Friday, January 31, 2014

Sweet Berry Cheesecake Wontons

In case you can't read that above (I sure can't!) I'm wishing you all Gong Hey Fat Choy - happy Chinese New Year!

When we made the Pan-Fried Vegetable Wontons in my class a few weeks ago, I knew that the kids would love the experience but really get into it if there was some sort of dessert involved. Since I was already onto the wonton theme, I figured why not sweet ones? I had a ton of homemade Richer Ricotta in the fridge at home begging to be used, and when I saw it I immediately thought "cheesecake". Of course, ricotta is tangy on its own, not cheesecakey, but I also had some Xyla-sweetened Mountain Berry Jam  in the fridge that we just didn't enjoy on its own as a Toast Topper but didn't have the heart to toss that I could play with. I mixed up the two with a dab of honey, some vanilla and tightened the works with cornstarch before (ziploc-bag) piping the filling onto the wrappers. A quick pan-fry yielded crispy, lightly sweet and creamy dumplings that the kids absolutely devoured - even without the powdered sugar (which I forgot at home). The adults who had a sample or two (or three!) didn't complain either :-).

Sweet Berry Cheesecake Wontons

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sesame Scallion Schezuan Noodles

After we finished with all the dumpling madness in class last week, I still had a partial container of the Pan-Fried Vegetable Wonton filling left over. It smelled so incredible (and based on the reviews, tasted even better) that I didn't want to simply toss it, especially since I still had a few bottles of cooking sauce from San-J to use!

For some reason when I think sesame oil and scallions, I look for the hot and spicy flavours of Schezuan cuisine. Luckily, one of the bottles I was sent was Szechuan Cooking Sauce, a combination of their delicious tamari, sake, vinegar, honey, garlic, ginger, sesame and plum that is anything but mild... especially when (like me) you add an extra pinch of pepper flakes to the mix! After mixing a few glugs of the sauce, the pepper flakes and a little bit of extra honey into the tofu, it smelled even better, and begged for a big bowl of noodles to play with. In answer, I soaked up a bundle of no-cook brown rice vermicelli, then sauteed up some more ginger, garlic and the last of the green onions. The tofu and noodles were tossed in just enough to warm through and with a sprinkle of sesame seeds, dinner was done! I'd wager this is good cold too, but honestly - we couldn't wait to try it.

Sesame Scallion Schezuan Noodles

In case you didn't make the full batch of dumpling filling, I've included the scaled-down recipe below.

Shared with Waste Not Want Not Wednesday

Monday, January 27, 2014

Pan-Fried Vegetable Wontons

I may gripe occasionally about some days at work (sorry Facebook followers!) but in general, I absolutely love my co-op placement / old school.Working there has given me a lot of experience in management - even if it is managing 28 rugrats - and I think I've become more proficient in arts and crafts than I've ever been given the staggering amount of holiday "take-homes" we've done since I started there. Recently, my supervising teacher asked me to begin teaching cooking segments with our gang, and with our principal's blessing I began planning out what we could do for holidays in the coming months.

Since right now the classroom is decked out in the red and gold regalia of Chinese New Year (including some of the free decorations the Chinese takeout place gives away each year), it was only logical to kick off the new lessons with an Asian-skewed treat. The first thing that popped into my head were pan-fried dumplings - which was odd given my aversion to cooking in hot oil! Most recipes I found for the semi-potstickers called for ground meat of some kind, but I wanted to make a vegetarian version with tofu so everyone in my class could taste.

While nuts were obviously out, I was lucky enough not to have sesame allergies in my class so I was able to bring in the rich nutty aroma of toasted sesame oil, as well as ginger, garlic, scallions and the San-J tamari I was sent over the holidays. The combination of flavours in the filling, coupled with the crispness of the wrappers and the fun of mashing the tofu up with a fun tool (I used this one, but if I had it I'd totally pick this) and the fact that they actually had ownership of what they were eating meant that every child that participated had a bite, and most had two or three! Even one of our youngest (who is famously sometimes known as a troublemaker) ate about 4 of them in one sitting - without the provided plum sauce - and not to mention he was extraordinarily well behaved!

I wish I could show you all the adorable faces of the chefs, but there are rules about that... so here's a peek at their dumplings:

MLCP Cooking Class!

I know, right? They were so proud! Of course, I gave them the recipe to take home and I'm sure that even if they don't make it for years, it will be a fond memory when they come across their family recipe box later.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fish - Friendly Pesto

Pesto is one of those miracle ingredients. With just a few fresh elements and a little bit of mincing and mixing (with a handy food processor or a mortar and pestle), a new condiment springs to life that can instantly transform boring pasta, mediocre grilled cheese or plain grilled protein - among a host of other uses. The mixture of fresh herbs, (usually) garlic and oil freezes beautifully too, so even when it's - what - -30°C outside, it's easy for me to pull a couple cubes from the freezer and toss them into soup or a simple saute for a bright pop of flavour.

One of my other favourite things about pesto is that it is infinitely variable - the most common version is pesto alla genovese (garlic, genovese basil, pine nuts, olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano and Fiore Sardo), but if you have dairy or nut allergies, are vegan or have other dietary restrictions or flavour preferences it's incredibly simple to modify what you use. For instance, this past summer I grew a basil variant in my garden - lime basil - and since I immediately thought of grilled fish and light pasta salads when I tasted it I wanted to make a pesto that would suit those recipes. 

Fish-Friendly Pesto

I can't afford, nor do I like the flavour of, pine nuts, and I fall into the traditional Italian mentality that cheese of any kind does not belong in any proximity to fish or seafood (Tuna melts? Tuna casserole? Blech). Instead, I jazzed up this mixture with a medley of sunflower and lime flavours along with the prerequisite garlic (if it's savoury and in my kitchen, garlic is in everything). With a bag of ground sunflower seeds, good quality sunflower oil, a few cloves of homegrown garlic and a sack of limes, it only took a touch of simple salt and pepper to create a vegan pesto that was the talk of the Summer BBQ, as well as a simple salmon supper last week!

Of course, I realize that lime basil isn't something you can just grab from the grocery store shelf, especially mid-Winter. While we wait for the warm weather to bring out the funky plants again (and I really do suggest growing some of this herb!), pots of genovese basil are still available (at least where we shop) so you can have your own in the kitchen. When you make this (or any other recipe calling for lime basil), just add the remaining zest from the lime.  

Shared with Wellness Weekend and Waste Not Want Not Wednesday

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cinnamon Sea Glass Candy

What's your favourite candy? I never used to like the panned, hard candy you could buy at the corner store for a nickel or two (God I sound old), preferring the sour keys and chocolate bars. When I came across the beautifully simple bags of "traditional" candy shards at a pioneer village while on a school trip, though, my whole perspective changed. They weren't exorbitantly sweet, or fancy, but they were clear as crystal with the tiniest bit of a bitter edge from being cooked on the stove in small batches. Flavourings were simple, but never skimpy - I had a major fling with cherry, lime and lemon when I was about 10 or 11, and as I got older I discovered the sinus-clearing spice of cinnamon. 

Cinnamon Sea Glass CandyEventually I forgot about those old pioneer candies, until I saw a blog post on The Idea Room that brought me right back. Sea Glass Candy is exactly what I picture perfect hard candy to be like - few ingredients, simple directions and absolutely nothing "fancy pants" about the whole thing. While you could certainly opt for a plain sugar brittle, I just can't stand how... plain that is. I reverted to my cinnamon-headed self (well, I am a redhead!) and tipped in a whole bottle of cinnamon candy oil.

Yes. A whole bottle. And it was delicious. But be forewarned, if you follow my lead, you will experience instant sinus clearing and possibly tear duct overflow. It's strong stuff - and the flavour lasts and lasts (not to mention is perfect for curing the winter sniffles and spring allergies!). If you don't want that much "oomph", use half a bottle. Or a different flavour. Like I said, it's such a simple candy base that it can be a million different things depending on your whimsy!

Cinnamon Sea Glass Candy

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

French Toast Mini - Pizzas: #RecipeRedux

I haven't eaten "regular", take out pizza in years - with the allergy list I tote around, the thought of hitting up my childhood haunt for a few slabs doesn't even cross my mind. Nonetheless, I do appreciate a good combination of pizza-like flavours, and while the cheese-less flatbreads and toppings may not look like your standard Hut's they are more than satisfying! Until very recently I was only ever making tortilla or Lavosh based 'zas, which baked up nice and crispy, and could be piled with everything I could dream of. Then I started going through a bit of a chickpea-flour obsession, which included me discovering the delicious possibilities of besan in French toast. When I had a hankering for a garlicky, spicy slice last week (and found no flatbread in the house) I got the idea to take one of the Kinnikinnick Gluten Free English Muffins from my freezer, French toast-ify it and top it with my go-to toppings. Instead of the usual pizza sauce though, I used a couple spoonfuls of Cascabel - Guajillo Salsa for a delicious kick and crowned the rounds with thinly sliced mushrooms. I suppose I could have sauteed or roasted them first, but I was hungry - not to mention I love raw mushrooms and spicy salsa.

French Toast Mini - Pizzas

This month the #RecipeRedux team is having a Pizza Party! No need to pick up the phone to order in, a healthy and delicious movie night with the kids, girls' night in, friendly cooking competition or home-late-from-work weeknight dinner is right at your fingertips!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cinnamon Glazed Apple Fritters with @XylaXylitol

Have you ever cooked with xylitol? You may recognize the name of the sugar substitute from packets of sugar-free gum and mints, but until very recently it never came up on my radar as a cooking and baking ingredient. Now it's up there with stevia as being one of the best sugar substitutes in the market, with the power not only to add a sweet taste (1:1 for sugar) but protect gums and teeth, stabilize insulin release and regulate hormone levels. With an extremely low GI, it's safe for diabetics and many of those with yeast (i.e. Candida) issues can use it as well since it has a natural ability to kill yeast cells.

One of the best things about baking with products like Xyla is that it really does behave like sugar in the sweet kitchen, adding tenderness and a crisp outer texture to things like cookies. Unless you're using buckets of the stuff - not something I'd recommend due to it's ability to cause interesting gastric effects when consumed en masse (just like all other sugar alcohols) - you can barely tell you've used anything different, and if you combine the granular Xyla with regular sugar the resulting product is identical to the full-sucrose original. Xyla also makes its own candy, which is a nice enough treat in the middle of the day even though it isn't exactly like the lollipops or hard candy of your childhood. The only variety I wouldn't recommend is the citrus drops, since xylitol has a slight "cool mint" element that doesn't marry to well with vibrant orange.

Xylitol is also not a calorie-free option, though it has 60% of the energy of sugar (2.4 calories / gram vs 4 calories / gram). The energy in the sweetener is also a slowly-digesting form, so your body doesn't switch into "sugar crash" mode after a xylitol treat.

Xylitol's main downfall in the kitchen is in the yeasted bread world... but it doesn't make it totally useless. After a few failed attempts to make dough with xylitol mixed with the flour rise, I changed my tack and mixed it in at the very end of kneading. That, combined with using instant yeast and a slightly longer rise time, contributed to puffier (albeit not "floating away" light) dough perfect for cramming with "bits" - just like these baked doughnuts!

Cinnamon Glazed Apple Fritters

Since I (and my parents) love Tim Hortons' apple fritters, but not their fat content comparable to 11 strips of bacon, it has been a pet project of mine to try and make a slightly healthier option. For these, I made the whole-grain yeast dough sweetened with Xyla and laced with rich camelina oil and spicy nutmeg, then folded in chunks of buttery sauteed apple. To cap it all off, a cinnamony glaze gave them an irresistibly gooey, lick-your-fingers quality that was a spitting image of the ones we used to buy at the apple orchard.  While I wouldn't call them "health food", they were definitely above and beyond their chain-made cousins... and that's good enough for me!

Shared with  Mouthwatering Monday

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Toast Topper #41: Bruschetta Topping - a Tapas #SundaySupper

One of my favourite things about cocktail parties is the variety of treats available. While the atmosphere may not be Spanish, the experience is often akin to a tapas bar - especially when it's a potluck appetizer or small plates party! When we host any dinner party, we always make sure that a few tasting options go around while the main meal cooks - and depending on the guest, those make up the bulk of their meal (the kids especially). 

Bruschetta Topping (Italian Salsa)One of last year's favourites was grilled bruschetta - slices of either traditional baguette or chewy foccacia, toasted on our indoor grill and dolloped with a vibrant, herby "Italian salsa". With the bounty of our garden last Summer, it would have been a shame to lose out on the opportunity to bottle some of the family's favourite flavours, so I whipped up a few batches of this Toast Topper for us to enjoy all Winter long. It's a good thing I did a few rounds of this though - between the holidays and everyday snacking we'll be lucky to have enough to last till Spring!

This week's #SundaySupper is a veritable smörgåsbord of tapas offerings hosted by Constance (Foodie Army Wife) from salads to cake pops, we have you covered for any tasting table you happen to host!

Here’s what’s on the Table:

Stuffed Green Queen Olives with Garlic Infused Olive Oil from MarocMama
Cheesy, Tortellini Tapas & Spicy Bacon Ranch Dip from Daily Dish Recipes
Black-Eyed Pea Cowboy Caviar from Shockingly Delicious
Goan Beef Croquettes from Masala Herb
Giardiniera Salad from Peanut Butter and Peppers
Bacon Wrapped Calamari from Jane’s Adventures in Dinner
Patatas Bravas from Supper for a Steal
Caramelized Onion & Gruyere Bites from The Foodie Army Wife
Agave Truffles from Killer Bunnies, Inc
Pear, Brie, and Honey Crostini from Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks
Tomato Bread from girlichef
Clams in Green Sauce (Almejas en Salsa Verde) from The Little Ferraro Kitchen
Roasted Tomato-Basil Flatbread from Take A Bite Out of Boca
Herb and Citrus Marinated Olives from Magnolia Days
Smoky Paprika Peppers from Small Wallet, Big Appetite
Balsamic Raspberries with Mascarpone Cream from That Skinny Chick Can Bake
Gambas al Ajillo from Manu’s Menu
Squid in Garlic Chili Olive Oil from Food Lust People Love
Tortilla Española from The Not So Cheesy Kitchen
Croquetas de Pollo from Cookin’ Mimi
Low-Carb Salmon Croquettes from Yours And Mine Are Ours
Bruschetta Topping from What Smells So Good?
Herb Roasted Almonds from Curious Cuisiniere
Artichoke Heart and Manchego Spread on Fried Garlic Bread from The Wimpy Vegetarian
Tortillita de Camarones from Cindy’s Recipes and Writings
Patatas A La Riojana (Rioja-Style Potato & Chorizo Stew) from Cupcakes & Kale Chips
Gambas al Ajillo y Clementina (Shrimp with Garlic and Clementines) from FoodieTots
Tortillas De Papa y Atun (Tuna and Potatoes Tortilla) from Basic N Delicious
Pocky Cake Pops from
Chorizo Filled Dates Wrapped in Bacon from I Run For Wine
Manchego-Stuffed Spanish Meatballs from The Weekend Gourmet
Roast Onions with Blue Cheese and Pine Nuts from Healthy. Delicious.
Shrimp and Chorizo Tapas from The Texan New Yorker
Blueberry and Lemon Yogurt Quesada from In The Kitchen With KP
Chorizo with Spicy Sweet Potato Tapas from Soni’s Food
Chorizo and Manchego Toast Tapas from Family Foodie
Roasted Bone Marrow with Citrus Salad from The Girl In The Little Red Kitchen
Mushroom Chevre Crostini from A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures
Serrano Ham and Manchego Croquetas with Smoked Pimenton Aioli from My Other City By The Bay

Best Wines To Pair With Tapas from ENOFYLZ Wine Blog

Join the #SundaySupper conversation on twitter on Sunday! 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.

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

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Toast Topper #40: Peach - Almond Melba Jam

I love discovering international cultures through food. For instance, if you were to ask me back when I first started this blog what a "melba" was, I would have guessed somebody's aunt, maybe their great grandmother, but definitely not a dessert!

Peach-Almond Melba JamNow I know that a melba (specifically, a peach melba) is a dessert composed of peaches with a raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream, named after an opera singer and created by the infamous Escoffier. The versions I've been exposed to also include some sort of almond element, usually in the form of Amaretto mixed with the raspberries, although I don't know if that is the "true" form of the dessert. At any rate, it is a fantastic combination of flavours and textures, especially in mid Summer when the star fruits are at their peak and it's hot enough to want a cold dessert. 

Unfortunately, ice cream isn't really on the menu that much around here these days, what with my mom on her yearly "post-holiday" diet and my stepdad under close blood-sugar scrutiny. However, there is no separating mom from her daily toast and jam, so with flash-frozen Niagara peaches and raspberries in my freezer from the Summer begging to be used I decided to channel the great Escoffier and turn the grand finale into a morning delight. Things really got rolling quickly thanks to the jelling sugar I used instead of pectin and standard sugar, and for kicks (and a kick) I tossed in a half-shot of Amaretto along with the citric acid to perk up the flavours a bit. The merest hint of cardamom evoked the feelings of baking and desserts too, and added a nice note of exoticism to the jar. Authentic or not, it was definitely well received and I hear tell it makes a mean almond butter and jelly sandwich too!

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Chinese Style “Bourbon Tofu”

Like many people these days, I have a family that is pretty divided when it comes to eating preferences. I'm mostly vegan due to allergies, my mom will go for almost anything but prefers the lighter meats (chicken and fish) or vegetarian based dishes, my sister is perfectly happy eating just pasta or rice for dinner, and my stepfamily is of the strong belief that if there isn't meat on the table, it's not dinner. Ironically, when we were planning my stepdad's birthday party (normally a meat-fest) we received word that one of the guests - his daughter and her boyfriend - were vegan. My mom commissioned me to not only explain to my stepfamily at home what vegan meant in the first place, but to come up with some recipes that not only they but the rest of the guests would enjoy.

Chinese Style “Bourbon Tofu”About the same time, a large box was delivered to my doorstep from the wonderful people at San-J. I'm no stranger to their tamari - it's my go-to because it is delicious, not to mention gluten free and also comes in low-sodium varieties. I was thrilled to discover they had sent a bottle of Organic Tamari (Gold Label), as well as two of their cooking sauces - Sweet & Tangy Sauce and Szechuan Sauce. San-J (founded as San-Jirushi) began in 1804 in Japan as a tamari and miso company and began selling tamari in the United States in 1978 as an importer to natural food and industrial food markets. tamari quickly proved itself to be desirable to American tastes and San-Jirushi decided to build a plant to brew tamari in North America. Today, San-J continues the tradition of quality with a variety of tamari, Asian cooking sauces, salad dressings, soups, and rice crackers available throughout United States and Canada.The current San-J President, Takashi Sato, is an eighth-generation member of the founding family.

The tamari inspired me to make a vegan, gluten free version of one of my family's favourite Chinese-American dishes - Bourbon Chicken. Ironically, the dish contains no alcohol - it was named after Bourbon Street in Louisiana, and is essentially cut up chicken parts marinated in a sweet, tangy and spicy mixture before being stir fried (or shallow fried, depending on the restaurant). I not only wanted to veganize the recipe, but make it healthier as well, so I served it with brown Basmati rice, added a ton of broccoli and used organic, agave-sweetened ketchup. Since the tofu is coated in cornstarch, it crisps wonderfully and the sauce thickens into a velvety blanket of flavour - the soy gives the dish a deep umami note and balances out the brown sugar and apple juice, while heightening the ginger and pepper flakes.

Needless to say, this bowl of tofu disappeared lickety-split, and was devoured by both our vegan and non-vegan guests. The only ones who lost out were my sister (who was at work that evening) and my tofu-phobic stepdad. Not to fear, though - we got him with another dish that night, and he still doesn't know it!

Chinese Style “Bourbon Tofu”

Shared with Gluten Free Wednesdays

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Cheesy Twists for #SundaySupper 's Second Birthday!

Happy birthday #SundaySupper! I have to say I was pretty amazed that it's only two years old -  I thought I was pretty late to the party when I first joined in the fun on June 3, 2012. The event actually kicked off on January 8, 2012 with eight cooks and a lot of ideas. Now we have over 300 passionate people warming our hearts and kitchens every week! Today is my 65th participation in the party and I am so glad to be part of such an amazing group - I can't wait to see what the next year will bring.

I was going to bake a cake for this celebration, but since we're all still easing off from the indulgences of Christmastime I thought maybe a savoury appetizer would be a bit lighter on the palate. I decided on a light, flaky cheese-laced twist, which I modelled after one of my favourite sweet snacks - the French Twist. Rather than break out the puff pastry, though, I opted for a faster, healthier dough that is made with half spelt flour and relies on the use of baker's ammonia to leaven. The ammonia not only makes them puff into gorgeous sticks, but gives them a light and crispy texture - just like puff pastry - that baking powder alone can't give. The cheese came in two forms for a bit rounder flavour (a powdered Cheddar and a few spoonfuls of Parmesan), and the twists were brushed with just a touch of butter before baking to give them the perfect tinge of gold.

Cheesy Twists

These twists were a hit at my house - party or no! We actually served them two ways: at my stepdad's birthday party last week they were alone as part of the "bread basket", but the leftovers cozied up with some Spicy Ketchup for dunking. Check out all the other #SundaySupper birthday treats below!

Brilliant Breads and Breakfast Fare:

Amazing Appetizers and Cocktails:

Spectacular Soups and Salads:

Enticing Entrees:

Decadent Desserts:

Join the #SundaySupper conversation on twitter on Sunday! 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.

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

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cascabel - Guajillo Salsa

My stepbrother and I are definitely chili-heads. When it comes to our meals, there's almost nothing we won't doctor up with hot sauce, salsa or any manner of peppers. However, while he's the type to go with the "more is more" philosophy of basically blowing his head off with the hottest peppers he can find, I like my heat with substance, a flavour profile that actually makes me want to keep eating it - not simply something that makes me sweat.

Cascabel - Guajillo SalsaThis summer (like all summers!) we were up to our eyeballs in tomatoes - never a bad thing, mind you, but the sheer gluttony of them was beyond our max fresh eating capacity. I took that opportunity not only to make my yearly stash of "sundried" tomatoes in the dehydrator, but to make a host of different cannable options for later enjoyment (and Christmas gifts) - one of them being this three-pepper, two tomato salsa.

I was inspired to make this zingy blend after a trip into downtown Toronto's Kensington Market netted me a few bags of assorted dried peppers and a hefty sack of juicy limes (FYI if you're in the area and need anything Hispanic, Perola and Emporium Latino are godsends!). With a couple cloves of garlic and of course, my garden's tomatoes (both fresh and dried) I headed to the kitchen. It was done and (mostly) canned lickety-split, after I set aside an "immediate use" jar that became the dip of choice for BBQ crudites, the medium for my mom's poached eggs and a topper for rice and burgers. I'm dreading the fact that we're down to the last couple spoonfuls - it was one of the most complex salsas I've ever had, and now July seems even further away!

Shared with Wellness Weekend, Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Gluten Free Fridays

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Rich Chocolate Yoghurt Frosting

I've never been a huge fan of making frosting. I don't know why - maybe it's how finicky it can be to get the butter and sugar to blend just so, or the time it takes for the fat to soften, or seeing the sheer amount of sugar that finds its way into a buttercream - but I'd honestly just buy a decent quality container from my bakery supply place and doctor it up with a dash of extra cocoa, some nutmeg or a quick grate of lemon zest. Ironically for me as a baker, I'm not a huge "pile on the frosting" person anyways, and I find most recipes for the homemade stuff too sweet... exceptions being my ricotta frosting with a dash of extra lemon juice for tang and my Chocolate Sweet Potato Frosting with it's earthy richness.

So when I was paging through my copy of The Greek Yogurt Cookbook by Lauren Kelly and I spotted a recipe for a yoghurt based chocolate frosting, I initially passed over it - not only did we not need a frosting kicking around the house at this point in time (given my stepdad's birthday and Christmas having just passed), but it was just one of those recipes that flew under the radar. The funny thing about life, though, is that it can be like a boomerang. Just a week after passing on the recipe in search for a more "family friendly" one for us, I found myself in possession of a small quantity of thick, strained homemade yoghurt (created with half milk and half Amoré Almonds + Dairy beverage) as well as all the other ingredients to make the book's concoction. I jazzed it up a bit though, cutting down on the sweetness with extra cocoa, bittersweet chocolate and a hint of espresso powder as well as using some pulverized raw sugar for the standard refined powdered kind.

Rich Chocolate Yogurt Frosting

Now even though this is technically a frosting, that doesn't mean it's restricted to your cakey confections! We spread this on toast (!), stirred it into extra plain yoghurt as a "pudding", and dunked cookies and fruit into it for an afternoon snack (that was by far the most popular). What we couldn't use up in a week or so we covered directly with plastic wrap and froze in airtight containers - but knowing the amount of chocoholics around here it won't be long before it makes another appearance!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Spicy Ketchup

If you were to look in the fridges of your friends and family members today, I'm sure you would find one constant - a bottle of ketchup. Whether it's tucked away in the back corner of the icebox behind the organic juice, sprouts and tempeh, brought out only for the occasional summer BBQ, or (like us) you have 3 different types of the stuff crammed into the door shelf because they're used at every meal, ketchup is one of those "great equalizer" foods.

Spicy KetchupThat said, the condiment is not necessarily the beacon of nutrition. Yes, it is made from vegetables (and some people would believe it is a vegetable itself), but most bottled ketchup is a red-tinted sugar bomb - with the most famous label still utilizing both HFCS and regular corn syrup in it's standard formula. Don't get me wrong - I love me some ketchup on my fries or a veggie burger, but in recent years I've steered towards the European brands that are far more on the savoury, spiced side. Over the summer, I happened to read The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila and found her recipe for real, homemade ketchup exactly when we were facing our largest glut of tomatoes from the garden. I took her basic recipe and played a bit with the spices to come up with something unique, flavour packed and even a touch exotic. Probably the most unusual spice in the mix was ground sumac, which added a punch of lemon-like tang without the bitterness cooked juice has, and played extremely well with the more common paprika, coriander and celery seed.

We tucked into a small jar right away, and I canned the rest for a time like now, where there is no sign of warmth in sight and we need a taste of Summer! The mixture is stellar on the standard stuff - fries and the like - but use it on top of meatloaf, mix into meatballs or even fold into leftover rice with a knob of butter for a fast side dish my sister absolutely adores (she puts ketchup on everything, so knows her stuff!). It's even a great dipper for breadsticks a la the Italian restaurants - don't knock it till you've tried it!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Toast Topper #39: Dijon Mustard

It's no secret that I'm a total mustard freak. You name the variety, you can bet I've at least tried it, if not fallen in love with it! Mustard is probably my dipper, salad dressing base and savoury sandwich spread of choice, so much so that we buy gigantic food-service jugs of it and my mom keeps asking me why I haven't turned yellow yet!

Luckily, I'm not totally alone in my love for the condiment. My stepbrother is a particular fan of Dijon-style, which unfortunately only comes in tiny bottles and jars (which he empties onto one sandwich or burger). Since I was searching for something to include in his holiday basket this past Christmas, I decided to make him a jar. After all, I knew it was a fairly basic mixture of mustard seeds and vinegar for the most part. I found a pretty good looking recipe on Chow and made a couple additions to suit our needs and tastes. The best thing about homemade Dijon is that it only gets better with age - it tasted decent right after I blended it up, but after a week or two in the fridge it was amazing. Not bad for a few cents' worth of spices, some vinegar and the last of a bottle of wine!

Shared with Wellness Weekend

Dijon Mustard

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Oaxacan Hot Cocoa Mix

I. Hate. Winter. It is far too cold, icy, windy and generally nasty out there to be able to appreciate the landscape (for the 5 minutes it's actually pristine white before the city grime sets in). I know that there are lots of people out there who wait all year for that first cold snap and snowfall, just so they can drag out their skis, skates, snowboards and skidoos, but in this household April can't come fast enough. Luckily enough for us, we do have a rather lovely view of the scenery from our kitchen, which is the perfect excuse to stay inside with a hot beverage and a cookie or slice of cake while catching occasional glances out the window.

Any sort of warm food or drink was particularly important around here during the Christmas week - when our power went out due to the ice storm, the house got cold pretty quickly! Luckily for us, we were able to drag out our old Coleman stove and a half-tank of fuel, which was enough to get a decent pot of water on the boil. Between running in and out of the house (trying to find road salt for our walkway), though, our chills intensified and we needed something more sustaining (and flavourful) than lukewarm tea. That's when I broke out my jar of homemade hot chocolate, which is laced with rich flavours of almonds, bittersweet chocolate, a handful of spices and butterscotchy maca powder. Stirred into a saucepan of steaming almond milk, it thickened into a warm-your-soul brew that we all appreciated then, and continue to enjoy after any time outside these days!

This is really a game-changer for the casual cocoa-phile who's used to tearing open a packet or picking up an overpriced, over-whipped, over-sugary concoction from the coffee shop for a quick fix. While I'm sure regular milk or even water would do just fine as a base, we actually prefer using unsweetened almond milk for a rich, extra-nutty cuppa! Made that way, it's also vegan and a great source of vitamin E! 

Mexican Hot Cocoa

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Honey Ricotta Yeast Bread

Ah, the New Year has dawned (are you sick of hearing that yet?) and it's time to get back into the swing of things. We finally finished the last of our Filled Brioche and Challah from Christmas, and mom was looking for something a little more wholesome that still had hints of all the rich flavours and textures we enjoyed. Since we had a lot of dairy products remaining from the holidays, ricotta was the first thing on my list - not only does my mom love it on or in almost anything, it lends a tenderness and slight tang to anything you bake with it.

So, I decided to take that freshly made cheese and make a version of a recipe I had seen on Not Quite Nigella - but since we had some fabulous leftover honey as well, I was inspired to give the loaf a sweeter, almost Rosh Hashanah-esque treatment. I know the Jewish New Year was way back in September, but it's the new calendar year - don't we all deserve a bit of sweetness? I added sesame seeds for flavour and texture, but they also represent immortality in some cultures! With both whole wheat flour and toothsome bulgur in the dough (symbolizing home and hearth, love and affection and especially feasting and prosperity for all), this is one forward-thinking loaf.

Honey Ricotta Yeast BreadThe only thing I neglected to consider when adding all this goodness was the carmelization speed of sugar. Honey is twice as sweet as it's crystalline sugar counterpart, but it also browns twice as fast in the oven! While I was spared a charcoal-tinted loaf, I did go back and make a note to tent the baking bread with foil so that it looks not quite so caramelized.

All that said, it tastes fantastic - moist, hearty yet tender, and perfect for toast and jam in the morning. If you're like my mother though, it's perfect for toast with ricotta and jam in the morning!

Shared with YeastSpotting