Thursday, August 31, 2017

Matcha Cupcakes (by @VivianCooking )

The distinct, but delicate flavours of matcha sing in these cupcakes by Vivian of Cooking is Passio...

Matcha Cupcake 3

Matcha isn't something I use a lot of. Let's face it, as a student and a part-time teacher, the tea is a little outside of my budget. I adore the delicate flavours of the green powder, though, and live vicariously through the ability of others to create wondrous dishes with it.

One of these chefs is blogger Vivian, who is sharing a recipe for Matcha Cupcakes on her blog, Cooking is Passio... today. These cupcakes simply sing with Matcha flavour, from the light base to the frosting. And the frosting! I can't wait to make even just that - it's worth the splurge.

But I'll let you find that out yourselves - visit Vivian's blog Cooking is Passio... to get the details!

Matcha Cupcake 4

Vivian has a huge passion for cooking. That's why she created "" to share her great love with other people. She believes that fine food is not only the key to promoting family cohesion, but it also helps make every member become closer.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Banana Bread Buckwheat Granola

Banana Bread Buckwheat Granola is a delicious breakfast or snack filled with flavour, fibre and protein - all while being gluten free and vegan! 

Banana Bread Buckwheat Granola

When it comes to preparing for the upcoming school year, breakfasts are always top of mind. After all, a good day can't begin without something on the stomach! For me, and many of the kids, the morning meal needs to be portable and easy to grab - not to mention low in mess! Last year, I started toting homemade granola in little baggies for snacks, and now my mom will use it on her yogurt or even on her porridge in the morning for a bit of texture! 

This granola, in particular, was inspired by one of my family's favourite treats - banana bread. Now, I don't know of any banana bread they've eaten with whole buckwheat, amaranth, pumpkin seeds and coconut, but the fruit is amazingly versatile and - when paired with a good drizzle of maple syrup - perfect for carrying all the other flavours going on here. I wish I could say the idea was mine alone, but that credit has to go to Alexandra from In My Bowl, who reminded me that granola does not have to be based on oats! 

Yup, that's right - no oats are in this medley, just a high fibre, high protein mix of pseudocereals, seeds, coconut and walnuts. As a side bonus, this granola is free of refined sugar, and is also both gluten free and vegan. If nuts are an issue, or like me you can't handle coconut, add other seeds, roasted chickpeas, quinoa flakes or dried fruit to make up the bulk. That's the beauty of granola - it's almost completely fool proof.

With all that nutrition combined with the fragrance of spiced bananas and maple, this is more than worth waking up to - and if you pack it up into individual baggies after it cools, there's no excuse for not eating healthfully in the wee hours!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Zucchini Dills

Zucchini Dills are a delicious use for the garden's bounty, and for pickle lovers like me they are a snack morning noon and night!

Zucchini Dills

It's no secret that I am addicted to pickles. At this point in time, I have 6 - 6! jars of them in various formats hanging out in my fridge. While my so-to snacker is still a Bick's ultimate garlic, far and away my favourites are the barrel-cured deli pickles I get to buy once a year at the St. Lawrence Market. Those - and I'm not kidding - can be the size of a child's forearm, and are just riddled with juice. Yes, for the short while they grace my fridge, those are the bomb.

Of course, homemade pickles are excellent in their own right, and I grow the cucumbers and dill to put up a few quarts of them each year. However, this year the rain and the wacky temperatures meant the cucumbers were really slow in getting started... and I wanted some home-pickled goodness! It didn't help that the dill had taken off thanks to the glut of rain and was risking bolting (not that dill seed is bad, just not what I wanted), but I was not willing to shell out for produce that I was too impatient to wait for in my own backyard.

Luckily, about the time the dill took off, the zucchini harvest did too - and we were hauling them in by the bushel. After potfuls of curry, a sizable cake, and two zucchini breads, not to mention baking them into breaded discs and zoodling our lives away, I had to figure out something else to do. I'm not sure how I came by Epicurious' recipe for Zucchini Dill Pickles, but I had to give it a shot. After all, what did I have to lose - and besides, pickles!

I have to say these were way better than I expected. The zucchini is bland enough to take the spices, garlic, dill and vinegar on without much complaint, but it's firm enough that the pickles hold their shape and don't go all "noodley" or mushy. In fact, they stand up admirably to the waterbathing process too - if you let them get that far. Myself, I canned up two big quart jars for storage and made a "tester jar" that hung out in the fridge. I tell you, even if you just keep them in the fridge, wait at least 7 days before eating them. In fact, for better flavour, wait 2.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Bailey's Brownies

These insanely moist brownies are elevated with a few splashes of (alcohol free) Bailey's coffee creamer. 

Bailey's Brownies

Brownies are both the great equalizer and the great divider of people. On one hand, you have the people who want brownies chock-full of nuts, candy or chocolate chunks, or swirled with cheesecake or peanut butter (on my list!). Then there is the camp I (mostly) belong to - no "bits" or "bites", just smooth chocolatey goodness all throughout.

Now, while I don't really like stuff in my brownies (chocolate chunks are an exception), I do like flavour. A dash of unexpected extract here, extra jolt of coffee there, even a pinch of spice - those are all good with me. Heck, brownies are basically the only way I like wine! One alcohol I do like the taste of (particularly paired with chocolate and coffee) is Bailey's. I grew up on the stuff - the occasional dribble of it into my hot chocolate or Cafe au Lait on chilly mornings at the boat was a real treat! I don't drink anymore, but I did discover a way to get the flavour without the volatile component - Bailey's Coffee Creamer. With most of the flavour of the original (it's hard to get the whisky notes quite as nuanced), it's also lower in fat and calories than it's alcoholic equivalent. That said, it packs the perfect punch for baking (can't wait to figure out a chocolate chip cookie recipe with it) and chocolate work, and unlike regular alcohol, it doesn't evaporate at warp-speed which can cause dry, crumbly results.

Bailey's Brownies

I had a brownie recipe ready and raring to go too - I had spotted this one on Wonky Wonderful a while back and new it would be on my to-do list. Of course, I had to play around a bit, and in doing so accidentally cut the flour in half. The pan was well in the oven by the time I realized (the batter did look thin, but then again others have too), so I figured that at worst, it would be brownie truffles with the pan scrapings. It took a long time to bake (obviously - > liquid = > time), but when it came out I was rewarded with perfectly moist (not gooey), tender and chocolatey squares of goodness just touched with hints of espresso and Irish cream flavour. While frosting or glaze is definitely an option, I personally think it would take away from the relative delicacy of these bars. If you can't go unadorned, a dusting of powdered sugar or even hot cocoa mix would more than suffice.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Double Squash Cake

Both pumpkin and zucchini add moisture to a simple spice cake, while flax and whole wheat add texture and a delicious nutty flavour. 

Double Squash Cake

Are you up to your eyeballs in zucchini too? We just keep hauling them in from the garden, giving them away to local relatives and (in my case) trading them for other yummy produce like eggplants and chili peppers - which unlike the squash, didn't grow well this year. Of course, there is still more than we can give away and eat at mealtimes, so I get to come in and bake away one or two of the green baseball bats.

Zucchini wasn't the only squash I found myself with a lot of. We were cleaning out the freezer (to make room for these lovelies) when I discovered a container of home-roasted pumpkin puree. Remembering how deliciously sweet and caramelized it was last year when I made pies, I needed to find a use for it to save it from the bin. Like with so many other things, it was Pinterest to the rescue - and the Pin looked so perfect - simple, with no need for adornment - that I had to give it a shot.

I changes a handful of things while making this - not much, but I only had one egg, so flaxseed subbed in the other two. I used unrefined jaggery (and less of it) instead of the brown sugar called for, melted the butter and used whole wheat flour for extra flavour and texture. Since we had no raisins at home (we're not huge fans), I left them out and went for a plain Jane model. Finally, because pumpkin spice and maple go hand in hand, a touch of extract rounded out the flavours perfectly.

Waiting for this to bake took forever, and the house smelled like Thanksgiving the whole hour. By the time it came to actually cutting the cake, bits of batter from the pan had "mysteriously" disappeared, and there was no doubt that we had a winner.

Now if only I had more roasted pumpkin in the freezer...

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Schoolroom Apple Cookies - #CreativeCookieExchange

School-safe two-bite cookies filled with fruit and flax are a perfect balance of nutrition and decadence.

MLCP's Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies - My Way

These cookies are aptly titled - not only are they school safe (no peanuts or tree nuts) and full of brain-boosting flax and fruit, but we also make these every year in the classroom as part of our Thanksgiving lunch preparations. Of course, the "official" school recipe is ever so slightly different - edited for convenience and cost - but when you're at home there is no reason to skimp on flavourful, healthful, whole ingredients, especially when you're cooking for your loved ones.

All too soon the littlest of these loved ones will start coming home from school (cue ominous music) and if the kids at my school are any indication, they'll be ravenous. Granted, it seems that kids today are always ravenous, even when they've just eaten, and since they like to snack why not make sure you have a few healthy options on hand? The nutritionist in me will advocate for all the parenting tips and tricks you read about - keeping cut fruit and veggies in the fridge, candy and chips out of eyesight and arm's reach - but remembering how I was as a kid (I will shamefully admit eating cookie dough from the tube after school when mom wasn't home) I also know that kids crave a treat. Make the treat, satisfy the sweet tooth, get a bit of fruit and whole grains in, and you can maybe convince them to continue with a fruit or vegetable alongside (or at least eat a veggie at dinner).

This month we are making Back to School Cookies! Looking for an example to try? Keep reading! 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! If you are a blogger and want to join in the 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.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Danish Butter Cookies #SundaySupper

Homemade Danish Butter Cookies are so easy and delicious!

Danish Butter Cookies

The blue tins of sweet, vanilla and butter flavoured cookies were ubiquitous at school growing up. Since they were relatively cheap, peanut free and plain enough to suit most kid's palates, we would have these as our "snack" occasionally, and almost always as "dessert" on pizza or hot dog days. Kids would argue over whether the pretzels or the wreaths tasted better, trading for their favourite. But I'll let you in on a little secret.

I hate those cookies.

Call me spoiled, but "butter cookies" to me are nothing compared to my mom's shortbread. Sure, I like butter in cookies (looking at you, chocolate chippers), but if you call a cookie a butter cookie, it better bring the flavour. The tinned ones tasted of nothing but sugar - no vanilla, no butter... just dry-ish sweetness.

However, I used to work with someone who, like my childhood friends, loved those cookies. As a gift, I decided to make him a batch - but better, with lots of flavour from both butter and vanilla. I knew I couldn't really do all butter, since it would spread like crazy (and chilling the dough wouldn't let it go through my piping bag), so I mixed in some butter flavoured shortening. To amp up the butteriness even more, I tossed in a bit of butter flavouring.

Once the butter element was taken care of, it was time for the vanilla. Vanilla sugar was a no-brainer for me, since it's what I make every time I have a spent vanilla pod. Speaking of vanilla pods, the seeds of one, plus a dash of extract, went in next, until the dough smelled of nothing but butter and vanilla - or what I once heard referred to as "angel farts" (I can't remember who said that to me once, but it stuck).

Since I don't have (or want) a cookie press, to get the pretty designs, I stuck with a piping bag and large star tip.The dough was a bit too stiff for eloquent wreaths or pretzels, but rosettes looked pretty and they all baked at the same rate. Being two-biters, a few with a cup of tea (or glass of milk) makes a perfect mid-afternoon treat - and one I wish I remembered from my childhood!

This week's #SundaySupper is celebrating after-school snacktime - whether it's something you need to pack in the backpack (if your kids are like me growing up, after-school care was a fact of life, as was getting home at 6PM) or a treat kids can quickly fix after a long day, there are lots of ideas this week!



Fall Flavors

Healthy Snacks


Savory Snacks


Sweet Snacks

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.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Triple Caramel Scones

Caramel lovers will rejoice when they bite into one of these tender, fluffy scones. Packed with caramel sauce, caramel extract and and crushed hard caramels, there's no escaping the decadence!

Triple Caramel Scones

We have a soft spot for scones around here. Since bread and muffins are more or less a bi-weekly event, the rare time a scone or biscuit hits the oven we truly savour it. The reason we don't enjoy them more often is the same reason why we love them so much - they are rich in fat and sugar, melting in your mouth while warm, and really - who just eats a scone by itself? Mandatory scone-operating procedures demand at least a little fruit, often a touch of butter (mmm, melting butter!) and a large coffee (or some caffeinated beverage), and usually they're part of a brunch spread. If they feature on the dessert menu, again you have the fruit component, but a little ice cream somehow sneaks in too.

But once in a while, how can you argue with something so sinful? Especially when it's homemade - at least that way you can control the quality of the ingredients you're eating, and if you like it less sweet, glazed or unglazed, or a special flavour the doors are wide open to you.

Since my dad and I are caramel fans, I decided that this time around, browned, gooey sugar would be the dominant taste. Of course, I didn't just use chopped up caramels - no, that would be just so pedestrian! Instead, I started with the nutty flavour of spelt flour and built on it with three hits of caramel - homemade caramel sauce replaced the traditional milk or sour cream, caramel extract added to the vanilla and finally crushed hard caramels added a touch of extra texture. I added a bit of Truvia for extra sweetness, but it doesn't really need it (especially if you're doing the ice cream or sweet coffee thing) - and if I get a chance to make these again I'll top it with a touch of finishing salt like Hawaiian Black Lava.

Triple Caramel Scones

Friday, August 18, 2017

“Faux”sage and Tomato Gnocchi Bake

Two Dutch ovens get filled with layers of a homemade soy-based "faux-sage", a two-onion ragú and homemade gnocchi before being topped off with fresh mozzarella cheese and baked to bubbling perfection.

Faux-sage Gnocchi Bake

To me, the ultimate comfort food is baked pasta. Whether it's my mom's lasagna, tortellini al forno, ziti or homemade mac n cheese, some form of the dish is sure to warm your insides and wrap you up in a blanket.

Like most things delicious, these pots of baked gnocchi sprang out of the need to use ingredients from the pantry and fridge. TVP is a cheap and ever-versatile protein, taking on whatever flavours you throw at it. Knowing that it mimicked ground meat or sausage really well when I made the Mini Tourtières, a few years ago, I decided to do the same thing and make a rich "meaty" ragu, adding the last bit of wine from an open bottle, two types of onions and some nutritional yeast for umami. Instead of the traditional ziti or rigatoni, I opted to cook up a batch of my gnocchi and use that for the starch.

Notice I said pots above. There was so much food that one Dutch oven couldn't handle it (and we have 7-qt models!), so I divided everything between our two. They bake up relatively quickly, and after a short rest it was time to dig in. Not a peep about "tasting weird" was uttered during the initial taste, and my mom was thrilled that it was vegetarian and filled with fibre - not to mention a perfect way to get a bag of gnocchi out of the freezer!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Banana Muffins with Chocolate Hazelnut Crunchies

Adapted from 125 Best Vegan Recipes, these are moist and perfectly sweet muffins peppered with chocolate-hazelnut crispy bites instead of chocolate chips.

Banana Muffins with Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch

Bananas and chocolate are a match made in heaven - especially when that chocolate is dark and almost bitter and the bananas are almost caramelized in their over-ripe state. Add nuts in any form - the classic, of course, is walnuts, but anything really works - and you have a trifecta of deliciousness. 

My family tends to eat most of the bananas we buy - it is by and large my stepfather's favourite fruit, and one of the only ones my sister eats willingly - but occasionally we wind up finding out we overbought. Most of the time, the (then-spotty) bananas are peeled and stashed in my freezer, awaiting a fate of banana bread, but I wanted to try something a little different with a few on the counter. I had a copy of 125 Best Vegan Recipes kicking around with a banana- (and chocolate!) forward recipe, and since I had a freshly minted batch of Chocolate Hazelnut Crunchies on my hands I decided to use those in place of the chocolate chips called for. 

These muffins are the perfect mixture of "morning snack" and "dessert" - there is a delightful nuttiness from the spelt flour and almond milk that evokes the feeling of being healthy, but the sweetness of the fruit, agave and Crunchies definitely makes the decadence of these bites known. The crumb of these is moist and tender, without the gumminess that can sometimes occur when the phrases "whole grain", "vegan" and "banana" go together. They're not really things of beauty, to be sure - the relative wetness in this batter doesn't lend itself to super-inflation - but one bite and I guarantee you'll want another. 

Provided you like bananas and Nutella, that is - and who doesn't?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Chocolate Hazelnut Crunchies

Chocolate Hazelnut Crunchies are a decadent topping for all your dessert desires!

Chocolate Hazelnut Crunchies

I hate when items I love are suddenly discontinued. Ones that immediately come to mind are usually things I grew up on but as an adult didn't really use, like Cherry Vanilla Coke and McDonald's pizza. However, my family and I are finding more and more of our staple foods have bit the dust (at least in Canada) and we're left to find alternatives - some are good (President's Choice Louisiana hot sauce, for example), others... really not (non-British baked beans(z)). Luckily, we tend to avoid most processed food as a matter of habit anyway, and I for one revel in making my own ingredients, "mixes" and condiments (obviously).

One of the more recent disappearances was from our local bulk food store - crunchy little balls of chocolate-hazelnut goodness intended for decorating cakes and cupcakes. They tasted like Nutella meeting Rice Krispies, and were awesome for not only cakes, but cookie dough and topping brownies too. We fell in love - and then poof! gone. Not just gone from the bulk store, but everywhere - not even Google can come up with a result for us.

But not all is lost. Due to my love of recreating elements of recipes I see on TV, and pre-made mixes I find in the stores, I decided it was time to make my own version. While definitely not as "perfect" as the storebought ones, these had, IMHO, a better flavour and if your chocolate stays at cool room temperature after mixing and panning, a more defined crunch. I accidentally left one of two trays out overnight (it's warm and - more importantly - humid here right now) and the chocolate soaked into the cereal, taking away some of the character crunch. still delicious, however.

Stay tuned for a recipe using them coming right up - and its perfect for that mid morning snack too.

Bonus Tips: 
  • Sprinkle these on the Chocolate Hazelnut Beet Brownies to make them extra special!
  • Keep these in the freezer, they won't melt and the nuts won't get rancid that way.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Tofu Colombo Curry

3 pounds of zucchini go into a BIG pot of this curry, along with marinated tofu, two types of potato and a Scotch Bonnet for heat. Get out the milk, this is spicy! 

Tofu Columbo Curry

Yup, it's another curry!

With the absolute glut of zucchini coming out of the garden at the moment, we've been on the search for recipes using lots of it. There are only so many times I can wheedle my way into baking treats with it - poor Mom is the only one who can eat them at home - but savoury meals my mom can eat for lunch? No problem.

With the pile of squash growing ever higher on our kitchen table, I did what any modern-age person would do - turn to Mr. Google. After sifting through lots of zoodles, fritters and desserts, as well as a fair amount of ratatouilles (which I would have made, had our eggplants and peppers been ready), I wound up in an unlikely place, looking at an unlikely recipe - a pork-based, multi-part curry with potatoes, habaneros, eggplant and - yes - zucchini.

Like I said, our eggplants and peppers aren't ready yet this year. Not only that, but my mom hasn't eaten pork in a year or so, preferring fish or vegetarian options. Chicken has largely been off the menu lately as well, after recent shopping trips found us victims of the edible, but unappetizingly spongy woody-breast chicken. Still, the other ingredients appealed to me, and what I knew my mom would enjoy as well. She agreed when I described the combination to her, and she sounded intrigued, asking if I could swap the pork for tofu, and dropping the hint that she "doesn't like habaneros".

Lucky for me, I had the slightly fruitier, yet still fiery Scotch Bonnets in the freezer instead! I nixed the eggplant in the original recipe as well, and piled in the zucchini, as well as doubling the starchy mixture of both Yukon Gold and Caribbean sweet potato - there was a goodly amount of protein and veggies going on in there, not to mention spices, so I wanted to make sure there was enough bulk to temper it all! I pulled on some of the other goodies I had in the garden for extra flavour, namely my Egyptian onion (which tastes like scallions and/or shallots depending on the part you use) which made the bulk of the marinade, the garlic and the thyme which perfumed the body of the stew. While a whole Scotch Bonnet goes into the tofu marinade, you have the option to mince a second and add it all to the pot, or simply stab one and let it slowly infuse before removing it for a more subtle heat. I opted for the latter, although there was so much stuff in the pot I could have gotten away with the second one for sure.

Note on the spice blend - you can certainly buy Poudre de Colombo, if you can find it at your grocery store or order it online, but my town is simply not blessed with stores that carry it. Thankfully, it's super simple to whip up, and the fresh-toasted flavour is simply unbeatable. If you do use storebought, make sure to toast the rice flour separately and add it to the pot at the same time.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Beef and Sweet Potato Stew #SundaySupper

Beef and Sweet Potato Stew is slowly baked in a Dutch oven until unctuous and rich.

Beef and Sweet Potato Stew

Whether we like it or not, the Summer vacation season is drawing to a close. While we here in Ontario didn't get much in the way of Summer weather (monsoon season, maybe!), it was lovely to have any amount of time without needing jackets and winter boots. As the weather progressively cools, especially at night and definitely while a thunder and windstorm rages outside, tucking into a hearty bowl of soup or stew just feels like the right thing to do.

I don't normally cook with beef, since we don't really eat it here - chicken and fish are the main animal proteins on the menu, but beans and tofu are starting to take greater precedence due to health and budget concerns. At any rate, during a freezer purge we came across a package of flank steak originally, we think, intended to become this delicious thing - which, I just realized, I posted 10 years to the day of this stew. No, the beef was not that old... we clean out the freezer regularly I promise! Flank steak doesn't usually scream "stew me", but it had to be used (we loathe throwing away food), and I figured that with all the other "stuff" going into the pot it would be a small enough component that could fly under the radar if tough.

I needn't have worried, since this stew was stellar. The onions, mushrooms, split peas and sweet potatoes added a good deal of body and richness to the mixture, elevated by a couple glasses of red wine. The seasoning was minimal, and fairly standard, except for a pinch of cinnamon to elevate the mineral quality of the beef and the sweetness of the root veggies. The garlic mellowed into the gorgeous sweetness it does so well, thanks to the hour and a half in the oven. Speaking of the oven, that was by far my favourite part of making this - your simmering time is all in the oven, freeing up the stove or letting you wander off worry free.

Like all good stews, this is better the next day, and it freezes well for meals later in the month. If the first month of school is anything like I remember, you might be making good use of meals like this for the evening repast! The #SundaySupper gang is sharing their best "back to school" dinners this week, check them out and be sure to say hi!

Beef and Pork

Pastas, Soups, Rice and Stews


Sunday Supper MovementJoin 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

Friday, August 11, 2017

"Locked and Loaded" Cookies

Caramel bits, chocolate chips and hemp seeds pack these whole-grain oatmeal cookies, creating treats so decadent you'll never realize they're made without butter, oil or eggs! 

Locked and Loaded Cookies

It's scary how close it is to "back to school" time! Granted, I'm in school now (taking my Sociology degree) but my teaching life doesn't begin until after Labour Day (phew). However, for those of you who are parents, like many of my friends, this crunch period is full of questions like "how many binders do I need?" "does he really need a 64-pack of crayons?" and most importantly, "what do I pack for lunch?".

Since my sister and I grew up with parents who needed to work full time during the Summer we were sent to day camp throughout July and August and always had a packed lunch. The rules for camp lunches and snacks were identical to school - no nuts, no peanuts - so nothing really changed. However, I know that if we were left to our own devices at home, we'd be scarfing peanut butter or Nutella on toast for lunch, and my mom always made killer peanut butter and chocolate chunk cookies that fit perfectly into the afternoon snack void. After a holiday like that, lunchbox treats had better be mighty fine to compete!

These guys not only compete, but score. I call them "locked and loaded" because of just how jam-packed of good (and good-for-you) things they are! Instead of butter, which for some reason we had run out of (I know, sacrilege in a baking household), I used a combination of cream cheese (which is now my "secret addition" to cookies) and SunButter for a rich nutty flavour and aroma. I almost never have eggs in the house (I don't eat them myself) so in went the flaxseed for binding the whole wheat batter. Finally, it was "raid the pantry" time - I managed to empty the last bits from bags of large flake oatmeal, hemp seeds, chocolate chips and caramel bits for good measure.

As with any whole grain cookie, especially one containing oats, a rest in the fridge is the way to go to properly hydrate everything, but once baked - boy were these fantastic! Tender and slightly chewy thanks to the cream cheese and caramel, snack-worthy but not super sweet (especially since I used dark chocolate) and just slightly nutty tasting, a single cookie satisfied any craving I might have had. The real magic came through after freezing them, though - you have got to try these frozen. Everything is just that much better, especially when its still 30C out. I haven't tried ice cream (or Frozen Yoghurt) sandwiches with them, but why not?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Pineapple Habanero Jelly - Toast Topper #83

This spicy - sweet spread is made with homegrown habaneros and canned pineapple juice - its so simple! It's low sugar too... And full of Island flavour! 

Pineapple Habanero Jelly

This is another one of those spreads that bridges the gap between sweet and savoury. Now, normally I keep my fruit all by itself - I hate chunks of apple, pear, orange or grape in salads, can't stand prosciutto and melon, and stay as far away from grilled peaches on burgers as possible.

Pineapple - at least its juice - is the one exception. Maybe it comes from being Canadian and growing up in the culture of Hawaiian pizza (you know, the pineapple and ham ones), but I loved pineapple soaked flank steak and chicken growing up and adore using the juice to make sweet and sour stir fry sauce for a quick dinner. Whenever I go for pineapple juice (I still can't deal with chunks of fruit in my dinner) I always make sure to add spice - anything from jalapenos to today's habs are a perfect counterpart to the sweet-tart pineapple juice, and depending on how long you let the mixture sit the effect can be drastically different. Used immediately, the result is one of two distinct flavours in one dish - there is definitely "pockets" of fire in a sweet ocean. Let it sit as little as an hour, though, and you get a more homogenous whole, every bite hot and sweet and sour at once. While each method is delicious in its own right, if I'm marinating or making a sauce I will try to steep the peppers ahead of time.

With all that said, this jelly has the fire from habaneros tempered with an extra jolt of sweetness thanks to sugar, and the pineapple gets a boost in the tangy department with a touch of vinegar. While you can certainly start dolloping it on cream cheese-smeared crackers or bagels as soon as it sets, I actually prefer it at least a month or so after processing in a waterbath so all the capsaicin has a chance to disperse through the jar. Of course, this ages beautifully, so if you make it with your garden's habaneros now, by the time you break it out for holiday parties it will be mellow and mild... until the kick at the end!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Cherry-Vanilla Rhubarb Butter - Toast Topper #82

Cherry-Vanilla Rhubarb Butter is sweet, luxuriously thick and a perfect marriage of tangy, fruity and floral flavours.

Cherry-Vanilla Rhubarb Butter

I love vanilla in preserves this year. In my mind, a touch of good quality extract makes the spreads not only sweeter, but lends a more rounded sweetness that sugar alone can't provide. With the goal of clearing out as much rhubarb from the freezer as possible this year, I decided to make something that relies on noting but simmering and evaporation to create a spreadable delicacy: butter.

This recipe originally started out as simply "rhubarb butter" in one of my church cookbooks, and called for 5 cups of sugar for the 4 pounds of rhubarb. Now, I know rhubarb is tart, but five cups? I couldn't do it. Instead, I decided to build flavours that invoked the feeling of sweet without drowning the works in sucrose.

Vanilla was an easy option - I'd used it with rhubarb in the Heavenly Jam and the Rhubarb Pie with great success. My second inspiration came from my Chocolate Rhubarb Preserve, where I had used some tart cherry juice for flavour and a hint of fruity sweetness. The combination is one of my all-time favourites - I love cherries and vanilla together, and rhubarb is fantastic on its own. With the extended cooking, the separate elements slowly coalesced into a dark, sticky whole with all of the flavour from each ingredient. To keep the vanilla true, I added it at the end, and for the greatest (and most even) carmelization I roasted the butter rather than simmered it on the stovetop. By the time four hours were up, I had a perfectly passable spread for breakfast or dessert!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Alice's Banana Muffins

My version of Alice's banana muffins that are featured in the book What Alice Forgot, topped with Natures Path Dark Chocolate Macaroon Love Crunch.

Alice's Banana Muffins

Okay, so my finger slipped and I accidentally published an unfinished blog post late yesterday - sorry!! In the spirit of that, here are some different banana muffins - these ones were inspired by the book What Alice Forgot, in which the main character is known for her fantastic banana muffins. Alice's muffins were banana-walnut, but we generally prefer our banana muffins and bread without chunks of walnuts (or any, if you're me or mom) so I left the crunch out of batter and added it on top instead.

I know what you (or at least those of you who read this far, after seeing the title) are thinking - another banana-based quickbread? The Web is flooded with them (this blog included), most almost identical to each other - why should I try this one? Well, all I can say is they're the perfect "entry level" muffin for those who are looking to either reduce their sugar intake or increase their whole grains, love the flavour of buttery bananas with little adornment (the only spice is nutmeg) and want something a little - just a little - different to snack on. If you're like us, anything banana is a push into "delicious" comments from guests, and since this makes 12, brunch might not be a bad idea!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Strawberry - Lemon Marmalade - Toast Topper #81

Strawberry-Lemon Marmalade is a bright burst of late Spring in a jar - and being made with Pomonas Pectin, it's a lower sugar, fruit-forward Toast Topper too

Strawberry-Lemon Marmalade

With the growing season as short as it is here, when the Spring and Summer fruit come in, we buy it up, en masse. What we don't immediately consume or can is either dehydrated or frozen, thawed out in the Fall and Winter to go with holiday desserts or morning oatmeal.

I delved into our Ontario strawberry cache a little early though, in search of a gorgeous, sweet-tart Toast Topper. I love lemon in basically anything, and since I'd made a few marmalades this year I thought I'd try my hand at a lower sugar variety. Normally with marmalades, the sugar is what causes the mixture to set - you're essentially making a candy. However, I wondered if it would be possible to do it with pectin - certainly not traditional, but I knew that I could incorporate the "peel" feeling of the usual kind, as long as I could find a way to make it tender before jamming.

Thankfully, Pomona's Pectin had a recipe on their site for exactly what I was looking for. I use Pomona's for essentially all my jams (exception is my Backyard Grape Jam - I'm not messing with that formula) so that I can control the sugar, and the batch size. They also pointed out that if you pre-simmer the peel in water before making the jam, you wind up with perfectly toothsome, yet tender, strands in each spoonful.

Since I'm a lemon lover, I amped up the amount of peel I used, but essentially everything stayed the same - just a smaller batch size. I came out with two half-pint jars of ruby red deliciousness (minus a spoonful or two - quality control), which I've squirreled away for those dark Winter mornings.

Maybe. If they last that long.