Thursday, September 28, 2017

Chestnut Gingerbread Cookies

Swapping out some of the usual flour for nutty chestnut flour makes for an incredibly easy-to-use dough that results in a seriously delicious gingerbread.

Chestnut Flour Gingerbread

Confession: I started making dough for holiday cookies weeks ago.

It wasn't because I was seeing the never-ending "only X shopping days left" memes on Facebook, nor was it because one of the kids at school was humming "Jingle Bells". Nope, making cookie dough this early is something I do every year for two good reasons: time and money. Truth is, by the time December rolls around, I'm in the throes of report card editing and submission, and some of the recipients get their gifts very early in the season. Also, I give baskets of multiple bakes, candy and canned goods every year, and come holiday season it seems like every bowl and crevice in the fridge is in use. Making dough and freezing it well ahead of time means I only have to carve out a few minutes of oven time and a couple baking sheets before getting out of Dodge and packaging - not to mention I can make my gift tags with ingredients way in advance, only cutting them out when I need to seal the bags.

The second reason is, of course, money. Butter is getting ridiculously expensive these days, and vegan products (which I use for a few of my recipients who are allergic to dairy) more so. Luckily, baking ingredients (including butter, chocolate and cream) tend to go on sale around mid-September and early October thanks to the Thanksgiving rush, so I stock up and either make dough / batter or freeze the ingredients if they're destined for fudge or truffles (two things I always make within a week of gifting). I also stock up on nuts when they're on sale during the fall and freeze similarly. Generally speaking though, all my buying and most of the making is done before the snow falls - then all I have to do is try not to be ambushed by a bag of rock hard gingerbread or sugar cookie dough when I open the freezer.

While I endeavour to make different cookies for my giftees each year (both for their sakes and mine), when I come across a recipe that gets rave reviews across the board and is just unique enough to be "me", I can't help but reprise it. Such is the case with these gingerbread cookies. I made them for the first time last holiday season as a last-minute addition to the lineup, but with the holiday craziness never got around to posting it. However, they were such a hit with everyone - ginger-heads and non - that I couldn't help but make them again.

These dark, spicy cookies have two secret ingredients: the first is cream cheese, which lends a rich and slightly tangy body to the cookies along with a tenderness not found in anything other fat. Cream cheese also works in a way similar to shortening, preventing excess spread - perfect for these as cut-out cookies. The second trick is chestnut flour, which can be tricky to find unless you have a decent Italian market (I found mine in the St. Lawrence Market downtown, since my local shops don't have it). There really is no suitable substitute for it, since the nut itself is rather unique in composition (it's not as oily as other tree nuts, nor is it as fibrous as coconut). Luckily, it is available online, and a little goes a long way - a 1 lb bag can last a few years in the freezer. The chestnuts add a sweet, slightly toasty, buttery nuance to the dough, playing off the strong cloves and nutmeg and accenting the ginger. It also helps create a surprisingly sturdy, yet tender sheet of dough perfect for making boys and girls as well as houses and (if you're a glutton for punishment) castles.

The original recipe hails from Christopher St. Onge via the LCBO Holiday 2016 magazine

Have you started your holiday planning yet? When do you start, and what are your staples each year?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Ruby - Rhubarb Marmalade

Ruby-Rhubarb Marmalade is a treat for the lovers of the broiled fruit with sugar. The rhubarb keeps the mixture from being *too* sweet and adds a nice piquance to a spoonful. 

Ruby-Rhubarb Marmalade

I will never forget the one time our school decided to offer grapefruit halves for morning snack to our grades 4-8. The number one is significant here - they were such a flop that you probably couldn't pay the two or three students who ate one (with a bucket of sugar on top) to take a second. While I applaud (and advocate strongly for) produce-based snacks for the kids in lieu of the refined crackers / chips / cookies they crave, I truly wonder who looked at grapefruits at the store and thought "oh yeah, the kids will love these". I don't even like them. Not to mention, the healthy benefits of the citrus are essentially negated by dumping three or four tablespoons of sucrose on top.

That said, this marmalade is not one of my low-sugar spreads, but for those who love the flavour of a sprinkle of sugar on broiled grapefruit in the morning, a smear of this on toast is the perfect addition to breakfast. This marmalade is unique amongst the ones I've seen and tried, since it is not only cardamom-scented but contains rhubarb. I found the recipe on Laundry, etc., and since my mom loves grapefruit (even without sugar!) I knew I had to make a batch for her to put on her homemade bread each morning.

Even with constant babysitting and stirring, my batch wound up slightly overcooked, tasting not unlike the aforementioned broiled fruit. Luckily, my mom dove right in without hesitation and declared it not only edible, but enjoyable - a fine balance between bitter, sour, sweet and fragrant. If I change anything when I make this again, I will add vanilla or use vanilla sugar for an extra hint of fragrance.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake (Guest Post)

What's better than a cake? Well, gluten-free cake is a good answer! Please enjoy this guest post by Rose of Gimme Tasty.

Over the decades, many of us are trying to expand our repertoires when it comes to no-gluten recipes. At first, we started with our main dishes. Later on, we tried experimenting on our desserts and pastries.


Fortunately, there is nothing that should weird you about a gluten-free cake. In fact, I highly recommend you should make one by yourself. It's taste is similar or better than its conventional counterparts. Moreover, the health benefits that it gives to your body is something that you can't trade off.

If you are interested in this diet, then start learning some basic recipes first. For that, a gluten-free vanilla cake is a good route. This luscious cake has a mesmerizing texture and oozing flavor that will delight your mouth! Here is how to do it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fudgy Tallow Brownies

These ridiculously fudgy brownies are eggless thanks to silken tofu, and have a hint of "old fashioned doughnut" flavour from home-rendered tallow

Fudgy Tallow Brownies

It seems as though I can never make the same pan of brownies twice. Sure, I'll make similar ones (Squidgy Superfood Brownies and Chocolate Hazelnut Beet Brownies, for instance), but the ingredients and their proportions always vary enough to make them unique. It's not that I'm dissatisfied with any of them either - in fact, I would enjoy any of the brownies I've posted on here again - but it's boring to repeat, and repeat, and repeat. Call it culinary ADD.

Fudgy Tallow Brownies

Anyways, these brownies are perfect for the "old fashioned" doughnut lover, since they get their flavour nuances from tallow (used to fry doughnuts back in the day). I render my own from local beef fat and keep it in the fridge much like I do schmaltz from chickens broken down for curry, stews or stock. Aside from baking (it does make fantastic savoury pie crust), I use it to saute beef for stews or stir fry as well as caramelizing onions. However, in brownies, it adds just the right punch of savoury, old-world flavour and, since there's no water in it (or very little), it makes for the fudgiest brownies ever - 100% up my alley.

The rest of this brownie batter isn't overly "standard" either - silken tofu adds to the rich, dense texture and replaces the eggs in binding, while barley flour adds a hint of nuttiness and "toastiness" that chopped or ground nuts would lend, while keeping the mix nut free. Add to the ingredients my tried-and-true technique of flash-cooling the pan in the freezer straight from the oven, and you have a perfect treat for the lunchbox (yours or the kids'!) or for building a killer sundae (extra hot fudge, and a cherry on top, please!).

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fudge Cookie Bites #CreativeCookieExchange

Celebrating the end of Summer with gluten free and vegan Fudge Cookie Bites! Made with a strawberry-pear sauce (or applesauce) they are a great two-bite treat for adults and kids alike!

Fudge Cookie Bites
Don't you just love how cute these are? 

For me, anything chocolate based is an easy sell. Hot, cold, drinkable or chew-worthy, you can essentially guarantee I'll enjoy at least a nibble. For a chocolate dessert to really stand out, though, I look for the "fudge factor". You know it, the toothsome, ever so slightly chewy, knock-you-out density that makes brownies and cookies crave-worthy, yet satisfying in small(ish) quantities.

Usually, though, that unctuous quality is synonymous with fat, fat, more fat and eggs. Don't get me wrong - I love an indulgent chocolate cake or brownie as much as the next person, but this girl needs her chocolate daily. When I saw a recipe for something called "fudge cookie bites" on Persnickety Plates - that used applesauce for the bulk of its moisture - you bet I was going to give it a go!

Since I was baking for a gluten, nut and dairy free audience, I swapped out the butter for coconut oil and used my go-to flour blend for the AP in the original. My cookies got a little extra flavour from the strawberry - pear puree I had in the freezer, but I wouldn't hesitate to use regular applesauce, pumpkin puree or even pureed zucchini (hey, we have a ton of it right now!). If nuts aren't a problem, I would 100% roll them in my Chocolate Hazelnut Crunchies for a Nutella-esque bite. These are definitely on the "re-make ASAP list for me!

Gluten free cookie recipes are a great idea to have on hand since you never know when you will encounter someone with a gluten allergy--and believe it or not there are tons of delicious gluten free cookies out there! Keep reading to discover the ones we’ve made this month.

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.

If you are looking for inspiration to get in the kitchen and start baking, check out what all of the hosting bloggers have made:

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

KCC (Kinako Chocolate Chip) Cookies

Why not have a healthy (er) Kinako Chocolate Chip Cookie for dessert tonight? These melt in your mouth cookies get a nutty flavour and hit of protein from kinako - toasted soy flour.

Kinako Chocolate Chip Cookie

It's been a while since I wrote about using one of my "secret weapon" ingredients for baking - kinako. I love it for it's nutty flavour, it's great binding ability and of course it's nutritional profile. Now that we're into the latter half of the year, I'm starting to stock my freezer with cookie doughs for holiday baking (I know... sorry), and these babies are definitely on the roster.

I couldn't resist trying these out when I found the recipe in  Kyotofu by Nicole Bermensolo - after all, who doesn't like chocolate chip cookies? Okay, I know a few people too, but most of the world enjoys them. These ones, in particular, enticed me because they relied on chopped dark chocolate for ultimate gooeyness, and were easily veganized. I also added a touch of spelt flour to the mix (as written it was only kinako and AP) and upped the kinako a bit just for flavour and texture. The resulting biscuits were chewy, just crisp on the edges, packed with chocolate and perfectly sweet. The colour was fabulous too - the perfect "sun kissed" tan - and everyone who ate my first batch raved about them.

My favourite part about this dough is that it takes well to the "slice and bake" method too - simply form into a log and wrap in waxed paper, then foil, and stash in the freezer (follow my advice on this chocolate chip cookie post for the best shaped cookies). Slice and bake as needed / wanted / craved - but you'll want to make double batches just to eat the dough itself!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Asian Style Chicken Lettuce Wraps #SundaySupper

The filling for Asian Style Chicken Lettuce Wraps is packed with whole-grain brown rice, water chestnuts, baby corn and bamboo shoots and is mixed with a sweet and salty hoisin-orange-teriyaki sauce. 

The filling for Asian Style Chicken Lettuce Wraps is packed with #wholegrain brown #rice, water chestnuts, baby corn and bamboo shoots and is mixed with a sweet and salty hoisin-orange-teriyaki sauce.

When I think about football (or any) sport season that's upon us, I have to inwardly groan a bit. I am probably the furthest thing away from a sports fan out there, and personally, I'm not one for the rowdy, loud social brouhahas that seem to convalesce at our place during the hockey season. 

However, I am one for putting together the finger food trays for holiday and other get-togethers, and these lettuce wraps are just that. I originally write this recipe as an Asian-inspired "use up" for ingredients in my Home Economics class, and after getting good reviews from the kids (who as we all know are the ones to please) I refined it a bit more for a gathering we had at home. In it's essence, it's chicken-fried rice without the frying, and uses all pre-cooked ingredients so it's a breeze to put together. While it's perfectly good right after mixing, I personally think it makes the best tasting appetizer after a night in the fridge, when the rice, baby corn, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots have had a chance to soak up the tangy-spicy-sweet sauce. As a bonus, because it keeps so well in the fridge, you can pack a container of it for lunch along with some lettuce leaves (or a wrap) all week. My next test with it is to turn it into a warm, Napa-cabbage roll filling - kind of like a veggie-fied spring roll. 

This recipe is also rather variable in the actual components. Don't want rice? Try quinoa, millet or amaranth, or skip it all together and use riced cauliflower (the taste will change, but if you roast it it won't taste as "vegetal"). Don't eat chicken? Anything from shredded tofu to salmon or tuna works, probably jackfruit too. Hoisin can be replaced with a sweet BBQ sauce with a dash of hot sauce, or use more teriyaki. Swap out orange for lime, use all baby corn and no bamboo shoots, or swap in shredded or diced veggies to suit your tastes. This is really more of a formula rather than a cut-and-dry thing. After all, cooking is about enjoyment, not fussing over rules!

September is upon us, and you know what that means– Football Season! There is no better time of the year than Football Season for delicious party food. Wings, fries, sandwiches, chips and dip… when it comes to finger food, you’ve got a lot of firepower in your kitchen arsenal!
Break out the napkins and let’s celebrate Football Season’s exciting parties with equally exciting finger food! 

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.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mango Habanero BBQ Sauce

Sweet, tangy with that last second flame... How can you resist? You bet I am licking the spoon!

Mango Habanero BBQ Sauce

When it comes to mangoes, I have to admit I don't eat very many. I like them all right - how can you not enjoy that tropical, honey-like sweetness? - but they're generally expensive around here and I can't eat a whole one in one go.Instead, I bide my time until the holiday season comes around, when occasionally a fruit platter will appear with mangoes alongside the strawberries, pineapple and honeydew. Then I get my fix.

However, a new Asian grocery store just opened by my gym, and their "grand opening" specials included - amongst other things - mangoes. They were surprisingly cheap for the quality compared to the "normal" supermarket, so I picked up a few. At the same time, the habaneros in the garden were perfectly ripe, and I had a jar of homemade apple juice in the fridge needing to be used up. Things fell into place when I found a promising-looking recipe on Serious Eats for barbecue sauce, of all things! Normally mango is either shoved into hot sauce or relegated to the sweet kitchen, but the mixture of the sweet fruit with the blow-your-head-off habs, molasses and tomatoes sounded ideal.

The best part about whipping up this (if you're a solo diner like me) is that it doesn't make a ton. Out of one big mango and a couple chilies, I got a pint and a half of sauce - which I wouldn't have bothered canning if I hadn't already had other things going for the waterbath swim. As soon as it was ready to put up, I quickly tasted it and was, for lack of a better word, floored. Right away I thought of the ribs from Swiss Chalet, which have a similar tangy-sweet baste, and was ruminating on that when - BAM - that habanero sparked just enough fire to keep things from being glorified ketchup.

Since I love BBQ sauce like this, I can't wait to try it slathered on eggplant planks or roasted cauliflower, but I bet this would be killer on pork or chicken too!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


Minced mushrooms make for a healthy, hearty calzone filling with kale, black olives and ricotta, while a sprouted-wheat crust crisps up and perfectly browns on the pizza stone. 


Well, it looks like we all survived the first day of school! In the mixed-level school where I work, there were certainly a lot of tears from the little ones - and a lot of excited chatter from the older ones who hadn't seen their friends in a while. With all the usual snafus of class lists and schedules, one thing can always be counted on to bring everyone to their seats for at least a few minutes - LUNCH. If the kids in your life are anything like ours, the clock starts being watched at about 10:30 (right after snack!) and once the magical "tidy up time" rolls around you'd swear children could never move that fast.

Of course, after the kiddos eat and bolt out the door for recess, it's the grown-up's time to nosh. I like to think we have a bit more of a sophisticated palate, if not a whole lot of time, so something that tastes gourmet with minimal fuss in the middle of the day is paramount. I for one favour a throwback to my childhood - the pizza pocket. I guess, if I'm trying to sound frou-frou and all grown up, I should call them calzones, but it's quite hard to stay in "adult" mode after working with children all day!

Mushroom "meat" browning nicely!
Regardless, the flavours of these doughy pouches - whatever you choose to call them - are definitely more suited to the mature palate than the one of a 9 year old. Underneath a homemade, spouted-wheat crust lies a veggie-packed ricotta filling. Along with the obvious tomatoes (I went for my favourite canned pizza sauce since I didn't have any homemade left over), a full head of garden-grown kale and a slew of mushrooms were cooked up in red wine and vegan Worcestershire before being finished with briny olives and fresh basil. Paired with the cheese and sweet, nutty dough, they are meals fit to be served at any high end bistro - just cheaper.


I won't lie though - these do take a bit of time to put together. However, I simplified things by making four batches of sprouted wheat pizza dough as well as the filling on Saturday, stashing 1 in the fridge and preparing the other for freezing. To do that, I rolled out oblongs of dough about the size of a cookie sheet, then rolled them up into logs with wax paper inside (to prevent sticking), finally sealing each log in cling wrap and foil. This way, they're ready to go once defrosted - no need to break out the rolling pin again! By Sunday, the dough and filling had rested and chilled enough that rollong, cutting and sealing was a breeze. All that was left was to fire up the oven with a pizza stone and bake them off.

Obviously, this makes a lot at once, but freezing the leftovers works like a charm, and they even microwave well without much quality loss. You could, if you had time, heat defrosted ones in the oven (about 30 minutes at 350F) but truly, microwave is fine.

Here's wishing you all a fantastic school year of full minds and full bellies!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Sweet Beets

These canned beauties are the precursor to some killer Harvard Beets - simply drain and thicken the brine with cornstarch, heat and serve. They're not super sweet, but of course that depends on the type of beets you're using. 

Sweet Pickled Beets

The women in my family love beets. In fact, over the years I've expanded the annual beet patch in my garden to include three varieties, always heirlooms and generally ones you don't even find at the farmer's market. They're a little crowded this year - I didn't thin them nearly enough at the beginning, and they share space with carrots - but pulling some of them now gives me flavourful veggies to enjoy all through the fall.

Unlike me, who appreciates these root veggies most when they're raw (or baked into something chocolate), my mom prefers them super slow-roasted and Grandma likes hers Harvard-style, in a sweet and sour, thick sauce. For the longest time, I thought I just didn't like beets, because they were always served in this fashion - kind of like how I never liked green beans or asparagus because they were always cooked to oblivion, and I still hate grilled food because it reminds me of eating charcoal for dinner as a kid (sorry Mom and Grandma). However, Grandma won't eat them readily unless they're in that form, so I figured I would at least make her a jar with my organic beets that was a bit better for her than the tin cans on the shelf.

Even though I have a pressure canner, there were no approved recipes for Harvard beets on the books. Most traditional recipes use cornstarch or a roux, both of which are no-nos in home canning, and apparently the "powers that be" haven't figured out a way that ClearJel can work in this application and not breed botulism. Instead, I did what a few of my cookbooks recommended and can the roasted, sliced beets in a sweet, lightly spiced brine which could then be thickened upon opening and serving. While it's not as "dump and serve" as I was hoping for, it's still much easier for Grandma to simmer up a cornstarch and brine slurry than it is to roast, peel, slice and pickle the beets herself!