Saturday, January 28, 2017

"Faux-Tune" Cookies

Happy Chinese New Year!

The fortune cookie is the quintessential cap-off to any Chinese-American meal. Crunchy and sweet, they are vaguely tuile-like in both taste and texture... yet unlike the French cookie, they're relatively thick and hard rather than light and lacy-crisp. I personally avoid eating them - packaged in cellophane to be eaten after a relatively oily, heavy meal, they taste bland and not much more than "sweet-ish". However, I still tear open my packet to break open the cookie and find out what my future holds.

"Faux-Tune" Cookies

With Chinese New Year upon us, I wanted to bring some fun to my Home Ec classes and have the kids make their own fortune cookies. However, the manufacture of the batter-based ones is a little beyond our scope, equipment and skill wise. Then I stumbled onto a great idea on Mantitlement and had to try it out - taco-size tortillas! Not only are flour tortillas perfectly malleable, they're bland enough to take any flavouring presented. Rather than simply use sugar to make them the run-of-the-mill "sweet", I added cinnamon and Chinese 5 spice too. The combination made for an interesting, sweet-spicy crisp treat that held a handwritten fortune. It was a perfect afternoon snack for the kids too, since it wasn't too sugary but they felt like they were getting a huge cookie - they turn out to be about 3x the size of the standard ones!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sticky Sesame Stir-Fry

Stir frying is definitely one of my favourite methods to get dinner on the table. After all, the essential definition of the method is quickly cooking a medley of items over super-high heat - guaranteeing dinner in minutes once your food is sliced and ready to go. In particular, I love adding a few key "bland" items to the pan along with my boatload of veggies. Tofu and noodles or rice soak up sauces and marinades, acting like little flavour bombs hidden in each bowl. The texture they provide is equally addictive - soft and chewy, up against the crisp-tender snow peas and broccoli I tend to throw in.

Sticky Sesame Stir-Fry

Of course, while I love my veggies as much as the day is long, when it comes to cooking with kids (and even some adults), anything "green" is suspect, and without doubt is the first thing shoved to the side. With a stir fry, especially a saucy one, that gets a bit difficult to do, but even I was amazed at how much of this my lower elementary kids ate during Home Economics! Since I was cooking with fairly young ones, my first thought was to lean on the sweeter side of things to win the kids' palates. With the base note established with brown sugar, pineapple juice and hoisin, I balanced it all with savoury soy, tangy vinegar and just a touch of hot sauce for zip. A flash in the pan and some no-cook rice vermicelli later, I served up small helpings at first, which blossomed into full-meal second rounds. Even though it was about 10:30 in the morning, I blame the freezing, dreary weather for ampliyfing the hearty appetites, but credit the savoury aroma and colours for instigating them!

The afternoon and day after running this class, I was having parents chase me for the recipe because their kids were so gung-ho about making it again they were begging to try it at home. I figure that's a pretty ringing endorsement in itself - at least five 6-7 year olds clamouring for tofu and veggies? Guess you can't go wrong with a sweet and tangy gluten free and vegan stir fry!

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays #230 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Vanilla Stout Glazed Nuts

As a nut-munching family, we always have a jar (or three) of various varieties on hand. Most of them are consumed by the "grown ups" (rather than the grown-up kids) in front of the TV as part of snack mixes, or baked into bread and muffins. This past holiday season, though, I found myself with a glut of peanuts and couldn't get the idea to make real-deal "beer nuts" to tuck in my gift baskets. Research gleaned me several options, but I was most intrigued by two I saw that actually contained beer and were not simply designed to be eaten with a drafty one.

Vanilla Stout Glazed Nuts

Of course I couldn't resist doing both - after all, we did have a lot of nuts to use, and there was no point in me cracking open a tall boy to only use part of it (I don't drink). So, my choice boiled down to which one to make first, and I settled on this sticky, bitter-sweet vanilla-scented version of glazed nuts. Raw peanuts slowly simmer away in a vanilla stout-sugar syrup, get a hit of more vanilla and a dash of salt, then slowly bake to perfection. When they came out of the oven, they look like mahogany beads, dark and shiny. Not only were they beautiful, but the house smelled divine the whole time!

Despite my warnings about hot sugar, my mom snuck a few off the tray as they were cooling and declared them delicious. Once cooled, another taste test - even better, laced through and through with the stout and sugar without being cloying. If I had any leftovers, I'd have tried to make butter with them too. Now that would be a breakfast of champions!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Manchego Tomato Soup and a National Soup Day Contest

It's soup weather. Gone is the "honeymoon stage" of winter, with it's hearty roasts and casseroles, topped off with turkey and stuffing. Now, there's hardly a speck of snow on he ground (not complaining though!), but the freezing temperatures have been replaced by chilly, grey drizzle that demands to be answered with comforting meals. Soup is the perfect food for times like this, being filling and soul-warming but not weighty, welcoming a side of bread or a salad without inviting overindulgence-guilt along for the ride. While the resolutions made for January 1 may be long gone by now, the heaviness of the holidays is (at least around here) still making itself known!

This meatless, spice-laden puree is, I like to think, a taste of summer. I had a bag of heirloom tomatoes from the summer harvest in the freezer and a pot of rosemary on the counter, roasted garlic in the fridge and local honey in the pantry. To thicken the mixture and add some filling carbohydrates and protein, I tossed in split peas and potatoes, both of which also carried the piquancy of the hot smoked paprika and the touch of astringency from the wine without allowing either to overpower the flavours. The pièce de résistance, though, was the final addition: a handful of shredded Manchego cheese, given to us at Christmastime from a relative. Manchego is a sheep-milk cheese that is flavourful but not overbearing, and melts like butter when exposed to heat. I knew it made great grilled cheese sandwiches (a chance discovery in university after wandering the local markets), and since grilled cheese goes with tomato soup, why not cut out the middleman?

Manchego Tomato Soup

The melted cheese, potato and split peas make the soup rich and creamy without the need for any additional dairy or thickeners, and the potage freezes exceptionally well as a result - cream and yogurt-based soups tend to curdle and split upon freezing. I highly recommend using Spanish hot smoked paprika and a Spanish white wine (I used this one), but if you can only find Hungarian or unlabeled smoked paprika use that, and any crisp, dry white will do.

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays

Do you love soup as much as we do? Read on to find out about a killer contest just in time for National Soup Day!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Pâte à Choux

Pâte à choux - making it, at least - entered my life back when I was fifteen and in the Culinary program at my highschool. Unbeknownst to me, I had been eating it in various delicious forms since I had teeth - French crullers (still a favourite), churros, and cheese puffs. Ironically, I quite detest the best known use for the dough - eclairs and cream puffs. The few I've had over the years have always been bland and either dry or soggy, and I'm not a fan of either plain whipped cream or industrial "whipped filling".  Likewise, the ones we made by the hundred in class were rather anaemic-looking and, well, mass produced in appearance as well, with the same disgusting filling. More than that, the stench of the cooking "roll in fat" (which, at my best guess, is some sort of margarine-shortening hybrid) and steaming dough while we added egg after egg was awful - it truly did smell of (gym) shoes, earning it the name "shoe paste" amongst us Grade 10s. After three years of churning out the mixture (along with chocolate chip cookies for 180, with 10 kilos of flour and 4 kilos of chocolate chips per batch), I graduated with the mentality that cream puff dough was anything but worth my time and nasal receptors, and swore off making pâte à choux. 

More Choux!

Eventually, in baking school, I was introduced to the "real" stuff - using nothing more than butter, flour, water and eggs. The quality of each ingredient - from European high-fat butter to filtered water and the freshest flour and eggs - was impressed on us as paramount to achieving a successfully crisp, rich-tasting and airy shell post-baking, and while we did learn a "large quantity" method on a stand mixer, we were encouraged to make individual batches for 12-24 by hand, with a wooden spoon and old-fashioned elbow grease. Rather than smelling of a gym locker room, the batter smelled of a cross between Challah and brioche dough - pleasantly eggy and buttery, with a hint of sweetness in batches intended for profiteroles and a slight air of pepper and salt in those turning into cheese-topped poppers. When our instructor demonstrated how to make pastry swans - which looked impossibly difficult - I was taken aback by the simplicity once again. 

Choux Paste Swans

When it came time for me to plan my own lessons for Home Ec, I knew I had to somehow incorporate this ridiculously simple, elegant recipe. We also did it the "old school" way - pot, burner, wooden spoon and arm strength - and while a small amount of complaining occurred over beating the fairly stiff "roux", they enjoyed piping the puffs onto the sheets and imagining what we were going to do with them in the future. I've planned a lesson on Crème Diplomat next week, after trying out both it and a standard chocolate pastry cream (used in the swans) over the holidays and finding the diplomat version more impressive (looks are everything to pre-teens). However, this sweet recipe for choux can also be filled with ice cream, whipped cream, whatever! 

Prefer savoury? Drop the sugar to 1 tbsp, use ½ tsp salt, a pinch of pepper (white or black) and either fold in or sprinkle over some cheese and smoked paprika. Like I said before, the quality of ingredients here matters - don't skimp and use margarine or shortening. They will work and puff the dough, but I won't be blamed for the offensive smell and absent taste. Don't be afraid to make the whole batch of these, either, even if you're only serving a few right away. The baked puffs freeze like a dream!

Manchego and Smoked Paprika Choux Puffs

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Beet Rye Bread #BreadBakers

Bread making is one of the biggest joys in my life. A loaf of bread holds a world of possibilities - do you make it rich with milk, butter, eggs and cheese? Sweet? Fruit and spice laced? Sourdough or straight-dough method?

A delicious slice of my Seeded Beetroot Rye bread waiting for a Toast Topper! #yummy #yum #vegetarian #bread #beets #beetroot #rye #baking #cooking #eats #healthyfoodie

While I make my fair share of heavier, richer loaves during the year, at the moment we're looking more towards lightening the palate, digestion and waistline. My mom and I both adore rye bread, especially the slow-fermented, slightly sour kind, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do this time around. I had a bagful of homegrown beets still sitting in the fridge (we got sick of them after weeks of beet-laced meals), so I slow-roasted them and added some of the puree to the dough along with more Slavic-inspired flavours - buckwheat, caraway and fennel. While the beets were sweet on their own, I upped the ante a little bit with a handful of some homemade honey roasted sunflower seeds - not only did they perk up the sweetness but they added a delicate crunch.

Beets add a fantastic colour, flavour and texture to this buckwheat kissed rye loaf. A sprinkle of honey roasted sunflower seeds adds #sweet crunch. #vegetarian #vegetables #bread #beets #rye #sourdough #wholegrain

This bread is a slow-fermented sourdough, which also helps temper the sweetness in the beets and honey. In addition to flavour, sourdough breads also spike blood sugar less than straight-yeast doughs, and rye is a highly digestible grain with a myriad of health benefits. Since the #BreadBakers are focusing on healthy loaves this month, a boule like this is perfect!

#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. You can see all our of lovely bread by following our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated after each event on the #BreadBakers home page.

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient. If you are a food blogger and would like to join us, just send Stacy an email with your blog URL to


Check out the Healthy Breads that our fellow #BreadBakers have baked this month:

Monday, January 9, 2017

Oatless Chocolate Hazelnut Granola

Are you a sweet or savoury breakfast person? As a child (and like many of the children I teach), I was almost always in the savoury camp, but aside from bacon (Canadian or otherwise) and homefries, my selections tended to be rather removed from "typical" breakfast fare. Instead, you'd find me, bleary eyed and clad in my school uniform, cooking a pot of spaghetti for oil and garlic, heating up a can of soup or baking off a pizza pocket at 6AM - maybe even digging into cold Chinese leftovers if we had eaten them the night before. Once in university, I was at the mercy of my dorm room's amenities - being a mini fridge, a kettle and a coffeemaker - so my tastes flipped over to a rotation of dry Apple Cinnamon Cheerios and Vanilla Almond Special K, both sans milk if you please (even then I wasn't a huge milk fan). I'd grab a spoonful of peanut butter between classes if time allowed me to get back to my room, or I'd back a yogurt and roasted chickpeas for protein mid-morning. Once I was able to get to and from the grocery store with regularity, I started picking up boxes of oatmeal adding a mashed banana, a drizzle of honey and some peanut butter, or if i was feeling decadent, brown sugar and cocoa.

Oatless Chocolate Hazelnut Granola

These days, breakfast is almost always an afterthought with me - by the time I'm actually hungry (my stomach sleeps later than a teenager), it's my lunch hour, so everything gets "pushed" back - save for copious cups of coffee or tea during the winter to stay warm. When and if I do get peckish, I still reach for dry cereal mixes - they're portable, easy and delicious, not to mention variable. Making my own granola is an extension of that, and with the rising numbers of people needing gluten-free options and the (often ridiculous) cost of certified "clean" oats, I made a batch for myself and a few of my GF friends that is completely devoid of oats altogether. In their place, a mix of cooked rice, seeds, rice bran and germ powder and hazelnuts married with cocoa, dried cherries, tahini and vegan honey, creating crunchy clusters of decadence that tasted far too rich to be a nutritious snack or breakfast addition. However, the mix is as nutritious as it is delicious, with almost two grams of protein and just over 80 calories in a quarter cup. Think of it as a new way to eat "rice cereal" for breakfast!

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Winchester Candy

Are you a fan of Supernatural? Around here, it is one of our favourite shows - especially when my sister's home. We will easily binge-watch hours upon hours of it, relishing the eye candy and postulating various theories as to the paranormal storylines taking place, often laughing our butts off along the way.

Winchester Candy

One of the common themes throughout the shows is the constant mention of food. Early on in the series, there is almost a whole show dedicated to the mentions of pie in diners as they cross the USA, and a couple seasons later there's an episode where the boys are told to use the phrase "fudge" rather than dropping the "F bomb". With those two things (which have quickly become inside jokes, along with the phrase "pig in a poke") in mind, I knew I had to try combining the two when I came around to making my holiday candy. A couple tweaks, a shop for cinnamon chips and a handful of dried apples later - BAM - I had my very own Winchester Candy. The best part for me was the sprinkling of ground Graham-Like Crackers on top of the soft candy, which added the "crust" missing from most apple fudges.

If you know Supernatural - and even if you don't - you'll love this Apple Pie Fudge!

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Tuile "Pirouettes"

Are you a fan of those delicate, chocolate-filled pirouette cookies? I know I am - nothing helps quench a starting-to-flare sweet tooth like a few of the slim, crispy treats and a cup of coffee. Being so light and delicate, though, I never pictured the possibility of making them at home - how on earth do you get them that thin? 

Tuile Pirouettes

Well, it turns out the secret is all in the tuile-style cookie, which relies on a batter - even thinner than crepe batter - and careful spreading to achieve the lacy, crisp throughout texture. Rather than my expectations, making the batter is a breeze, and baking and shaping them wasn't that difficult either! The best part of making these was that it was a simple, almost foolproof way to use up a few extra egg whites leftover from cookie making. Tuiles only need four ingredients in the basic workup, but of course there are many many ways to vary the theme. In my case, since I knew I'd be making filled cookies, I stuck with vanilla, accented with a pinch of nutmeg and a little butter flavouring to make up for the absence of butter in the batter itself. While you can use melted butter, but it's a little harder to work with temperature-wise and refrigerating the batter is not recommended. Oil-based batter, though, can hang out in the fridge up to 2 days before you bake it.

Tuiles are also one of the most versatile cookies out there in terms of use and shape. The cookies are still somewhat flexible right out of the oven, and as such can be formed into the cylinders I did, bowls (drape circular cookies over an upturned muffin tin) and the traditional "Pringles" style as well as simply spread onto a designed template and left to cool flat. If you do make the cylinders, I highly suggest a fudgy filling for them - I used a chocolate sour cream frosting with a shot of concentrated cherry juice and a little extra melted chocolate for thickness. I'd recommend Nutella, too. 

On the outside of un-filled tuiles, flaked almonds stick wonderfully to the wet batter and make a decorative accent, or you can drizzle or dip the cooled cookies in melted chocolate for a bit of flair. Try that the next time you serve a bowl of ice cream for dessert!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Cheesy Southwest Pasta Bake

With school starting in a few days, it's definitely time to start considering hearty, healthy, make-ahead meals that can be pulled out of the freezer or fridge in the morning and popped into the oven when you hit the front door. Prepping lunches and dinners on the weekend is a great way to keep on top of  time, budget and nutrition, eliminating the need for last-minute runs to the store or driving through for take-out, and once portioned out there's little in the way of waste as well. One of the things I love about batch cooking is the ability to use up the "whole package" - of pasta, cheese, vegetables, cans of beans or tomatoes - that as a single cook I would wind up having to throw away because they went bad before I could use them.

Cheesy Southwest Pasta Bake

The first "mega meal" I whipped up is a variation on a theme - baked pasta. We love the crispy, cheesy, saucy composition of a pan of lasagna, ziti or shells, and since the bulk of the time they take is inactive, it's a great option for a lazy Sunday when all you have to do is prep for classes. To simplify things (and give them a twist on flavour) I went the "southwestern" route this time, using a mix short-cut whole grain pasta, salsa, a four-cheese tomato sauce (with extra cheese for kicks) and roasted red peppers. For protein, I tossed in some soaked Textured Vegetable Protein - not only because it's cheap and I always have it on hand, but because it flavours so well and is both fat-free and high in fibre. Once everything got mixed together and poured into baking pans, I topped the works with Daiya Pepperjack Shreds - obviously the works aren't vegan (but it is vegetarian), but I had Daiya on hand and no other "grating cheese". Besides, the pepperjack Daiya has a way better flavour than dairy pepperjack to me, and flavour is where it's at!

Cheesy Southwest Pasta Bake

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Aniseed Obsidian

With all the rich food and indulgences the holidays bring, it's understandable that we tend to come out of them feeling a little... full. I know that personally, for days after the big meals (we do three in a row - Christmas Eve dinner and both brunch and dinner on Christmas Day), all I want is soup, plain rice and simply done veggies. That said, I count myself lucky - cooking only for myself, taking into account my restrictions, meant I had very few leftover to contend with. However, the energy and stress of the events takes its toll on all the systems of the body, and while I wasn't stuck eating rich stuffed salmon or turkey with my grandma's to-die-for potatoes and cheesy broccoli four days in a row (sorry, Mom), I emerged on this side of New Year's Eve with an intense desire to lighten up my palate and my stomach.

Aniseed Obsidian

While a divisive flavour, one of the best foods for easing the gut and helping to return digestion to its optimal performance is licorice. Real licorice has proven, time-tested soothing and anti-inflammatory benefits, and has been used for millenia to aid many ailments. However, it should be noted that the root has the tendency to increase blood pressure in the already hypertensive - leading to it becoming very difficult to find around here. Luckily, we can still reap the benefits of the flavour, since any anise-like food is naturally refreshing and bloat-reducing.

Since nothing makes "medicine" go down like a bit of sugar, and I have a few colleagues and friends who absolutely adore the black licorice flavour, I decided to take the ingredient to the candy pot. Boiled sugar, corn syrup and molasses made a bittersweet base for the anise oil - which, even added in the amount of less than 2 millilitres, packed a massive punch of flavour and aroma that was bracingly pungent. While it was blowing snow outside, I still found the need to open the kitchen windows to avoid my eyes watering excessively! To evoke the "black licorice" feeling, I whisked in some gel food colouring and sprinkled the liquid candy with aniseeds as well, adding a little texture to the glassy-smooth shards. 

A small piece of this "obsidian", as I called it, melts slowly on the tongue and takes its time to flow through the body, warming up the cold extremities and cooling down any fire in the tummy. Whoever said candy always had to be bad for you?

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Chocolate Orange Meringues

Happy new year!

With the new calendar on the wall and auld lang syne fading in our ears comes the inevitable horde of sudden gym-rats packing the recreation centres and workout facilities. These "resolutioners", as we "regulars" call them, range between those who show a clear dedication to making their health and wellness a long-term commitment and those who are hitting the treadmills hard for a month or two, hoping for a quick fix. Obviously, the second group is long gone by mid-February, but everyone who remains on their own fitness paths deserves major kudos for their work. 

My issue with all the diet resolutions is that they tend to focus on "cutting out" - no carbs, no red meat, no fat, no sugar... and it is then that the respectable goals become unsustainable. As someone who hasn't been able to have a real birthday cake (or shortbread cookie) in over 10 years due to a limiting medical condition, I can tell you wholeheartedly that without something indulgent-tasting each day, I would be driven insane by my otherwise spartan diet. A treat a day, however small, means that it is truly appreciated and makes the rest of any "restricted diet" livable.

Chocolate Orange Meringues

Of course, just because something tastes decadent and sinful doesn't mean it has to be weighty in calories and fat! One of my favourite treats when I was heavy and beginning my weight loss journey was the meringue. Containing little more than egg whites and sugar, even the largest of these light cloud cookies were mere pittances in terms of calories and fat. The best part was that they lasted forever in the pantry, and when dropped onto a mug of cocoa or hot mocha turned into almost a marshmallowy-style topping - delicious, especially when it was flavoured with caramel or orange extract!

With so many egg whites left over from our shortbreads this year, I decided to whip up a batch of meringue "flying saucers" with two different flavours. First, a bright orange-flavoured ring made empty frames on the cookie sheet, which I then filled with dollops of dark chocolatey meringue for a  bulls-eye effect. If you're a fan of the chocolate oranges that are prevalent this time of year, you'll love these - and you'll adore them even more when you realize that each of them is under 15 calories while tasting like a million - and gluten free to boot!

Shared with Gluten Free Fridays