Friday, October 31, 2014

SPOOKfetti Cupcakes!

Halloween is one of my all time favourite holidays, and like every holiday its usually such a flurry of activity that everything else - including timely blogging - falls by the wayside. However, now that all the wee candy monsters are off in bed, and since I don't have to be up in the wee hours to drive to work tomorrow, I can finally get in a quick blurb about the spooktacular cupcakes I made for our school's Halloween party this year!

You may remember waaay back in time (okay, 2008) when I made two cupcake varieties for another school's Halloween bakesale, including one with "eye" decorations. Those super-easy confections were such a hit that I couldn't resist re-creating the design this year, with a little refinement and a touch less work along the way. I knew I wanted to try making "funfetti" cupcakes again (despite all the issues I've had over the years with bleeding sprinkles and whatnot), so I took my (now) go-to egg and nut free, sinfully rich-tasting "French vanilla" cupcake recipe and tossed in a handful of Halloween nonpareils right before baking. To decorate, I took a standard vanilla buttercream and enriched it with custard powder and a dash of yellow colouring for the eye's "jaundiced" whites, then squiggled red gel "blood vessels" and pressed a coloured chocolate "iris" in the centre. Everything is edible (and, IMHO, delicious), not to mention perfect party food!

Spookfetti Cupcakesf

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Gluten Free, Vegan Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies #12WksXmasTreats

There are definitely three distinctive camps of chocolate chip cookie fans out there. First, there's the crunchy, crispy, crumbly gang, who mow down the milk-absorbing Chips Ahoy bretheren with abandon, relishing every last mote of sugary dust. There are the soft and cakey clan members, who love the muffin-top-like versions of the classic, often fortified with cornstarch or pudding mix and which have an ever-so-slight "bite" before melting away. I on the other hand belong to camp #3 - the Chew-aholics. For us, a good C^3 needs a certain level of jaw work to appreciate - each bite releasing buttery, caramel-esque liquor before finally dissolving.

Gluten Free Vegan Chewy Chocolate Chippers

While I wasn't one to seek out the heartier, oat-filled cousins of chocolate chippers growing up, as an adult I realize that the addition of flaked grains to any cookie dough is one more avenue to a great, chewy result. Not only that, but they add a touch of heartiness that translates into needing fewer cookies for satisfaction (did I just say that?!). With the rise of food intolerances these days, though, I'm meeting more and more people who have been relegated to snacking on the (usually) starchy, sawdusty storebought varieties of gluten free biscuits - but with a little time and a stocked pantry, a hearty, chewy cookie packed with chocolate chips can be in your cookie jar - fresh and delicious! I actually make 2-3 batches at a time (thank goodness for my trusty 7-quart stand mixer) because they freeze so well, either in one big lump or pre-portioned into balls for "bake what you need" use. Kid- and adult-friendly, not to mention delicious no matter if you have restrictions or not, they are a staple in my food-gift boxes during the holidays and make regular appearances in the staff room too!

Shared with 12 Weeks Christmas Treats at Meal Planning Magic and Gluten Free Fridays

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Triple Berry - Carrot Bran Muffins and a @Truvia Baking Blend #Giveaway

Fall is definitely a baker's dream season. With all the hearty fruit and sweet root vegetables coming into the market, not to mention the cooler weather and concentration of holiday feasts demanding dessert and bread, it's all too simple to get lost in the once-again crave-able spices and rich flavours emanating from the oven, hearkening classic recipes your great grandmother once made.

Sometimes, though a favourite recipe needs a revamp. Waaay back when, in the infancy of this blog (and before George Brown, nutrition college or teaching ever crossed my mind) I shared my mom's favourite (at the time) recipe for cranberry blueberry bran muffins. After homemade bread made a more or less regular appearance in our kitchen, the muffins fell by the wayside, but serendipity has it's ways of turning the tides! This year, when cranberries came into season and were cheaper than chips at the market, we bought up a few bags for the classic Thanksgiving side dish. However, we had fewer people than usual at the house and only wound up needing half of one bag, which left the rest for me to play with!

Triple Berry - Carrot Bran Muffins

I knew I had to make the filling, slightly sweet quickbread with at least some of them, and about that time I was contacted by the awesome folks at Truvia. They wanted to know if I wanted to try out and review their latest product, Truvia® Baking Blend. Always trying out new baking goodies (especially healthier alternatives) I jumped at the chance, and when the package arrived I got right to work, adding pomegranate juice, extra cranberries and homegrown carrots to the batter for more flavour and texture. I couldn't have asked for a better result - moist, sweet and hearty, without the weird "leftover" taste in the back of my mouth that I normally find with white sugar. Flavour wise, it's on par with my current favourite cup-for-cup stevia, but the price is slightly lower at the grocery store and you use less per recipe, making the savings even greater.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Smoky Carrot-Garlic Soup #RecipeRedux

I hate to admit it, but Winter is just around the corner. Most mornings as I pull out of the driveway in the pitch blackness of 7AM, my breath is white and puffy, not to mention the windshield scraper has come out on more than one occasion! After an hour on the playground and another in a not-all-that-warm classroom, a hot lunch is definitely in order - and luckily I've managed to create one that's not only hot in terms of physical heat but spicy-hot too!

This bowl is not for the flavour or spice shy - while it looks like (and really is) a simple puree of carrots, red lentils and zucchini on the surface, there's a little sneaky twist under the first sweet and nutty spoonful. By adding over half a head of fresh garlic, plus hot and smoky chipotle pepper, spicy-sweet ancho pepper, smoked paprika and bright red achiote powder the vegan combination dances on your tongue and keeps the inner furnace lit for hours!

Smoky Carrot Garlic Soup

Our #RecipeRedux theme this month is Spoooooky Spices - anything and everything you might have lurking in your cupboard or seen in the store and wondered "what the heck do I do with it?", as well as flavours that might scare or shock you!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pumpkin Chip Bars #creativecookieexchange

For as long as I can remember, my favourite holiday has been Halloween. While Christmas was fun (and gift-filled) and Easter had it's chocolate, Santa's visit demanded wearing fancy, "don't get anything on it" clothes and the Easter Bunny's calling card almost always detracted from my birthday party attendee list. Halloween, on the other hand, allowed for the wearing of (usually) comfortable, custom-made-by-mom costumes and more candy exposure than I got the rest of the year. Given that the holiday fell right after we polished off the last of the Thanksgiving turkey, it was the perfect pick-me-up in the Fall too.

Ironically, with all the pumpkin that abounds around Halloween and Thanksgiving, I never was the kind of person to crave squash-filled desserts. When served a sliver of Grandma's pumpkin pie (with the "just try it" look alongside), the crust disappeared way before the filling would, and the orange-tinted cookies and cupcakes on the bake sale table at school were simply ignored in favour of the chocolate Rice Krispie balls or Jell-O "Jiggler" shapes. As an adult, I've come to enjoy pumpkin's slightly sweet, rich flavour and texture in savoury dishes, and while I still don't like it's "pie" format I don't mind a stack of pancakes, the occasional muffin or nibbling a well spiced cookie laced with the vegetable.

So, given that the theme for the Creative Cookie Exchange this month is Halloween, and when I think of Hallowe'en the first things I recall are pumpkin picking (and carving) and the candy haul, what better treat to share than a candy-laced pumpkin bar? It's the perfect home for any end bits of chocolate and toffee left after the trick-or-treaters sate themselves, and with tofu, applesauce, wheat bran and wheat germ mixed into the batter, it's even slightly healthy too! Luckily, the recipe makes a nice big batch, because you'll want to freeze a bunch for lunches and snacks down the road. While I haven't done it myself, I hear tell that semi-frozen bars make delicious ice-cream-sandwich "bread" too!

Pumpkin Chip Bars

If you are a blogger and want to join in the #creativecookieexchange fun, contact Laura at thespicedlife AT gmail DOT com and she will get you added to our Facebook group, where we discuss our cookies and share links.

You can also just use us as a great resource for cookie recipes--be sure to check out our Pinterest Board and our monthly posts (you can find all of them here at The Spiced Life). You will be able to find them the first Tuesday after the 15th of each month! Also, if you are looking for inspiration to get in the kitchen and start baking, check out what all of the hosting bloggers have made:

Pumpkin Chip Bars (with Homemade Toffee!)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tender Whole Wheat Bread #SundaySupper

Being a foodie, especially one with a penchant for unique ingredients and nutritiously decadent dishes, can be an expensive venture. Preparing all my meals at home (save the odd special-occasion lunch or dinner) gives me finer control over the ingredient quality and quantity, not to mention allowing me to use every last bit of what I buy in some way. Peelings, bones and other vegetable scraps become fantastic stocks that keep my freezer (and belly) full all year and vary with the season, from lighter vegetable and blonde chicken broths in the Spring and Summer to the dark, roasted turkey and beef stocks of the cold Winter months. Apple peels become "twig" crisps in the dehydrator, corn cobs become stock, jelly and eventually firewood, stale bread becomes stuffing, and almost-gone tomatoes and other garden vegetables become perfect freezer stashes for future pastas and casseroles once roasted. What doesn't fit in the freezer or dehydrator gets canned in one form or another, further extending the time I can enjoy the flavours of my favourite produce. 

Purchase-wise, where I really find the bulk of my savings comes from is the (smart) use of coupons and points-based frequent-buyer clubs, as well as knowing which of my (many) designation "cards" to pull for discounts. For example, as a holistic nutritionist, I can score 15% off my health food store purchases (usually supplements, but occasionally things like stevia too). Buying online can be an economical option as long as you know your prices and the shipping doesn't pull you under - I use it sparingly for items that are hard to find in my relatively small town, and make sure to buy enough quantity to qualify for free shipping. Eating a mostly vegan diet definitely keeps my costs down too, since I don't bother with a lot of junk food or buy pre-made meals slapped with a "vegan" or "organic" label. By saving where I can on the pantry items, I have more room in the budget for produce - almost never bought organically, but rather as local as possible and more importantly flavourful and fresh. To me (and I know many will disagree), I'd rather spend my money on fruits and vegetables I'll enjoy eating and won't go broke devouring en masse than fritter away $4 for a head of lettuce I'll polish off in one meal.

Frugal, fabulous food is the theme of this week's #SundaySupper, and I thought crafting a hearty, delicious and wholesome loaf of bread would be a perfect addition to our collective menu. I had a voucher for Amoré Almonds + Dairy which combined with buttermilk powder and flax seed from the bulk food store made for a moist, tender and flavourful yeast bread that was perfect freshly baked or sliced and frozen for later toast or sandwiches. Our event this week is being co-hosted by T.R. of Gluten Free Crumbley and David of Cooking Chat - thanks!

Tender Whole Wheat Bread

Scrumptious Mains (Breakfast and Dinner)

Satisfying Sides

Sips, Spreads, and Snacks

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.
To get more great Sunday Supper Recipes, visit our website or check out our Pinterest board.

Sunday Supper Movement

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bauernbrot (German Farmer's Bread) - #wbd2014

There are few things so truly adored by my family as bread. Whether it's the kid-friendly, "wallpaper paste" white sandwich bread (which I'm not a fan of simply because it's tasteless) or my preferred extra-tangy, thick-crust grain sourdough, we have always had at least two loaves in the house for as long as I can remember, and most often it's more. Along with the toaster-friendly sliced pan breads, our freezer is packed with rolls, tortillas, lavash, pitas, bagels and English muffins - all of which get equal play, but when it comes to my mom's carb-craving weakness she always claims my homemade bread before all else.

With that kind of ringing endorsement, it's all I can do to indulge her when she asks for something specific! Recently, we discovered the Prince Edward County rye bread from Stonemill Bakehouse at the farmer's market and fell in love with the rich, tangy, nutty and slightly earthy flavour of the Red Fife, dark rye, oats and sunflower seeds contained within. However, at close to $7 a loaf, it is a rather expensive indulgence, and I have yet to find it outside of Toronto anyway. So with that in mind, I did what any other bread baker with a sourdough starter (and spare time on the weekend) could do. I took the major components of the storebought bread and made her *my* version - tangy with yoghurt and sourdough starter and crusty from a multi-temperature baking process, all based off a German country loaf recipe. Filling and hearty enough to stand up to toasting, spreads, open face sandwiches and even serving with a bowl of soup or stew, it's a loaf with definite staying power on our menu, authentic or not! 

Bauernbrot (German Farmer's Bread)

Today is World Bread Day! The idea of WBD is to honour our daily bread by baking a loaf on this day and blog about it. So we can show that baking bread is easy and makes also great fun. Follow World Bread Day on Facebook and Pinterest and use #wbd2014 for your post, tweets etc.

World Bread Day 2014 (submit your loaf on October 16, 2014)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Carob Zucchini Cookies #EatA2ZRecipeChallenge

I love baking for "my kids" (and co workers!) at school. The palates and adventurous personalities of the students, from our 15 month olds to the grade 3's I teach Home Ec to, constantly amaze me - they will give almost anything a try, and a good portion of them would rather eat 3 helpings of corned beef and cabbage during the school lunch than extra pieces of bread! I've managed to have them try (and like) tofu, beans, and parsnips, too - while refusing to play the "hide it" game.

Of course, I have yet to find a single person of any age who would turn down a cookie, even if the ones being offered look and sound a little odd to the conventional Western mindset. With these cookies, I used zucchini to add an "oatmeal" texture and moistness without a "vegetal" flavour. In place of cocoa powder (which a lot of the younger kids find too bitter), carob worked really well - while it isn't a perfect chocolate facsimile, it is naturally sweet and kid friendly! For a richer, slightly nutty flavour, I opted for one of my favourite alternative grains, spelt flour. Spelt flour is a health boon too: with more protein, fats and crude fibre than wheat, and a host of minerals and vitamins, it's a great addition to the baker's pantry.

Carob Zucchini Cookies

These cookies are part of the #EatA2ZRecipeChallenge hosted by Meal Planning Magic, Sparkles and a Stove and Alida’s Kitchen.There is an Eating A to Z Challenge Pinterest board, and you can click here to find even more recipes from past years! If you’re on Twitter, follow us by using the hashtag #EatA2ZRecipeChallenge.

This month is ingredients beginning with "S" or "T", so I chose spelt!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Dilly Romano Beans

Every year is an adventure in the backyard for us - my stepdad is forever saving seeds from not only the past year's crops at home, but also from random plants he comes across in his travels. As a result, we have grapes and flowers from B.C., fern-like flower vines from Quebec to the East coast and vegetables from generations of seeds once brought over from Italy and planted by his mother. While not all of the plants thrive (Winter squash being an example), the bean population is never lacking during the warmer months.

The type we grow are Italian flat beans, or fresh Romano beans, long and wide but incredibly tender while young. My stepfamily uses them mostly for salads, blanched and tossed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, but in my opinion they're delicious done any which way regular green beans can be. Chopped into pieces, they're like snow peas in stir fries and are delicious simply steamed with lemon or sauteed with onions, garlic and mushrooms. I haven't had a chance to try them roasted (I love green bean "fries") but it's definitely on my to-do list next year.

Dilly Romano Beans

One of the things I did attempt this year was pickling the last of our bumper crop, since my stepfamily was off on various vacations and I already had buckets of zucchini and eggplant to go through myself! Knowing that a few people on my Christmas giftee list like "dilly beans", I went that route, simply pairing the fresh herb from the farmer's market with homegrown garlic and pepper in the brine. After setting aside a smaller, uncanned jar (for taste testing!), I sealed the rest of them and set them aside for the holidays. Along with my Sweet and Tangy Pickled Beets, they're definitely the "lookers" of the produce bunch this year - and taste fabulous too!

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Glazed Semisweet Cornbread

This weekend is our Thanksgiving, which generally means an onslaught of good food, family, and generalized excess. While we are doing the turkey/stuffing/potatoes thing this year, the bulk of the social experience was last weekend at my stepbrother's wedding. If you've never been to an Italian (or European) wedding, it embodies the fuss, bother, expense and gluttony of the entire holiday season in one night. Hence, this household (sans the happy couple who are still away on their honeymoon) is downplaying the normal holiday energy we have.

One of the things that isn't overly popular here is cornbread stuffing, which is odd given that my mom and I love cornbread in pretty much any form (especially my mom's fabulous muffins). Since our school had it's grand Thanksgiving lunch on Friday, I was definitely in the spirit of the harvest - and with a bag of stone-ground cornmeal and jars of both corn cob jelly and mock honey in my pantry begging to be paired with each other I gave another one of my classic cookbook recipes a try - glazed cornbread.

Glazed Sweet Cornbread

The original recipe, obviously, didn't use the corn preserves I did, but rather apple jelly and corn syrup. I swapped out and in for other ingredients too as I went, making a vegan, lower sugar and whole grain concoction that still tasted fabulous (and most importantly, like corn) without requiring a shot of insulin afterward. The jelly glaze really sealed in the moisture and added that little "extra" touch that I think I might try more often!

Before I give you the recipe, I just want to say a very hearty



to all my readers. You keep me blogging (and baking) on!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Small Batch Corn Cob Jelly (and Mock Honey) - Toast Topper #48

It's no huge secret that I'm a member of the no-waste club - especially when it comes to food. I'm the one that eats almost the entire apple (leaving only about a pencil width's worth of core for the compost), turns a bowlful of scraps from the holiday's food prep into stock, veggie peel chips or fruit pectin, roasts and freezes bits and pieces of the grocery haul right before they go south and generally believes the food processor can do no wrong in the soup and sauce world. A few years ago, though, I came across a recipe that put my prior frugality ventures to shame - Corn Cob Jelly

Yes - not only do you eat the kernels with your late Summer BBQ, but those naked cobs are of use too! I thought it was a brilliant idea, especially since it a) was supposed to taste like honey and b) I had a mess of corn cobs left over from the Black Bean and Corn Salsa. I was already drying the husks to make mock "papyrus" paper, and planned on drying the cobs for firewood too... but if I could get something delicious in between kernel and kindling, why not give it a shot?

Corn Cob Jelly

I do have to say that I'm glad I made extra corn stock at the outset, since the first two batches were less than desirable. The first time around, I used the traditional, full-sugar mixture and it overflowed my pot when it began to boil (it foams a lot more than my normal jams do) and set off our fire alarm, bringing a gang of (admittedly calendar-worthy) firemen to the front door. The second batch was a low-sugar formula like this one, and didn't cause an emergency response - but I didn't add enough calcium water or pectin to get a true "jelly" set. Instead, I achieved a thick liquid-gel similar in texture and flavour to a light clover honey, which I delighted in using in a few cakes and quickbreads that normally relied on the honeybee's nectar. Finally, on the third try, the pectin, calcium water, sweetener and pot sizes were all correct, and I wound up with a golden, flavourful spread with all the nuances of sweet Summer corn with hints of caramelized honey. Try it on a piece of whole grain or seeded toast, melted onto roasted carrots or whipped with salted butter for your Thanksgiving dinner rolls - you won't be disappointed!

Shared with Waste Not Want Not Wednesday, Gluten Free Fridays and Gluten Free Wednesdays

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Black Bean and Corn Salsa #SundaySupper Unprocessed

I feel so grateful that I can truly say that I love my job as a teacher. Not only do I get to spend my days amongst positive, supportive people, fun (albeit sometimes challenging) toddlers and three groups of Lower Elementary students who are always hungry for a snack - even though they have to make it themselves in my Home Ec class! Our projects these days have all been about using what you have, where you are - keeping costs and fuss to a minimum while maximizing nutrition and flavour. Over the last month a few new tastes made it on to the kids' radar, but by far my (and my coworkers') favourite was this fresh Black Bean and Corn Salsa.

I was originally inspired to make this tangy, veggie-heavy dip by the bounty of local corn leftover from a school "Corn Roast" fundraising dinner. Since our garden at the time was still churning out tomatoes and peppers by the bucketload, it was a natural application for me, since aside from the onion, black beans and limes, there was nothing to buy (apart from a bag of corn tortilla chips for serving - I knew the kids would not take as kindly to topping cucumber rounds or simply using a spoon like I did). A batch of this salsa was decimated by each class of 10 (plus myself and my assistant), but under normal circumstances it would last a good week or so in the fridge too. I know I made another batch later on that my mom and I enjoyed mixing into pasta or rice, rolling into tortillas and (in the case of mom) mixing into taco-spiced ground beef for a quick weeknight dinner.

Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Using the "Kitchen Test" by Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules as our guidebook this week, the #SundaySupper group is embracing an unprocessed lifestyle today. The kitchen test breaks down like this:

Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with whole-food ingredients.

So, basically, we're cooking like we should have been all these years - fresh and nutritious, and better tasting for it too! Our host this week is the Foodie Stuntman himself, DB. Thanks!

Alluring Appetizers and Stunning Sides

Enticing Entreés

Decadent Desserts
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. To get more great Sunday Supper Recipes, visit our website or check out our Pinterest board.

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