Whether I made them or just ate them, here are a few bites that have fed my heart and soul this past year. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into 2013! Happy New Year!
Category Archives: Treats
There is a certain fast food chain that celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with a suspicious green sludge dubbed the “Shamrock Shake”, while I admit to having consumed one or two in my reckless youth, I’m no longer foolish enough to put the 54 ingredients that add up to 820 calories of no-goodness into my body. Especially not when I’ve created a delicous and very healthy drink I’m calling the Shamrock Smoothie.
I came up with this smoothie when my 10 year old, Young Fresh Chef, was getting bored with all my fruity smoothie combinations. I was looking through my baking cupboard trying to come up with something fresh when I spied raw cacao powder and mint extract. I am a big fan of mint and chocolate together so I knew I could make something wonderful.
I’ve been adding frozen baby spinach (the kind you buy fresh in the plastic tub) for over a year with my son’s knowledge and approval and when I recently tried frozen kale it got a thumbs up as well. I used frozen bananas as the only source of sweetness and almond milk to help it blend better, but the chocolate and mint are the real stars!
When I tested this on the Young Fresh Chef he finished it down to the last drop and declared it his favourite smoothie ever. So it’s definitely a winner. He couldn’t taste the kale at all, when it’s frozen it pretty much disintegrates when blended. By using bananas that were left to ripen until they were super sweet and then broken into chunks and frozen it could satisfy any sugary craving. I use raw cacao powder to get all the antioxidants and minerals that are usually lost when cocoa beans are roasted. Cocoa powder would still work in a pinch for the flavour.
After sucking back this smoothie I always have a smile on my face and a spring in my step. It’s a much better feeling than what you would get after a visit to your local heart attack shack and your body will thank you for years to come.
Recipe for Shamrock Smoothie
makes 1 serving
1 frozen banana (very ripe)
1/2 cup almond milk (or milk of your preference)
2 handfuls of frozen kale (or frozen baby spinach or a combo)
2 drops of pure peppermint extract (or to taste, it’s powerful stuff!)
2 TBS chia gel (optional, I use 1 part chia to 6 parts water and keep the extra in the fridge for up to a week)
1. Blend all ingredients in a glass or mason jar with an immersion blender (or in a blender)
- Shamrock Shake (chasingcake.com)
- Shamrock Shake *Healthy Version (teacher-chef.com)
- Shamrock Smoothies (todaysmama.com)
- Try This Instead of The Shamrock Shake (snack-girl.com)
- Healthy “Shamrock Shake” for St. Patty’s! (thestripedstrawberry.com)
- Shamrock Shake Facts & Trivia (3quarterstoday.com)
- Signature Shamrock Shake (thelittlegreenplaypen.wordpress.com)
- Green Monster Smoothie or Shamrock Smoothie (inspiredbyfamilymag.com)
- Vegan Homemade Shamrock Shake (Dairy-free) (sprinklesandallergies.com)
What’s your favourite pie flavour?
- Pi Day Mini Pies (caitlinliz.com)
- National Pi Day: Math lovers celebrate illustrious ratio (Video) (wjla.com)
- Happy Pi(e) Day: Cranberry Pie (pieinthewoods.wordpress.com)
- pies for pi day (stuffstephdoes.com)
- A Tasty Twist on “Pi Day” (wsaw.com)
When the leaves twist and turn and fall into colourful piles, waiting for boots to crunch their way through, it’s time to prepare for comfort food simmering on the stove. Years ago we started a tradition for Thanksgiving and Christmas that Young Fresh Chef and I make a batch of homemade cranberry sauce. Mostly I do the prepping and cooking and he just lets me know when it is sweet enough. I had always been a fan of the canned variety, piling it on turkey sandwiches and maybe even eating a spoonful on the sly.
But when you look at the ingredient list on the can it is short and sweet: CRANBERRIES, GLUCOSE-FRUCTOSE, GLUCOSE, WATER. I knew I could do better. I researched recipes years ago and I took the bits and pieces that appealed to me and created my ultimate cranberry sauce! The least daunting of the traditional turkey accompaniments, it’s a great take along if you are invited to a holiday feast.
Living in the heart of B.C.’s cranberry country, I can usually buy cranberries in the Fall, fresh from the bog, at the local Farmers’ Market. They are also easy to find in the produce section in your grocery store this time of year. I usually pick up some extra to fill a vase or pile around a pillar candle for a centre-piece.
Once you have the cranberries, next come the seasonings, and while it is necessary to add some sweetener to balance out the pucker inducing tartness of the berries, you can also add some holiday spice to add layers of flavour. The key to keeping it on the savoury side instead of being jelly is bay leaf and white peppercorns. By placing the smaller spices in a tea ball (or a cheese cloth pouch) you don’t have to fish them out individually, or wonder where that last clove is hiding.
While cranberry sauce completes the holiday table and elevates turkey to a special occasion, it’s also great mixed in with yogurt and granola, slathered on a peanut butter sandwich or maybe just a straight spoonful or two!
Recipe for Spiced Cranberry Sauce
1 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries
1 3/4 cups apple cider or juice
3/4 cup honey (or other sweetener to taste)
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
zest of 1 unsprayed/organic orange
3 whole cloves
4 white or black whole peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 piece of nutmeg seed (optional)
1 thread of mace (optional)
1 allspice berry (optional)
1 star anise pod (optional)
3 cardamom pods (optional)
1 piece crystallized ginger (optional)
salt to taste
1. Place small spices in a tea ball or make a cheesecloth pouch tied with string.
2. Place all ingredients in heavy large saucepan.
3. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
4. Simmer until berries burst and sauce thickens, stirring occasionally (about 20-25 minutes).
5. Remove cinnamon stick, bay leaves and spices.
6. Allow to cool, the sauce will thicken up even more.
7. Refrigerate sauce until cold.
8. Serve with turkey, or yogurt or swirl into muffin batter!
The sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.
Share your favourite homemade holiday tradition in the comments.
- Cranberry Week – Honey Whole Cranberry Sauce (romancingthebee.com)
- imabonehead: Cranberry Jalapeno Relish : Bay Area Bites (blogs.kqed.org)
- Cranberries – Jewels of Thanksgiving Dinner (foodfromthegarden.wordpress.com)
- Recipe: Cranberry Relish (frugalupstate.com)
- Thanksgiving Recipes: Cranberry Sauce (eatdrinkbetter.com)
- recipes: cooking with cranberries (growinggracefarm.wordpress.com)
- Cranberries bumper crop in Brasher Falls (northcountrypublicradio.org)
- Gail’s Cranberry-Orange Sauce (gail1booboo.wordpress.com)
- Healthy Thanksgiving Recipe: Homemade Cranberry Sauce (washingtonian.com)
- Thanksgiving + Cranberry Sauce Recipe + Story (weddinglovely.com)
For our Young Fresh Chef’s birthday we had a skating party with friends and family. There was hot chocolate, marshmallows, chocolate sprinkles and Halloween crafts. There was also cake. For the past few years the deal has been that I make the cakes from scratch and my husband, Exec Chef decorates them. This way, he can take it to the restaurant to work on in his spare seconds and the boy won’t see it until the big reveal at the party.
Since we didn’t have much of a theme to work with this year besides ice and cold, I came up with the concept of making a cake that looked like one of the Papertoy Monsters that our boy had constructed from the book by Brian Castleforte (what a cool last name).
The featured creature on the book cover was one of the first Papertoy Monsters that Young Fresh Chef constructed, Icy Huggy. To my eye, he was the cutest monster and fit well with an ice skating party.
Vanilla cake was requested, so I worked on baking three 9X13″ cakes from scratch, while Exec Chef mulled over our son’s instructions to use as little icing as possible. The boy is known to scrape the majority of icing off any cupcakes or cake slices that come his way, he’s really more of a pie guy. Then he had a brilliant idea, cotton candy. Perfect for the blue fur on Icy Huggy! I remembered seeing blue cotton candy at the candy store at the mall.The cakes were then whisked away to be constructed and decorated for the party.
I tried to capture the birthday boy’s reaction when he saw the cake, but he was just a blur from all the excited jumping up and down. He was surprised, thrilled and impressed. He absolutely LOVED the cotton candy as icing substitute. For once he got have his cake and eat it too (no scraping needed).
What’s the most inventive way you’ve decorated a cake?
I’ve noticed lots of recipes for Black Bean Brownies all over the internet. Some are just regular old butter and sugar brownie recipes while others are vegan, gluten-free, carob recipes. I was looking for something in between. Now, I’m not a big fan of sneaking healthy stuff into treats. I’m more of an eat yer veggies and then enjoy a homemade dessert kind of gal. But, I was going to a barbeque where there was one child with diabetes and another on a gluten free diet. I really wanted to take a dessert that they could both dig into and that maybe even some of the grown ups might enjoy.
I couldn’t find the perfect recipe online, so I concocted my own cobbled together version. They were pretty easy to make, but I did a test run to make sure they’d be good enough to share. When my son, the Young Fresh Chef, tried his first one I asked him what he thought the secret ingredient was. He chewed and thought, then guessed, “Plums?” (We had just bought some gorgeous purple plums) When I told him it was black beans, he shrugged, nodded and ate another one.
All the kids at the barbeque were intrigued by the concept of beans in brownies.After dinner, the bars disappeared rather quickly and there were lots of dimpled chocolate dusted cheeks and whispered requests for the recipe. I even got my husband, the Executive Chef, to try a bite and his, “Not as bad as I thought it would be.” was higher praise than I had ever hoped. Though he totally objects to them being called brownies, he will tolerate the term “bars”.
Black Bean Brownies
I used dried beans that I cooked in my slow cooker with no pre-soak and it took about 6 hours. While the beans were cooling I added a vanilla bean so they would suck up the flavour.
The sweetener can be tweaked to your own taste or what’s available in your pantry. I try to use small amounts of different sweeteners so that there isn’t a predominant taste of any one.
These could also be veganized by using an egg substitute.
1/2 cup cocoa powder or cacao powder
1/2 cup walnuts
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 Tablespoons coconut oil
4 Medjool dates (approximately 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup xylitol
2 cups black beans (rinsed, if canned)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon maple syrup extract
1. Preheat oven to 325.
2. Line a 11X13 baking pan with parchment paper.
3. Place all of the ingredients in a high-powered blender or food processor and blend until fully combined and the beans and walnuts are indistinguishable.
4. Scrape the mixture into the lined pan. Bake until the middle has set, about 30-45 minutes. Let cool COMPLETELY before cutting.
I cut them up into 24 rectangles and froze the extra ones in snack size bags inside one large freezer bag for school lunches.
These taste even better with a smear of peanut butter, you know, if you’re into that kind of thing!
- Black Bean Brownies (cooking by laptop.com)
- Black Bean Brownies – THE Best Gluten-Free Brownie (stridesagainstnarcolepsy.com)
- Blender Brownies (iammaggie.com)
- Super Secret Gluten Free Brownies (redtri.com)
- Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Brownies (threechickstalkingaboutfood.wordpress.com)
- My favourite GLUTEN FREE brownie recipe (carucakes.wordpress.com)
- Slow Carb Fudge Brownies! (thebetterfit.wordpress.com)
- Black Bean Brownies and Other Chocolate Delights (aarp.org)
- black bean brownies, really? (cookieamore.wordpress.com)
So, what’s a girl to do with a tiny tree speckled with neon red sour cherries? Why, make a pie, of course! The tree is so wee that it only yields enough fruit for one little pie, so I knew I had to make it the best pie ever. Fortunately, I had a very enthusiastic cherry pitter in my son. Unfortunately, my husband decided to sing the one line he know’s of Warrant’s smash hit, “She’s My Cherry Pie”, the ENTIRE time the pie was being prepped, baked, cooled and eaten. Now, I know this pie was a success because my husband ate not one, but TWO slices of the pie. After the Peach Pie Pecadillo, this was a pleasant surprise.
Lattice-Top Pie Dough
3 cups (15 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
7 Tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled
10 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
8-10 Tablespoons ice water
1. Blend the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined. Add in the shortening and pulse until it has the texture of coarse sand (about 10 seconds). Space the butter pieces evenly on top of the mixture; pulse until the texture is that of coarse crumbs, with the butter bits no larger than pea size (about 10 1-second pulses). Transfer mixture to a medium size bowl.
2. Sprinkle 8 Tablespoons of the ice water over the mixture. Use a rubber spatula in a folding motion to combine. Press firmly down of the dough with the spatula until it sticks together, use the remaining 2 Tablespoons of ice water if needed. Divide the dough into two balls (16 oz and 14 oz) and flatten into discs (5 inches and 4 inches). Wrap separately in cling film and refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to 2 days, before rolling out.
Lattice-Top Sour Cherry Pie
1 recipe Lattice-Top Pie Dough
Flour for dusting the work surface
1/4 cup (1 oz) cornstarch
1 cup sugar (plus 1 Tablespoon for the top crust)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
drop of pure almond extract (or teaspoon of almond liqueur )
sour cherries (one tree full or about 6 cups, pitted)
1. Remove dough from the refrigerator and allow to sit until malleable. Roll the larger disc to a 15 inch by 11 inch rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick, between two sheets of parchment paper then transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet (you can reuse one of the parchment sheets to roll the bottom crust). Trim the long sides of the rectangle and then cut lengthwise into 8 strips (15 inches long by 1 1/4 inches wide). Place the baking sheet in the freezer until firm (about 30 minutes).
2. Roll out the smaller piece of dough to a 12 inch circle. Transfer to a 9 inch pie plate. Leave the dough that overhangs the lip of the pie plate and place in the freezer until firm (about 15 minutes).
3. Mix the cornstarch, sugar (adjust to taste), cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Toss with the cherries and almond extract (or almond liqueur).
4. Take the dough strips out of the freezer, if they are too stiff to be flexible, let them warm up just a bit. Weave the strips into a lattice top (Smitten Kitchen has a great MacPaint How To). Put back into the freezer until firm again (about 15 minutes)
5. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and place a baking sheet on it (to catch any excess juices) and preheat to 500.
6. Take the dough covered pie plate from the freezer and fill with the cherry mixture. Remove the lattice top from the freezer and place on top of the filled pie crust. Trim the lattice scraps and fold the overhanging dough into a crimped pattern. Lightly brush the lattice with 1 Tablespoon water and sprinkle with 1 Tablespoon sugar.
7. Turn the oven down to 425 and place the pie on the baking sheet. Bake until the crust begins to brown (25 to 30 minutes). Rotate the pie and turn the oven to 375; continue baking until the crust is a deep golden brown and the cherry juices are bubbling up (25 to 30 minutes longer).
8. Cool the pie on a wire rack for a minimum of 2 hours before serving. Cut at least two slices before you try to remove one.
- National Cherry Month: 4 Things To Do With Cherries (savings.com)
- pie for a crowd … Sour Cherry Slab Pie (stresscake.wordpress.com)
- How To Make Healthy Summer Pies (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- The Perfect Cherry Pie (pointsandfigures.com)
- Pieday Friday: Sweet Cherry Pie (theheartyherbivore.com)
There is the family you are born into (or adopted into) that you make the best of and there is the family you create that you try to make the best. I was luckily born into a family that accepts me for who I am and loves me for all I am. Each passing year I grow to appreciate them more and more. Luck is less a part of the family I’ve made with my friends and my husband and more about learning and growing. I’ve surrounded myself with people who are worth the effort and never stop trying to show them how much I care.
Once in a while a moment comes when I’m forced to consider what my days would be like without certain people in my life. I’m a contingency planner and I usually have plans B through Z ready to go. But trying to picture picking up the pieces and putting them back together without the corner pieces means it will never be complete again.
So, how do I show the people I love with every beat of my little heart the depth of what they mean to me? I bake. I measure and mix and blend and fold and frost and fret. You are what you eat and I want them to taste the love I attempt to infuse in every morsel. Loving someone with all your heart is to risk breaking it while attempting a new recipe is a risk baking it.
I never liked angel food cake. Mostly, I’d sampled grocery store versions or ones that tasted like the box they came in. I liked the name and the look, but had never enjoyed the taste. I found it dry and spongy with a fake almond-ish aroma with no real flavour to savour. I’d never thought of trying to make one, because I didn’t see the point. Then I had a request for one from a lovely someone celebrating an extra extraordinary birthday. Now, as much as I like to cook and bake for friends, loved ones and random strangers, I rarely take requests. It’s more about a recipe that I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to try, or an ingredient that I need to use up.
When venturing into new recipe territory I call on my trusted baking reference Baking Illustrated: The Practical Kitchen Companion for the Home Baker which I love for its breakdown and explanation of how they tested and re-tested their version of the classics and the thought process behind the evolution. With their recipe for a blueprint, I then searched the Internet for sure-fire tips and tricks to make it as fool-proof as possible. The most useful answers I found were on the America’s Test Kitchen Feed website. Not surprising, since America’s Test Kitchen is the crew behind Baking Illustrated!
Technique and tasks down, I just needed the tools. Thankfully my thoughtful and hopeful husband had given me my first food processor for Christmas and my Mother’s Day Kitchen Aid Mixer without which I probably would not have dared to take on the Angel Food Cake challenge. The last key item was an Angel Food Cake pan that had belonged to my Mother-In-Law, so I was confident it was imbued with baking magic as she was the most gifted home baker I’ve ever seen.
I baked the cake the night before the momentous birthday and let it cool overnight. In the morning I tossed together a citrus salad with tangerines, oranges, Meyer lemons, sweet limes, pink grapefruit and pomelo. A touch of honey and a pinch of kosher salt balanced the flavours. The Kitchen Aid mixer was put to use again to quickly whip some organic heavy cream with powdered sugar, homemade vanilla extract and a smidgen of kosher salt.
I admit that I was a bit nervous when I gently cut into the cake with a serrated knife. Would it be mushy in the middle? Overly dry? No. It was heavenly. I finally understood that Angel Food Cake is just a moist meringue given structure by the flour. The vanilla, lemon and almond came together in a celestial harmony that had me savouring every bite. The slightly sweetened whipped cream and the brightly flavoured citrus salad made each forkful an enjoyable combination of texture and tastes. The cake was a hit! Watching some of my favourite people on this planet enjoying my very first Angel Food Cake made my heart soar high above the clouds.
1 cup (3 ounces) plain cake flour
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
12 LARGE egg whites (1 3/4 cups plus 2 Tablespoons) at room temperature
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1. Preheat oven to 325 once oven rack is in the lower-middle position. Have an UNgreased tube pan (9 inch diameter, 16 cup capacity) at the ready. Removable bottom pans are best, but if not an option then line with parchment paper.
2. Process granulated sugar in a food processor until powdery. Remove about half of the sugar and reserve in a small bowl.
3. Add the flour to the food processor and aerate them until mixed and fluffy.
4. Beat the egg whites at low-speed until just broken up and beginning to froth. Add the cream of tartar and salt and continue to beat at medium speed until soft, billowy mounds form. Still at medium speed, beat in the reserved sugar, 1 Tablespoon at a time and mix until soft shiny peaks form. Add the vanilla, lemon juice and almond extract, beat until blended.
5. Sift the flour-sugar mixture oven the beaten egg whites in three additions gently folding the flour-sugar mixture in after each addition with rubber spatula.
6. Scrape the cake batter into the pan gently and smooth the top with the spatula then give the pan a couple of raps on the counter to release any large air bubbles.
7. Bake until the cake is golden brown and the top springs back when firmly pressed (50-60 minutes).
8. If the cake pan has feet around the rim, invert the pan so it rests on them. If there are no feet invert the pan onto the neck of a bottle. Let the cake cool completely, 2 to 3 hours.
9. Once cool, run a knife around the edge of the pan. Slide the cake out and cut around the removable bottom or peel off the parchment. Use a serrated knife to cut, serve the same day.
I always enjoy making treats for my loved ones, even more so for special occasions. My darling Momette’s birthday comes just before the heart-filled hoopla that is Valentine’s Day and I always focus on that first before I think about V-Day. Now, Momette has been all about the health food for as long as I have known her (umm… my whole life). As a child, I endured countless tofu cheesecakes but was never convinced that it was superior to the original cheeseful version. The list of things she will/will not eat changes with each book she reads, show she watches and podcast she hears (I call her the texting granny, for her encouraging embrace of technology).
I was inspired by one of my favourite healthful blogs, My New Roots, to try a recipe for date squares that would fulfill all of Momette’s requirements and maybe a little more. Raw: Check! Vegan: Check! Gluten Free: Check! Sugar Free: Check! Delicious: Check!
Young Fresh Chef and I enjoyed a few samples and wiped the date filling bowl clean with carrot slices that were intended for his lunch (it’s amazing how much he likes to “cut” veggies with the food processor). I used a Buck Brand navel orange for the zest and the juice in the filling and it gave it a nice flavour that balanced the sweetness of the dates. The orange flavour was strongest when they were first made and mellowed out over time.
At the last minute I whipped up some Quinoa Quookies which I just made up off the top of my head. I had some left over breakfast quinoa and I combined it with chia gel, golden raisins, ground walnuts, coconut oil, maple syrup and some spices. There was no measuring, so I can’t call it a recipe. They ended up pretty tasty, the texture was a bit odd, that’s why I don’t feel like I can call it a cookie. I prettied up the sweeties by placing them in muffin papers and I loaded up a tin to take over to Momette’s for a B-Day Tea Party.
We enjoyed our tea and treats and had a good chat. She loved both choices, and said she was glad that I hadn’t made some fluffy white flour cake for her (do I know her, or what). I love spending time with my Mom and I’m always happy when I can brighten up her day. She has always been a wonderful support and cheerleader for me and taught me so much. She is my first Valentine and holds an extra special spot in my heart.
What is the best treat you have made for someone, or that someone has made for you to celebrate an occasion?