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!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Here We Go

Hello out there?

I am back at this again. 
I've just spent an entire summer eating incredible food, growing a vegetable garden in my back yard, wandering through countless farmers markets, and experimenting with dairy-free baking (gasp!) and, dear readers, or lack there of, i want to share all of it with you! It's a good deal really: I do all the experimentation. That which turns out well is what I will happily and whole heartedly share with you. That which is a disaster, I will kindly keep to myself. 
I am about to enter into another semester of University and am determined to find time to cook, bake and write. And by write I mean besides all the essays and papers that are about to be thrust upon me. I mean writing FOR FUN! No deadlines! No dead-end topics and minimum/maximum words to worry about! Hooray!
So, this is my project. And even as a full time student, I am determined to do this. I will find the time, I will make the time. I will not loose sight of what it is a really love to do. Which just may be exactly this: spreading the word about good food!