Thursday, February 22, 2018

Winter Vegetable Stew

This Winter Vegetable Stew is hearty and rich tasting thanks to caramelized onions and lean beef, and full of nutrition from local kohlrabi and homegrown cabbage and carrots! A wild rice blend seals the deal.

Winter Vegetable Stew

February is always one of the longest months to get through. It's grey and dreary, the weather alternating between biting cold, freezing rain, blowing wind and snowing buckets.  Not only does the weather work against us, but for me as a teacher knowing March Break is this close makes time drag on even slower - yes, even though we had a 2 1/2 week break in December! Unlike last year's unseasonably warm (yet welcome) temperatures, we've been on the chilly end this year, delighting the skiers in our midst. I, on the other hand, am always cold (as in, I have a heated blanket on almost 24/7 and wear a heated jacket inside), so until the temperatures crest over 20C I am sticking with warming, hearty comfort foods.

Thankfully, the foods best suited for warming us up in the chilly seasons are also some of the cheapest to make - take this stew for instance. Even though for me the cabbage, carrots, broth and tomato sauce were essentially free (garden hauls that kept exceedingly well in the fridge along with homemade ingredients), if I needed to buy them it would have still been pennies out of my pocket. My original idea was to make an "unstuffed cabbage roll" soup, but as I kept cooking and adding things the whole medley morphed into a celebration of all the winter vegetables and warming flavours I loved. A bowl of it freshly made was perfect alongside a slab of rye bread (homemade of course), but like all good things, this actually tasted better a few days later and even after being frozen. Good thing, too, because with all the veggies, beef and rice, this recipe makes more than enough food to go around!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Strawberry Caramel Sundae Sauce

Strawberry Caramel Sundae Sauce is unlike anything you've topped ice cream with before! Don't stop at dessert though - those breakfast waffles are calling!

Strawberry Caramel Sundae Sauce

I don't know about you, but I cannot dream of eating vanilla ice cream (or frozen yogurt) without a sundae sauce of some kind. The craving only ever happens with vanilla, though, never another flavour such as chocolate or cookies n' cream. I guess I've never been able to get onto the vanilla-only bandwagon (sorry Dad!).

Anyways, a vanilla base is the perfect visual and gustatory canvas for all kinds of sauces, particularly berry-based ones. While I will always be partial to cherry topping (the best sundaes I ever had were made with warmed cherry pie filling out of a can... don't judge), this homemade strawberry one is pretty darn awesome. It's not simply a super-sweet coulis, a pie filling or even a melted jam like some other sundae sauces - this one starts off as a caramelized sugar syrup that gets blended with fresh strawberries, lemon juice and vanilla until thick, just sweet enough and still fruit-forward. It's natural tang makes it the perfect pairing to sweet ice cream (or even vanilla flavoured Greek yogurt), but it's sweet enough to warm and pour over morning waffles for an extra treat.

While I've provided instructions for canning this sauce for pantry storage, it does keep a good long while in the fridge as well, provided it's in a sterile jar. I have not tried freezing this, and probably wouldn't recommend it as the sugar structure may suffer. If you try it, let me know how it turns out!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Triple Chocolate Fudge

Triple Chocolate Fudge is smooth, rich and totally indulgent!

Triple Chocolate Fudge

I used to dread Valentine's Day. Being the mousy, somewhat overweight, redheaded bookworm I was, making friends as a kid was hard enough - let alone sparking crushes within the limited assortment of boys in my private school class. To keep things "fair" (and spare any hurt feelings), our school rule was to bring cards and / or treats for everyone, or nobody at all. I dutifully filled out my Power Rangers, Winnie-the-Pooh or Rainbow Brite cards the weekend before, taking care to make sure I picked the right card for that guy. By lunchtime on the 14th, I had a bagful of folded cards, which I opened at home to find nothing but hastily scrawled names, or more commonly cards addressed to "my friend". 

High school didn't really bode any better - Valentine's Day was marked by the annual candygram fundraisers rather than classroom card swaps, and by homeroom you knew whether you mattered or not. By Grade 10 my friends and I had sworn off the trivial and commercialized nature of the holiday, and ever since I have yet to buy into it again. Don't get me wrong - I'm not 100% cynical about the whole romance thing (just 80%) - but I'd rather treasure and celebrate love every day, not just because some martyr happened to die and somehow get tied to Cupid in the middle of February. 

The commercialization of Valentine's Day isn't all bad, though - it usually heralds the start of a period of excellently-priced chocolate products in the stores that runs right through until Mother's Day, or at the very least, Easter. I can stock up on all sort of good stuff - Lindt, Godiva, Ghirardelli or if I'm really lucky, Scharffen Berger. I honestly don't know why I stock up on it like it's going out of style though - I rarely use it en masse, preferring the pure taste of cooca. However, since it is coming up to the big chocolate holiday, I wanted to embrace the ingredient and recreate a recipe we made when I was in elementary school for the occasion - fudge.

This fudge is extraordinarily easy, for two reasons: one, it's done in a single bowl, no pot required. Two, it's done in the microwave, and you don't need a thermometer to keep track of it's chemistry (I guess that's three reasons, but whatever). The original recipe was a simple condensed milk fudge with a bag of semisweet chocolate chips - a sinfully sweet treat perfect for the child's palate in all of us (especially when sprinkled with crushed pink and red Smarties, as we did back then). I had access to the good stuff this time around though - and wanted to max out the chocolate flavour as much as I could. Inspiration came in the form of chocolate sweetened condensed milk picked up from a local Hispanic food shop, and I knew combining it with the bittersweet chocolate would be amazing. When I later discovered a bottle of chocolate extract in the pantry, I was even more delighted - three chocolate nuances in a melt in your mouth fudge, with enough bitterness to keep the condensed milk at bay, was nirvana.

Whipping up this triple chocolate version is as easy as the usual one, and the hardest part truly is waiting for it to firm up in the fridge. If you're keeping it for yourself (a tempting proposition to be sure), I suggest only slicing off what you plan to eat at one tine, keeping the remainder wrapped in plastic, then foil in the fridge to keep it from drying out or soaking up other fridge odours (Parmesan fudge is just delightful, I'm told ;-) ). Otherwise, slice and wrap individually for your very gracious recipients to enjoy as they see fit. Leftovers? Dice and freeze for a decadent ice cream topping - but don't say I didn't warn you about eating the whole thing!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Honey Drops

A local, organic and raw honey shines in these hard candies, which are perfect for sucking on or melting into a cup of tea.
Homemade Honey Drops

Remember when I mentioned caramels and sour candy were the only two types of candy I truly enjoyed? I lied - or rather, I forgot - about the third one: honey candy. To be fair, I haven't had the privilege of eating one of those since I was about 7 years old - my mom used to work with a woman who had a home apiary and made the most incredible hard candy filled with her home-spun honey. I have never figured out how to make the liquid-filled variety of hard candy, but these nuggets of amber are just as amazing.

Homemade Honey DropsEven though honey is not the only sugar used in these (I'm sure it's possible, but I don't have a recipe for those), they taste of pure, unadulterated honey. That said, make sure the honey you use is one you love the flavour of (I used honey my coworker spun from her hives!), and don't pick a super dark one like buckwheat because it can taste on the bitter side. The size and shape of the candy is also up to you, and should match what you plan on doing with them - I used this silicone hexagonal mould, filled to the top, for candy pieces, but filling it halfway made perfect wafers for sweetening tea. For a small taste (or less tea sweetening), that ice cube mould from the Lemon Drops is perfect. Finally, I used the last of the candy syrup to pour swizzle sticks on silpat, which made honey lemon tea so easy to make.

Now, I'm harping on tea for this because that's a fairly standard application for honey, but you do you! I still firmly support eating these "just is" because they're flat-out delicious, even if they don't have any of the active, flu-fighting compounds found in raw honey. Hey, I never claimed they were medicine - but if you add some food-grade eucalyptus or ginger essential oil you might get a little added boost!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Lemon Drops

Sweet and sour lemon drops anyone? A dash of citric acid gives a traditional hard candy a pucker.

Sweet and Sour Lemon Drops

I've never been a huge candy fan. Hard, soft, taffy, gummy... none of them really float my boat, and if chocolate's in the vicinity that battleship is sunk. I make two (or is it three) exceptions to this rule - caramels and sour candy. The possible third is fudge, but since I only like chocolate fudge I generally exclude it from the "candy" category, like I exclude chocolate covered strawberries from the "fruit" category. At any rate, my adoration for both caramels and sour candy runs deep - caramels were a favourite of my Grandpa, and it was him that introduced me to them by slipping me one or two gold-wrapped hard caramels as we drove home from school. The sour candy didn't become a favourite until I was old enough to go to the corner store with my friends, sans adults. There, a few nickels could get you a baggie of sour keys or Warheads that would last the afternoon.

While sour keys were definitely a favourite, and I never turned down Sour Patch Kids, I still preferred the drawn out experience of sucking on a sour hard candy. Since making hard candy is drop-dead easy (and looks so impressive!) I decided to make my own sour lemon drops on a whim, pouring the molten sugar into a teeny-tiny ice cube mould to set. The small size meant popping two or three at once was possible, and coated your whole mouth with the lemony tang - something I definitely consider a plus. Unlike most other hard candies, this also doesn't use corn syrup at all, relying on cream of tartar to prevent graininess.

This is a small batch, which worked for me, but if you want to make more it will double well (though I wouldn't try tripling it). The gel food colouring is optional - you candy will be essentially clear without it however (good for pranks... just saying). If it is humid the day you want to make candy - or in your kitchen for that matter - cook the candy just a few degrees hotter (302F-ish) and make sure to coat the candy in icing sugar or they will get sticky. Goes without saying, but don't put it in the fridge either, unless you like melted sugar goo.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

French Onion Dip

If you're a lover of caramelized onions, homemade French Onion Dip is a fantastic way to indulge in their rich bittersweet taste

French Onion Dip

There is something cathartic for me about caramelizing onions. A big, heavy pot fulled to the brim with yellowy-white half-moons slowly but surely condenses into almost nothing, and what the vegetable loses in volume it gains in a caramel-like sweetness and a luxurious texture not found in any other food. Even people who hate the taste of onions as a rule - my sister or stepdad, for instance - are drawn to the kitchen by the unmistakable aroma of perfectly done caramelized ones, and if you love onions the allure is ten times stronger.

Now, I will put caramelized onions on many things - pasta, rice (so good on Camargue red rice), garlic bread... even roasted green beans (leave the casserole at the door). However, the one thing you will never see me eating is French Onion Dip. The storebought kinds are flat in flavour and overwhelmingly fake-tasting, and the one "homemade" version I've had at a house party tasted like weirdly sweet-sour-bitter mayo that had gone ever so slightly bad. I know I'm a bad judge of things like this - I'm just not a fan of creamy sauces and dips - but I knew I could make a version that at least tasted of real onions, had a touch more oomph to the cream base, and that was still easy enough that my grade 7 and 8 students could make it themselves. I tinkered with an onion-garlic dip that I had clipped from a magazine a few years ago, not only adding more onions but swapping some of the mayo for yogurt, adding smoked paprika and letting the medley sit overnight before serving - a key step to preventing bites of just "cream" or just "onion".

Adding the extra onions was mostly fluke - I made a double batch of this with the kids and my class total was 16 students, but most children were able to decimate a whole onion quite capably (albeit with a lot of complaining about watery eyes). The original recipe only called for 3 onions, but since it was French Onion Dip, I asked them if adding some extras was okay. Thank goodness for the palates of that class - and all their hard work! The extras were sauteed and frozen for later lessons, and the kids learned the lesson of prepping ahead. Of course, most of them didn't realize what they were learning as they downed bowlfuls of carrot coins and dip, but I'll take what I can get!

French Onion Dip

While I won't argue that slicing and caramelizing onions takes time, this dip is quite simple to make - easy enough to get your (older) kids in the kitchen to help when there's a house party coming up (like say, the SuperBowl). I guarantee they will be proud to serve "their masterpiece" on the big day.