Saturday, November 9, 2019

Seeded Oatmeal Apple Loaf

Can't you just imagine biting into this crusty, seed coated loaf of Seeded Oatmeal Apple Loaf? Made with a dose of sourdough starter and shredded apples for a sweet tang, the low rising loaf is perfect for smearing with peanut butter for breakfast.

With the blustery winds and snow outside courtesy of this week's weather, I felt like there was no better reason to get into the kitchen and bake my favourite thing - bread. It helps that mom is a bread-lover (or is it fanatic?) since I haven't eaten "real" bread in over a decade, and her weekly request allows me to be as creative as I care to be! This time I was inspired by a recipe that appeared in my feed reader using not only the Fall flavours of apples and oats but a favourite ingredient in my house - sourdough. With a bushel of local apples in our cold cellar begging for a use (other than the ubiquitous apple pies and squares mom creates each season), I pilfered a few and got to work!

This recipe is not a true sourdough - as in it uses yeast for a leavening boost. The sourdough does add a wonderful tang to offset the nuttiness of the seeds and oats and the sweetness of the apples, although not an obtrusive one (I love straight sourdough, but I wanted the other flavours here). The seed crust is, in my opinion, the best part of this recipe as it adds a great crunchy texture to the moist crumb and leaves "bits" to pick off the cutting board when you slice it! The loaf has a high hydration due to the apple, soaked oats, sourdough and extra water, so it does not rise overly tall - when I make this again I'm going to try putting it in a springform pan to see if I can get some height. However, the low rise does have one side benefit - a long slice is just wide enough to fit perfectly in your mouth, bruschetta-style! So load up your slices, toasted or not, with slices of Cheddar (a la Canadian apple pie) or peanut butter and honey (mom's favourite) and enjoy!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Apple Butter Gingerbread

Apple Butter Gingerbread is not too sweet, definitely spicy and when topped with honey butter (or apple butter!) A delicious tea time treat.

I have a love / hate relationship with Fall. On one hand, cold and I never get along - from the beginning of October until the end of April (at least) you'll find me bundled up in sweaters, coats, scarves and hats, cursing the weather and lamenting my poor Raynaud's-afflicted digits. On the other hand, I love the variety of colours outside and the smells of heartier, spicier cooking and baking that come with the blustery weather (especially if I'm cooking, because I'm inside!).

Of course, Fall also brings the produce of the season, and around here apples are everywhere! While Mom whips up more pies than I can count with her bushels, I tend to make a few crisps before cooking the rest into sweet, sticky apple butter. The apple butter is my spread of the season - rich, thick and spreadable, it's less sweet than jam and more versatile than applesauce but with a caramel note you can't beat. After the one requisite pie that I make (shh...I loathe making pastry), the rest is portioned and frozen for later use, including spice cakes like this one.

It's no secret that I am a fan of spices, and at my workplace ginger always reigns supreme. This snack cake combines a variety of fall flavours in each bite - from the apple butter to the nutty flax and spelt, the warming spices and rich brown sugar and maple. The resulting bake isn't overly sweet, which in my book makes it A-OK for breakfast (right?) or as a light dessert with a drizzle of maple syrup or even a small scoop of ice cream. I personally love to warm it up as well and serve it with our local apple cider!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Almost Grandma's Mashed Potatoes

Almost Grandma's Mashed Potatoes are rich, creamy and decadent - perfect for your holiday meal. Baking the tureen ensures a delectable crust to pick at too!

I have a 100% soft spot for my grandma's mashed potatoes. In fact, if I could only eat one holiday food the rest of my life, it would be them. Baked in one of her earthenware tureens, the sight of the slightly crusty-topped spud smade my heart sing - and underneath the coveted top layer was some of the most decadent, silky mash I've ever had in my life. Over the years, it was extremely common for half my dinner plate to be heaped with them, no gravy necessary.

Ironically, it was only after decadence (at least in my traditional understanding of it) left my diet that I started to really try and nail down my grandma's recipe. Being the family heirloom (and "secret recipe") that it was, there was no written copy to be found anywhere, and when I asked my grandma she gave me the list of ingredients but no amounts or method, so after many cookbook and Google searches I cobbled together a recipe for our Canadian Thanksgiving this year and gave it a whirl.

The outcome was shockingly - and I mean shockingly - similar to the original, and dare I say it may even be slightly better (shh!). The potatoes had a perfectly smooth mash without the need for a ricer or fancy tool and each scoop was a perfect golden colour thanks to the cheese and Yukon Golds I used. My whole family (including N and my sister's boyfriend D) raved about them and took home leftovers, which were polished off within a day. While they are absolutely not a weeknight mashed potato (or one for dieters!) for the holidays, these shout "home" to me and will definitely be the start of a new, old tradition.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Chewy and Soft Spice Cookies

These spice cookies are perfectly chewy and soft, with a bite from the candied ginger bits on the top. Whether you're looking for a dessert for a potluck this Thanksgiving or are simply trying to get ahead for Christmas, this is an awesome back-pocket recipe to go for!

I have always loved the scents of holiday spices. Growing up, as soon as the apples were picked in the orchard for pies, we knew it was mulled cider season. I would stand at the crockpot while my mom would dump in the fresh pressed cider and the milk-carton looking container of mulling spices, and only after being admonished for putting my face in the food did I retreat to the couch and wait for it to be ready. The cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves would coat my throat and make even the most blustery fall day a non-issue.

Ironically, I've never been one to go out of my way for spice in cookies. Cider, cake, muffins - all absolutely passable vehicles for the warming spices of the season. But my experience with spice cookies - and especially gingerbread - was the hard, verging on stale storebought ones coated in sanding sugar that we used to be served with school Christmas lunch. I don't care what kind of cookie it is, I do not like it when it's hard and crunchy (sorry biscotti). That said, my coworkers, friends (and now co-workers of N) like spice cookies in any form, so come holiday time my house is thoroughly perfumed with butter-bloomed cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves, amongst other things.

These cookies were made as a "thank you" for one of N's coworkers who has always supported him and allowed him to switch shifts for whatever reason. The cookies themselves are not fancy in any way - looking at them, there's no icing, no sprinkles, nothing but a few bits of candied ginger poking through the thin, shiny crust. However, their simple looks give way to a perfect balance of texture and flavour. The egg whites allow the cookies to be light with a hint of chew and a shiny surface, while the judicious use of spices add a warm hum to every bite without smacking you over the head with heat. The cardamom is, and will always be, my favourite spice of the lot when it comes to spice baking, and since I get little bits at a time from a high-turnover bulk store you can certainly smell it when it's in play! The perfect two bite size makes these cookies great for a snack or bake sale table and I know I have requests to make them again for the staff party. Let the warmth of the fall season begin!

Monday, October 7, 2019

A New Treat for Fall with @CacaoTeaCo

With the cold weather coming in fast and furious, I am turning my attentions (grudgingly) from the garden fresh produce (beets and carrots excepted) into the warming flavours of soups, spices and tea. Luckily, I was approached by a fellow tea lover who had a rather ingenious idea when it came to both the world of brewed beverages as well as reducing environmental waste - "tea" made from the discarded husks of cacao beans. Jessica, one of the two creators of the Northwestern startup, spoke with me on the phone and let me know some of the tea's benefits - not only does it have the flavour and aroma of cacao, but it is free of sugar, gluten, dairy and caffeine, getting it's energy boosting properties from theobromine. Side note - theobromine is awesome for us humans (it lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease, boosts brain function and even helps strengthen tooth enamel [source]), but it is toxic to our furry canine friends - I don't have dogs but the friend I shared some of the tea with did and she kept it tightly sealed and on a high shelf!

When I made my first cup of Cacao Tea, I didn't know what to expect! The smell of the husks from the bag is deeply cocoa-noted and slightly fruity-floral. While the instructions suggest 6-8 minutes of steeping, I poured the water into the tea and had a shower so I'm estimating the steep time for me was more like 20 minutes. With the longer steep (and cooling off period) I was able to taste the tea right away, and I was pleasantly surprised - the first sip tasted just like a 90% dark chocolate bar (which I love) but in an easy drinking "tea" texture. It was not at all like hot chocolate made with milk, which made it perfect for a mid afternoon treat that was indulgent but not "heavy". 

Next, I wanted to see how well I could marry the decadence of Cacao Tea with my usual morning brew - coffee! What can I say, this teacher / student's brain is 3/4 caffeine. I stuffed a little tea ball with a spoonful of the Cacao Tea and steeped it in the freshly brewed coffee while it cooled to drinkable temperature (about 10 minutes). I don't put milk or sugar in my coffee, but the Cacao Tea rounded out the flavours of the coffee and removed any and all acidity while adding a subtle hint of chocolate. While it may not be the conventional way to indulge in this tea, I am definitely adding it to my roster of things to enjoy!

I originally had plans to use some of my stash to make some goodies, but I really can't imagine parting with something so tasty that I can actually enjoy! As someone with multiple food allergies and a fat intolerance, my days of chowing down on a chocolate bar are long gone. This tea satisfies my dark chocolate love while leaving me energized and not feeling weighed down. I know I'll be savouring this as much as I can this winter, and since they have an easy online ordering system on their website getting more is as easy as a few clicks!

Thank you so much Jessica and the team at Cacao Tea Co. for this opportunity, I always appreciate having the chance to test and review new and innovative products, especially when they come from small businesses. For my readers, do check them out and give them a try - your inner chocoholic will thank you!

Cacao Tea Co. website

Monday, September 23, 2019

Cherry Pinwheel Cookies

These Cherry Pinwheel Cookies are given a hint of tang from cream cheese and lemon juice while super concentrated cherry flavour brings a hit of fruit to the pink swirl! It will be a hit in any lunchbox or snack table!

Sigh - where did the Summer go? It seems so crazy that September is almost over, we're almost a whole month into school and the Thanksgiving sales are on. That said, since school is back in session (even for me!), a sweet pick me up in the lunchbox is always appreciated. I came across the original recipe for these cookies on Simply Recipes and fell in love with their adaptability and relative simplicity.

Being me (and wanting to use up the random stuff in my pantry and fridge!) I tweaked the recipe to my tastes. I love a hint of tang in my sweets, and by adding lemon juice to the cherry stripe and using cream cheese for some of the butter I got the slight cheesecakey tartness I looked for. The cream cheese also helped these cookies keep their shape in the oven - no crazy spread like I always have with all butter cookies. To get a slight crisp on the outside, I used egg whites in the dough as well. Finally, I was tired of eyeing the bag of white whole wheat flour in my pantry (which I was using for brownies for my sister) and tossed it in for the all purpose.

The one thing I will say about these cookies is that they do take time - at minimum 24 hours - so you need to plan ahead. However, they also freeze beautifully and I can't wait to make a few more batches for Christmas giving! I can't imagine a prettier platter than one with a variety of colourful swirls... I'm thinking chocolate and orange perhaps, or a vanilla-mint, maybe even a coconut and rum? The possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Amaranth and Honey Bread #BreadBakers

Amaranth and Honey Bread is sweet with a hint of orange zest with a delicate texture from cooked amaranth. Spread with marmalade its a great addition to the weekend morning lineup!

I adore my pantry of many strange and wonderful grains and flours. While most of them I found either at the Bulk Barn or local Asian grocery, I also saved up for when Mom and I would go to the St. Lawrence Market in the summer to buy one of my favourite specialty flours: amaranth. In retrospect, it's actually funny for me to wax poetic about this grain, as Nightwish (one of my new favourite Spotify finds) has a song called Amaranth that N loved long before I knew they existed. It's become somewhat of an anthem for us, and I couldn't think of a better celebratory bread to bake up for Bread With Seeds this month!

While amaranth is looked on as a grain by most people, like quinoa it's actually a seed that can be treated as a grain (i.e. boiled, puffed, or ground). As I've been staying gluten free personally due to skin and digestive issues, I've been enjoying amaranth as cereal and pressed with rice into rice cake / crackers all summer as it has a lightly nutty, buttery taste. When I stumbled across a recipe pairing the flavourful seed with honey on Melangery, I couldn't wait to try it out as Mom (the resident breadaholic) loves that flavour combination as well.

I did make a few changes to the loaf as I went along, and was pleased overall with the results. I soaked the grains rather than boiled them since I had time to spare and didn't want mushy grains in my bread. Butter became a mixture of sesame oil (for flavour) and canola oil for balance, and I used soy milk due to it's beneficial effect on the yeast activity. The rising took longer than a standard loaf as it is a heavy dough, but the flavour was worth every minute spent hovering over the bowl. Lastly, I upped the amount of honey because we love it's flavour and browning capacity.

The loaf came out of the oven crusty and smelling amazing from all the various seeds toasting. Visually, it's a stunning loaf with the sun-like design sliced into the top, and after it cooled (an agonizing wait!) each slice was dense but moist and perfect for smearing honey or jam on in the morning. It's a shame that amaranth flour is still a bit on the pricey side or I'd be making this every week!


#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, September 1, 2019

Garlicky Spaghetti Sauce

Homemade spaghetti sauce is really easy to make, and while you won't get a lot from a garden's worth of tomatoes the flavour of each drop is well worth the labour!

Well, the tomatoes have finally come in - well, most of them anyway. I actually really lucked out this year and had almost all my garden produce ripen on cue - I suddenly had the makings of a classic spaghetti sauce on my hands! With my copy of The Canning Kitchen by Amy Bronee on hand, I gathered up all the ingredients I needed from the garden and pantry and set to work! Five hours after making the first slice into a tomato, I was rewarded with this jar - four cups - of deeply flavourful, thick and rich tomato sauce. Does it seem like a bit of a rip off (when I started with 6 lbs of tomatoes)? Kind of, but at the same time I know that every last speck of effort that went into it - from the planting of the seedlings for the tomatoes, herbs, onions and garlic to the chopping and measuring to the final can - will be appreciated and can be tasted. This is no canned or jarred sauce, although they have their place. Nope, this jar is being saved for a spaghetti and meatball dinner or a homemade lasagna shared with loved ones. I owe the garden that much at least!

Also, don't freak out at the amount of garlic in this recipe. Yes, there are 6 cloves in that one jar. But they cook for so long at such a low temperature that they mellow and add a nuanced flavour to the recipe, without the sharp bite of the bulb. Egyptian onions are best equated to a cross between shallots and green onions, and you can certainly use shallots or even a white onion in this recipe instead. I left the tomato seeds in (we aren't picky) but you can mill your sauce if that's a no-go for you! No pressure canner? Freeze it! The options are endless, truly.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Number One Giant Cashew Cookie

Because everyone deserves to be told they're #1 in somebody's eyes! This giant cookie is made with cashew butter and dotted with mini chocolate chips. Using egg yolks keeps the cookie rich and chewy too - and did I mention its flourless?

I think that the "little guy" doesn't always get the credit and celebration he deserves. Yes, I agree that doctors, firefighters, police officers and the military have difficult jobs, and they deserve respect. However, the supporting staff behind the scenes keep towns and businesses running. I am not going to use this post to tout the lack of recognition that teachers get. Rather, I made this cookie to celebrate a milestone for N - 10 years as a security guard.

Now some people will roll their eyes at this. But the work is hard, boring and thankless - not to mention the strange and ever changing shifts they are subjected to. N has more tenure than the other 3 guards at his site combined, and seeing as he started as a fresh faced 21 year old that's saying something! While his work "gave" him a pin (left on top of a filing cabinet with papers for days before he went in for something unrelated), I wanted to celebrate with him and acknowledge his work... and what better way to say "hooray" than with a big, personalized cookie? To be fair, I also made him and I cake...because cake. The cookie is huge, richly flavoured and perfect to share should you be so inclined, or spread over many snack times with a glass of milk or coffee. It also has blissfully few ingredients and is vegan and gluten free (depending on the chocolate you use). The icing on the top makes the cookie a "special occasion" treat, but if I was making this for myself or kids to share after school I honestly wouldn't bother. 

Also, feel free to use any nut butter you desire - I had the dregs of a jar of cashew butter to use up, but the original used peanut butter and I am eyeing my jar of almond butter to try as well. Just make sure it's a "no-stir" variety to eliminate oil oozing out and making dry, ugly cookies. Not a fan of chocolate? Add sprinkles, nuts, raisins...whatever! It's your cookie!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Mashed Potato Quick Bread

The crumb of this Potato Quick Bread is so soft and moist you'd expect it to contain a pound of butter - but it has no added fat and it's vegan! Not to mention it can be on the table in under an hour.

There is honestly not one scrap of my being that doesn't miss biting into good, warm, homemade bread. While my days of eating loaves, rolls and cinnamon buns are over (thank you, autoimmune), I still enjoy making bread for my friends and family, and with the kids at work! When it comes to breadmaking in Home Economics class, speed and ease are key, as is thriftiness - hence the creation of this crackly-crusted, moist loaf. After my classes made chocolate potato truffles for what seems like the millionth time (they all love them, and I can't believe I haven't posted the recipe after 6 years of making them!) I found myself with a rather large amount of potatoes left over. Well, not one to waste food (or my school's money), I Googled and came up with a recipe for a quick, one bowl bread using mashed potatoes and blissfully few other ingredients. Mixing the dough was absolutely no work for me, and when I set my (older) kids free to follow their recipe while I was hands off they made equally excellent results that they were quite proud of! It is, I dare say, even easier than Irish Soda Bread, and tastier to boot!

This loaf, when warm from the oven, tastes exactly like the biscuits from Red Lobster. Even when there is no garlic, cheese, butter or herbs in sight, it is unmistakably similar in both flavour and texture. Even my sister had to agree, and if it passes her picky taste test I know it's got to be good!

If you are trying to get your kids (or yourself) into baking, I strongly recommend this loaf as a jumping-off point. Who knows, you may catch the bug like me! Also, for the simplest of simple recipes, use a digital scale. Consistent results every time and one less thing to wash!

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Spiced Superfruit Jam - Toast Topper #85

This Spiced Superfruit Jam is a decadent mix of blackberries, raspberries, cherries and blueberries softly spiced with a hint of cinnamon and cloves. With less sugar than standard jams, its a Toast Topper you can feel great about enjoying!

It feels good to be back in the canning kitchen again! I took a bit of a break last Summer (life and school got in the way) and now that the new year is almost upon us I'll be wrapping up my slew of canned goodies (that you can see on IG) as well. This year was a shockingly good one for Ontario produce, and I'd be a fool not to preserve it for a long winter's worth of pancakes, waffles and toast!

Like with most things, I prefer my jams not to be cloyingly sweet and want the fruity taste to come through full force. I have found two low-sugar pectins (the stuff that makes jam gel, if you don't make jam usually) that I love and buy them en masse when they're on sale. The first (and cheapest outright) is Bernardin (which may only be available in Canada, I can't find it on Amazon, but I have used Ball as well), which churns out about 6 cups of jam per packet. The second is Pomona's, which allows the batch size of various jams to be customized based on the amount of fruit you have. I've made as little as one jar of jam with it and as much as 12!

I also really enjoy playing with the flavours of my jams. Even though the fruit is always first and foremost, adding complementary flavours is a great way to add interest and an aspect not available from storebought preserves. I pulled out my copy of The Flavor Bible to help me this year, resulting in the addition of cinnamon and cloves to accent the tart-sweet berry notes. A spoonful of this jam tastes like a less tannic mulled wine, and I have it on good authority that a dab of it on sharp Cheddar topping a cracker is pretty darn good!

Friday, August 23, 2019

Mediterranean Salad for One

Dinner tonight is this incredible Mediterranean Salad for one, packed with all the garden's produce (including dried oregano from last year, Egyptian onions and garlic scapes from N) and dressed simply with Alaea salt, black pepper and fresh lemon juice. Light yet filling for those Summer nights!

As much as I love living in Canada, one of the things I don't love is that our growing season starts late and ends early. Summer break being what it is (July / August), we don't really see much of the garden bringing forth their glory until at least halfway through, if not later. That said, late is better than never, and since the cukes and tomatoes arrived at the same time this year I figured what better way to enjoy them than in a simple, chunky salad?

I love Mediterranean flavours, and this salad is not lacking in them! In addition to the garden cucumbers and tomatoes, I tossed in dried oregano and dill (from last year), Egyptian onion bulbs (from the Sputnik-like plant out back) and garlic scapes from my fiance's garden that I roasted using this recipe (cutting the time to 15 minutes). For protein, I tossed in a handful of chickpeas (my favourite bean) and sprinkled on lemon juice, coarse pepper and a Hawaiian Alaea salt. If you had told me 15 years ago that I would be eating salads for dinner (and enjoying them!) I'd have called you crazy. But now, I don't want summer to ever end!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Major Grey's Chutney - Toast Topper #84

Major Grey's Chutney is full of spice with a delicate tropical undercurrent thanks to mango!

Major Grey's Chutney

Chutney is definitely a go-to condiment in my household. Mom puts any incarnation of it in stir fries, with grilled meat and even steamed veggies and rice! I, on the other hand, enjoy it - just not to the extreme. In any case, we always have a jar or two on hand, and making up a batch is a great way to use up spices and various fruit and veggies laying about.

We had bought some mangoes on sale with the aim of making fruit trays for company, however (as always seems to happen) we overbought. Who could tell how many cubes one mango yielded? Anyways, I was given the remaining, almost-overripe mango to use in "whatever", and since I didn't have any pectin on hand, I knew jam was out. However, a quick perusal of the internet led me to Saveur, who had a recipe for one of the most famous chutneys out there - Major Grey's! I have no idea what the background of this condiment is other than it being an English - Indian hybrid served with aged cheese, but since it was full of ingredients we knew and liked I decided to give it a whirl.

One thing about making this - and any - chutney is that it is one of the most fragrant recipes you'll ever make. The heat blooms the spices, perfuming the kitchen for hours even after it's long been bottled. The vinegar is the first thing to make your eyes water, but the sweet, spicy and woodsy aromas soon rush in. The mango adds a subtle floral sweetness, but in the end it doesn't taste distinctly like the fruit - it is part of a greater whole. At any rate, this went exceptionally well in Mom's usual applications, as well as dolloped on crispbread over cream cheese and with Black Bread and old Cheddar. Next time mangoes go on sale, I may buy some extra just for this!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Black Bread

Dark and dense black bread is flavoured with caraway and rye, with a hint of sweetness from molasses and grated carrots. Smeared with cultured butter, it's a perfect lunch side.

One of the things I love about mid August is that all the market produce is in full swing. While it may have been the case for ages south of the border, where we are in Toronto it's only about this time when the bulk of the garden and farms start producing en masse. As always, I planted an array of heirloom root veggies (carrots and beets this year) and the first round is ready for pulling, much to this veggie-head's content! Of course, just because we have some produce in the backyard doesn't mean we don't go a wee bit overboard at the farmers' market too - especially if we're inspired by either the veggies or the prepared foods on display!

This bread came about as a combination of both of those inspirations - both of the markets Mom and I (and now N) attend in the summer have artisan bakeries as well as the normal produce stands, and I always get Mom to look and see what kinds of loaves tickle her fancy. She'll buy one, of course - instant gratification and supporting local vendors is the name of the game - but the second choice is mine to recreate. This time she spotted a super-dark, dense rye bread on display, topped with seeds, and after scouting around the good old blogging world for a bit I settled on a recipe that would not only recreate the loaf but use some of the carrots we bought too! Not only does the dense dough stay moist and tender due to the molasses, but shredded carrot subtly infuses it's natural sweetness and colour as it bakes. The colour comes from a combination of espresso powder, cocoa powder and molasses, while the rye and whole wheat add not only a ton of flavour but nutrition too.

While I didn't get to enjoy this loaf, I do have it on good authority that it is well worth the (albeit minimal) work involved. Mom preferred to enjoy it "ploughman's style" with butter, cheese and crudites, although she also admitted it made a mean corned beef sandwich too. Either way, it was a great addition to a lighter summer lunch!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Gluten Free Pizza Crust #BreadBakers

Proof that a gluten free diet doesn't mean a lifetime of bland, cardboard like baked goods! This pizza crust is chewy, sturdy enough to hold up to toppings but flexible enough for a great eating experience. Flavour wise, chili and herb infused olive oil gives each bite extra punch.

I cannot think of the last time I ate a slice of pizza. I have nothing against the food, in contrast I find a well made pie a thing of absolute decadence. However, the oil and fat of classic pizza recipes doesn't play well with my digestion so I have bid fare-thee-well to it. However, I have a friend who had given up on pizza for two different dietary restrictions - gluten and dairy. Let's face it, a lot of gluten free pizza crusts have a lot to be desired, and the ones that do taste good are prohibitively expensive! Thankfully, it's relatively easy to whip up a good-tasting, chewy pizza crust at home without the gluten, especially if you (like me) have an array of gluten-free flours to play with. I'm truly lucky to have a bulk store near me with a great cross-contamination avoidance strategy and I have never had a problem, however if this isn't the case near you the ingredients are fairly commonplace online for good prices!

The crust "dough" is unlike any "normal" bread dough out there. There is no kneading, no stretch and folds, no punching down and no tossing in the air. Instead, the mixture resembles a slightly elastic cookie dough, and is really easy to work with when your hands are damp! If you're feeling fancy, add some herbs or spices to the dough, or toss in some ground flax for extra flavour. Since I was making and freezing the crusts for my friend to enjoy on his own, I kept the flavour pretty simple with an herb and garlic oil. However, even without adornment, you'll find no off-putting flavours or textures with the crust. He told me that one of the two rounds actually turned into focaccia style wedges topped with bruschetta for a party, so that option exists for them too!

Gluten free baking is not as straightforward as standard baking, however I do find it enjoyable to craft food for people who otherwise may not have the opportunity to indulge like "everyone else". With a little patience and practice (and a good recipe!) your next pizza party can have a whole new flair!

Check out all these other great gluten free breads from the Bread Bakers!

#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. You can see all of our lovely bread by following our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated after each event on the BreadBakers home page. We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Chai Asian Pears

Asian Pears in Chai Syrup. Perfect for parfaits, porridge or spooning over ice cream for a spicy, warming treat.

I'm going to let you in on a secret - I hate Chai tea. I know, in the day of suave millennials enjoying spicy black tea in various forms, I just can't stand it! However, I am in the minority, and with a gaggle of coworkers who regularly drink Chai in the winter months I knew I had to make something for their Christmas baskets that they would appreciate.

Last year when I made these the first time, I had come into a glut of almost-overripe Asian pears thanks to a super-sale at the local Asian market. I had made carrot cake with some of them (using shredded pear in place of the pineapple) but was interested in seeing if they could be preserved too. I came across a recipe that looked promising by Jo Ebisujima and figured I'd give it a shot, swapping out the water for a strong mug of Chai. It worked, sort of - the flavour was good (the pears did something to mellow the Chai-ness) but the pears don't break down like "normal" pears and thus didn't create a jammy consistency. However, the syrup and infused, tender fruit was too good to pass up, so a quick re-branding later and I had four jars of a perfect fruit topping. My coworkers told me that it was fantastic on everything from ice cream to oatmeal, and one of them even ate it with a spoon straight up!

If you're looking for a unique preserve to add to your pantry, give these syrupy Asian pears a try. Versatile and darn delicious, it's hard to go wrong!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Peanut Butter Shortbread

These cut out cookies are tender and hold their shape well. Bite into one and - surprise! - they're actually a peanut butter shortbread! Enjoyed plain or decorated with chocolate, they're a fun pick me up mid afternoon.

Yup, another peanut butter cookie recipe! N absolutely loves peanut butter cookies, and while my go to has been these chocolate packed ones, I figured it was time to branch out and try something different. The major impetus behind trying to find a different option with the same peanut buttery goodness was that a few months ago my sister and I went to a pottery workshop and my non-artistic hands crafted a wee cookie jar:

I know, it's totally gallery-worthy, right? Well, since our relationship has been filled with cookies (as well as other baked goods), I wanted to give the jar to N. Of course, you cannot simply hand over an empty cookie jar, right? So the hunt was on to find some cookies that fit perfectly in the canister and also would stand up to the Summer heat. Sorry, chocolate, you're out for the season. See you in the Fall!

Just because there's no chocolate doesn't mean these cookies aren't amazing. On the contrary, these cut-out cookies are like a better version of the classic three-ingredient recipe. Yes, they are undeniably peanut buttery, and have the richness of brown sugar and honey to add layers of dimension. However, the texture of the baked dough is almost identical to my mom's shortbreads, and since this is a world where I cannot for the life of me recreate her recipes I will take the fact that these peanut butter gems come close. When the weather cools down, I will certainly bust out the chocolate for decorating purposes, because sometimes you just want a fancy pants sort of treat, but honestly these are good regardless!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Orange Rhubarb Sauce

Orange Rhubarb Sauce is thick, tangy and perfect either on its own or over your favourite breakfast treat. Try it on pancakes or waffles!

Ah, rhubarb. In my backyard, we have no fewer than 6 plants strewn across various fence lines and corners, and quite often the bulk of the tart, stringy stalks are left to go to waste (one of the family members is against using them for food if you can believe that). However, the plant I call my own (and have for the last 13 years) is the grand daddy of the yard and gets put into a variety of tasty things for the shelf and the freezer. One application I hadn't really thought of for this vegetable was to make a "butter" with it, a la apple butter. Food in Jars posted a recipe that was not only a rhubarb butter, but with orange flavour too. The orange threw another curveball for me - would the tangy citrus clash with the sharper tartness of the rhubarb? Would it work well? There was only one way to find out!

Well, I learned a few things in this experiment - the rhubarb mixture does not get quite to spreadable consistency despite hours of cooking (and I was nervous about burning it after 2 hours of work). However, it was a thick applesauce consistency which was perfectly fine with me! Secondly, the orange flavour actually pairs exceedingly well with the rhubarb, and I amplified it by adding the orange zest to the pot as well. While the recipe didn't make a ton, it made the perfect amount for our family to use and appreciate, and I will definitely be making more! Mom claimed it was best on roasted chicken legs or pork loin, but I mixed it into oatmeal for a zip. It truly is versatile, and that gives it an extra push into the "win" category for me!

If you're looking for an alternative to the run of the mill fruit applications out there, give this orange rhubarb sauce a try. Who knows, maybe you'll finally have a reprieve from the strawberry rhubarb fad - just don't forget about those strawberries, they need love too!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Kasundi Braised Vegetables

Root veggies, mushrooms and chickpeas get braised in homemade Tomato Kasundi for a spicy, hearty meal perfect for serving over rice!

Ever go pantry diving? I try to go into our double-deep cupboards at least twice a year, pulling out things and sorting what needs to be used and in what order. This time, however, was a bit different. I actually discovered a jar of homemade Tomato Kasundi - from 2013! - in our cold cellar, and while the contents were still okay I didn't really want it to sit around any longer. Luckily, I also had a wide array of our kitchen staples on hand having also gone grocery shopping - carrots, onions, mushrooms, and a can of chickpeas. Having seen braised chickpeas floating around the web before, I wondered if I could do the same thing with this richly flavoured, slightly spicy sauce.

The method of throwing this dish together wasn't really a recipe at all in the grand scheme of things - what I used worked for us, but if you have other veggies or legumes you like by all means give them a shot too! I personally can't wait to make more kasundi so that I can try this braise with eggplant and lentils in addition to the other veggies, maybe with a handful of spinach or mustard greens stirred in for colour too. In the end, the long braise allows for the sharp tang and heat of the kasundi to mellow slightly, while the rich flavours soak into the veggies and make the whole pot beg for a bed of rice or grains to soak up every drop. I'd be lying if I said we didn't pick at this cold too - but then again what better way to graze?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Gluten Free Zucchini Brownies

Gluten free, vegan and downright delicious zucchini brownies with a glossy chocolate glaze. I didn't realize the glaze hadn't set yet so it pulled off a bit, still good!

Ah, zucchini. If ever there was a bigger bane to the existence of summer gardeners, I don't know of it! Luckily, it is also ridiculously versatile, and brownies are simply the next thing to get a hit of this sneak-attack veggie! I was inspired by a local vegan restaurant who carried zucchini brownies topped with a shiny glaze in their dessert cabinets, and since one of my friends is gluten free and happened to love them, I figured I'd see if I could find a way to emulate them that didn't cost $4 for two bites!

The secret to getting these brownies luscious and moist without any of the "gluten free grittiness" lies in my Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend, which has the perfect blend of protein and starches for all my desserts. Psyllium and flax eliminate the need for added xanthan or guar gum, while giving each bite just enough of the classic "chew". Letting the batter sit for 10 minutes before baking lets the starches hydrate a bit as well, taking out the last of any grit that may remain. These brownies are also excellent to freeze, and once frozen, you could even slice them in half for an amazingly decadent ice cream sandwich (not that we've ever done that here...). Just make sure that if you are freezing these beauties, you hold off on the glaze until you're planning to serve them.

Speaking of the glaze.... I could go on and on about this delicious and mirror-shiny glaze! While it is certainly not required, I do highly suggest it especially if company is coming over. Just don't tell the kids about the veggies packed inside (and if you're really nervous, ixnay the espresso in favour of water or use decaf).

While these brownies do have the "health halo" with their vegan and gluten free label as well as the vegetation involved, they are most definitely a dessert with their sugar and oil content. As much as I could have made them "better" by using applesauce or something similar, I was going for the decadence of the restaurant treat and I think I got it spot on here. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Baked Spanish Rice

Baked Spanish Rice is a hearty, healthy meal in a bowl perfect for the winter blahs when hot, but is also delicious cold as a Summer salad! Brown rice is mixed with onion, garlic, red peppers, artichokes and carrots before being doused in a tomato-meat sauce with a heady dose of paprika. An hour and a half of hands off cook time and voila! Dinner is served.

Despite the fact that it can be up to 40 degrees Celsius outside with the humidity, I have been drawn to the kitchen and specifically the oven. Part of this is that I do tend to batch-cook for the week ahead, not just that night's dinner, so I am able to prep food later in the evening when it's cooled off a bit. Another is that I've been spending a decent portion of my summer out of town, so I need to be able to make meals that travel and hold well too. This baked rice, like so many of my recipes, came out of the fact that I had containers of chicken broth and meat sauce sitting in my freezer from back in the school year that I really needed to use up, if only for the reason that I needed freezer space (hello Summer fruit season!). Being a bona fide Spanish rice lover, I wanted to make a version of it that I could throw together and more or less let cook while I gardened and did laundry, and baked rice fit the bill perfectly.

Of course, I was not content with simply making "pure" Spanish rice, the kind that's basically tomatoes and white rice. Nope, I wanted a meal in a bowl, full of flavour, protein and veggies, but light on the oil. We always have artichoke hearts on hand (mom loves them), and onions, peppers and carrots are mainstays in the house too. The crowning spice (and one of my personal favourites) was paprika, and I was not shy with it (dial it to your own tastes though). After an hour and a half - where I literally did nothing - I had a huge pot of food that was excellent warm and cold. While it was a meal in itself, it didn't stop mom from pairing it with some grilled trout for dinner (which honestly looked delicious too!). I will definitely be making this again when school starts back up, maybe with a vegan "meat" sauce for variety as well.

What do you tend to eat in the Summer? Is it no-cook or are you like me and baking up a storm? Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta Bake

Spinach Artichoke Pasta Bake is a gluten free (thanks to Barilla Pasta) and vegan comfort food casserole for tonight or freezing for later!

The abundance of traditionally "spring" veggies in my Canadian summer garden makes me long for the days of sunny ripe tomatoes fresh off the vine. All my greens are lush and a mainstay of my lunches - spinach, heirloom lettuce and mustard greens to be exact - but the tomatoes are a mid-August crop. Luckily, I do have a stock of canned tomato products at my disposal, and while I was contemplating dinners I spotted a can of artichoke hearts next to them. Inspiration struck, combining the flash-frozen garden spinach with the various canned tomatoes and artichokes to create a hearty yet light on the stomach pasta meal. For protein, I whipped up one of my favourite things to make with silken tofu - a faux "ricotta" that lent the coveted creamy texture to the "spinach-artichoke dip" feel of the recipe and added a hint of cheesy saltiness as well. While mom is not gluten free (I've mentioned several times how much she adores bread) I had some delicious gluten free penne to cook up anyways so I used it here too.

The first forkful definitely captured the feeling of Summer produce for me, especially the sun-dried tomatoes I found in the back of my pantry from last year! Their sweet, almost raisiny goodness brought a delightful taste and texture into play that worked with the brightness of the tomatoes and the slight salty tang of the tofu.

Here's the thing - I love dried tomatoes, and I do make my own at the end of the summer when our grape tomatoes come due for picking. However, the cost of them in the grocery stores (and even in the bulk bin) can be prohibitive. Nate Teague writes for a number of cooking related websites, including Cuisinevault – a site that helps home chefs learn about cutting techniques, ingredients, recipes and much more. In one of his posts, he provides a handy list of options for when you don't have (or can't / don't want to procure) sun-dried tomatoes. Obviously, not every option will work seamlessly, and his article admits that, but gives you a variety of options for almost every application I can think of!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Homemade Fermented Chili-Garlic Sauce

Homemade Fermented Chili-Garlic Sauce (aka homemade Sriracha). A little sweet, definitely spicy and with a little texture from the pureed peppers, this sauce has the perfect tang and "funk" from fermentation too.

Homemade Fermented Chili-Garlic Sauce (aka homemade Sriracha)

It's no secret that I am a hot sauce queen (or is it freak?). At any given time I have at least 4 bottles of hot sauce (different types, obviously) in my fridge and tons of pickled peppers too. Wasabi may as well be ketchup for how much I use it! However, I have limited experience with making hot sauces myself, but with a garden full of various scorching hot peppers I figured it was time! Serious Eats had a fantastic recipe for making a version of Sriracha that intrigued me for a few reasons - one, it used up a whole load of the peppers (yay!) and two, it used fermentation, rather than cooking, to break down the peppers and create the most delicious and complex mixture of flavours.

Now, fermentation is easy - in the sense that you basically do none of the work. I chopped up the peppers in my food processor (for the fact that they didn't need to be uniform size and I also avoided touching them!) and scooped the whole mess into the jar, where it sat for just over a week. All I had to do was stir it once a day and watch the bubbles. Once fermentation was more or less complete, the vinegar and heat are applied and the works is pureed. The result was an absolutely perfect condiment, better than storebought and spicier too (which was definitely dependent on the peppers I used). I canned a few small jars and stuck what I would use immediately into a tiny glass bottle. As far as I can tell, the fermentation stopped after the heat and vinegar were applied, but then again the bottle disappeared in under a week!

Unfortunately, last year I did not have quite the stock (or heat) of peppers we usually do, and this year is likely going to be the same thanks to all the rain. Fingers crossed I'm back to spice world next year!

Fermented Sriracha

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Creme Filled Chocolate Cupcakes

Creme Filled Chocolate Cupcakes are vegan and super easy to whip up! Filled with a light frosting, its a less preservative-filled way to embrace your inner child!

I am a total kid at heart. In a way, its a definite asset - after all, I'm a teacher (and a Home Ec one at that!). I can't really say my palate has ever been stereotypically "childlike" though - I would gladly order off the "grownup" menu when we went out to eat and saved the fries for fast food runs. That said, during our summer road trips, I longed for those truck stops where my parents would give my sister and I two dollars each and send us to the convenience store for sustenance. While my sister would often go for the chips (she's a Pringles girl) or boxes of Smarties (the Canadian ones), I would always find my way to the baked goods section and load up on whatever looked good and chocolatey.

The jackpot, as I'm sure most of you readers will agree, was finding those cream filled chocolate cupcakes. For $2, I could score four of them, and boy did I hoard them from stop to stop! Looking back, I'm actually surprised I liked them as much as I did - they were very sweet, and probably full of all sorts of "fun" stuff, but like Jos Louis they were irresistible! They actually held such a soft spot in my heart that they came up during a late night conversation with N (my fiance, and yes we're teenage girls at a sleepover some days). I knew I had to try my hand at making some from scratch, and since I had control of the ingredients, I was sure I could find a way to have them turn out better than I remembered. I found a vegan version of the coveted cupcakes by Chloe Coscarelli and set about tweaking it for my needs.

The first batch of cupcakes was a hit - such a hit, in fact, that N brought them to work and one of his coworkers fell in love with it too! When N asked me if it was possible for me to make some for his coworker as a thank you for picking up shifts (and generally being a great guy - Hi A!) I told him absolutely! Luckily if you can make muffins, these cupcakes will be a breeze! A note on the tools - if you don't have / can't find a Bismark tip to fill them, a round tip will work if you poke a preliminary hole with a chopstick.

I love baking for others, and these cupcakes will be on heavy rotation I'm sure - between 82 school kids, a fiance who loves my treats, and all the assorted friends and family there will never be a dull moment!