Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's Time for a TREAT!

Treats are wonderful. Yup, you know it! Treats keep us motivated and energized. If we didn't treat ourselves once in awhile, we'd be gloomy and glum all the time and life would be boring and tiresome. Hurray for treats!

I believe little treats are good for the soul; that splash of cream in my coffee, the teaspoon of peanut butter on my oatmeal, the sprinkle of cheese on my pasta -- they keep my life exciting and give me things to look forward to. But treats are especially important when you're stuck in front of the computer doing work all weekend instead of relaxing and enjoying the day. Yup, that's me. I'm up to my eyeballs in report cards, and the only way I'll make it through is with a few little treats to brighten my day. And these chocolate peanut butter pretzels are the perfect snack to make my report card blues fade, if only for a few short moments.

They are the perfect treat the whip up when you're busy -- taking less than 10 minutes to prepare. They're crunchy, salty chocolatey, creamy and sweet -- all the right things you need to cheer you up when the work week stress has made its way into your weekend.

It's time for a treat!!!!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzels

2 cups of pretzels
3 tablespoons of maple syrup
3 tablespoons of natural peanut butter
1 teaspoon of cocoa powder

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spread the pretzels out on a cookie sheet until you have one single layer.

2. In a small saucepan, heat the peanut butter, maple syrup and cocoa powder, stirring constantly until well combined.

3. Pour the peanut butter mixture over the pretzels and toss gently so that everything gets touched with ooey gooey peanut buttery goodness. You could dip them individually if you had the time and patience.

4. Bake the pretzels in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until they get fragrant. Cool for 5 minutes and start snacking!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A New Breakfast

I love breakfast. Are you a breakfast skipper? Please don't skip breakfast -- it's the best meal, totally the best. Haven't you heard of people eating cereal and french toast and pancakes for supper because all they really want is breakfast? I've eaten oatmeal for dinner many .. many .. many times. It's the best! You could love breakfast too ..

Ok, this is a harder question. Do you like porridge? Yup .. porridge? Definitely harder, but my answer would be a big YES. I know some of you are groaning, but .. but .. didn't we already talk about the wonders of oatmeal in the morning? If you're a porridge lover like me, I've got a really great recipe for you. If you're a porridge hater, I'll understand if you navigate away, but keep this post in mind when you're ready to come over to the porridge-loving side.

Like I mentioned, I love oatmeal on weekend mornings. It's wholesome and warm and really hits the spot, especially in the winter time. Lately, I've been wanting to try new grains in the morning and a few weeks ago, we picked up some kasha (or toasted buckwheat) at the bulk store. After we cooked some up in vegetable broth to go with our dinner one night, we kind of decided that it would probably be better as a breakfast food. The flavour was really intense and earthy, a bit too strong to be a neutral grain served at supper. I spent the week flipping through this great book called "A Cook's Guide to Grains" by Jenni Muir" for some inspiration before dreaming up this little recipe. It's a porridge made from a combination of kasha and barley that's baked in the oven with honey, raisins, apples and spices. It's super super delicious with an extra splash of soy milk, and a little spoonful each of yogurt and marmalade. It's the kind of breakfast that makes you feel like you're having a treat, even though you've just eaten some wholesome whole grains and fruit.

It would be even more delicious topped with a citrus fruit salad, like this one or this one. The citrusyness might cut through the strong taste of the kasha and balance it out a bit. If buckwheat really isn't your thing, you could probably do a combination of barley and wheat berries -- still nutty and flavourful, but less pungent and earthy. How about a gluten-free porridge? No sweat. Replace the barley with quinoa, millet, or even brown rice. Try replacing the water with apple or cranberry juice and reducing the sweeteners, or even coconut water .. I'm totally trying that one next. Whatever you do, make sure you check on it while it's in the oven to see if it needs extra liquid. It needs quite a bit of time in the oven -- about 45 minutes -- but the wait was definitely worth it.

Ok, porridge haters. I'll be back next week with something else, I promise!

Buckwheat and Barley Porridge
inspired by "A Cook's Guide to Grains" by Jenni Muir
serves 2-3

1/4 cup of pearled barley, rinsed well
1/4 cup of kasha (toasted buckwheat groats), rinsed well
3/4 cup of water
3/4 cup of soy milk
1 tablespoon each of honey and maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
a pinch of nutmeg
a splash of vanilla extract
a handful each of raisins and unsweetened shredded coconut
1 small Macintosh apple, diced

1. Mix up all the ingredients except the apple in an oven proof baking dish. Bake in a 350 degree oven.

2. About 20 minutes into the baking, add the diced apple and additional liquid if things are looking a little dry.

3. Bake for another 25 minutes or so, or until the barley becomes tender and some of the buckwheat has broken down, but some are still in chewy.

4. Serve with an extra splash of soy milk and toppings of your choice.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunshine Inside and Out

Today, we went out for Sunday brunch, just the two of us. We sat by the window of this cute little restaurant and I was amazed at how warm I got from the sunshine outside. It was as if the winter blues were melting away with every bit of sunlight that streamed onto my face. After weeks of grey skies and bone-chilling windy nights, of teasing sunlight that fades in a matter of hours, of afternoons spent trudging through slush and snow after work instead of enjoying the last rays of sunshine, something wonderful happened this morning. The sun came out. I can't remember the last weekend where the sun came out and stayed out long enough for us to enjoy its warmth. It truly made me happy.

Knowing that the sun was probably only visiting, and that I had a whole, busy work week ahead of me where I'd be aching for that relaxed Sunday brunch feeling again, I decided to bake up something sunny so that at least if it wasn't sunny outside, it could be sunny inside. And what's sunnier than something baked with the fresh, tart, summer-like taste of lemons? Paired with the equally mouth-puckering taste of fresh cranberries, and you've got a sunny day, waiting to be eaten. I found a fabulous recipe in a magazine called Eating Well -- one of two magazine subscriptions that we're trying (the other one being Vegetarian Times -- also wonderful). It included cornmeal, which added an extra flavour and texture dimension. The muffins baked up wonderfully light and moist, with an almost crisp, golden top. I skipped the sprinkling of sugar and lemon zest on top, but you could do it if you like. Just mix up a teaspoon of lemon zest with 2 tablespoons of sugar, and sprinkle on top of the muffins before baking.

Bake a little sunshine into your kitchen and get ready for the work week. With these muffins waiting for me in my kitchen, I'm ready for almost anything.

Lemon Cranberry Muffins
adapted from Eating Well (January/February 2011) makes 24 mini muffins and one mini loaf

1 egg
3/4 cup of skim milk yogurt
1/2 cup of sugar
5 tablespoons of canola oil
zest of one lemon
juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 cup of all purpose flour
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1/2 cup of fine yellow cornmeal
1.5 cups of cranberries, chopped (good luck with that .. they roll and bounce)

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, yogurt, sugar, oil, lemon juice and zest until smooth and well-combined.

2. Sift in the flours, baking soda, baking powder and cornmeal. Mix until just combined. Add the chopped cranberries and give it one final mix.

3. Pour into prepared muffin tins and/loaf tin. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes for the muffins and 25-30 for the loaf (depending on what size your tin is). Muffins are reading when they get nice and golden brown, and a cake tester inserted comes out clean.

Happy Sunshine!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Rosemary Olive Oil Cake with Chocolate

Yes. I'm totally backwards. During the time of the holidays when I should have given you pictures and recipes of treats and special desserts, I gave you macaroni and lentil soup. Now it's January, and you're probably wanting something hearty, warm and healthy to cleanse away all the holiday indulging. But I'm offering you cake. Why do you put up with me? Ok, don't answer that. Just keep reading.

Why am I giving you a cake in January? Well for starters, it's a semi-healthy cake, made with whole wheat flour, and heart-healthy olive oil, which I even reduced in quantity from the original recipe and replaced with skim milk yogurt. Sounding better? Here's the real kicker. It's got a whole tablespoon of chopped rosemary. Rosemary. Go figure. I would never have thought to make a chocolate, rosemary olive oil cake, but trust me, it's delicious. My sister pointed out that the chocolate/rosemary combination tasted a bit like ginger and chocolate .. really interesting, almost spicy, very very addictive and delicious. This cake also has a nice sugar-crusted top and an incredibly moist crumb, even with the reduction in oil. It needs no icing, glaze or frosting -- so no extra calories -- and it's a crowd pleaser for sure. I made it for a New Year's family dinner and it was a big hit. If you wanted to be really good, you could use a higher quality dark chocolate bar instead of chocolate chips, like I did, or skip the chocolate all together and add in some lemon zest instead. Who says you can't have cake in January?

Ok, so I'm going to confess. I'm looking for rosemary recipes. Why? Well, while everyone else is wrapping up their Christmas trees to be taken away to the pulp and paper mill, or where ever your Christmas trees end up when the season is over, we were carefully picking all the needles off of our little rosemary tree. Yup! We decorated a rosemary tree -- our very first Christmas tree, anointed with home-made decorations made of dyed macaroni and egg cartons -- and now, we've got a whole lot of rosemary cooking and baking to do. Any suggestions?

Rosemary Olive Oil Cake with Chocolate
adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1 egg
1/4 cup of skim milk yogurt
1/3 cup of olive oil
1/3 cup of milk
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of chopped rosemary
1/3 cup of whole wheat flour
3/4 cup of all purpose flour
1/4 cup of sugar
3/4 teaspoon of baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of coarse sugar

1. Whisk together the egg, yogurt, olive oil, milk, honey and rosemary until well-combined.

2. Sift in the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Pour the batter into a prepared loaf pan or cake tin. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

4. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until golden and crusty on top and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Stays incredible moist for a week (I just had another piece!) in an air tight container. Happy January!

Coffee Update!

Manic Coffee: three cappuccinos, a wild blueberry scone and a ginger molasses cookie. So crowded! We were lucky to get a seat at all!
Quaff Cafe: two cappuccinos and a double americano, with a alfajore cookie and an oatmeal cookie.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

To Your Health

Happy 2011! I really hope your 2010 ended and your 2011 started better than mine. In the midst of a post-Christmas pre-New Year's party at my best friend's house, right in the middle of a crazy game of Cranium, while everyone else was just starting to feel their vodka-cranberry buzzes, I started to feel a sore throat coming on. By midnight, it had worsened, and by the time a woke up in the morning, I could barely swallow. Yuck. Despite my strengthening workout, Listerine rinses, chugs of orange juice and endless pieces of Fisherman's Friend, by the 11am, I had crawled back into bed. My body couldn't make up its mind as to whether it was hot or cold, and somehow, my legs were aching like crazy.

It's now the 2nd of the month in a brand new year, and the pain in my throat has moved to my chest and I'm constantly coughing into my sleeve (sorry to anyone who has to ride public transit beside me!). Geeze! How did I even make it through a New Year's celebration game of Monopoly and a sip of iced wine champagne at midnight? Caffeine, cold + flu medication, and a restorative soup, made with love. It was a soup of easily digestible lentils and veggies simmered in homemade broth and sipped slowly on the couch covered in blankets. I ate this lovely soup three days in a row. By the third day, I was feeling slightly better, and decided to participate. We added a few more veggies and even some yellow split peas for a little extra texture.

There are probably an endless number of ways to flavour this soup: crushed fennel seeds and basil, cumin and lemon, coriander and lime ... the possibilities are exciting. But what I've been wanting is something easy to taste, something familiar and warm, something soothing and friendly to help me get through my cold. So we settled for simple salt and pepper, a few sprigs of thyme, and the help of some homemade, flavourful stock. I'll try those other combinations when I feel better. For now, I'll go back to my soup and hope that tomorrow, my cold + flu pills will be enough to hold back 150 excited students.

Get Well Soup
serves 4

3/4 cup of red lentils, rinsed
1/2 cup of yellow split peas, rinsed
1 small onion, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 small can of tomatoes
2 sprigs of thyme
4 cups of flavourful stock

1. In a large soup pot, saute the onions, celery, carrots and garlic for about 5 minutes, or until things get fragrant and start to soften. Add the lentils, split peas and tomatoes and give it a good stir.

2. Cook for another 5-7 minutes, or until the tomatoes form a yummy, sticky coating at the bottom of the pot. Add your stock and scrape up the bits from the bottom. Throw in your thyme sprigs and turn up the heat.

3. Bring your soup to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a slow simmer. Cook, uncovered for about 20 minutes. The lentils should have broken down and the peas should be tender. Serve with bread for a nice, comforting meal.