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!

Friday, July 17, 2020

Almond Butter Brittle

Almond Butter Brittle is packed with rich flavour and has a crunchy, yet melt in your mouth texture due to the fine bubbles. Break the slab up for your favourite friends to enjoy - or hide it all for yourself!

I know... I was just complaining about the oppressive heat wave, and here I am working with motlen sugar! The fact is that while I still do love the control that open-kettle candy making gives me, it is problematic - especially in the summer, and doubly so when it is hot, humid and raining. On days like today, the microwave is actually your best friend if you need to placate your candy desires!

The first time I made this - and where the photo came from - was over the Christmas holidays, which were noticeably cooler and drier. At the time, I selected the microwave brittle recipe (originally from an old church cookbook) because the stove was already in use with other cooking projects and I needed a fast, last minute party addition. The original formula was for peanut butter brittle - which would taste fantastic (and obviously, we love our peanut butter around here) - but I was given a jar of fancy schmancy almond butter by a coworker and I couldn't resist trying it out! I also happened to come across my bottle of butterscotch schnapps and figured "why not?" so in it went!

The resulting brittle was a perfect mixture of sweet, salty and a little bitter from the almonds, and best of all it set up beautifully and didn't become sticky like stovetop brittle can (usually from uneven temperatures). I also love that it was done in 10 minutes and ready to wrap in an hour! Of course, you could jazz this up with a drizzle of dark chocolate (I'm 100% debating coating pieces in it next time like a Crunchie bar) but I didn't have time on my side for that!

While I know that it is Summer, I'm sure we can all agree that beach season is cancelled and comfort food is in - so break out the healthy almonds, add a little (or a lot) of sugar and try this! Not that I'm suggesting anything, but this would also be fantastic on ice cream!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Pantry Raid Cookies

My last "hurrah" with my Intermediate Home Ec class was a Zoom demo of these Pantry Raid Cookies adapted from Alton Brown - a mix of SunButter and regular peanut with a generous handful of chocolate chunks and banana chips for good measure. 

It's always a little bittersweet at the end of the school year - after all, teaching is a passion of mine, and as much as the kids drive me nuts some days and our two months out of the classroom to recoup (and work on lessons for next year) are well deserved, it's still a little heartstring-pulling. This year was especially strange for everyone involved, as not only did classes move online but non-transferable classes (like Home Ec) got cancelled outright. However, I did my best to give the kids a "last go" with cooking - Zooming demos of making a simple, no-fuss cookie recipe adapted from none other than Alton Brown!

The best part about virtually demonstrating this recipe (as opposed to in class) is that I had the opportunity to not only use my own equipment (which I know and love) but to use a traditionally verboten ingredient - peanut butter. I had also tested this recipe with Wowbutter, and it works, so if you are peanut free rest assured! However, I not only had a jar of peanut butter to use up but a jar of SunButter (sunflower seed butter) to finish as well - and knowing that straight SunButter makes cookies turn green (still safe to eat, just funky looking) I was interested to see if combining the two would alter the chemistry enough to avoid the problem. It did - and not only that, but the two butters combined to make one of the richest flavoured doughs according to my fiance!

To turn the flavour of these cookies up to eleven, I had to toss in some "bits". In this case, I had a half-bag of banana chips and a handful of chocolate chunks waiting to be used up, and in a moment of inspiration I crushed the chips to almost a powder - think mini-chocolate chip size - which allowed them to infuse every bite. In terms of additions, go nuts with whatever you have - I wouldn't suggest adding more than about 2/3 of a cup combined though, otherwise the cookies fall apart. However, the choices are endless - use what you have!

I apologize for the weird mix of weight and volume here - I weighed the things that are often messy or difficult to measure well - but a scale is always the best way to go with baking anyways (in my humble opinion) so I strongly suggest picking up a digital model. They don't have to be pricey, the one I own was $40 when I bought it for nutrition college and was a more complex model, but I also own a $15 one that I use for classes.

One of my favourite things about these cookies (like most cookies, to be honest) is that the dough stores incredibly well. I baked off four cookies during the lesson, but scooped, flattened and froze trays of the remaining dough so that I could bake them closer to when N was coming for a visit. That way we had fresh cookies on hand without dirtying a bowl!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Tiny Batch Chocoholic Cookies

Craving chocolate but your diet can't stand a dozen cookies lying around? This recipe makes 3 palm-sized cookies packed with chocolate and studded with Smarties (or M&Ms if you arent fortunate enough to have Smarties). Baked until just set and still soft, it is a sweet pick me up perfect any day.

The women in my family are a collection of chocoholics. Even days like today, where it's 37°C (98.6°F) outside, I can be found sipping a hot chocolate in the evenings. My mom adds spoonfuls of cocoa and a sprinkle of dark chocolate to her yogurt in the morning, while my sister is partial to chocolate baked goods (especially brownies). However, we are picky about the cocoa we use in uncooked form - the milder Dutch processed type, while still bitter, doesn't have the same sour note as the natural kind, making it more palatable.

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men disappeared when the pandemic hit - along with flour, yeast, eggs and - yes - our beloved cocoa powder. Desperate, we bought a small tin of the natural kind, but we lasted a whopping two days before we gave up and bulk purchased our usual kind. The tin was given to me to play with, so I looked up a handful of treats to make with it (including these cookies and these croissants). That said, even my relatively active family isn't immune to the "quarantine 15", so baked goods must be minimal in quantity (well, at least until N or D come by, then anything is fair game).

Enter these beauties. Now, I am not going to classify these as "healthy" in any way, but they are just what the doctor ordered in terms of comfort food. Yes, these are sheer decadence in the palm of your hand, and while the cookies may be large - as in palm-sized - there are only three of them so even if you feel the need to polish off an entire batch, you've still only eaten three! The batch size, coupled with the touch of antioxidants from the cocoa and fibre from the white whole wheat and chia seeds, definitely makes these an "okay for summer" treat in my books. If you really feel the summer heat, I'm not not saying that you could make 6 smaller ones and sandwich ice cream (or frozen yogurt) in between.... nope, not my idea at all!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Vegan Red Beans and Rice

Vegan Red Beans and Rice are spicy (but not hot unless you want it that way), hearty and healthy - a perfect meal in a bowl you can make with hardy vegetables and pantry ingredients that feeds a crowd, or you for a week if you're stuck at home!

I have a soft spot for Cajun-style cuisine. Around here, it's mostly "white bread" country, as my city historically played host to blue collar automotive workers looking for cheap, hearty and simple fare. There is absolutely a place for it on the menu - N and I used to frequent a local "greasy spoon" diner before the virus hit - but given the choice I will almost always go for complex and spicy flavours. Since hitting up a House of Blues (where I have had the best jambalaya of my life so far) is out of the question, as is a trip to NOLA, I am content to make my own version at home - with a vegan twist.

Interestingly enough, this batch of comfort food only really came about because I was doing my quarterly pantry clean out and came across a bag of dried kidney beans from when I made minestrone ages ago. I always have TVP chunks and liquid smoke on hand, as well as some kind of rice, so I started the beans soaking while I looked up a red beans and rice recipe I could adapt. A few Google searches and some cobbling together later and I had a working plan.

In order to infuse the smoky flavour throughout the starchy beans, I both soaked and cooked the dry legumes with water spiked with liquid smoke, which I also added to the water the TVP chunks hydrated in. It is worth noting I am not a fan of the pickled pork flavour in traditional beans and rice so I skipped any vinegar, but if you enjoy it a tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar would suffice. The rest of the spice flavour was layered into the bulk of the stew, balanced by the hearty vegetables and plain rice. The resulting mixture left just enough broth to spoon over each serving, which also soaked in to the leftovers we refrigerated overnight. Yes, like most stews and soups, this is truly a dish that benefits from patience (and a lot of it). On that note, I also beg of you to not use canned beans here - they will turn mushy and not yield the same depth of flavour from the smoke-soaked and cooked ones. If you can find a bag of small red beans at the store, use those instead - they are definitely better than kidneys in my opinion, but again, use what you have!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Cinnamon Spice Cookies with Goldschläger Icing

It's never out of season for gingerbread when it is this perfect! These cookies are packed with spices and laced with Goldschläger for an extra cinnamony kick. Topped with a simple powdered sugar icing and some silver sparkles its enough to make you feel like royalty, even if its just Wednesday night in your PJs!

Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers! Like pretty much every holiday this year, my country's 153rd birthday is passing with relatively little fanfare - even our neighbours who usually go all out with fireworks aren't planning anything. In addition to Canada Day, today also marks my blog's birthday - a whopping 13 years old! I still can't believe I've been documenting my cooking adventures for that long, and this blog has followed me through a whole mess of life journeys - five rounds of schooling, multiple jobs, relationships, losses of family and pets and multiple medical segues.

I want to just take a moment, before diving into my celebratory recipe (from our provincial liquor store) to thank everyone who has supported me over these years, including all the sponsors who gave me a chance, the various publishers who collaborated with me, my family, friends and the blogger community at large. You have all helped me become the cook I am today, and while I may not be the most regular writer, being part of this community of like-minded foodies showed me I could belong somewhere. I plan to keep this bad boy (or girl) going for as long as I can, especially now that my team of taste-testers has grown to include both N and my sister's boyfriend D.

Moving on to why most of you are here - these cookies! While I admit they are not your traditional "summer" fare, around here cookies are always welcome - and with gatherings beginning to open up again, we always have some sort of treat on hand. Keeping in the celebratory theme, I dipped into the (often forgotten) liquor cabinet to make these, based on a Courvoisier gingerbread recipe I had clipped out of the LCBO magazine at Christmastime and never got around to making it. Instead of the brandy, I opted for the opulent, spicy Goldschläger, which infused the cookies with a heady dose of cinnamon and helped the cookies crisp (as the alcohol evaporates faster than water). Mixing the dough brought back memories of both the holidays as well as my whole debacle building that castle three years ago (never again) - though if you wanted to build a structure with this dough you most certainly could.

The cookies smelled fantastic and were a breeze to whip up (hello, no waiting for butter to soften!) but looked a little plain and brown - not bad for an everyday tea or snack break, but not nearly enough for a celebration! So, while the cookies cooled, I set about making a simple icing with one important twist - another dose of Goldschläger. The alcohol served two purposes here - one, it allowed the icing to harden faster, given the evaporation of alcohol, and two, the little gold flakes in the liquid added an extra touch of sparkle to the icing. To gild  the lily, I topped the iced cookies with gold and silver sparkle sprinkles, though it's 100% optional. After the icing set, the cookies could be stacked and stored in an airtight container, although they lasted about three days here due to some hungry ghosts sneaking into the cookie jar!

Happy Canada Day, Happy (almost) 4th of July, and happy end to the first half of 2020. Fingers crossed that everyone stays safe, happy, and well this summer, and thanks again for the support all this time!