Monday, December 21, 2009

Oh Shoot..

Hi there. It's been a while..

Christmas time is always my favorite time of year. I love the lights and the music and all that anticipation. I also love how it is the one time of year where I eat cookies whenever I feel like it, which is usually multiple times a day. I bake, I work, I watch 'A Charlie Brown Christmas', I study for finals. When it comes down to it, I am one heck of a busy girl at Christmas time. I apologize for the lack of posts, but now I'm back. I promise.

Almost all of the 13 batches of cookies I baked are gone now, and it's a dang good thing. If I get offered another cookie anytime soon, I am afraid I just might have to [gasp!] say no. I've probably eaten my weight it cookies, which is appalling, considering how healthy I normally am. Normally I am eating legumes and raw vegetables all day. Christmas does some weird things to me. I think I've hit rock bottom though. I am completely sugared out. I've had enough cookies, enough candy, enough cake to last me well into next year. And speaking of years, a new one is just around the corner. We are standing on a pile of uncertainty that only a new year could hold, but isn't it exciting? Over the past year I've learnt that there is no sense in worrying about the unknown. The thing is that right now, in this exact moment, I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Not knowing is kind of scary, I guess, but I am eager and ready to jump right in.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Top Secret

Once upon a time, from 1992 to 1994, my family resided in a frighteningly cold city called Edmonton. Upon our arrival in August it snowed. My mom cried, my dad shrugged, and we all tried not to think of how long it would be until we could go back home to Vancouver. My dad was finishing off his PhD at the University of Alberta, while my mom stayed at home and desperately tried to protect us from frost bite. My brother and I loved to play in the snow and there were only two rules: 1. Balaclavas were manditory. And 2. If the temperature dipped below -20 we weren't allowed outside.

We lived in a modest apartment just off of Whyte Ave. I don't remember it much, except that in the few months of warm weather we got a year, the garden out front was filled with bright bulbous, red flowers that smelt like dirt. Also, one time a skunk decided to make itself a home right underneath our apartment building. That was unfortunate. The one and only thing I remember clearly about that apartment was a wonderful woman named Linda Chorney who lived on the same floor as we did. Linda was a friend of my dad's from school. She was an artist who had hair down to her bum and an apartment full of masks. I loved to go to her house because it was full of toys and sometimes, if I was lucky, Linda would french braid my hair. I vividly remember my brother and I running down the hall to her apartment to visit with her. She would make us butterscotch pudding and we would sit in the middle of the kitchen floor spooning that sweet creamy pudding slowly into our mouths.

When our first Christmas in Edmonton came around, Linda presented us with a gift that would change our lives forever: a box full of innocent-looking Gingerbread men. "Oh how cute!" was probably the first reaction. But my how we were caught off guard by the first bite- these certainly weren't the gingerbread we had previously known. It was the texture that threw us for a loop. You see, Linda's gingerbread are soft, tender, and slightly chewy. Our love for these cookies was instantaneous. We were hooked.
Lucky for my mom, we never had to endure another snow storm in August again and we didn't stay in Edmonton forever. In 1994 we said goodbye to Linda and moved back to Vancouver. Linda promised to keep in touch and that she did. Nearly every holiday of the year Linda would send us a package. It would be loaded with all sorts of goodies: festive stickers, little toys, and a batch of her soft little gingerbread men. We looked forward to these parcels with the approach of every season. We quickly came to realize that no distance could keep us from our gingerbread friends.

Linda eventually grew tired of Edmonton and moved to Victoria. The packages became fewer and fewer and eventually stopped all together. Surprisingly the world kept spinning and the holidays still came and went the same. We nearly forgot about the famous gingerbread altogether until...

It was Christmas time last year. I was shuffling through my dad's very unorganized, very large, very messy recipe book looking for something inspiring. A little brown envelope caught my eye. "Recipes" was scrolled delicately across the front of the envelope. Curiosity got the better of me then, and I am sure glad it did. Inside lay that top secret, highly-coveted recipe for Linda's gingerbread. Right then and there I stood in the kitchen and started screaming. This is true. And if this doesn't give you an idea of how incredible these gingerbread are, then I don't know what will. I had uncovered the top secret recipe that I thought was lost forever. It was some kind of miracle. I baked a batch that very afternoon. We sat around the dining room table slowly eating our gingerbread men with blissful looks on our faces. It had been a long time since our last rendezvous, but things still felt the same. It was comforting and oh-so familiar, like and old friend you haven't seen in years. We sat there, nibbling on arms and legs, wrapped up in memories of snowfalls in the middle of summer and the woman who started it all.
Linda's Gingerbread

The key to soft gingerbread, Linda writes, depends on three steps:
1. Make the dough soft (just firm enough so that you can transfer it from the work surface to the pan)! If the dough is too stiff, she suggests that you add a bit of milk. I however have never had this problem... you should be fine :-)
2. Cut the cookies thick!
3. Remove the cookies from the oven just before they are fully cooked. They will be soft when they leave the oven but they'll harden as they cool! I have found that 9-10 minutes does the trick for me.

1 ½ cups butter
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups molasses (I use just under two cups of cooking molasses)
3 tablespoons vinegar
7 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¾ teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cream together butter and sugar. Then dissolve baking soda in molasses. Add molasses mixture to creamed mixture along with vinegar.
Sift together next seven ingredients and add to creamed mixture. Combine thoroughly.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and roll to about ¼ of an inch thick. Cut dough with cookie cutter and transfer shapes to a parchment-paper-covered pan.
Bake cookies 9-10 minutes.

Yield: Makes a lot of gingerbread men. Fear not, for they freeze beautifully and make lovely, "life-changing" treats for all your friends.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's Begun!

It's December now, and whether you like it or not, the Christmas season is upon us. Last week I took it upon myself to climb into bed with a massive stack of old December issues from Bon Appetit and Gourmet, in pursuit of the perfect Christmas cookie. I am practically giddy at what I found, and so far I've made three different batches of exquisite holiday cookies.
I've heard that as you get older traditions such as Christmas and birthdays become less exciting, but for me, each year I get more and more into things. This year, for example, I had a birthday party for the first time since I was 16. As far as Christmas this year goes, I actually had a sit down conversation with my mom about what she wants me to bake for her parties and, of course, for our family. These are the conversations I dream about. The ones where people are asking me to bake them excessive amounts of sweets. I don't know exactly what it is but it's a fact: I just keep becoming more involved, more enthusiastic, and more excited every year.
Just the mere mention of Christmas baking should put a smile on your face and a burning desire in your heart because between me and you, I have some AMAZING treats to share.
I thought I'd start things off with something simple and sweet. Essentially you are going to make a buttery, slightly crunchy, sugar cookie and then top it with semisweet chocolate, crushed candy canes, and a modest drizzle of white chocolate. It is the kind of recipe you are going to make when you are home alone with your brother and sister, left to your own devises for dinner. It's a straightforward recipe and the result is wonderfully festive. This recipe isn't anything fancy really, just a twist on a holiday favorite, but there is something about these cookies that is ridiculously addictive. Perhaps is the added crunch from the candy canes. Or maybe it's the buttery, crumbly sugar cookie crust. Whatever it is, you won't be able to keep yourself from grabbing just one more piece.

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies
Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2009

I think it kind of goes without saying that the higher the quality of the chocolate you use, the better the overall result is going to be. I generally go for, and highly recommend Callebaut chocolate, but Lindt or Perugina will do just fine.

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 cups all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
½ cup finely chopped peppermint candy canes (about 3 ounces)
2 ounces high-quality white chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray 13 x 9 x 2- inch metal baking pan with nonstick spray. Line bottom of pan with long strip of 9-inch-wide parchment paper, leaving overhang on both short sids f pan. Whisk four and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in sugar. Continue beating until mixture is light and fluffy, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla, then egg yolk. Gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed just to blend.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls into prepared baking pan, spacing evenly. Using moistened fingertips, press dough to form even layer over bottom of pan. Pierce dough all over with fork.

Bake cookie base until light golden brown and slightly puffed and edges begin to come away from sides of pan, about 30 minutes. Place pan on rack; immediately sprinkle bittersweet chocolate over. Let stand until chocolate softens, about 3 minutes. Using small offset spatula, spread bittersweet chocolate over top of cookie in thin even layer. Immediately sprinkle chopped peppermint candies over.

Stir white chocolate in medium metal bowl set over saucepan of simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Using fork, drizzle white chocolate all over cookies. Chill until white chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.

Using paper overhang as said, lift cookie from pan and transfer to work surface. Using large knife, cut cookies into irregular pieces.

Store in refrigerator in airtight containers between layers of waxed paper.

Yield: Makes about 36 cookies

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It Ain't So Bad...

Vegetarians have it hard during the holidays. Over the course of three months, my family will have consumed four turkey dinners. In my opinion, that is completely over the top, especially being the only person who doesn't actually eat the stuff. Normally I am a good sport. I load my plate with stuffing, green bean casserole and brussel sprouts. I don't even like brussel sprouts, but it's slim pickings during turkey dinner and a girl's gotta eat. With turkey dinner number three quickly approaching, I knew I needed to take matters into my own hands. And that is precisely what I did.
The solution lay within the pages of Bon Appétit. Just like that. Butternut Squash and Cheddar Bread Pudding! A recipe, I was promised, that would hold it's own during a meal that is most commonly dominated by a gigantic roast bird.
Aside from being slightly time consuming, the recipe was simple and straightforward. The hardest part was cutting the butternut squash, which did not seem to want to be cut at all. Eventually I had it sliced into neat little one-inch cubes, but really, I was not prepared for such a fight. Unfazed by my battle with the squash, I pushed onwards. And I am so glad I did...
The end result was everything I had hoped it would be, and then some. When we all sat down for Thanksgiving dinner, I took a pass on the green bean casserole and brussel sprouts and instead headed straight for my bread pudding. Upon first bite, a smile crossed my face, and I just knew. It was perfect. The texture was delicate and the flavors were subtly complex. I had seconds, and I had thirds.
This baby held it's own oh so beautifully, and let me tell you, I was proud.

Butternut Squash and Cheddar Bread Pudding
Adapted from Bon Appétit, November 2009

As per usual, I tweaked this recipe a bit. I used almond milk, instead of half and half. I also threw in an extra shallot, because after cutting four, I felt bad for the lowly one left over in the bag. Lastly, I used lactose-free cheese, which is my saving grace. I have posted the recipe as I found it in Bon Appétit, but I encourage you to experiment away.

2 pounds peeled seeded butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 ½ teaspoons coarse kosher salt plus additional for sprinkling
7 large eggs
2 ¼ cups half and half
6 tablespoons dry white wine
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 day-old baguette (do not remove crust), torn/cut into 1-inch pieces (about 10 cups)
1 cup chopped shallots (about 4 large)
2 bunches Tuscan kale (about 1 pound), ribs removed, kale coarsely chopped
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt; bake until squash is tender, turning with spatula occasionally, 20 to 25 minutes.

Whisk eggs in large bowl. Add half and half, wine, mustard, and 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt; whisk to blend. Add baguette pieces; fold gently into egg mixture. Let soak 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add shallots and saute until soft, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add kale; cover and cook 2 minutes. Uncover and stir until kale is wilted but still bright green, about 5 minutes (kale will be a bit crunchy).

Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

Generously butter 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Using slotted spoon, transfer half of bread from egg mixture to prepared baking dish, arranging to cover most of dish. Spoon half of kale over bread. Spoon half of squash over bread and kale; sprinkle with half of cheese. Repeat with remaining bread, kale, squash, and cheese. Pour remaining egg mixture over bread pudding. Cover bread pudding with foil. Bake 20 minutes. Remove foil; bake uncovered until custard is set and bread feels springy to touch, about 20 minutes longer.

Preheat broiler; broil pudding until cheese browns slightly, about 2 minutes. Cool 5 minutes and serve.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Promise is a Promise

You are just going to have to trust me on this. My intentions were good, really they were.
I spent an evening scouting out the perfect recipe. I wanted it to be savory, of course, and I wanted to share it with you. I went out and bought special secret ingredients. I came home, tied my apron around my waist and got to work. My goal was to create the most astounding Fried Chickpea Salad that there ever was. I was set, and ready and excited. Alas...
Beautiful, no? Oh yes, I thought so too before I tasted it.
Don't get me wrong, it was good... but it was far from great. You have no idea how sad this made me. I debated about whether or not I should share it with you, but in the end it came down to the fact that it didn't move me. And when it comes to food, I want to be moved!
I'm issuing a formal apology right now, because what came next was quite far from being the least bit savory. What came next was one of my favorite comfort foods of all: French Chocolate Granola. Oh baby, is it ever good.
I didn't take any pictures of it, so this can kind of still count as a savory post! Just a note, my family went through 10 cups of this granola in three days. Bon Appetite!

French Chocolate Granola
Adapted from Orangette

3 cups rolled oats
½ cup almonds, chopped
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tbsp. mild honey
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
½ cup, or more, finely chopped bittersweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 300.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, almonds, coconut, sugar, and salt. Stir well to blend.

In a small saucepan, warm the honey and oil over low heat, whisking occasionally (be careful! the oil may want to splash out!) until honey is loose. Pour over the dry ingredients, and stir to combine

Spread the mixture evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Set a timer to go off halfway through the baking time, so that you can give the granola a good stir; this helps it to cook evenly. When it's ready, remove the pan from the oven, stir well (this will keep it from cooling into a hard solid sheet) and cool completely.

When cool, transfer the granola to a large bowl, storage jar, or zip-lock plastic bag. Add the chocolate, and stir (or shake, if using a jar or bag) or mix.

Store in an airtight container.

Yield: Makes about five cups of granola

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I've Been Caught!

It's happened. I've been caught by some terrible flu/cold thing that I just can't shake. I don't know about you but when I'm sick, my appetite goes somewhere far away, on vacation or something, and becomes almost non existent. So, as can be expected, my diet this week has been completely uninspiring. It has mostly consisted of packages of Fisherman's Friend and mandarin oranges. I can't seem to muster up the courage to step foot inside the kitchen. I would love to whip up a big batch of vegetable soup, but my arms feel like they weigh 50 lbs each. And I want cookies, but only kind of. I know things are rough when not even baking can spark my interest.
The other day, I decided that it would probably be a good idea to introduce some food with actual substance into my diet. I wracked my brain for and idea. It would have to be something simple and easy, because in my current state, everything seems more difficult then it should. Almost instantly I remembered one of my favorite breakfasts from when I was a kid: A Toad-in-the-Hole. I bet there are nearly a million names for the toast with a whole cut in it and then an egg fried in it's center! Oooh yes! It truly is a match made in heaven. And practicality wise, it just makes sense to put your egg inside your bread!
I found some fresh baked bread on the counter (courtesy of my lovely grandmother) and, as usual in my house, our fridge was loaded with eggs. So that was half the work right there. The rest was equally as easy. I like to vamp up my Toad-in-the-Hole a little bit, and I do so by slicing up some aged cheddar and fresh tomatoes and placing them on top of the whole thing. The cheese gets kind of melty and the tomatoes get warm and the whole thing together is like a flavor explosion, in the simplest, most delicious way possible!
My little breakfast was better then I could have imagined. Healthy, and delicious with nearly no effort required! I almost felt energized after it's consumption! Really, sometimes simple is best.
So, I'm passing on this little gem, just in case you are sick, or get sick (but lets hope to goodness you all stay healthy!), so that you can eat something yummy, even when you don't feel much like doing anything at all.


1 piece of whole wheat or multigrain bread
1 egg
3-4 slices of aged cheddar cheese (I use a lactose free kind, and it's fabulous!)
2 slices of tomato

Heat a small fry pan on medium-high heat with a bit of oil or butter on the bottom , just enough so that the egg doesn't stick to the pan.
Cut a hole in the center of a piece of bread. I use a small cup to do this.
Place bread in pan and crack an egg into the hole. Cook on one side and then flip (about 2-3 minutes). On top of cooked side, place cheese and tomato. Let cook for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from pan, season with salt and pepper, and enjoy!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Again and Again

Contrary to what you might be thinking right now, I don't sit on at home all day and eat cupcakes and cookies. I know, judging by the way I run this blog, that it probably seems like my diet consists of butter, sugar, and flour, but the honest to goodness truth is that I RARELY eat sweets. Really, it's true. I do love to bake. It takes my mind off things and whatever is created always brightens someone's day. Basically, before we get started I just want to say, don't loose me here. I don't have a mouth full of sweet teeth. I love to cook savory, hearty, wholesome, healthy meals. I promise, after this post, I'll post things like soups and stews and salads. Just bare with me a little longer!
But today, I want to pay a homage to Martha, again. I've been breaking out Cupcakes like no tomorrow and each time I get wonderful results. If you like cupcakes, go out and buy this cookbook ASAP! Just imagine... cupcakes for ALL occasions... yup, it's as good as it sounds!
Anyway, this week marked the birthday of one of my good friends. We met in grade 8 Humanities class where she befriended my lonely self. She is smart and funny and one of the most genuinely nice people I have ever met. Friends like those are hard to find. We worked together after high school at the same cupcake store, where we took it upon ourselves to "accidentally" drop the cupcakes on the ground so that we could eat them (it really was a smart tactic! I'm not serving a customer a cupcake that's been on the floor, but I sure as heck don't mind eating it!) The cupcake that most commonly make it's way from fridge to floor was the same for both of us: Pumpkin Spice with Cream Cheese Icing. That sweet-spicy, light and airy cake was complimented perfectly by the billowy, slightly tangy cream cheese icing that was piled on the top. I've never attempted to make my own pumpkin cupcakes but a birthday this week gave me a perfect excuse to give it a go.
And so, naturally, I reached for Cupcakes by Martha Stewart. I quickly found what I was looking for: Pumpkin Patch Cupcakes. So the baking commenced. Because I was baking for someone else, someone who undoubtedly prefers real butter and milk to margarine and almond milk, I opted not to use any dairy-free products for this recipe. I figured I'd let my family do the taste testing, and I could just be the lowly baker. This didn't exactly work out...
I sifted. I whisked. I stirred. And what resulted was a big 'ol bowl of batter that tasted far too delicious to be just any type of cupcake batter. It was just so good I could hardly stop dipping my fingers into the bowl. This was a good sign, I decided, and I right then and there declared that these pumpkin cupcakes would be the best pumpkin cupcakes ever. The baking cakes filled the whole house with a spicy sweet aroma, like a fresh baked pie, that was absolutely intoxicating.
As the cakes were cooling, I made my cream cheese icing, which was rich, creamy, and smooth. I tried some of it too. And then once the cupcakes were iced, I may have tried a cupcake or two. My stomach was telling me NO, but my heart was telling me YES, and what's a lactose girl to do? I gave in. Really guys, that's how good they were. I suffered through a minor tummy ache, but it hardly even mattered. And I wouldn't take it back for anything.

So, I suggest baking these. Probably today because it's Halloween and all. And your friends and family will love you for it.
Well, goodbye sweets! I'm so done with the sweet talk for a while. At least until Christmas comes around...

Pumpkin Patch Cupcakes
Adapted from Cupcakes by Martha Stewart

As I mentioned above, I didn't used dairy-free products for this recipe. However, I am nearly positive that you could swap out the milk, butter and cream cheese for dairy-free products and the cupcakes would still turn out wonderfully! Also, I baked both regular-size and baby-size cupcakes. I found that the babycakes took about 6-7 minutes to bake, so if you do choose to make some little ones, make sure you watch them closely.

For Cupcakes:
4 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2½ cups packed light-brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1½ cups canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

For Cream Cheese Icing:
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
12 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 pound (4 cups) confectioners' sugar, sifted
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To prepare cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.
Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and beating until just combined. Add pumpkin puree; beat until just combined.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto rack and let cool completely.

Prepare cream cheese icing:

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add sugar, ½ cup at a time, and then vanilla, and mix until smooth and combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

To finish cupcakes:

Use an offset spatula to spread cupcakes with frosting. Martha suggests topping the cupcakes with a marzipan pumpkin but because I could not find any and did not have the time to make them from scratch, I bought some other festive candies to put on top as garnish.

Yield: Makes 32 standard size cupcakes

Cupcakes can be refrigerated up to 3 days in an airtight container.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I'm in love...

It's Autumn people! Aren't you excited? The leaves have turned all sorts of crazy colours and air now packs a brisk punch. It's the time for turkey and pumpkins and big mugs full of rooibus tea. We lit the pilot light in our fireplace a few days ago, which has been a long time coming (I don't know what is wrong with the people in my family but our air conditioner is STILL on. It's not even warm outside anymore!)! Besides all the usual Fall comforts, the food at this time of year- goodness gracious, the food really gets me. It's still colourful, but in a more earthy way. And it's hearty and warm. What can I say, I'm in love...
Autumn always leaves me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Even in the midst of a plethora of assignments and midterms. Autumn is like the calm before the winter storm and is an absolute breath of fresh air after a stifling summer.
Even as a child I remember looking forward to back to school time far more than the average person would. I remember stomping through piles of leave in my new doc martins with a smile as big as a crescent moon plastered on my face. Back then, fall meant a new wardrobe, new pencils, and pristine white erasers.
Nowadays I can't really afford a whole new wardrobe (dang you tuition, you do not leave me room to indulge in my horrendously expensive tastes!), or really new anything (unless you count new textbooks, but lets not go there) so I settle for something else. Something like Snow Flurry rooibos tea that I get from a sweet little store in West Van for $6.95/100g. Oh and with that tea, I like some cookies. Some spicy, hearty, healthy cookies that I can dunk into my Snow Flurry tea and the slowly slip into euphoria... Mmm yes please.
Oatmeal Harvest Cookies
Adapted (roughly) from Whole Foods Market

These lightly spiced cookies are the perfect fall treat. They are toothsome and loaded with all kinds of super healthy ingredients. Sometimes, if I'm feeling high spirited, I will add about 1/2 a cup of ground flax meal, just to add a bit of extra substance. Hellooooo not-so-guilty pleasures...
Also, the only complaint I ever get about these cookies is that the recipe doesn't make enough! Depending on the size you make the cookies, you should get about one dozen out of the recipe. If that's not enough to keep you happy, double the recipe and all will be well!

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
¾ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) Earth Balance Margarine (or butter)
¾ cup packed brown sugar*
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup almonds chopped
2 cups rolled oats
grated rind of one orange
¾ cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking trays with parchment.
In a small medium bowl, combine whole wheat flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and soda. Whisk to combine.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, cream the margarine and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg, vanilla, and orange zest, until just combined. With a wooden spoon, stir in the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the almonds, oats and cranberries. Drop by heaping tablespoon onto baking trays.

Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown and firm on top. The cookies don't spread very much; so don't worry about crowding them.

* These cookies are not overtly sweet- perfect to enjoy along a mug of hot chocolate, coffee, or tea! If you have a larger sweet tooth, please be advised the the original recipe called for an additional ½ cup of granulated sugar.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Most Important

We've all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but for the first 16 years of my life I refused to have anything to do with it. There was something so unappealing about food first thing in the morning. After all, I hardly had enough time to get myself ready, let alone make an effort to find something to eat at 7:30 a.m. My first year of high school was the worst and my eating habits were horrendous. I would skip breakfast every single day. And as if that's not bad enough, I never brought a lunch. For some reason at that age I never wanted to be seen eating. (Strange? Yes. But would you expect anything differently from a hormone crazed teenager?) Somehow I managed to pull myself through the day running on little to no energy, unless you count a bag of Miss Vickies chips and a root beer slushie a means of sustainable energy.

This goes to say that when I finally made it home at 3pm, I was weak and weary. I was also positively starving. I would rampantly dig through the cupboards and the fridge and consume whatever crossed my path. After that I was always left with one of those horrible way-too-full stomach aches that made me want to curl up in a little ball for a whole afternoon. This is all in part because of my loathe for breakfast. Goodness gracious.
Then one day something changed. Somewhere within the last few years of high school I began to notice a correlation between how I felt when I ate breakfast and when I didn't. The difference was remarkable! Breakfast=ENERGY. It was a miracle! It was like a light switched on in my head and I had finally solved the puzzle. My conversion wasn't immediate. It took some time and started off small. I forced myself to eat a few bits of an apple or a small bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats, and somehow this effort grew into something much, much larger. Sure, it only took me most of my teenage years to learn what my mother had constantly nagged me about ("Jacqueline! You NEED to eat breakfast! It's the most important meal of the day!") and what most people consider common sense, but finally I got it! I felt like a new woman.

Breakfast is now my favorite meal of the day. I love it. In fact, I look forward to it. Most mornings you will find me in the kitchen happily mixing eggs with fresh herbs and green grape tomatoes, creating the most astounding scrambled eggs (I'm telling you people, the secret is black truffle oil, but I'll save that for another day...)! I'm not even fancy-shmacey ALL the time. I've also been known to grab a bowl homemade granola, yogurt and fresh fruit. Sometimes I even reach for a piece of toast with almond butter and jam.
However, one of my favorite things to eat as of lately is baked oatmeal, and baked oatmeal is what I long to share with you! Okay, okay, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, "Gee, that sound gross." Or, "How incredibly dull!" or something along those lines. But I am here to tell you that, on the contrary, this baked oatmeal is really something else. It will have quite an effect on you, even you who claim to never need breakfast. That is quite the claim but I'm standing by it. I think the secret to this recipe is the eggs. They give the oatmeal an enchantingly light texture with a deep, rich flavor. It is chewy, in a pleasant way, and stick-to-your-bones hearty. The flavor is subtly sweet and slightly spicy. And when topped with a little bit of fruit and yogurt, it positively weak-in-the-knees delicious. Did you hear that? I am willing to bet that this recipe will make you weak in the knees. Yes, even you breakfast haters. Consider yourself warned, you are going to be hooked.

Baked Oatmeal

Typically, oatmeal makes me cringe. If I could describe it in one word it would be gloopy. Or soggy. Or gross. However, with a few slight alterations, and the addition of an oven, traditional oatmeal becomes something else. Something wonderful. Something with a delicate flavour and alluring texture. I am quite positive that even if you don't like oatmeal, you will like this. Feel free to play around with the flavours. If you want a little more spice, you could up the cinnamon or add some nutmeg. I prefer this recipe as is, but don't hesitate to experiment!

6 eggs
2/3 cup oil
1 cup sugar
3 2/3 cups oatmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk (almond, soy, or regular!)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon Cinnamon

Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 and bake in a greased 9 x 13 inch pan for 30 minutes.

There are many ways in which you can enjoy baked oatmeal. My personal favorite is when served slightly warm with fresh fruit, chopped walnuts, and So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt! However, feel free to play around with your toppings! Here are just a few other ideas: dried fruit, brown sugar, chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc.), a sprinkle of cinnamon, yogurt, fresh fruit...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Some Peace and Quiet

One of my favorite luxuries as of lately is that sweet spot in the week where everyone is out and about and I am left alone with an empty house. As much as I love family, there is something magical about having peace and quiet in a big empty house. I tend to wander around from room to room, thinking out loud and talking to the cats. I run myself a bath and leave the bathroom doors open. I play MY music. There is no one here to distract or annoy and everything evolves entirely around me. Really, it's a treat! What really gets me though, is when I am home alone for dinner. I'm a simple girl really, and it doesn't take a lot to make me happy in terms of a satisfying meal. Hence why I often opt for something light and fresh. Something quick and easy with loads of flavour. Something like a chickpea salad...
I've had a lot of good chickpea salads, but this one is something else. This one is great. And not only that, it is incredibly versatile. You could put it on top of some fresh spinach and serve as a main course, with pita chips on the side. Or, you could stuff the salda into a wrap with some lettuce, and some sprouts. That would be good too! Or you could simply eat it plain, just as is. See, I could eat this twice a day! No one in my family would ever tolerate my borderline obsessive eating habits, which is exactly why home-alone days are so important; I get to eat whatever my little heart desires, how ever often I want.

Curried Chickpea Salad
Adapted from Whole Foods Market

When I first became a vegetarian I immediately gravitated towards legumes. Chickpeas in particular. I was making bean salads like crazy. That was 2 years ago and I'm still eating this salad on a bi-weekly basis. I suppose that it is generally my go-to home-alone dinner. Or lunch. Either! Or both!

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons maple syrup
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup dried cranberries
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted (optional)
2 15-19 oz. cans cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 red bell pepper
½ cup cilantro or parsley, chopped (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, curry powder, maple syrup and salt. Add cranberries and cumin seeds and toss gently, Add chickpeas, bell pepper, and cilantro and toss again to coat.
You can eat this salad right away but I prefer to let it sit over night. The cranberries plump up and the chickpeas and peppers get a chance to soak up the delicious dressing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It Went Downhill From There...

I'm blaming it all on Julia Child.
It all started a few months ago. I had been hearing so much about that movie, Julie and Julia. Even my monthly subscription to Bon Appetite couldn't help mention it and dedicate a whole issue to Julia Child. It got me excited! So, I researched, I saw the movie, and I promptly decided that I needed that cookbook. YES, THE COOKBOOK! The one you would find on any real chef's bookshelf! The one that has been around for nearly 50 years! The one that has been sold out of every bookstore everywhere for months... Yes, I'm talking aboutMastering the Art of French Cooking. This is the cookbook I have been in hot pursuit of for weeks now. After too many dead-end leads, I was informed that they were finally back in stock on the Indigo website (hooray!). I ordered it and five business days later, it arrived on my doorstep. It was love at first sentence, really. And this is where the trouble began.
You see, I'm two weeks into another semester of school. University, unlike high school, doesn't waste any time getting to the hard stuff. No, you just jump right it. So picture this: I am sitting on the barstool in the kitchen, salivating like mad as I hastily skim through all the lovely recipes. I start to daydream about this great party where all we eat is food from Mastering the Art of French Cooking and drink expensive merlot (or something?). From this point on (this was Monday by the way), all i want to do with my time is make food. Please ignore the mess on that table. That would be my homework. I had this strange idea, like maybe if I pretended hard enough, it would disappear for good. But now, on the table it remains: 50+ pages of reading to do for Psychology alone, and an editing/revising project for Communications. I haven't even mentioned the Philosophy test I should be studying for or the story I should be starting for Creative Writing. Look, I'm sorry! I'm really sorry! I just can't help it. Julia has put me in a trance and I just can't get out!!
Ever since my dear cookbook arrived, I can't stop thinking about cooking and baking and dinner parties. This afternoon, for example, I made Harvest Cookies, Candied Orange Peel, and a Pumpkin Spice Layer Cake with Carmel Cream Cheese Icing, all instead of doing my homework. I brought a cookie (warm from the oven) to my grandma and she smiled and said, "Girl, you should just stay home all day and cook and bake. What are you in school for?" Good question. I hear education is important. Maybe I'll use my degree, maybe I won't. Maybe I'll stay home and bake and cook all day...

I don't have anything really exciting to share with you yet (waiting on pictures of the cookies, and a taste-test of the cake), but here, have have some candied orange peel. It's oh-so -easy to make and delicate and pretty. You'll feel like a confectioner whose been in business for years.

So I'm sending out a warning for all you students who haven't yet got your hands on Mrs. Child's glorious cook book. Be warned. Julia will suck you in and hold onto you so tight, you just might not be able to get to that 2000 word essay. She'll fill your mind full of tasty dinner ideas and send you into a daze. I've got an idea though. When you get the urge, today at least, make something simple. Something like those candied orange peels I was talking about earlier. They won't take you long to make, and you'll feel proud of your accomplishments. Plus, I guarantee that you'll still have time for all that homework! That is, unless you suddenly get the urge to make cookies, and cake, and...

Candied Orange Peel
Adapted from Bon Appetite, February 2005

These candied orange peels remind me of those sugared fruit wedge candies from the grocery store, only they are about a million times better! They have a wonderful sugary-sweet flavor, so feel free to eat them plain. I also like to use them as a garnish on top of a slab of cake or a mug of hot chocolate.

1 orange
1 cup sugar
¾ cup water

Using a vegetable peeler, remove orange part of peel from orange. Cut peel lengthwise into 1/8-inch wide strips. Stir ¾ cup sugar and ¾ cup water in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes. Add orange peel; simmer 15 minutes.

Place remaining ¼ cup sugar in a small bowl. Using slotted spoon, remove peel from syrup and transfer to sugar. Toss to coat. Cool in bowl, tossing occasionally. Cover bowl and let stand at room temperature overnight

Sweet Little Thing

You know how some days you just get an intense craving for something sweet? Something homemade, something simple, something delightful. I have a lot of days like these. Lucky for you, me, and everyone I know, I don't often succumb to such feelings. However, on the rare occasion that I do break down and give in, I want it to be to something good. Something REALLY good. 
And I'm not going to lie, I find myself turning again and again to my gal, Martha Stewart. I've made a number of her recipes now and the brilliant thing is that they ALWAYS turn out. I swear, these recipes are foolproof. Martha could do a feature in 'Baking: For Dummies' if she wanted to and we'd all be left ooh-ing and ah-ing over the finished product because really, it would just be that good. And despite her slightly shady past, I encourage you to put your faith in Martha when looking for a treat to restore your faith in humanity. She won't let you down.
I generally get the urge to bake on days when the weather has taken a turn for the worse. And just last week that's exactly what happened. The sun disappeared and was promptly replaced by an intense amount of rain. On rainy days tea is my drink of choice and on this particular day I really wanted something sweet to eat along side my cup of tea. I knew that I wanted something simple, something with just the right amount of sugar, something like a tea cake. Oh tea cakes make me happy. Every time I have one, I imagine Marie Antoinette's sitting at a table that is absolutely covered with them. I have a feeling they would be something she would have liked. I mean really, you just can't help but want to have a tea party when you make tea cakes. The cupcakes themselves aren't super sweet but have a wondrously tender crumb. The delicious jammy centers are neatly hidden away and add an unexpected sweetness to the cake. And then there is the citrus-y sweet glaze that gets spooned on top of the cakes after they have cooled. Serve with a cup of tea and I bet you won't even mind that the weather is so terrible outside.

Raspberry-Jam Tea Cakes
Adapted from Cupcakes by Martha Stewart 

I ended up making this recipe using raspberry jam, which is my personal favorite, however you can make it with any kind of jam that your heart may desire. Please note that in staying true to my lactose intolerant body, I did not use any dairy in this recipe. Martha would encourage you to used butter and milk and I have no doubt it would turn out wonderfully, but I am here to tell you that the non-dairy way turns out GREAT as well!

For Tea Cakes:
1 cup Earth Balance* margarine 
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
 cups sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature 
½ cup almond milk**
1 cup raspberry jam

For Citrus Glaze:
1½ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted, plus more if needed
¼ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice, plus more if needed

To prepare the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease standard muffin tins with a non-stick spray. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream margarine, sugar, and zest until ale and fluffy. And egg yolks, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in three batches. Alternate with two additions of almond milk, and beat until just combined after each.

In another bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk egg whites to soft peaks; gently fold into batter. Spoon 2 tablespoons batter into each prepared cup. Make an indentation in the middle of each; fill with 1 tablespoon jam. Top with an additional 2 tablespoons batter, covering jam completely.

Bake, rotating tins halfway through until a cake tester inserted in centers of top layers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and run an offset spatula around the edges. Turn out cakes onto wire racks and let cook completely.

Prepare Citrus Glaze:

Whisk together all ingredients until smooth. If necessary, add more sugar to thicken or more juice to thin the glaze. You will want to use the glaze immediately.

To finish:

Drizzle cakes evenly with glaze, and let set, about 30 minutes. Glazed cupcakes can be stored up to 2 days in a single layer at room temperature in airtight containers. 

Serve with a cup of tea and a room full of friends.

Yield: Makes 16 cupcakes

*I highly, HIGHLY recommend that you use Earth Balance margarine if you are not using butter. Earth Balance is 100% all natural and does not use any hydrogenate oils or artificial ingrediants, unlike many other brands of margarine. As well, Earth Balance products are always non-GMO and free of trans fats!
**If you are not using milk, feel free to use plain soy, almond, or rice milk!