Sunday, December 29, 2013

your (chocolate) - and eat it too



We all know the adage about having cake - that one cannot have the best of everything, or at least everything one wants. Most of the time that is sadly all too true but every once in a while, maybe only one time out of a million, you get to have your cake and eat it too. This is one of those times.

I wasn't planning to blog this up today. Someday because it is certainly something to share but not Today because (as the photos attest) I just wasn't prepared. But as I was enjoying my snack of apple and chocolate, reading and relaxing for the first time in many days, I realized I simply couldn't not. Something so fast, delicious, and healthy demands some press. Now.

I must give credit where credit is due and it is due here - this is an invention of Eden's. She is currently adhering to a very strict diet in an attempt to right a few health wrongs she has been suffering. Sugar of any variety - natural, unrefined or otherwise (except what occurs naturally in fruit) - is definitely not on the plan. She is for sure my daughter though and no treats make a very sad girl, especially during this festive season when we are all eating our heads off. She was craving a treat one day, looked at what was 'allowed' and what was in her cupboard and this concoction was born. Made of coconut oil, raw cacao, a little sea salt and some spice there is nothing in here that is not plain awesomely healthy. I will add here that I was sceptical about how delicious it could be without even a drop of sweetener; after one taste I was converted.

We love this exactly as is but we are big fans of richly deep dark chocolate. If you find it is not sweet enough to qualify as a treat just add a little honey or maple syrup to taste. I would start with a teaspoon of either - if I was going to mess with what I figure is pretty perfect :)

Coconut oil is incredibly 'responsive' to room temperature. Today room temperature is a little on the cool side so what remains of my chocolate 'dip' is more like fudge than a dip. No matter, it works for me. I could have warmed it in a little bowl of warm water for a minute but I just wanted my apple slices and some chocolate asap.

We have tried two flavour options thus far - vanilla, cinnamon, and sea salt or cayenne pepper, ginger, and sea salt. Can't say which I prefer. A slice of apple, an orange section, a strawberry or pear, all those have accompanied a smear of coconut oil and cacao on the slide to my tummy.

eden's coconut-cacao dip

3/4 cup virgin coconut oil
3/4 cup raw cacao
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp grey sea salt
1 tsp true ground cinnamon

Using a spoon blend the ingredients together into a smooth paste.

Store in a covered jar. (But it won't need to store long. Promise.)

Eden makes her 'treat' in individual size batches but being the lazy cook I am and knowing that I/we would want a very ready treat I made a larger batch. Even at that, we might have enough for the rest of the day. It was certainly nice to pull it out for a snack with my read this afternoon.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

banana chocolate supermuffins




I am revisiting one of the very first recipes I posted when I started this blog. Seems fair enough to me - I receive constant notifications of updates to apps and software. The reason for the revisit is valid and not simple laziness. I have learned a lot about what is good and what is not (the pendulum will keep swinging) in terms of nutrition and have accordingly made changes to the original recipe. I didn't realize how changed it had become until I was making them with someone and they pointed out that what I was doing was not what I had written and why had I not told them!? The changes are small but add up to a much better muffin - in fact these muffins are so loaded with incredible power morsels as well as being extra-ordinarily delicious that the name simple begged to be upgraded to 'supermuffin' (power muffin being over-used and sadly inadequate).

These muffins are not cupcakes masquerading as a healthy snack. They are moist and thickly studded with chia, hemp and flax seeds snuggled up right next to rich dark chocolate and chopped pecans - more dense than light but a long way from being a dry and tasteless doorstop.

If gluten-free is important for you it is easy and successful to replace the spelt flour with your favourite gluten-free mix. When doing that I prefer a whole grain gluten-free flour* mix because just substituting an empty of nutrition gf mix for a nutritionally superior (even if it is not tolerated) sprouted whole wheat or spelt flour seems like a bad deal to me. 

Let your bananas get nice and freckled before baking them into supermuffins - or anything else for that matter - the taste is so much sweeter and richer.


banana chocolate supermuffins

1 1/4 cups oatmeal
1/2 cup sprouted whole grain spelt flour (substitute gluten-free flour here if you wish)
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup chia seed
1/4 cup hemp seed hearts
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 medium ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup agave syrup (or honey)
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 cups good quality dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 F. Whisk together oatmeal, flour, flaxseed, chia seed, hemps seeds, baking powder, baking soda, and pecans. Combine eggs, yogurt, bananas, oil, and syrup. Fold into dry ingredients and add chocolate chips. Bake in greased muffin tin at 375 F for 22 minutes. Makes 12 large muffins.

Update: we have found we love these baked as mini-muffins. The recipe as written makes 48 mini-muffins. They freeze beautifully and are actually super good frozen. (Maybe a little odd? Give 'em a try before you judge.) The mini size is often just the perfect bite for when you want something to feel a gap or need a bit of energy. Also perfect for tiny hands.

Note: I make my own blend of flours. This is the mix I use. It can be substituted cup for cup for all purpose flour.

whole grain gluten-free flour mixture
200 gm brown rice flour
150 gm sorghum flour
50 gm almond flour
50 gm potato flour
250 gm sweet rice flour
150 gm arrowroot
150 gm potato  starch

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

a breakfast bowl passion




Unless you are totally new to this blog you are by now well aware of how I feel about the first meal of the day. I am pretty passionate about it - because I am really ready to eat after a long night, it is nutritionally critical, and I just like the things I eat for breakfast. I tend to be a creature of habit (at least first thing in the morning) and love the comfort of familiar favourites for breakfast, so to add a new item to the lineup is tough. It means bumping an old friend or at least not enjoying it as often. One can only eat so much for breakfast!

Last month when I was in Vancouver helping with setting up LITCHFIELD I did not have the leisure to cook the old standbys. I was not in my own kitchen with my well stocked pantry right at hand and I didn't have much time to cook anyway but I still wanted/needed to eat a healthy and sustaining breakfast. This pretty breakfast bowl was born of that desire. It has quickly become a frontrunner in the favourites race. Fast and easy to put together and ultra adaptable it is the perfect breakfast for this (or any other) particularly busy time of year. It is loaded with superfoods and wise nutrition choices, tastes great, and is pretty enough to sit and gaze at …. if you have the time.

I like to use a combination of berries and another fruit (whatever is in season or on sale). Berries can be costly out of season but frozen berries work very well here and are almost always affordable. Sometimes I add chopped nuts but other times not. I like a half teaspoon of ground cinnamon most mornings but it is equally good without. The amounts suggested are what I use when I make a bowl for myself - you may like more or less of any one thing. Just to note: I do eat a hearty portion at breakfast time.

a pretty breakfast bowl

1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup blueberries
1/3 cup pomegranate arils (or half a pear chopped … )
3 Tbsp hemp hearts
1 tsp fresh bee pollen
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1Tbsp maple syrup
1 Tbsp cacao nibs
handful of broken pecan pieces

Layer the ingredients in a bowl, stir to combine, and enjoy.







Saturday, November 30, 2013

christmas lights

Today I decided to string some lights on a few trees that would only be seen by us. Not for public admiration, just a little bit of sparkle to delight us and remind us that elves are working away. It was a task I undertook on my own and being as I am not tall and the trees are growing on a steep-ish hill so a ladder would have been tricky, I really hope the only observers were rabbits. When I light our indoor tree I am ridiculously obsessive about the placement of each light, so I was quite pleased with my devil-may-care approach today. Of course, the results speak for themselves and as always you get what you pay for but I am still delighted with the little bit of sparkle in our private space.

As I was tossing strings of lights as far up the trees as I could I couldn't help but remember a Christmas-gift-making day with Merin and Eden. Merin was making a throw for her sister-in-law. In most things she was almost maddeningly perfectionist but in just a very few others she was adorably devil-may-care. She could wail over muffins ever so slightly over-baked but on this day when she ran out of the yarn she was using to make an incredible and luxurious fringe on the ends of the blanket (about 20" too soon), she calmly announced that it was fine. She was finished.  Eden and I laughed - and told her that it was not fine!! It simply wouldn't do. One can't give a gift that far from completion. She laughed with us but insisted it was fine. I can easily see her sitting at the sewing machine with her little baby belly just beginning to show and her face glowing with happiness. Such a good afternoon with my girls. A Merin memory that makes me smile.

postscript: The throw was completed another day. Don't know if the sister-in-law ever knew how close she came to getting a very unique gift.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

I'm back and proud to announce….


I am back (after too long away) and very proud to announce the birth of my latest grandchild. Yes, Jonathon had a baby and he named it LITCHFIELD with a tagline of 'How We Live'. The birth - like most first births - was a bit longer than one would have liked and a little more painful but my goodness, the baby is beautiful!!! 

Jonathon has been tossing the shop concept around for a while and a few months ago decided that there was no time like the present. So he left his position as president of Sturdy, visited with his bankers, signed the lease on a fantastic space in the Gastown district of Vancouver, rolled up his sleeves and gave up sleeping, eating, and playing to build and open this very cool shop.

He describes it as a lifestyle concept store. I don't know much about that but I do know that I love everything about LITCHFIELD. That may be because the idea for the shop started from our family - the way we live, the things we have collected and love, the places we have lived. The space is beautifully done with elements that recall bits of family - the grasscloth on the wall is definitely a nod to my father and the house he built, as is the beautiful walnut used throughout. The long run of walnut shelves were designed by Jonathon and built by Thomas with a little help from Daylan and David. Brass covered industrial shelving lines the opposite wall and upstairs there is more industrial shelving made cool with slabs of resin ordered from Martha Sturdy's workshop. Eden's amazing photography is a wonderful addition to the decor and adds another layer of family interest. My sister-in-law Paula Litchfield contributed her incredible talent to paint a stunning "rug" on the concrete floor that looks perfectly like the scrap of Japanese indigo fabric we showed her. There is a picture of Merin on a shelf because it just seemed right that she be there. The bison rug under the vintage mid-Century Danish sofa is like the rug in my living room. And the merchandise on the shelves is inspired by items we have used or loved - some made by us. Overall the shop looks like a sibling to each of our homes. There is a story in the store if you care to look. 

The shelves are loaded with everything that I want one of. There are baby alpaca throws from Peru, handmade knives from Japan, bison rugs and Japanese blue and white dishes. Exclusive (and incredible - I never knew my life was not complete without a set until I saw these) headphones from France made of Italian leather. Italian bags. Handmade axes (and yes I want one!!! although I have no idea what I would do with it) and Blackwing pencils. Skincare that is pure enough to eat and Snow Peak Japanese outdoor gear that makes me want to pull out the tent and hit the hills, never mind the snow. Laguiole knives from France that had me sighing and the most unique and beautiful scarves from Japan that I lust after. Cool hand knit 'house shoes' from Peru with salmon skin leather soles, hammered copper mugs from Japan, a truly amazing porcelain iPhone/iPod speaker from Italy (no power needed), Turkish towels, Danish bowls, my favourite cookbooks…. The list is intriguing and long. Every item chosen because it is beautiful and useful. Because it will last to be handed down. Because somehow there is a connection to our story. Because quality is utility as well as luxury.

I worked with Jonathon for a month as the shop took physical shape, the days were long and very full. It looks so simple but was in fact quite a lot of work. I am glad that I had the experience because I will forever appreciate the details of a retail space in a totally different way. I will notice things I simply took for granted until now. I will know that each individual element - although perhaps lovely on its own - adds up to more than the sum of the parts. Besides that, it was a lot of fun to work with Jonathon and I don't get that pleasure often enough. The only regret I have is I was so busy working that I took only iPhone pics and not many of those, so that is all I have to show off. But like any proud grandma the quality of the pictures won't put me off showing all and sundry. So from start to opening this is the journey…











If you are in the area, be sure to stop by. The shopkeeper is the greatest guy :)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

postscript and a cautionary tale for thanksgiving feasters



My mother - being a fond  mother and therefore one of my most devoted readers - explained to me one of the mysteries of my childhood after reading the post on a different pumpkin pie. It is a sad, sad tale but the moral is improving so I am moved to share.

My father loved good food and a good dessert just naturally follows a good meal, especially a good holiday feast. His mother, my grandmother Ina Burr Merrill, was a famously good cook and a very warm, loving mother. I remember the smells and delights of her kitchen, the cookies and pancakes, the huge family gatherings with cousins and aunts and uncles galore. Of course she made pies to die for -the apple pie with her own unique spin (the spin that she taught my mother and my mother passed down to me), rhubarb, and other pies as well. But the pie my father loved best and could never, ever have enough of was her supremely good pumpkin pie. One day she promised him as much pumpkin pie as he wanted ...  Nobody (aside from my grandma and my dad) knows just how much pie that was but apparently my dad was more greedy than wise. He ate and ate and ate that delicious richness of pumpkin pie until his stomach rebelled and he was sick. He never ate pumpkin pie again. So you see, it is a sad, sad tale. Let it be a lesson to all. (Just what that lesson may be I leave up to you to discover. On reflection, I have discovered at least a few.)

Although this recipe is not the pumpkin pie of the sad, sad tale it is one that my grandmother had in her files and it is written in her hand. When my mother gave it to me she also gave me a most wonderful gift - she said that I was a lot like my Grandma Merrill. She too had her basic and favourite recipes but loved trying new ideas and had recipes written on scraps of paper and bits of paper napkins. To be told that I am like my very much loved and wonderful grandmother in any way at all just absolutely made my day!



I considered making this pie for our Thanksgiving feast  but decided that to go against tradition might incite mutiny but I will for sure be giving it a try before long. Maybe with a few changes though.... just can't do Dream Whip :)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

old reliable pancakes




I realize (I do!) that calling these reliably favourite pancakes 'old reliable pancakes' is very likely selling them way short but I have been sitting here for more than a few minutes wondering what to call them. There is no name on the bedraggled piece of paper that I have chased around my kitchen for years - the paper with the recipe written in a hurried scrawl, portions crossed out and re-written as I discovered a new and better way to make these pancakes that we come back to time and time again. This is not to say that we don't love the new favourites but this version is the comfort food version in our house. I have been making them in one form or another for all the years of my kids lives (and we won't go into how many that would be). 'Old reliables' is what I call them in my mind and so that is what they are christened here. No pretence, nothing fancy - just old fashioned, reliably good pancakes with a new healthy twist.

There are several flours in this recipe and each adds something unique, so if you have them or want to add them to your pantry, go for the gusto. On the other hand if you don't have and don't want them all, just use what you do have and make sure the total volume adds up. (Usually volume alone is not the best way to exchange flours but I have found this recipe is incredibly forgiving in this regard.) The only non-negotiable flour-wise is the cornmeal. It is an absolute must and probably the reason these are so beloved - the crunch is perfection. The other absolute is the cardamom - don't ignore it either. And if I can, I would encourage the use of whole grain flours because anything else in pancakes is a ridiculous excuse for the first meal of the day and shouldn't be eaten by man or beast.

We like to load these babies up with Greek yogurt, fruit and a drizzle of lovely pure maple syrup. It makes a lovely start to any day. Or if you want to end your day with them, an egg on the stack is pretty great too.

old reliable pancakes

1/2 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup ground chia seed
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups buttermilk (or soured milk of your choice)
1/4 cup grape seed oil
2 Tbsp pure maple syrup

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk together.

In a separate bowl add the eggs, buttermilk, grape seed oil, and maple syrup. Whisk together then pour into the dry ingredients and fold just until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Bake on a hot griddle, flipping when bubbles appear on the surface.



Sunday, October 6, 2013

a different pumpkin pie


When I was young I thought pies were made with fruit - usually apple but sometimes rhubarb. My mother didn't make cream or custard pies - probably because my dad didn't like them. When pumpkin pies were brought to the table at our extended family gatherings for Thanksgiving or Christmas  I was unimpressed; I thought they looked awful and couldn't imagine what would entice anyone to eat pumpkin pie. Then I married into a family that rarely ate fruit pies and always, always had pumpkin pie to cap Thanksgiving dinner. Horrifyingly I was asked to make and bring a pumpkin pie to that significant family gathering the first year we were married. I had never tasted a pumpkin pie, let alone made one but I wanted to please and impress so I pulled out my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook and got to work. I don't remember how successful the endeavour was in the end - I do remember a bit of an issue with a spill but I must have boxed up and shipped out the rest of the memory because there is nothing there. Also in the interest of pleasing and impressing I ate pumpkin pie with my new family and never let on that I had not always eaten pumpkin pie. What a revelation!!! and what a lot of wasted time. Except for the sad appearance there is just nothing to not love about a good pumpkin pie.

This pumpkin pie is a different pumpkin pie. At least as good but different. No baking and no gluten but lots of the delicious rich spiciness that dresses up pumpkin so very well. The recipe was shared with me by a good friend ages ago - I just made a few easy changes so that it is now free of gluten and refined sugars. It still doesn't look like much but it is so, so good.

Might just be a good addition to the menu for Thanksgiving - it is just around the corner here in Canada.

a different pumpkin pie
(adapted from Pam Sellar's recipe)

Crust:
1 1/2 cups crushed gluten-free gingersnaps
3 Tbsp melted butter

Mix the butter and crushed gingersnaps. Press into a 9" pie plate. Set aside.

Filling:
1/4 cup honey
1 envelope gelatin
1 1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp each - allspice, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and sea salt
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a medium saucepan whisk the gelatin into pumpkin puree, then add the remaining filling ingredients and stir to mix. Cook over medium heat until it begins to bubble, reduce heat and cook for a further two minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Cream topping:
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine the cream, honey and vanilla. Whip until soft peaks form. Take out about half the whipped cream and set aside. To the remaining half add 1/2 tsp cinnamon and fold to combine.

To assemble to pie spread half of the pumpkin mixture into the gingersnap crust, cover that with the vanilla/honey whipped cream, spread the remaining pumpkin mixture carefully over the cream and finally top with the cinnamon whipped cream. Chill and enjoy.

Friday, October 4, 2013

october four

Today is Merin's birthday. It is not a sad day. Today I remember her birth and the overwhelming gratitude I felt for her life the night she was born, the gratitude that has grown since that night. I think of moments and days in her life and feel so much warmth and joy. I remember her beautiful smile, her sweet and generous nature, how she was sometimes too hard on herself but so forgiving toward others. I remember her  temper and passion, how she worked (consciously) to harness both and how she so sweetly apologized when temper slipped the reins and she "freaked out" about something. Her life was short but full - she could have done much more had she a longer time here but she did everything she wanted to do. Her passport was full of stamps from countries around the globe. She earned a BA Honours degree, she danced, she taught, she loved, she married, she was a mother. She was not perfect - no one is and I don't want to make her into what she was not - but she was wonderfully sweet and perfectly Merin. She was a ray of sunshine from top to bottom, inside and out. 

Happy birthday sweet Mer! Today I celebrate your life :)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

went to the ballet


Last night I went to the ballet. Madame Butterfly was the ballet, Alberta Ballet was the company. The performance was wonderful and the plot well-expressed through the choreography, Pucinni's compelling music, the sets and gorgeous costumes. I was thoroughly there and thoroughly enjoyed it. But more than the beauty of the ballet I was able to relax into the memories of Merin that so flood any experience that touches dance. To relax into those wonderful memories was a welcome joy.

Merin loved going to the ballet. Even though it almost always entailed rushing home from class to dress and primp - in a flurry and fluster - and finally arrive breathless at the theatre to sit in less-than-desirable seats on the third balcony (or to stand for the entire performance at the Paris Opera House when in Paris) she loved the ballet. She loved anticipating the show and, when the night arrived, dressing up to meet the occasion.  She loved meeting her friends, going with her sister, sometimes with me, or going solo. She loved the atmosphere that attends the event, the music, the dancers, the dancing - she loved the dancing!

Last night's ballet - centered as it was on Japan - was colored with another layer of memories of Merin. Memories of finding a studio and teacher that met her standard and need the year she was in Tokyo with us. Teaching her the long and multi-change train route to that studio once we found it. Sitting in the heat and humidity of the studio while she took class. And then knowing that she could easily go on her own but going with her anyway just for the joy of sharing time together.

Ballet memories are so very heavily loaded for me. Three years have passed and I miss my Merin more intensely than I can say. Time has mellowed the pain of loss in a way and I hope that mellowing will continue but I am realizing that I will always yearn for Merin and grieve her loss, even as I anticipate our eventual reunion. Being in a ballet setting brings precious memories to the very front of my mind and heart in a way that demands I pay attention to them. Until last night the intensity and sheer volume of those memories teetered on the edge of too sharp. It was wonderful to remember and feel the warmth of all that my daughter was as I relaxed into those precious memories last night. Once again, I know that life is good.

image from the Alberta Ballet website

Sunday, September 22, 2013

pear apple almond cake with dark chocolate






I love Sunday evenings. The house is peaceful, I am happy. Most times my heart and my stomach are absolutely satisfied - good food shared with the people I love best in all the world is a simple pleasure and an absolute luxury. A luxury that I never take for granted and hope to never live without. Today we shared our Sunday dinner with Thomas and his family. Ewan is teething and wanted everything and nothing but finally settled very happily on a cob of corn. Theo negotiated for another piece of bbq'd sausage with every bite of potato and Jane is so grown up that she ate her dinner and chatted about life and kindergarten with all the élan of a five year old. A bit chaotic but ever so much more charming and dear than the most gracious dinner party. It is the kind of party I most cherish.

The carrot on the end of the stick this evening was the cake that was baking when everyone arrived. Always a good thing to have a carrot to dangle when one's dinner guests are balking at their vegetables and this was a particularly appealing carrot. I must admit that I was a tiny bit anxious that this particular enticement might disappoint my youngest guests as it has a generous amount of dark chocolate (something that does not appeal to the palates of many youngsters) but I need not have worried. Theo devoured his with intense concentration while Jane attended to her dessert with a little more delicacy but no less enthusiasm. The rest of the table simply enjoyed.

The recipe is one that I found a few years ago on Smitten Kitchen and have made several times. Today I played with the sugar and flour, and added some apples from our tree outside. It is an incredibly delicious cake and so simple to make. Loaded with fruit and dark chocolate, topped with some softly whipped heavy cream...

There is browned butter in this cake. Browned butter and I have a history and it isn't a happy one. I have learned to do nothing but brown the butter and even then I don't take my eyes off the task for even a second. Not to check a recipe or stir another pot. Nothing. Every time I do, the butter burns. Just that fast it goes from perfectly fine to black and bitter. It seems to me the critical moment is the nutty smell, just after the foaming begins to subside.  (If you wait for the butter to truly brown you're hooped - it will continue to darken off the heat.) That is the moment to remove the pan from the heat but keep stirring for a minute or two - bad things can still happen to those precious milk solids. It is a little tricky but a trick well worth mastering. The cake is ever so much better for it.

pear apple almond cake with dark chocolate
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen) 

3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose spelt flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
3 eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large pears, diced
1 small apple, diced
3/4 cup dark chocolate chunks

Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan, set aside.

In a small bowl whisk together the flours, salt and baking powder.

Using a mixer whip the eggs on high speed for 5-9 minutes until pale and very thick. While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter (or brown it before you begin the whipping). When the eggs are sufficiently whipped, add the sugar and continue whipping for another minute. Turn the speed down to stir and add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of the flour.Stir just until combined.

Pour into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear, apple and chocolate pieces over the top and bake at 350 degrees F. until the cake is brown and springs back to the touch - about 50 minutes in my oven. (there is a lot of fruit in this cake and it is very moist but there is a difference between moist and underdone - test carefully)

Serve with softly whipped cream.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

just two for Sunday dinner




Sunday dinner at our house is most often a noisy, busy, happy, crazy, cluttered kind of affair with kids and toys scattered over top of and around parents lounging in groups and talking - the kind of catching up that is super important for all of us to stay connected. It is a highlight of my week, even those times when things just aren't like in the movies. I love to have all (or as many as possible) of my chicks in one place and under my roof, and Sunday afternoon is when it most often happens. Usually the house is full but occasionally the family has other obligations. On those rare Sunday evenings David and I have a quiet few hours together to enjoy a meal that is tailored just to us. No food preferences to consider other than our own, no bedtimes to work around. Just what we like and when. A soft and gentle time for we two. This past Sunday was one of those Sundays so I made a red quinoa salad that took my fancy earlier in the day and paired it with an easy bacon-wrapped, mustard and brown sugar-smeared pork tenderloin. Simple, easy, healthy, good. Enjoyed at leisure and together. Yummy enough to want to share.

Quinoa salads are so popular that they are becoming a bit cliche - a shame because there is so much creative potential. On the other hand there is a large contingent that has decided (quite emphatically) that they dislike quinoa and won't have it however it may be prepared. This salad offers something for both camps, those who think another quinoa salad is same-old-same-old and those who think they don't like quinoa. Red quinoa is quite a different beast from regular run of the mill white quinoa. Firmer in texture, nuttier in taste, and altogether better - it may persuade the quinoa nay-sayers to rethink their stand. The lime vinaigrette is spicy and bright. We liked it all. I made three small changes to the recipe. The first was of necessity not choice - I had only one lime so my vinaigrette  used the juice of one, not two limes. It tasted just about perfect to me but two may be better. The second was substituting grape seed oil for canola - I don't use canola anymore. (A reasoned choice.) And finally I increased the amount of cilantro because I love it :)

Our quiet Sunday was lovely for a change but I really hope we have a noisy, busy, happy, crazy, cluttered gathering next week. I miss it when we don't. 

red quinoa salad with spicy lime vinaigrette
(from Food 52 with a few small changes)

vinaigrette

1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 small jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
zest of 1/2 lime
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all the ingredients except the oils in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the oils until combined. Taste for seasoning and set aside.

quinoa salad

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and seeded, cut into 1" cubes
1 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 cup red quinoa
2 cups water
1 (15 oz) can white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

 Combine the pumpkin seeds with the olive oil and paprika on a baking sheet and toast at 350 F for about 8 minutes, or until brown and fragrant. Set aside to cool.

Turn the oven temperature up to 400 degrees F. Using the same baking sheet, combine the butternut squash and grapeseed  oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30-35 minutes, tossing halfway through to evenly brown and caramelize. Set aside to cool.

In a medium saucepan bring the water, pinch of salt, and quinoa to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to cool slightly. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add the cooked squash, beans, half the pumpkin seeds and half the cilantro. Drizzle with the lime dressing and toss to combine. Taste for seasoning. Garnish with the remaining pumpkin seeds and cilantro.



Thursday, September 12, 2013

almond cardamom cookies with chickpea flour




One of the local whole foods markets I frequent has recently really stepped up their game in the taste-test department. So much so that I find myself timing my stops there so I can be sure of tasting whatever is on offer that day. One has to think these things through carefully or one is apt to miss the boat - there is only a limited amount on any given day and I suspect that I am not the only one to notice. These taste tests are not your run-of-the-mill-Costco offering. They are home-made and designed to promote whole ingredients the store is selling. Having spoken to the woman who does the making I know she doesn't 'invent' the recipes, she just finds them, makes them, and samples them. She is kind enough to provide the recipes (a necessity if the shop wants to sell the ingredients I would think) and I have happily made several at home. Yesterday I was there again and the sample was so good that I ate one and then boldly, one more. No shame at all. Snagged a recipe printout, checked to make sure that I had everything I would need and made a batch of these cookies first thing this morning. Of that batch, five cookies remain and I doubt that they will last the day.

Eden, Isaac, Mark, and David were my primary testers. Nobody wanted to share and Eden was sad that she didn't have chickpea flour on hand because she wanted to make some then and there. 'Nuff said.

The cookies at the store were gluten-free but used refined sugar. I used coconut palm sugar instead, added a spice and a little almond extract to up the almond taste. Unfortunately, while the taste-testing woman shares her recipes she does not share the source so I cannot give credit where credit is due - and I really think some reasonable credit is due here. These are good cookies  - not just good for gluten-free. At least we all thought so.

almond cardamom cookies with chickpea flour
gluten-free, refined sugar-free

1 cup almond flour
1 cup chickpea flour
3/4 cup coconut palm sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract

Cream together softened butter and coconut palm sugar. Add egg yolk and both extracts, beating until smooth and creamy. Add chickpea and almond flours, mixing until a soft dough forms - this will take a minute or two.

Roll into balls about 1" in diameter and flatten slightly. (I used a cookie stamp just for fun, even though the cookies were a lot smaller than the stamp I liked the look.) Bake at 300 F. for 12-18 minutes on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Cool for 2 or 3 minutes on the pan and continue cooling on a wire rack.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

green bean salad with fresh tarragon and pecans




Yesterday I was busy doing the stuff I usually do on Mondays (laundry, cleaning, gardening - work that needs to be done but has a negative glamour quotient) when I realized that it was almost time for dinner but there was nothing planned, let alone on the go. At that particular moment of realization I was standing in the very middle of my garden, bravely advising the mice to head out (and not across my toes) so I could dig a few carrots, etc. As I pulled some beets, picked a bowlful of beans, and dug a few carrots I was wondering what to do for dinner. It came to me pretty quickly a few minutes later as I looked at the beautiful haul, clean and bright, at the side of the kitchen sink. Food that pretty doesn't need a whole lot of fussing to be amazing. So we had a beet salad, sautéed beet greens with lemon juice and butter, a little bbq'd chicken breast, and .... a green bean salad that will change your life.

The recipe is from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark - one of my very favourite cookbooks. I appreciate all the volumes in my ridiculously large cookbook collection for one virtue or another but this cookbook is one of the two or three that I use often and have never tried anything that I have not loved. Her green bean salad is of necessity a tiny bit different from mine because of a walnut allergy here. She talks about eating her mother's green bean salad  with her hands, a comment I thought odd at first reading but now totally understand. I used my fingers too :) I shared some for lunch with Eden - she used her fingers exclusively. 

This just might be the very best way to eat green beans. Ever. Coming from me that is saying an awful lot. I take my green beans very seriously.

green bean salad with tarragon and pecans
(adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark)

1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
2 tsp finely chopped shallot
1 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
1/3 cup broken pecans

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the prepared beans into the boiling water and cook for a couple of minutes - until the beans are bright green and almost but not quite crisp-tender. Remove immediately from heat and drain.

In a small bowl whisk together the shallot, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.

In a bowl toss together the warm beans, pecans, tarragon and shallot vinaigrette. Serve warm, at room temperature, or straight out of the fridge for lunch the next day.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

watermelon, feta & arugula



There is hardly a fruit I have met that I don't like - some fruit I love (my apple a day habit) and then there is my personal passion fruit. I am devoted to watermelon. I know that watermelon is available year round now but it is never quite as good the rest of the year as it is when it is truly in season. When I was a child I practically counted the days until it was summer again and it was not truly summer until watermelon was in the stores and my mother bought one to bring home. It was a summer evening ritual to slice a round of watermelon and carefully cut the rind off leaving the beautiful circle of red flesh whole. I remember sitting across the table from my dad, each of us with our circle of watermelon on a plate and a fork in hand, carefully eating our way around the slices from least sweet to the precious super-sweet bit at the centre, talking about the events of our days as the light grew dim. I knew friends and cousins salted their watermelon, a practice that appalled me then and baffles me now - watermelon being so perfect the way it grows! I have seen recipes for watermelon this and that and never been even the tiniest bit tempted and then, fatefully, I was at a summer evening bbq with friends and we ate the most amazing watermelon salad. Ever. I had three (yes, three) servings before the night was over and could not wait to make it at home. I cannot encourage you enough to do the same. It is easy, easy, easy and absolutely delicious .... (unless you, like my unfathomable brother, do not like watermelon.)

I maintain that watermelon is perfect all on it's own but the combination of ingredients in this salad is sublime - sweet crisp watermelon, rich salty feta, and the peppery freshness of the greens - each enhancing the other. It is simply another way to enjoy the best fruit of summer.

To call this a recipe feels a bit grand - maybe think of it as a suggestion. My friend simply told me "watermelon, arugula, feta, and poppy seed dressing from a bottle". I prefer to make my own dressings (because it is easy and then I know just what is in them) so I tried two versions for this - one with balsamic vinegar for the acid and the other with lemon juice.We loved them both; I have a slight preference for one, while David has a slight preference for the other. Guess it doesn't much matter :) I can only say that my my life will never be the same.

watermelon, feta & arugula

4 cups baby arugula greens
3 cups watermelon cubes
1 cup crumbled feta
1 Tbsp plain greek yogurt
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (or 4 tsp fresh lemon juice)

Put the greens, watermelon, and feta in a large bowl. In a small bowl whisk together yogurt, olive oil, and vinegar (or lemon juice). Pour the dressing over the greens and watermelon. Toss lightly.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

garden gado gado






When we were living in Tokyo I was introduced to gado gado - a dish that has become a family favourite but was almost never tasted. I was lunching with friends on that fateful day and the prepared lunch was a salad made with an odd selection of raw and lightly steamed vegetables topped with fruit and what appeared to be gravy. To be truthful it looked pretty nasty to me. Fortunately good manners prevailed and I simply could not refuse the dish thereby risking offence or embarrassment for my hostess. The first bite was a revelation and on the second I was hooked.  Gado gado is a particular favourite of Hannah's and as we were celebrating her birthday (a bit late) on Sunday, gado gado was the menu. This time I decided to use vegetables from my garden and make a slightly more North American version. Simple, clean, whole food. I don't know if it was better or not but it was certainly very good.

Gado gado requires a fair amount of chopping and prepping but as the dish is served cold it can all be done well in advance, making it a perfect meal to serve to guests. It also lends itself well to a family pot-luck type event where everyone brings an item and no one is stuck with a mountain of work. It can be plated if you want but it is much more fun to load the table with bowls of ingredients and condiments and let each person make a salad that pleases their personal palate. Kids and adults alike pretty much licked the plates clean.

The amounts I am including here happily feed our crowd - 8 adults and 8 children. I realize that may be many more than you are feeding or it may be less. It is simple to adjust the amounts down to accommodate your numbers and even more simple to make it as is and eat gado gado tomorrow night as well. It also pack well for a wonderful lunch.

garden gado gado

3 cups brown rice, steamed
4 cups chopped kale
5 carrots, scrubbed and julienned
4 medium beets, shredded
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 lb fresh green beans, lightly steamed
new potatoes, steamed and quartered
1/2 english cucumber, diced
6 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and chopped

Peanut Sauce:

1 Tbsp coconut oil
1/4 cup grated onion
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1 1/2 cups natural peanut butter
2 cups water
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce*
1 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp coconut palm sugar
3 Tbsp lime juice

sriracha sauce

Saute onion and ginger in coconut oil over medium heat for about a minute. Add peanut butter, water, soy sauce, sae salt, palm sugar and lime juice. Whisk until smooth and cook at low heat for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Just prior to serving whisk in the apple cider vinegar.

Layer salad ingredients (roughly) in the order listed. If each person loads their own plate they can add according to personal preference in terms of what and how much. Drizzle with peanut sauce and pass the sriracha to taste.

*If you use a gluten free soy sauce (check the label carefully!) this is easily gluten free.