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 
Easy
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.

Adaptations: 
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
EASY
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.



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Healthy Chocolate Coconut Squares

There are times when you just need a hit of chocolate.

Of course I could grab a chocolate bar at the grocery store but honestly, most of them don't taste good (and have you looked at the ingredient lists lately?) and are full of sugar.

I've been trying to reduce the amount of sugar in our diets- this can be chalked up to several factors that are starting to hit me in middle age. (Yes, I think this is middle age?)

I am wary of being another statistic in a family with a history of diabetes. Then there are new articles that are coming out that have linked many of the "Western ailments" we often suffer from to high sugar consumption and not to fat consumption as we initially thought in the 80's. There are many articles about this but one of the most interesting is this National Geographic article.

There is also more local research being done about some of the potential links between sugar consumption and cancer (you can read more about that research here from the BC Cancer Foundation).

And this doesn't even touch upon the fact that most non-organic sugar is now GMO and we don't yet know the ramifications of that.

This is giving me pause for thought.

I am trying not to be a crazy maniac about this, but being aware means that when I make baked goods for the family, I am reducing the amount of sugar I add (generally you can reduce by at least 1/4-1/2 the amount with good results in most baked goods). I am trying to use unrefined, natural sweeteners more often (honey, maple syrup, unsweetened applesauce and bananas) and using stevia in my coffee and tea. I am trying to slowly but surely wean us off the level of sweetness that we are accustomed to with white sugar. Yes, I still use organic sugar but I am trying to be a bit more judicious in its use.

But I still have chocolate cravings- and I love all the cutesy raw and refined sugar-free desserts on Pinterest- but not only are they sometimes time consuming (shaping them into cute little balls or wafers!), they can require the use of food processors, blenders and other tools that not everyone has. And when I want chocolate, I want chocolate now (or 10 minutes ago!)

This is a super easy recipe that can be made in just a few minutes, with hardly any utensils used and can be ready to consume in 15 minutes.

Healthy Chocolate Coconut Squares
These were inspired by the recipe for Raw Chocolate Macaroons from a friend. I wanted something quicker, easier and with a touch of oats for a satisfying bite. These need to be kept in the fridge as the coconut oil base is really dependant on surrounding temperatures and can melt. They are the perfect hit of chocolate with a touch of natural sweetness.

1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup cocoa (dutch-processed or dark cocoa)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flaked unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup rolled oats

1. If needed, slightly warm the coconut oil until liquid (do this in a medium
sized saucepan on low heat or in microwave). Whisk in cocoa, maple syrup and vanilla.
2. Stir in coconut and oats.
3. Pour into 8"X 8" pan lined with wax paper or parchment paper that is larger than the pan. Fold over edges of paper and press down firmly until smooth. Place in fridge or freezer until hardened. Cut into 16 squares for small bites and store in covered container in fridge.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Healthy "Nutella" Smoothie

It's true. We love(d) Nutella.

Chocolate, hazelnuts and sweetness- blended into the perfect topping for crepes, toast or eaten by the spoon. It's touted as a healthy start for the day, right?

I know I refused to look at the ingredients for too long because we loved it. The kids ate their whole grain toast and their buckwheat crepes with it. But I had some twinges of guilt that I was feeding this modified-oil and sugar combo to my family despite my organic leanings- and probably too often.

Despite the fact that we now sometimes use an organic alternative to Nutella for those weekend/special treat mornings, there are those days when we crave that classic Nutella flavour but want something healthier for our mornings.

May I present The Healthy Nutella Smoothie
(or Hazelnut Chocolate Smoothie)
Blend this all up and voilà, a tasty and a truly nutritious start to the morning! This makes one large smoothie, or enough for 2-3 smaller portions.

2 cups hazelnut milk (instructions below) or 1/4 cup hazelnuts and 2 cups water (*)
2 tbsp pure cocoa (dutch-process, the dark one)
4 dates, pitted (or more, according to your desired sweetness)
1 banana (frozen or fresh, peeled)
1 tsp vanilla
4 ice cubes

This is really a simple starting point. Add more cocoa if you like a more chocolatey smoothie, more dates for more sweetness- it is completely adaptable for personal tastes.

* Note: You can blend 1 cup soaked hazelnuts with 4 cups water very well, strain it through a nut-milk bag, fine cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer to rid it of the grainy texture. You will have enough to make 2 smoothie recipes or reserve additional for other uses. I have reserved the nut "meat" that is leftover to put in the freezer to use in nut loaf, cookies or pancakes. If you don't mind some texture in your smoothie, or have a super-powerful blender, just add the nuts and water and sip away!