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