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.