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Cranberry Craze

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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

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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.

Black Bean Brownie Bandwagon

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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.

Ingredients:

3 eggs

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

Method:

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!

How do you like your greens? Crisp!

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I remember clearly my first taste of Coffee Crisp. I had one in my bag of Halloween loot many moons ago (pretty sure I went as a clown, can’t get much scarier than that!) and the first taste of bitter coffee was too much for my young palate, I spat the tiny half chewed treat into the trash, only to have my mouth then filled with the mochalicious aftertaste. I learned not to judge a food by its first flavour profile as there may be more, and better, to come.
When I first had kale, it was cooked by Momette without additional flavouring. I did not enjoy it, to say the least. But, when, as an adult, I bravely shared a spicy kale-centric dish at Vij’s restaurant with my husband, it was fantastic! I realized that kale was just a vessel and must be filled with flavour.

Kale has a ridiculous amount of nutrients and calorie for calorie is the best thing you can give your body! It’s a sturdy leafy green that can take the heat and soaks up flavour like a tasty sponge.

My new summertime favourite is when Exec Chef blanches kale, marinates it in lemon juice and garlic, then throws it on our charcoal grill. Seriously, I could eat it all day long. Smoky, sour, garlicky goodness that sticks to the ribs (and goes well with ribs!).

The blogosphere has been whispering in my ear about the amazing tastiness of kale chips/crisps. The words are compelling, but the images lean more toward the repellant. Dry green leaves covered in goop. I’ve been enjoying kale in soups, now that the grill has been put away for the season, and it was only a craving for chips of the potato variety that made me join the food focussed blogistas in their kale chip cult.

I had been resisting the urge to buy Honey Dijon Kettle Chips until one day the snack food satellites aligned in my local Save-On-Foods. Kettle Chips were on sale for 2 bags for $5, the racks were mostly empty and there wasn’t a single orange mustardy bag of goodness to be found. It was only when I was zipping back to the produce department to grab some purple yams (so pretty!) that my eyes landed on a single bag of potato-ey gold that had been abandoned by the newly installed self checkouts. I practically scaled the Mt. Everest of Lucky Charms boxes, shoving Lucky and his crusty “marshmallows” to the side, to rescue the lonely bag. It was obviously meant to be mine and I may have stroked it gently as I made my way to the register.

Once I had them in the kitchen, I decided to reverse engineer the tongue tantalizing taste and find a less nutritionally void vehicle to deliver dijon spiked sweetness to my pleasure centre. I mixed, tasted, mixed again and used the excuse of “research” and “comparative analysis” to stuff my face with the crispy taters. I used olive oil as a base with Keen’s mustard powder, one of my go to ingredients for all things savoury, providing the necessary tongue curling zing which was mellowed by Maille’s Dijon Originale and creamed honey. Apple cider vinegar provided a tangy kick, which was rounded out by onion and garlic powder. Tumeric added it’s sunny colour and an earthy sweetness that only needed the finish of salt and pepper to match the taste of the half-finished bag of inspiration.

I massaged by mustardy elixir with my tumeric toned hands into the waiting leaves of kale. The oven dried them to a crispy conclusion and it was time for the final comparison.

The translucent leaves shattered into delicate shards on my tongue and the flavour was almost exact, there was just a subtle vegetal undertone that melded nicely with the mustard. They were a hit with Young Fresh Chef and he insisted on packing them in his school lunch for the next day. So, if you’ve been resisting the call of kale, give in!

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