Sunday, February 27, 2011

Easy as pie... er, cookies

It's been several weeks since I've done any sugary baking, the last few days I've been debating whether it made sense to live a low sugar lifestyle, yet allowing baked treats once in while. I find myself having little conversations about this, just me in the room (silently, no worries), weighing the pros with the cons, wanting the best for my family, wondering if once in a while indulging would be all right. There are several things I don't want to see them chomping on, no silent debating necessary - one of which is food coloring, the other, artificial flavours. (Besides anything that sounds like a chemical science experiment!) Finally, I came up with the conclusion that a once or twice a month treat would be fully acceptable, especially since it'll be homemade.
Homemade Oreos
Yields 20 - 30 cookies
as seen here
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened, Dutch-process cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup white sugar
10 tbsp (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg, room temperature
4 tbsp butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 an 8oz. pkg) cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 F/180 C.
Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
Add the room temperature butter and egg (place egg in a bowl of warm water for several minutes to quickly bring up to temperature). Using the paddle attachment, mix the butter and egg into the dry ingredients until the dough comes together. This can take several minutes. If you don't have a stand mixer, use your hands to make the dough.
Form evenly sized balls, about 3/4 inch in diameter, and place about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Lightly flatten each.
Bake 6 - 7 minutes.
Cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a rack to finish cooling.

Meanwhile, make the filling.
Beat the butter and cream cheese with a small whisk until fluffy.
Gradually add the sifted powdered sugar and vanilla extract.
Beat another 2 - 3 minutes.
Put the filling in a piping bag, match cookies by size, and pipe 1 - 2 tsp filling on one of each cookie pair. Top filling with second cookie to complete the Oreo.

Store in an airtight container, in the fridge, to firm up filling.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Quitting Cans

A two pound bag of dry chickpeas costs around $2. I am guessing that's the equivalent to about 5 cans, once cooked. With savings of over 50%, a little extra effort is well worth it. Last night I soaked about half the bag in a big bowl of water, once I read these odd cooking instructions (below) and turned to friends for help instead. Today I drained and threw them in a large stock pot, covered them with plenty of water, brought this to a boil for ten minutes then reduced the heat to low and cooked for another 45. I didn't check on them while they cooked away, I folded laundry, made beds and tackled other general clean ups around the house. When the timer went, I drained the chickpeas again and allowed them to cool and dry in the colander.

Then - I tasted one. What a difference from canned chickpeas there was! Besides the far lower sodium levels, and the avoidance of BPA which is sprayed into cans before they are filled, I also noticed the flavours to be much purer. I am almost certain canned peas take on a distinct metal taste. As my 7 year old begs for 'chickie peas' whenever they are in our pantry, I figured I should quit the cans and go natural.

After setting about one cup of cooked chickpeas aside for Quinoa Falafels I plan to try later this week (chickpeas swell to almost twice their dried size), I used the rest for a Roasted Chickpea snack recipe I am eager to munch on. I am hoping to drastically improve my family's snack cravings, even though we aren't huge junkies to begin with.

I searched the Internet for recipes, discovering many similar but distinctly different techniques for roasting perfect crunchy peas. One added oil before roasting, another not until after, still another left it out all together. Here's what I came up with, and I'm quite thrilled with the results.

Crunchy Chickie Peas
Yields about 2 - 3 cups

About 2 - 3 cups cooked, cooled and fully dried chickpeas (about 1 1/2 cups dried)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp kosher or sea salt
1/8 tsp each cayenne and white pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F/200 C.
Lay the chickpeas in an even layer on a large cookie sheet. Try not to overcrowd them.
Bake for 15 minutes, remove from the oven, stir them around a bit and place back in an even layer.
Bake 15 more minutes, stir, even out the layer and then bake another 10 minutes, for a total of 40 minutes.
Remove from oven, pour the hot chickpeas into a medium mixing bowl. Drizzle 1 tbsp of olive oil over them, toss to coat all peas. Add seasonings and toss again.
Pour back onto the baking sheet, bake another 10 minutes, watching closely to make sure they aren't over crisping.
Take out of oven and cool directly on baking sheet.
Once completely cooled, store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
This recipe can easily be doubled, using two baking sheets for roasting, and rotating the sheets from top to bottom when you take them out to stir.
Seasonings can easily be changed up.
- homemade Taco Seasoning (here)
- dill, onion powder, salt
- dry mustard, dry honey, salt
- dry ginger, salt
- curry powder or Garam Masala

Monday, February 21, 2011

Recipe challenge?

Mothers of girls, please help me out.

Mothers of boys, I don't envy your upcoming grocery bills when the teenage years hit, but for now there is a hint of jealousy when it comes to their willingness to eat. Most boys I know ask for seconds, most girls I know need to be reminded to finish up. There are days I tire of this task. A most perfect example is this past Valentine's Day, on which I spent close to 6 hours preparing a Julia Child worthy French menu. I am not overly comfortable with French food, there is far too much that could fail. Once in a while, though, I set a day aside and face this head on. I do find the challenge quite fun, but ending this experience with my girls exclaiming in identical worried tones, "I am not eating that, gross!" is not how I would choose to end that day. Most of the time I can easily ignore their complaints and enjoy dinner regardless. Other times, I get frustrated. Why do kids think we are out to get them and serve them disgusting food? Why are they so skeptical, anyhow?

Then there are days where you crave something new, and hope to train your kids to enjoy many varieties of food. They sit down to dinner, willingly take a bite, and say, "I thought this looked yucky but it's actually really, really good! Thanks, mom!" These same kids then eat, spoonful after spoonful, until their bowls are wiped clean. I love family dinners like these...

I admit, this dinner did look a little unappealing. But if you could smell the amazingness that came out of my kitchen, you'd want to try it too.

I am certain this dish is a great way to introduce new flavours to children. Imagine with me for a quick moment: think of a frog, who sits in a pot of cold water, which is slowly heated to a boil. The frog never jumps out, as he doesn't notice the gradual change around him. Is it horribly terrible to use this image while I teach my kids how to enjoy new foods? On one hand it cracks me up, on the other I think it's genius. I refuse to give in or give up. There is no reason why kids should grow up on bland, colorless foods. Our dinners lately have been seasoned more, which is oh-so heavenly for us big people, I have been intensifying richness of flavours, and using more and more herbs. And I have to say, it's paying off. Perhaps I should cook more French food, too. Won't you try this dish on your kids, and let me know how it goes? (If you can get past the fact that it looks a little like slop?) You can serve this with something as simple as apple wedges (super kid friendly!) or a beautiful Asian salad like this one.

I debated whether or not to share this recipe, solely because of the photo. But it really is that good...

Beef Curry
inspired by Robert W. Surles
Serves 4

1 pound extra lean ground sirloin
1 large red pepper, chopped into roughly 1 inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped the same
1/2 tsp chili powder
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
zest of one lime
1/2 tsp salt

In a blender combine the bell pepper, onion, garlic and chili powder. Blend until well pureed. (If necessary, add 1 - 2 tbsp water to the blender.)
Heat oil in a large skillet or saucepan to medium, then add the puree. Cook until thickened and color has slightly darkened, about 20 minutes, stirring once a minute or so (don't think about skipping this flavour deepening all important step!). Add the soy sauce and ground beef. Cook another 5 - 7 minutes, stirring, until beef is cooked through.
Stir in the coconut milk, herbs, lime zest and salt. Heat through.

Serve over rice in individual bowls. Garnish with a small sprig of mint leaves.
Stir Beef Curry into rice and dig in!

Oat'Nana Cookies

You know, studying is not as it was, oh let's say 10+ years ago, where fractions and foreign languages lulled me to wonderful naps. Sure, growing up is not all sugar and spice, with bills and wrinkles increasing daily, but studying sure is a whole lot more interesting, and far much tastier, these days. I find temperature, moisture levels and the role ingredients play in bringing varying results fascinating. Perfection is hard to come by, I've learned that too.
Feeding kids, who are growing, learning, developing and in need of intense attention spans as they make their way through these crazy-ever-changing young years, is harder than I could have imagined. So when nutrition packed 'sweets' have kids running to the kitchen, drooling as they see cookies come out of the oven, you've got my attention, and I'm all game for more research.

Oat'Nana Cookies
adapted from 101 Cookbooks
3 ripe bananas (fresh, not from frozen as they become too moist once thawed)
2 tbsp real vanilla extract
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup ground almond
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp aluminum free baking powder
6 - 8 ounces quality dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Mash banana, add vanilla and olive oil.
Combine oats, ground almond, coconut, cinnamon and baking powder. Stir into the mashed bananas. Fold in the chocolate.
Form 1 inch balls with the palm of your hands. Place 1/2 inch apart on parchment paper lined baking sheet, give a little smoosh on each to shape into a round cookie.
Bake in preheated oven, about 14 minutes.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

sausage + veggies + pasta = soup

Today I discovered that good quality sausages magically turn into amazingly scrumptious meatballs. They are juicy, packed with flavour and turn a nice golden brown. And unlike kid-friendly hot dogs, it's real meat without fillers or nitrates.
As Spring fights it's way into season, I love savouring these last few weeks of warm, comfort-evoking meals as we dream of warm weather, gardens and new beginnings.
Backyard chickens have been ruled out, for now, as by-laws require a coop to be 25 feet from neighbouring fences, which would attach our coop to the back of our suburban home where windows abound and sunlight should not be blocked. For a brief moment I grieved the fresh eggs we would have, but not too long, as I feel refreshingly propelled to dream and follow that dream to boot; a simple, but architecturally stunning home, set in rolling acres surrounded by trees and neighbours to share our land's bounty, 30 chickens roaming freely.

Sausage Meatball, Spinach and Pasta Soup

6 links quality chicken or pork sausages
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 egg
2 tbsp chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan or Asiago, plus 2 tbsp for sprinkling
1/4 tsp kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the side of a chef's knife
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 large or 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into circles
1 medium onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups best quality, low sodium beef broth
2 cups water
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
1 dry bay leaf
1 cup thawed from frozen chopped spinach (about half a block)
1 1/2 cups small pasta shapes
fresh grated Parmesan or Asiago

Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Prepare the meatballs by removing sausage casings and combining all meatball ingredients, season lightly with salt and pepper.
Shape meatballs into 2 inch diameter balls, place in a rectangle glass roasting dish. You'll have about 15 meatballs.
Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with 2 tbsp grated Parmesan. Roast in the preheated oven for 20 - 30 minutes until golden brown and caramelized.

While the meatballs are roasting, set a large stockpot over medium heat. Heat about 2 tbsp olive oil, then add the garlic and thyme (leaves only). Gently saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add carrot, onion, and celery. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes. Pour in the beef broth, 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes.
Add spinach and small pasta shapes, continue to cook another 5 - 10 minutes.
Once the meatballs are cooked, remove them from the oven and add to the soup. Cook 2 -3 minutes to allow the flavours to come together. Season to taste with salt and fresh pepper. Serve in shallow bowls. Sprinkle with additional freshly grated cheese.

And next time you're making pizza, roll the dough out a little larger than the baking stone, sprinkle some mozzarella about 1 inch from the edge, then roll and seal the edges. Top pizza as usual. Kids adore it, husbands included.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Super seeds

Today was a life changing day; in a small way, but it's huge for me. I simply made a decision not to feel overwhelmed by the thought of integrating new grains and seeds into our diet. I am OK with not cooking them perfectly right off the bat. I am very much all right with going over budget to dive head first into super foods. I am tired of white sugar and processed starches. I am craving real. For someone who could do without meat, this is a long awaited step into the right direction.
So, first thing this morning, after a quick shower and coffee to get me started, I headed to my local bulk foods store. Usually visited only when needing baking supplies or colorful items to decorate birthday or other special occasion treats, I headed down aisles and stopped in front of bins that, until today, were rather mysterious to me. Until this moment, I passed them, regardless of how health conscience I am (would like to be). Amazingly, opening these "other" bins was no different from opening bins filled with chocolates. The scoops are identical, too. What in the world was I waiting for, anyway? I felt like a kid in a candy store, which, I guess I was, except for the kid part - I love being in my thirties and wouldn't trade it for a thing.

I have a friend, Estelle, a fellow blogger friend, whom I've bumped into on occasion - she sews, she takes stunning photographs, she nourishes her family with seeds, among other nutrient rich things, I am sure. She also gave me permission to re-blog her very own recipe, it's my first super food adventure, and baby, I am hooked. See more of Estelle here, and while you're there, make sure to check out her stunning estellelle shop for the most amazing totes this side of the planet has to offer.
Monday happens to be Valentines Day. Yes, it's a little tacky, I am so happy to be a decade into my marriage where the pressure for gifts and flowers no longer exists. We value us every other day of the year, too. (PS my guy friends - spontaneous acts of love are out of this world!) But since it is a little funny to just let the day come and go, try these stunning truffles for a change of pace!
And just because I am giggly at the thought of it, I would like to mention that tonight's family dinner includes Israeli Couscous. And these cookies for dessert, of course.

Seedy Chocolate Truffles
by Estelle
Yields 3 dozen

1 cup medium unsweetened coconut flakes, divided
1/2 cup sunflower seeds, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp black sesame seeds
1 tbsp shelled hemp seed
1/2 cup ground almond
1/4 cup ground flax seed
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup almond hazelnut butter or all natural peanut butter
1/2 cup raw liquid honey

Set aside 1/2 cup coconut flakes in a small bowl.
Combine the almond or peanut butter with the honey.
Throw the remaining ingredients into a large bowl and combine well using a whisk or fork.
Add in the nut butter mixture and stir until very well mixed.
Shape and roll the cookie "dough" into walnut-size balls and roll gently in the reserved coconut. Place the cookies directly in the container you'll use to store them in, making sure not to squeeze them in until they've had time to set.
Enjoy right away or rest in the fridge for half hour to firm up.
Store in an air tight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hungry, hungry hippos

It's not time for breakfast. Nor breakfast for dinner. Nope, sometimes breakfast also applies to successful kid's after school snack time. They require a recharge and the bridge to dinner needs to be built. I try to keep stocked up on several options that are healthy and easily accessible for little fingers. Snack size veggie sticks and a creamy dip are available at all times. The same applies to a variety of bite size fruit, although I rarely serve dip with this already sweet treat. I also keep a fridge drawer with a variety of cheeses, and am hoping to add homemade crackers (dough perfectly flattened with the pasta machine and sprinkled with good-for-you seeds) to these. I often bake zucchini or carrot bread, and a good old banana bread is made about twice a month. Today, however, when my browned bananas cried out to me, USE ME BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE, I cringed at the thought of more banana bread. And since I know my kids' love for waffles, I combined the two and made banana waffles, instead. I usually whip up a big batch, since they store wonderfully in the freezer and heat easily with a quick dip in the toaster. I don't mind topping these with maple syrup, much to the delight of the juniors, since it's a good source of calcium, iron and thiamine.

Banana Waffles

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl:
1 cup cake and pastry flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup ground flax seed or wheat bran
4 tbsp white sugar
3 tsp aluminum free baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Combine wet ingredients and then gently stir into dry:
3 cups milk
1/4 butter, melted
4 large eggs
1 tsp real vanilla extract

Fold in:
3 medium or 2 large very ripe bananas

Rest on kitchen counter for half hour, to relax glutens and allow the whole grains to be fully moisturized.
Preheat waffle iron, and if necessary, brush with a little vegetable oil. Spoon a ladleful of batter onto the hot waffle iron, spreading batter to the edges.
Cook until waffle iron indicates doneness, repeat with remaining batter.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Flips and Flops

Let's begin with the flop: I hoped to create a fun, light and still interesting Valentines dessert. And while it was 100% yummy, it was not at all pretty or easy to bite into and it toppled over more than I'd like to admit. Having said that, the chocolate meringue was so delicious, I now want to make some sort of meringue every time I need a fancy dessert, the Nutella tasted a whole heck of a lot better than any chocolate frosting I can make, and who doesn't love chocolate covered strawberries. They are a valentines staple around our home. That and snow. We have far too much snow.

Now to the flip...

The back splash needs grout and paint touch ups, then we are D-O-N-E. Minus the personal touches. But I believe these come with time, and that's what makes them great.

I prefer visual art to be part art, part practical, so I have gone and done just that. Cereal for the kids, wine for moi.

When I build my chicken coop (And yes, I know chickens stink, but so do kids and I've not yet returned them. Oh, wait...) I would like it to look a little (or a lot) like this:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Change up pizza night

OK, die hard fast food pizza fans...

This one's not for you. Unless you also appreciate the goodness of healthy foods. Since you are reading this blog, I am going to assume you do. You also need to love thin crust pizza. Again, I am going to make assumptions since a thick crust is often accompanied by too much cheese and three varieties of mystery meat.

Still here?

Hummus Vegetable Pizza

1 cup hummus (homemade or store-bought)
1 cup creamy Ricotta cheese, divided
1 head broccoli, split into small florets and very lightly steamed
1 red pepper, ribs removed and sliced
1/2 red onion, sliced
coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb whole wheat pizza dough (homemade or store-bought)
olive oil
flat leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 425 F and chop the veggies.

Stretch out the pizza dough to completely cover a greased or parchment lined large cookie sheet. (The less you play with the dough, the better the texture will be play. Overworking it will result in a chewy crust.)
Combine 1 cup hummus and 1/3 cup ricotta. Spread evenly over the pizza dough and scatter onion, red pepper and broccoli over top. Sprinkle with salt and a good grind of fresh pepper. Drop the remaining ricotta by the teaspoon over the pizza. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until crust is golden and baked through in the centre.
Garnish with roughly chopped flat leaf parsley and a little drizzle of olive oil.