Sunday, October 25, 2020

Cranberry Honey Mustard

Looking for something a little different for the holiday condiments? Try this zesty, sweet Cranberry Honey Mustard on for size! Fresh cranberries are cooked down with vinegar, apple juice, honey and mustard seeds to make a richly flavoured spread or topping. Try it on leftover turkey or pork sandwiches or for making a vinaigrette for roasted veggies!

Since we Canadians had Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, cranberries were on deep discount all over the place! I bought a few bags on a whim, not entirely sure what I was going to do with them, but after almost being attacked by a frozen bag of turkey leftovers and remembering the days of sandwiches piled high with cranberry sauce, Dijon mustard and turkey I wondered, what kind of condiment could I make to celebrate that? 
Well, the Google gods must have been listening to my brainwaves, because when I searched for cranberry recipes yesterday morning, what came up but a honey mustard using up fresh cranberries that was perfect for canning? A quick scan of the ingredients and I was delighted to see that I had everything already, no extra shopping trip (with the lines to heck and back included) required. The hardest part was waiting for the mustard seeds to soften! Once those two hours were up, the blending and simmering went fairly quickly, though I strongly suggest a splatter screen if your pot is not super tall - the mustard thickens fairly quickly and as we all know thick bubbles splatter!

In terms of canning this, I wouldn't suggest any jars larger than 1/2 pint as the mixture is quite thick, I used 4 oz jars and they worked perfectly! What didn't fit into a jar I scooped into a plastic tub and stuck in the fridge, since my previous experience with mustard indicates that waiting 24 hours (yes, another waiting period!) makes the condiment taste richer and more well rounded. Mom has been eyeballing it for her sandwiches at lunch and I have an idea for a dressing to use over roasted Brussels sprouts with it in pride of place too!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Vegetable, Sausage and Chicken Soup with @nakednutrition Naked Collagen

I am loving soup season! This vegetable-packed, gluten free soup gets pops of umami from turkey kielbasa and chicken thighs, a dash of sweetness from caramelized onions, butternut squash and chopped tomatoes and warmth from paprika and cumin. The broth is enriched with @nakednutrition Naked Collagen right before adding to the saute and simmering, giving it a great body and a boost of protein and calcium.

Well, I guess we have finally hit the wall and the cold has settled in for good. I have to say, I had high hopes last week when there was sun outside, but last weekend solidified Autumn for us. N and I went apple picking in the wind and grey skies, and I was glad that I had a stash of broth hanging out in the fridge as well as this rich, hearty soup that I made on Friday. 

Like most of my soup season creations, this one was more of a "clean out the freezer" conglomeration than anything! I had a glut of homemade chicken stock in the freezer from a few rotisserie birds and a half-link of turkey kielbasa, as well as some assorted veggies laying around. Inspired by the farro and butternut squash salad I made last Christmas out of Jacquelyn Dodd's book
Lush: A Season-by-Season Celebration of Craft Beer and Produce, I began with the onions, kale and squash and fleshed it out as I went, adding some potatoes from the pantry for good measure and some extra warming spices. 
Of course, you can't have a hearty, rich flavoured soup with a watery broth! Even though mine was a homemade, long-simmered concoction, I didn't have the chance to add the collagen rich chicken feet to the pot like I usually do. Instead, I turned to what is becoming my favourite fall supplement - Naked Nutrition's Naked Collagen Peptides. A few scoops whisked into the pot of stock enriched the body and bumped up the protein and calcium in the liquid, making the final soup hearty, stick to your ribs and packed with goodness (and flavour). No matter how cold it gets, I'm sure to have some brothy goodness on hand!
Do you embrace soup season? What are some of your favourites? 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Jerusalem Bagels #worldbreadday2020

Vegan Jerusalem Bagels are pillow-soft with a lightly chewy crust, accented by toasted sesame seeds. Sliced and frozen they are a perfect secret weapon mid week... If they don't "disappear" while still hot and fresh!

It is the 15th ever World Bread Day hosted by Zorra (@zorrakochtopf )! It has been a while since I last participated (university is no joke kids) but I am so glad to bring my bakes to the table again this year!

Bagels are known for being time consuming and messy to make in this house - the use of the mixer, stove and oven along with the baking sheets and cooling racks and floured counters... it's a lot when you just want some carbs in the breadbox! That said, bagels are insanely convenient for the school year lunches, breakfasts on the go, and lazy Saturday mornings. When I stumbled across "Jerusalem bagels" on Coco's Green Deli, I was intrigued - ring-shaped, topped with sesame but without the glossy and chewy exterior from boiling, could they possibly compare to my beloved Montreal bagels, or even my usual homemade ones?
Well, the short answer is yes! While different from the boiled bagels, these soft, pillowy breads are the perfect (and fast) addition to the weekday routine. The dough is soft and slightly sweet thanks to the soy milk and sugar, while whole wheat flour adds a touch of nuttiness and a boost of fibre. I also added a scoop of Naked Rice protein to the dough since N will occasionally eat them without any Toast Topper or even peanut butter (shocker, I know!) and the protein and fibre will help keep him full and energized for a few hours. The dough is also great for making dinner rolls to pair with soup or chili, but whatever you do, don't skip the seedy topping! It doesn't have to be sesame seeds - but flax, chia, poppy, heck even sunflower seeds add a boost of crunch and a warming nuttiness that really keeps them from being too sweet and rich.
Interestingly enough, when I made these on parchment paper, I didn't like them as much as I did when I baked them on SilPat - possibly because the silicone insulates the dough and keeps the softness throughout the whole bagel. However, both are good - you just have a bit of a thicker bottom crust on parchment.
Thanks again to Zorra for hosting WBD 15! 

World Bread Day, October 16, 2020 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Golden Braid of Bern #BreadBakers

Called a "Golden Braid of Bern" in my mom's cookbook, this buttery braided Zopf is a Swiss treat made with a blend of whole wheat, rye and all purpose flour plus a touch of honey. Spread a slice with cultured butter or top with a slice of aged cheese for a delicious side to any meal!

The fall is a weird time for me. While I love (love) the colours all our trees turn in October, apple picking, pumpkin patches and pies, I really and truly hate the cold. N rolls his eyes at me because for me, "cold" is 17C and below - what can I say? I'm definitely not doing my Scottish and Indigenous heritage proud with that logic!

That said, the cold weather also opens up the possibilities of baking for me - I don't have to worry that cranking up the oven will overheat the house and cause our A/C to cry (or die like it did this spring), and when soup and stew are on the menu a hearty loaf alongside is never a problem. The other great thing about bread baking in cooler weather is that the rising time is slowed down, which allows a better flavour to develop and the flours to hydrate more. The result is some of the best bread I bake all year!

This loaf is one I wish I had started baking a lot earlier in my career as a food blogger, but the reality was Zopf wasn't on my radar at all until N mentioned a bread that his Swiss colleague missed from home. I immediately paged through my mom's Reader's Digest Recipes from Around the World, hoping to find a recipe that matched the description I was hearing: rich, slightly sweet, braided and with a little spice of some kind. On the very last page of the "Switzerland" section, I spotted it - Zopf, haughtily titled the "Golden Braid of Bern". Perfect.

Now, being the nerd I am, I didn't just take the recipe and go. I researched actual Swiss recipes for the loaf, and found out that traditionally there is an actual "Zopf flour" that is used in the recipe. The closest approximation I could find was a mixture of white, whole wheat and rye flours, which I have noted in the recipe below. In addition, I used honey instead of white sugar to improve the flavour, and mayonnaise instead of the eggs - a trick that I initially used because I had run out of eggs, but now continue to use because it works and incorporates a bit better in my opinion (you can certainly use 2 eggs, I find the mayo tenderizes the crumb a bit more). A tiny amount of cardamom and ginger add a delicate fragrance without creating a "spice bread" and work really well with the butter permeating the whole loaf. 

When the loaf is baking, your home will be filled with the aroma of toast (it's the best way I can describe it) as the whole grains and butter heat and fuse together. The hardest part is waiting for it to cool before slicing a chunk off, but then again I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that N has torn a piece off while it was still a bit warm from the oven! The flavour is well suited to salty and tangy flavours, such as cultured butter, cream cheese, or aged Cheddar and sliced smoked ham. I've also heard that slightly stale slices make amazing French toast - that is, if there is any left to get stale!

This week the Bread Bakers group is making brown breads, perfect to serve alongside the heartier meals of the Fall and Winter seasons. Check out the blogs below and say hi!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Honeyed Cornmeal Shortbread

This Honeyed Cornmeal Shortbread is the perfect mix of chewy and crisp with a great texture from the cornmeal and caramelized honey. Try something different for your Thanksgiving dessert!

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving to all my readers! This year, we have spread our celebrations out over most of the month, given the growing family (my stepsiblings welcomed two new littles in August!) and the various schedules we all contend with. For us, it's an excuse to just keep churning out the treats (and get rid of them without eating a whole batch). 

Mom always takes the reins on the "main" dessert during the holidays, usually an apple pie (I know, not pumpkin! None of us are that keen on pumpkin pie here, that's my dad's domain). However, while the turkey, potatoes and stuffing are cooking, it never hurts to have a snack or two! That's where these little squares of shortbread come in - they're sweet, without being too rich, and have a great corn flavour bolstered by the caramelized honey on top. The texture is a cross between traditional sandy shortbread and a chewy cookie, having a crisp exterior that still lends a chew.
The recipe I used is a modification of one we used at work for the holiday lunch - as always, I found I had to tweak it in order to make it "work", but hey, I'm not turning down a cookie! Drop cookies turned into pressed-out bars for more even cooking, and the honey on top was in lieu of a true glaze because I am lazy and didn't feel like messing up another bowl and whisk, but I would 100% do that again because of how wonderfully it caramelized and set. I also added a pinch of salt to the batter (the original recipe used none) and added the milk in batches to avoid a runny mixture. Baking time and temperature changed to my usual shortbread configurations, the low and slow preventing excess rise and cakeyness.

In all, these cookies satisfied our love for both cornbread and shortbread, and were a hit with the guests this weekend. What started off as an unlikely series of events wound up being something awesome that I will 100% make again, and I for one am thankful - as I am for each and every one of my readers. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving season everyone, whether you are celebrating the day today or next month!

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Boosted Hot Cocoa Mix with @nakednutrition

This Boosted Hot Cocoa Mix is rich, sweet and full of nutrition thanks to Naked Nutrition's Collagen Peptides powder and Naked Rice Protein. A jar makes a great gift for a loved one, or yourself!

I am by far a Summer person. Give me 30C weather, sun and balmy breezes all day and I am a happy camper. Once the weather gets cold, it seems like my whole body revolts and retreats into the confines of sweaters, coats (yes, even inside), blankets, hats and scarves. In addition, the cold weather often causes my rheumatoid arthritis (and associated Raynaud's phenomenon) to flare, making walking, typing, and cooking difficult (to say the least). Not only does the cold weather wreak havoc on my joints, but my whole family gets brittle nails and cracking skin once the cold sets in. Couple that with the ever-constant hand washing and sanitizer in the age of 2020 and it's a recipe for disaster! 

Thankfully I didn't take years of nutrition training for nothing - I knew that along with the medications, balms, strengthening polishes and lotions we needed to begin healing from the inside out. A few of my friends have been using various collagen "booster" products for a while now, and kept lauding their benefits. However, their products were full of things like sugar, coconut, dairy, or other additives - stuff my body can't tolerate. On top of that, the little packets they tote around are expensive and subject to somewhat iffy marketing practices. I personally prefer using products that are not only affordable, but as bare-bones as possible so that I know exactly what I'm getting. While it may sound a little extreme, I am not willing to make sacrifices when it comes to getting my health on track.
It's this mentality that aligns me with Naked Nutrition's supplements - they are up front about their ingredients and nutritional content, the source of their ingredients and (best of all) they are affordable, with simple packaging and fast delivery! I had the chance to try their Naked Rice protein powder earlier this year and my picky tastebuds fell in love with it, not to mention it's versatility in decadent cookies, croissants and gingersnaps. When the great folks at the company offered me the chance to try out their collagen powder, I was very interested, since I had done a bunch of research on it's benefits for arthritis and skin health and was willing to try anything to help! 

Naked Collagen impressed me right off the bat with it's nutritional profile and transparency. Each tablespoon has 9g of protein and 46% of daily calcium (if you've been reading my blog for a while you know I also have osteoporosis, so this is a biggie for me too) with only 35 calories. The collagen is sourced from grass fed beef hide and is free of dairy, soy, gluten, carbohydrates, colours, flavours or sweeteners, making it suitable for almost everyone (save vegetarians and vegans). The powder is fine and easy to scoop, making measuring easy and mess-free. I started adding a scoop to my oatmeal and was pleased with how well it mixed - leading to whisking it into soup for a little extra oomph. The collagen mixes completely with no clumping (note: for the oatmeal I mixed it with the oats first then mixed it all into the water on the stovetop, and for the soup I used a mini-whisk) and adds a slightly noticeable "body" to the liquid - not thick, per se, but richer, like a bone broth that's been simmered for hours has. 

Bolstered by that success, I decided to make hot cocoa with the Naked Collagen and Naked Rice as a little congratulatory gift to myself after finishing a term paper (they never seem to end!). Sitting down with the crossword and a big mug of it was the perfect end to my night, and I took that inspiration to create a few jars of it for holiday gifting and storing in my own pantry!

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Coconut Butter Shortbread

These unassuming, shortbread-like cookies pack a hit of coconut flavour thanks to coconut butter (AKA creamed coconut). A drizzle of dark chocolate on top gussies them up just enough! 

Baking is such a zen practice for me. So many times I have caught a glimpse of our kitchen clock and thought "where did that time go?". I'm really glad that I get to not only cook and bake for a living, but that I get to teach kids how to do it too, creating things from cornbread to granola bars to pizza wontons with them and watching them hone their skills. Being school in 2020, some things have changed - nuts of all kinds are verboten, a lot of the hands-on stuff has disappeared, and my allergy lists are as long as my (orangutan, allegedly) arms. Lessons have become more refined than the "set the kids free" method I used to employ, but I still try to get them involved in any way I can.

One of the things I love doing with kids is cookies, and these ones are no exception. The process to "dough" takes about 10 minutes, and once it's made (by either the "responsible" adult or a watched student) the younger ones have a blast rolling and "squishing" the dough balls on the sheet. Ironically, for this recipe I was the one who needed to mind my allergies, as coconut and I don't mix at all! That said, this small batch is rich enough to satisfy a dessert craving without leaving you with a million cookies (not that that's a bad thing...) and with the dark chocolate drizzled on top you can feel a little fancy too. I served these to my coworkers and they were a hit!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Christmas Curry

This Christmas Curry is PACKED with vegetables and vegan protein, with a light coconut broth made with homemade curry paste infusing every single ingredient! I managed to toss in eggplant, kale, snow peas, onion, and two types of sweet potato, and topped it off with some home-grown Thai basil!

One of the best things about being able to go back to work is that my school is near a few international supermarkets. Even though I definitely did not grow up with the flavours of India, Japan, the Caribbean or Thailand (except for a few "world days" at school) I definitely developed a love for their cuisines, and others, when I lived in our nation's capital. Mom also had the chance to travel the world with work about that time, so when it comes time for me to cook for her I usually know where I'm headed!

Like I've mentioned a million times before, the main curry we make at home is Thai based - filled with fresh flavours from vegetables and light but filling tofu, it is something that it suitable year round. I had a few batches of curry paste hanging around my freezer from the summer (and last year too, apparently!) so I knew it was time to get back into the game and clear some freezer space. In terms of vegetables, I got a ton of inspiration wandering the shops near work. Mom loves sweet potatoes in curry, so I grabbed a couple varieties to play with, and a pack of Chinese eggplant as well which I love for their silky quality when cooked (and minimal seeds). Tofu is something we always have on hand, so it wasn't even a question, as were the addition of some of the garden's peas, chilies, kale and bell peppers. The final touch was the Thai basil I was growing on the windowsill, which I was excited to finally have a use for! 

Of course, even the best laid plans don't always work out seamlessly. I thought I had a can of coconut milk hanging out in the pantry, but apparently it had disappeared sometime in the past! However, I did have a couple bricks of creamed coconut - essentially coconut butter from pureed coconut meat - so a half block added the touch of creaminess to offset the spice of my homemade curry paste. The other half was used too - don't worry, you'll see it on the blog soon! 

While the prep work and initial cooking of this curry takes some time, the great thing is it makes a lot - so you have some for dinner and you can freeze the leftovers without issue. It's a great pinch-hitter when you just don't feel like cooking or when you have unexpected vegetarian guests for dinner. Like all these curries, add vegetables or change them up to suit your taste. Regular potatoes, jicama or cauliflower would work instead of the sweet potatoes, use green beans instead of snow peas, spinach instead of kale... you get the drift. I always say the more veggies the better! Likewise, if you don't enjoy tofu (though it soaks up the curry flavour beautifully), saute up some chunks of chicken and toss them in with the kale to warm through. The miso adds a delicate richness to the flavour and stands in for the traditional shrimp paste or fish sauce, but if you are not vegetarian feel free to add those instead!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Miniature "Turkey Burger" Meatloaf

It has been a VERY long time since I've made meatloaf - and even though I forgot breadcrumbs (see, told you it was a long time) this mini-loaf made with ground turkey breast turned out perfectly! A topping of ketchup, hoisin and a drizzle of maple syrup baked into a delicious glaze as well.
Meatloaf was never a "staple" at my house, but when my mom did make it I remembered it fondly. Nothing fancy, it was a run of the mill combo of beef, onion, egg and breadcrumbs, topped with the glorious crust of ketchup! When I started cooking on my own in highschool, I will admit I strayed away from the basics, making a goat cheese stuffed lamb meatloaf (a riff off this one) with a tandoori apricot glaze which, to date, is still my favourite variation. Granted, when I stopped being able to eat meat in 2006 (a whole other saga we won't get into) I never gave meatloaf another thought. 

That said, never say never! This summer, we introduced N to our go-to turkey burger recipe from when Mom and I were on WW in the early 2000s (shh), filled with turkey bacon and Monterey Jack cheese. Well, a convert was made (for good reason, they're amazing) and when N asked if it would be possible to make the burger mix into loaf form I was up for the challenge. It took some digging and time-guessing, but I eventually came up with a working formula of sorts. Unlike the classic burger, this needed a binder so an egg and some flax went in for added moisture and a hint of nuttiness. I opted for onion flakes and no turkey bacon because, well, I forgot to buy onion and turkey bacon before starting the recipe! As I used ground turkey breast, I added in a bit of fat with canola oil to keep it from drying out, along with the tamari and ketchup. The glaze was the piece de resistance, and I have to admit N was the inspiration for it! He developed a taste for hoisin sauce when I used it on a sandwich for him, and he mixed ketchup and maple syrup for a chicken sandwich once as well, so I mixed all three and slapped it on at the end. 

Given that this was my first meatloaf in a decade or more, I was extremely pleased with the result! Then again, the proof was in N's reaction when he made his first sandwich with it - and his second, and third... you get the picture. Yes, this will definitely be on the rotation again, and since it's a fairly small batch, it's perfect for one or two without leaving you with meatloaf sandwiches for days. Not that that's a bad thing mind you, but still!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Cranberry-Pecan Pumpkin Bread #BreadBakers

This yeasted, whole wheat bread is filled with Autumnal spices, pureed pumpkin and handfuls of the fruit and nuts. They are perfect for toast or teatime spread with jam, honey or butter!

Holy creeholy it has been ages since I've been able to participate in a #BreadBakers event! The "Quarantine 15" was definitely felt around here, leading to a break from the bread-filled fridges and freezers we usually have. Thankfully, we are all back on track, and I have been allowed to start baking my beloved yeast breads again! 

This loaf is my first "hurrah to fall" type of bake, leading up to a season of apples, cranberries and pumpkins even though I still have one last zucchini to use up! I was on a "warming spice" kick from the gingersnaps and Chestnut Gingerbread dough I had made earlier in the week, and when I found a can of pumpkin in the pantry (which I believe we bought for the cat and/or rats to eat) I usurped it and decided to use it as my jumping-off point. Unlike most pumpkin loaves you see, this one is yeasted, but it is still full of all the traditional flavours and add-ins like pecans and dried cranberries! I used soy milk (as always) for the yeast development, and while I should have let the loaves rise a bit more (I had to jockey the oven with dinner) the crumb wasn't overly dense or doughy. Rather, the resulting bread became the perfect base for toast with butter, or (as mom discovered) honey-drizzled cream cheese as a snack. 

While not as unique as some of the other bakes you'll see linked below, this one is a classic for a reason, and one I will make again for sure!

#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 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.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Almond Praline Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are filled with Kamut flakes, luscious chocolate chips and crushed almond praline for a unique twist on the classic!

Chocolate chip cookies are a classic, for good reason. There are very few kids (or adults!) who will pass up every type of the combination, so whether you're serving fans of the chewy-crisp (AKA: the "right" cookie), the cakey or - gasp - the crunchy variety, there is a recipe out there that will be a hit. My mom, for example, loves the classic, back of the bag Chipits cookie with the addition of walnuts or pecans - entry level in every aspect, from it's creation (one bowl, all shortening, nothing fancy) to it's flavour and texture (sweet, occasional chocolate, and flat and crisp). I loved it too as a kid (because Mom made them, of course!) but when I started baking myself I definitely fell hard into the chewy, rich cookie camp. Whether they are made with egg yolks, tofu, potato chips or avocado, I did my best to keep that chew factor alive (side note: wow I've made a lot of chocolate chip cookies!).

These cookies arose out of my burst of pre-school year nervous energy, coupled with boredom (I'm busy waiting for my end of term university exams, thanks CV19) and a desire to get the "jump" on holiday baking. I also had a ton of "odds and ends" lying around my pantry and freezer, including Kamut flakes, cream cheese, and ground up almond praline frozen early in the summer (I used it for a crumble over apples). All of these, along with a whole bag of bittersweet chocolate chips, found their way into these cookies. What I really liked was that the almonds added a nutty flavour (boosted by the Kamut) without a crunchy, chunky texture. For some reason, I'm 100% okay with pretzel bits and potato chips in my cookies, but not candy coated chocolate or nuts! Instead, the sweet crumbs just infused the cookies and made every bite decadent. It is 100% worth making that praline again just to do these cookies, in my humble opinion! That said, if you don't want to go to the trouble of making candy and grinding it up just for these cookies, I strongly suggest picking up pre-candied almonds (or pecans!) and grinding them up or chopping finely. You won't regret it!

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Two Bite Gingersnaps

These Two Bite Gingersnaps are gluten free, vegan and surprisingly healthy - using homemade applesauce, @nakednutrition Naked Rice protein powder and just a bit of sugar! Made for teatime or as an after school treat, they're sure to be a hit!

There is nothing that sums up "Fall" quite like the warming spices and smells of the season. Think about it - the pies, coffees and cakes you find from September right through to Christmas often come laced with the intoxicating aromatics of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves or a combination of all of them! As a kid, I was never one for spice cookies like gingersnaps, but as I've grown my tastes have really started leaning towards that zingy ginger flavour (for instance, I just made chicken broth with a chunk of ginger in with the carrots and celery this afternoon!). Not only does ginger (and it's usual spice accompaniments) warm you up when it's blustery outside, but they are also great for helping to settle the tummy when you're stressed out or sick with a cold. 

These gingersnaps are crisp, spicy and lightly sweet, and their two-bite size makes them a perfect "cheat" snack any time of the day (especially on the drive home if you commute!). Made with applesauce and only a little bit of oil, they also lean towards the healthier side of the spectrum and by adding a bit of protein from Naked Rice protein powder they help keep you full a bit more than your standard box cookie. The baked cookies keep well in a container for a week or two, but the dough is also great to make ahead and freeze (either pre-portioned or as a block) for later baking. I made a double batch and froze half for the holiday season!

These cookies are a perfect option for the schoolroom or sharing platters, because they are free of gluten, dairy, eggs and nuts! No matter who you bake for, these cookies are a safe, delicious option and a comforting way to embrace the unknown months ahead.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Cinnamon Roll Cookies (GF/Vegan)

Gluten Free and Vegan Cinnamon Roll Cookies! Spicy, sweet and perfectly sized for popping into your mouth.

Who doesn't love the gooey, spicy bite of a cinnamon roll? I am in the midst of planning my holiday baking spree right now, and I came across a recipe that I made a few years ago and never got to share! I was first inspired to make my childhood favourite mall treat in a cookie form by one of my yoga instructors, who would comment on the smell coming from the cafe below the gym. She has celiac and associated milk allergy, so for the holidays I knew I had to try and make her something reminiscent of the bakery classics. 

Now, since I was trying to keep the cookies as non-irritating as possible for her digestion, I avoided the top 8 allergens including soy. Instead, I stuck to the original recipe, using coconut oil - a move that, ironically, mad me wear gloves the whole time because it's one of my allergies! That said, the dough, filling and even glaze smelled like heaven and my instructor was so grateful for a treat that was safe for her, making the minor convenience well worth it. The dough is in no way elastic or "rollable" like standard sugar cookie dough, so it did break and make not-so-pretty swirls, but the pockets of cinnamon filling were like little bursts of happiness. In all honesty, I think they are quite pretty in a Jackson Pollock type of way, and if you really don't like it, just heavy-glaze them like that internet famous Krispy Kreme (just kidding, don't do that... an even coating is fine). 

Like shortbreads, these cookies store well and are suitable for boxing, mailing and gifting - ours lasted a max of 3 weeks before everyone got and demolished them, but I'd wager another week would have been fine too. Once baked they don't fall apart, so they work well on a cookie tray as well - something that will make any gluten free people at your holiday party happy! You can also make the dough and freeze it pre-bake for last minute finishing, a bonus if (like me) you plan ahead.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Exotic Blackberry Jam - Toast Topper #88

This blackberry jam is flavoured with orange flower water and wildflower honey with a hint of cloves. Its a super special and not too sweet spread for your morning toast!
We are jam fiends around here - probably due to the amount of bread I bake! This year, as with every year, I wind up debating whether or not to properly can my batches of jam, because while they last longer (and are easier to gift), the water-bathing is often time and space consuming in our small, shared kitchen! That said, I do try to suck it up at least one day and process all the jams for the coming year - including this one that I first tried last year. It turned out to be a sleeper hit with everyone, so I was requested to make it again! This time, I simply refrigerated the jars because any I give away can be refrigerated within a few hours and the rest will be eaten in a few months (this jam will keep at least 4 months in the fridge if near the back and tightly lidded).

Unlike many "berry" jams, this one keeps the seeds in (our personal preference of course). You can certainly puree and strain the berries if you want / need this seedless though! The secret was the combination of honey, lime juice and orange flower water, which elevated the berries without overpowering their flavour. With less sugar than a "usual" jam, the fruit flavour was more prominent as well, which is what I, at least, look for in a Toast Topper. If there is any left over (if), I plan to make cookies with it in the middle or mix it into buttercream to top cupcakes!

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Cranberry-Coconut Granola Bars

These Cranberry-Coconut Granola Bars are a delicious snack for after school and since the recipe serves a crowd its great for playdates or parties too!

While I am the first person to admit we have no clue what September is going to hold in terms of school, I do know that fall is around the corner and in some way shape or form kids will be in need of snacks. Depending on where you are, nuts of any kind are a no-go in the lunchbox, making many store-bought granola bars verboten. Those that are "school safe" can also be astronomically high in sugar, salt and fat - and since we all sit way more than we should (even those live wires you see bouncing off the walls), a healthier alternative is generally preferable.

Interestingly enough (for me at least) this recipe was one our school made for our Thanksgiving lunch's "dessert" last year. We always try to get the kids involved with an aspect of the holiday meals, and being the Home Ec teacher at least one class gets me to incorporate the recipe into the curriculum! Given that we were in a totally different mindset last year, it was so easy to make this with the kids, since there was no boiling the sugars or sharp implements involved. What they (and I) liked the best was pressing the mixture onto the sheet tray - them because they got to show off how strong they were, and me because it minimized my contact with the coconut (ironically, the only "nut" we are allowed at school I am allergic to!). Even though the students were pretty young (grades 1-3), the recipe also allowed us to get lessons on fractions, states of matter, food science and even history in without being forced to sit in front of a blackboard (did I just say blackboard? I must be showing my age!).

The bars were crunchy, but not hard, and if we hadn't been serving them at the lunch I would have wrapped them individually in foil so the students could have a portable snack for after school. With no oil, these are low in fat while being high in fibre, and while there is a good amount of sugar you could probably cut the granulated stuff down a little bit if you like. I wouldn't cut it too much because that sugar's melting and re-crystallizing is what helps the bars hold together and get crisp! The recipe is gluten-free as written as well, and easily veganized with ground flax for the egg and using maple syrup or agave (or more corn syrup) for the honey. Speaking of the corn syrup, this is not the HFCS that was a buzzword many years ago - this is your standard Karo, which while still invert sugar, is not the devil of the food industry. The corn syrup and honey maintain the "chew" of the bars, which was the only kind of granola bar I ever liked! In terms of add-ins, try dried cherries and pumpkin seeds, or dried blueberries and almonds (if allowed wherever you're eating the bars, of course!). The base recipe works for so many variations!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Gnocchi with Caramelized Onion, Duck and Mushroom Gravy

Sauteed homemade gnocchi gets topped with a rich caramelized onion, duck and mushroom gravy. Paired with roasted vegetables (from last night's roast duck) it is a hearty, filling meal for N after a long day!

Is it seriously almost September? While I haven't set foot in a (physical) classroom since the beginning of March, I feel like I never stopped working between remote teaching and remote university courses. However, the calendar doesn't lie, and while it isn't cold yet, we seem to be settling into the comfort-food mode faster than ever around here.
The last time N came over, I asked him if there was anything in particular he wanted for dinner. He absolutely loves duck, and while I couldn't find a duck breast at the store I did come away with a whole bird for a decent price and roasted it on a bed of veggies for one night's dinner. Being, well, me, I had planned for leftovers by making the gnocchi I posted yesterday and picking up a handful of ingredients with the idea to make a caramelized onion and mushroom sauce of some kind. I am a sucker for caramelized onions and mushrooms of all kind, so my brain went on a single track to those flavours! After running the idea past N (he loves French onion soup so he jumped on it) I started thinking of flavours - the thyme I used in the roast duck was mirrored in the gravy with a little rosemary to offset the mushrooms. A little honey amplified the sweetness of the onions while smoked paprika added smokiness that bacon would add (I didn't have any and it would have been too fatty for this recipe anyway). To thicken the gravy, I used a staple in my (and my mom's and my grandma's) pantry called Veloutine, which is essentially an instant starch thickener made by Knorr. If you can't find it (I only found it on the Canadian Amazon site), a cornstarch slurry would work fine! The resulting sauce/gravy is thick, glossy and a perfect foil for the crisp gnocchi.

A few notes for those wanting to make this like I did. I highly recommend you start with a roast duck with plenty of salt, pepper and thyme over a bed of hearty vegetables like carrots and parsnips (even a utility duck will work for this purpose, and they are cheap!). After the duck finished roasting, I strained all the juices into a glass measuring cup and refrigerated it. The creamy, soft white fat rose to the top in a disc which I removed and used part of for the gravy, and the concentrated, almost gelatinous liquid on the bottom became the duck stock when mixed with a little water. Of course, if you are using a cooked duck breast (or another game bird) and don't have access to these flavourful ingredients, I would suggest either store-bought duck fat and a rich chicken bone broth or, in a pinch, butter and bone broth. If you only have chicken stock, I suggest simmering it with dried mushrooms and a scoop of collagen powder (if you have it) for an hour and straining it to add some rich flavour.

Also, if gluten is a problem, the sauce is completely gluten-free - swap in your favourite starch (polenta or mashed potatoes are always good) or use gluten free gnocchi!

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Cheese and Potato Gnocchi

A bunch of pillowy gnocchi get an extra boost of protein and tenderness from pureed cottage cheese and a couple scoops of @nakednutrition Naked Rice protein powder. A quick 12 minute par-bake in a 450F oven sets the outsides so they don't fall apart in storage or the cooking process.

Some days inspiration comes out of the blue. I was planning sides for a roast duck planned for one of the nights N would be over (he loves when I roast it like this on a bed of veggies) and realized there was no plan for leftovers... sacrilege! However, I did have... some ingredients on hand, none of which were enough for a side dish for more than one person. I immediately thought of making a duck gravy to top a starch, namely potatoes, since I remembered the days of Thanksgiving leftovers prepared just like that. However, the heat and humidity had rendered all but one potato useless, so I immediately thought of my fallback plan - gnocchi!

For this batch I was also lucky enough to be given a carton of no-name cottage cheese that my sister bought but didn't like the taste of - when pureed, it was ricotta-smooth in texture and worked identically to the Italian cheese in the recipe! A tiny squeeze of lemon juice added the light tang ricotta normally has, and I added a bit of extra salt and some pepper to boost the flavour as well. In addition to the flour, I added in two scoops of the Naked Rice protein powder I had on hand, which not only added nutrition but kept the dough tender (not chewy like the gluten-heavy gnocchi can be). After mixing, I immediately rolled and cut out the dough and gave it a par-bake to help it hold it's shape - a step that once I learned it I will never forget! Cooked and cooled, the pillows were packed up in a ziploc and stored in the fridge for the three days till I needed it - any longer and I would have frozen the trays before bagging!

The best part about this recipe, for me, was that it made the perfect portion for 4 people as part of a meal. Not only did N have dinner one night (recipe forthcoming!) but he had enough leftovers for the next few days after adding a fresh salad or some steamed broccoli!

Sunday, August 23, 2020

(Almost) Doubletree Cookies

I finally got around to making a week batch of the infamous Doubletree Hotel Chocolate Chip Cookies! I made a few variations on the original, namely veganizing them, but I also used chopped chocolate instead of the chips and pecans instead of walnuts because it's what I had on hand. They are a perfect mix of crisp and chewy with great flavour and texture!

While I've never been to a DoubleTree hotel in my life, I am no stranger to the knowledge that they offer fresh baked cookies on arrival. This fact alone would make me want to stay there - not because I could eat them (cookies are, unfortunately, not on my body's "do" list) but because I do the same thing here when we have guests. Whether it is a large family gathering (and I mean large - Italian families are crazy!) or simply my grandma, N or my sister's boyfriend D, there is a large chance that some form of homemade goodie will be waiting for them. It simply seems like the right thing to do!
While N definitely prefers peanut butter based cookies (or cinnamon cakes), my grandma is definitely one for the more classic flavours. The original cookie recipe that I found online (then rediscovered in a scaled down format) met the criteria for a classic cookie (yes, like my mom used to make) but with enough of a twist with the lemon juice and cinnamon. I set about making this batch a wee bit healthier, though, since while cookies are a treat there's no reason you can't boost flavour and nutrition - plus I was out of eggs and butter thanks to a batch of bread I whipped up the day before. So veganizing the cookie happened as a result, but I also used a touch of whole wheat flour for a bit of extra depth in the flavour department. Because you can never have enough chocolate, I chopped up a bar of my favourite kind, adding the tiny little shards into the dough as well like chocolate confetti! Pecans were always a natural choice for me, as they are my mom's and grandma's favourite nut, and we always have some on hand. 

While you can certainly bake these cookies right away, time got the best of me and I had to stick the dough in the fridge for an hour while I tended to other things. That said, like most cookies (and all those with whole grains), these definitely benefited from the chill time - the dough was thoroughly hydrated and the chocolate had solidified after the heat of the kitchen. When baked, the cookies were thin, with crisp edges and a chewy middle studded with the pecans. The aroma was pure home, and when my grandma walked in she commented how wonderful it smelled!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Vegan Cottage Pie

This unusual, yet delicious take on the classic Shepherds Pie is completely vegan and packed with vegetables like carrots, onions, lentils, peas and (of course) zucchini! The topping looks cheesy but its actually a mix of sweet and Yukon gold potatoes mashed with rice milk and lots of salt and pepper. I made it in smaller foil pans so N could freeze and eat as he needed. Yum!

I get some of the best cooking inspiration from N. He is so adventurous when it comes to my cooking and he loves to help out, so when he texted me asking if I could make him a vegetarian shepherd's pie I grinned and told him "of course!". That said, I immediately decided to go off on a tangent - not only would this be a vegan shepherd's pie, but it would be crammed full of veggies, legumes and with a deceptively complex tasting topping!

I started off the thought process initially by nixing the whole idea of "fake meat", using lentils exclusively (as in Minimalist Baker's version). However, when I was picking up some other groceries, I came across the Meatless Farm Co. ground on sale and thought the addition of just a little bit of it would help "beef" up the texture (sorry), and stretch the recipe so that I could send N home with lots of leftovers. To the ground I added all the veggies I had on hand - which is to say, zucchini was a must (we are drowning in it) and the standard peas and carrots as well. When it came to the topping, I knew exactly what was expected - N loves sweet potato, so I mashed one in with the standard Russets, which made the pans look like they were topped with cheesy mash! It was a really good thing that this recipe made 4 pans of the pie, though, because it was such a hit N polished off the lot during his stretch at work. Hey, when you need a filling, healthy meal before a graveyard shift, you also want it to taste amazing too!

This recipe is, of course, incredibly versatile - in short, use whatever veggies you have on hand and like. Not a pea fan (hi, me too!)? Throw in chopped green beans, corn, celery, even bell peppers! No meatless ground? Use an extra 1/2 cup of dry lentils when you go to cook them. There are no rules - except to enjoy making and eating it!

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Orchard Harvest Jam - Toast Topper #87

Orchard Harvest Jam is a medley of peaches, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries cooked simply. No adornments needed (or a whole lot of sugar either!)

I get so excited every year when the first Ontario peaches and berries make it to market. Too often, the window where the peaches and nectarines are just right is only a week or two long, and during that time I'm at the farmer's market as much as possible, buying up the local harvest. This year, of course, farmer's markets have been hard to find and a much different experience to attend, and honestly I've been shying away from them because the joy of interaction is gone (for now!). That said, it has been a perfect time to use up my frozen stash of various fruit from over the year, and when I came upon a bag marked "Orchard Harvest Jam" I suddenly remembered I never posted this beauty from last year! So, to make up for it (and while a loaf of zucchini bread baked away in the oven) I made another batch.

This jam is really easy to make, given the already soft nature of thawed fruit. If you only have fresh, absolutely use it - I bet it would make this even more spectacular. Just remember to peel and put the peaches, 'cause those things have no place in a Toast Topper! I used a big ol' potato masher to break down my mix, leaving a bit of texture, but if you want silky smooth run it through a blender or use a stick blender to do the job. I love to use Pomona's Pectin when I do jams, mostly because I hate super-sweet preserves but also to cater to the various health concerns of those I gift jars to. This pectin is calcium-activated and comes with directions on the packet (though I buy mine in bulk these days, so i often Google when I can't remember), but the key is that you can't use too much sugar or it won't set! I have also used this pectin in jams using honey, and it works well there as long as you can dissolve it well enough.

Technical stuff aside, though, the beauty of this jam shines through in it's simplicity. There are no spices, liqueurs, extracts or chocolate to overshadow the ripe fruit, and the tartness of the berries counteracts the sweetness of the peaches. I like to bottle this jam in 4 oz (1/2 cup) jars so that I can stash a few and give the rest away, but if you do can this I would suggest no larger than a 1/2 pint (1 cup) jar so that you can get through it before it goes off (it'll last about 2 weeks in the fridge). You can also freeze this but it won't be as thick upon thawing, then again depending on what you're doing with it that might be perfect (she says as she eats applesauce with slightly runny jam stirred into it).

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Lucifer’s Ginger & Chile Biscuits (copycat)

Lucifer himself won't be able to resist these cookies packed with ginger and a hefty dose of cayenne. Two bite drops are more than enough to satisfy even the most devoted chilehead!

My sister's boyfriend loves all things spicy. He one ate an entire scorpion pepper on a dare - which turned into a series of hilarious text messages which I won't share cut will sum up as a detailed progression of the digestive process. Luckily, he's starting to embrace the fact that spice does not always have to equal heat - it can be a blend of both, and these cookies are definitely testament to that!

I honestly can't remember where I heard about these cookies first - I want to say it was on television but I can't say for sure. At any rate, I was intrigued by their name and decided to look them up, since they did not exist on our Canadian store shelves. A little digging and I was sold. Obviously, I've never had the "real" Lucifer biscuits, but I did find quite the enticing description for them online: "as you munch, the heat builds up slowly and finishes with a warm and well-judged chilli kick. Infernally tempting, it's the biscuit that bites back". Ginger is already spicy and warming, but the added chili definitely brought a different "kick" to the mix. A bit of Googling and I found a recipe on Lost in Food that I used as a basis for my experiments. I only had vegan margarine on hand (being the holidays, I try to make "gift cookies" as neutral as possible) and I bumped up the ginger a little bit while also using a nuttier flour for my base. Next time I may play with adding oatmeal as well, because I love the zing of ginger in oatmeal cookies and I think it could work. It wouldn't be traditional by any means, but that's the fun of baking at home!

I will definitely say that these cookies benefit exponentially from an overnight chill in the fridge (or even in the freezer - you can stash this dough for up to 4 months if wrapped well). The resting allows the spices to permeate the dough and the whole grain flour to hydrate completely, making for way better (and spicier) cookies! If you are really pressed for time, rest the dough at room temperature for 1 hour, then shape and freeze the balls for 15 minutes prior to baking so they don't melt everywhere. It won't be exactly the same, but it will be better than mixing and baking all at once!

Even though it's summertime where we are, I encourage you to give these a try. Just - don't eat them all at once, okay?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

"Christmas" Thai Curry Paste

Christmas Thai Curry Paste is a flavour (not just heat) packed blend of herbs, fresh chiles, toasted spices and a hint of fish sauce for umami. Perfect for any and all curries you care to whip up!

We make curry at least once a month here, a habit which stemmed from my mom's travels to Thailand when she was working. That said, a lot of the time the actual curry making is done by her, since coconut and I don't mix - but I am always glad to provide the recipes, and making this curry paste is our secret weapon!

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with storebought curry paste - we use it a lot too - when the Summer garden is in full swing it would be a crime not to use what I'm growing! Last year (when I finally refined this recipe) we had a glut of Thai chilies along with Thai basil and lemon balm. My friend happened to be growing cilantro (which similarly took off) and gave me a bunch to cook with. A quick search and about 15 minutes later, and I had a batch of curry paste primed for the next recipe! At the end of the season I made a quadruple batch (yes, a quadruple batch) and froze it, which was great for the cold of winter!

This year, we used the same paste to make a rendition of this curry (using half coconut milk half vegetable broth and doubling the recipe, adding cauliflower and chickpeas) and while spicy it was the perfect mix of flavour and heat. I would wager this would work well with chicken, shrimp or pork as well!

For those of you who are vegan - the fish sauce can be replaced with a tablespoon of red miso which gives it a fermented, salty flavour. Likewise, I have provided an alternative for the lemon balm (which grows rampant here but I know it isn't easy to find in stores) but the Thai basil is best omitted rather than substituted. Regular basil has a totally different flavour to it! Toasting the spices "wakes them up" and really boosts the flavour they lend as well.

If you love Thai curry in any respect, or are simply looking for a way to jazz up your cooking, this paste is a dead-simple, fresh way to do it. Give it a try and let me know how it goes, and what you used it in, below!

Friday, July 24, 2020

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies with PBfit

These thick, chewy Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies are full of peanut flavour, protein and fibre, making them a perfect snack to hold you over till dinner, or before bed to stave off low blood sugar headaches in the morning!

We are definitely a peanut butter loving household. Between the lot of us, we spread it on toast, make sandwiches, add it to sauces, make candy and eat it by the spoonful straight from the jar. N on the other hand prefers his peanut butter in baked goods, especially cookies. For instance, I affectionately refer to these cookies as the ones that "sealed the deal" with him, and I make them far too regularly. There have been times where there were three jars of peanut butter in the house - two for eating and one for baking. Hey, you can never have enough of it!

So, when the great folks at PBfit sent me a jar of their powdered peanut butter to try out, I was excited. I have "regular" peanut flour at home already, which is just defatted, ground peanuts, but the taste of it is nothing like the jars of Kraft we have in the pantry and when baking it can be hit-or-miss (it works really well in satay and other spicy sauces though). PBfit adds coconut palm sugar and salt to the peanut flour, meaning when it is reconstituted (they suggest a 1 tbsp PBfit + 3/4 tbsp cold water ratio) it has more of the classic flavour and texture. As a bonus, because most of the fat has been removed, I don't have to worry that the large jar will go rancid before I can get through it as long as it's stored in my pantry. A few of the other nifty benefits PBfit offers are a 90% reduction in fat and a 33% reduction in calories over traditional peanut butter, all while being vegan, gluten free and with no artificial ingredients. The concentrated legumes (yes, peanuts are a bean!) pack a decent dose of protein too: just a tablespoon of powder has 4 grams of it for only 1 gram of fat.

When picking a recipe to use, I scouted around for one that was relatively easy to "healthify", finding one that used applesauce along with the oats. I swapped the applesauce for PBfit and water, which not only bound the cookie together but make the resulting cookie less "cakey" while adding great flavour, protein and fibre. Chilling logs of the dough and slicing them thick while semi-frozen lent to the finished cookies' chew and tenderness, without letting them fall apart. You could also drop these by spoonfuls onto the cookie sheets, but bear in mind you'll need to flatten them with your fingers or a glass because they don't spread. Because I had hard workers in mind (N has a fairly active job in the essential sector, and doesn't always get a chance to eat), I tossed in a few scoops of protein powder as well.

With the addition of the PBfit and my favourite protein powder, each cookie gets a 2 gram boost of extra protein on top of the naturally occurring protein in the oats and whole wheat flour. Combined with the fibre, one of these cookies will definitely keep you satisfied without being weighed down!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Sourdough Snacking Cake

If you are craving a rich, dense and decadently chocolatey dessert, this vegan snack cake is for you! While it is definitely sweet, the addition of sourdough starter (which I know a lot of you have lying around!) adds a hint of tang and lightens up the recipe, enticing you back for more!

While I didn't hop on the sourdough bandwagon as much as some people did during the last few months, I was definitely inspired to break out my (often neglected) starter to get some use out of it after all the articles cropped up online. I had made sourdough chocolate cake once before so I knew it was a sure-fire winner, but never recorded the recipe I used. Thankfully, many other people had the same idea I did, and not only that but some of the vegan community did as well!

This recipe was a combination of a few recipes I had saved, with my own twists for good measure. I only had oat-based creamer at home (I don't drink "milk" so I rarely buy any) and I had the end of a bag of spelt flour to use up, so those went into the mix. I knew I wanted to add coffee to heighten the chocolate flavour (especially since natural cocoa isn't as "deep" as Dutch process) but I only had French Vanilla flavoured instant - in that went! After all, I figured, all those things work with chocolate, and it was worth a try.

All in all, these changes served to make (in my opinion) a richer, nuttier flavoured cake with a solid "mocha" note, almost like those cappuccino mixes you used to find in the 90's. The tang from the sourdough was present but not overwhelming, almost like a red velvet cake, and I think you could definitely make red velvet cake out of this recipe by adding food colouring and frosting! For weeknights (or, lets face it, Blursday afternoons), this cake, unadorned, is perfect as is. I would suggest adding the chocolate chips halfway through the baking process or right after, as when I added them before (as written in the recipe), they settled into a layer in the middle. Not a bad thing - just not a layer of gooey goodness on top. Or you could do both - there are no rules!