Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer Salad Recipes with #Marzetti Simply Dressed

May was National Salad Month. I missed the boat on that one, but that doesn't mean I haven't been enjoying my favourite meal regularly! I love how versatile salads can be, easily composed from anything - from the (not so) plain-jane greens to the spectrum of proteins, a rainbow of fruit and vegetables, and/or a field of grains. Unlike my mom and I (the veggie-holics in the family), many Canadians don’t eat enough vegetables. That's a shame, since with July nearing with it's bounty of fresh, local produce there's no better time to be chowing down on it!

The problem with most salads is the dressing. Most commercially prepared dressings are packed with fillers, additives and preservatives, which makes it difficult for the ever-growing number of Canadian label-readers to ensure that the products they buy are wholesome and simple. Bridging the dietary need for more vegetables with the desire for simplicity are new Simply Dressed® salad dressings from Marzetti®™.

Simply Dressed® refrigerated salad dressings are made with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, canola oil and other fresh, bright ingredients. They have many gluten free options too What they don't have are preservatives, trans fat, high fructose corn syrup, MSG or artificial flavours. In Canada, we can find 354 ml bottles in six flavours in our stores: Balsamic, Ranch, Ceasar, Blue Cheese, Pomegranate and Greek Feta. All of them cost around $3.99, and are found in the produce section of the grocery store with the refrigerated salad dressings. Hungry Canadians can find the full variety at Loblaws, Superstore, Zehrs, Valumart, Your Independent Grocer, Coppa’s Fresh Market, Concord Foods and FreshCo.

The Marzetti®™ team sent me a delicious assortment of salad recipes to share, so take a look below - you're bound to find something to make you love your veggies!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Chocolate Chunk Brownies for a Picnic #SundaySupper

It may surprise you, but as an adult I never really liked eating outside. With the exception of grabbing perfectly ripe tomatoes, strawberries or apples right off the plant as they're harvested, I'd rather have a home cooked meal at the kitchen table (or my desk, which seems to be most frequent lately). Back when I was young, though, and my family would go on trips to Georgian Bay islands with our sailboat, there was nothing better than a meal on the boat's deck in the sunshine, listening to nothing but our own conversation and the waves lapping at the side of the hull. The boat has long been sold, and was followed by a succession of trailers, which all filled the need to travel but lacked the certain finesse that the quiet afternoons on the Bay offered. 

Regardless of whether I was noshing on land or water, one thing that remained a constant need was dessert. If we were travelling and packing a lunch (such as when we would take day trips to
Toronto Island's Centreville dessert was almost exclusively the highlight of the meal for me, and definitely the perk for my sister. Of course, that dessert always had to include chocolate in some form - be it chocolate chips in my mom's cookies, a square of locally made fudge, a muffin or (our favourite) a rich, fudgy brownie. If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I'm always trying out a new brownie recipe, for no other reason than the fact that I can! Usually I'm swapping around ingredients in order to use up something in the house, or try a new ingredient I just picked up on a whim, or simply rid my pantry of excess candy before my mom blames me for making her gain 20 pounds in a week. 

I have to say that if I had to pick a favourite it would be a tie between these gluten free babies and this unlikely hit. But then again, sometimes you just need as much chocolate as you can get into your system at once, and it's on those days that a brownie like this more than suffices. I'm talking about melted bittersweet couverture chocolate, cocoa and chocolate liqueur in the batter, then gilding the lily with a cup and a half of chopped, prime-quality chunks folded through it. It is sheer heaven in a pan, and will make anyone want to dine wherever they are - inside or out! They cut and pack fabulously well, too, so they're fit to be tucked inside a picnic basket, a working (wo)man's lunch or a summer camper's knapsack. Just don't blame me if the pan disappears before you get a taste! The credit for these brownies' inspiration goes wholeheartedly to Something Swanky - and her pictures are as to die for as these taste.

Chocolate Chunk Brownies

This week for #SundaySupper is a virtual picnic - a plethora of take-along, Summery drinks, apps, meals, salads and sweets to whet your appetite and inspire you to break out your own checkered blankets!






Sandwiches and Wraps

Sunday Supper Movement 
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, June 27, 2014

Cauliflower and Tomato Salad @HuntsChef #GuestPost

I'd like to introduce Julie, today's guest blogger. Julie is a Midwestern gal from Chicago, IL who writes on behalf of Hunt’s. Like most of us, she is a lover of warm weather and outdoor Summer grilling. When not grilling, her favorite meals are homemade meatloaf and anything with a blue cheese topping! Please check out the Hunt’s website for great tomato recipes perfect for meals with family and friends.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ricotta Cookies with Peanut-Nutella Swirl

Considering my family in general buys and drinks so much milk, you'd think we never struggle with excess 1% or 4% kicking around the house. Likewise, you'd never assume Nutella or peanut butter would be left to slowly pass away in the pantry... but on all three counts we're sadly guilty. Well, not me, perhaps - I can't have dairy and peanut butter has too much oil for my system - but our household in general sure is. 

Ricotta Cookies with Peanut-Nutella SwirlAs a result of the extra milk (which seems to constantly be nearing expiry) and the shame I'd feel throwing out sour cartons, I've been making a lot of ricotta. This, in general, works for the family, since my mom loves almost any cheese under the sun and "the Italians" love anything "Italian". Even with 4 people eating the cheese, we always seem to have a lot of it around too since my stepdad will come home from Costco with a giant tub, having forgotten that the good stuff is in the fridge. That's fine by me, though. When I'm gifted anything that I can possibly use to cook or bake, I get my greedy little self into the kitchen and start churning out whatever I can - from the usual suspects (i.e. lasagna and cheesecake) to the surprising hits (these cookies, their partners which I will post soon, or

This time around, I adapted a Weary Chef recipe to use up not only the ricotta, but the ends of some Nutella and peanut butter jars that had been forgotten in the back of the pantry in favour of the new jars bought on the weekend. I used half oat flour for extra tender (and flavourful) dough, nixed the egg in favour of my Homemade Egg Replacer, cut down the sugar drastically by using a stevia baking blend and mixed a filling of peanut butter, Nutella and chopped peanuts. Rolled up and wrapped, I popped them into the freezer to solidify for easier cutting - one log for the weekend, the other for later in the year. Hey, how can you go wrong with ready-to-go gourmet cookies? 

Ricotta Cookies with Peanut-Nutella Swirl

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Apple Pie Dessert Topping

I think I must be on an apple kick these days - I can't get enough of them! Normally, you'd find me hoovering fresh cherries at this time of year, or at the very least downing an Asian pear, but when it comes to dessert I'm immersed in their sweet-tart, crispy goodness. 

Of course, I can't simply eat them as is and be happy! Instead, I decided to take the perfectly delicious fruit and turn it into a preserve ideal for topping pancakes, waffles, crepes or ice cream (as well as filling tarts!). That way, I can combine my two favourite seasons - Summer and Fall - anytime of the year. So far, one jar has been decimated by the backyard BBQ / ice cream crowd, while my mom is now making pretty good headway on another by mixing a spoonful into her yoghurt or topping her weekend pancakes with it instead of syrup (we ran out of our local maple syrup a few weeks ago, so now we're stuck until next spring!). My favourite application? On a spoon, right out of the jar! 

Apple Pie Dessert Topping

What I like about my recipe is that I use tapioca starch, instead of the cornstarch you find in most other recipes. Tapioca starch allows non-canners to be able to freeze the topping without it separating into that weird starch-liquid clumpy thing cornstarch does, and if you are canning it, the mixture will remain stable in the jar longer. That said, I still wouldn't keep this longer than a year... not that it will last that long in the house!

Shared with Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Gluten Free Fridays

Monday, June 23, 2014

Caramel Apple Coffee Cake

My sister aside, I don't think I've ever met someone who didn't at least like coffee cake once in a while. Personally, I was always in the "more crumb is more" camp, gladly downing my weight (and more) in my favourite Farmer's Market Cinnamon Coffee Cake whenever I got a chance as a kid. However, my mom and stepdad are more attuned to the simpler "snacking" cakes - those that highlight the notes of fruit and spices rather than butter and sugar. My dad is a fruit lover too (far more than chocolate), and has a passion for caramel and butterscotch greater than anyone else I know - often inspiring me to make recipes with a combination of the two if at all possible!

Since I had the dregs of a carton of Amoré Almonds + Dairy and a jar of homemade apple butter in the fridge to use, I was on the hunt for something to make with them. Lo and behold, in my baker's pantry sat the last of a bag of chewy caramels (probably from Christmas' Caramel Peanut Butter Fudge) and a handful of my all time favourite hard caramels too! What is more classic than caramel apples? I scouted around and found a spicy apple butter cake recipe that looked perfect as a base and got to work.

If you look at the original compared to this recipe, you'll know I took a lot of liberties with the ingredients, but the result was completely worth it! The chewy candy melted into a rich, buttery undernote that perfectly accented the spices, apples and light almond flavour, while the crunchy caramels became a textured topping far better than any crumb layer could be here. I took it to work and left it in the staff room (also known as the "binge area" - all the leftover snack and pizza day stuff winds up there) and by the time my lunch break rolled around there was only a single piece left!

Caramel Apple Coffee Cake

If by chance you don't have a workplace with such hungry (and adventurous) staff, no worries - just pack yourself a square with lunch, serve alongside strong coffee on a lazy Sunday morning or dish up with some vanilla yoghurt as an informal, weeknight dessert!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Turkey Mulligatawny (#RecipeRedux)

I love the word mulligatawny. It is a perfect sounding phrase for the dish it describes - a thick curried soup packed with what seems like everything in the kitchen - including apples! I can just imagine the first cooks creating this rich, fragrant potage - "Delicious! Now what do we call it?", and eventually calling on the creativity of a child to come up with the title (actually, mulligatawny translates to “pepper water” in Tamil).

My mom is as much of a fan of eating mulligatawny as I am of saying it. Like all good recipes, this soup has various incarnations depending on the location, the flavour preferences and the pantry staples of whoever is making it. I've only ever had it once, and it was a spicy-sweet, slightly brothy bowl laced with tomatoes, chickpeas and caramelized onions. My mom, on the other hand, covets a modified version of an ancient Joy of Cooking recipe that uses heavy cream, yoghurt and a curry-flour and butter roux to add rich body, uses thyme along with the apples and has the option of chicken or lamb as the protein. Oddly enough, most of the recipes these days (including mine) now use coconut milk, and the amount of tongue-searing chiles is reduced. I'm also hard pressed to find a modern recipe that uses apples at all, which is a shame since to me that was a major aspect of the whole uniqueness of the dish! 

Turkey Mulligatawny

Since my mom was craving (one of her many) favourite soup last week, I decided to try a whole new combination of flavours in this mulligatawny. Since we had no chicken in the house (not counting my sister's chicken nuggets), I broke out a bag of leftover turkey meat from Easter and tossed in lentils, rice and coconut milk for a creamy texture. I kept the heat level of the spices moderately high since there was so much other stuff to buffer them, and added a hint of extra colour to my masala with dried calendula petals (AKA poor man's saffron) from my plant last year. The major change I wound up making was in the apple addition - I had forgotten to pick up apples on my last shopping trip, but I did have homemade, unsweetened applesauce. Since I knew the whole mixture would be pureed regardless, I just used what I had, and it worked brilliantly (if I do say so myself!). After simmering for an hour or so, I simply pureed the base and stirred in the turkey, cilantro and lime juice for a little zing and texture.

As you can see, the finished soup is vibrant and hearty - and the flavours it showcases are even more so. Although Summer has just arrived, a bowl of this makes a wonderful dinner on the patio when the sun has gone down and the heat of the day is waning.

This month's #RecipeRedux is featuring floral flavours, from rosewater to nasturtiums to calendula and saffron. Enjoy all the unique and healthy creations!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Fruit and Caramel Bran Bread

We seem to thrive on leftovers around here. Our house seems to keep generating bits and pieces of things - a cooked chicken breast here, half a serving of pasta and tomato sauce there, half a carton of buttermilk and the last of the Salted Caramel Sauce from a family dinner all take up a decent amount of real estate in our fridge, and (as with most leftovers) there's never quite enough to make any one of them a main component. That said, combinations of leftovers are often some of the best things to come out of the kitchen! It takes a little creativity, a little luck and (often) a little time, but the end result often answers both the dilemmas of what to make for dinner and how the heck will I get rid of x, y, and z before they start to talk?

Being the cheapskate frugal-minded individual that I am, I tend to hold onto bits of things that really, I should have tossed originally. While I had a decent amount of caramel and buttermilk left over, I had piddling amounts of apple butter, figs and camelina oil that weren't gong anywhere fast. To me,
quickbreads are the "catch-all" for stuff like that - one bowl, one spatula, one blank canvas! I had a copy of The Tassajara Recipe Book on loan from the library and spotted the basis of this recipe: Buttermilk Bran Bread. I took the idea of the recipe (and it's basic ratios) and used it to convey all the leftovers I could find - the Salted Caramel Sauce, buttermilk and homemade apple butter from the fridge, and the camelina oil, figs, dates and dried bananas from the pantry. Mixed up, popped into a pan and baked for just shy of an hour the mixture became a sweet, hearty, healthy quickbread that was a real treat both slightly warm as well as smeared with ricotta or jam the next morning!

Fruit and Caramel Bran Bread

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Chickpea, Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Curry and the EZ Tofu Press

I love my tofu. My past self (as few as 5 or 6 years ago) would be shocked at how passionate I've become about incorporating it into my diet - growing up, I mocked anything and everything overtly "healthy" or "holistic", preferring to down my weight in three cheese cappelletti, surf n' turf or cheesecake (and laze about on the couch all day). Obviously, those choices didn't treat my body well and it eventually rebelled, creating the person you see today!

Since developing my tofu-love, I've been working to bring others in my family over to trying it out once in a while. Not only is tofu inexpensive compared to meat and fish, but it is so versatile - not to mention it soaks up any and all flavours like a super-sponge, so it's easy to cook with too. The major thing I tell people is that in most cases, you need to (at least) press the tofu. Ideally, depending on what you're making, I suggest freezing and thawing it as well, making it chewier and heartier, but at the very least a good amount of time under a weight squeezes out the excess water and keeps the bean curd from turning into slimy globs or disintegrating completely. Normally, I rely on my heavy cutting board and my basket of spices to do the job - it's a flat surface and heavy enough to press without mash the tofu I'm working with. It works well and (unless I can access pre-pressed tofu, which is my preference) is simply part of the process - just like marinating or resting meat. I never really thought of anything being an alternative, until Cindy (at Vegetarian Mamma) posted a giveaway on her site for a product called the EZ Tofu Press.

I have to admit, I almost didn't enter the contest - after all, why complicate the relatively simple act of placing weight on an object with a gadget? - but my curiosity won out and apparently, so did I!  According to the manufacturer, the EZ Tofu Press has been the number one selling tofu press on Amazon two years running, is inexpensive (about $19.99, with free shipping to USA Amazon Prime members - Canadians click here), fast (giving results in <15 minutes) and easy to use and clean.

Not only did Cindy send me the press as a prize, but she put me in contact with the creator of the press, who asked that I give it a shot at home and write a little blurb about it. Before you roll your eyes, this is not a sponsored review. I won this gizmo fair and square, and like all the other reviews you read here or on Reading, Writing and Cooking, all the opinions and experiences are my own.

With that out of the way, how did this gizmo fare?

Let me start off by saying that even though the device is ridiculously simplistic, it is not necessarily an intuitive product. For success (as with anything new) I beg of you... read and follow the directions. There are a few nuances that can make or break your EZ Tofu Press experience: you must use a water-packed firm or extra firm piece of tofu, the press works best on it's side (like this, not lying flat like above) and you can't just winch it down and walk away for 15 minutes - you have to hang around, turning the knobs evenly every few minutes. Reading through the book, it started to seem like this contraption isn't as "EZ" or convenient as the name sounds.

Unfortunately, my mom was the first to use it out of the box, and since she relies on intuitive products for the majority of her daily living (she hates reading manuals of any length), she didn't read, nor follow, the directions. While she did use the right type of tofu, she winched it right down at the onset and did not set it on it's end... hence the outcome you see.

Tofu Carnage

She also complained that the unit was tipping and tilting, which was caused by the bases of the screws on the bottom of the plate (and possibly one of the reasons they stress leaving it on it's side, not the bottom). The tofu was certainly still edible (and what we used in the curry below), but after breaking apart it also didn't drain thoroughly, which forced us to wrap the oozing brick in a towel and leave it in the fridge under a plate while we were at work.

It's not all bad news, though. I had my turn with the unit a few days after, and even though I followed the directions to the letter I still found it took a lot longer than 15 minutes to press properly, even turning the knobs every 3 minutes or so. The reason for this, I'm assuming, is that I couldn't winch it down very far all at once without bursting the block, but at the same time there was barely enough pressure to exude liquid at all. In total, I think it took me over an hour to attain a block that I could marinate without it turning mushy again. While it won't be a go-to device in my kitchen, I can see myself using it when I have to work or run errands - I'll winch it as far as I can without splitting the block, then leave it on its side in the fridge. Then when I return I'll turn the knobs a little more, and a final turn while I'm prepping dinner. The other thing I might try is splitting my tofu blocks in half horizontally, since even though the press is billed as being able to accommodate any size and shape of tofu, thinner pieces will be less apt to break and more likely to press evenly and quickly. Follow @BenzelBen on Twitter for more info on the EZ Tofu Press.

But on to the tasty stuff - curry!

I have to say I was shocked when my mom and stepdad came home from a weekend away at The Briars Resort simply raving about the vegan curry served at the hotel pub. The way they described it, I can see why: spiced but not super-hot, packed with tofu, chickpeas, cauliflower and sweet potatoes with the unusual addition of slivered snow peas, served over brown Basmati rice. Looking for a little more information, I took a quick perusal of the menu (which has now changed to reflect the season). The combination pointed me in the right direction, recipe-development wise, and I soon found a recipe to use as a base. Apparently my (not-so) hard work tasted spot on, if not better - crumbled tofu notwithstanding!

Shared with Gluten Free Friday - Thanks again Cindy!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Garlic and Herb Wine Jelly (Toast Topper #47) #SundaySupper

Good morning and happy father's day to all the honourees!

I think we're in the gross minority here, but my household doesn't really "do" the whole Father's Day thing. I mean, my sister and I still get my dad a card and a little gift (this year it was an heirloom tomato plant), but we don't have the BBQ, or the picnic, or any of that jazz. Even when my sister and I were young, Father's Day was often marked more by my mom's company picnic day out in King City, about an hour away. We would mark our "Father's Day" sometime in July or August when we'd get time away on our boat and got a chance to really be with each other as a family.

Garlic & Herb Wine JellyThat said, my dad is a fantastic grill-man (in addition to his to-die-for pancakes) and can churn out some of the best potatoes, steaks and fish of anyone I know. He's not too shabby in the creativity or adventure department either, and I've seen him do everything from BBQ pizza pockets (don't laugh, those are amazingly good) to whip up yorkshire pudding to go with pot roast and even empty what looked like the entire spice cabinet into a foil packet of cubed potatoes for roasting. One of his favourite food genres is curry, from the creamy "British-style" to the screaming hot Vindaloo, Thai and Indonesian. However, I'll always remember that it was my dad that introduced me to the best fish 'n' chips ever,  at Sockeye City Grill in B.C..

For all my dad's rough n' tumble personality, it's easy to forget that he's also quite the wine aficionado. When he travelled to B.C.the last time, he visited the (then unknown to me) Mission Hill Winery (where the aging cellar is blasted into the side of an extinct volcano), as well as my aunt and uncle's neighbourhood vineyards: Neck of the Woods Winery and Backyard Vineyards. He's also been to some of our (relatively) local wineries in Prince Edward County, near where our trailer now is. His stories of the fabulous flavours, sights and smells he's experienced got me interested in wine and wineries, even though I can't tolerate the beverage itself.

Around Christmas, somebody gifted us a bottle of Chardonnay, which lay dormant for ages due to the fact that my mom and stepdad don't drink white wine that much, and don't like Chardonnay at all. Finally, I convinced my mom to give the bottle to me for cooking purposes, specifically for making this jelly! I had seen various wine-based jellies popping up in the stores nearby (it's weird, seems to be a Summer thing even though we're not a tourist town) and really fixated on the one that seemed the tastiest to me - honey-garlic with herbs. I love anything with garlic, of course, and knowing that my mom, grandma, dad and a few of my friends all love the occasional taste of unusual, "gourmet" spreads I couldn't wait to get a chance to try out a version! It took a goodly amount of research, but I eventually cobbled together a formula that cooked minced garlic in a mixture of the Chardonnay and some Chardonnay vinegar before being strained, sweetened with honey and a lemon thyme-infused sugar and set with a no-sugar-needed pectin. The finished jars were a beautiful gold, flecked with herbs. The jelly I didn't can quickly found its way onto our plates via grilled cheese and turkey sandwiches, toasted chunks of crusty bread and even melted into apple compote to go with pork chops. I'd wager it would be right at home with smoked salmon and cream cheese on a toasted bagel.

This week's #SundaySupper we're celebrating "guy food" - treats for all the special men in our lives (be they fathers, husbands or even dads of furbabies!). More than 60 participants are participating today, and I encourage you to check out everyone's stellar offerings and find something your family will love just as much as we do! Susan from The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen is our hostess this week (and has a brand-spankin'-new bakery, congrats!). Thanks Susan!

Manly Starters:

Manly Mains:

Manly Desserts:
Wine Pairings for Man Food #SundaySupper byENOFYLZ Wine Blog

Sunday Supper Movement

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.

Garlic & Herb Wine Jelly

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Green Velvet Cake

I don't think I could be prouder than I am today - this past week has been such a flurry of accomplishments! Firstly, I got to watch "my" kids at school perform spectacularly at their end of the year performance - as a new teacher, there's nothing as heartwarming as seeing the transformation of those young balls of energy from being totally unable to walk in a line to demonstrating exceptional poise and control in front of a crowd. Then there were the successes in my real family - my baby sister (all 23 years of her) was awarded her university degree in Bio-Resource Management after slogging long and hard for 4 years, and after having passed my final teaching exams I became a full fledged Montessori Casa teacher. Nothing can describe how happy I was for my sister (and my parents) since she was actually able to do something I couldn't - finish a full university program (I went to college a few times instead). Now I can't wait to see what she does with it!

This week, we're all about winding down into Summer mode, which basically means that any and all "teaching" is pretty much out the window in favour of Sports Day, class parties and outdoor time. One of the last "hurrahs" I wanted to do with my class before the year let out was harvest our "garden" - essentially a windowbox of radishes in varying degrees of growth (and disrepair). Sadly, even though our little plants had huge leaves, there were no roots to speak of! There went my grand plans of a "community salad" where everyone brings an ingredient from home - but I had heard a few months ago that the greens themselves were edible, as prickly and bitter as they are. So I got to thinking.
Green Velvet Cake
The first idea I came up with was a radish green pesto pasta salad, but knowing our kids in general, cold pasta probably wouldn't go down well no matter how cool it looked and how good it tasted! I got to wondering about a sweet application, though... and cake got lodged in my mind. After all, we can make cakes with carrots, beets, zucchini, green tomatoes and even kale - why not radish greens? I didn't want to hide the vibrant, lush greenery that we had worked so hard on all year though, so I knew a chocolate cake wouldn't do. I wanted a green cake.

After doing a bit of Googling (thank goodness for Google!), I stumbled across the most gorgeous (sweet) application of greens I could imagine on The Cracker Box Kitchen. Jessica's recipe took fresh spinach and olive oil and packed it into a fairly standard vanilla cake for an absolutely stunning presentation - you have to see it for yourself!

Of course, I had to make my own modifications - I can't follow a recipe no matter how hard I try :-). Obviously, I used our radish greens in place of the spinach, but I also used Sucanat for a little caramelly aspect, bumped the vanilla flavour waaaaay up with both extra extract and vanilla pudding mix, swapped in some applesauce for part of the oil and added half whole wheat pastry flour for a little touch of nutrition. I originally thought I'd have to add a touch of green food colouring for the full effect to show, but as you can see no colouring was needed! I include it as an optional ingredient in case your particular greens aren't as lively, or if you want a reaaaaalllly green cake.

Green Velvet CakeNow don't get me wrong - even though this cake has vegetables, whole grains, applesauce and an unrefined sweetener, it is in no way health food. It made a fabulous end-of-the-year treat for the kids though, and my proud parents thought it was darn yummy too!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Asian Pear and Ricotta Coffee Cake

Are you a fan of Asian pears? Personally, I can't get enough of them - super juicy, with a crispness and flavour unlike anything else in the fruit family, in my book they have long outrun the apples they're most commonly compared to. Not only do they make for delicious out-of-hand snacks, but I've come to realize that they make awesome fruits for baking. I've been able to use them in recipes calling for pears (obviously), but also apples and any other firm fruit. Apple pies or crisps, for instance, become a little more interesting with the addition of an Asian pear to the bowl of standard apples, and while sauce and butter take longer to make (they hold their shape exceedingly well), the flavour is fabulous.

Asian Pear and Ricotta Coffee Cake

So when I had an excess of both my favourite fruit and homemade ricotta, I couldn't wait to try a recipe I had bookmarked for ages - Uni Homemaker's Pear Ricotta Coffee Cake. Obviously, I swapped the fruit, but I also used spelt flour and flaxseed for a little nutrition. Because I wanted the tangy ricotta and tender pears to shine through, I also nixed the streusel - a move that the coffee cake lover in me declared as sacrilege, but in the end resulted in exactly what I was looking for! Although it's not a calorie- or fat-friendly dessert (I was using whole milk, butter and full fat ricotta!), it has a light enough feel to make it perfect for a weeknight dessert or an addition to a Sunday brunch.

The cake doesn't rise very high, and as you can see isn't winning any beauty pageants - but when something packs the flavour and texture this does, eating with the eyes really does come second in importance!

Ricotta Cake with Asian Pears

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cinnamon Bun “French Toast” Muffins

Sometimes I wonder where my head is at these days. I mean, it's been a year since I first made these muffins and only now am I getting around to posting about it! 

When my sister is home from school over the summer, she always has one of two things for breakfast: pancakes or French toast. While she likes her pancakes plain (and ready for copius amounts of chocolate chips), the caveat for actually having some protein in her morning routine is that the bread is cinnamon-raisin. Up until recently, that bread was the only "spicy" thing her supertaster palate liked, but now she's beginning to develop a taste for cinnamon buns too! When I first found this recipe in Cooking for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet: Over 100 Easy, Healthy, and Delicious Recipes that are Sugar-Free, Gluten-Free, and Grain-Free, I had to admit I was curious - can you actually make clones of the to-die-for mall cinnamon buns in muffin form, without refined sugar, grains or dairy?
Cinnamon Bun Muffins
Well, call me convinced - these muffins smelled and tasted almost like "real" Cinnabons, but better - think cinnamon roll French toast. Because there are a lot of eggs in the batter, that “French Toast” / "custard" flavour and texture comes through. The topping bakes into the batter - if it gets that far, since it is to-die-for on its own and has become a staple recipe for other "crumb fillings" around here. The rich honey adds plenty of sweetness but also a slightly bitter edge, and combining coconut flour and almond milk you get a hint of nuttiness too. To further gild the lily, I made a glaze for my first batch, which was admittedly not for the SCD followers, but I have another recipe to go to if the need arises (and I've included it below). 

Cinnamon Bun Muffins

Whether you are craving a piece of French toast, a cinnamon roll or both, these will fit the bill - and many dietary restrictions too.

Shared with Waste Not Want Not Wednesday

Monday, June 9, 2014

Gluten-Free Quinoa Blondies

It's a well known fact that I'm a chocoholic. Give me the dark stuff in any form and I'm a happy girl. But for some reason, I also have a soft spot for blondies. There's something about their unfailing rich flavour, the chewiness from the brown sugar and the ever-so-slightly browned butter nuances that come through in each bite.

Gluten-Free Quinoa Blondies

These bars are unlike any other blondies I've had - ever. Yes, they have a wonderful rich flavour, a hint of nuttiness and even a bit of chew. But there's no butter - not even any added oil - and the majority of the ingredients list is actually healthy. It's an all-star cast of superfoods: there's quinoa, chia, flax, soy, chickpeas and dark chocolate! Really, the only thing on the semi-naughty list is the brown sugar, but even that has a few more nutrients than it's white counterpart. I think the secret to getting the right texture and chewiness that I love so much in regular bar cookies is the merest hint of chia seed combining with the ground flax, my twist on the original.

If you need an excuse to get any of those superfoods in (or more fibre in your diet), these are sure a tasty way to do it that even the kids will lap up! I'm the first to admit that I'm not a huge fan of quinoa in it's savoury form, but like I said before, add chocolate and I'm in!The quinoa fades into a deliciously "toasty" background note that adds a little pep to an otherwise sweet recipe.

The best part is, though, that these are way easier to make than the traditional blondie. If you have cooked quinoa leftover from last night's dinner, it's ready and waiting in under an hour, and even if you have to cook the pseudograin you save on cleanup time by being able to mix the batter in the quinoa pot! 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

School Bus Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I never thought I'd be as much of an oatmeal raisin cookie fan as I am. As a kid, if the cookie didn't contain chocolate (or peanut butter), I didn't even bat an eye - the notable exception being my mom's killer shortbreads. As my palate matured, I became more open to oatmeal cookies in general, provided that they were chewy, toasty and their additions were moist. I've been on the hunt for a killer OR cookie recipe for years, and while each one I've made has merits, none of them will match the Dad's Cookies we would buy fresh from their bakery outlet store years ago. Ironically, the company now only sells crunchy cookies, so buying them is off the table!

School Bus Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

At least the dearth of good cookies in our vicinity has opened up the opportunity to experiment, and when I saw Donna Quan's (the Toronto District School Board Director) Oatmeal Cookies in the Toronto Star I knew they could be contenders. Heck, if the kids at school adore the recipe, I could definitely try them too! I took the original chewy, hearty cookies and made them even more school-friendly by using less sugar, cutting the cholesterol, boosting the whole grain content and adding a new layer of flavour with flavourful coconut oil. I also heeded the little bit of knowledge I've learned about making good oatmeal cookies and refrigerated the dough overnight, which let the oats and spelt flour fully hydrate and thus bake evenly. I was skeptical of the long bake time too, but it turned out to be a successful way of baking the drops through (and keeping them from falling apart) while maintaining their moisture.

All I know now is that these aren't 100% perfect, but they sure are close - and even with school ending (and Summer camp starting) soon, kids of all ages are going to need an afternoon snack!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Moroccan Pasta Sauce

If I could travel anywhere overseas, I'd go to Morocco. There is something about the exotic sights, sounds, aromas and flavours of that country that is unlike anything else in the world. Thanks to the heavy French and Arabic influences, the buildings are gorgeous and the food even more so. You can get a classic French croissant in the middle of the market, just down the street from a lavish tagine restaurant and a merchant selling mountains of spices, dates, figs and nuts. Although meat (especially chicken and lamb) is definitely a staple in the diet, there is a hefty use of legumes and vegetables too. Bread and couscous are essentially mandatory at every meal, which makes this carb-addict happy, and all this gustatory paradise is accompanied by the burble of the market, the music and the calls from the mosques.

Moroccan Pasta SauceAs an homage to all the flavours I love in Moroccan cuisine, last year I used up all the Summer's-end tomatoes and peppers and created this thick, exotic pasta sauce. The marriage of my garden's bounty and pure pomegranate juice was already beyond your standard marinara, but I took the base and really travelled to my favourite country with a medley of garlic, spices and the merest hint of floral saffron. We've used it for all sorts of things - over rice, couscous and pasta, as a bread dipper, and combined with cooked chickpeas, spinach and rice as an impromptu stew. I bet it would make a fabulous dip or topping for grilled meat or fish skewers too.  

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Banana Granola Breakfast Cookies

I'm not the biggest "breakfast" person. It's funny, because when I was growing up my days were all about breakfast - whether it was greedily eating dry Shredded Wheat and calling it "hay" (I ate - and still eat - all cereal sans milk), sitting down to Sunday morning French toast, pancakes or waffles, or even nuking a bowl of leftover spaghetti with butter and cheese before going off to school. These days, the thought of eating before 11AM or so turns my stomach - I just can't deal with a full meal when I wake up!

That said, I totally get the importance of eating breakfast, especially as a teacher. No way am I going to head to the masses of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and energetic children every day without sustenance. So I made myself a compromise: breakfast cookies. They're a breakfast that I can tuck in my bag and eat while sitting in traffic (or while typing at my desk on the weekends). It's small, portable and buys me a little more time in the morning - plus I pack two of them so that I can enjoy a "second breakfast" at morning break.

My habit seems to be influential on the other staff (and my classmates) too: some of these Banana-Granola cookies wound their way into the bag of a co-worker, the rest went to the staff room and disappeared! They are moist and rich-tasting thanks to a boatload of mashed bananas, with a little crunch from granola and extra interest from dehydrated bananas. Of course, being breakfast, I wanted them to have some semblance of health too, so I opted for a mixture of dark brown sugar, maple syrup, Truvia and Pure Via Turbinado and Stevia Blend for a well rounded but lower-sugar result. Spelt flour amped up the fibre, and a few dashes of spice jazzed things up. 

Banana Granola Breakfast Cookies

You can opt to bake them all at once (keep them in the freezer though unless you're feeding an army) or do what I tend to do: make the batter, scoop out portions onto a wax or parchment lined baking sheet and freeze. Transfer them to a ziploc bag and keep in the freezer, then pop out one or two as needed and bake them while your coffee is brewing, you're in the shower, you're watching the morning news show... whatever. Just add two minutes to the bake time and you're ready to go. If you're really pressed for time in the morning, bake them the night before and place them on a plate covered with a napkin. No excuse for missing breakfast when it's sitting right in front of you!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Festive Bulgur Mix

I love my whole grains. Not only are they packed with nutrition, but they have such unique flavour profiles (compared to refined starches) that you can't ignore them on a plate. While there are a good amount of them that take a while to cook thoroughly, I've been able to find a handful of delicious and fast options to keep in the weeknight pantry.

One of those wholegrain staples is bulgur. You've seen it in breads of mine, and may have even eaten it in tabbouleh once or twice - but my favourite way to enjoy the par-cooked cracked wheat is in pilafs or as a base for stir fries. Fluffy and couscous-size, it's a base that can stand up well to intense flavours, especially those from Middle Eastern and African cooking. It's lickety-split to cook too, so it makes a great last minute side. To streamline the whole pilaf process even more, I sometimes mix up a few batches of the dry ingredients on the weekend. That way, the whole process doesn't take any longer than a pre-packaged side dish would and you know you haven't forgotten anything! For this particular mix, I jazzed up the grain with Middle Eastern / Mediterranean herbs and spices, dried fruit, almonds and pumpkin seeds.

Not only is it delicious warm (it makes a fabulous vegan meal with a can of chickpeas stirred in), it's more than passable as a room temperature salad (hello potluck staple!). My family has eaten it both ways, and the consensus from the omnivore is that it's best warm as an accompaniment to grilled meat like lamb, beef or chicken skewers. I call it good in any form!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

100% Rye Sourdough

I come by my love of bread honestly. Not only does my mom crave slices of a good, hearty loaf (none of that Wonder stuff), but she's a fabulous breadmaker in her own right. She in turn learned at the hip of my grandfather, when the two of them would churn out 4+ loaves a week in order to feed the 5 person family. While the recipe wasn't extravagant (and certainly not expensive), it was good and filling, making fabulous packed lunch sandwiches for many years.

I can only guess where my grandfather honed his art, but family lore suggests it might have to do with an influx of old-world Jewish culture mixed with our family's Scottish heritage. Nobody knows for sure if there is actually Hebrew in our ancestry, but my grandfather, uncle and male cousins on that side of the family all have what we call the "Jewish nose" and even I (the pasty-white redhead) have been asked if I had Jewish roots. Whatever the reason, I always associate the best loaves (homemade or otherwise) with his chewy, robust whole wheats and ryes.

100% Rye Sourdough

It is the dark, rich rye sourdough that wins my mom's favour when presented with an array at the bakery. I have played with rye flour in the past, but never exclusively used it in a yeast bread since it's low in gluten and makes for dense, dry outcomes. That said, my sourdough starter is fed almost 100% with rye flour, and I knew artisan bakers make pure rye loaves, so why not me? I found a promising recipe on Shipton Mill's website to start from, and added colour with cocoa powder and molasses, tenderness with pineapple juice, flavour with caraway seeds and texture (not to mention extra rye-ness) with rye flakes. Like all sourdoughs, the dough takes a good, long time to rise: 6 hours after the first mix, followed by 8 hours in the fridge and another 3 at room temperature before baking. Once cooled, the loaf is moist, dense but not heavy and definitely a perfect loaf to slice thin and put on a cheese or charcuterie plate. If cheese and cold cuts aren't your thing, thick slabs of this, toasted and smeared with jam, make a fantastic breakfast too! 

Like I try to with most of my breads (and especially sourdoughs), I use weight as my measurement. It solves the issue of settled flour and helps when you're modifying the baker's percentages, basically ensuring consistency in the final dough.

Shared with YeastSpotting