Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Mediterranean Chicken Pasta

Mediterranean Chicken Pasta with @prosticks2go skewers, olives, leeks, artichokes, homegrown kale, homemade tomato sauce and homemade ricotta! 

Mediterranean Chicken Pasta

In this lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas feasting, we've run out of the luxury that is leftovers. My family, in general, actually looks forward to this break because we know that all too soon we'll be spending a full week in the kitchen preparing for three full days of company and eating at the end of December followed by a month of leftovers (I'm not in charge of purchasing, but those who are chronically overbuy). At any rate, it's starting to get blustery outside too, which demands meals that are hearty, comforting, flavourful and nutritious. Knowing that full one-dish meals are prepped and ready to heat in the fridge means less chance of pizza or Chinese take out after a day of shopping or grabbing fast food out at the mall.

Of course, just because something is homemade doesn't mean it can't utilize a few shortcuts. I was approached by Expresco a few weeks ago and asked if I could review a new, health-conscious, on-the-go snack food of theirs called ProSticks.

Prosticks Package

ProSticks are an ideal protein-laden nibble for people out and about who only have access to a convenience store for a quick bite. Three flavours of marinated chicken breast on skewers are available (chipotle, sriracha and Mediterranean), and each package comes with a packet of dipping sauce. I was a bit confused as to the pairing of teriyaki sauce with the souvlaki-tasting Mediterranean chicken, and upon tasting the dipper I discarded it - it was simply too sweet and did not work well with the more herbaceous protein. The chicken, on the other hand, tasted like cold souvlaki. It was tender and moist, although the meat clung to the skewer so tightly I had to resort to a knife to disengage it. I was also a little thrown off by the shape of the meat on the skewers - the company promotes the snack as being made with "whole muscle" meat, but I've never seen chicken breast this irregular. I've also never been able to get such clear grill marks on skewered chicken, but I'll give the company the benefit of the doubt and communicate to you what they promise - minimal processing.

Mediterranean Prosticks

Here are photos of the back of the package, depicting the ingredients and nutritional information of a packet of Mediterranean ProSticks. Bear in mind that the NI applies to the whole package of meat and sauce - I'm willing to bet the majority of the salt and sugar listed is in that teriyaki dip. However, if you enjoy sweet sauces, bear in mind that 200 calories for a relatively small snack is quite a lot - it is best as a supplement to a light meal such as a salad or soup. There is no indication of any top allergens in the ingredients (except soy in the sauce), but I confirmed with the company that they cannot declare these "gluten free" as their facility processes gluten-containing items. In addition, if you're planning on eating these on the road, you'll want to pack a pair of scissors or a sharp knife to open the plastic. There is a "convenient" tab in the corner marked "open here", but try as I might pulling that corner did nothing to unsnap the box. The plastic is rigid - great for protecting the meat inside (does it need protection?) but frustratingly sharp to get past, and inversely the compartment for the sauce is made of flimsy, crushable plastic perfect for squirting sticky liquid over your backpack. I would suggest the company reverse the two packaging constructs.

Prosticks Ingredients

Prosticks Nutrition

Obviously these skewers are meant to be eaten on-the-go, as is, but I couldn't help but see how versatile they could be too. With the herby, souvlaki-esque Mediterranean variety as my inspiration I set about making a pasta dish echoing similar flavours: artichokes, black olives, leeks and kale along with a jar of homemade Homegrown Tomato Sauce from last year and a cup of homemade ricotta. A bowl of this is hearty, stick to your ribs and full of nutrition. If you can't access ProSticks (currently they're in 7/11 stores in Ontario as well as some Sobeys) roasted chicken breast (or leftover souvlaki) works too.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Baked Bao with Hoisin Turkey

Baked Bao are stuffed with a hoisin-soaked turkey mixture and baked to golden perfection. Hot or cold, they're a treat for lunch or an after school snack! 

Baked Bao with Hoisin Turkey

I hope everyone who celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday had a wonderful and thankfulness-filled holiday! For my part, I spent the whole morning writing my last final (yay for no more exams!) and by the time I got home I was glad cooking an elaborate meal was not a necessity. However, I still had to cook, because we had finished all our Thanksgiving leftovers ages ago. Tough life, eh?

Bao Dough

One of my favourite things to do with leftovers is to not simply re-purpose them, but transform them into another dish entirely. While grocery shopping, my mom and I were discussing some of the things she was exposed to while working overseas and in an office marked by a diverse mixture of cultures. One thing she mentioned having a few times (and missing in retirement) was Chinese dumplings. For one of her co-workers birthdays, the gang went to a dim sum-leaning restaurant serving a variety of these filled dough pockets: boiled, steamed, fried and baked. Knowing we had leftover turkey in the freezer and a glut of hoisin sauce (left over from a stir fry or two) in the fridge, I decided to give a baked version of the BBQ meat buns a shot. 

The recipe is ridiculously simple to prepare, although the ingredients may require a trip to your local Oriental market (we cook a lot of Asian-esque food at home, so these were all pantry items for us). It is also a fantastic multi-day friendly preparation, which I wound up doing since school and work had to be attended to. The filling was mixed, covered and chilled overnight, and in the time it took to come back to room temperature the next day the wrapper dough was made, risen and ready to go. The most intensive part of making this Thanksgiving revamp was the filling and sealing of the buns, which was made 100% easier with a disher / cookie scoop. As a bonus, the oil-rich dough moisturizes your hands like crazy and smells mighty fine to boot!

Hoisin Turkey

What's your favourite holiday leftover recipe? 
Do you stick to the classic turkey and gravy sandwich or do you completely rehash the meal?

Ready For Baking

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Flaky Suet Pastry (and Apple Butter Apple Pie)

Suet sounds awful and archaic, but it makes super-flaky, melt in your mouth pastry perfect for any type of pie!

Apple Butter Apple Pie

As someone who doesn't eat meat (except seafood and fish), it's surprising to most people (including myself) that I'm no stranger to cooking with animal fat. I take great pride in rendering my own tallow and schmaltz from mostly local animals after the meat is used for dinner. The fat makes some amazing savoury dishes to be sure, but also lends that "old fashioned" flavour to the sweet kitchen. I don't normally go out of my way to purchase these fats pre-rendered, but when I was given a bag of suet from someone who didn't realize it was animal fat (I know...) I started searching up ways to use it. I found a lot of traditional Christmas puddings - which nobody here likes - but I started thinking pastry. After all, suet is essentially the beef form of lard - and the shredded, frozen kind I had in my possession was also covered in flour so the pieces remained distinct. Distinct fat particles = flaky pastry. Lightbulb flash.

Having used lard before in pie crusts (and loving the tender, flaky result), it wasn't a far leap to make. However, I didn't have any recipes using suet per se, and certainly none using it in this fine, flour-coated format. Thankfully, the UK and Australia seem to utilize this ingredient more than we do in Canada, and I finally found a recipe that promised a puffy, flaky and tender crust. Originally, the recipe was intended for savoury pot pies, and I can see why, as the dough is somewhat more elastic than straight butter dough and if rolled decently thick it would make a suitable barrier against gravy. However, this elasticity worried me a bit - pastry is not supposed to act like bread dough, it's supposed to be delicate and finicky, right? Well I discovered that in this case, a touch of elasticity in the dough did not hamper the tenderness or flakiness of the baked product at all, and made rolling out bases and top crusts so much easier. If animal products are on your dietary "do" list, I strongly suggest trying suet for custard or berry pies with a lot of liquid.

Apple Butter Apple Pie

For me, the best part was actually price. While I got my bag of suet (enough for three single crust pies) for free, I found it at my local grocery for $1. After Thanksgiving, they were marked down to 69 cents. If you bake a lot of pies during the holidays, stocking up on this stuff makes sense - keep it in the freezer up to 6 months no problem!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Maple Walnut Spice Cookies #CreativeCookieExchange

Maple walnut fans will love these two biters!

Maple Walnut Cookies

While I've known for ages that the US celebrates Thanksgiving later than we Canadians do, it flabbergasts me that there is so much hoopla surrounding it. For a holiday so close to Christmas, there is so much ceremony - even more so than us a month earlier!

Regardless, Thanksgiving - whenever it is - is a time for celebrating the bonds of family and friends. Whether you do this by cooking a giant meal for 40 or going to a movie and forgoing the whole turkey deal, it's an important occasion that frankly I wish happened more often in our society. Since the next holiday we're gearing up for here is Christmas, I have batches and batches of cookie dough in the freezer at the ready. When we do Christmas Eve for the Italian family, we never have a formal dessert like pie or cake. Instead, there are lots of little nibbles laid out on the table: chocolates, brownies and of course a range of cookies! Last year I debuted these maple-kissed, nutty cookies and they were such a hit I wound up making them again this year for gift baskets.

If you love maple-walnut anything, you'll love these! Not only do they get the toasty flavour from walnuts, but they are made with barley flour for a light, almost malt-y sweetness. Maple is in two forms too - real-deal syrup and extract - although this year I tripled the flavour with a sprinkle of maple flakes on top! Ironically, I'm not generally a walnut fan, but in these cookies the sweetness of the maple cuts any bitterness from the nuts and the combination winds up at the perfect level of sweetness. As a bonus, these are glorious freezers both in dough and baked form, so there are always cookies at hand! Need a last minute dessert for a party or a date night? Sandwich a mini-scoop of ice cream (like maple or French vanilla) between two baked, still-frozen cookies and dig in. Small size, big impact.

This month for #CreativeCookieExchange, it's all about holiday dessert table cookies that are quicker and easier than schlepping a pie. If you are in charge of bringing dessert this year, be sure to check everyone's offerings out!
It’s cookie season! And I know everyone is thinking pies for Thanksgiving, but sometimes time gets away from us and we need something faster. Or maybe you just want something different, like a cookie tray for Turkey Day.

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, November 8, 2017

Pumpkin Spice and Gingerbread Syrups

If you're a Pumpkin Spice Latte addict, why not make your own decadent syrup infused with REAL pumpkin, cinnamon sticks, allspice berries and whole cloves along with ground ginger and nutmeg? For gingerbread fans, try brown and white sugars simmered with fresh ginger and a cinnamon stick. From coffee to waffles this is all the best of fall in a jar!

Pumpkin Spice Syrup

Well, 'tis the season for all things sweet and spicy. Everything in the stores these days seems to have an Autumnal equivalent, be it apple-cinnamon, gingerbread or even the often-mocked pumpkin spice. I have nothing against those flavours this time of year - they warm you up from the inside and are almost always associated with physically warm things (like the aforementioned latte). Where I do find it a little frustrating is that "pumpkin" or "gingerbread" items rarely contain pumpkin or real ginger - those perishables are left out in favour of sugar and flavouring.

The obvious solution is to make your own! Take this Pumpkin Spice Syrup for example. More than simply tossing cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves into a simple syrup, I decided to up the "pumpkin" quotient by using a pumpkin "stock" of sorts. It added a lightly sweet, vegetal flavour that perfectly highlighted to stronger spices. In addition, with the exception of the nutmeg I used whole spices as a type of "tea", straining them after the mixture reduced. The result was a flavourful but not overwhelmingly spicy syrup, which is perfect for adding to coffee or cocoa as well as drizzling onto waffles.

Pumpkin Spice Syrup
Makes ~ 2 cups
Deseeded pulp from 2 pumpkins
water to cover
1 1/2 cups sugar
1" piece fresh ginger, peeled
2" piece cinnamon stick
5 allspice berries
3 whole cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  1. Combine the pumpkin pulp and enough water to cover it in a large pot. Cover and simmer for 3 hours.
  2. Remove from heat and strain through fine mesh. Discard solids.
  3. Measure 3 cups of the liquid and return to the pot.
  4. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat to a brisk simmer and cook until reduced by 1/3, about 1 hour.
  6. Store in the fridge or can 10 minutes in a waterbath.

This dark gingerbread-flavoured syrup is not shy in the spice department, but it is thinner than the Pumpkin Spice version. I canned some for later (leaving the ginger chunks and cinnamon stick in the liquid) and stashed the rest in the fridge, where it thickened slightly, like maple syrup. Again, this is fantastic in coffee drinks (or Chai tea), but wouldn't be remiss drizzed onto pumpkin bread or mixed into cream cheese as a cookie filling.

Gingerbread Syrup
Makes ~ 2 3/4 cups, 22 (1 fl. oz) servings
1 cup dark brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 cups water
4" piece ginger, peeled and diced
1 (2") cinnamon stick
  1. Combine the sugars, water, sliced ginger and cinnamon stick in a large stainless steel saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring.
  3. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick if desired (I didn't).
  4. Can 10 minutes in a waterbath.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 55.0
Total Fat: 0.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 4.0 mg
Total Carbs: 17.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.0 g
Protein: 0.0 g

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sweet Coffee and Cinnamon Rolls

Nothing makes a home smell beautiful like freshly brewed coffee does. The scent of coffee can help sell houses, it is comforting, and warms the soul in a cold Canadian winter. This recipe is a great twist on the classic cinnamon roll and is a perfect accompaniment to your cup of espresso. It’s a great, sweet pick-me-up, delicious and packed full of flavor.

Photo via unsplash

These rolls are a great recipe for a picnic as you can make them in advance for the next day. You can make the dough for your cinnamon rolls by hand, or in the bread machine on a dough cycle. Just make sure that you follow the instructions for your bread machine when putting in the liquids.

Sweet Coffee and Cinnamon Rolls
Makes 12

¾ cup warm 2% milk
¼ cup warm espresso coffee - Investing in a drip coffee maker can help you get really good quality coffee to put in your dough.
⅓ cup melted butter
4 ½ cups strong white bread flour
½ cup superfine sugar
2 ½ teaspoons quick dried yeast

3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 cup packed brown sugar
⅓ cup soft butter
  1. It is important that you don’t add your coffee in whilst it is really hot, but warm coffee will help start the rising process and activate the yeast. 
  2. Combine the ingredients in a bowl, mixing to form a dough. 
  3. Knead until smooth an elastic. If you are making this by hand, then you may need to add a little extra flour whilst kneading. 
  4. When you have made your dough, leave it in a bowl and cover with saran wrap. Leave the bowl in a warm, dry place for 2 hours or until it has doubled in size.  
Filling and Baking
  1. Once the dough has doubled in size, put it on a clean, floured work surface and roll it gently into rectangle, approximately 16x24.
  2. Mix together the cinnamon and brown sugar in a bowl. 
  3. Spread the softened butter all over your dough, then sprinkle over the cinnamon/brown sugar mixture. 
  4. Roll the dough up lengthwise and cut into 12 equal pieces. Put these into a greased 13x9 pan, cover leave to rise for a further hour.
  5. Heat the oven to 400F
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the tops of the rolls are nice and brown. 
  7. Put them onto a cooling rack. 
  8. You may wish to leave the rolls plain, but for a great glaze simply combine 3 cups of confectioners (powdered) sugar with ⅓ cup of freshly brewed coffee and spread nice and thick over the rolls.

This has been a guest post by a company who wishes to remain anonymous, brought to you by What Smells So Good?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Cowpea Ginger Chews

These spicy, soft and chewy cookies are crowned with raw sugar and are perfect for the lunchbox - you certainly can't tell there's anything healthy about them!

Cowpea Ginger Chews

'Tis the season for all things baked and spicy! Since I'm always on the lookout for unique, healthy and overall delicious cookie recipes to fill my gift baskets in December, I was excited to try remaking an old bean-based cookie of mine for the festive season. I have a handful of gingerbread fanatics on my gifting list, so in addition to Chestnut Gingerbread Cookies, gingerbread syrup and biscotti I'm adding these soft, chewy and ever so slightly cakey drop cookies to the mix. These are laden with flavour not only from ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon, but a nuttiness from barley flour and pureed black eyed peas.

Now black eyed peas (also called cowpeas) are a bit of a divisive food around here - at least when they're in a savoury application. I happen to love their nutty, buttery flavour and soft texture, particularly when pureed into a dip or roasted. However, my mom is strictly against this type of legume when she can taste it distinctly - pureed and baked, though, she's willfully blind. The application of a spicy, soft cookie is the perfect foil for the beans, as it allows them to impart a subtle taste without screaming "BEANS HERE!". They passed the "kid test" at school with flying colours too - definitely cookie platter material.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Somebody's Grandma's Spice Cake

I used pear sauce and carob in this revamp of an old family recipe, which happens to be completely vegan!

Well, holy crow it's been a while since I've been able to post! With the flurry of activity around here the past few weeks, cooking, baking and writing for the blog had to take a bit of a backseat, so here's hoping the worst of the craziness is past (except for exams... I have no control over those). In the past month, both my stepsister and stepsister-in-law had beautiful baby girls, we had Thanksgiving and Halloween, I got my exam schedule and started my term papers - all of which come with time constraints and stress! When I finally did get into the kitchen, I knew 100% it was going to be in order to make some comfort food.

I've written before about my mom's "black box" collection of recipe cards and cache of cookbooks - some gleaned from family and friends, others clipped from newspapers and magazines. Almost none of the handwritten cards have a source, but given the time it would have taken to compile the collection I'm confident that each one had special meaning.

This cake was simply titled "Nana's Applesauce Cake". Neither I, nor anyone I know in my family, have ever called our grandmothers "Nana", but apparently somewhere down the line there was such a woman making a spicy, dense, moist ring cake with applesauce. With a boatload of pureed, lightly sweetened pears in my freezer (left over from the days of Ruby Pears in a Golden Cage), I saw this cake as the perfect opportunity to use them up, and take a little twist on tradition as I went along. The neat thing about this recipe is that it was always a 100% vegan and part whole grain recipe - why, I don't know (except maybe economics played a factor), but they definitely don't have any negative impact on the flavour or texture of the cake. I did add a dash of vanilla, and cut down the sugar a bit, but I also decided to use carob in place of the cocoa in the original. Carob has a somewhat fruity flavour going for it, which I thought would work well with the fruit in the batter.

I tried to get a photo of it sliced when I took it to work, but (as with all staff rooms) good food simply doesn't linger! I do promise you though that the crumb is dark, moist and definitely indulgent, perfect for pairing with a cuppa on a cold Fall day.

Somebody's Grandma's Spice Cake

Somebody's Grandma's Spice Cake
Makes 1 large tube cake, 16 slices
6 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp vanilla
3 1⁄2 cups sweetened pear or applesauce
1⁄2 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp nutmeg
1⁄4 tsp cloves
1 tbsp cinnamon
⅓ cup carob powder
1⁄2 tsp salt
1 ⅓ cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 ⅓ cups whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup raisins
½ cup diced dried apple
  1. Heat oven to 350F and grease a 12-cup tube pan.
  2. In a bowl, beat together oil, vanilla, applesauce, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, carob, salt and sugar.
  3. Add flours and baking soda, beating well.
  4. Mix in the dried fruit.
  5. Bake at 350 for about an hour or until toothpick comes out clean.
  • Amount Per Serving
  • Calories: 260.1

  • Total Fat: 5.4 g
  • Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
  • Sodium: 3.7 mg
  • Total Carbs: 52.4 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 3.2 g
  • Protein: 3.1 g