Saturday, December 31, 2016

Rich Bruschetta Endive Cups

When entertaining, whether its for a small group of close friends or a party of 30+, I always like to make sure I have an assortment of nibbles that are bright and fresh to go with the standard bread and oil or chips and cheese. Usually guests mean a heavier main course too - and around here, undoubtedly dessert as well - and the ability to have a pop of colour and refreshing coolness is a welcome accompaniment.

Endive Cups with Two-Tomato Bruschetta

This year I was still coming down off my "tomato high" from the summer and knew exactly the app to put out on the table. While most of the fresh tomatoes in the stores are at the gross, mealy winter stage, we're lucky enough to have a greenhouse down the street (and if all else fails, a hydroponic operation a few towns over) which consistently gives us delicious tomatoes that I just had to use. To bump up the flavour even more, I tossed in some diced sundried tomatoes and a few tablespoons of their packing oil, adding a rich sweetness to the mixture. Roasted, rather than fresh, garlic added even more sweetness as well as the classic garlicky flavour without the bite. With all that sweetness, I had to balance it out, and opted for a dash of balsamic and a hit of lemon zest as well as some fresh basil.
Two-Tomato Bruschetta

Everything sat for a while at room temperature while we went about other preparations for the party, and when we were just about to open the door I spooned it into some lovely endive leaves and garnished each with a sprinkle of briny, perfectly salty sheep's milk feta. Leftovers (only of filling, since it makes a lot) found their way into more spartan, post-holiday meals such as toasted bread (usually challah), whole wheat pasta and plain fish or chicken and rice meals. It is a great low-calorie, low-fat alternative to the butter and cheese-heavy foods we go for in the winter, without tasting like it's cardboard-y diet food.

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays

Friday, December 30, 2016

Rich Herbed Crackers

As Winter continues, I've realized that more than the short sleeves and 30C days, I miss the freshness of my vegetable and herb gardens. During the season, it always seems like there's far too much of both the veggies and the herbs, but once they're done it's a dearth for another 5-6 months!

Luckily, canning, freezing and dehydrating work wonders to preserve the bounty, and by doing it myself I can control what happens with the formulation. Of course, some things just aren't as good preserved one way or another, like my lemon balm and basil. These, I realized as I made a compound butter for my favourite roast chicken, that most herbs, even the most delicate and dainty ones, explode flavour wise in a fat or oil medium. I decided I would use the rest of the butter (it happened to be EB Buttery Sticks since I was cooking with dairy-allergic guests coming) as a "catch all" herb butter, spiked with lemon zest, for future roasting and baking whims. 

Here's my mixture:

Done! Love herbed butter. It is perfect for so many things... especially stuffing under chicken skin before roasting and drizzling over pasta! #yum #food #cooking #butter #lemonbalm #thyme #rosemary #basil #richters #emeraldwinebasil #herbbutter

Herb Butter
4 oz butter
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tbsp packed minced fresh basil
1/2 tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tsp fresh lemon thyme leaves
3 tbsp minced lemon balm
  1. Melt together the butter and zest, remove from heat.
  2. Add remaining ingredients. 
  3. Pour into mini loaf pan or mould of choice and refrigerate until firm.

I made a good amount of the herb butter this summer, and to keep it around for longer, I wrapped each block in waxed paper and foil before freezing them. This holiday, we used up some of it in herbed vegetables at dinner and tossed with pasta, and to add to the spread for the New Year's festivities, I made a couple batches of these excellent "butter crackers".

We do a lot of entertaining around this time of year, and while it's usually the same group of people coming by, there is always the chance of an unexpected guest. As well as needing nibbles for home, I was putting together the last of my holiday gift boxes of goodies, which included those for two of my gluten-free friends. To keep things simple (and doable in one day) I used a recipe from Gluten Free on a Shoestring and adapted it to work with what I had on hand.  

The resulting crackers are light, savoury, crispy and not at all greasy, and stood up well to dips like hummus or even a few goodies from our cheese platter. In fact, my mom helped us eat some of the "edges" that weren't perfect squares by topping them with homemade cranberry sauce!

Rich Herbed Crackers

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Quadruple Pea Stir Fry

Even though winter has barely arrived on the calendar, it feels like it has been far too long since the greenness and life of living plants outdoors have been visible. The farmer's markets have been dormant for months now, and likewise the grocery store has been nothing but a black hole when it comes to sourcing any sort of fresh produce. When we can find fruit and vegetables out of cans and freezer bags, they're of dubious quality - not to mention they're prohibitively expensive, especially when we're cooking for a minimum of two produce addicts!

Quadruple Pea Stir Fry with Tofu, Cashews and Gnocchi

It's not like this is a brand new phenomenon here - for as long as I've been alive and longer, most Canadian winters are the deathly cold, windy and snowy variety. However, it's only been the past 10 or so years, when I've been buying groceries, that I've truly realized how bloody expensive anything fresh and vibrant is when we aren't in the 2-week-long growing season. With our garden proliferating over the summer, my Mom and I have become more or less proficient at blanching and freezing the hardier items like peas and beans. We also started cooking and freezing our homegrown soup beans for cheap and healthy dinners on the fly, and while I keep struggling with my indoor garden of herbs and microgreens, the ones that make it to harvest are delicious!

Quadruple Pea Stir Fry with Tofu, Cashews and Gnocchi

With a few bags of greenery sitting in the freezer and a yen for something more "springlike" than ice pellets and snowflakes, I decided to try re-making a dish I concocted over the summer - a somewhat unorthodox mixture of Asian and Italian cultures in a slightly spicy meal-in-a-bowl. The gnocchi (again, homemade from the freezer) mimics Korean-style tteok ppoki (rice cakes), Helping to soak up the delicious hoisin-ginger-garlic sauce along with the extra firm tofu and green veggie medley. In total, four varieties of the sweet, springy green vegetable make their way into the stir fry - the only one that you'd have to procure fresh is the pea shoots (but you can substitute parsley, watercress, even a small amount of spinach if you want).

Quadruple Pea Stir Fry with Tofu, Cashews and Gnocchi

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Red Velvet Biscotti

Merry Christmas, everyone! Since I (like most of you I'm sure) are running around with a bazillion to-do lists in your minds, I'll keep my preamble short and sweet today. Suffice it to say that on days like today, the chance to sit down with a cup of coffee and a cookie is more welcome than normal. Even if that sitting down is in the car and the coffee is in a paper cup, taking along a sturdy, travel friendly snack like a biscotti can make the "break" complete.

Just one Red Velvet Biscotto away from a delicious afternoon break #yummy #yum #vegetarian #red #redvelvet #biscotti #cookies

We are most definitely fans of red velvet around here, and in particular I love the cream cheese frosting that caps off the slices so perfectly. Granted - I'm the type of person who would eat cream cheese frosting by the spoonful if given the chance, but the tang perfectly balances the sugar and adds to the hints from buttermilk. To make one of my favourite cakes "travel friendly", I decided to try them in the sturdiest form I knew: biscotti!

Using Sandra's recipe as my base, I switched up the fats to incorporate my favourite cream cheese, added rich brown sugar for its molasses note, and added some Red Velvet Emulsion to solidify the nuances of flavour that fill the cake and boost the red colour. A combination of an egg white and a whole egg allowed for crispness on the cut sides, while adding mayonnaise not only stood in for extra eggs but lent a slight tang not unlike the original buttermilk. A few white chocolate chips baked on top lightly caramelized and seemed almost like a toasted meringue frosting with their vanilla sweetness. At any rate, they were perfect on their own or with a coffee, and I've had requests for more!

Here's to you and yours, and have a fantastic holiday!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Candy Paint Dipped Apples

Like many people, I've always associated apples with the Fall. Thanksgiving was never without an apple pie to go alongside the traditional pumpkin, and it was only in October that indulging in apple fritters or a bowl of thick, chunky applesauce hot from the pot seemed right. At the mall, there would always be one or two shops that boasted the brightly coloured candied apples, dolled up to the nines with nuts or chocolate, but again, it looked out of place with the swimwear or the skis. On the rare occasion that we would get to buy one (usually from the Fall fair, where the prices were more reasonable than the $7 at the shop), the candy shell was never my cup of tea. If there was caramel, even plain, that was what my allowance would be invested in.

Candy Paint Dipped Apple

I haven't made candied apples in a dog's age, and frankly, the thought of ever doing them again never crossed my mind. After all, there are cookies, fudge and Toast Toppers to delve into! But when my co-teacher mentioned making these in class as our "holiday gift" for the kids, I couldn't see why not. Hard candy (which is all the shell really is) is cheap and fairly simple to make, easily coloured and sets up fast, meaning we could make them in the morning and they'd be ready and packed up at the end of the day. While checking the recipe (I still couldn't believe it was only hard-crack sugar) I came across a unique way of tinting the candy at Rose Bakes, where the mixture is made opaque with white food colouring and tinted with a bottle of gel dye. They looked so incredible I couldn't wait to try it out - and while the white dye is expensive, it is equally impressive and I would heartily recommend it. The volume of candy meant the bright red colouring I bought was significantly diluted, giving my baby apples a "pastel paint" appearance. The kids loved the Barbie pink, but if I wanted "true red" I would undoubtedly need a minimum of two jars of gel colour. Next Halloween I might try straight black - since it's dark it might not need the extra help in the opacity department.

Another consideration is the variety of apple you choose. I strongly suggest a tart apple (i.e. Granny Smith or Russett) so that the combination of the sweet-sweet sugar and tangy fruit is in perfect balance. Our "classroom" apples were Galas (definitely one of my least favourite apples) - they are fairly sweet, not that the kids minded at all - but if I was making them for myself I would have added a sour flavour to the candy instead (lime with a dash of citric acid maybe, or even classic sour apple!). Of course, you can go wild with the flavour options available these days, even in our relatively small bakery supply store a couple town over they have a cabinet of LorAnn candy and chocolate flavours, most of which would work wonderfully with the fruit. While the apples were kept au naturale for the kids, I did pick up some of the Red Velvet Emulsion and Anise Oil this year for holiday baking and candy-making, and I bet the cinnamon would be amazing here, especially with a sweet apple.

Regardless of the colour and flavour you choose, these are definite showstoppers on the holiday table, and make great parting gifts for kids. Just remember not to bite the rock-hard candy - unless you want broken teeth! (Although I guess then you could ask Santa for "your two front teeth", but I digress)

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays #226

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Butterless Walnut Chocolate Chunkers #CreativeCookieExchange

Last weekend my house was filled to bursting with everything sweet and rich - aromas of buttery shortbread, spicy gingerbread, dried fruit and nuts macerated in wine, creamy fudge and pounds of both milk and bittersweet chocolate. Blocks of butter were perpetually out on the countertop to soften and the oven was on so much that my mom wanted to open the windows to cool off the kitchen - crazy in the -20C chill!

Butterless Walnut Chocolate Chunkers

While butter, and dairy in general, are definitely heavy hitters in the holiday baking game, a lot of my friends and some of my family are avoiding milk and milk products - some are lactose intolerant, others outright allergic, still others vegan for ethical reasons. For them, the glory of the annual shortbread marathon is lost, along with the caramels, fudge, truffles and brioche. For them (and everyone else at the annual get-together on Christmas Eve), I whipped up a batch of these rather fancy, "grown up" chocolate chunk cookies. In lieu of butter, I chose a combination of canola and rich walnut oil, amplifying the flavour with minced walnuts and garnishing everything with chopped, high quality, super-dark chocolate. Like the Full of Secrets Chocolate Chip Cookies, they contained mayonnaise and custard powder to create and maintain the perfect balance of chewiness and tenderness.

Nuts in cookies are a tradition celebrated all over the world--and Creative Cookie Exchange has joined the party!

You can also 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:

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Peanut Butter, Banana & Honey Granola

I've been on a granola kick again this year, using the neutral bulking properties of oats and various grains to carry the flavour I happen to be craving at the time. With treats like Blueberry Crisp and a "Southern Belle"  peach cobbler for inspiration, I turned to one of my childhood comfort foods - the peanut butter, banana and honey sandwich.

Peanut Butter,  Banana & Honey Granola

I come by my PB love honestly. My whole family is guilty of eating mass quantities of the stuff - whether it's smeared on a slab of Challah, dolloped on crackers alongside a 5-alarm chili or simply on a spoon au naturale. More than that, Dad and I ADORE the sweet and salty combination of peanut butter and honey with the sticky caramelized notes of banana. This granola is everything the sandwich is, in portable, snackable form! Perfect for the holiday rush, a baggie of this crunchy cereal is easy to tuck away into your purse or backpack, and a lot cheaper than picking up something from the mall food court. To up the decadence even more with my second batch, I tossed in some dark chocolate chips as well. Either way, it has no added oil or fat except from the peanut butter (I even used an all-natural style, which worked perfectly), is perfectly sweet without being "brush-your-teeth required", and has an added hit of satiating protein and fibre from the toasted soy flour.

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays #225

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Fruit & Nut Sourdough #BreadBakers

If you ask me, one of the absolute best parts of the winter holiday season is the smell of all the baking taking place. At home, the weekends (my only free time) are packed with the aromas of ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, accented with sugar, butter, yeast, toasted nuts and chocolate. At work, my Home Ec classes are going to be churning out batches of my mom's delicious shortbread to take home, sure to be perfuming the school with the undeniably rich smell of baking butter.

Fruit & Nut Sourdough

While cookies and cakes are delicious, and perfectly at home (not to mention expected) during the holidays, my favourite treats are still the holiday breads. There's nothing quite like that aroma of the caramelizing crust, or a perfectly proofed dough just waiting to be punched down and shaped. In fact, I wait for (and demand) the opportunity to knock back, knead and braid our traditional Challah every year, and if I wake up early enough (read: 6AM on the 22nd of December, usually one of the first days of the holiday break!) I'm lucky enough to roll and decorate our Filled Holiday Brioche too.

While those two loaves must wait until Christmas to meet their (bread)maker, we still need a more or less "daily" bread - and why not start ramping up for holiday flavours than by mixing a few of them into a hearty, wheaten loaf? Not only did I get the nuts, raisins and oranges to sing with this cracked-wheat crusted loaf, but I kneaded in some of my favourite Winter fruit - Asian pear - as well. To keep things from getting too sweet, I decided to boost the yeasty flavour with my sourdough starter. The acidity from the starter also worked with the potato flakes to keep the crumb tender and moist - key for any whole grain bread. My final trick was actually a happy accident: having no "regular" milk in the house, I tossed in some leftover soymilk. What I got was a bread that simply soared to life, proofing beautifully both rises, all while managing to avoid giving the bread any sort of "off" or "beany" taste. Although I prefer cashew milk for drinking, soy will definitely be on my shelf for bread baking days!


#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page.

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient. This month's theme is Sweetened Holiday Yeast Breads, hosted by Stacy of Food Lust People Love.

Check out the other breads below:

    Friday, December 9, 2016

    Rodent Seed Crunchies

    While I am well known as a "cat mom" amongst my students, few people realize that, for at least a portion of the year, our home is also the nesting place for around 10 of my sister's pet rats. Most people (even the Grade 4-5 boys I teach) go all squeamish and squeal when I mention the little boys and girls that roost in our front rec room, but the truth is they are quite adorable. For one thing, they all have their own personalities and quirks - you can always tell who will be the mischief-maker on cage cleaning day. They are also incredibly intelligent animals, knowing their names and forming intricate family networks in their shared accommodations. A few of them have even befriended my cat, who (not unlike Finding Nemo's Dory) thinks she can "speak rodent" and chirps incessantly back and forth with them.

    The cage is OPEN!! #rats #ratsofinstagram #petsofinstagram #pets #animals #adorable #stig #potatoes @teaghan_r

    Now, our family has always had a tradition of including a "pet stocking" by the fireplace for Santa to fill - one big ol' sock to house the treats and toys for all the current dogs / cats / fish / rodents living under our roof. Nowadays, the three kitties are the most noticeable non-human creatures here, and their gifts are easy to pick out - if it bounces, rolls, jingles or can be batted down the hallway at Mach 10, you're golden. The ratsies, or The Girls and Top Gear Boys (Jeremy, Richard, Stig and Diesel), are usually thrilled with the occasional box or paper towel roll, but when it comes to treats finding good quality, affordable ones can be a little trickier. The diet of a rat differs from rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs, and some foods are completely toxic (example: oranges are deadly to the male rats, but not the females). Thankfully my sister is almost 100% certified as a Vet Tech and knows her ratology inside-out, so she could guide me on how to make the gang their own crunchy biscuits this holiday.
    Diesely Diesel! #rats #ratsofinstagram #cute #adorable #animals #petsofinstagram #potatoes 🐀