Thursday, November 29, 2012

peanut butter & honey energy bites


Some people grow up on peanut butter and jelly (pb&j). For me growing up, the staple sandwich for lunches at home or elsewhere was peanut butter and honey. Several times on this blog I have bemoaned the loss of pb&h as I have made an effort to include healthier choices. Peanut butter and honey is not really a healthy lunch - pretty much everyone would be compelled to admit that there is a world of better choices waiting to be had - but as a treat!? Well! I think it is a fine treat. Especially if you add sunflower seeds, hemp seed, and flaxseed along with coconut and rolled oats.

The idea is not my own, just a few of the twists. To give credit where credit is due I was introduced to the recipe on a blog written by a good friend of my son's -  allie is always hungry. (Allie calls them no bake peanut butter oatmeal balls.) Allie saw a pic on pinterest and traced it to gimme some oven, a fun little blog. I was sold pretty quickly on trying this treat with the aforementioned minor tweaks and two days have seen two batches disappear entirely. No bake, gluten-free, all pantry item, 10 minute start-to-finish treats. Do it!

Allie recommends using a regular (read: not natural, organic) brand of peanut butter. I have only the natural, no added sugar or salt organic type in my pantry so that is what I used. Worked for me. Making these was a scoop of goodness for the 'bite' count, a pinch for me kind of exercise.

The very comfortable peanut butter and honey combo is entirely welcome in my tummy.

peanut butter and honey energy bites
(adapted ever so slightly from gimme some oven)

1 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup dark chocolate, chopped kind of fine
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup hempseed hearts
2 Tbsp milled flaxseed
2 Tbsp shelled sunflower seeds
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt

Dump every single ingredient into a medium bowl and mix thoroughly. 

Using a 1" cookie scoop make balls that you set on a piece of parchment paper. If you want, you can stop here. If you want perfectly round and smooth balls, give each scoop of peanut butter and honey goodness a roll between your palms and voila! Fini. 

That's it. really.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

nikujaga


Way back in the olden days when we lived in Osaka and our children were small we lived in a lovely 900 sq ft apartment (it wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be with 5 kids - in fact it was quite liberating). We lived on the third level of the building, the Harada family lived two floors directly below us. Harada-san was the perfect practical older sister that I very much needed. She helped me with the daily demands of our children's school and taught me to make many of the Japanese dishes that we ate regularly and are now comfort food for our family. I have fond memories of our tiny identical kitchens and the time we spent talking and cooking together. Her patient, gentle approach was so perfect for me right then. 

One of the very first dishes we made together was nikujaga. Literally meat potatoes. Everything Harada-san made was a no-recipe affair. Just some of this, some of that, and taste, smell, taste. When I decided to make a pot of nikujaga to share here I thought perhaps I would check some formal recipes just because and to my great surprise not a single one of them was quite like the dish I had been taught. To be fair, nikujaga is kind of like making chicken noodle soup in that every cook has their own particular version. But the big shock was that in many (if not most) versions the meat and potatoes are served on a plate without the wonderful broth they are braised in. Such a shame! Made with miso and soy sauce the broth is rich and interesting with that nifty umami thing going on - to be honest the meat and potatoes are pretty bland without it. Harada-san served hers more like a soup or perhaps stew and that is the way we have always had it in our house. So that is the recipe you get today. 

When we lived in Osaka I was told that the people in Tokyo are very fashionable but Osakans are the better cooks. It is certainly true that Tokyoites are very fashionable but I don't know about the cooking. All I know for sure is that there are definitely regional variations in traditional dishes. That difference may account for the broth-less nikujaga or maybe I just learned it the way that Harada-san liked to serve it. It certainly accounts for the use of pork as opposed to beef - pork being the Kansai preference. My own contribution is one that no self-respecting Japanese cook would countenance - I never peel the potatoes!


It is perfect winter food. Warm and richly flavourful without being heavy. Fragrant. Comforting and comfortable. I cannot even smell this without remembering Harada-san and feeling a wave of gratitude for her firendship.

nikujaga

8 0z pork shoulder cut into 1" cubes
6 small red potatoes, quartered
2 medium onions, chopped
4 carrots, cut into 1/2" pieces
6 cups dashi*
6 Tbsp mirin
4 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 tsp roasted sesame oil
sea salt to taste

Heat the grapeseed oil in a large heavy pot and saute the meat on high until it is beginning to brown. Add the potatoes, onions, and carrots and cook together for two or three minutes. Pour the dashi into the pot and bring everything to a boil. Turn the heat down to simmer. Add the mirin, sugar, and soy sauce. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Just before serving stir in the roasted sesame oil. Add salt to taste.

This is even better with a sprinkle of shichimi - a mix of dried peppers and sea weed. You may need to go to an Asian market to find it but it is so good and you will like it on lots of dishes so it is worth the looking.

*The easiest way to make the dashi is with Hon dashi granules from Ajinomoto. Again look for that in an Asian market. But to be honest making it from scratch is pretty fast and easy too. Google it if you want to give that a go ... or find your own Harada-san :)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

multigrain extravaganza waffles



There are people of substance - they have solid worth and real staying power. Quality over flash. From the first firm handshake and warm hello some are instantly recognizable as such and with others it becomes evident only upon closer acquaintance. That substance is so very attractive to me; I value quality. 

The last time I made waffles I met with instantly recognizable quality - a waffle of true substance. I do not jest. This is serious stuff. I have met many a yummy waffle but without exception every one was a light-weight - no substance at all. Some are crispy, many are deliciously addictive but until now, I can honestly say that I had not met a waffle with any serious merit. This waffle of substance is delicious (as any waffle worth eating must be), has serious nutritional heft, and an incredible crunchy texture. Way more than I expected. 

Serve them with whatever toppings you most love - we liked them very best with maple syrup mixed with plain Greek yogurt (roughly 1/2 cup of syrup to 3 Tbsp yogurt. Whisk until smooth.)

David may be treated to the waffles he loves a lot more frequently from here on :)

multigrain extravaganza waffles
(adapted from Waffles by Betty Rosbottom)

1/2 cup sprouted whole wheat flour
1 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup milled flaxseed
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
3 Tbsp muscovado sugar
2 Tbsp millet seeds
2 Tbsp sprouted ground chia seed
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups milk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

Preheat your waffle iron and if you are holding the waffles until serving time, preheat your oven to 200 degrees F.

In a large bowl mix together the flours, seeds, rolled oats, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs and milk. Pour the eggs and milk mixture into the dry ingredients and blend gently only until the ingredients are combined. Add the butter and mix until incorporated.

Pour the batter into the waffle iron and spread to within 1/2" of the edge, close the cover and cook until crisp and golden brown - about 3 minutes.

Note: the recipe suggests that this will feed 4-6 people. I feel like it is only fair to let you know that the two of us ate 3/4 of what I made. We are not big eaters BUT these are really good waffles. And in fairness, if you tried to stretch this to 6 or even 4 people, I think there might be mutiny. Just sayin' ....

Monday, November 19, 2012

almond chocolate chunk cookies with cocoa nibs



If I was to bake a cookie simply to suit my preference I would most likely make a batch of snickerdoodles or maybe cry baby cookies. When I am baking cookies for David's delight I know without a doubt his first choice will be chocolate chip. Don't get me wrong - I am a big fan of a superior chocolate chip cookie but they are still not my first choice. Because of that, in my mind at least, chocolate chip cookies are 'I love you cookies'.

These cookies are not your typical thick and chunky chocolate chip marvels. Rather, they are thin and crispy with the perfect chewy texture - a chewiness that makes them particularly irresistible to me. Although probably not the first morsel you would select from the cookie plate at the church social (they are just not flashy attention grabbers) if you were clever enough to pick one my bet is that you would go back for at least one more.

Made with far more almond meal than wheat flour they are healthier than most cookies. Of course there is still butter and sugar but never mind, just don't eat the whole batch by yourself in one sitting. At least that is my justification. That and the cocoa nibs.

almond chocolate chip cookies with cocoa nibs
(adapted from the fabulous Not Without Salt)

1/2 cup butter
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup almond meal
1/2 cup sprouted whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped dark chocolate
1/4 cup cocoa nibs

Cream the butter and sugar, add the egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl mix together the almond meal, whole wheat flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture and mix gently. Add the chocolate chunks, cranberries and cocoa nibs, stirring until everything is evenly distributed.

Using an ice cream or cookie scoop, form 1 1/4" dough balls and set well apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (These cookies really spread - be warned.)

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 13 minutes or until just turning golden on the edges and still soft in the middle. Let cool for a minute or two on the baking before moving to a wire rack to cool.

Note: If you wanted to make these gluten-free simply substitute your favourite gf flour mix for the sprouted whole wheat flour. (My personal recommendation is to make your own mix using whole grain gluten free options. That way you get the goodness of whole grains that you often miss in commercial offerings. There are lots of good mixes to be found on various blogs or you can try the mix I like - you can find it at the bottom of this post.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

sweet potato hummus


A hummus intervention may be in order here because this recipe brings the total of hummus posts to five. Five!  But it is good and variety is the spice of life they say, so I vary my lunch by varying my hummus. Aaanyway, hummus is one of my favourite fast and easy lunch/snack fixes (just use the handy dandy search bar on the right and google hummus). Does the world need another recipe for hummus? Maybe not, but I think it would be a sadder place without. When I shared a portion of this recipe with Eden her reaction was totally satisfactory. She, in fact, declares that she is addicted to it.

I baked my sweet potatoes in the oven alongside a batch of cookies but if you wanted to hurry things along you could certainly "bake" a couple in the microwave. I like the caramel-ly goodness that happens when sweet potatoes are slowly roasted in the oven but sweet potatoes are so good and good for you that it is hard to find a way to cook them that is not good. Either way is same/same. So bake your potatoes, pull out your food processor and whirl up a batch of goodness to scoop up with some crunchy celery sticks and pita bread. Lunch break doesn't get a whole lot better.

sweet potato hummus

2 medium sweet potatoes, baked 
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup tahini
4 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp  toasted sesame oil
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp Louisiana hot sauce
1 (19 oz) can chick peas, drained and rinsed

Put the garlic, tahini, lemon juice, cumin, cinnamon, sesame oil, salt, hot sauce, and chick peas in the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Cut the sweet potatoes into rough chunks and toss into the food processor as well. Process again until smooth. 

Serve with your favourite dippers - I think it is very best with a fresh, crisp celery stick (or two or three...)

Just for the record? I do eat more than hummus for lunch. Sometimes.

Monday, November 12, 2012

cygnets


Backstage before performance. Stretching. Made up. In costume. Ready to dance. This image was captured early in Eden's career as a photographer, well before the ten thousand hour mark that is reputedly the magic point at which mastery occurs in any field of endeavor. I loved the photo when it was taken and it remains a favourite out of all the beautiful work that Eden has done over the years. It hangs, blown up to poster size in our home. The graphic quality, the subject, the mood - it touches me in a way that I find difficult to articulate.

Merin was 13 and totally in love with classical ballet. I wasn't in the audience the night that she danced the pas de quatre from Swan Lake. I have always wished I had been. I don't know where I was or why I wasn't there but I  love these images from that night - I can feel like I was almost there.





They were such adorable little cygnets and good friends. I have lost track of two of the girls but Merin and Alex were close friends always. Never ugly ducklings - although perhaps coltish - they grew into beautiful women. Talented, confident, and happy. Elegant even. Both of them swans in the very best way.

Eden, Merin, and Alex have met and surpassed the ten thousand hours - each of them true artists. I am proud of them and feel it a privilege to have been there for at least some of those hours. We seldom see where the road ends when we set out on it and motherhood is no different than any other occupation in that. Many hours were committed to nurturing this talent and love. I am content with the destination.


Alexandra MacDonald is currently dancing as second soloist with The National Ballet of Canada. Eden's photography speaks for itself and her talent. Merin achieved her desires.

Friday, November 9, 2012

chocolate pots

a la Meinhardt's




I have obsessed over the chocolate pots from Meinhardt's in Vancouver for a couple of years. When I am in Vancouver I always, always plan a visit (quick though it may be) to Meinhardt's and rarely leave the shop without a little chocolate pot in my bag. I have tried a number of times to make my own chocolate pots but although I have made some yummy chocolate stuff nothing has been quite right. Not, that is, until a couple of weeks ago. And having cracked the code it is crazy easy. I laugh at myself for all the involved and chocolate-rich options I tried. (To be honest I haven't compared the original to the reinvention, bite side-by bite but I am happy with this.)

A few good eggs, a touch of sweet, some good bittersweet chocolate - but not a lot - a dash of cream plus a little bit of time. mmmmmmmmmm

I have made this a number of times. It is equally good made with honey or sugar for sweetening. The honey is recognizable as such in the finished pudding but that's not a bad thing. Try it either way or both.

Since Jonathon first introduced me to the seduction of Meinhardt's little chocolate pots and then pushed me to try to "make it at home", this one is for him.

chocolate pots

4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar (or 2 Tbsp honey)
a pinch of sea salt
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped very fine
1/2 cup heavy cream,whipped

Combine the egg yolks, sugar (or honey), and pinch of salt in a small saucepan. Whisk together over very low heat. VERY low heat because you don't want to cook the eggs, just warm things up enough to melt the chocolate that you have chopped very fine so that it will melt without requiring a lot of heat. Check the temp frequently to make sure that you are not, in fact, cooking anything and when it is just warm remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature - which won't take very long since it was never all that warm to begin with.

Meanwhile, whip the heavy to soft peaks. When the chocolate mixture has cooled sufficiently, add about half of the whipped cream and whisk to combine. Then fold in the remaining whipped cream. Spoon into 4 small cups or bowls. Refrigerate until firm.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

cinnamon breakfast quinoa


No story today - just this bowl of wonderful, healthy breakfast. So, sooo good that I am a little bit sad when I have chased the last grain of quinoa onto my spoon and into my mouth.

This recipe is generous; there is plenty to have a couple of large bowlfuls for breakfast one day and enough to save in the fridge and reheat for another day or even two. You could make more or less depending on how many are eating but do make enough for more than a single day - saves time and encourages eating a healthier breakfast than Captain Crunch (or whatever .... shudder). I particularly love the pecans, pears, and quinoa together but a good apple is pretty delicious too.

I used a combination of red and black quinoa. For this bowlful I prefer the chewier texture of the colourful quinoas as opposed to the more readily available white but any colour of quinoa is good.

cinnamon breakfast quinoa
(adapted from Gourmet)

1/2 cup red quinoa
1/2 cup black quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 tsp cinnamon
chopped pecans
1 ripe pear
maple syrup

Combine the quinoa, salt, cinnamon sticks, and raisins with the water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook (covered) for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat under the pan and let sit (still covered) for a further 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and remove the cinnamon sticks. Stir in the ground cinnamon. 

To serve: divide into bowls and top each serving with a small handful of chopped pecans, a generous amount of diced pear, milk of your choice (nut or other), and a drizzle of maple syrup to taste.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

tomato chowder with quinoa



I am relieved that it is finally November because perhaps now we can justify the snow and cold! It was really hard to get into the spirit of Halloween when it just felt more like January. (I know that is a bit of an exaggeration - when January is truly here this weather will seem downright lovely but I don't have my thick Canadian-winter-blood running yet.) At any rate, between the snow and cold and a sore throat/cough thing soup was all I wanted to eat this week. It was the perfect chance to try something that had been  rattling around in my mind for a few weeks.

Jonathon has recently started a new job (as President of Martha Sturdy - and yes, I am proud!!!) and as part of team-building had a retreat to Martha's beautiful ranch in Pemberton, BC. When Jonathon was telling me about the event he waxed slightly poetic about a tomato soup that Martha had made. It sounded so delicious that I was determined to give it a try. A rich, thick tomato soup with vegetables. This is not Martha's recipe - just a soup I made inspired by Jonathon's ode to Martha's soup. I would love to try her soup but have to say that we thoroughly enjoyed what was in our own soup pot. As an endorsement I offer this: David quite dislikes eating the same thing in close succession but we had this soup for our evening meal one day and for lunch the three days following and he mentioned that the soup was so good that he was really enjoying it - even three days running for lunch. That may not seem like much to anyone else but it is high praise indeed!

This soup is almost as easy as opening a can and so much better. It is tangy with the tomatoes and herbs, full of vegetables and smoothed out with just a tiny bit of cream. The quinoa adds more fiber, additional protein, and nice body. 

The last day we had this for lunch I added a few drops of Louisiana hot sauce just to change it up a tiny bit. 

And as for Halloween? We did something we had never done before - filled a huge bowl with treats, put them on the doorstep with a sign, and retreated to watch Snow White and the Huntsman - which ended up being a pretty good Halloween movie.  The sign recommended taking a couple of treats but since the bowl was empty by 7:30 and it was awfully cold for trick-or-treating, my guess is that the little ghouls took by the armfuls. lol

p.s. you should really check out Martha's house. Well, one of them - it was featured this last summer in Canadian House and Home magazine. Martha is an iconic artist and her favoured medium is resin. From housewares to furniture to canvases and sculpture - all very cool and beautiful.

tomato chowder with quinoa

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic,  minced
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock
3 sprigs fresh oregano (or 1 Tbsp dried)
2 mild Italian sausages, cut into 'coins'
1 lb yellow fleshed 'baby' potatoes - halved if small, quartered for the larger ones
2 stalks celery, diced
3 medium carrots, cut into half moons
1/3 cup quinoa
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream

Melt the butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring,  until translucent. Add the sausage, celery, potatoes, and carrots and cook for a minute or two, stirring to coat the vegetables and let things begin to get carmel-y edges. Add the chicken stock, quinoa, and oregano. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer (covered) until the vegetables are tender - about 20 minutes. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and bring back to a simmer. Cook for another 10 minutes. Stir in the cream and add the salt and pepper to taste.