper clan is celebrating Valentine’s Day in a way that only #SundaySupper can! We’ve got main dishes, desserts, and drinks galore, not to mention a romantic tablescape to take your Valentine’s celebration to the next level! Check out everything on the docket below:

#SundaySupper Valentine’s Day Breakfasts, Apps & Main Dishes:

#SundaySupper Valentine’s Day Sweet Eats:

#SundaySupper Valentine’s Day Drinks:

#SundaySupper Valentine’s Day Tablescape:  A Romantic Table For Two Please fromAn Appealing Plan

Join the #SundaySupper conversation on Twitter to talk all about Valentine’s eats and treats!  We’ll tweet throughout the day, and our weekly chat starts at 7:00 pm ET. Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag, and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat.  Check out our #SundaySupper Pinterest board too for more fabulous recipes and food photos!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Gluten Free Vegan Quinoa Coffee Cake

Well, it's snowy here. Like super snowy. Just looking out the window, it's halfway up the pane! But the awesome thing (for the kids at least, because they don't have to shovel) is that it's packing snow... which means perfect tobogganing, snowmans, drift-cave digging and no school (for most, "my" school was open!). While the kids are playing, the parents are inevitably switching off between shoveling and supervising, so by the time everyone finally calls it quits there is a definite need for fuzzy slippers, hot cocoa and something sweet.
Quinoa Crunch
Crumb, baby!

This coffee cake is a surefire hit that is "safe" for almost everyone to enjoy. This vegan, gluten free version was adapted from The Gluten Free Vegan, and is spiced just right - kids won't find it too aggressive but adults won't find it bland either. It's moistened with applesauce, yogurt and agave nectar, and is free of any "gums" too! All those tweaks keep it tender and sweet, and of course it has a to-die for crumb topping! Rather than oats or flour, though, I toasted some red quinoa and coconut and bound it with just enough quinoa flour, brown sugar and coconut Earth Balance to make it stick. Fresh out of the oven, you may need bowls rather than plates (or just eat it out of the pan, whatever), but when cooled, it slices a bit better. It is a very "fall-y apart-y" kind of cake, but that's what makes it great!

Being shared with the Foodie Friends Friday Linky Party

GF Quinoa Coffee Cake

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Banana - Walnut Muffins with Dates

I think banana muffins are a staple in most households. When you think about it, it's easy to see why - bananas are readily available, sweet, flavourful, a great binder and moisture component and relatively cheap when you buy from the "clearance" shelf of over-ripe produce. I can get a giant bag of about 10 large, organic bananas for a dollar on a Tuesday or Friday (generally when my store rotates the goods), and given a day or two they are the perfect blackness for baking. I'm not a stickler for organic anything (I do find a lot of it is a "money grab" from junk food companies), but I find that those items most often find their way onto the sale rack, and being the cheap frugal person I am, why wouldn't I take advantage?

The other thing that I can find dirt cheap is tofu. Even in upscale markets, this protein staple is pennies for the amount of nutrients it has, and whether I'm buying sprouted, organic black soybean tofu (my new fave for homemade "sushi"), pre-pressed bricks (perfect for stir fries like my mom's favourite Pad See Ew) or tubs of  pudding like silken tofu, I never have to spend more than a couple bucks - far less than the equivalent servings of meat or dairy. Silken tofu, in particular, is particularly useful when it comes to my baking projects that involve a good amount of eggs for moisture, as they both add a creamy richness and bind well so I don't need to add as many (if any) eggs. In fact, silken tofu is my secret for creamy, rich cheesecake with no cracks, since it doesn't trap air like the egg whites can!

So when I found myself with both leftover bananas and some silken tofu in the house, I knew there would be some baking to do. I found this recipe (well a version of it, anyway) in Vicki's Vegan Kitchen: Eating with Sanity, Compassion and Taste and it looked perfect. I used some chopped dates for a bit of extra sweetness and rich, buttery California Walnuts for crunch. The original recipe had no salt or spices at all, so I added a pinch of sea salt and a dash of nutmeg in with the dry mixture. I refuse to use the delicious amber maple syrup we have here for such a short time in any application other than topping oatmeal and toast, so I used some of the amber agave I had around and simply cut down the amount. 

Banana - Walnut Muffins with Dates

With work these days, I can forsee a lot more muffins in my future! I actually discovered today (sandwich day) that I had never made egg salad before - I've never even hard boiled an egg! I was embarrassed to realize it, even though it's understandable (I hate hard boiled eggs, and egg salad in particular, and haven't eaten eggs since 2006), but wouldn't you know it my foodie instincts kicked right in! Thank you, food blogging world :-). I'm sharing these moist morsels on Meal Planning Magic's Eating the Alphabet Healthy Recipe Challenge (letters A&B this month). You can follow the event on Twitter too, search #EatA2ZRecipeChallenge.

What's your favourite food beginning with A or B?

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Vegan "Hamburger Helper" Soup for Superbowl #SundaySupper

We are a house full of sickies at the moment. First was my sister, who came home for the Christmas break with a nasty case of whooping cough on top of a cold. Then my stepbrother fell, then my mom - both of whom (with the help of lots of lemon tea and TLC) finally managed to "sleep it off". I was counting my lucky stars that I was dodging the "booger bullets" left, right and centre. That was, until I started working.

You see, my new job is a cook at a nearby private school. With only forty kids, it's a tiny place, which means that if something comes in, it's not leaving until it's thoroughly done the rounds. I adore the school - the kids are so cute and sharp, the staff are super-friendly, helpful and never make anyone feel like a bother (even me with my constant "where do you keep...?" queries) and did I mention, I get paid to cook! Bonus points go to the fact that it's a Montessori system, which I grew up in, and I get to watch the impact it has on the kids as they grow and mature. Buuuuutttt... as I mentioned, it's a tiny place (two units in a plaza combined), which means no escape from the germs. A couple little ones were coming off the flu, and while I was "observing" the classes both of them Velcroed themselves to me. Adorable, but not being a mother (therefore immune to childhood disease) I brought home more than a full heart and an employment form.

Needless to say, the past few weeks have been full of warming, comforting soup. From the 5 minute "out of a can" quick fixes on days where the couch was more welcome than the kitchen to the hearty, stick to your ribs bowls like this one, we had no shortage of variety! For today's #SundaySupper Superbowl Party, I opted to share a real "super" bowl of flavour, texture and nutrients! It's packed with vegetables and pasta, as well as grated vegan "Parmesan cheese" and crumbled Herbed Italian Meatless MiniBalls (keeping with the Superbowl "cocktail" food mentality). Barely held together with vegetable broth and diced tomatoes, it's like a grownup, vegan version of Hamburger Helper that your mom never made. Comfort food that's perfect for watching the big game, downing your sorrows after a loss, celebrating a win or simply soothing a sore throat after too much yelling at the TV!

Vegan "Hamburger Helper" Soup

So, what else is on the table for this Superbowl #SundaySupper? Check out the list of this week's participants below, and enjoy the game (or at least the multimillion dollar commercial slots and the halftime concert :-D )

#SundaySupper Super Bowl Appetizers & Snacks:

#SundaySupper Super Bowl Main Dishes:

#SundaySupper Super Bowl Desserts:

#SundaySupper Super Bowl Tablescape:  10 Tips For A Winning Superbowl Buffet Table from An Appealing Plan

Join the #SundaySupper conversation on Twitter on Sunday, February 3rd to talk all about our Super Bowl Recipes!  We’ll tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world.  Our weekly chat starts at 7:00 pm ET and you do not want to miss out on the fun.  Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag, and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat.  Check out our #SundaySupper Pinterest board for more fabulous recipes and food photos!

Vegan "Hamburger Helper" Soup

Friday, February 1, 2013

Toast Topper #17: Figgy Strawberry Jam

It's been a while since I've made jam for my mom. With the excitement and sheer amount of food the holidays provided us, we were concentrating on using up all the leftovers! Besides, the holiday season meant that nobody was going into work and taking lunches or snacks, so my mom's standard morning nosh wasn't needed.

Figgy Strawberry JamThen January 7th came around and everything reverted to more or less "normal". Soups were made, bread was baked and trail mixes were stirred for at least a few weeks of meals! I was still making use of the excess from 3 days of fruit platters, and figured jam would be a great "catch-all" recipe. With both fresh figs and strawberries from the trays, plus a few dried figs for interest, I had a Mediterranean-feeling vibe (plus I love figs). I decided to do a lower-sugar spread with Pomona's Pectin to help keep my mom's breakfasts and snacks lower on the guilt-meter, but I didn't want to just have mashed up fruit as flavour. Honey-like agave and exotically sweet vanilla sugar added a touch of needed sweetness, but I tossed in a dash of red wine, ginger and nutmeg too for a little extra oomph.

While I would have smeared this on shoe leather, my mom made herself some "fruit nachos" with homebaked pita and tortilla chips the weekend I made it for her obligatory "taste test". Needless to say, slices of homemade baguette and Lassy Beer Boule soon followed!

I'm sharing this with Gluten Free Fridays this week.