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Posts Tagged ‘baking’

Pumpkin muffins

We’re almost in what my sister likes to call Pumpkin Time. Yes, I know Thanksgiving and Hallowe’en are over, and we’re all pretty much over celebrating the harvest. She means Pumpkin Time in the Cinderella sense, as in turning into one — the year’s fun has peaked; it’s done. Pumpkin Time is where Autumn turns to Almost Winter.

November and I have an uneasy relationship. My birthday’s this month, and when I was a kid I usually had snow for my birthday, though not enough for a fun outdoor party. (I really feel that my spiritual birthday is in April, but never mind.) As an adult, this month is when I really start to feel the descent into cold and dark. My brain starts to really miss the sunlight.

In fact, the descent usually starts this weekend, when we turn the clocks back and trade a brighter morning for a darker evening. I hate that we mess with time like this; it’s one of the few reasons why I would ever want to live in Saskatchewan. I’ve done better in recent years in managing my seasonal affective disorder, but even so, to me November is the Month of Dread.

BUT! This week the weather has granted me a bit of reprieve. Sure, there’s more of a chill on the air, but the past few days here have been so sunny and golden. The leaves have turned but the trees are still half-full. I want these days encased in amber.

For now, Pumpkin Time isn’t so bad.

These muffins are a recent happy discovery. Lately I’ve been working on introducing Penny to new tastes, and it turns out freshly-baked tiny muffins are the perfect vehicle for new tastes. Warm? Check! Starchy? Check! Slightly sweet? Check!

To up the nutritional factor I used whole-wheat flour along with white, and applesauce so that I could get away with adding a bit less sugar. The molasses and spices give it a touch of pumpkin pie flavour. It’s a big hit with the kid.

Pumpkin muffins
makes 1 dozen muffins or 2 dozen mini-muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground clove

1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup  brown sugar
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. molasses
1 1/2 tsp. freshly-grated ginger root
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Optional: 1/2 cup of toasted pepitas or pecans, plus more for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare a muffin tin; either with paper liners or lightly grease each well with butter or cooking spray.

Sift together all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl. (Or if you’re lazy, like me, you can measure all the dry ingredients into the bowl and then whisk to combine.)

In a smaller bowl, mix together the pumpkin, applesauce, yogurt and brown sugar; whisk together until the sugar is well incorporated. Add the oil, molasses and grated ginger and mix to combine. Last of all, add the eggs one at a time and mix just until combined. If you’re adding pepitas or pecans, mix them in now. Spoon the batter into each muffin well and top with extra pepitas or nuts.

Bake for approximately 25 to 30 minutes (about 15 for mini-muffins) and let cool for five minutes before removing the muffins from the tin.

Serve warm. These are delicious with maple butter, apple butter, almond butter or just plain butter.

Do-ahead: If you want to make these for breakfast, mix up the batter the night before and keep in a covered container in the fridge. As a bonus, I’ve noticed that the flavour of ths spices is more developed if you do this.

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If harvest season were a novel, this would be the denouement.

For the past few months we’ve had farm-fresh produce delivered right to our door through a CSA with our neighbour’s family farm, and it’s been a fantastic experience. Unpacking the box every Saturday afternoon felt a bit like Christmas: what do we get this week? Raspberries! Baby kale! Golden beets! I’m sure it was just a few weeks ago that the volume and variety of veg in the box reached a fever pitch, but now it’s tapering off, and this week we’ll see our last box.

One thing I have especially enjoyed about the CSA is how seamlessly the season unfolded. First, shoots and greens, then ripe juicy veg, then the hardened and sturdier roots and gourds. Of course, the progression isn’t neat and tidy; along with the last of something you get the first of something else. Like the last of the tomatoes, and the first autumm squash.  This first squash was funny, though – pale, tender flesh like zucchini, skin as tough as an autumn squash. Not quite summer squash, not quite autumn squash.

What to do? Turn on the oven, I thought.

A long slow bake does wonders for both squash and tomatoes, after all. Toss in some leeks, fresh herbs and a generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and you’ve got yourself a delightful side dish. Or, with a fried egg and some crusty bread, a divine brunch.

Few better ways to say goodbye to summer’s last veg.

 

Tomato and Squash Gratin
serves 4 as a side dish

1 tbsp. olive oil
2 small leeks, sliced

1 pound summer squash, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 pound ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/4 cups grated parmesan
salt and pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil

Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cook the leeks: In a medium-sized skillet over medium heat, saute the leeks until soft and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Spread the leeks evenly in the botton of an oiled square baking dish, and let them cool.

To assemble the gratin, start with sprinkling some of the chopped herbs over the cooked leeks. Starting at one of the baking dish, lay down a row of slightly overlapping tomato slices,propped up slightly at an angle, and sprinkle them with herbs, salt and pepper. Cover the tomatoes with parmesan. Next, arrange a layer of squash slices over the tomatoes and repeat with the seasonings. Repeat with alternating layers of tomatoes and squash, seasoning and covering with cheese, until the pan is full. Sprinkle the whole thing with a healthy pinch of salt and pepper, the remaining herbs and cheese, and drizzle the whole thing with olive oil.

Bake for at least an hour, during which time the juices will bubble and reduce significantly, and the top will be well browned.

Can be made in advance and reheated before serving. This gives the flavours even more chance to get acquainted.

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You wouldn’t know it from my name, but ethnically speaking I’m more Irish than anything.

The year that I was twenty-two, I went to Ireland with my Mom and my sister to connect with our Irish roots.

We travelled through Ireland like Canadians; which is to say, we drove ridiculously long distances that no sane Irish person would. As Northern Ontarians we’re accustomed to driving at least eight hours just to get to someplace interesting, but we hadn’t accounted for the narrowness, curviness, and overall treachery of the roads. Sure, it may be only 250 km or so from Dublin to Donegal.  That only takes a few hours on our nice, wide, Canadian roads. But in Ireland, the lanes were so narrow that I was always worried about sideswiping the lorry next to us. (And at one point we did lose our hubcap in downtown Belfast after hitting a curb. Never mind.) On the rural roads, signage was spotty and the National Roads Authority didn’t always see fit to put up protective barriers between driving lanes and cliffsides. What I’m getting at is, the distance may have been manageable, but the drive itself felt so perilous we really should have taken it slower.

So a lot of my memories of Ireland involve driving and the green, rocky, rolling landscape. But me being me, a few meals shine out too. At a pub in Galway I ate a creamy coconut vegetable curry n top of boxty, which is basically a potato pancake. I had Ploughman’s lunch for the first time. In the small town of Doolin (which was special because my mother’s maiden name is Dooling) I had a  seafood chowder that I am still trying to recreate.

And everywhere we ate, it seems, there was always a basket of dark brown bread on the table. Hearty, crusty, staff-of-life bread that I couldn’t get enough of. After I came home I tried to recreate it, but could never get it right.

The problem was that I always assumed it was a yeast bread, but I recently learned that it’s not. Basically, it’s soda bread. But not what North Americans think of as soda bread; there’s no currants and it’s whole wheat, not white.  Apparently in Ireland everyone has their own way of making it, but the main components are straightforward: whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk.

This recipe includes a few other ingredients, like additional bran and an egg to help bind it, but it’s a pretty simple bread to bake. It is dense and crusty and filling enough to make a meal along with a bowl of soup. It’s still not quite what I ate in Ireland, but I’m happy enough to keep making wheaten breads like this in hope of finding the elusive perfect batch.

 This week, let this be your nod to Irishness. It’s way better than green beer.

Notes: You can bake this freeform on a baking sheet, but I like using a springform cake pan to help the bread rise higher.

Irish wheaten bread
(adapted from Epicurious)

1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for shaping
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 3/4 teaspoons salt 
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3/4 cup of either: wheat bran, wheat germ or oat bran (or a combination of all three)
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 large egg
About 1 3/4 cups buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 425 Fahrenheit, and lightly grease and flour a 10″ springform cake pan. (Alternatively, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.)

2. In a large bowl, combine the whole wheat and all-purpose flours. Using a box grater, grate the cold butter into the flour mixture and mix to combine evenly. Stir in the remaining dry ingredients.

3. Break the egg into a two-cup glass measuring cup and beat lightly with a fork. Add enough buttermilk to make two cups’ worth of liquid, and combine. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the buttermilk mixture. Stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until the dough comes together into a wet, shaggy mass.

4. Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface and dust with some additional flour. Shape the dough into a round roughly 7 to 8 inches across. Don’t worry about shaping it too perfectly; the beauty of this bread is that it’s crusty and nubbly. With a sharp knife, score a cross on the top of the bread. Brush the top of the dough with water, or the watered-down end of the buttermilk-egg mixture.

5. Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes, until it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. The centre should register at 195 or 200 with an instant-read thermometer. Let cool and serve warm or at room temperature.

The bread keeps well for two or three days if wrapped, and freezes well.

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Can we just take a moment and acknowledge that despite its many virtues, meatloaf is not very photogenic?

How about if I strategically place it on a nest of *Confetti Kale?  

 

Yeah, still not that great. So let me say that despite its humble appearance, this meatloaf is pretty spectacular.

I’m a big fan of meatloaf. I have never understood why it has a reputation for being dull and loathsome. Probably TV, wherein broccoli and brussels sprouts are also reviled, is to blame. But seriously, what could be wrong with a dish that’s economical and receptive to so many different types of seasoning? I love the traditional beef-and-pork meatloaf with the sweet ketchupy glaze, but there’s so much room to play. Moroccan lamb. Tex-Mex chipotle. And in this case, made with lean ground turkey, spiked with fennel and topped with bacon to make it seem decadent.

And let’s face it, this time of year, we still need a bit of decadence. Here in Central Canada we still have a bit of winter left to go. While you, my west coast friends, can go enjoy your asparagus and fiddleheads, we still need some comfort food to give us the strength to carry on.

I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t written much (if anything) about fennel here yet. Fennel is one of my favourite winter flavours. I eat it sliced very thinly in salads at least once a week these days, and when I cook with it, I usually try to bump up its presence in the dish with ground fennel seeds, but in this recipe I go one step further and add ouzo to deglaze the pan when you saute the onion. A quarter-cup sounds like a lot, but it mellows in the cooking. You could ease off and just use white wine or even stock, but it’s worth the use of an unconventional cooking ingredient.  

Despite its down-home virtues I don’t really think of meatloaf as a weeknight dinner unless I’ve done most of the work in advance.  There’s a fair amount of chopping, plus the baking time is a bit long. To get a better return for your time investment, you can mix up a double batch and freeze one batch for later. Or, if you are a two-eater household like mine, (well technically three, but she’s not really into meatloaf yet), you can split the recipe below into two smaller meatloaves. One half-recipe will yield two dinner servings plus two brown-bag lunches.

*At my house, Confetti Kale is what we call a simple saute of diced red pepper and carrot, corn and kale. Onion or garlic if we feel like it. Nothing fancy, just tasty and colourful.

Turkey Fennel Meatloaf
serves 8

Do-ahead: Take the recipe through to the end of step 4 and cover the meat mixture in plastic wrap. It will keep a day or two in the fridge before baking.

2 tsp. olive or veg oil
1 medium-sized onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup finely diced fennel (about 1 cup)
generous pinch chili flakes
2 tsp. fennel seeds, lightly ground
1/4 cup ouzo or white wine
4 thick slices of bread, crusts removed
3/4 cup milk
2 lbs ground turkey
4 slices of bacon, finely chopped
1 tbsp. worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten

Optional: about 8-10 slices of bacon
Or: 2 tbsp. honey mustard as a glaze

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and position a rack in the centre of the oven.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion, garlic and fennel until softened and just beginning to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the chili flakes and fennel seeds, and cook one minute more. Add the ouzo or wine to deglaze the pan and cook 2 to 3 minutes to reduce the liquid, until the mixture is almost dry. Remove from the pan and set aside in a large mixing bowl.

3. In a shallow dish, soak the bread in the milk for about 5 to 10 minutes, mixing once or twice so that the bread is evenly soggy but not falling apart. Lightly squeeze the bread one handful at a time to get rid of some of the milk, and finely chop it. Add the chopped bread to the cooked onion-fennel mixture.

4. To the large mixing bowl, add the ground turkey, chopped bacon, worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and egg. Mix just until combined – overmixing will make the meat loaf tough.

5. Do a taste test. Heat a teaspoon of oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Shape about a tablespoon’s worth of mixture into a patty and fry it on both sides until cooked through. Taste it and adjust the seasonings as needed.

6. To bake the meatloaf, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the meat mixture to the baking sheet and shape it into a rectangular block about 10″x4″. It will become more loaf-shaped as it cooks. If you’re using an optional topping, now is the time to drape it seductively with bacon or brush the top with honey mustard. Bake the meatloaf for approximately 45 to 50 minutes (35 to 40 if you’re baking a half-batch), until the middle registers at 165 F on a meat thermometer. Allow it to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

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Recently I made some changes to my diet. The kinds of changes that, while you know are good for you in the long term, are difficult to carry out. The kinds of changes that require not only the advice of a trusted health professional to make you do it, but the deep-seated belief that she is right, and if you do it, you’ll feel better.

By which I mean since the new year I’ve cut out caffeine. And white starches. And sugars. I’ve started eating less wheat, and more of other grains, like amaranth, buckwheat and kamut. These changes are meant to be more or less permanent, with the understanding that in a little while I can switch from a zero-tolerance policy to a sometimes policy.

I’ve known for a while that I needed to do this. I have issues with my blood sugar levels, and there are times when getting hungry is a full-blown crisis. It’s not pleasant, for me or anyone close to me (especially my husband). So  I figure that since I don’t have work stress in my life these days, and I have the energy required to eliminate things from my diet, try out new ingredients and recipes, and recalibrate my tastebuds, now’s the time.

And here’s what I’ve learned so far: cutting out sugar sounds like a simple change. (Notice I said simple, not easy.) But it’s actually one change made up of a million tiny changes. It’s learning to like the taste of (decaf) coffee without sugar. It’s switching my evening snack from cheese and crackers to cheese, a bit of fruit and a few nuts. It’s discovering that oatmeal tastes just fine with some cinnamon and banana in it intead of maple syrup. (This is not true of french toast. Some things you just have to let go of.)

So far, results have been good. I feel much more even-keeled, and I’ve lost a few pounds to boot. So if you’re doing something similar, good news! I will share my successful new healthy recipes right here, so you have less kitchen experimenting to do!

But on to the recipe already. This new no-sugars rule unfortunately means no honey and no maple syrup either, or sweeteners in general. Which sadly removes granola bars from my diet. And I miss them! So I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I tinkered with this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and took out just about all the sugar and honey, relying instead on nut butter, applesauce and eggs to bind it all together. So believe me when I say these things are barely sweet. In fact, the sweetness here largely comes from the dried fruit. It tastes sweet to me, because my palate is different now, but if you are NOT on a no-sugar diet, you can feel free to sub in honey for the applesauce, and even add more if you want.

Barely-sweet granola bars
makes 16-20 squares

1 2/3 cups quick-cook rolled oats
1/3 cup oat flour (or quick-cook oats pulverized in the food processor)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2-3 cups mixed dried fruit and nuts (I used figs, apricots, pistachios, almonds, coconut and ground flax seeds)
1/3 cup nut butter (I’ve used both tahini and almond butter; I preferred the almond butter.)
1/4 cup applesauce (optional: use up to 1/2 cup honey in addition to the 2 tbsp. below)
3 tbsp. melted butter
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. vanilla
1 egg

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an eight-inch square with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan, or coat with a non-stick spray.

2. Mix together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, mix together the nut butter, applesauce, vanilla, honey, melted butter and egg. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry until the mixture is evenly crumbly. If the mixture is too dry, add a few tablespoons of water.

3. Spread the mixture in the prepared pan, pressing it in firmly to ensure that it’s molded to the shape of the pan.

4. Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes until they’re brown around the edges. They’ll still seem soft and almost underbaked when you press into the centre of the pan but, they’ll set once completely cooled.

5. Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. Alternatively, you can use the parchment paper to pull them out of the pan and let it cool on the rack so that it cools more quickly.

6. Once the bars have cooled completely, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container. In humid weather, it’s best to store bars in the refrigerator. They also freeze well.

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Oh, hello!

Do you have more get-togethers coming up?

Do you have to make something?

Might I suggest these?

Chevre-stuffed mushrooms
makes 30

Do-ahead:  These can be stuffed ahead of time and will keep in the fridge for a day or two before being baked and served.

30 medium-sized cremini or button mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed, with the stems removed and finely chopped
2 tsp. olive oil
1 shallot, diced fine
1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
EITHER: 1/4 cup fine bread or cracker crumbs, OR 4 extra mushrooms, finely chopped
[This is to accomodate those who can’t eat wheat. Or those who don’t have bread or cracker crumbs.]
1 small log (140 g) soft chevre

1.  In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add the rosemary, salt and pepper, and finely chopped mushroom stem (and chopped mushrooms, if not using bread crumbs). Cook until the mushroom is lightly browned and has let off a good deal of moisture – it will have reduced in bulk considerably. If using breadcrumbs, mix them in now, along with about two-thirds of the chevre. Season to taste.

2. Stuff the mushrooms, using your fingers or a small teaspoon to gently pack the stuffing so that it’s level. Top each mushroom with a tiny dab of the leftover chevre, and arrange the mushrooms on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

3. Bake the mushrooms for approximately 20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. When the mushrooms are cooked through, turn on the broiler and broil the mushrooms for a few minutes until the tops are attractively browned.

Serve warm.

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Postscript: The Loot

 Well, the party was fun. We ate, drank, caught up and cooed at each other’s  babies. And as the afternoon wore on and people decided it was time to go, we all lined up in front of the many piles of cookie packages and took our shares. It felt like grown-up trick-or-treating.

Behold, the loot!

Top: Coconut stars, almond-chocolate shortbread crescents

Second row:  Vanilla-raisin biscotti, snickerdoodles, chocolate-sprinkled shortbread, apricot nuggets

Third row: Chewy ginger cookie, white chocolate-dried fruit cookie, After-Eight cookie

Bottom: chocolate-almond shortbread

There may or may not have been chocolate-dipped potato chips as well, but we have no photographic evidence. Ahem.

Susan, thank you so much for organizing this exchange every year. Thanks to you, I have a freezer full of cookies! Now cue the willpower.

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