Thursday, December 29, 2011

Party Crackers for New Year's Eve

Are you a big party person on New Year's eve? I've never been. Somehow, even though I know it's supposed to be a big deal, December 31 never feels like an ending and January 1 never feels like a new beginning. Maybe it's because we have Chinese New Year coming up in a month or so. Or maybe it's because I spent the better part of my life as a student, and now, as a teacher, I feel like year-ends and beginnings fall according to the academic calendar. September is a beginning and June is an end. July and August we don't count because we're too busy sleeping in, going on camping adventures and eating watermelon (or .. cough .. taking courses .. which .. I .. have .. yet .. to do .. yeah so whatever... cough .. New Year's resolution #1 .. cough)

Well this year, we have 2 dinner parties to go to around New Year's eve -- it makes me feel like January 1st, 2012 might feel like a beginning .. just maybe. One of the parties will be my best friend's annual post-Christmas pre-New Year's gathering, and the other is -- a post-Christmas turkey dinner at my sister's. I was told for this one that I shouldn't bring anything as the free-run turkey in question is 14 pounds -- no extra leftovers will be appreciated. But I always feel like you have to go to party offering something, so I baked up some of these crackers. They're cheese and olive oil crackers to be precise, and they're studded with chopped walnuts and sweet tart dried cranberries. You can use any combination of cheese, dried fruit and nuts that you think go well together. I used a dutch kantennar cheese which is nutty and rich and so flavourful -- it's also a lighter cheese so it's easy on the calories and sodium. Total bonus in my books. Sharp cheddar would be really good, or Parmesan of course. Don't skip the dried fruit -- it gives these savoury cheesy bites a burst of sweetness that sends them over the edge -- think of a cheese and fruit plate. See what I mean?

Make them. They're totally addictive and cheesy and sweet and rich without being bad for you -- spelt flour, cornmeal and only 2 tablespoons of oil. I'm not going to lie and tell you they were totally easy -- they're kinda hard to roll out if your dough is cold like mine. They're actually easier to work when the dough is room temperature. But the delicious smell coming from my oven made it worth it. They'll be a hit at your New Year's Eve party -- if that's your thing. But still make them if you're like me and will be staying in on New Year's Eve and possibly going for a midnight skate at the community centre .. possibly .. I said possibly. In any event, I'll be eating lots of crackers.

Happy New Year (and back to the grind for any of you who aren't in education .. I have another week off! Woo hoo! What a way to start 2012!)

Cheesy Cornmeal Crackers with Walnuts and Cranberries
adapted from The Pastry Affair with help from Vanilla Sugar and Savoring Time in the Kitchen
(makes about 3 dozen little star-shaped crackers -- double the recipe if you're making them for a big gathering)

1/2 cup of spelt flour
1/2 cup of cornmeal
1 big pinch of salt
a few good grinds of black pepper
1/3 cup of grated cheese
1/4 cup of walnuts chopped up really small
1/4 cup of chopped dried cranberries
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/4 - 1/3 cup of cold water

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, cheese, walnuts and cranberries. Stir so that everything is well dispersed.

2. Add the olive oil and half the water. Stir to combine. Keep adding water a little at a time and stirring until you form a nice soft dough. It will be really sticky. Don't worry.

3. Let the dough rest, covered at room temperature for about 30 minutes. The cornmeal needs time to soak up all the water and get nice and doughy.

4. On well-floured surface, roll your dough in batches to about 1/8 of an inch. Here's where you can play .. or not. Use little cookie cutters to cut out your crackers, or simply cut out strips. Place them on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 until their golden brown and crispy. Would they go well with champagne??

5. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Traditions in Cookies and Muffins

In the past week, I've baked 7 different types of cookies! Whew! They were all deliciously fun to make. I among the most interesting were these brown sugar chocolate cookies, and these maple nutmeg sugar cookies -- I even used freshly grated nutmeg for the first time! Score! I made some old favourites : peanut butter cookies made with all natural crunchy peanut butter, oatmeal cranberry cookies for our school's healthy holiday bake sale (as if I it wasn't enough to be up to my elbows all morning in gingerbread, icing sugar and sprinkles!) and these salty-sweet additively delicious oatmeal butterscotch cookies -- thanks goodness the majority went into a jar to be given as a gift!

I also found these -- rosemary maple pecan cookies with chocolate chunks. If you've ever made this popcorn, or these spiced nuts, you'll love these cookies. And they're vegan! The recipe is via a blog I found through Tastespotting: Bittersweet. You have GOT to make these cookies, stat!

I know I'm a little late in posting cookie recipes, but when I was little and living at home, I'd always bake at least one batch of cookies on Christmas day. While they were in the oven, we'd sing Christmas carols or watch The Sound of Music again. A lovely tradition, that we've kind of kept up with. I now usually bake up a batch of something breakfasty to take to my parents' on Christmas morning. So I thought I'd leave you with 2 recipes: cookies and muffins, and you can make your own tradition on Christmas morning.

Orange-Scented Sugar Cookies
makes lots!

These cookies are lightly sweet, crisp, buttery and fragrant from the orange zest. Lemon or lime zest would be perfect as well .. even grapefruit. Why not? If you refrigerate the cookies for a bit once they're cut out before you put them in the oven, they'll hold their shape nicely. A sprinkle of coarse sugar on top would make these sparkly and extra special.

1/2 cup of butter, softened
1/3 cup of sugar
1 egg
zest of one small orange
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1.5 cups of all purpose flour

1. In a large bowl, mix together the butter and sugar until well-combined. Add the egg and mix vigorously until everything is incorporated.

2. Add in the orange zest, baking powder and flour. Mix well.

3. Chill the dough in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

4. Working in batches, roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/8 of an inch. Use as many fun cookie cutters as you can to cut out your cookies. Place them on a baking sheet and chill briefly in the fridge -- chill them while your oven is pre-heating.

5. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges get brown. Cool and enjoy!

Clementine and Spice Christmas Muffins
makes 24 mini-muffins or 12 regular muffins

These muffins are the perfect wholesome breakfast treat to wake up to on Christmas morning. They have a beautiful tender crumb and an almost crunchy exterior. Made with oats, whole wheat flour and honey so there's no need to feel guilty at all! They're also egg-free so it's easily veganized.

1/3 cup of milk (I used soy)
1/4 cup of yogurt
2 tablespoons of honey
1/2 cup of rolled oats
zest of three clementines
3 tablespoons of canola oil
1/3 cup of brown sugar
a little grating of fresh nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
a pinch of cardamom
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1/2 cup of chopped fresh cranberries

1. In a large bowl mix together the yogurt, milk, honey and oats. Let stand for ten minutes.

2. Add the oil, sugar and zest. Mix well. Sift in the spices, baking soda and flour. Stir until just combined. Add the cranberries and mix once last time.

3. Spoon into muffin tins and bake in a 350 oven. Mini muffins should only take about 15 minutes, and regular muffins about 20.

4. Enjoy with coffee. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Something Warm and Filling

Are you covered in butter and sugar and cinnamon and chocolate? Maybe with pecans and cranberries and candy canes? I don't know about you, but as much as I love holiday baking, it can get a little tiresome, and while I'll be very willing to share my sugaring adventures with you next Friday when the school bell rings at 3:30, right how I'm leaving you with something wholesome.

This is a hearty, comforting and flavourful rice and beans dish. It's humble: canned while beans, dried rosemary and sage, celery, carrots and broth. But it's also made special with red and while rice. Everything gets all stewy and delicious and the white beans make it creamy and comforting. It's something you can reheat and sit down on the couch with. Nothing fancy, nothing guest-worthy; just something warm and filling to get you through all that holiday stress.

Stay chilled out folks ... I'm in for a week of hyper activity and another bake-a-thon!

Creamy Stewy Beans and Rice
makes lots!

1 large carrot, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 can of white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup each of red and wild rice, rinsed well (or use quinoa, basmati, pearl barely ..)
1 teaspoon of crushed, dried rosemary,
1/2 teaspoon of dried sage
1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika
salt and pepper to taste
1.5 cups of water or stock

1. In a large pot, heat some olive oil. Cook the carrots, onion and celery over medium heat until the onions of translucent and fragrant, the carrots and celery start to soften -- about 5-6 minutes.

2. Add the rosemary, sage, and paprika. Stir well. Add in the stock and rice and turn the heat up. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer. Add the white beans.

3. Cover, and cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until the beans are creamy and the rice and vegetables are tender. Add in more stock if things are looking a bit dry.

4. Turn off the heat and let stand for about 5 minutes, covered. Serve with a squeeze of lemon and/or accompanied with crusty bread and good olive oil. A grating chesse would be nice if that's your thing!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dream Cookies and Snackable Gifts

We've talked more than once about homemade gifts being the best kind. I haven't stopped believing that for a second -- especially when it was my best friend's milestone birthday. But not just any ol' batch of cookies would do for this birthday -- it had to be special.

And these cookies definitely were! After some fruitless internet searches and a quick and painless phone call to one of our favourite coffee adventure shops, I was able to make a re-creation of this moist, rich, vegan, gluten free cashew cookie that we couldn't stop talking about since the summer. Sweets from the Earth -- you rock! A cookie recipe with on 5 ingredients that's vegan and gluten free?! Awesome. I even found a website useful measurements. Score! They were delicious and fleeting!

Cashew Dream Cookies
inspired by Sweets from the Earth; recipe via Madcap Cupcake makes about 20 cookies

1 cup of smooth cashew butter
1/4 cup of silken tofu (about a third of a package of mori-nu)
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
pinch of salt

1. In blender, mini-chopper or food processor, blend the tofu until very smooth. Pour into a large mixing bowl.

2. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. The mixture will be really thick and a bit hard to mix at first, but will eventually become smooth and cookie-dough-like.

3. Drop spoonfuls on a cookie sheet and flatten slightly with a fork. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

4. Cool completely on the cookie sheet before removing -- this is important or the cookies will fall apart!

Oh yeah! I also included as part of the birthday package, some maple rosemary glazed nuts. There are tons of recipes out there, but I didn't really follow any specific one. These are totally addictive and beautiful when packed in a jam or mason jar. Edible gifts are the best!

Maple Rosemary Glazed Nuts

2 cups of mixed nuts of your choice (I used cashews and almonds)
1 teaspoon of crushed, dried rosemary
1 big pinch of salt
a few good grinds of pepper
1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
1 tablespoon of canola oil
3 tablespoons of maple syrup

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the rosemary, salt, pepper, chili powder, canola oil and maple syrup until well-combined.

2. Add in your nuts and mix until everything is coated.

3. Pour the nuts out onto a cookie sheet and bake at 350, turning frequently, for about 20-30 minutes, or until the nuts are deep brown.

4. Cool completely before packaging.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Snacky Snacks

Are you a snacky person? I definitely am. I know people that eat three meals and nothing in between. I just can't do that. Snacks are wonderful. They perk me up and refuel me for the next chapter of the day. They are definitely worth taking time out to prepare. I usually make a nice big batch of snack-worthy treats that are enjoyed throughout the week. More than often, these are super healthy snacks loaded with good things that nuts, fruits, fiber and natural sugars. I love decadent treats as snacks --hey, who wouldn't love some chocolate smack in the middle of the day to keep you going? But usually these treats just give you a short term high, when what I mostly need is some long-term sustenance.

Healthy muffins and oatmeal cookies are definitely popular in my snack repertoire, as are fruit-packed or nut-butter loaded quick breads. But lately it's been granola. I love granola. I love it with soy milk, or yogurt, or most lately kefir. But usually, it's just on it's own, crunched while walking to the streetcar stop, forgotten about until the 3:30 bell and then happily munched on the way home. I've made fancy granola chunks, batches with ancient grains like kamut and spelt, and even peanut butter granola and tahini granola.

I've seen many different granola recipes lately, and my best friend raved about one from the New York Times made with olive oil, but I have to say that I love to play with this recipe that uses apple sauce instead. I made this granola batch beautifully fragrant with the addition of orange zest, and I added chopped dates instead of raisins or dried cranberries, a lovely, sweet and sticky alternative that goes great with the orange flavour. There's also chopped almonds and sunflower seeds in there too, because a snack always needs to give you a little protein boost, right? Right?! Get snacking people!

Orange Scented Granola with Dates

adapted from Everybody Likes Sandwiches
makes a big batch!

***3 little apples or 2 big ones -- I used empires, chopped and peeled (if you like .. I left the peel on)
splash of water
1/2 teaspoon of almond extract
3 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup
3 tablespoons of orange juice

2 cups of spelt flakes
1 cup of old fashioned oats
1/2 cup of raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup of chopped raw almonds
1/2 cup of chopped dates
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ground cardamom
zest of 1 large orange

1. In a small saucepan, place the apples and water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat to low, put the lid on, and let them cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until the apples gets nice and soft.

2. Take the apples off the heat and let them cool a bit. Add the almond extract and honey, and give mix well. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, combine everything else except that dates and mix well so that the spices and zest are well distributed. Add the apple sauce mixture and mix carefully so that everything is coated.

4. Spread the mixture out on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven, tossing frequently, until the mixture has dried out and turns golden brown. For me, this took about 45 minutes, turning every 15 minutes.

5. Remove the granola from the oven and add the chopped dates immediately. Toss and let cool. Snack away!

***If you don't feel like making home made applesauce, or already have a nice batch, use about 1 cup

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Freezing the Goodness

Are you one of those clever people that clears out the freezer ever summer to make room for the bounty of berries and sweet corn and then in the dead of winter you pull out these amazing, local frozen berries from the freezer and make your smoothies and baked goods taste like heaven while snickering at the rest of us who have to make due with flown in berries or Europe's Best frozen ones (which are actually a product of Chile?)?

This summer, I sooo wanted to freeze a harvest of blueberries and strawberries -- the problem was, we ate them so quickly, and we could never buy enough. There was also the problem of room shortage in my freezer. Yeah, that'll do it. But we did do something to preserve the goodness of summer: we made preserves! No thick, pectin-laden jam that's almost half sugar. Nope, we made preserves that actually tastes like strawberries, rhubarb and blueberries. It was awesome.

So when fall rolled around -- and I loooooooove fall -- I wanted to preserve a bit of that too. I always get excited about the apples that roll around. A new variety showed up in my local market -- the Ambrosia. Totally delicious. But I find that the apples always overshadow the pears -- which symbolize fall as perfectly as apples do. I remember buying spicy pear jam at a market in Guelph and wanting to re-create it at home. Ours was more of a stewed fruit preserve, with less sugar, kicked up with some fresh ginger and lemon juice and of course, all spiced up. It made for a beautiful topping for my weekend oatmeal brunches, a perfect gift for my mommy, and a welcome alternative to go along side peanut butter. When all was said and done, and the two little jars were sealed and stacked in the freezer, I couldn't help trying one right away. But I'm going to save the other one for early July, when I need a reminder that summer will whip right by me, but fall .. fall is likely to linger..

Spiced Pear Preserves
makes about 1.5 cups -- enough to fill three little mason jars; a really small batch, but I'm sure if you doubled or tripled it would be fine -- just adjust the spices and sugar to your taste.

6 Bartlet pears, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of cardamom
a tiny pinch of allspice
juice of half a large lemon
2-3 tablespoons of sugar
splash of water, more if needed

1. Combine all the ingredients in a pot and cook over medium heat, stirring often. When the pears start to break down (about 10 minutes later), turn the heat down to low and let it cook.

2. In the meantime, sterilize your stuff by placing the jars (face up), rims and lids (seal side up) on a cookie tray and in a 200 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

3. By the time your pears are nice and softened and the juices have thickened, your jars will be ready. Carefully spoon the pears in each jar. Seal tightly and turn them upside down on the cookie tray. Let them stand for 20-25 minutes, after which time, they should have sealed.

4. You're ready! Freeze or eat at your leisure! :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

New Age Wontons

The old school pork and shrimp wonton is a comfort food of my childhood. We would order them in soup with noodles, and they would be swimming around, all hard to pick up with chopsticks , and if you managed to finally spear one, you'd be rewarded with a velvety-smooth pasta-like dumpling stuffed with the classic Asian flavours. Ahhh the wonton.

These days, I don't indulge much in the classic wonton anymore; it's saved for special brunches and Chinese New Year festivals. And that's ok -- they're definitely worth the wait and absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially since they don't tend to sit well in my stomach. One of two will do, thank you very much.

But these new aged, caramalized onion and swiss chard wontons? I could eat these everyday. I originally saw these in my new favourite cooking magazine, Vegetarian Times and marvelled at how pretty they looked: they wonton skins turned kinda transparent when cooking and the ruby red chard stems could be seen on the inside. Totally zen-like and beautiful. But I forgot about them until I saw a dish of leftover caramlized onions in the fridge -- originally used as a gourmet topping for mini burgers at my birthday party.

The originally recipe calls for tofu in the filling, but I skipped that and added some chopped celery instead. I made the filling they day before when I had some free time, and the next day at supper time, all I had to do was package them up and boil them for just a minute. Obviously they would take longer if you were actually caramelizing your onions instead of cheating and using leftovers like I did, but I think the extra 20 minute is worth that deep rich, sweet flavour ... Although, I'm sure plain sauteed onions would be good as well. Which brings me to my other point. You could stuff anything into a wonton wrapper! Heidi at 101 Cookbooks put smashed split peas in hers. A curried lentil mixture with chard would be totally yummy too, as would the original tofu and mushroom. I'm totally making these again this week!

Caramelized Onion and Swiss Chard Wontons
makes may wontons ... enough for 2-3 hungry people

1 onion, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon of olive oil
salt and pepper
about 3 large ruby red swiss chard stalks, stems finely diced, leaves cut into ribbons
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1 teaspoon of minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 tiny splash of toasted sesame seed oil
1 tiny splash of light soy sauce
a good grinding of black pepper
a package of wonton wrappers
a small dish of water

1. In a heavy-bottom skillet, heat some olive oil until it smokes. Add the onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook the onions, stirring constantly, and adding splashes of water if the brown bits start to build up on the bottom of the pan. Stir them up and keep on cooking for about 15-20 minutes, or until the onions are super soft and a deep brown colour. From the pan and set aside.

2. In a small sauce pan, cook the the celery, chard stems and ginger in some olive oil for about 5 minutes or until things start to get tender and fragrant. Add the cumin and black pepper and give it a good stir. Add the onions, chard leaves and mix together. If things look a bit dry, add a splash of water or broth. Cook until the chard leaves start to wilt.

3. Add the sesame oil and soy sauce and give it one final stir. Taste and adjust your seasonings. Remove the mixture to a bowl and let it cool, or store in the fridge until you want to use it.

4. To make the wontons, place the wonton wrapper flat on your cutting board. Put about 3/4 of a teaspoon of the cooled chard mixture in the centre. Dip your finger the dish of water and wet all four sides of the wrapper. Fold two opposite corners together to form a little triangle. Press down the sides to make sure it's sealed. Repeat!

5. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add your wontons in batches -- don't over crowd the pot. Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the skins become soft and translucent. Remove with a slotted spoon. Serve right away, dipped in balsamic vinegar, with an extra splash of soy sauce, or add to a broth and noodle bowl.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Help! I'm buried under report cards. I want to be having brunch on a sunny window seat with two of my favourite people, or sipping coffee and reading at the cafe down the street, or riding my bike through the fall colours of High Park, or taking a walk in the market and buying 5 different kinds of apples and a pumpkin ... but I'm not.

I'm stuck at home working on this beautiful weekend. Even as I type this I'm feeling guilty for not typing progress report comments instead. So enough! Go make this PBJ quick bread. It's sweet and peanut buttery and comforting and it will make your house smell like a bakery. The recipe is from Celine at have cake, will travel.

I have cake. I wish I were travelling ...

PBJ Quickbread
adapted from have cake will travel

3/4 cup of soy milk
6 tablespoons of natural peanut butter
1/4 cup of strawberry jam
juice of half a small lemon
a splash of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 cup of oats
1/3 cup of whole wheat or spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the soy milk, peanbut butter, jam, lemon juice, vanilla and brown sugar. Whisk it really good until everything is nicely combined and smooth.

2. Sift in the flour and baking powder and soda. Add the oats and give it a good mix.

3. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is nice and golden brown and your house smells likes heaven.

4. Wouldn't this be great sliced and topped with bananas? Or Nutella?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Need Colour

This past few days have been a bit grey and gloomy. The autumn chill has definitely set in, but instead of crisp, sunny, sweater weather, we're getting an icy drizzle and overcast skies. I know it comes with the seasons, but sometimes, you need a bit of help to keep a smile on your face. Coffee helps. Celebration adventures with loved ones help a lot. And colourful food -- for sure!

This quinoa dish definitely has many colours, enough to pick you up on a gloomy, drizzly weekend. It's inspired by a quinoa chowder from a book that my nest friend gifted me with for my 30th birthday that just past. It's a book dedicated to quinoa! I already want to make everything. But this was the first recipe that caught my eye. It's a simple stewy dish with lots of colourful vegetables -- yes, there's STILL fresh corn in the market and super ripe peppers if you hurry. And of course, I couldn't pass up this beautiful bunch of rainbow chard. My own chardlings from our balcony box gave me one last little bunch as well.

This dish is easy to put together, very healthy and definitely flavourful. It's comforting when served hot, but as it sits overnight, the quinoa kind of soaks up all the liquid and becomes kind of salad-like. It's also great cold, but feel free to add a splash of water or broth when re-heating to bring it back to it's chill-chasing stewy goodness. Keep warm and dry!

Quinoa Vegetable Stew
adapted from Quinoa: the everyday superfood by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming

1 carrot, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cobs of corn, kernals removed
half a small bunch of rainbow chard, stalks diced, leaves cut into ribbons
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1/2 cup of quinoa, rinsed well (I used red)
zest and juice of a lime
2-3 cups of vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste.

1. In a large pot, cook the onions, carrots, celery, pepper and chard stalks for about 5-7 minutes, until fragrant and starting to soften. Season and add the lime zest, cumin and smoked paprika.

2. Mix and cook for a minute or so, so the spices can toast. Add the lime juice and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the corn, quinoa and vegetable broth. Stir well.

3. Bring the stew up to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender.

4. Remove the lid and add the chard leaves. Stir and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Enjoy with crusty bread or all by itself.

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Impromtu Thing: close but not quite is good enough for me!

I promised a more seasonal and festive post-- a more thought out and interesting one too, but amidst a super busy time at work, this is the best I can come up with: Pumpkin Pie Bars. Technically, I could have baked it in a pie dish and called it pumpkin pie, but I think they work better as bars. Let's discuss.

My family is traditional in some ways, not so in others. There wasn't a turkey in sight on Thanksgiving weekend; instead there were lots of greasy fried noodles and rice, malaysian style curry and chicken and baby bok choys with soy. My offerings to the gathering were simple: a quinoa and swiss chard stew that turned into more of a salad (recipe coming soon!) and a vegan apple and cranberry crisp (just apples cranberries, a touch of sugar and lemon juice and that beautiful spelt crisp topping), which I thought my parents' old-fashioned guests wouldn't care too much for but surprisingly loved. Let's not talk about my dream Thanksgiving dinner -- it would definitely not include greasy Chinese food. But anyway, my sister mentioned that her beloved would be making pumpkin pie for the gathering, so I resisted the urge to bake up something spicy and cinnamon-y with my mound of roasted pumpkin. Turns out, he didn't have time to make the pie and so Thanksgiving was pumpkin pie-less. Shame on us.

The next day, I kinda craved pumpkin pie. My other half wanted apple crumble -- the old fashioned way, with butter and brown sugar. So I conceded, but I still wanted pumpkin so I thought up a plan. I didn't have enough patience to make a pie crust and I was tired up pumpkin pies that only taste like butter and cinnamon; I wanted to taste pumpkin. What I did was totally impromptu and I wasn't even sure that it would work, but it did. Not quite a pumpkin pie, but close enough for me. The crust is a combination of graham cracker crumbs -- the last that half cup that had been sitting in my cupboard for too long -- spelt flour and canola oil. And the pumpkin custard? Totally experimental. I remembered Michael Smith saying that a bread pudding custard was always standard: 1 egg gets 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 1 cup of milk. I went for that I hoped for the best. Results? Yummy, creamy, spicy and very pumpkin-y. It's a super soft custard and unlike a firmly set pumpkin pie. The crust? Wholesome tasting, nutty, but a bit tough. But it was close enough and I enjoyed each bite.

Pumpkin Pie Bars
with help from Michael Smith

For the Crust:
1/2 cup of graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup of spelt flour
1/4 cup of canola oil or melted margarine/butter

For the Filling:
1 cup of roasted pumpkin or pumpkin puree (I roasted my pumpkin but didn't bother to puree it.)
1 cup of soy milk
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 egg
1/4 cup of brown sugar
a splash of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon each of allspice and cardamom
a small pinch of nutmeg

1. Make the crust by mixing the oil into the flour and crumbs with a fork. Press it into a square baking pan. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl whisk together all the ingredients for the filling until everything is smooth and combined. Pour it over the crust.

3. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes or until the top gets a nice sugary, glaze-y look and the custard is set. Let it cool, and cut into bars.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Behind A Bit ..

I've been behind a bit ... behind a bit in marking, behind a bit in planning, behind a bit in my program .. and behind a bit in sharing this cake and these muffins with you. That's September for me: a bit of a blur. But the long weekend is here and it's time to catch up. I know everyone is posting yummy Thanksgiving (or at my school, it's referred to as Turkey Day) recipes with pumpkins and cranberries and stuffing and turkey. And I'm proud to say that I have a bag of Canadian cranberries and a beautiful sugar pumpkin all ready to be turned into tasty things. I promise a more festive and seasonal post very soon.

For now, I'd love to quickly share with you this very delicious treat -- two of them actually, depending on what you choose. Remember way back when Jacqui at So Good and Tasty made this apple and blackberry pie? Or when kickpleat at Everybody Likes Sandwiches made these blackberry and peach shortbread bars? It was right around the time that Meagan at A Sweet Spoonful was made a cake with fresh corn and raspberries while Heidi at 101 Cookbooks was making a nice berry pie. Summer was merging into fall. Mornings were getting crisper, berries were fading slowly and apples were beginning to show up. I thought I would get to pie-making this summer, but I didn't. Not even a tart. But that's alright. I made great use of the in-between fruits in these apple blackberry muffins / loaf with crisp topping. Let me explain.

I loved loved loved the apple blackberry pie that Jacqui made, so much that I almost -- yes almost got it together and rolled out the crust and everything. But for reasons that are beyond me and none too good, I didn't. I did use the very same fruits: the season's first apples --the ginger gold that obsessed over, and exiting season's last berries. I also used spelt flour and flakes, which gave these treats a very nutty, rich flavour. The muffins were perfect weekday take-to-work-pick-me-up-at-three-o-clock treats, but the loaf was really something special. Moist, fruit-studded, sweet and the crisp topping blew me away. It's something about that spelt ..

Anyway, I was supposed to keep it quick, so here's the recipe. I know that blackberries are gone now, but apples are in full swing. Frozen berries would be totally fine, or you could skip the berries and add another apple. You could even use a few chopped cranberries! Whatever you do, don't skip the spelt!

Apple Blackberry Spelt Muffins / Loaf
makes one small loaf and 12 mini muffins

For the muffins and loaf:

1 cup of spelt flakes
1/2 cup of milk (any kind .. I used soy)
1/4 cup of yogurt
1/4 cup of honey
2 tablespoons of canola oil
1 egg, beaten
1 large apple, grated
1 cup of spelt flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
a large handful of blackberries

For the crisp topping:
*I only put the crisp topping on the loaf, but if you wanted it for the muffins as well, just double

1/4 cup of spelt flakes
1/4 cup of whole wheat flour
1/4 cup of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of canola oil

1. Make the topping by mixing together the spelt flakes, flour and sugar until well combine. Add the canola oil and, using a fork, work it into the mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the spelt flakes, milk, yogurt, honey, and canola oil. Let it stand for 10 minutes

3. Add in the beaten egg and grated apples and mix well. Sift in the flour and baking soda and mix until just combined. Carefully mix in the blackberries.

4. Fill your muffin tins with some of the mixture and pour the rest into a loaf pan. Sprinkle your crisp topping over top. Bake in a 350 degree oven. The muffins should only take about 15 minutes. The loaf should take about 45 minutes, or until the topping in a deep golden brown and a cake tester inserted comes out clean.

5. Let you loaf cool to room temperature before serving. If you try to cut it right away (like I did!), it will be too wet in the middle and you'll think it's not cooked -- but it is! Just be patient and let it rest. Enjoy!


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Getting Ready for Rain

I love sunshine. And I also love rain. I also love snow. I love that we have all four season where I live. It's truly a blessing. Rain gets a bad reputation and I think it's unfair. Sure, I'm guilty of being a bit disappointed when rain gets in the way of bike rides and walks in the market, and I get more than a little annoyed when my shoes fill up with water. But in the end, I know that rain still rocks. It gives us the perfect excuse to stay inside and do nothing but relax and drink warm beverages. It makes the most wonderful soothing sounds that help you sleep in when your weekday alarm clock inside your head won't shut off. And it makes you feel a little less guilty for leaving work early only to go home and crash on the couch with a big bowl of something comforting.

I have to admit that cooking during weekdays is pretty difficult. I'm usually dead on my feet by 4pm and pass out on the streetcar ride home. Weekday dinners have to be quick, or they have to be made ahead and reheated. I'm the type of person that can make a soup or stew on Sunday, stick it in the fridge and heat it up for supper all week. If you are as well, this braised cabbage and carrot dish is perfect for you. I made it yesterday when I saw that the forecast called for 3 straight days of rain during the work week and I knew that I would need to come home to something comforting and quick.

I first made this braised stew-y dish in April, when spring was just moving in -- the time of slushy sidewalks and chilly wintery rain. It really warmed me up then, and I'm betting it will do the same this week. It's a simple braise of fresh market carrots, purple cabbage and Roma beans (though canned will work just fine I'm sure!) all spiced up with crushed fennel seeds and smoked paprika. I originally used these two spices to mimic the flavours of a chorizo sausage -- I love the spices but hate the oily mess the sausage leaves in the vegetables. I'm not sure that it tastes like chorizo, but it's definitely a winning combination. My thyme pots are still going strong, so I also added a big bunch of that, but if you're making this in the dead of winter, which I'm sure I'll do as well, some dried thyme would be just fine. This braise would be great served with crusty bread if that's your thing. I'd prefer it over noodles or macaroni. It would also be the perfect side dish to pork chops or Oktoberfest sausage, but that's getting too complicated for a week night ... I'm such a wimp! Why do I even have a food blog? :)

Braised Cabbage and Carrots with Beans

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 small head of red cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, cut into coins
a big handful of Roma beans, shucked (or half a can of whatever beans you like)
1/2 an onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of crushed fennel seeds
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
2 cups of water or vegetable broth
4 big springs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large pot, sweat the onions and garlic until fragrant and soft. Turn up the heat and add the dried oregano, fennel seeds, paprika, salt and pepper. Stir and cook for about 3 minutes.

2. Add the cabbage and carrots and give it a good stir. Add the vegetable broth and bay leaf and put the lid of the pot. Cook for about 5-6 minutes, or until the carrots and cabbage are just starting to soften. Add the beans and cook, covered for another 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables and beans are cooked to your liking (I like the cabbage and carrots to still have a bit of bite, and the beans to be creamy but not falling apart).

3. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Stir in the fresh thyme and serve with whatever you like!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hearty and Fresh: Black Bean and Buckwheat Dinner Salad

Some of the best meals happen because of accidents or mistakes. Sure, some of the time it's disastrous or most often it's not good enough to be tasty but not gag-inducing enough to justify wasting. I remember this one time I made a barley and bean salad and dressed it with a "vinaigrette" made from yogurt, ground coriander and honey. Not tasty at all, but I couldn't bare to waste it, so I choked it down ... for a good 3 days.

This beautiful black bean and buckwheat salad, though, it NOT the case. It was actually started by my dear sweet love who wanted to make a dish he first learned in culinary school that had black beans, quinoa and tomatoes. Very tasty-sounding. But instead of cooking up red quinoa, he started rinsing out the .. buckwheat. Ooooooops. He cooked it up, mixed it together but found that the didn't like the taste of the buckwheat. That's a shame, because I loved it. It was earthy and hearty and perfect with the black beans. I added some fresh corn a bunch of fresh herbs, and spiced up the vinigrette with a little dash of cumin. Yumtastic. I ate it happily for a good 3 days. He made do with leftovers and was pleased enough that I liked it. Score.

This salad also has the potential be to very versatile. When the sweet corn and local tomatoes become fading summer memories, can't you picture roasted squash and even orange segments thrown in? A bit of orange juice in the vinaigrette and maybe skip the cumin .. or maybe not! I love meals that you can play with. I'm sure the quinoa version is just as good and we'll try that soon, but buckwheat is definitely where it's at. Happy kitchen experimenting!

**note that I refrained from putting measurements in the recipe, because, hey, you can make as much or as little as you want.

Black Bean and Buckwheat Dinner Salad

toasted buckwheat groats, cooked (1 cup of buckwheat to 1 1/4 cups of water)
canned black beans (I used the salt-free kind)
tomatoes, chopped
fresh sweet corn kernals
lots of fresh herbs -- thyme, basil and parsley -- roughly chopped

red wine vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper
**I like my dressings really tart, but do as you like

1. Mix up all the salad ingredients and season well with salt and pepper.
2. Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Taste and adjust.
3. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss and enjoy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Easing in with Chocolate

It's back to the grind. It's officially fall. Oh, I know it's still mid twenties out there, and there's still humidity. I'm well aware that I just bought another watermelon and 2 pounds of peaches. I know that today was a lovely biking day and we totally got our sweat on riding to the park and back. And yes, I know the official turn of the season is not for another few weeks. There will be lots of berries, iced teas and patio evenings left this summer. I know. And I love it.

But ... school started. And for me, that marks the end of summer fun and the beginning of another academic year. It's back to the grind. I love my job; in fact, after a day back in school, I felt like I never left. But I do already miss the long lazy afternoons of coffee drinking, novel reading and slow-food baking. Oh the baking. I still bake a lot during the school year, but it's not like in the summer when I have time to mull about, let dough rise or spend forever pitting cherries and listening to music. Baking is often quick. It's often something I throw together to make Thursday night a little more special. It's more than often big batches of treats to sell at fundraiser bake sales. It's sometimes done in the very early morning on Saturday and given to my parents as a little treat later in the day. It's most often a healthy batch of something tasty quickly made on Sunday evening so I'll have something to look forward to during the work week.

This year, I celebrated the end of my first work week with a little bit of chocolate. Nothing too fancy or too oooey gooey, but a nice, sensible chocolate loaf cake to help ease me back to work. This cake is humble. It looks plain jane and rather sensible; kind of like outfits that you have wear to work. Comfortable, sensible, but not too stylish, nothing that will draw too much attention, but something that will make you look good. This cake is exactly that. To be specific, it's a chocolate tahini cake, and it's the perfect pick-me-up after a day at work, or in the middle when you can't keep your eyes open long enough to last through the last hour. It's got an amazingly tender crumb and a deep dark chocolate taste that pairs so nicely with the richness of the tahini, which shines through all the way. It's the kind of snack that you pack and forget about, but when you remember it, your day becomes so much brighter. And when you're at work, a little chocolate always helps you work that much better.

I got the recipe for this cake from a beautiful vegan blog called "have cake, will travel." However, I kind of de-veganized it by using yogurt in place of the apple sauce that the original recipe called for. I haven't tried it yet with apple sauce, but I think it's actually the yogurt that makes the texture of this cake so tender and delicious. Vegan yogurt would probably work (although I've had bad experiences with that ..), or you could always increase the amount of soy milk and add a squeeze of lemon juice or a teaspoon of cider vinegar. I think the acid is the key. Just for kicks, I'll try it with apple sauce and let you know. For now, I'm digging into another slice and getting ready for another work week.

Chocolate Tahini Loaf
adapted from have cake, will travel **I halved the original recipe, so I'm sure the one below doubles nicely

1/4 cup of tahini
1/4 cup of honey or agave
6 tablespoons of soy or almond milk
1/4 cup of yogurt (or juice of half a lemon topped up with soy, or soygurt)
splash of almond extract
3/4 cup of whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 cup of natural cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of sesame seeds (I used a mixture of both white and black)

1. In a large bowl, mix together the whisk together the wet ingredients. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa powder. Mix until just combined.

2. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan and sprinkle over the sesame seeds. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until a cake-tester inserted comes out clean. Happy work week!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

It can't be over yet!

There are still mountains and juicy peaches and baskets overflowing with blueberries spilling over everything in the market. We had a humidex advisory warning yesterday. Summer can't be over yet ... can it? I know, I just baked autumnal cookies and put on a sweater when I got up one morning, but I can change my mind, can't I?

Yup, I just did. Even though I'm fully going back to work on Tuesday, I'm going to hang on to summer for as long as I can, even if it's just for the fruit. Two weeks ago, I went to a local farmer's market and bought my third yellow watermelon of the season. I swore it would be my last watermelon of the summer. I was walking through Kensington market on Friday, and what did I see on sale? Watermelons. Yup, it's cut up in my fridge as we speak. And yesterday when we biked past another little market with baskets upon baskets of BC blueberries on sale, how could I resist?

It was humid, and sticky and smoggy yesterday, and so we stayed inside for much of the day. We made blueberry preserves with some of our findings, and froze a little bag to surprise ourselves in the dead of winter when summer berries are but a fading memory. And we also sacrificed a few, just a few, to make this beautiful peach and blueberry breakfast bake. It's lemony and summery and very light. If you're looking for a traditional crisp or crumble, you may be disappointed. There are no buttery clumps of crumble goodness -- I save that for the apple crumble later when fall really rolls around. But this, no. This is the perfect breakfast treat. The fruit is heated just until it softens up and starts oozing those lovely summery fruit juices. There's no flour or corn starch like in traditional pies or crumbles; those fruit juices and set free. Everything is kissed with lemon, and topped with a wholesome crispy topping sweetened with pure maple syrup. With a big spoon of yogurt and nice strong coffee, this is the perfect way to celebrate summer .. summer that's NOT over just yet.

Peach and Blueberry Breakfast Bake
serves 4

1 cup of blueberries, rinsed
2 peaches, pitted and chopped
2 teaspoons of sugar
zest and juice and half a lemon
1/2 cup of old fashioned oats
1/2 cup of ground almonds
3 tablespoons of maple syrup

1. Toss the fruit in sugar, zest and half the lemon juice. Pour into a pie pan or baking dish.

2. Mix together the ground almonds and oats. Add the rest of the lemon juice and maple syrup. With a fork, gentle mix until everything gets sticky and moistened.

3. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until the top of brown and crispy and the fruit juices have just started the bubble. Enjoy warm with summer's arm around your shoulder.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Anzac Cookies + Happy Blog Birthday

Just a quick little post to say HAPPY (belated) BLOG BIRTHDAY to ursula over at Apples and Almonds, one of my favourite blogs. In honour of ursula's blog birthday, I made a batch of Anzac bicuits, one of my favourite posts on her site. They're super tasty and really easy to whip up. It's also easily veganized since there are no eggs involved. I was going to make something with almonds and apples in it ... but I thought that would be a bit too weird and cheesy! :)

Let me tell you more about these biscuits. First, they make your house smell like a bakery. The combination of oats and coconut give these cookies a toasty, hearty flavour, absolutely perfect with coffee or tea. They're slightly crunchy on the outside and magically chewy on the inside. I made a few tiny tweakings, because that's what ursula always does and I felt that she would have approved! First, I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of self-rising flour (you could add a bit of baking powder to make up for it, and I meant to, but forgot. The cookies were still fabulous), honey instead of gold syrup (which I'm sure what it is exactly .. ) and I added a splash of almond extract. Likes I said, these cookies are pretty toasty perfection.

I've said enough. You should head over to Apples and Almonds and find the recipe. You'll find a whole bunch of other cool and funky things as well. I love it for many reasons:

- Ursula lives on the other side of the world, so it's sooooooooo cool to see her cooking wintery soups in May and summery fresh pastas in January
- There's a video, often featuring funky music at the end of each post
- There's so much more than food! Crafts, sewing, fashion ...
- Ursula makes crazy classics likes Julia Child recipes, french pastries, multiple layer (and coloured!) cakes, and lots .. of .. treats!

There's more, but I won't spoil it for you. Head on over and take a peak. And make the Anzac biscuits!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Almost Autumn Cookies

I woke up yesterday and it was ... kind .. of ... chilly. There. I said it. It was kind of chilly and I had to put on a sweater. Although summer hasn't officially said good-bye (there are still watermelons and peaches and cherries and sweet corn galore!), we know that it's coming. Autumn is around the corner, whether we like it or not. And why shouldn't we? Fall means pumpkins and sweaters and leaves changing colour .. and it also means apples.

When I felt the chill yesterday morning, I thought it appropriate to bake up something with apples. I mentioned in an earlier post that I just discovered the ginger gold apple: a tart and slightly sweet, firm apple that's available in August -- possibly the first apples of the season. I bought a bunch the other day just because they reminded me of the Quebec pomme blanche, and today, I put a few of them to good use in this apple cranberry multi-grain cookie. It's delicious. It's totally addictive, and that's coming from a person with a good amount of will power. But addictive is good in this case because these little apple-y bits of love are packed with whole wheat flour, oatmeal and spelt flakes.

This is spelt. Ever used it? It's nutty and toasty and great in granola. You can also cook it up in porridge like oatmeal, but be careful because it turns mushy really quickly. And I discovered today that it's great in cookies. This cookie is kind of a combination of two oatmeal cookie recipes that I've tried. I liked one because it had fresh apples which you never find in cookies, and I like the other one because it was healthy and had cranberries and nuts. I smooshed the two recipes together and put them in the oven. 15 minutes later, I was in cookie heaven. The grated apples kept this cookie moist, which also let me reduce the amount of oil, and the walnuts and cranberries were the perfect match. But the spelt was really the star. It worked so well in these cookies, making them hearty and healthy enough for breakfast. Yup! Cookies for breakfast!

I can already see myself playing with different flavours. Cinnamon would have been an obvious addition, and I think I probably meant to add it but forgot (my migrain-wracked head was not on it's "A " game .. perhaps I shouldn't have exceeded the recommended maximum dosage of ibuprofen pills..). You can use maple syrup to replace some of all of the sugar -- I bet that would be awesome with the walnuts! You could even replace the oil with something like tahini or almond butter. My mouth is watering already...

See? Fall isn't all that bad.. you just need cookies.

Multigrain Apple Cranberry Walnut Cookies
inspired by Joy the Baker and kickpleat's post on Poppytalk
makes about 2 dozen

2 small apples, grated
1 egg
1/2 cup of brown sugar
3 tablespoons of canola oil
2/3 cup of whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 cup of spelt flakes
1/2 cup of rolled oats
1/3 cup of dried cranberries, roughly chopped
1/4 cup of chopped walnuts

1. In a large bowl, beat the egg with the sugar and canola oil. Add the apples and mix well.

2. Sift in the flour and baking soda and mix. Add the spelt and oats, cranberries and walnuts and mix well.

3. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto a prepared cookie sheet. These cookies don't hold together too well before baking, so do your best to shape them up on the cookie sheet. Once they come out of the oven, they'll be fine.

4. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until the tops get nice and brown.

5. Enjoy a few with your morning coffee. I dare you!