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Posts Tagged ‘recipes’

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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I have a love/hate relationship with pancakes.

I love to make them and I love to eat them, but I hate they way they leave me hungry an hour after breakfast is over. They’re like the Vietnamese vermicelli of breakfast. As a person with hypoglycemic tendencies who has recently changed my ways in the white flour and sugar department, I’ll treat myself on occasion but I swear I can feel my blood sugar get out of whack. (I’m sure this is just me being paranoid, but there you are.)

But here’s the thing. I have a husband who likes pancakes, and a baby who will happily eat anything starchy. How could I deprive my loved ones of pancakes? To make us all happy, I just need a pancake recipe that includes grains and less white flour, and then I need the will power not to drown my portion in syrup. But first things first: the tinkering.

Smitten Kitchen (a website I love) has a recipe for oatmeal pancakes that I tried once, and turned out fine, but it calls for a cup of cooked oatmeal. Now I can be organized, but not always so organized that I would think to cook extra oatmeal the day before. (Besides, how would I know that I’ll want pancakes the day before I want them? But I digress.) Now the advantage of using cooked oats is so that you get the heft of the oats, all that fibre-y goodness, without the chewy bits of dry/raw oats in the batter. As a compromise, I used both quick-cook oats and oat flour – rolled oats finely ground in the food processor – which both add weight but soften quickly in the batter.

A note on flour. The theory goes that using all whole wheat flour isn’t the best idea in a quick bread, since the bran tends to weigh a batter down. Despite that fact that I would rather leave out the white flour as much as possible, I do use a bit because I still can’t shake the notion that a quick bread recipe needs a bit of flour that is unencumbered by bran, for the sake of its structural integrity.  That said, I’m sure that you could substitute whole wheat flour for white in this recipe and it would likely turn out fine.

Come to think of it, you could probably get a fluffier pancake if you sub the yogurt for buttermilk. I just don’t like to use too much buttermilk in pancakes because then they turn out too tangy for my liking.

Anyway, these pancakes, they made me happy. I even made them into blueberry pancakes to celebrate the joyous height of fruit season.  Blueberries in the pancakes and on the side, plus some ripe perfect peaches on top. And a bit of lightly sweetened ricotta to add a tiny bit more protein. Oh yay.

The family approved.

And you know what? That breakfast kept me going straight through till lunch.

Blueberry oatmeal pancakes
makes about 16 four-inch pancakes

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup quick-cook oats
1/2 cup oat flour or finely ground oats
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup yogurt
1 1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp. honey
3 tbsp. melted butter
2 eggs

approximately 1/2 cup of blueberries
extra melted butter for the pan

Combine the dry ingredients: in a bowl, whisk together the white, whole wheat and oat flours, quick-cook oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, honey and melted butter. Add the eggs last, one at a time, taking care not to overmix. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients, folding the batter gently. Mix just to combine. A slightly lumpy batter is okay.

Heat your favourite skillet over medium heat until a couple of drops of water sizzle in the pan. (You can speed up the process by using two skillets at a time.) Brush the pan with melted butter and working quickly, use a quarter-cup measure to drop the batter in the pan, two or three at a time.  When bubbles form on the surface, drop a few blueberries onto the top sides of the pancakes. A pancake is ready to flip when bubbles are evenly distributed throughout the surface and the edges are slightly dry. Flip and cook another minute or two, and keep warm in the oven until all the pancakes are ready.

Serve warm with maple syrup and more blueberries. I also highly recommend some lightly sweetened ricotta.

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Earlier this year when I made a whole bunch of changes to my diet, we instituted Tofu Tuesday at my house. I was working on healthier eating, getting more vegetarian protein sources, and eating more grains. In my experience when you’re trying to reinvent how you eat, you need a few standbys to turn to on the nights when you just want something easy, something you can just make without thinking too much about it. Since my husband and I both love tofu, inventing Tofu Tuesday seemed a good place to start.

Tofu Tuesday has a few incarnations, but what you see above is the most common one and we eat it at least once a month.  It’s just brown rice with steamed greens, marinated tofu and peanut sauce, but the sum is so much greater than its parts. It’s hearty, savoury and filling, and as long as you don’t drown it with too much sauce, it feels pretty virtuous.  It’s also a tip of the hat to my favourite dish at Fresh, where I used to eat often way back when it was still called Juice for Life, in its original location in the Annex. That place introduced me to the concept of rice bowls, and for this I am forever grateful.

This peanut sauce is very easy to make, and versatile too. I use it as a dip for fresh spring rolls or as a dressing for cold noodle salads in the summer. It’s also a great go-to for weekday lunches, since it’s usually pretty easy to pack some cooked grains and some vegetables to steam in the microwave at work. Drizzle some of this sauce on it, and suddenly it’s a substantial lunch that won’t have you ransacking your desk for a granola bar an hour later.

Peanut Sauce
Makes about 1 cup

1/3 cup natural peanut butter (smooth or chunky, doesn’t matter)
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. grated ginger root
1 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
hot sauce to taste (I use sriracha)
1/4 cup boiling hot water

In a tall liquid measuring cup, combine all ingredients using an immersion blender. Add the hot water last and blend until the sauce has a nice smooth consistency, adding more water if necessary.

Keeps well for three to five days in the fridge.

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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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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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Usually on weekends we have one fancy egg breakfast. This morning I wanted something special and red, on account of the Hallmark-manufactured holiday happening on Monday. So I made poached eggs on whole-wheat biscuits, with creamy red pepper sauce and some garlic-sauteed spinach on the side.

The biscuits were cribbed from a King Arthur Flour recipe, but I haven’t yet tweaked it to my liking so I won’t include it here yet. However, the sauce is an old favourite. This recipe makes way too much for a few poached eggs, but then it also tastes divine as a pasta sauce, or as a drizzle over baked chicken, turkey or fish. It also freezes well for a later time, so that in a month or so you can randomly have fancy poached eggs again without having to do as much work.

Red Pepper Cream Sauce

1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cold milk
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. tamari soy sauce
1/4 tsp. sriracha hot sauce
pinch salt

Equipment: immersion blender

1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk to combine, and let cook for a few minutes until it turns from yellow to a whiter shade of yellow. [Cooking Fact! This is called a white roux. It’s used as a thickener for bechamel, or white sauce. A brown roux, cooked a few steps further till it’s a nutty golden brown, is used to thicken brown sauces.]

2. With a whisk in one hand and the cup of milk in the other, pour in the milk and whisk vigorously to combine. Let cook until thickened until it coats the back of a spoon. If you draw a line with your finger on the back of said spoon, the line should its shape. It’s okay if you end up with a few lumps, because you’re just going to puree the whole thing soon. 

3. Pour the sauce into a large glass measuring cup or other vessel you like to puree stuff in. Add the remaining ingredients and puree until smooth.

4. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

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