Monday, August 27, 2012

Rainy Day Weekend Treat

I cherish weekends during the school year. On hard weeks (especially around report card time), I actually count the hours. There's something about working all week and coming home on Friday and knowing that there will be no morning routine the next day, and that extra hour of sleep that I craved on Thursday morning can actually happen. It's always a time to refresh and re-energize. I know I've had a great weekend if I look forward to Monday, and believe it or not, that actually happens sometimes.

But weekends kind of lose their meaning in the summer. All the days kind of blend into each other, and the weekends just become like any other days. It's been fun. But it's back to the grind soon. In fact, I have to go into work today to start preparing. School starts in about a week and getting into that familiar weekday routine before I actually have to, helps a lot when I have to suddenly jump from afternoon naps, mornings spent in cafes and bike trips to 6:45am streetcar rides, too much marking and 150 children demanding my attention -- not to mention teaching a little French in between. Weekends will start meaning a lot more in about a week.

I'm looking at the forecast, and it calls for rain all day. If it were a weekend, it would be a perfect one to spend inside on a baking or cooking project, watching an old, favourite movie, or having a long lazy weekend brunch. And what better brunch food than pancakes, especially when I've just brought back a litre of beautiful amber maple syrup from the nation's capital. We've tried a few pancake recipes -- some vegan ones, some with hearty whole wheat flour and other grains (that was a supper pancake!) and they were all great. Only once, did we make a pancake that wasn't too great; it was the Michael Smith pancake recipe from the BlogAid recipe book, and while it produced a stick-to-your-ribs, hearty pancake, they weren't the least bit fluffy, and they actually turned out a little tough. Did we mess up, or was this pancake just not supposed to be fluffy?

Is there a secret to fluffy pancakes? I'm not sure. Is it beating egg whites separately? Is it just the right amount of leavening? Is it using buttermilk, or a splash of vinegar? Or is it all in how you mix the batter? Have you encountered a perfect pancake recipe? I think I have, and it's not surprise that it's a Joy the Baker recipe. It's actually a sexier pancake than we made: the original recipe calls for the addition of meyer lemon zest and fresh berries. But we wanted a nice, plain pancake to savour our last-of-the-season strawberries and maple syrup with , so we nixed the additions. The result was a super fluffy, perfect pancake; no really. It's perfection. I confess that I'm not usually a pancake person, especially in the morning, but these little fluffers had me hooked.  And they're just as good cold if you happen to have left overs ..

We pretty much used the original recipe without the lemon and berries. The only small change we made was replacing the 1 cup of buttermilk with 2/3 cup of plain skim yogurt and 1/3 cup of almond milk. And letting the batter sit for about 10 minutes really makes them super fluffy and sky-high. It's a rainy Monday -- not really pancake day, but it's perfect pancake weather. Break your weekday routine and make these. Go on...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

More Treats for You: Double Corn Muffins

 Yeah, so like I said before, I sucked at posting this summer. Part of the reason is because I haven't been doing too much cooking. I had a brief love affair with lunch, but that ended, and supper has been a steady stream of variations on this salad. I've been eating an unusual amount of red leaf lettuce and cucumbers lately. No excuses, except to say that in the summer, there are so many more things to do besides cook, and while I love cooking, I love cafe hopping, bike riding, warm afternoon naps, chats with best friends and other such lazy dazy activities. Such is life.

But I have been baking. Baking and preserving. But let's talk about the baking part. I always feel a need to bake in the summer, even when it's sweltering outside, because, well, baking rocks. It's a busy way to waste time, it's relaxing and challenging all at once, and in the end, you always get treats. And I always need treats in the summer time, especially when the end of August rolls around and the start of the school year looms over me, reminding me once again, that play time is over and it will soon be back to work (or legislated back to work as it stands right now ..) So it's settled. Summer time = baking time so let's get to it!

A few weeks ago, I visited one of my favourite farmer's markets, and couldn't resist buying a little basket of sugar plums. These little yellow jewels of sweet and tart usually play second fiddle to the berry and peach bounty that August brings, but at the moment, I could resist scooping up a basket to snack on and play with in the kitchen. The super sweet yellow corn was also calling my name. When I got home, I was aching to put the two together in a baking project. I found this beautiful cornbread muffin recipe after a quick internet search and decided add a double dose of corn to make it extra summery sweet and delicious. These muffins are a perfect afternoon snack, with a cup of nice, strong coffee, but they work perfectly as breakfast in the morning, paired with a bowl of melon or seasonal fruit salad. The little sugar plums provide a beautiful sharp burst of sweet and tart, and when you get a bite with both fresh corn and almost melty, jammy plum, it's like summer exploded in your mouth. Really, I'm not exaggerating. Ok, I might be just a little, but that's ok. These muffins were awesome and you should try them while the plums and corn are still around.

If I had one of two of these little beauties packed away for lunch, it just might ease the first-day-of-school-jitters. We'll see. I'll let you know.  Enjoy the summer while it lasts!

Double Corn Muffins with Sugar Plums
adapted from
makes 24 mini muffins

6 tablespoons of plain skim yogurt
1/4 cup of almond milk
1 egg
2 tablespoons of olive or canola oil
a tiny splash of almond extract
1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup of yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup of natural cane sugar
1/2 tablespoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of diced and pitted sugar plums
1 cob of corn, de-cobbed

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, egg, oil and almond extract. Add the sugar and mix until well combined.

2. Sift in the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and soda, and salt. Fold until just combined. Try not to over mix.

3. Gently mix in the corn kernels and diced plums.  Spoon the batter into prepared muffin tins. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes (for the minis!) until you have nice, puffy golden, springy muffins, or until a cake tester inserted comes out clean.

4. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Refreshing Summer Dessert

I've done a terrible job of posting this summer -- I know. It's not the produce -- the berries are beautiful, the greens are abundant, and the sweet corn is sweet as can be, despite the warnings of bad crops because of our warm March and frosty April. Peaches are sweet and juicy, we've already preserved many pints of strawberries (which are still around in some markets!) and blueberries (from Ontario and all the way from B.C.), and I think I've eaten my weight in green beans (although some yellow and purple ones may have slipped in!) and cherry tomatoes. Recently, I'm seeing beautiful local sugar plums and fresh, pretty speckled roma beans and in certain markets, baskets of beautiful red currents.The basil (purple, and regular) on my balcony is flourishing, as is the thyme. The dill had it's run, but the Italian parsley is hanging in there, and the lavender is still very happy.

But alas, despite the market bounty, I've still sucked at posting this summer. I apologize. This is what happens when I take a course: July wizzes by in a blur of papers, reading and typing, and then when it's over, I feel like doing nothing, and then all of a sudden I'm panicking about planning for September. I now remember why it's been 7 years since my last course. However, procrastinating was definitely a part of this process, and for me, procrastinating always means time in the kitchen.

This time, it involved internet re-runs of the cooking show French Food at Home.  Have you seen that show with Laura Calder? She's incredible, and the other day, I watched her make a wine jelly: a beautiful molded jelly with red and green grapes trapped inside. Beautiful. I wanted to make a non-alcoholic version and take it one step further by trapping bubbles (i.e. carbonation!) in the jelly with the fruit. I also used a vegan substitute for gelatin: agar. It's a jelling agent derived from seaweed and very popular in vegan baking. You could probably get pure, fancy agar flakes at the health food store, but I got mine at an Asian grocery store, and it also contained sugar, so it pretty much worked just like gelatin -- check out this website for details.  Laura used white wine sweetened with sugar in her recipe -- I used white grape juice (totally delicious!) and mixed it with lemon flavoured sparkling water to make up for the extra sugar.  The result was awesome: beautiful summer fruits in a tingly, sweet jelly -- the carbonated water totally worked, and made this dessert extra special. I'm sure if you're in the mood for alcohol, a nice sparkling wine (Prosecco perhaps?) would work nicely. Whatever you choose, go the sparkling route. the jelly leaves a nice tingly sensation on your tongue and makes you savour and enjoy every bite.

Summer can't be over yet, right? Right?!

Sparkling Jelly with Summer Fruit
inspired by Laura Calder
serves 4

1 large peach
1/2 pint of fresh raspberries
1 cup of white grape juice
1 cup of lemon flavoured sparkling water
1 tablespoon of sugar-agar powdered mixture or gelatin
2 tablespoons of water

1. Cut your peach into quarters. Cut each quarter into six little cubes and place them in 4 half-cup ramekins. Divide the raspberries evenly between the ramekins. Set aside.

2. Dissolve the agar in the water and let it sit for a bit. Meanwhile, heat up the grape juice in a small pot. As it just comes to a simmer, add in the agar-water mixture and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat immediately and add the sparkling water.Stir well.

3. Pour the liquid mixture into the ramekins. Let them sit at room temperature until they cool down. They will probably set as they cool. Place them in the fridge to chill.

4. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Embracing Lunch

 What does your lunch look like today? I have to admit that until recently, my lunches were pretty pathetic. I was never a breakfast skipper -- there's always a smoothie around or jazzed up oatmeal on weekends. Even when I'm on vacation, breakfast is always a must -- even if it's a bagged granola and warm pineapple juice (ahem .. that was Spain 2005.. don't ask ..). I almost never skip dinner -- it was a big affair growing up and everybody would sit down. Occasionally I've had hot chocolate and pretzels from the back a car (ahem .. Monton 2010...) and sometimes it's a bowl of chocolate granola at 5:30 and a bowl of Raisin Bran at 8:30 .. but that's rare, and it's still dinner. Lunch on the other hand I'm more prone to skipping, especially on lazy summer days when the morning melts into the afternoon, and I've already been eating mounds of watermelon and drinking too many cups of iced tea. Lunch doesn't seem to fit in.

But for the last couple of days, I've embraced lunch. It's helped that I had beautiful fresh organic eggs and veggies that needed to be eaten up, and a huge craving for citrusy orangey treats -- the perfect time to pull out a little jar of homemade mixed citrus marmalade from the winter. And I poached an egg! For the first time! Lunch is great!  Here's a peak ...

This is: toasted english muffin with marmalade, blanched green beans, carrot sticks, grapes, lemony sparkling water with berries and some good reading.

This is: poached egg (!!) nice and runny and yolky with pepper and herbes de provence on top of blanched green beans, half a peach, grapes, and toasted english muffin with marmalade.

This is: the last of the green beans, chickpea salad -- cooked chickpeas smashed with celery, chopped mint and basil, a dollop of yogurt, mustard, a squeeze of lime juice.

Ok, this is more like dinner, but still ... : beautiful organic eggs scrambled with fresh Ontario spinach, a handful of leftover chickpeas and lots of fresh herbs -- basil, mint and thyme, with beautiful cherries on the side.

I admit that these beautiful lunches only lasted for a few days, and then it was back to watermelon, iced tea and handfuls of granola. But hey, I'm learning.  What should I have for lunch today?