Sunday, January 28, 2018

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

This luscious, decadent cake is 100% whole grain, vegan and full of Chianti for good measure. A topping of melted chocolate and a sprinkle of chips just ups the ante.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Cake isn't just for kids, and certainly not just for birthdays! If the contents of our staff room are any indication, a simple weekday is permission to indulge a little. Of course, at the end of the day a drink and a slice of cake are occasionally in order... luckily there's a way to get both, whenever the mood strikes, without any risk of a hangover.

Like I mentioned when I made the cookies, red wine and dark chocolate are a great combination - even for people like me who detest vino in any (liquid) form. The richness of the cocoa is accented beautifully by the fruity notes of the wine, making a slice seem simply more decadent, rather than a one-note, "out of the box" flavour. While I appreciate that this is cake, and thus a "sometimes food", I also wanted to keep it slightly on the virtuous side - especially since cocoa andred wine are touted as health foods in some circles.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Applesauce is a common diet trick - certainly one mom and I utilized back in our Weight Watcher days - but it's pretty flavourless. Instead, I went with a flavoured applesauce, which doesn't seem like it would make that much of a difference. However, the strawberry in the applesauce plus the berries of the Chianti made the cake even better. I also utilized whole wheat pastry flour, which added a slightly nutty note without sacrificing texture. Of course, I couldn't serve a naked cake, so melted dark chocolate it was. A small slice was plenty to kill off any chocolate cravings, without any "winey" taste, and when covered with a cake dome it actually didn't stale in the fridge. I'm not sure if that's the wine talking, but either way I deem it a winner.

Do you bake with wine? What's your favourite recipe?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Cocoa Vino Cookies #CreativeCookieExchange

These red wine and dark chocolate cookies are a socially acceptable, gluten free and vegan way to indulge in a tipple at work! 

Red Wine and Dark Chocolate Cookies

I'll let you all in on a secret: I loathe wine. Unlike every adult in my family (except my sister), I find the beverage bitter, sour and tannic to the point where my mouth feels like sandpaper. Luckily, my intolerance to alcohol allows me to skip the toasts at birthdays, weddings and the like, but every year I wind up the recipient of at least one bottle from a well-meaning parent or a fluke Secret Santa swap.

While I may detest the flavour of wine in a glass, I find I don't mind it as an ingredient in recipes. When the inclusion is a key component of a savoury dish - coq au vin, for instance - a good wine choice can accent the savoury flavours of the other ingredients and add a layer of luxury. In sweet recipes - especially those with a chocolate component (like brownies, sundae sauce and muffins) - red wine is an excellent bearer of complimentary berry and other fruit notes. The presence of alcohol in chocolatey desserts also serves the purpose of heightening the cocoa and vanilla elements of the dish by releasing the organic compounds in those ingredients. In the case of gluten free baking, the right wine, paired with the right cocoa, can obscure the "off" flavours sometimes present by the flour blends.

In these cookies, however, I am happy to report the wine is not there as a mask, but as a makeup of sorts - the rich berry notes of the Chianti I had on hand opened up the floral aspects of the high-end cocoa I received for Christmas, and the combination of the wine and the Dutch process cocoa turned the baked cookies a lovely deep red-black colour. The aroma of the wine was present during baking, but faded into the merest afterthought when the cookies had cooled, giving them an edge of "grown up" sophistication without screaming "frat party". Come Valentine's Day, these would be a great treat regardless of whether you are attached or not - chocolate is the food of love, so why should it be wrong to love chocolate?

Chocolate is always in fashion--but no time more so than in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. So whether you are baking for your honey or just baking for fun, we have chocolate cookies to inspire you!

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:

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Chickpea Tikka Masala #SundaySupper

Chickpea Tikka Masala is made with homemade Masala sauce, spinach, mushrooms and carrots and finished with coconut milk for a rich, slightly spicy vegan lunch!

Chickpea Tikka Masala

Mid-January is usually the time when meal preparation gets back into full swing. The holiday leftovers are gone (finally), and the routine is back to normal. Of course, I'm still trying to sleep off the holiday blahs, and while cooking meals for the week is still enjoyable, making sure they're balanced and healthy as well as quick and easy can be a challenge.

One of the options is, of course, to turn to convenience foods like pre-made sauces, grain dishes and entrees for a jump on dinner. Now, I have nothing against using well-made, jarred sauces on occasion - salt free tomato products (yes, including sauce), curry pastes and condiments like mustard are staples in our pantry. Canned beans are another thing we stock up on. But now that I have a pressure canner, I've taken pleasure in making my own pantry staples - yes, including beans. This way, I get the benefits of quick and easy convenience while controlling the quality and contents of what we're eating.

Tikka Masala Sauce

I wish I could take credit for the idea behind this dish, but that honour goes to Rebecca Lindamood from Foodie with Family. I received her book, Not Your Mama's Canning Book, for Christmas 2016 and last summer was able to cook up a few treats from it's pages including her canned beans and her
Tikka Masala Sauce. As I was using my garden produce, I used pencil hot and Thai chilies instead of the jalapeno she called for, and home roasted and pureed tomatoes. I canned up two pint jars at the time - the tomato harvest was pitiful - but it was good enough for the beginning of our winter blues.

With both chickpeas and sauce at the ready, it took moments to toss together a rich, spicy ragout perfect for spooning over long grain Basmati rice. It stashed in the fridge for a good week, and was even good cold - but when the weather is anything but tropical, a warm bowl of goodness truly hits the spot!

This week #SundaySupper is focused on healthy grain bowls - rice, quinoa, farro, whatever. From Tex-Mex to teriyaki, there's something for everyone!
Sunday Supper Movement

The Sunday Supper Movement is committed to bringing our readers delicious recipes that encourage them to gather and eat together around the family table. Search for your favorite ingredients on our Sunday Supper website. Also check out the Sunday Supper Pinterest boards for plenty more ideas and inspiration.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Zippy Beet Catsup

This sweet, spicy and tangy dip tastes deceivingly like ketchup - but surprise! There are zero tomato products involved.

Zippy Beet Catsup

Let's face it - kids (and big kids) love ketchup. Even at my house - where every resident is over 25 - we have 3 bottles of it in the fridge. I use "my" low-sodium variety (which I added Louisiana hot sauce to, because) exclusively on sweet potato, butternut squash and skin-on Russett oven fries, while my often-visiting stepbrother piles his sriracha-laced variety on hamburgers. Then there's my sister, who as I've mentioned before is a bona fide ketchup addict who puts it on everything from steak (yes, even filet mignon) to fries to pasta (but not mac n' cheese... we both agree that's just wrong).

One thing kids are not generally fond of in their natural state is beets. Whether it's their garishly red colour, the slight earthiness or the fact that the thought of the root vegetable brings up memories of old ladies and sickly-sweet Harvard sauce, beets are a hard sell. I speak from experience - until I began growing my own heirlooms a few years ago, the only way you'd find me enjoying beets was in a chocolate cake. I still prefer raw, spiralized or shredded beets to roasted day to day, but I do have to admit their versatility is growing on me - especially when it comes to making condiments.

When I saw the original recipe for "beet ketchup" on Knead to Cook, I was skeptical - no way could this tomato-free spread taste like the fire-engine-red squeeze bottle stuff. You know what - I was right. It's not your commercial, smooth, hyper-sweetened tomato ketchup. It's richer, more deeply flavoured, and more complex. However, it still evokes that delicate sweet-tart balance we know and love, with a hint of spice for interest. Think of it as grown-up ketchup, or fancy "catsup" that would be at home on a dinner-party spread (or really good meatloaf!). It definitely felt at home on Wednesday night steak fries too.

My only regret? Not making more - this batch used up the last of the garden's haul from 2017. Only 10 months or so until next harvest!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Peanut Butter/Pumpkin And Applesauce Cookies for Dogs (Guest Post)

This guest post is provided by Greer Grenley, community member. Rover is the nation's largest network of 5-star pet sitters and dog walkers.

Just like humans, dogs can have allergies to certain foods. Unfortunately, some dogs are allergic to common foods you find in many dog treats, like chicken, fish, and dairy.

Dogs show signs of allergic reactions that are easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for: itchy or oozing skin; red, irritated eyes; nasal discharge; coughing or sneezing; inflamed ears; and swollen paws.

Pups can develop allergies to their food if they eat the same thing every day for months or years. One key is to switch off the flavor of the food while sticking to the same brand so that their body maintains the correct diet without becoming as prone to allergic reactions. I feed my dogs Natural Balance Pet Food but try different proteins each month, switching off between chicken, bison, salmon, and duck.

Although there are some remedies for allergies, like medications and shampoo treatments, there are still plenty of treats dogs can enjoy even with a sensitive diet. You can bake your own tasty delights using alternative ingredients that are fun for you to make and fun for your dog to eat.

I used my dogs as taste-tasters for this recipe, and they approved. Funnily enough, they’re totally healthy for a human to eat too! You can use either peanut butter or pumpkin for this recipe. I tried a batch of each and the dogs liked them both, and while I haven’t met a dog that doesn’t like peanut butter, pumpkin has a gooey texture that held the biscuits together well. Plus, pumpkin is good for a dog’s digestive system and helps firm the stool. You can also use both ingredients in the same batch if that’s what you prefer.

(From left - right): Franny, Franklin, Walter, and George are all patiently waiting for a sample.

Peanut Butter/Pumpkin And Applesauce Cookies for Dogs
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups oatmeal
1 cup peanut butter or 1 ¼ cups pumpkin
1 cup unsweetened organic applesauce
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp coconut oil (Note: coconut oil is great for a dog’s coat!)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and cover 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients well.
  3. Knead dough in a bowl. If the dough is too loose and crumbly, add coconut oil by the tablespoon until you can form a dough.
  4. Shape the mixture into 2 inch compact balls and flatten.
  5. Place cookies on a baking sheet, approximately ½ inch apart.
  6. Bake in preheated oven for approximately 30 minutes or until dry.
  7. Let cool and serve.
*I baked them until they were hard and dark in color, although you can try different textures. These cookies are best stored in the fridge.

I’m certain your dogs will find them delicious. Happy baking!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Glittering Cookie Wands

Made with vegan cream cheese, vanilla sugar, and a secret ingredient, these crisp sticks are a fantastic addition to a child's birthday party or the Harry Potter fan club table!

Glittering Cookie Wands

I grew up with the Harry Potter book series, falling in love with the characters and their antics over the years. The series holds a special sort of "magic" for me as a big sister and a teacher as well - while Beatrix Potter, Hans Christian Andersen and C.S. Lewis failed to get my little sis (and many of my past students) turning pages, the adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione opened their minds and hearts to reading for pleasure. As a result, it's nigh impossible to get my sister to put down a book today, and our shelves are thoroughly laden with reading material.

Since school, with all it's bake sales and birthday parties, is back in session after the winter break, I thought it would be fitting - and I daresay, cute -  to make some "magic wand" cookies for a bit of sparkle. While I may not be a huge fan of standard sugar cookies - for too sweet, dry and bland for my tastes - I do like those made with a touch of cream cheese. Cream cheese has long been a favourite cookie ingredient of mine, since it adds just a hint of tang and a tenderness you can't get otherwise. I found a good base recipe on Keepin' it Kind, which had not only cream cheese but cornmeal for a bit of extra texture and a touch of sweetness.

Since I was making long, skinny cookies that were more prone to breakage, I opted to swap out the vegan butter for non-hydrogenated shortening which made the dough a touch sturdier. I also used vanilla sugar instead of plain and white whole wheat flour for a touch of added nutrition. The dough freezes exceptionally well, and the batch size is perfect for a child's birthday party where cookie decorating is one of the activities (do people still have birthday parties at home anymore, with pizza and homemade cake? They should!). If you need to serve a crowd, say a pre-fan convention party, you can double, and even triple the recipe. Bust out the sprinkles (and the dark chocolate if you're feeling fancy) and get to making some cookie magic!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Whole Wheat Soft Pretzels #BreadBakers

Whether soft or hard baked, a great pretzel is deep golden with a generous kiss of salt!

Whether soft or hard baked, a great pretzel is deep golden with a generous kiss of salt! These were made by my home ec class today. Great job! #yummy #yum #vegetarian #bread #baking #cheapeats #cheap #yeast #salt #pretzels #food

I have always loved pretzels. I'll eat them in any form - waffled, stuffed, sourdough, twisted, knotted, alphabet and even goldfish. However, my all time favourite form of this deep golden bread is soft and pillowy, with a light crusting of salt. A butter dip is definitely a bonus, but not a necessity. I've made my own pretzels before - gluten free and gluten-full - but they were both hard varieties, and I wanted to try my hand at making my own carnival-worthy snacks.

Soft pretzel making is very similar to making bagels - a relatively firm bread dough is shaped by hand, boiled (or in this case, basted) with an enhanced water solution and baked to deep golden brown perfection. The major differences between the two are the shape and the waterbath the dough is exposed to. While bagels are treated with honey-or malt-enhanced water (making it mildly acidic), pretzels are in an alkaline, baking soda baste. This gives them their signature flavour and crust. While usually a dip in the alkali bath is called for, I made these pretzels with my grade 1-8 Home Ec students and in the interest of timeliness and cleanliness I opted to brush the baking soda water over the risen dough instead. Both methods work and taste delicious, although the brushing does yield less even browning.

As for toppings, salt is always a great enhancement for pretzels but it is by no means the be-all-end-all option. Sanding sugar and cinnamon would be great for a sweet option, or coarse pepper, or even everything bagel seasoning. The options are endless!

This month, the #BreadBakers are making pretzels! There is a great range of options this month, from stuffed to sweet to sourdough and even saffron! Be sure to check out all the options below and say hi!
#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page.

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Why #SundaySupper Matters

If you've been following me for some time, you'll know that I am periodically part of an amazing blog event known as the Sunday Supper Movement. While family, work and general life the past year has kept me from participating as much as I wanted to, the spirit of coming together and sharing meals is still something I value and try to instill in my students.

While family meals don't have to be on Sunday - and certainly don't only have to be one day a week, the weekend is the perfect time to start the tradition. If you don't have to be out or at work, popping a chicken in to roast or making an oven-braised stew is easy, low-labour and makes the house smell wonderful, calling even the most wayward youth to the table. If staying home isn't on the agenda, why not try a crock pot meal, or whip up a casserole the night before that can be popped in the oven when you get home? Even leftovers have the power to bring together a family - I have fond memories of my parents and I sharing a mix of hot and fridge-cold day-old Chinese takeout after a busy day at work and school. While it didn't take any effort on our part, or create the feel-good aromas of Mom's Paella or my Citrus and Herb Roast Chicken, it was something we all loved and brought us together for an hour or so. 

So this week, although I'm not officially participating in the round up, I still encourage everyone who reads this to incorporate family meals - Sunday Suppers or otherwise - into your rotation. The reasons are vast and varied - some are listed below in the Sunday Supper Pledge, others you will discover on your own. Need inspiration? Check the Sunday Supper Movement website or search for #SundaySupper on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

I believe in Sunday Supper …
Because it brings my family together to share joys and challenges.
Because it starts as one day and soon becomes more.
Because it teaches us the importance of unplugging and being present.
Because it makes me closer to the ones I love.
Because it allows us to nourish each other in both body and mind.
Because it creates cherished memories and traditions of togetherness.
Because it celebrates good food and homemade meals.
Because it cements a legacy of strong families.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Red Velvet Protein Bites

Red Velvet Protein Bites are naturally coloured with heirloom #beets and packed with chocolate whey isolate for a powerful boost. Healthy truffles? Yes please!

Red Velvet Protein Bites

As the resident chocoholic around here, 'I'm always looking for ways to make my indulgence a little more virtuous. While the holiday season saw it's fair share of cookies, fudge and brownies, I do enjoy including something for my giftees to enjoy in the new year, when all the resolutions are in full force.

These bite-sized, truffle-like bonbons are definitely chocolatey, but they're also full of nutritional power. One bite is rich in vitamin A, iron, calcium and protein, with under 50 calories. The power comes from a combination of beets, pumpkin, chia seeds and protein powder, which blend together into a red-tinted paste that gives these treats their name. To boost the chocolate quotient I added a dash of cocoa powder, the bitterness of which accented the natural sweetness of the vegetables and coconut sugar. Finally, a roll in protein powder helps them keep their shape.

Speaking of keeping their shape, it is imperative that these go into the fridge for at least two hours before shaping, and that they stay cool thereafter. If you can't eat them all in a week or so, freeze them - they are delicious still icy or thawed overnight in the fridge.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Mocha Biscotti

These mocha biscotti are laced with both brewed coffee and ground beans, and peppered with chocolate chips and cacao nibs.

Mocha Biscotti

I am a sucker for a good cup of coffee, but when you add chocolate to the mix there is no way I'm turning it down! These days I eschew the over-sweetened, over-priced coffee shop versions in favour of my own scaled back model - cocoa, stevia, coffee and cashew milk with just a pinch of salt, and maybe with a shot of vanilla syrup if I'm feeling fancy. That's it though - no whipped cream, sprinkles or chocolate sauce. If I'm having a mocha, I want to taste the glorious marriage of coffee and chocolate!

Mocha Biscotti

In a sense, I feel this way about most of the baked goods I enjoy. I can be sold on a plain cookie that packs a solid, complex flavour, while ignoring the most elegant, decorated treat on a dessert tray if it tastes of nothing but sugar. By and large, I go for the less-sweet side of the spectrum, which is far easier to achieve when you bake for yourself. When I made these mocha-inspired biscotti, I knew the coffee and chocolate had to be front and centre, just balanced by sweetness and a hint of nuttiness (evoking memories of my favourite drink!). The key was to utilize ground coffee as well as the brewed stuff for two layers of rich bitterness, along with both cacao nibs and chocolate chips for pure chocolate essence. Spelt flour and cashew milk cornered the "nuttiness" aspect.

The result was exactly what I was looking for in a cookie designed for dunking - crunchy, full of complexity, but not so "out there" that it tasted muddled. I left off glaze or chocolate so that the sticks held up a bit better in hot liquid, but you do you - I personally would add something like a Frangelico glaze, should you be so inclined.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Bowl o' Beans Minestrone

Minestrone Soup is a fat free, high fibre recipe perfect for pressure #canning the bounty of summer. Crack open a jar in February and relive July!

Bowl o' Beans Minestrone

Well, I hope everyone had a joyous holiday season and a safe New Year's Eve! We kept things pretty quiet around here, but I'm ready to get back into the swing of work and school (did I just say that?). At any rate, my district has one more week to recuperate before classes begin, so I'm going to make the best of it!

Of course, with the New Year come some traditions - I'm not one for resolutions, but I do enjoy the benefits of some superstitions around the world. One of them is consuming beans and greens on New Year's Day to ensure prosperity and fortune. Obviously, there are thousands of variations on this theme - hoppin' John and collards, Italy's ribollita, even moong palak in India. I love them all, but sometimes (especially during this busy, -21C time of year) soup is what needs to be on the menu.

Pressure Canned Minestrone

To keep with the theme, I cracked open a jar of homemade minestrone soup that I had made and pressure canned back in September. Each quart was laden with toothsome kidney beans, potatoes, onions and homegrown produce - including carrots, tomatoes (both "sauced" and dried) and the mandatory greens in the form of homemade beet green powder. While there was no pasta in the mix (it's dangerous to can grains, rice and pasta), I enjoyed mine as-is, while my mom tossed in some pre-cooked gluten free macaroni that we had in the fridge when she heated up her bowl. Either way, the taste of this stick-to-your-ribs comfort food blows away anything in the canned goods aisle of the supermarket and even some of the local restaurants.

While I don't know if minestrone will grace me with fortune and prosperity, I do know that it was definitely a great way to enter 2018. Now if only I can stop writing 2017 on things!

Pressure Canned Minestrone