Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hearty Bread for the Road

I just got back from a week in one of my favourite places: Montreal. The city totally stole my heart ... again. Although I'm always happy to be home, I long to be back there roaming the streets, hiking through parks and sitting in quiet cafes. I'll post more about my trip in a little while; I need to wrap my head around being back in Toronto for a bit. For now, I'll leave you with another thyme treat. It's a beautiful, hearty loaf made with sunflower seeds, a touch of honey, lots of thyme and a little grating of lemon zest. There's also olive oil in it, which brings out the lovely thyme and lemon flavours. Hearty, nutty, delicate, just sweet enough. It was the perfect treat to enjoy on the train ride to Montreal.. ooohhh Montreal ...

Sunflower Seed Bread with Thyme and Honey

adapted from Joy the Baker
makes one loaf

2 tablespoons of honey
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup of yogurt
1/2 cup of soy milk
2 tablespoons of olive oil
zest of half a lemon
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1 cup of all purpose flour
a pinch of salt
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
2 tablespoons of fresh thyme
1/2 cup of roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the honey, sugar, egg, yogurt, soy milk, olive oil and lemon zest. Mix until well blended.

2. Sift in the flour, salt, baking powder and soda. Mix gently until just combined. Add the thyme and all but one tablespoon of the sunflower seeds and mix one last time.

3. Pour the batter into a loaf pan and sprinkle with the remaining one tablespoon of sunflower seeds. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until the top of nice and golden brown and a cake tester inserted comes out clean.

4. Let it cool for a few minutes and then slice away!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Magic Dressing

I'm taking a quick break from the thyme treats to share this amazing salad with you. It's looks kinda plain but it's the magical dressing that really makes this salad come to life. It's tahini!!

You're probably not a stranger to cooking tahini. I'm not either, but I've never made salad dressing with it. But I should have! Oh I should have. In fact, just the other day, I was at a wonderful restaurant with my sister called Fresh, where they have this beautiful bowl of goodness that's just called "Simple" on the menu. It consists of brown rice, grated carrots, micro greens, lots of parsley and a delicious, creamy tahini-tamari dressing. I thought of this dressing when I went to make a salad and wanted something interesting to put on it. Kickpleat, of Everybody Likes Sandwiches, one of my favourite blogs, makes tahini dressing all the time. She puts it on millet, coleslaw and even butternut squash. So I thought, why not? Let's do it. I simplified her version of the dressing -- just tahini, lemon juice, pepper and a splash of water -- and it was truly magical. Creamy, nutty, tangy. I couldn't get enough. And I picture this dressing over every salad: chickpeas, simple cucumber and tomato, even as a dipping sauce for this roasted cauliflower.

But it was just perfect on a simple mixed salad of blanched kale, fresh Ontario spring mix greens (courtesy of my sister's CSA) and some stray leftover quinoa and lentils. Like I said, you could add anything. The big tahini boost and lentils were enough to give me a healthy protein dose, but chickpeas would be a lovely addition, as would tofu cubes, or even a good sprinkling of pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

Tahini hasn't really been a staple in my fridge, but now it definitely will be. Happy salad days!

Simple Salad with Tahini Dressing
inspired by Everybody Likes Sandwiches serves two

half a bunch of kale, stems removed
2 cups of mixed salad greens
1/2 cup of cooked grains of your choice
extras like tofu, chickpeas, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, raisins, roasted almonds....

2 tablespoons of tahini
juice of half a lemon
a good grinding of black pepper
2 tablespoons of water

1. Blanch the kale in boiling water for 1-2 minutes until cooked but still bright green. Drain, pat dry and divide between two bowls.

2. Put 1 cup of salad greens in each bowl, and top of the grains and extras.

3. To make the dressing, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, black pepper and water vigorously until blended. You may need to add more lemon or water if the dressing is still too thick. It should be creamy but pourable.

4. Pour the tahini-liciousness over your salad and give it a good mix. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

While They Last

One of my all time favourite summer memories was when I had just graduated university and my best friend and I took a trip to Montreal. We talked about bagels and boys, old and new loves, what we did and didn't learn in our respective universities, our plans for the future and everything else in between. I remember when we got there in the evening, we had dinner at Frites Alors! and with it, some local beer. I remember ordering a beer called Éphémère flavoured with cassis. I loved the name .. meaning ephemeral, or fleeting, just like the summer and just like our time in Montreal. That was was 7 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I guess some things only appear to be ephemeral, but in reality leave lasting indentations in our lives, and in our hearts.

So many things about this season are fleeting, the most obvious being the summer berry season. While apple season seems never ending, strawberry season comes and goes in a flash. Yesterday, I went with my sister to pick up her CSA share and the lovely lady at the booth handed us a basket of berries saying "Theses are the last of the season and they're the best." And so they were. We ate a handful as appetizers on our way to dinner. The last of the season? Didn't I just see them appear in the market?
Ontario strawberries are fading fast, so make the most of them while they're here. I certainly did: straight up and not even washed, chopped up and thrown into bowls of oatmeal, making compote and crumbles ... lost of crumbles.

I also made these scones. I'm usually not a scone person, but I wanted to bake up a little treat to while away the early morning hours of a summer weekday morning -- something that I definitely savour. These scones are very easy to prepare and have a nice crumbly, tender texture. The little sprinking of sugar on top gives them a nice crunch as well. I used a recipe from Irene over at Confessions of a Tart and it was nice and simple. I added a bunch of fresh thyme, just because, and it gave it nice little something extra. This recipe is totally modifiable to whatever berries come across your market. It's also go no eggs in it, so it's easily made vegan by using vegan margarine instead of butter. So go play with the berries while they're here. Don't let them get away!

Fresh Strawberry Scones
adapted from Confessions of a Tart
makes 12 tiny mini sconelettes

1/2 cup of all purpose flour
1/2 cup of whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
pinch of salt

2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons of sugar
3 tablespoons of cold butter
1/3 cup of soy milk mixed with juice of ¼ of a lemon
1/2 cup of chopped strawberries
a few sprigs of thyme, leaves plucked

1. Sift together the flours, baking powder, salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar.

2. Add the butter and rub it into the flour with your fingers until you get a sandy, course meal. Add the strawberries, thyme and all but one tablespoon of the soy mixture.

3. Stir very gently until the fixture forms a sticky dough. On a floured surface, with floured hands, turn out the dough. Knead a few times (no more than 5) and form into a circular disc. At this point, you could cut out 4 big scones, 8 small ones, or 12 mini sconelettes.

4. Place you scones on a baking sheet and brush with the remaining soy mixture. Sprinkle with the reserved 2 teaspoons of sugar.

5. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until they get lightly brown and become fragrant. Best served warm.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Series in Thyme

I'm over-run with thyme. This happened last year too. We go nuts with the herbs on the balcony ledge, and they grow faster than we can eat them. But I'm not complaining. I love looking at those big fat basil leaves, almost begging to be plucked and placed on top of tomato slices, and my new friend, Thai basil, seems to grow overnight in large quantities. And the thyme. Oh the thyme. Their tender springs are starting to lean away from their box and it seems like every time I cut a sprig, it grows back the next day.

I love thyme. There's something about it that just says "fresh." And it's taste lends well to both savoury and sweet things, a total plus in my book. Last year, we were content to add sprigs of thyme into our veggie broths and chicken dishes, use tons of it in summer salads and throw it in a biscuit or two. This year, I wanted to branch out and experiment more with it. I wanted to bake with it. Sweet treats with thyme?! Oh yes please!

Before I got any further, I'd like to give a big shout out to Lisa over at Sweet as Sugar Cookies. She has this wonderful thing going on at her blog: a sweet treats link party. People share their sweet treats recipes via a link on Lisa's blog. There are so .. many.. yummy..treats! I just linked my rhubarb orange madeleines, but I'm sure Lisa would also love these lemon thyme shortbread crisps.

I say shortbread crisps because they aren't like traditional shortbread that's thick and almost cake-like. They're still crumbly and buttery, but are thinner and crispier. I made them this way mostly because I wanted to roll out the dough and cut out little hearts, but it worked out perfectly. I used a modified recipe from epicurious via sevenspoons, which called for honey and rosemary added to a traditional shortbread recipe. I used thyme instead, and added a little grating of lemon zest that made all the difference. If you had lemon-thyme, that would be perfect as well, but regular thyme works very nicely. The flavour of the herb stands up well to all that buttery goodness and pairs nicely with the freshness of the lemon zest. They are a perfect treat to give to someone special (like a sister!) or just to have with a cup of coffee. They'll even fancy up a store-bought ice cream that you can serve as dessert to guests.

Baking with thyme? Totally awesome, totally summery and totally fun. I've got more coming!
And don't forget to visit Lisa for more sweet treats inspiration!

Lemon Thyme Shortbread Crisps
makes about 20 little heart-shaped crisps
adapted from epicurious

1 cup of all purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, at room temperature
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup of sifted confectioners sugar
2 tablespoon of honey

1. In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and lemon zest until smooth. Add the thyme and stir well. Sift in the flour, salt and baking powder. Mix to form a loose dough.

2. On a floured surface, turn out the dough and give it a few little kneads. Flour up your rolling pin and roll out to about 1/4 inch. Use your favourite cookie cutter and go nuts! Place the cut cookies on a cookie sheet.

3. Gather up the remaining dough, roll out and repeat until all the dough is used up. Bake your cookies in a 300 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the edges get lightly brown. Remove and cool.

Hey .. speaking of experimenting with shortbread .. remember last summer? Blackcurrent, where have you gone?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fun with Rhubarb

I'm having lots of fun with rhubarb this year. Lots and lots. Last year, I felt like I missed out on the deliciousness of rhubarb. But not this year. In fact, there are still 2 thick, pinky-red stalks in my fridge waiting to be turned into something delicious. I've made strawberry rhubarb crisp a couple times. Very simple: just toss strawberries and rhubarb together with a sprinkling of sugar, some lemon juice and zest, and top with this easy vegan crisp topping. A very perfect summer dessert. I've also made these fantastic, moist, healthy rhubarb and walnut bread/muffins. So delicious. The oatmeal and lemon zest topping really make it special.

But, the most interesting thing I made with rhubarb were these orange rhubarb madeleines. There weren't really supposed to be madeleines, and any traditionalist would probably scoff, but I thought it would be fun to bake up some of the batter in a mini madeleine pan that my love bought for me a while ago. Me and madeleines have a very special relationship. In the name of romance, I sought out a madeleine recipe after studying Marcel Proust's À la Recherche du Temps Perdu in 4th year university. I don't remember much about the book (only that his sentences sometimes took a page to finish!), but I do remember the famous reference to madeleines. Apparently, a taste of the lemony, spongy cookie/cake sent him back to his childhood, where he would have madeleines and dip them into his tea. I found that so romantic and beautiful, and even made them as a parting gift to one my favourite profs who was retiring that year. I used a recipe from my old favourite cookie book, and seeing as the madeleine pan I recently purchased wouldn't fit in the toaster oven that I baked in at the time, I used pretty, shell-shaped moulds instead. They were a great hit with my family, and with my prof, who very much appreciated the gesture.

When I moved out, I searched high and low for the pan, to no avail. One day, I came home to the lovely smell of lemon and butter and two brand new madeleine pans. When I had batter left over from this recipe, I thought it would be so cute and fun to make madeleines instead of muffins. The recipe is tweaked from kickpleat's citrus yogurt cake. I used only orange zest and juice, threw in some oatmeal for extra nutrition, and added a good amount of rhubarb compote. The compote really spread the rhubarb around so that each bite was infused with its tangy goodness. It was perfectly matched with the fruity olive oil, and sweet, frangrant orange juice and zest. I think the madeleines were perfect as they were, but if you wanted a little extra, I would throw in a pinch of cardamom to give it a bit of depth and mystery. Can't go wrong with cardamom, can we?

My rhubarb adventures aren't over yet. Maybe it's time for pie .. I'm afraid of pie ... but maybe, just maybe ...?

Rhubarb Orange Madelines
adapted from Everybody Likes Sandwiches and poppytalk

Rhubarb Orange Compote:
2 stalks of rhubarb, chopped
3 tablespoons of sugar
1/4 cup of orange juice

3/4 cup of skim milk yogurt
1/4 cup of orange juice
zest of one large orange
1/3 cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of rolled oats
1 egg, beaten
1.5 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
a pinch of salt

1. To make the compote, combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over medium until the mixture bubbles. Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer with the lid on, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb breaks down (about 10ish minutes). Set aside

2. In a large bowl, combine the oats with the yogurt and orange juice. Let stand for 10 minutes. Add the zest, oil, egg, sugar and vanilla, and whisk to combine.

3. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and stir gently until just combined. Add the rhubarb compote and mix well.

4. Spoon the batter into a madeleine pan, and pour the rest into muffin tins or a mini loaf pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven. The madeleines or muffins should only take about 10-15 minutes. The mini-loaf should take about 20 minutes.

5. Enjoy with a good book and a cup of tea.