Friday, November 7, 2014

Dairy-free Blender Chocolate Pudding

Let's just say that I liked Mark Bittman. 

Not only does he write about topics I am passionate about- agriculture, health, and environment, he also happens to be the leading food columnist for The New York Times

He is also the author of some rather stellar cookbooks- the How to Cook Everything series looks to be the 'Joy of Cooking' for this century- quick and healthy is his focus. 

Which is why I currently love him. 

Actually, my whole family loves him. They think they love me (even more than usual), because a decadent chocolate pudding has made its appearance after dinner several times in the last few weeks. 

It's his chocolate pudding that makes everyone swoon...and lick the last trails of pudding from their bowls. 

I wondered if they'd be so impressed if they knew how easy it was. 

Blender. Bananas. Chocolate Chips. Tofu. Vanilla. A touch of sugar. Whirl. 

If you need a few more details, here they are. My adapted, super simple, chocolate pudding by way of Mark Bittman. (If you haven't found his website yet, check it out here.)

Make it before dinner, enjoy it right after. 

As you lick your bowl clean, you are going to love me. And Mark Bittman.

Dairy-free Blender Chocolate Pudding 
Serves about 6
If your blender isn't high powered, you can divide this in half and make half at a time. 

2 bananas
1 lb (or 349 g) pkg silken tofu
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chocolate (check that they have no dairy if you need dairy-free)
1/2 tsp vanilla
Pinch salt
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup sugar

1. Melt chocolate chips in microwave or on small, heavy saucepan over low heat. 
2. Combine all ingredients in blender and whirl until smooth. Add sugar to taste. Scrape down sides and whirl again until completely smooth. 
3. Pour into individual dishes. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes. 
Serve as is, with whipping cream or dairy free coconut cream.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Simple Chicken Souvlaki

This is so simple it barely deserves a blog post.

Except it does because everyone loves it.

The Older Adults Community Kitchen that I lead made this the other day and they were raving it about it. How tender, how flavourful. After remembering how simple this recipe is, I decided it was time to get my daughter in the kitchen to try her hand at this.

We gathered the simple supplies and she got to work- juicing the lemons with my fun squeezing tool, smashing the garlic clove with the bottom of a mug to release its wrapper, crushing said garlic in a nifty press, measuring out the oregano and fork-whisking the marinade together. All simple tasks for an adult used to being in the kitchen- but exceedingly important tasks for kids wanting to learn some basic kitchen skills. 

I love seeing the pride that ensues when the kids help to create a meal. I love the ideas that flow and the creativity that cooking can ignite. 

Tonight it was adding peas to the couscous. She suggested it, thinking it would be a good idea and, of course, she was right. She was in charge.

These small opportunities in the kitchen, building skills and confidence, lead to life-long rewards. I can't wait to see what is ahead for this budding chef.

Simple Chicken Souvlaki
Serves 4
This marinade can be also be tossed on assorted veggies, such as zucchini and bell peppers, before before roasting or barbecuing. To save time, prep a few freezer bags of prepared marinade and chicken and freeze for future meals. For ease of preparation, you can skip cubing the meat and keep them whole. But my daughter would suggest that skewers make this all the more fun. Serve with rice or couscous and a salad or grilled veggies.

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
2-4 garlic cloves, crushed or finely minced
2 tsp dried oregano
3/4 tsp each: salt & pepper
2 chicken breasts, cubed
Optional: Wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes.

1. Whisk all ingredients together in a measuring cup or small bowl (or in a freezer bag).
2. Add cubed chicken and toss to coat in marinade. Let stand for at least 20 minutes at room temperature or for several hours in fridge. 
3. Thread onto skewers and cook on barbecue or broil in oven on foil-lined baking sheet, turning once or twice, until cooked through. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fresh Blueberry Pie

The old, worn sign with "Blueberries" scrawled across it is out, so I pull the car over and greet one of my favourite growers. 

"Freshly picked this morning," he says. His stained hands reveal this truth.

As I glance at the jewel-toned berries, recipes are running through my head. Sprinting, actually. 

Will they grace muffins? Crown a cake? Stud pancakes? Should I try a new recipe? Or just eat fresh by the handfuls?

I choose my baskets and hand over the few dollars that I trade for all this goodness. 

And then I decide, it shall be Auntie Dar's recipe for fresh blueberry pie today. It's simple and reveals the freshness of the perfect berries- all this, while maintaining the appearance of a true dessert.

It's a little too easy to make this one. And you may as well double the recipe at the height of blueberry season, it only comes once a year.

Fresh Blueberry Pie
You can make this with a store bought crust or homemade crust.  

1 pie crust, homemade or store bought, pre-baked and cooled
Fresh blueberries, washed and dried to fill pie shell (approximately 3-4 cups)  

Blueberry Glaze:
Auntie Dar's original recipe calls for 3/4 cup sugar, I've had to reduce sugar to 1/2 cup when I was running low on sugar and it works fine. I also try to source GMO-free or organic cornstarch when possible.

1 cup additional fresh or frozen blueberries

1/2 cup water
1/2- 3/4 cup sugar (or sweetener of choice)
2 tbsp cornstarch (or other thickener of choice)
2 tbsp lemon juice 
1. Combine blueberries and water in a small saucepan, bring to just boiling. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Strain through fine mesh sieve, pressing gently to extract juice (about 1/2 cup) into another small saucepan.(Reserve remaining blueberry pulp for smoothies or yogurt). 
2. Combine sugar and cornstarch; gradually add reserved juice and lemon juice. Cook, stirring constantly until thick and turns jewel-toned and glaze-like. Cool for several minutes, then add in fresh berries and gently stir to combine.
3. Pour berry mixture into pre-cooked pie shell or graham cracker crust. Refrigerate until set and cooled. Serve with lightly whipped cream or whipped coconut cream.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Easy Pavlova with Summer Berries

What is better than a summer dessert that is full of the season's best berries?

It's when the summer dessert is also so easy you can almost make it in your sleep. 

And what pushes it over the top? 

The fact that it can be just so darn easy and yet also breathtakingly beautiful.

All this and it's gluten-free!

This is my super-simple, make-it-in-your-sleep, recipe. Don't let the procedure scare you. I just documented the steps so you end up with perfection. You won't need them after you've made this once or twice.

Easy Pavlova with Summer Berries 
Serves 6

You could serve this with any soft fruit (sliced kiwis and mangoes come to mind, but I love the jewel-toned berries that top this beauty!) The meringue can be made a day ahead and kept in a sealed container when cooled. I usually make the meringue earlier in the day and throw the dessert together at the last minute. Top tips: Make sure your egg whites have no yolk in them at all and make sure your bowl is impeccably clean to get the most lift out of those egg whites!

4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups whipping cream
Sugar, to taste
Fresh summer berries

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Separate eggs into whites and yolks, reserving yolks for another use. Fingers make a great egg separator!
3. In a very clean large bowl with electric mixer, or with stand mixer, beat whites on high speed until stiff peaks form (the whites should cling to the beaters and don't move). This should take 2-3 minutes. 
4. Add sugar and continue to beat on high for another 2-3 minutes, or until whites are glossy and sugar is completely incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl with a spatula. At this point, you should be able to hold the bowl upside down and nothing moves! Beat longer if it doesn't!
5. Add vanilla and beat for another minute. Scrape down sides of bowl again.
6. Using the little bits of meringue clinging to your spatula, wipe spatula onto 4 corners of your baking pan. Then place a piece of parchment paper on top and press down. (This holds the parchment in place while shaping your meringue.)
7. Scrape meringue onto centre of pan and shape into circle (approximately 9" in diameter), swipe around outer edge to create a rim to keep cream in.
8. Place in hot oven and immediately turn down heat to 275 degrees. Bake for 1 hour without opening oven. (Bake for 15 minutes longer for a crisper shell, we like it slightly chewy, thus the 1 hour). Turn off the oven, wedge open the oven door with a wooden spoon and let cool for at least one hour or overnight.
9. In clean bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form (not stiff but holds together). Add sugar to taste. Icing sugar gives smoother results, but either will do. I usually add about a tablespoon or so. Add a touch of vanilla if desired. Reserve in fridge until ready to serve.
10. Just before serving, carefully peel the cooled meringue from the parchment paper and place on serving tray. Spread softly whipped cream into meringue shell and top with assorted berries or fruit. Serve immediately. Dust with icing or confectioners sugar if desired.

And look like a rock star in the kitchen...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Spicy Peanut Noodle Soup (Tan Tan Noodles)

There is a local vegan restaurant that doesn't actually announce that they are vegan. They just make good food that everyone can enjoy. Vegans, vegetarians, carnivores and dairy-abstaining friends can all unite for a delicious meal where everyone feels satisfied, satiated or sufficiently suffonsified (yes, this is a phrase) in a good vegan restaurant. You may not know (or care) that the cheese came from a cashew and not a cow- but you don't really care when it's that tasty. When the tables are turned however, things get tricky. Carnivores can eat everything in a vegan restaurant, however, vegans often can't eat anything in a mainstream restaurant (steamed, limp vegetables do not count.)

It is this challenge that I undertake daily with my family's mixed bag of various likes, dislikes, aversions, possible lactose intolerances, foods only eaten raw, foods only eaten cooked, soft foods for wiggly teeth, strict beef jerky diets, non-strict poultry-only-for-today-but-not-tomorrow diets, and the list goes on... and this doesn't even include my own weird food rules of what I will or won't eat. To cook in my house is, well, a challenge.

Although I am not vegan (far from it, actually!), I enjoy vegetarian food and cook vegan or vegetarian meals often. My husband, bless his carnivorous heart, will eat whatever I make. He may nod, give me a half-hearted thumbs up or even finish his single-helping of brown rice salad to prove that he still loves my cooking after 15 years of wedded bliss. 

But when he takes one bite and says I have perfected a recipe and tells me I should invite his family over to taste this wondrous creation, I pause. I feel my head swivel an awkward 180 degrees while my right eyebrow shoots up: What was that? Can you repeat that?

I feel more than a hint of satisfaction when the meat-eater of the house declares I've made a decent replication of a restaurant dish that he loves---but vegetarian-ized. 

Here is it is, see if you miss the meat. And make everyone happy...vegetarians and carnivores alike!

Spicy Peanut Noodle Soup

Makes 4 bowls.
This soup is so entirely delicious, you may be tempted to double the recipe. I keep leftover tomato paste in the freezer in baggies and they come in handy for small amounts such as this. Peanut butter makes the best version but I have used almond butter in a pinch.

1 lb Chinese-style Wun Tun Noodles (or any egg-based thin noodle), cooked according to package directions

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp soy sauce
4 cups vegetable broth, or more to taste
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 lime, juiced
3/4 cup peanut or almond butter, chunky, unsweetened
optional garnish: minced chives, crushed peanuts or red pepper flakes

1. In a large soup pot, sauté chopped onion, celery, and carrot in vegetable oil until tender, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes.
2. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for another minute.
3. Add soy sauce, broth, sesame oil, lime juice and tomato paste and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
4. Using a hand blender, or stand blender, add peanut butter to soup mixture and process so that some vegetable bits remain (turn it on and off quickly for a few seconds to incorporate the peanut butter). Keep warm over low heat until noodles are cooked and drained.
5. Add approximately 1 cup of noodles to each bowl and divide soup mixture among bowls. Garnish if desired.
Note: The soup thickens as it sits, if the soup becomes too thick, add hot broth or hot water to the bowl.
IF you happen to have leftovers, store soup base and noodles in separate containers until reheating.

Want it...
VEGAN? This is easily converted to vegan if you use non-egg noodles but I generally recommend egg noodles for their thickening power in this delicious, thick soup. 
MILDER? This soup can be easily adapted to have less spice by adding additional broth to individual bowls with about half soup base. 
SPICIER?  Add more spice by adding more chili flakes to the bowl.
FUSSY KIDS? If you have really fussy eaters in your house, just pour broth over cooked noodles and peas. Voila! Everyone happy!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Avocado & Greek Yogurt Dip

Do you love avocados and guacamole? Are you in love with the creamy texture of greek yogurt? Then this recipe is for you!

Truth be told, I rarely follow recipes. I love reading about recipes and have a substantial cookbook collection, but I usually just use what I have on hand. I usually throw things together and hope for the best. Then I might tinker with it, feed it to my brave-faced husband or summon it to the compost pile---in only the worst case scenario.

After making this dip several times and several different ways, another friend asked for the recipe. Although Tara loves to throw caution to the wind when it comes to knitting, when cooking she prefers to follow clear directions and not my verbal 'pinch of this, pinch of that' instruction. This made me realize that although I love to improvise in the kitchen, not everyone does.

So, here it is: good for dipping tortilla chips, quesadillas or veggies, drizzling onto tostadas or burritos or, in my daughter's case, eating straight from the bowl.

And yes, I use garlic powder in this recipe! Truth be told, it's my secret weapon in my spice arsenal. It doesn't have the pungent bite of fresh garlic that sometimes turns kids off. The most subtle flavour works well in dips. With that said, I always buy fresh ground garlic powder (from the farmer's market or an organic variety at the store) as it seems to taste better than the other types on the market shelves. Don't mistakenly buy garlic salt as it is almost always too salty and not garlic-y enough.

Go ahead and double the recipe. You will love it and it won't last...and I don't mind that the kids may want to eat this with a spoon!

Avocado & Greek Yogurt Dip
Cayenne pepper gives it a wee kick. I usually leave it out if it is intended for my kids consumption but it adds a nice heat if you like some spice. Greek yogurt gives it nice body for a dip, if you want a drizzle consistency, you can add plain yogurt instead. 
NOTE: Look for a dark-coloured, slightly soft avocado. It must be ripe for this recipe. For avocado tips, click here.

1 ripe avocado, mashed
1 lime, juiced (2 tbsp)
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
1/4 tsp organic ground garlic powder
1/4 tsp sea salt, or to taste
optional: 1/16 tsp ground cayenne pepper, or to taste

1. Cut avocado in half lengthwise, remove pit and scoop out avocado flesh into small bowl. Mash with a fork. Stir in lime juice.
2. Add yogurt, garlic powder and salt. Add cayenne pepper if desired.
3. Can be consumed immediately or covered and refrigerated until use. Can be made up to one day ahead.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Curried Carrot Soup

I do love the Seniors' Cooking Club that I lead.

Not only do I get to cook with a group of enthusiastic participants who are anxious to learn how to cook with items like fennel, quinoa and coconut oil, they are constantly fuelling my love of learning and discovering new things in the kitchen.

I was always keen to research random food-related trivia- like the amount of protein in quinoa (14 grams per 100 grams!), how to better absorb iron (add lemon or orange juice!) and the differences between Bronze Fennel and Florence Fennel (Florence produces a nice edible bulb!) -but now I was doing it for a captive audience.

The best thing? Picking up ideas- new and old- from people who have lived life on this Earth longer than I. Their thrifty ideas based on lean years they have encountered (re-purpose those food scraps before they go into the compost!), their techniques in the kitchen (use a salt scrub to take the sour notes from a cut pineapple! more info here) and them sharing the recipes that they are keen to try or have wowed their friends and family with. Some of these are oldies but goodies but some are brand new discoveries.

I was given this recipe by a participant, and she raved about it. I don't know the origins but it is adapted slightly from her original recipe to simplify it a bit. It is an easy recipe and easily served within 30 minutes.

I'm so thankful for these delicious finds along life's way!

Curried Carrot Soup
Makes about 1 litre

You can substitute coconut oil for the olive oil and butter to make it vegan-friendly and to add flavour. Also, you can add a full, regular-sized can of coconut milk if you desire to tame the spice a bit. I used a small 160 ml can as I love the heat of a good curry and the thickness of the soup with a little less coconut milk than the original recipe called for.

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp minced ginger
2 tsp medium curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4 cups peeled and sliced carrots
3 cups vegetable stock or broth
1-160 ml can of coconut milk (or 1-398 ml can)
optional: yogurt to serve

1. In a large pot on medium heat, melt the oil and butter. Add onion and stir occasionally while cooking for about 5 minutes.
2. Add garlic and ginger and cook for another minute. Stir in curry powder, salt and pepper and let cook for another minute. Add carrots and broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until carrots are tender.
3. Add coconut milk, add more if needed. Blend with hand blender or in blender until smooth.
4. Serve hot with a spoonful of yogurt.