Friday, November 29, 2013

Sinus Clearing Thai Turkey Soup

I hope everyone south of the border had a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday, filled with family, friends and food! Now, I know that food is probably the last thing you want to think about - especially leftover turkey - but considering it's the grand pooh-bah of shopping days today a quick meal packed with handy, healthy ingredients is the perfect thing to savour after the hubbub. 
Sinus Clearing Thai Turkey Soup

Of course, a regular old turkey noodle soup is fine and dandy... but if I just ate my way through a weekend of poultry, stuffing (or not... ew), mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, I want something a bit less traditional. Something exotic, spicy and lighter-textured. Something like a brothy Thai-inspired rice soup bowl.

Not only is this a great soup for using up leftover turkey and carrots, but it's a perfect menu fixture for this cold and flu season. I don't know about you, but in my experience working in the classroom I have seen a few rounds of the Fall / Winter snifflies so far, and undoubtedly there will be more to come. With all the vitamins and minerals packing these (gluten free) bowls - from the shredded heirloom carrots and roasted skinless turkey to a handful of garlic cloves, minced kale, coconut water, dried spices and black rice - your body will be getting a warm hug from the inside at the same time as an all-natural flu shot! For extra "insurance" (and my personal favourite culinary decongestant), I jacked up the zip with some of our homegrown Thai chiles. Those will definitely wake you up from your turkey nap - and scare off any colds lurking in your midst!

Shared with Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Gluten Free Fridays

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Apple Cheesecake Caramels #12WksXmasTreats

I've always been a sucker for cheesecake. I remember the first time I snuck a taste of my mom's cherry-topped slice at a restaurant - my eight year old self thought I had found nirvana. Since then, I've tried many variations on the theme... New York style with all sorts of fruit toppings, caramel brownie (my favourite), chocolaccino, Italian ricotta-marscapone mixtures and even the (not so good) low fat "Weight Watchers" type with pureed cottage cheese. When I started to bake my own cheesecakes, I discovered a "secret" ingredient to prevent cracking and maintain the luxuriously silky texture (silken tofu) and I've never looked back.

The past couple of years, though, I've been turning my attention to the realm of candy-making - mostly due to the host of inspiration I found when reviewing The Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook. It was this book that drove me to make Nut and Seed Nougat for the holidays last year, and more recently gave me the impetus to get messy with Soft and Chewy Chocolate Candies. Eventually I got around to scanning the plethora of caramel options, causing me to find their ricotta-laced variation. With the abundance of apples (and lack of the original figs) in our kitchen, I remembered the Apple Butter Cheesecake from a few years ago and decided to try recreating it - in a bite sized, chewy caramel form.
Apple Cheesecake Caramels
I began by making a batch of Richer Ricotta, which I then pureed with buttermilk powder, salt, sugar and an ingredient normally foreign to my kitchen - Baboo milk from Natrel. This dairy product is essentially a super-fortified milk, containing cream, whey powder, milk and extra vitamins, and comes in a tetra-pak. It's billed for children transitioning from formula to standard dairy milk, and when I received a coupon for a free box in the mail I was surprised (not having, nor planning to have, children) but decided to check it out. The fat content was slightly lower than heavy cream but high enough to stay homogeneous with heat, so I picked up a container to cook with. I have to say, it made some darn good caramels - and never risked scorching like it's pure dairy cousins.

The caramel mixture also got kisses of flavour from local honey, salted cultured butter and a concentrated apple flavour, which cooked to a rich toffee brown before coating home-dried apples and being poured onto a graham cracker base. The finished candy was a blend of crisp and chewy, sweet and tangy, fruity and creamy - a perfect harmony for Fall which made it into my Halloween "loot bags" for the teachers at school and one that I'm going to do again for our Christmas dessert table!

There are only three weeks left in the 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats hosted at Meal Planning Magic - yikes! Be sure to check out all the offerings from the season - you're sure to find a few favourites!

Apple Cheesecake Caramels

Monday, November 25, 2013

Yoghurt Drops (for Rodents)

With all the treats and delicious food that comes our way this time of year, it's easy to forget that our pets deserve a little something in their stockings too! For us, we have one "group" stocking for all 10 animals (not counting fish) - we have 3 cats, a dog and my sister's 6 adorable rats.

Yes, rats. Most people think the idea of rats is creepy or weird, but they are friendly and have personalities that are more complex than some people I know!

Now, my sister being who she is, these are some pampered creatures. They go to the vet, have 2 cages (one in her "student" home, one in our living room), get special food and are even bathed! Of course, this all costs a pretty penny, and as a student she needs to save her cents! For the holidays, I decided to take on the task of making the furballs one of their favourite snacks - yoghurt drops. The rats love yoghurt in general (and it is quite cute to watch them eat it), and the drops are a sweet treat once in a while that they go nuts for!

If you have rodents, you know how expensive their treats can be - but for the price of a tub of Greek yoghurt (or even cheaper, homemade yoghurt), skim milk powder, gelatine and the crushed dregs of breakfast cereal, you can make your own. These stay shelf-stable if you take the dehydrator step, but if you don't have one, no worries - they keep perfectly fine in the freezer.

Yogurt Honey Drops (for Rodents)

Have you ever made your own pet treats? What pets do you keep at home?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Eggless Herb and Garlic Fresh Pasta for a Thankful #SundaySupper

Friends. Like the most precious of gems, true ones are hard to find, and harder to keep. Unlike cold stone though, friends can provide warmth, true happiness, a listening ear or a gentle, caring touch when the rest of the world is cold and grey. Unfortunately, you can't buy friend-surance, and you can't bribe a scorned past amigo to trust you again. I lost two of my best friends from highschool over one of the most inane pursuits of my life - a boy - thinking that they would always be there. Now, their absence is omnipresent and a reminder to cherish the ones you have as comrades. Love may be fleeting, but a friendship is like a garden. Nurture it and it stays beautiful, neglect it and it dies.

I suppose I shouldn't be overly shocked that I don't have many friends outside of the blogging realm. Food blogging is still somewhat strange to those around me, and people don't understand the passion for cooking that we share. That said, my blogging friends (like everyone in the #SundaySupper group) are an amazing network that I can only pray stays healthy and vibrant, and those who I've met in person are just as much so.

In terms of non-virtual human contact, I find it tricky. I'm not an overly extroverted person, and since I don't drink or party there aren't a whole lot of social avenues outside school that make sense. I managed to make a few great friends in my Montessori training, and in particular I owe not only my school success but my emotional benefit to one of them. It was for him that I made this batch of pasta dough - being an Italian food lover and a budding home cook with limited time and resources to buy more "gourmet" items like artisanal, preservative free pasta, I knew that this small gift of a herb and garlic laced dinner option would be appreciated. It is in no way equal to the benefits I've been given, but with luck our friendship will stay fast and I will be able to give back.

While our Canadian Thanksgiving was over a month ago, I believe that it isn't just one day that matters to give thanks, but every day. Not only do we have the luxury of living in a safe, warm and caring environment, but we have the chance to go to school, have careers, choose and practice our religious and lifestyle preferences, eat wholesome food (even to the point of too much at times) and realize our dreams. No matter how tough and unfair things seem on a given day, simply being alive is a gift.

Eggless Herb & Garlic Pasta

Our #SundaySupper group is giving thanks for what we have this week, and sharing tales of our good fortunes along with fare fit for the festive season. I suppose my pasta isn't really "dinner party" food (unless you're talking about the Italian Christmas Eve carbo-loading fest), but it is a great "make on the weekend and freeze or dry" ingredient for a fast, delicious and different dinner side after a day at the mall shopping for gifts. Paula of Vintage Kitchen Notes is our host this week - thanks Paula!

Harvest Soup from Bea of The Not So Cheesy Kitchen 
Horseradish Cranberry & Herbed Cheese Bites from Jen of Juanita's Cocina
Savory Rosemary Baklava with Brie from Christie of A Kitchen Hoor's Adventures
Savoury Breads & Stuffings
Cloverleaf Rolls from Micha of Cookin' Mimi
Freeze and Bake Buttermilk Biscuits from Stacy at Food Lust People Love
Picnic Roll from Linda of The Urban Mrs
Raspberry and Brie Crescent Rolls from Karen of In The Kitchen With KP
Cornbread Stuffing with Chorizo and Craisins from Isabel at Family Foodie
Easy Gluten-Free Corn "Bread" Stuffing from Laura at Small Wallet Big Appetite

Eggless Herb and Garlic Fresh Pasta from Sarah at What Smells So Good?
Honey Orange Turkey Breast from Cindy at Cindy's Recipes and Writings
Brussels Sprout Latkes from Susan atThe Girl In The Little Red Kitchen
Cheesey Scalloped Potatoes from Shaina at Take A Bite Out Of Boca
Cornucopia Sweet Potato Barley Salad from Wendy at The Weekend Gourmet
Creamy Scalloped Corn from Alaiyo at Pescetarian Journal
Fried Smashed Potatoes from Renee at Kudos Kitchen by Renee
Grandpa's Simple Stuffing from Bobbi at Bobbi's Kozy Kitchen
Green Beans with Pecans and Cranberries from Tara at Noshing With The Nolands
Honey and Cinnamon Glazed Sweet Potatoes from Jennifer at Peanut Butter and Peppers
Italian American Turkey Dressing from Anne at Webicurean
Loaded Mashed Potato Bake from Lori at Foxes Love Lemons
Maple Sweet Potatoes with Browned Butter Pecan Topping from Brianne at Cupcakes and Kale Chips
Mushroom and Barley Casserole with Bacon, Gruyere and Spinach from Heather at Hezzi-D's Books and Cooks
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries and Blue Cheese from Sarah at Curious Cuisiniere

Desserts & Sweet Breads
Almond Brioche Sticky Buns from Alice at Hip Foodie Mom
Baked Caramel Apple Cider Donuts from Nicole at Daily Dish Recipes
Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie from Cheryl at Hot Momma's Kitchen Chaos
Blue Ribbon Meyer Lemon Mascarpone Cheesecake from Dorothy at Shockingly Delicious
Bourbon Pecan Pie from Julie atThe Texan New Yorker
Chocolate Moussecake from Liz at That Skinny Chick Can Bake
Cinnamon Rolls from Conni at The Foodie Army Wife
Gingered Butternut Squash Tart from Renee of Magnolia Days
Hanukkah Lemon Star Cookies from Shannon at Killer Bunnies, Inc
Manischewitz, Cranberry Double Holiday Donuts from Kim at Ninja Baking 
Mini Maple Sweet Potato Tarts from Holly at Mess Makes Food
Mini Pumpkin Pies from Nichole at Casa de Crews
Mom's Custard Pie from Courtney at Neighborfood
No Bake Pumpkin Spiced Cheesecake from Tammi of Momma's Meals
Plum and Blackberry Crumble from Katy at Happy Baking Days
Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake from Heather at girlichef
Salted Butterscotch Pudding from Jane at Jane's Adventures in Dinner
Salted Caramel Apple Pie from Laura at Pies and Plots
Sweet Potato Pecan Gingersnap Pie from Paula at Vintage Kitchen Notes

All American Wine Pairing Guide for Being Thankful #SundaySupper  from Martin at ENOFYLZ Wine Blog

Join the #SundaySupper conversation on twitter tonight - we tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world! 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.

Also, check out our #SundaySupper Pinterest board for more fabulous recipes and food photos.

Would you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fresh Egg Pasta

Few things are as simple and perfect as real, fresh pasta. However, most of us don't have the luxury of nonnas slaving away in our kitchens every afternoon, churning out linguine, spaghetti and tagliatelle in time for us to make dinner. Most of us Westerners (me included) also abuse our pasta by drowning it in sauce and/or cheese - meaning the fine qualities of an artisan pasta are lost anyway.

All this means that when the opportunity to experience the process of making, cooking and eating homemade noodles arises, it is something to savour. The flavour of the silky smooth semolina and egg dough is unlike anything you can buy (fresh or dried), and after the briefest of boils it only takes a mere drizzle of flavourful extra virgin olive (or camelina) oil, maybe a grind or two of black pepper and a clove of minced garlic to achieve the pinnacle of taste. Anything heavier than a light (light!) tomato concasse or a true (i.e. cream-free) carbonara preparation would smother the tender noodles and kill their unique golden hue and rich flavour.

While pasta is inherently simple to make (I'm not talking about the Chinese lye-water noodles, mind you), it does take time and patience. These eggy strands can be tricky (and sticky) to get through the pasta machine (mine couldn't get the dough narrower than linguine), and like pie crust and cookies the mixture is best worked with after a rest period of at least an hour, preferably overnight. However, it is that kind of care that comes through in the finished product... and how can you go wrong with something that tastes like your heart and soul went into it?

Fresh Egg Pasta

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Curried Lentil Soup Mix #RecipeRedux

It's hard to deny the convenience of the pre-prepared mixes out there. Let's face it - it's a lot easier to pop open a jar or box, add water and pretty much walk away for a few minutes than it is to find and measure ingredients, chop produce and babysit the stove or oven for an hour. Unfortunately, box mixes make us pay the price with the fat, sugar and salt added to make up for the years-old staleness mixed with the cardboard flavour that permeates the contents.

Curried Lentil Soup MixWhen I heard that this month's #RecipeRedux challenge was "Adding Merriment to Mixes", I knew it would be the perfect opportunity to whip up a hearty, healthy go-to meal solution for one of the families on my Christmas giving list. While it's not exactly Top Ramen fast, it is a 30-minute pot-to-table meal in a bowl that requires nothing but water and a burner to complete. The earthy, spicy and exotic medley of curry, garlic, onion, apples and coconut transform the rather bland lentils, split peas and rice into an oasis of Indian flavour that is filling enough to hold it's own as a meal with naan or serve as a starter to your favourite main dish.

Not only is it vegan, nut, soy and gluten free, it's flexible depending on your palate. If spice is not your thing, the soup can easily be dialed down with a dollop of yoghurt or sour cream too - so this jar of healthy colour can find a spot on every shelf!

This month the #RecipeRedux crew is all about MIXES - From hostess gifts to holiday gifts, it’s the season for DIY offerings from the kitchen.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Toast Topper #36: Blood Orange and Cranberry Marmalade #12WksXmasTreats

I don't know about you, but when it comes to Winter there's only one thing I like - the fruit. Don't get me wrong, I love my July cherries and late August peaches, but when the first blood oranges and Meyer lemons come in along with the crisp and juicy Asian pears and tart cranberries, I am in produce bliss. In fact, when it comes to holiday dinners, the cranberry sauce (homemade of course) is only ever touched by my mom and I - and I put it on almost everything... including leftover sandwiches and even my morning toast.

With my love for winter citrus and cranberries being what it is, it was only natural that I was drawn to the recipe for "Orange and Cranberry Marmalade" in Preserving Made Easy by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard (one of the goodies in my Summer Preserves Kit from #natrelpreserves). Since the first gorgeous, ruby-red blood oranges had made their way into my grocery store, I jumped at the chance to use their complex, full bodied flavour and aroma in the marmalade rather than the (still adequate but less intense) navel variety. Local fresh cranberries left over from our holiday dinner finished off the body of the mixture, and a light tinge of vanilla from infused sugar added a bit of "special occasion" flair. I hate to say it, but it may have become my new favourite Toast Topper, and is definitely going in my holiday gift baskets this year!

Cranberry Blood Orange Marmalade

With such a festive colour and flavour profile, this is a perfect holiday option this Winter. Check out all the other offerings at the 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats hosted at Meal Planning Magic this week too! 

Also shared with Waste Not Want Not Wednesday

Monday, November 18, 2013

Maltese Spice Cake

Now that we're past the halfway point of November, we've started to plan out our fridge space allotment for holiday cooking and baking projects and really watch the flyers for baking ingredient sales. Since most of the stuff in our overloaded pantry and refrigerator is mine, I was given the ultimatum of "use it up or it's getting tossed". If I ever needed an excuse to bake, it was that - my "use everything you can" philosophy can turn into a bit of a "pack-rat" behaviour, but when it needs to be used, I go to it!

I don't remember how I stumbled on this interestingly-named loaf cake on Sexy Vegan Mama, but when I did I immediately pinned it as a "must try". By the time I revisited it, it had become more of a guideline than a recipe to follow verbatim, as I wound up not only halving the batch, but changing a good amount of the ingredients to compensate for the items I had to use on hand. My version is studded with "crimson raisins", almond milk and a hit of vanilla-orange Creamsicle Jelly as well as the hearty blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cardamom. The crumb is soft and moist, with a hint of earthiness that makes it perfect for either a weeknight dessert or a Sunday afternoon teatime treat. As for the name, well it comes not from the nation but from William Maltese, who was Christina-Marie's co-author on Get-Real Vegan Desserts: Vegan Recipes for the Rest of Us. Wherever it came from, I just call it tasty!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup - Squashin' Winter #SundaySupper

Now that Hallowe'en is over (and Thanksgiving too for us Canucks), it seems like the Winter squash is out at full force in the stores. There's a plethora of them to look through - kabocha, turban, delicata... and my favourite Cinderella pumpkins (AKA Rouge Vif d'Etampes). Last year, I even found a new variety called White Swan which I cooked into soup.

While I do like roasted butternut and delicata "fries" (especially dusted with Cajun seasoning!), pumpkin (especially Cinderella pumpkin) is still tops in my book for their versatility. It's hard to think of something you can't use it in... from sweets like pie, pancakes and bars to savoury roast medleys and soups. I've even used the pureed squash as a base for latkes, and for thickening chili and spaghetti sauces! My family, however, are huge fans of the adorable little Acorn squash, thanks to the fact that it forms it's own dish! Either way, cutting into one of the dense fruit-vegetables is a great way to get extra vitamin A, C and complex carbs this Winter.

This week's #SundaySupper is all about using these hardy, hearty vegetables to squash out the chill in the air, and I couldn't think of a better way than cooking up a pot of thick, luxurious soup. I combined home roasted pumpkin puree and tomatoes with a can of salt-free black beans, onion, garlic and a few warming spices, pureeing it (mostly) smooth after the flavours had a chance to marry over the heat. A dash of cocoa tempered the sweet roasted flavour just a little, and added a rich colour too! The batch doesn't make a ton, but even if you're cooking for one it freezes well too. You can portion it out, freeze it and just pop a container in the microwave whenever you have a yearning for a bowl of comfort!

Heather from Girlichef is hosting this week's #SundaySupper event. Thanks Heather! Check out all our hearty offerings below:

Breakfasts and Breads
Maple Butternut Squash Donuts from Mess Makes Food
Pumpkin Sweet Rolls from Basic N Delicious
Vegan Pumpkin Scones with Maple Nutmeg Icing from Killer Bunnies, Inc
Winter Squash Rolls from Hot Momma's Kitchen Chaos

Appetizers, Starters, and Condiments
Butternut Squash and Couscous Patties-Indian Inspired from Soni's Food
Pumpkin Hummus with Spiced Lamb from girlichef
Quick Pumpkin Butter from Shockingly Delicious

Soups, Sandwiches, and Salads
Black Bean and Butternut Squash Chili from Supper for a Steal
Black Bean Pumpkin Soup from What Smells So Good?
Butternut Squash and Bacon Grilled Cheese from Ruffles & Truffles
Butternut Squash and Chunky Chicken Soup from
Butternut Squash Soup from That Skinny Chick Can Bake
Hearty Quinoa Chicken Stew with Butternut Squash from Citronlimette
Roasted Buttercup Squash and Black Bean Soup (Dairy free) from The Not So Cheesy Kitchen
Roasted Butternut Squash and Vegetable Soup from Kudos Kitchen By Renee
Roasted Squash and Mexican Black Bean Salad from Peanut Butter and Peppers
Roasted Squash and Sesame Noodle Salad from Jane's Adventures in Dinner

Main Dishes
Butternut Squash and Spinach Quesadillas from The Dinner-Mom
Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Balsamic Brown Butter from Crazy Foodie Stunts
Butternut Squash Lasagna from Hip Foodie Mom
Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese from A distinguished palate
Butternut Squash-Sage Cream Sauce with Sausage Spaghetti from Daily Dish Recipes
Carnival Squash with Maple Sausage Stuffing from Cindy's Recipes and Writings
Chorizo-Stuffed Acorn Squash from Small Wallet Big Appetite
Butternut Squash with Spicy Wild Rice and Queso Fresco from Vintage Kitchen Notes
Pumpkin Alfredo from Hezzi-D's Books and Cooks
Pumpkin Enchiladas from La Cocina de Leslie
Pumpkin Risotto with Bacon, Goat Cheese, and Pecans from The Weekend Gourmet
Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprout Pizza from Curious Cuisiniere
Sausage and Apple Stuffed Acorn Squash from The Messy Baker
Spaghetti Squash in a Creamy Sausage Sauce from Cookin' Mimi
Spaghetti Squash Shrimp Scampi from Pescetarian Journal

Side Dishes
Acorn Squash with Cinnamon and Cranberries from Noshing With The Nolands
Butternut Squash and Apple Crumble from The Wimpy Vegetarian
Butternut Squash Gratin with Sage Pesto & Gorgonzola from Cupcakes & Kale Chips
Butternut Squash Risotto from La Bella Vita Cucina
Chorizo and Craisin Stuffed Acorn Squash from Family Foodie
Parmesan-Roasted Acorn Squash from The Urban Mrs
Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese from Big Bear's Wife
Roasted Butternut Squash with Balsamic Vinegar Honey Butter from Food Lust People Love
Roasted Butternut Squash with Wilted Kale, Mushrooms and Garlic from Take a Bite Out of Boca
Roasted Kuri and Buttercup Squash with Rosemary from Delaware Girl Eats
Skillet Buttercup Squash with Bacon from Magnolia Days
Slow Cooker Squash and Apples from Mama's Blissful Bites
Sweet N Spicy Baked Chipotle Butternut Squash Fries from Sue's Nutrition Buzz
Twice Baked Pumpkin Stuffed Sweet Potatoes from Bobbi's Kozy Kitchen

Butternut Squash Cupcakes with Browned Butter Frosting from Treats & Trinkets
Butternut Squash Pie with Cinnamon-Brandy Whipped Cream from The Texan New Yorker
Pumpkin Pie Crumb Bars from Pies and Plots Wine Pairing Recommendations for Squashin' Winter #SundaySupper from Enofylz Wine Blog

Join the #SundaySupper conversation on Twitter! We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. 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 for more fabulous recipes and food photos.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Squares

Dark-Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel SquaresWe're in the midst of our annual pre-holiday clean-the-pantry-out frenzy, making sure that we have enough of everything for all our cookies, bars and breads come December. We've been finding lots of doubles and triples of stuff, like a few bags of mini marshmallows, as well as the dregs of snack food from the last hockey pool, chocolate chunks (how did those not get eaten?), Hallowe'en candy and jars of peanut butter. Rather than toss out the leftovers, I did what came naturally - smooshed them all together into a multi-dimensional snack!

These are a perfect combination of flavours and textures - sweet, salty, bitter, creamy and crunchy. I wish I could take credit for the idea - but that honour goes to Lucinda Scala Quinn and her book Mad Hungry Cravings: 173 Recipes for the Food You Want to Eat Right Now. These are definitely rich, and in no way overly great for your waistline, but you only live once and an occasional treat never hurt anyone, right? The best part is that these are almost infinitely variable - only have almond butter? Use it. Another puffed cereal your fave? Swap it for the crisp rice. Other nuts or seeds? Go ahead and chuck them in! Even things like soft caramels, potato chips, banana chips and dried cherries can find a niche in the mix. It never has to be the same thing twice!

Dark-Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Squares

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Squares
Makes one 9” pan, 16 pieces
2 tbsp coconut oil
4 ½ cups mini marshmallows, divided (I had multicoloured ones)
3 tbsp creamy peanut butter
¼ tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp chopped peanuts
3 cups crisp brown rice cereal
1 ½ cups salted sourdough hard pretzels, broken into pieces (if you love peanut butter, use peanut butter filled pretzels)
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped roughly
1 oz milk chocolate, chopped roughly (I used leftover Dairy Milk Hallowe'en bars)
  1. Melt the coconut oil in a large pot and add 4 cups of the marshmallows, peanut butter, salt and peanuts.
  2. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining marshmallows, followed by the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Scrape into a parchment lined 9” pan and press in evenly.
  5. Let cool to room temperature before removing from the pan and cutting.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 172.8
Total Fat: 6.9 g
Cholesterol: 0.4 mg
Sodium: 165.3 mg
Total Carbs: 26.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.1 g
Protein: 2.5 g

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Oatmeal Cookies with Fall Fruit #DessertChallenge

Sometimes I discover stuff in our pantry that has no rhyme or reason for being there. Case in point: it's been ages since I've used a box mix for anything but Jell-O, but while putting away groceries I found a bag of oatmeal cookie mix squirreled away in the back of the cupboard that was nearing expiry. I know I didn't buy it, but knowing my stepdad it was an impulse purchase while grocery shopping one week when my mom was off on business... odd, given that he doesn't cook at all!

Oatmeal Cookies with Fall FruitAt any rate, I had this mix in my hot little hands and a Dessert Challenge idea formulating. This month's these was Maple & Pears, and since I had some perfect, firm red pears on hand I knew they'd be a player. I always loved pear and apple crisps, especially with raisins or dried cranberries, so I jazzed up the relatively plain oatmeal base with the pear, maple extract, a handful of organic raisins and a (big) handful of dark chocolate chips - everything is better with chocolate! A sprinkle of maple sugar on top of each cookie before baking added an extra layer of rich sweetness too. The result? A fast, lunchbox-friendly treat that is anything but a boring old "box-mix" cookie!

Lady Behind the Curtain Dessert Challenge

Oatmeal Cookies with Fall Fruit
Makes 24 large cookies
450g Quaker® Oatmeal Cookie Mix (1/2 pkg)
1/4 cup  Amoré Almonds + Dairy
1 tsp maple extract
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup sultana raisins
1/3 cup miniature dark chocolate chips
1 large red-skinned pear, diced (no need to peel)
2 tbsp maple sugar, for topping
  1. Preheat the oven to 375F and line two baking sheets with parchment.
  2. Combine cookie mix, Amoré, maple extract and vanilla in a large bowl, mixing to combine well.
  3. Fold in the raisins, chocolate chips and pear.
  4. Scoop onto the cookie sheets and sprinkle with the maple sugar.
  5. Bake for 14-15 minutes. Cool completely on the sheets.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 112.4
Total Fat: 3.8 g
Cholesterol: 0.1 mg
Sodium: 90.1 mg
Total Carbs: 17.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.1 g
Protein: 1.5 g

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Toast Topper #35: Creamsicle Jelly #12WksXmasTreats

My mom looooves orange Creamsicles. While it's been years since she had her last pop, mention the combination of creamy vanilla and bright orange and she'll definitely mention her passion for the treats. Nobody in my family shares her love though - for me, it's a texture and taste thing... I like orange popsicles, and I like vanilla ice cream. But together the icy-creamy mix seems off. My sister simply doesn't like orange flavour in general, and while she will eat vanilla ice cream she is definitely in the "bowl" camp and avoids anything on a stick or in a cone.

That said, the idea of combining oranges and vanilla in a spread never occurred to me, until I came into the possession of a can of orange juice concentrate and a few vanilla beans. I knew I still had a bit of canning left to do for holiday gifts, plus my mom was finishing up her previous jar of jam, and when I saw Marisa's recipe on Food in Jars for Creamsicle Jelly I couldn't wait to try my hand at a version too!

Instead of the fresh juice, I mixed up the concentrate and water and added it to the vanilla sugar and vanilla beans. I didn't really want to add 4 cups of sugar to the batch (it seemed so sweet!) and since I only buy no-sugar-needed pectin I was able to cut the amount in half. Even after cooking, the bright hue of the juice remained and was a great contrast with the dark vanilla bean I included in each jar. It was a good thing that my batch made slightly more than 2 pints, though - my mom didn't let me can the extra half! I did manage to save enough for an upcoming cake though, and I can say that whether you're eating this jelly on toast, spooned into baked apples or stirred into yoghurt for the true Creamsicle effect, it's a bright hit of Summer to enjoy year round. 

Even though I was totally off the ball last week, I've mostly caught up and am back with 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats hosted at Meal Planning Magic! Have you thought of your holiday treats yet? There's still time to get on the wagon!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pineapple Squid "Christmas" Curry #EatA2ZRecipeChallenge

When you think of "curry", what comes to mind? Is it a bowl made with the rich, creamy masala of English-Indian cuisine? Japanese Karē-Raisu? South African Bunny Chow? Or a Jamaican Lamb Curry perhaps?

If you ask around my house, you'll get one of two answers as to what the "best" curry is - Indian Butter Chicken (albeit a "cheat" version with a jarred sauce) or one of the colours of Thai curry paste. My mom in particular loves a well spiced (not necessarily hot, although they usually turn out that way) bowl of mainly vegetables and a little bit of protein, with enough sauce to soak into the rice or noodles underneath. Normally, the curries I make for the family are coconut milk based, but when I found myself with no such ingredient (and a yen for the exotic spices) one afternoon I decided to throw my conventions to the wind and try something new!

While coconut milk was absent from the cupboard, I did have an excess of pineapple juice, saved from a can of crushed pineapple after a batch of carrot muffins. As I stared at the jar, wondering what on earth I was going to use it for, I remembered a curry recipe I had spotted months ago that used pineapple juice as the liquid. With that inspiration in mind, I essentially cleaned out my fridge, adding all sorts of vegetables, frozen squid, a handful of nuts and a new twist - watermelon rind! We had served some watermelon at a family dinner the week before and I saved the rinds, for no other reason than I thought I might be able to use them somehow. Considering my success with Watermelon Rind Chutney and Candied Watermelon Rind, both spicy yet sweet delights, I figured I'd give it a try in this fruity, zippy stew. I also discovered that I didn't have quite enough of either red or green curry paste in the fridge, but by combining them I created a "Christmas" mixture that worked extraordinarily well in this respect.

"Christmas" Squid and Pineapple Curry

After it's simmer, the flavours had blended together and the squid had tenderized so well that it tasted better than our local Thai restaurant's pineapple dish. Mom spooned hers over brown Basmati, but I liked mine with brown rice noodles and spinach. What can I say?

This year's Eating the Alphabet Challenge is almost over, I can't believe it! We're up to the letters U, V & W now, and this watermelon rind-laced curry is what's on my table!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Apple Lover's Apple Cake

When is a cake not a cake? To me, I always think of cakes as being relatively light, with a good amount of flour (except in flourless chocolate cake), sugar, sometimes eggs and a fat of some kind. But this recipe turned my thinking upside down.

This dessert, inspired by a recipe I found in The Paris Cookbook by Patricia Wells, is not much more than tons of apple chunks barely bound together by a spelt and flax batter enriched with two new (to me) products: Amoré Almonds + Dairy and Karlene’s Veg-licious Camelina Oil. After baking almost all the way through, a topping of coconut oil, raw sugar and beaten egg gets poured on for a gossamer-thin, crisp, shiny element. I was dubious at best as to how this thing was going to come out - 2/3 of a cup of flour for 5 chunky apples? - but it did bake through into a cohesive mass with a crunchy top and nutty aroma. Cutting into it, though, is best done with a spoon - with so many apples and so little flour, the delicious cake practically falls apart on contact!

So what about those two new foods I played with in this (non)cake? Well, first off, Amoré Almonds + Dairy is essentially a blend of almond milk and skim milk powder, containing protein and 12 essential vitamins and minerals including 50% more calcium than plain cow's milk and 15% of the RDA for Vitamin E. It comes in both original and vanilla varieties, both of which are gluten and soy free. What you will find in Amoré is: fortified almond beverage (cane sugar, tricalcium phosphate, canola lecithin, salt, gellan gum, natural flavour, carrageenan, sodium bicarbonate, vitamin A, zinc, riboflavin, vitamin D, vitamin B12), skim milk powder and lactose. It sounds like a lot of ingredients, and it is - but considering that most of those ingredients are in the almond milk (and are in almost every almond milk out there), it is a fairly simple formula (nutritionals below). 

Now, I drink unsweetened almond milk - and find the "regular" kinds like drinking syrup - and for those used to regular milk on their table you may find the same thing with Amoré. The beverage is about the same viscosity of 2% milk, and according to my mom (who tasted it for me) it had a faint nutty flavour but was more sweet than anything. That said, if you love sweetened lattes and sugar in your coffee, or are going to be using it in baking or candy making, it's worth checking out in your area (it's only available in Canada as far as I know, though). I'm going to see if it contains enough dairy to make ricotta and yoghurt, but so far have been pleased with it's performance in the sweet treats I've made, including this cake.

Karlene’s Veg-licious Camelina OilAnd what about the Karlene’s Veg-licious Camelina Oil?  I had never heard of camelina before, but discovered with a bit of Googling that it is also called "false flax" and is quickly becoming the next nutritional oil powerhouse. Unlike flax oil, which degenerates with heat and needs to be kept in the fridge, camelina's smoke point is 475°F and lasts over a year in the cupboard. In addition, it has a prominent (but in no way off putting) aroma and flavour, similar to a combination of toasted pumpkin seeds and walnuts (some people liken it to asparagus but I disagree - it's not as grassy). Health wise, it's rich source of omega 3 fatty acids (1,500 mg per teaspoon) and viatmin E has shown promise in studies looking to decrease blood pressure, elevated total cholesterol and elevated LDL cholesterol. This particular brand is also non-GMO, and is cold-pressed and unrefined (allowing it's delicious full flavour to come through). It's a natural pairing for both fruit-based sweets like this cake as well as savoury dishes like game meats. As a component in a roasted beet and couscous salad, it perfectly enhances the earthiness of the vegetable and would be delicious in roasted potatoes. Like the Amoré, Karlene’s Veg-licious Camelina Oil is only available in Canada from what I can see, but camelina oil can be found in health food stores worldwide.

Now onto the recipe, which I'm sharing with Mouthwatering Mondays!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Purple (Sweet) Potato Coconut Pops

Even though I heard of it years ago, I've never had Potato Candy. It's not an overly popular confection around here (and in fact when I mention it I'm offered more quizzical eyebrow-raises than knowing nods), and when you think about it, the combination of peanut butter, cocoa and actual potatoes just doesn't seem overly palatable. However, something about the bland starchiness just works in both savoury and sweet applications. Sweet potatoes are even more of a blank canvas for creating, in my opinion, since they are starchy enough to hold up to savoury dishes but have a sugary enough edge to fit right in on the dessert table.

Sweet potato pie and bread are huge this time of year, often packed with eggs, oil and sugar for a triple whammy of decadence at the holiday dessert table, but what about between the feast days? Personally, my day just isn't complete without a sweet treat - I'm not saying I need a slab of cake or a wedge of pie a la mode every evening, but a square or two of dark chocolate, a cookie or even a bowl of cocoa-laced oatmeal somehow caps the night off right. My mom is with me on the daily sweet bandwagon, although she prefers spreading her treats throughout the day (mostly to combat boredom and/or exhaustion at work). Since she needs to be able to take her snacks on the go, homemade trail mixes and all-in-one bites like these have become the rule more than the exception.

When I found the violet tubers, I happened to be shopping in an Asian grocery store where they were calling them "Thai / Japanese Sweet Potatoes", and whether or not they actually were from either of those countries I was inspired enough to take a few home - both to taste test for dinner and to play with in the sweet kitchen! I already knew the avenue I was headed down when it came to dessert, thanks to my shopping trip and previous food blog stalking that led me to Sweet Potato Protein Bars on Protein Pow (the link to the recipe has since gone dead and I can't find the original on the site, sorry!).

DSCN8771I didn't really want to go the "protein puck" route, so picked a variety of flavourful coconut products instead to add flavour and body. Unlike standard recipes for spud-based confectionery (which need pounds of icing sugar), these balls are based on the subtle flavour and vibrant hue of the purple sweet potato, relying on only the merest hint of agave and stevia for their definitive dessert-sweet status. The coating, while chocolate, was also sugar free and vegan - I used one of my new favourites in that respect (CocoPolo) with a dab of virgin coconut oil to make it harden into a perfectly thick shell. Once coated, they look like any other chocolate in the holiday gift box, but one bite reveals the secret, and even kids will love getting in on the discovery! You don't even have to let on that they're "good for you" - just good!

Purple (Sweet) Potato Coconut Pops!

Shared with Wellness Weekend and Gluten Free Fridays

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Whole Wheat Yoghurt, Seed and Cranberry Bread #natrelorganic

Anyone who visits our home for a meal quickly realizes that our family loves their dairy. When my sister is home from university, we go through 4L (1 gallon) of 1% every week, and between my stepdad and stepbrother (the whole milk drinkers) another 2L find their way into and out of the house as well. We usually pick up a block of cheese every grocery trip, and my mom has been continuing her Greek yoghurt love to the tune of  over 4 cups  a week too. Aside from my meals (I have a milk intolerance), dairy finds it's way into every niche of our food habits, and as I was going through my nutrition training my family became more aware of the importance of a secure, healthy milk source that was as natural as possible in a healthy lifestyle.

While nobody here is a young child, choosing an organic dairy product is even more important for their growing, sensitive systems - especially if you live in a country where pesticides, antibiotics or growth hormones are still allowed to be administered to dairy herds. In Canada, producing dairy cattle cannot have hormones or antibiotics added to their system, so the move to organic is a final step in the purity process that ensures cows are fed pesticide-free grain and grass. That said, all milk (organic and non) has the same nutrient profile in terms of macronutrients, vitamins and minerals.

pesticides, antibiotics or growth hormones
 Thanks to the kind folks at Natrel, along with my Summer Preserves Kit, I also received vouchers for their organic milk. While I baked with some as "fluid" milk, I turned the rest into ricotta and yoghurt which my family both adore and devour readily. Most of our ricotta found its way onto toast, and my mom made quick work of some yoghurt with her Yoghurt Pudding. However, I still had a little bit left over, plus a part container of store-bought yoghurt nearing expiry. Mom was needing a loaf of bread for her morning snacks at work (she loves toast and jam!), so I scouted around to see if I could find a yeasted bread with yoghurt as some of the liquids.

Ironically, I found the recipe I wound up using on Go Dairy Free - Alisa Fleming used a dairy-free sour cream as the main moisture in her delicious looking bread, and I figured I'd use the same formula with my yoghurt. I started to play around with the other ingredients the more I looked at the recipe, adding the "bits" that my mom so adores in her daily slices, and wound up with a rich, moist bread that was filled with cranberries, wheat germ, sunflower seeds and a smattering of hemp hearts for good measure. After "taste testing" a slice, my mom finished cutting the loaf, wrapping it up in foil and freezing it so she could break off what she needed as the week went on. Paired with any of the Toast Toppers, its a great snack or breakfast!

Whole Wheat Yogurt, Seed and Cranberry Bread

Shared with YeastSpotting

Monday, November 4, 2013

Chocolate, Blueberry and Hemp Zucchini Bread

Time gets the better of you sometimes. Before I started school, and certainly before my co-op term kicked off, it seemed like I had all the hours in the day to cook, photograph, write about and share my edible treats. Now, though, all this is being forced into the backseat with each new assignment, craft activity and school event. While I've still been cooking and baking, it's certainly not as much, and my writeups are even scarcer - but I'm trying! 

I'm ashamed to admit that I actually made this loaf months ago - way back when the zucchini was still overflowing the garden and I still had a jar of Blueberry Pomegranate Butter kicking around the fridge. However, I still remember it's reviews from the ladies at Zumba - moist, not too sweet, almost exotic and definite power food. True - this vegan loaf is packed with all kinds of nutritious goodies - but more than that it tastes divine (and like anything but "health food"). Even zucchini haters and those who roll their eyes at whole wheat in baked goods had a piece - and like most quickbreads the loaf freezes incredibly well (as do individual slices wrapped in plastic, then foil and stored in a ziploc). It's the perfect power breakfast on the go (or toss one of those frozen slices in your lunchbag for a 3PM pick me up), and if you warm it slightly and drizzle your favourite jam or melted chocolate overtop, it's a decadent weeknight dessert too!

Chocolate, Blueberry and Hemp Zucchini Bread

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Toast Topper #34: Apple Raisin Conserve #natrelpreserves #natrelorganic

It's no secret that I do a lot of canning and preserving throughout the year - at least the months we aren't drowning in snow. For me, it is a real treat to be able to crack into a jar of something homemade that was crafted in the peak of the season, when not much has to be done to keep the pure flavour of the fruit or vegetable alive and bright, since even in a good year our harvest season is only a few weeks in the summer and maybe a month in the fall. Being the foodie that I am (and one of the few people I know of in my circle of friends and family who still cans), I relish in the ability to share my creations with my friends and family too, either by tucking a few jars of jam or sauce into holiday gift baskets or setting out a dish of homemade marmalade or conserve at brunch or with afternoon coffee and tea.

To me, nothing tastes better than local food, and when I found out Natrel was promoting a series of "do good" pledges that had to do with embracing the wealth in our backyards, I jumped at the chance to get in on their Summer Preserves Kit challenge.

I was super excited when my kit arrived - packed with mason jars, tags, a shopping bag, coupons, recipes and a full-out canning kit. Not only did we have some Ontario cranberries in the fridge (forgotten at Thanksgiving!) but I had just been apple picking, and knew at least a few of the goodies I'd be putting up in the next few weeks. The first batch I made with my new kit was this chock-full-of-goodness apple conserve. Our local organic apples, along with raisins and chopped almonds, cook just enough to become suspended in a thick, vanilla-spice syrup, embodying elements of crisp, tart, sweet, soft and spice in a single spoonful. It is as gorgeous to look at as it is delicious to eat - and needless to say, part of the batch didn't even make it to the jar before my mom claimed it for her Greek yoghurt, toast and Saturday morning pancakes!

I've still got a few jars to fill, so keep your eyes out for the next few preserves and follow @NatrelMilk (#natrelpreserves and #natrelorganic) for lots of other ideas!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Cabernet Salt

Have you ever bought "gourmet" infused salt? I'll admit, I've been tempted to pick up a jar or two for my home cooking, but the price for a tiny vial of pastel-coloured sodium always seemed too high. The flavoured (or "infused") salts are common in department stores and gourmet gift shops, bought by well-meaning acquaintances but never really used, except in the rare recipe for frou-frou chocolate truffles, roasted fish or BBQ rub. That said, for people like me who love flavour in as many layers as possible, it usually just takes a few ideas to get into the groove of creating tons of new uses for them!

Since my family loves their wine (and we grow our own grapes), I had a fairly decent part-bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon on hand that was calling to be used in something decadent. Since I don't drink, simply downing the third-bottle's worth wasn't an option, but as I was sprinkling flakes of my favourite kosher salt onto my salad one lunchtime I was struck with the not-so-original idea to combine the flavour of the wine with the texture and carrying capacity of a coarse salt. Google directed me to Well Preserved's recipe, which was almost inane in it's simplicity but at the same time perfection. How hard is it to screw up two ingredients?

That said, I almost did screw up - by walking away from the stove as my wine was reducing. I left the stove on high when I went for a bathroom break (why do you always need to pee at the most inopportune times?) and when I came back my half-full pot of booze was barely covering the bottom of the vessel. Thankfully I had already measured the salt out and had it standing by (I used a pretty cheap, plain-Jane kosher salt, since I knew I'd be adding flavour to it) so I could quickly dump it into the pot and mix. The colour was dramatic - almost like I had added a bottle of food colouring to the salt - but after it dried (and dried... and dried...), my first taste of it drove home the point that it was anything but artificial dye! Now, the possibilities are almost endless, and I wound up making another batch for Christmas gifts this year. With each little bottle I packaged up, I included a card with a few  suggestions for using the treat to it's full potential: crusting steaks or roasts, tossing with (or mashing into) potatoes, sprinkling on salads, tomatoes and grilled or roasted vegetables, stirring into sautéed mushrooms, risotto and pasta sauces and even topping homemade soft pretzels and caramels!

Cabernet Salt
Shared with Gluten Free Fridays