Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Whole Wheat Mocha Croissants

You can never go wrong with the combination of chocolate and coffee, especially when it is laminated into a flaky (vegan) pastry! These whole wheat croissants are also stuffed with a baton of dark chocolate for good measure, and the lamination features a scoop of @nakednutrition Naked Rice protein powder which keeps it from oozing everywhere. The result is a decadent treat for whenever your craving strikes!

I cannot think of croissants without thinking of Walt Disney World. As a kid, I was lucky enough to go to the theme parks several times, where I not only fell in love with the magic (I am a total DisNerd) and the ability to travel the world through EPCOT, but with the food. Now, I'm not going to say Disney World is a Michelin paradise - by and large, you will find your stereotypical American fast food above anything else - but in EPCOT, tucked away in the France pavillion,is a little bakery they named Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie. This bakery is the source of arguably some of the best chocolate croissants I have ever had in my life.

Before all of you traditionalists start jumping down my throat, I will admit - I have never been to France and had a "real" croissant. No, my experiences with the pastry were from a local bakery-cafe when I was in school and the occasional store-bought treat. However, the croissants from EPCOT were the perfect mix of buttery and sweet, and the filling was a luxurious chocolate that was almost a fudge-like ganache. When I was looking for ways to use up a canister of natural cocoa we bought by mistake (it's too sour / bitter for hot chocolate), I thought of those pastries. I toyed with the idea of making a rich cocoa and almond butter filling, but as I was looking at the recipe calling to add flour
to the lamination butter, I thought: why not make the whole croissant chocolate?

This became doubly intriguing when I discovered I was out of butter. I had shortening, which I have used before in puff pastry and croissants back in my baking school days, but it's flavourless and needs oomph to really be a part of this recipe. In lieu of the flour, I sifted in some of the cocoa, sugar, a dash of espresso powder for good measure, and a few scoops of my latest favourite protein powder with a pinch of salt. After folding and turning the whole wheat dough, the medley took on a lovely coffee-brown shade. I opted for whole wheat not only for health, but because the slightly nutty flavour of the whole grain played beautifully with chocolate. 

I still wasn't 100% satisfied, though. A pain au chocolat needs a filling. So, reaching into my bittersweet chocolate stash, I melted down and piped the chocolate sticks for the centre, which I stuck in the fridge to set (it was 30 degrees Celsius here). Rolled into the middle of the pastry, it melted ever so slightly, making the centre like a truffle. It's a good thing these are dainty-sized croissants, because they are so good it's hard to stop at one!

Call me sacrilegious, but I actually like the texture of these vegan croissants better than their buttery brethren. They were light, impossibly flaky, and the neutral flavour of the shortening allowed the cocoa and coffee to shine through. If I was making plain ones that needed the flavour boost, I would stick to butter - but when the flavours get fancy there's no need to muddle the pot!

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Double Chocolate Protein Cookies with @nakednutrition

Need to add a protein boost to your day? Try these vegan, gluten free double chocolate cookies - full of decadent flavour with two scoops of @nakednutrition Naked Rice protein powder. 

One of the biggest things I miss about my pre-social distancing life was going to the gym. Now I'm no body-building, rock-hard-abs kind of girl, but I love my Zumba and the energy it gives me. At home, I keep up as best I can with classes - an interesting experiment when your "workout room" is also your office!

One of the things I do have to be mindful of in my day-to-day life is my protein intake. For me, this is not because I'm active (I have many friends who put me to shame in that respect) but because my autoimmune condition can make it difficult to get enough in every day. When I know I haven't been eating well, I opt to add a little protein powder to my food. I've never been one for drinking smoothies or milkshakes (of which protein powder always seems to become), but if the right powder came along I wouldn't mind giving it a shot! When Naked Nutrition approached me about a collaboration, I was intrigued - they were a new brand to me, and their transparent, no-nonsense labeling was a gigantic plus. So often I am stuck scanning label after label for gluten, dairy or my arch nemesis, coconut, but the website (and the bottles of powder) have clear, easy to read wording and nutrition facts.

Naked Nutrition is best known for their whey powders, and again it is easy to see why they're unique in a sea of various blends and flavours typically lining the shelves. For the longest time, whey in general has dominated the protein market, but since it's not an option for me I keep looking for alternates. Along the way, I've encountered powders that were gritty, slimy or that turned my drink or food into concrete - not a recipe for success - but when I saw that Naked Nutrition offered a rice protein I was intrigued. Rice has a tendency to be on the sweeter side naturally, but can also be gritty - how would this stack up?

Well, the first test was right when the 2.27kg bottle arrived - digging for the scoop (which always happens, I don't know why companies don't attach it like they do those ice-cream spoons) I took a little bit of the powder between my fingers. It was smooth - not baby-powder smooth, but smoother than most powders I've tried before. Taking that as a sign, I added a scoop to my mug of hot cocoa. The texture of the drink got a tiny bit thicker, but not like I was drinking a hot milkshake, and most importantly there was no grit or "off" flavour. It made the drink a little creamier though, as if I made it with whole milk instead of water. It has become my go-to treat on dance days!

Bolstered by those findings, I turned to my area of expertise - baking. I have several people in my life that (for whatever reason) could use a little boost of nutrition but who are also not big eaters. One thing they all have in common, though, is a love for chocolate and cookies. Taking that knowledge and my newfound protein powder, I set about tweaking a recipe I make with the kids in Home Economics class to make double chocolate, chewy, protein rich and lower-sugar cookies.

The cookies got a boost of flavour and fibre from the inclusion of oat flour and rolled oats, which I pulled from my gluten-free stash. Whenever I work with an oat-based cookie dough, or any gluten free batters in general (excepting my angel food cake), I always let it sit at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour at room temperature, which allows the dry ingredients to hydrate and the whole mixture to bake smoothly. My patience was rewarded with these thick, chewy discs - and now that I know they're a hit (they disappeared within a few days) I've made a double batch to hang out in my freezer, pre-scooped, for when the cookie hunger strikes again!

Many, many thanks to Naked Nutrition for this opportunity! Remember, Naked Rice is an all natural, nothing added protein that is gluten free and vegan, with a slightly sweet flavour and NO grit - perfect for adding to your smoothies as well as in culinary applications. Whether it is a mug of hot cocoa, a bowl of oatmeal or a chocolate-packed cookie, you'll never believe how smooth and tasty (or taste-free) this is!

Friday, May 8, 2020

Unstuffed Farro Cabbage Rolls

When your cabbage crop is ready but not looking perfect (holes in the leaves and not a perfect tight head to be seen) you switch gears from traditional to unstuffed cabbage rolls! This vegan dish gets meaty flavour and texture from red and green lentils, mushrooms and caramelized onions, while the standard rice gets a switchup to nutty, chewy farro. Each bite is packed with flavour and texture, perfect for Fall eating!

Yes, yes - this is yet another one from the archives of Instagram, or as I like to call it "where good food goes to die". I can't help it, these days all the hours blend into one another - between late nights writing essays (help me, English classes are worse than I remember), running Zoom classes for my grade 4-8 kids, trying to workout with virtual classes and actually cooking, sometimes getting around to writing about it all falls to the bottom of the pile. I do have a decent chunk of recipes in the pipe though, so thanks for bearing with me!

At any rate, this type of meal is exactly what I would go for in times of stress like now. Not only is is full of comforting, warming flavours (I'm looking now at the polar vortex supposed to smack us on the weekend) but it uses tons of cheap, hearty ingredients that also happen to be full of nutrition! After all, we have been stuck inside for what feels like an eon and while we do our best the stress is not good at all for our immune system - cue the sulfur compounds in the cabbage and the antioxidants is the tomatoes, lentils, garlic and paprika. The mushrooms give a boost of vitamin D which we all need after living indoors for so long, and adding in the farro boosts up the B vitamins and our friend fibre for a healthy digestive tract all over.

On the off chance that any of that science-y mumbo jumbo isn't your cup of tea, all you need to know is this recipe is hearty, healthy and absolutely delicious warm or cold - just make sure you have a large pot to put it all together, because the cabbage is a beast until it cooks down! It is well worth it, though, especially if you love the flavours of cabbage rolls and Mediterranian cuisine blended with classic Eastern European basics. If you're only cooking for one, take heart - this freezes very well and if you portion pre-freezing you can be set for over a week!

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Fakels (Fake Bagels)

Out of yeast? These "fakels" (get it? Fake bagels? Nevermind) are made with a handful of ingredients and can be cutomized for your liking - these used up some dregs of various flours (including durum semolina) and were filled with dried fruit and topped with whole flax seeds for texture. Fluffy inside but not as dense or chewy as a real bagel, they are perfect candidates for toasting with jam, peanut butter or cream cheese.

I don't usually jump onto "bandwagons" with my cooking and baking exploits. I prefer to go my own way, playing with what I have on hand and coming up with twists on classical recipes. However, when I found myself with an excess of yogurt (which I had bought planning cornbread, only to find out I was out of cornmeal) I whipped up a loaf of soda bread (swapping yogurt for buttermilk) and opted for these no-boil quickbread bagels to use up the rest. Having made legitimate bagels before (and recently) I know how much tedious work goes into them, and the prospect of getting the doughy, chewy bagel without that step was tempting! To gild the lily (cause I have to) I tossed in handfuls of dried fruit and topped each with flax seeds for crunch. How would they come out?

Well, I will say this - they are not bagels. The inner texture is more cake like than doughy, and the outsides aren't smooth and shiny. You also need a wicked sharp serrated knife to get a clean slice. However - once you do get a good slice and you pop them under the broiler to toast (not a toaster, you will thank me), they are still excellent schmear holders, butter still soaks in, and they still satisfy as a breakfast or a snack. Would I eat them plain? Untoasted? No - these are the English muffins of bagels and demand caramelization. But in the days of no yeast, these may just have to do for now.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Famous Florentine

Pasta Florentine is a dead simple meal that can be made with pantry and freezer ingredients in under 30 minutes! I used @lightlifefoods crumbles for extra (vegetarian) protein, but feel free to use any meat or protein (like tofu or lentils). Half a block of frozen spinach and a can of evaporated milk make a rich sauce with pops of green that coats pasta perfectly. N loved it and can't wait to make it again!

I could have called this "quarantine florentine" but I resisted. You're welcome. 

This pasta dish is famous for N and I now, because it is dead-simple to prepare, is great hot or cold, and is one of the first things I taught him how to make! Like so much of my cooking during this era of long lines for the grocery store, empty shelves and generally feeling stressed out about everything, the majority of the ingredients for this lightened-up version of a classic were in my pantry and freezer, and are quite interchangeable. For instance, here, I used spaghetti (left over from Home Ec days) frozen whole-leaf spinach, vegan ground and evaporated whole milk. That said, if all you have is rigatoni, macaroni or egg noodles, go for it! Only finding frozen chopped spinach, frozen kale or another fresh leafy cooking green (like rapini)? Beautiful! Not into the vegan "meat"? Brown up some ground of your choice, chop up cooked chicken, toss in lentils or chickpeas or leave it out completely and serve the protein on the side. As for the dairy, I would not recommend skim evaporated milk (it likes to curdle and not thicken) but 2% will do, as will half-and-half, 18% or heavy cream. If you are using a "non-evaporated" dairy, keep an eye on it to avoid the nasty curdle or scorch factor - better to cook this lower and slower than burn it!

If you're organized, this is also a super-quick dish to pull together last minute and can be scaled up relatively simply. Leftovers are no problem at all, like I said leftovers are great cold or fried in a skillet (with or without eggs as a binder). When things settle down in the shops I can't wait to give this a go with some whole wheat pasta like fettuccine or even farfalle, as the nuttiness of the whole grain would lighten up the creamy sauce. Either way, it's a fantastic option when mac-and-cheese, grilled chicken and soup have lost their allure!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Fried Spaghetti

Not the prettiest dish but Fried Spaghetti is the most delicious, cheap leftovers revamp I've ever had! Adding a few eggs, cheese and herbs with a low and slow cook gets the pasta bottom nice and crispy - if youre extra skilled you can flip it all in one piece, but i usually break it up into chunks.

As a kid, I loved "cheap as chips" comfort food. The meals I often look back on with the most fondness are actually "leftover" meals that mom keeps telling me were thrown together because we didn't have anything else at the time - I'm talking "eggs the way somebody else's mother used to make them" (torn up stale bread, buttered and fried in a pan topped with sunny-side up eggs), leftover Kraft Dinner with a handful of frozen peas and some tomato sauce, and left over rice mixed with cottage cheese and salsa. All delicious, all 100% not gourmet or fancy in any way. In university, I carried these recipes with me, eating them for as long as I could before my stomach gave me issues, then making them for my roommates.

One of these recipes followed me all the way to today, where I make it with my younger Home Ec kids. Fried spaghetti is essentially just that - leftover sauced pasta fried in a skillet with eggs to hold it all together. Feeling fancy, I added a few herbs to the egg mixture, but in all honesty as long as the sauce you use is decent they are optional. The trick is to really take your time - you want a crispy, crunchy pasta on both sides but you also need the eggs to cook, so spread out the noodles as best you can and cook over medium or medium-low heat for at least 5 minutes a side. I made double batches for the kids and had fridge-cold pasta, so it took us about 10 minutes a side. That said, there were no complaints, and not a single scrap left over!

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Whole Wheat English Muffin Bread

Whole Wheat English Muffin Bread is perfect for the toaster, with a fine but spongy crumb and soft crust. I used oat milk creamer in the batter-like dough for a subtle sweetness and softness, and the whole thing can be ready in under 2 hours!

Growing up, I was all about the peanut butter and honey sandwiches. After Christmas, when we were faced with a glut of (delicious) Challah that was quickly going stale, we became masters of the sandwich, from PB&H at breakfast to hot turkey and gravy at lunch. The spongier and drier the bread, the better it was as all the fillings seeped in. The rest of the year we made so with "regular" bread - until Easter when the English muffins started proliferating the stores. English muffins are a weird beast - they really are boring until they are toasted and slathered with something - but they are also tiny! I have never been full off of one English muffin (except maybe when I was little) so I just opted out of them.

Enter, the English muffin bread. Yes, a whole loaf of nooks and crannies, begging to be popped into the toaster and slathered with whatever you please. Loaf form also prevents the whole wheat from becoming too gritty or prominent, and it stays fresh longer than the little guys too. Best of all is that you can control the size of your sandwich or toast - so a peanut butter sandwich has heft and staying power, even if you're grabbing it on the go. This loaf barely - barely cooled before it was cut into and tasted with a smear of butter, and for ease of storage and to maintain freshness Mom sliced and froze the rest. That way, you can pull out the number of slices you need, toast and go!

You will notice that the dough for this bread is way different from any other bread dough. It is a batter - no kneading, no rolling, no shaping. It's simply beat, scrape and bake. The high moisture content ensures maximum bubble and tenderness, leaving a spongy crumb just like the original muffins, and as a bonus you don't need to skip arm day at the gym (or bust out the dough hook). Just keep on going with the recipe and as long as your yeast isn't dead (or expired) you'll have bread on your table in less time than it takes to watch a Marvel movie.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Super Seedy Multigrain Sandwich Bread

These high rising loaves are packed with multigrain cereal, oats and a "super seed" mix of flax, chia and hemp seeds. Sweetened with honey, a slice or two is perfect toasted for breakfast with jam or your favourite nut butter!

I may have mentioned before that my mom (and I, back in the day) love "bits" in our bread. While there are (obviously) commercial loaves in the stores with various grains, nothing quite beats the homemade, real McCoy baked fresh. These loaves came about after my mom discovered a half-loaf of artisan multigrain bread from the market in the freezer, which was unfortunately freezer burned beyond use for anything but croutons or stuffing. I had also just come into possession of a beautiful jar of honey from my friend who has a backyard apiary, and upon tasting it I knew it would be perfect on toast, so why not in toast?

Turns out I had the base recipe from Restless Chipotle saved in my archives for a while... as in since 2016. Now, her recipe has changed and evolved over the years, and my version is different still. That said, it is an incredible medley of flavours and textures, rising high to the perfect "sandwich" height and ideal both fresh from the oven (if you don't care about tearing it) and toasted later on. I also love that the "add ins" are pretty variable. If you don't have the seed mix, pick your favourite (sunflower, pumpkin, chia and whole flax are all excellent choices) or use more oats instead. Vegan and avoiding honey? Use apple juice concentrate, pineapple juice (or pineapple honey), or agave. You can even cut down on the oil and use milk in it's place (though the loaf won't stay as soft for as long).

One thing I will say, is that as long as you have a bowl or a mixer that can handle the volume, make the full recipe. It is 100% worth it and it that way if things come up (which they inevitably do just as the bread runs out) you can pull out the second one from the freezer and save the day! As I'm writing this, my mom happened to look over my shoulder and ask when I'll be making this one again because it would be perfect for tomato sandwiches in Summer. I guess I have my marching orders!