Friday, July 27, 2012

Tea Time Blueberry Cake

Hello there. Are you enjoying the summer? Specifically, are you enjoying the summer fruit? I hope so. This first month of my summer has been uncharacteristically busy -- an out-of-the norm for me. Usually when school ends, I spend a good week and a half doing nothing and mulling about, reminiscing and baking scones or making a treat for a road trip. Not this year. Boo hoo.

But I did make cake. A wonderful, hearty, spelt and blueberry tea cake, sweetened with dark maple syrup and made with the season's first Ontario blueberries. I obsess over berries each summer, and in the fall, I always regret not eating more. Berries are so fleeting and will always be. And even though I know the best way to eat these local delights is to just enjoy them straight up, I can never resist baking up batches of goodies studded with ripe, local fruit. This cake is no different. It's a very simple, no fuss cake, adapted from one of Heidi's recipes at 101 Cookbooks. Her version uses huckleberries and includes a little crumble topping. Seeing as I've never seen a huckleberry here in Ontario before, I decided that blueberries would have to do, and although I love crumble topping, I skipped it for a more wholesome, breakfast friendly-version of this cake. Heidi also included some fresh rosemary and thyme in her cake and I loved the idea of herbs adding that little something extra to a dessert. I followed her lead with the thyme, as each summer they grow like mad on the balcony and I feel bad if I don't use them up, but instead of the rosemary, I added some fresh lavender leaves which perfumed the cake ever-so-slightly -- perfect with the floral, fruity berries.

While making this cake, I thought about one summer when my sister drove my best friend and I to a farm just north of the city, and we spent the afternoon in the sun, picking blueberries and raspberries. When I sampled the blueberries I bought for this cake, the whole day came flooding back to my mind -- the hot, dusty drive out of town, the sun on the back of my neck as we stooped over the pick our berry treasures, the way I giggled when a farm boy with an accent handed me my blended lemonade and grilled corn on the cob, the rustic, touristic feel inside the gift shop where you could buy jams, pies, and other assorted goodies, and the way my best friend giggled at me when I bought honey-roasted soybeans of all things at the shop and snacked on them all the way home in the car. Gosh, that was a good 7 or 8 years ago, but I remember it so clearly.

I'm not sure if there will be road trips, berry picking or dusty car rides into farm land this year. But there will be cake, there's already been lots of coffee, and there will always be giggles and good times.

Happy Summer. I hope you're having a good one .. and I hope it lasts forever ...

Maple Blueberry Tea Cake
adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1/4 cup of spelt flakes
1/3 cup of skim milk yogurt
zest and juice of one lemon
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup of dark maple syrup (grade B amber)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3 tablespoons of canola oil
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only
5-6 fresh lavender leaves, finely chopped
1 cup of spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1 cup of fresh blueberries, washed

1. In a large bowl, combine the spelt flakes, lemon juice and zest and yogurt. Stir well and let it sit for 10 minutes before adding the egg, maple syrup, vanilla and canola oil. Mix well.

2. Add the thyme and lavender and sift in the flour, baking soda and powder. Mix until just combined. Add the blueberries and give it one final mix.

3. Pour your batter into a baking pan and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until the cake tester inserted comes out clean and the top of the cake is springy when you touch it.

4. Serve with tea, coffee or big dollop of yogurt and more fresh berries for breakfast!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Feeling Chocolately

On Monday morning, I woke up wanting to bake a chocolate cake. This chocolate cake to be specific. This chocolate cake that involves stout, maple syrup and cocoa powder. Did I have those things in my pantry? Yup (minus the stout, but there was a lonely dark ale sitting beside the almond milk...) Did I make that cake? Nope.

Ridiculous! Why can't I bake a chocolate cake on Monday, just because? It must be some inherent start-of-the-work-week thing where you feel like you have to do some work to earn the chocolate. Like, you know the episode of Bing Bang Theory where Penny makes French toast for Leonard and Sheldon but Sheldon is too uptight to eat French toast on a Monday?  Yeah, I totally felt like Sheldon -- except I didn't waste perfectly good French toast (or chocolate for that matter!).

Instead, I made granola. Wholesome, healthy, grain-packed Monday-food granola. And I make it chocolatey! I added a nice rounded tablespoon of dark cocoa powder to my oats and spelt and sunflower seeds and a dash of cinnamon to remind me of spicy hot chocolate. The liquid base is a combination of honey, tahini and apple sauce -- oil and guilt free. I tossed a good handful of raisins at the end and snacked on it while it was still warm. The house smelled like a chocolate factory while this was baking and it totally took away my chocolate-cake-baking itch. It was also perfect later that Monday with a splash of almond milk, a few sliced bananas and a sprinkle of blueberries. Beautiful summer Monday food.

Well, it's the weekend now, and a perfect time for chocolate cake, except that I didn't get around to doing any baking or cooking this weekend and ya know what? Tomorrow is Monday and the perfect excuse to make this granola again! This time, I think I'll try adding some coconut flakes, or flaked almonds and cranberries instead of raisins -- although dried cherries would make it a really special treat... and almond butter instead of tahini. Or maybe I'll use this recipe that calls for mashed bananas instead of apple sauce. Chocolate and banana .. Mondays rock!

Chocolatey Tahini Granola
makes about 4ish cups

2 cups of spelt flakes
1 cup of rolled oats
1/2 cup of sunflowerseeds (or almonds and coconut!)
2 tablespoons of black sesame seeds
1 tablespoon of dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
3/4 cup of apple sauce (I made my by cooking two little apples in a splash of water and blending it)
2 tablespoons of tahini
1 tablespoon of honey
1 cup of raisins (or dried cranberries or dried cherries)

1. In a large bowl, toss together spelt flakes, oats, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, cocoa powder and cinnamon until everything is evenly distributed.

2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the applesauce, tahini and honey. Don't worry if it looks gross -- it'll get better!

3. Add the applesauce mixture to the oat mixture and carefully stir until everything is moistened. Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet making sure it's as even as possible.

4. Bake in a 350 degree oven, turning every 10 minutes for about 30 minutes or until the mixture dries out and gets crisp. You house will smell like heaven. Toss in the raisins as soon as it comes out of the oven. Cool and store in an airtight container. Enjoy!  Happy Monday!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hooked on this Salad

I love summer and I love summer produce, especially the summer fruit. But when it comes to cooking in the the heat, I'm a bit hesitant. I love summer because I get lots of time off and that means lots of time to experiment in the kitchen. But these past few days have been hazy and humid and hot, weather that takes away your appetite. It's like you want to drink lemonade and eat popsicles for supper every day. Seriously.

While the weather outside today is just perfect -- lots of sunshine, a little breeze and not too much humidity, the 7 day forecast calls for heat alerts by Friday. Turning on the stove is going to be a chore, but we still need to eat, right? One cannot subsist on lemonade a frozen treats -- but add a salad in there and we're probably good to go, especially if it's a nice hearty salad, like this beautiful rice and cucumber bowl. It's nourishing and almost cleansing, and it's the kind of thing that you don't mind eating even in the extreme heat.

I've called it a cucumber and rice bowl, but really, you could put whatever you want in it. It's all about the dressing. I had a huge crush on tahini-based dressings, but in the heat, I prefer something yogurt-based. It's totally simple. Non-fat yogurt, lemon juice and bunch of herbs from your garden. This year, we've started growing dill, so I used a whole bunch of it in the dressing and it really worked well. It's zippy and lemony and cool and creamy -- the perfect way to top my bowl full of goodness. And it goes without saying that you could totally mix it up. Isa says that the essential ingredients of a bowl are "a grain, a green, and 'tein and a sauce." Once you've got that, you're all set. I'm considering switching the grain to soba noodles -- if you choose to go that way, you might want to cut your veggies in a similiar shape (like rather than dicing or chunking, cut them in match sticks or use a grater). This salad is also awesome because you can cook up a big batch of whatever grain you choose, and for the rest of the week, you'll enjoy cooking-free lunches or suppers. Just chop, toss and enjoy.

Want more bowl inspirations?

Glorious Bowl
Lemon Orzo with Spinach, Feta and Almonds
Quinoa and Chickpea Salad with Balsamic Dressing
Green Quinoa
Bulgar, Millet and Chickpea Salad
Roasty Soba Bowl
Qunioa with Currents, Dill and Zucchini
Buttermilk Farro Salad
Wild Rice Salad with Yogurt Viniagrette

I'm sure these cool bowls will keep you happy all summer long!

Cucumber Rice Bowl with Herbed Yogurt Dressing

Fill your bowl with some of the following ...

rice -- red, brown, wild, go nuts!
soba noodles
or a combination

cooked and/or drained chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans etc.
tofu cut into cubes (the smoked or marinated kind is awesome)
cooked lentils -- go nuts and try some of the fancy kind

cucumber or raw zucchini chunks
blanched fresh or frozen peas
fresh sweet corn (blanched or raw!)
baby arugula or spinach
chopped lettuce
cherry or grape tomatoes

Herbed Yogurt Dressing
makes about 1/3 cup -- enough to dress 3-4 salads

1/4 cup of skim milk yogurt
juice of one large lemon
a splash of water
salt and pepper to taste
a large bunch of chopped, fresh herbs -- I used dill, oregano and thyme

Whisk all the ingredients until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Pour 1-2 tablespoons over your bowl. Toss, eat and be happy and cool.