Saturday, June 29, 2013

individual rhubarb maple custard pies

gluten-free, refined sugar free






I am always worried about over-selling anything I share. There is an overabundance of hyperbole here on the wonderful www and I am loath to add to it. Everything simply cannot be either amazing or horrible - the law of averages would lead one to believe that most things are just... average. But I am super-excited about these little pies. I have tried any number of ways to make a gluten-free, refined sugar  free confection that could reasonably be called a pie and (without going into hyperbole territory) I would in all honesty have to evaluate each try as falling far enough from the mark to qualify as a fail. This little pie passes my test. To be truthful it doesn't have a wonderful flaky pastry crust but I really don't care - not for this. The pecans and almonds that stand in for that flaky crust are absolutely as satisfying.

My devotion to rhubarb anything is probably verging on boring but we (the Litchfield clan) love the stuff. Rhubarb pie in its beautiful simplicity is one of our all-time favourite treats. Eden has been very much missing the taste of that dreamy pie and her reaction to this mini-pie was even more enthusiastic than my own. If you have any rhubarb in your garden or at your market and even a tiny bit of love for rhubarb whatevers, give this recipe a go. It is super simple and really, really yummy. Baking it in cute little jam jars or ramekins just ups the appeal but if you would rather just make one large pie, you absolutely can.

Note: if you don't care about gluten-free or refined sugar free (or live where those items are hard to source) simply choose to use brown sugar to replace the coconut palm sugar and unbleached white flour in place of the gluten-free flour mix. You will be happy with what comes out of the oven. Promise.

individual rhubarb maple custard pies
(adapted from canadianfamily.ca)

1 1/4 cups pecans
3/4 cup almonds
4 Tbsp coconut palm sugar, divided
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3 Tbsp melted butter
1/3 cup honey
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 Tbsp gluten-free flour mix, divided
3 cups diced rhubarb

Put the pecans, almonds, 1 Tbsp coconut palm sugar, and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Pour in the melted butter and pulse just until combined. Spoon 3 Tbsp of the mixture into the bottom of each of six 6 oz glass jars or ramekins. (You can also make smaller pies by putting 1 1/2 Tbsp of the mixture into each of twelve 3 oz glass jars - gotta say these were pretty cute!). Press the mixture lightly into the bottom of the jars and set aside for a few minutes. There will be some of the ground nut mixture left in the food processor bowl - save it!

In a medium bowl whisk together the honey, egg yolks, maple syrup, cream, and vanilla. Whisk in 3 Tbsp of the gluten-free flour mix. Spoon 1/3 cup of the egg/cream mixture into each of the prepared jars and top with 1/2 cup of diced rhubarb. If you are making the smaller pies adjust your amounts accordingly - I trust you to do that without an exact measurement :)

To the remaining ground nuts in the food processor add the last 3 Tbsp coconut palm sugar and the remaining 3 Tbsp of gluten-free flour mix. Pulse a couple of times to combine. Sprinkle the mixture over the top of the rhubarb in the jars.

Place the jars about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees F. for 12 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and continue baking for another 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy!!

Monday, June 24, 2013

clarification

I have thought and rethought what I wrote yesterday - about the fun we had on our evacuation sleepover. It was fun but I know that many reading that may find the expression cavalier, thoughtless, or flip. It was fun because we were safe, secure, and with loved ones. It was pointless to stress and worry - no amount of fretting would halt the flood waters or turn back the clock. For many others who have been evacuated the experience was very different. Watching the flood coverage on channel after channel all they could do was hope and pray that the damage would not be too great, knowing that the homes they loved were certainly flooded.

This morning I had an errand to take supplies to a crew of volunteers involved in cleanup. As I slowly made my way through streets clogged with vehicles, debris, dumpsters, and workers to the home of our friends I felt like weeping. The devastation was awful, the cleanup overwhelming. House after house with muddy household goods and ruined furniture and carpets piled in the yard. People covered in mud to their armpits as they worked to repair the damage. 

Many have lost much (or most) of their worldly goods. Things that they treasure, that are the accumulation of a lifetime. It is all too easy to respond that these things they have lost are only things - that at least they have one another, that things can be replaced. But the truth is that some things cannot be replaced and these are the things that will be mourned. Of course everyone acknowledges that things are not people - not loved ones - but the things that we cannot replace are often closely tied to memories of those loved ones. Other things that we cannot replace may be our concrete proof of accomplishments, that we were here or went there. They hold memory for us much like a photo does. To lose those things can feel a bit like losing the loved one or the memory.

For each of us what we collect is an intimate and personal reflection. From the books we read to the clothes we wear and the furniture we sit on they tell a tale to any who care to notice of who we really are. The collections of some are (sadly) only an assortment of items directed by the whims of fashion and media, while the collections of others are unique and wonderful catalogues of a life well-lived. 

I know that this flood we are cleaning up after has brought sorrow and loss to many. I know that they will recover from that with time and help - we are after all, hardwired to adapt by a loving Father in Heaven. The beauty of the devastation around us lies in the selfless service and sincere concern of one neighbour for another. There is so much love offered and accepted as we work our way back to order and security. We do live in a wonderful world.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

the evacuation sleepover and a kale salad


This has been a full, crazy week. It started with a quick trip to Victoria with a couple of friends (totally frivolous and fun and let's be honest... a tiny bit shallow) and ended with a  100 year flood as the Bow and Elbow Rivers over-ran their banks causing massive flooding and a state of emergency here in Calgary. I have no wish to make light of the devastation countless people face as they return to their homes. Many will return from the mandatory evacuation, as we did, to find that all is well. Others are finding relatively minor damage, while still others are returning to almost total loss of their personal possessions. Some of what is lost is replaceable but much is not. 

I say I have no wish to make light of this event - and I don't - but part of it was just plain fun for us. When the evacuation order came we had the luxury of an immediate invitation to camp at Eden's. Deacon and Aubrie gave up their beds with alacrity, anticipating the fun of sleeping bags on the floor (you've got to be very young to look forward to that!) I don't know how anybody else felt about our sudden and indefinite evacuation sleepover party but I was pretty happy to be with some of my favourite people. 

The order came mid-afternoon. It was a simple matter to gather the little bit that David and I would need for a few days, clear the fridge of perishables and head out but it was still getting close to dinner time when we arrived on Eden's doorstep. Dinner time and no dinner planned by either dinner planner - Eden and I had been sewing all day and not thinking about practical necessities like food. Certainly not thinking about hunkering down and battening the hatches against the flood of the century. That reality against the practical necessity of a meal meant we had to be a little bit creative with the combined contents of our fridges. Fortunately while neither of us had enough on our own, together it was just right - an apt metaphor for life.

The basis of this salad is a recipe a good friend of mine passed along at the quilting group I am part of. We needed it be dinner not just a part of it so we embellished. The result was a very happy one; even the kids loved it (although in complete honesty I have to admit that Ysa had to be persuaded and cajoled but as that is a current trend for her regardless of the items on the menu I am discounting her reaction. She did eat it. Eventually. ... which is not the current trend.) I had the red pepper and kale. Eden suppled some grilled chicken thighs, leftover rice and a couple of carrots. Tossed with a simple asian dressing it was fast, easy, healthy and yummy. Perfect, right?

For us this flood and the evacuation was not a difficult event. We had the luxury of a comfortable and familiar place to be sheltered, an easy and warm welcome and no real concern about the flood waters reaching our home. We were included in the order simply because the flood was anticipated to cut off access to our area. Nevertheless the damage that is all too evident in areas along the river just a short walk down the hill is witness to the awesome power of nature - a reminder that in the face of that power we are, in the end, quite powerless. We do have emergency supplies but they are scattered throughout the house, some in one spot others in another. I know where they are but David does not. Putting together a 72 hour kit that will meet our needs is high on my priority list now. This time we were lucky. Next time maybe not.

Asian dressed kale salad with rice and chicken
(adapted from Sheila Penner's recipe)

salad:
1 large bunch kale, stems removed and leaves finely chopped
2 carrots, grated
1 1/2 red bell peppers, diced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cups cooked rice*, cooled
2 cups diced grilled chicken thigh

dressing:
2/3 cup almond butter
4 Tbsp grapeseed oil
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 1/2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
3 Tbsp warm water
1 tsp sea salt
hot sauce to taste

Place the salad ingredients in a large bowl.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Pour over the salad ingredients and toss to combine.

*Next time I might use brown rice instead of the white. There are arguments for the health advantages of each though, so I guess go ahead and use what you have and like.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

How can I go to bed tonight without at least a nod to fathers? The lazy part of me would very much like to but there is another part that simply cannot. I had the most amazing father any little girl could dream of - a wonderful, handsome, warm and loving man who encouraged me to dream big and reach for the stars. He called me his pride and joy and I really believed that I was. That belief gave me the confidence to be strong and to have courage. He told me I could do whatever I wanted to do if I wanted it badly enough - and my experience has taught me that he was right about that (sometimes I just don't want it badly enough to do the work). It was his push that propelled me more than once, and his hold that kept me safe. I knew he would catch me when I jumped because he always did. He enfolded me in the best warm hugs and listened thoughtfully when I came to him. He loved my mother without reserve - and I felt secure. He died when I was 36 but he is so very present in my life still.

David is the best of fathers. Honest, loving, fun and always there for the important things whether big or little, he paid (and pays) attention to the things that matter to each of our children. Our sons have followed this heritage and are wonderful fathers. I love to watch them care for their families - to see them tenderly teaching or dreaming up make-believe, to watch them console a hurt or build a fort, to see the love they show, to know that they too will help their children reach for their dreams and protect them from harm.

I am blessed by the fathers in my life. I love them all.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

rhubarb & quinoa breakfast bowl with strawberries





If attentively watching and impatiently waiting have any impact on the rate of growth in the rhubarb patch, my rhubarb plants should be well ahead of the curve. Unfortunately I suspect that all my watching and waiting have simply been a bit of a waste of time - rhubarb seems to grow as fast as rhubarb grows. The attention is not entirely wasted however because I am finally able to slip out my kitchen door first thing in the morning to pull the three stalks required for a bit of breakfast (or an armful for stewing - love stewed rhubarb so much!)

I am a true lover of the vegetable and generally look down my nose at recipes that add strawberries to rhubarb. I honestly love the mouth-puckering, dry taste of rhubarb. Some sweetener is for sure a good thing but I just can't find a love for cooked strawberries and don't like to cover the taste of the rhubarb. There is an exception to every rule though and this is one of those exceptions.In this case, cook the rhubarb with the quinoa and put the fresh strawberries on top. Simple and lovely. A perfect, hearty, warm-weather breakfast that delivers a good serving of complete protein. Gluten-free, refined-sugar free as well.

As a card-carrying member of the sweet tooth club I sprinkled my bowl with a bit of coconut palm sugar, you might be happy with just a spoonful of honey or maple syrup mixed in. The Greek yogurt, though, is non-negotiable in my opinion. This recipe makes 2 hearty servings.

rhubarb & quinoa breakfast bowl with strawberries
(adapted from Quinoa Revolution by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming)

1 1/3 cups water
2/3 cup quinoa
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 cup sliced fresh rhubarb
1 cup quartered strawberries
1 Tbsp honey or pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp sliced almonds
Greek yogurt
coconut palm sugar

Bring the water, cinnamon, quinoa and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce to a simmer, add the rhubarb, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Removed from heat and stir in the honey or maple syrup. Divide between two bowls for serving and top each with a generous dollop of honey (or plain) yogurt, half of the strawberries, and 1 Tbsp sliced almonds. The additional sprinkle of coconut palm sugar is entirely up to you.



Monday, June 10, 2013

darkest chocolate ice cream

refined-sugar free




Yesterday was Thomas's 31st birthday. The heavy, dark sky looked so much like the sky the day Thomas was born - and neither in any way reflect the brightness of my middle son. He came with an intense, concentrated wonderfulness. An independence of spirit that has been nicely balanced with warmth and awareness of others. He has grown into a most interesting man with a multitude of talents and interests. I am always impressed. Honestly. Currently he is passionate about axes (of all things!) and wood - making the coolest (truly uber-coolest) tools, sculpture and even furniture. What a guy!

Usually we have a family birthday dinner for each family member here, at our house, but this year Thomas and Hannah invited us to their home for the celebration. All Thomas asked me to bring was some homemade dark chocolate ice cream. Easy and fun.

I have pinned a bunch of ice cream recipes that look so tempting but in the end I turned to my very favourite book of ice cream recipes jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer. Billed as "more than 100 addictively good artisanal recipes" I was hooked without a hope as soon as I saw the book - I mean 'addictive' and 'artisanal' and 'ice cream'?!! - I didn't have a chance. Having made a good start on testing the truth of the claim my advice is to buy the book. Anyway, I started with her recipe for The Darkest Chocolate Ice Cream in the World. Totally promising and it delivered. Thomas declared it the best ice cream he has ever had. He may have just been polite but I thought it was pretty good too.

Of course, I had to tinker with the recipe somewhat so that Eden could indulge with the rest of the famille - all of us are better without refined-sugar and the ice cream was none-the-worse for the change. We are not coffee drinkers so I used a tiny bit of my precious store of "Postum" in place of the coffee called for. Sadly Postum is no longer available but if you can lay your hands on a bag of "Dandy Blend" (and don't want to use coffee for whatever reason) my bet is that it would be even better than the Postum substitute - the addition is subtle but important. I made a few other small changes because I felt like it. Use my adapted recipe or the original but you gotta try this - rich but not cloying - it is ice cream for adult palates.

Of course, it should go without saying but I'll point it out anyway, use the best cocoa and chocolate you can manage. It is worth it.

darkest chocolate ice cream
(adapted from jeni's splendid ice creams at home by Jeni Britton Bauer)

1/2 cup good quality cocoa (not dutch process)
1/2 cup water with 1 tsp Dandy Blend dissolved
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
1 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 10 oz can whole condensed milk
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp cream cheese, softened
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup honey

Start by making a chocolate syrup: combine the cocoa, coconut palm sugar and the Dandy Blend/water mixture in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring and boil for 30 seconds. Remove from heat, add the chopped chocolate and let stand for a few minutes. Stir until smooth and set aside.

Mix about 2 Tbsp of the condensed milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl. Whisk the cream cheese and salt into the chocolate syrup.

Combine the remaining condensed milk, the coconut milk, cream, and honey in a large saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Replace on heat and bring back to a boil, and cook, stirring, until slightly thickened - about 1 minute. Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the chocolate mixture until smooth. Cool completely. Follow the directions particular to your ice cream maker. (I use a Cuisinart electric freezer and love it.) After churning, pack into a container and freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm. About 4 hours.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

rainbow superslaw


Life gets crazy busy - every season a bit more full than the last. When my kids were tiny I imagined that once they were more independent life would be easier. And it was.... in a way. Less hands-on with things like doing up buttons and zippers, getting food from bowls to mouths and bodies into beds but still complicated as I learned to navigate the intricacies of homework and after-school lessons - busy-er not less so. As we progressed through the teen years and on into university, then marriages and babies of their own I have realized that life doesn't slow down, it speeds up. As I move through the experiences of my life I know that I want to continue to experience personal growth. To be better, wiser, smarter, more skilled. That takes time and thought and effort. Doing that and keeping up with the people that mean the most to me means I have to run pretty fast some days. 

One of the things that gets left in the dust of the party of life is the small effort of sharing some of what I put on the table each day. Not that what is on our table every day is worthy of being shared but there are a lot more recipes I have been excited about than I share. If I could sit down right away and tell you how fun it was to try this or that, to share how well it was received and how delicious it was, how I made it easier, or even the laughable less-ables there would be a lot more posts. But I am usually running off to keep up with myself and some of the recipes that are really well worth sharing are neglected. This is one of those.

I saw this recipe in Everyday Food magazine and added it to the list of things that look good to me. That was last fall. I finally made it a few weeks ago for David's birthday dinner and after the first mouthful I really wished I had tried it earlier because we could have been eating it months ago! I love a good slaw and this is one of the best I have tried. Full of wonderful flavours and textures but most importantly, good healthiness. The cherry on the top is that it is really beautiful. The original recipe is Jamie Oliver's so you know it's going to be good :) 

Everyday Food recommends using a food processor and grating all the ingredients into the bowl in a prescribed order. My food processor while not small, is not large enough for that technique so I modified it. I used pecans instead of walnuts because of walnut allergies. Other than that, I followed Jamie's lead. Why mess with excellence?!

rainbow superslaw
(from Everyday Food and Jamie Oliver's Great Britain by Jamie Oliver)

2 raw medium sized beets, trimmed and scrubbed
1/4 red cabbage
2 large carrots
1/4 green cabbage
2 firm pears
1 cup pecans, roughly broken
2 large handfuls fresh curly parsley, chopped

dressing:
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
2 tsp grainy mustard
3 Tbsp cider vinegar
6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Worcestershire sauce
sriracha hot sauce

Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Shred or coarsely grate the cabbages and carrots into a large bowl. Grate the pears and add to the bowl. (To grate the pears I used a finer attachment.) Add about 1/2 of the chopped parsley to the bowl. Grate the beets into a separate bowl to keep them from staining everything.

Pour the dressing over the cabbage, carrots, and pears. Toss lightly to combine roughly. Add about 1/3 of the shredded beets and toss very lightly to keep the colours bright and separate. Arrange the mixed vegetables on a platter. Top with the remaining beets, followed by the rest of the parsley and finishing with the broken pecans.

Take a minute to enjoy the beautiful perfection of healthy, delicious food - then dig in!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

salted chocolate crispie bars

gluten-free, refined sugar free




June! I have always loved June. Maybe because it is my birthday month, maybe it is the held-over memories of end-of-the-school-year stuff that seems to fill the month (causing mothers to pull their hair out and kids to rejoice) but it can't be the weather because June in Calgary pretty much means rain. The kind of daily rain that in Japan they call The Rainy Season. The kind of rain that swells the rivers, threatens flooding and awakens the mosquito population. The kind of daily rain that gardens thrive in if you were clever enough to get out there and sow the seeds but that spells a muddy mess if you want to try that project right now. In spite of that reality for some crazy reason reason when I think, read, or hear the word 'June' I think SUN.

Today is June 1, Saturday and sunny! I think that must qualify this as a day that needs at least a mini-celebration. Celebrations - even mini ones - simply need treats. It is in the definition. No treat, no celebration. These chocolate bars are up to the task and in fact, I like them so well that I think simply having a bite of one qualifies as a mini-mini celebration all in itself. I found the recipe over on FOOD52 (a favourite stop for me) with a write-up that intrigued (touted as an attempt at a healthy rice krispie square and called Hippie Crispie Treats). We have been missing our rice krispie squares around here since if I make marshmallows -with honey no less - there is no way they are being melted into the ubiquitous rice krispie squares and any other marshmallow is just a yummy, sweet puff of refined sugar. Which, of course, we avoid now. So... a healthy option sounded promising enough to try. While I am not sure I would add this recipe to the queue of truly healthy it certainly is healthier and healthy enough. AND it is De. Lish. Us! I loved the sprinkle of salt on the top - yummy became amazing.

The only itty bitty tweak I made to the recipe was to decrease the amount of coconut oil in the topping - a choice not lightly made. Coconut oil while incredibly good for one has such a low melting point that 2 Tbsp of the stuff made a topping that was wonderful straight out of the fridge but almost runny 10 minutes later. Messy, messy. 1 Tbsp is about perfect. These squares do not need to be kept in the fridge and if by some miraculous chance they are still hanging around the day after you make them the rice will be slightly less crisp (but in no way even approaching soggy). I have previously always subbed honey or agave for brown rice syrup in any recipe calling for the syrup but for this recipe stick with the brown rice syrup. It is not nearly as sweet as the other two options and enhances the chewy factor. Worth adding to the market list.

I took some over to Eden's for a little market research. The test market is a tough one but the product received a very favourable rating with the testers lamenting the one piece per person I had allowed for. 

After I shared my treats, Deacon shared some lego creations - scenes from books he has read. Amazingly he remembers which lego pieces came from which particular lego set. A feat you would be more impressed with if you were to see the extent of the collection ;)

salted chocolate crispie bars
(barely tweaked from Food 52)

1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup almond butter
1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
2 Tbsp virgin coconut oil
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
4 cups puffed rice cereal

topping:
1 Tbsp virgin coconut oil
1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 tsp flaky sea salt (like Maldon's)

Line an 8x8" pan with a sling of parchment paper and set aside.

In a large saucepan combine the maple and brown rice syrups, then bring to a rolling boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly so it doesn't boil over. You will want to use a larger saucepan than you think you need simply because stirring the cereal into the chocolate mixture can be kind of frustrating if the pan is too small. I know - I did it :) Remove from heat and add the almond butter, chopped chocolate, coconut oil and salt, stirring until everything is melted and smooth. Fold in the rice cereal. Push the mixture into the lined pan and press firmly and evenly.

In a small saucepan melt together the second 1/2 cup of chopped chocolate and the 1 Tbsp of coconut oil. Stir constantly over low heat until melted and smooth. Pour the topping over the rice mixture and spread to the edges. Sprinkle with the sliced almonds and sea salt.

Refrigerate to speed setting or let cool at room temperature for about 2 hours.