Sunday, December 13, 2015

Quick Beer Bread

My husband's epicurean aunts were visiting from NYC. They were telling us about their new food kicks: vegan food and beer bread. 

Beer bread?

Honestly, I thought I knew my baked goods. I had never heard of it but I was curious.

Beer instead of yeast? Quick bread? 5 minutes to assemble? Customizable? Great for winter soups and stews? I was in! 

I grabbed a couple bottles of lager and got to experimenting.

I morphed a few online recipes to find my favourite mix but it seems that you can't really go wrong here. 

The beer provides nice lift, a bit more tender than a standard Irish Soda Bread, but apparently sparkling water provides a similar rise.

Here is the recipe I settled on. So good for winter soups and stews. And a perfect addition to my recipe repertoire. 

Beer Bread
The aunties' original recipe calls for only 3 ingredients: 3 cups self-rising flour (harder to find in my area), sugar, beer and any customizations. You can sub the first 3 ingredients for self-rising flour. It is fantastic toasted the next day, slathered with butter and marmalade.

3 cups all-purpose flour (up to 1/2 can be whole wheat or spelt)
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp melted butter, divided
1 bottle of beer

Optional customizations: grated cheese and ground pepper or chopped chives, chopped dried fruit. 

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Grease loaf pan with butter or butter wrapper.
3. In large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, sugar and sea salt with a whisk. Pour in beer and 3 tbsp butter and gently stir with a large spoon until somewhat smooth, using hands only if needed.
4. Spoon into loaf pan. Smooth top a bit, drizzle with last 1 tbsp butter.
5. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into middle comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 5-10 minutes before removing to a wire cooling rack to cool for at least 1 hour before slicing.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Cashew Nog

I love 'egg nog'. The festive flavours of the season in a creamy drink.

Truth be told, I love the dairy-free, egg-free versions much better than regular egg nog. Regular egg nog coats the mouth with a thick film and sits heavy on the stomach. It's kinda gross. Ok, I don't like 'egg nog', I like 'fake nog'.

I've pretty much tried all the commercial versions- made with soy, almond, and coconut (the creamy coconut being pretty delish!) The only problem is I have a kiddo who loves 'fake nog' and most commercial brands are loaded with sugar. I set about making a creamy, protein-rich version for her and I to share. This one makes us both happy. 

Cashew Nog (sugar-free)
Use the very best vanilla for this and fresh spices. If your spices aren't very fresh, you may need to add an extra pinch of each. This thickens upon standing and flavours improve, so make at least one day ahead. And if you are going for it, you may want to double it! 

1. 1 cup raw cashews
Soak in 4 cups boiling water for at least 4 hours or overnight

2. Rinse cashews with strainer under running water.

3. Put in blender with:
3 cups water
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/16 tsp nutmeg, or to taste
4 medjool dates, pitted
Pinch cloves
1/4 tsp- 1/2 tsp liquid stevia, or sweetener of choice, to taste

4. Strain through fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Store in closed container in fridge, shake or stir before serving and garnish with a pinch of nutmeg. Serve cold.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Chai Concentrate

This time of year wool socks are worn, slippers are retrieved, cozy sweaters are donned, and warm drinks are sipped. 

Sometimes coffee doesn't cut it. Sometimes tea doesn't soothe. Sometime hot chocolate is too rich.

But there is always a place for spicy, milky chai.

I have been making my own concentrate for some time now as I find I can't have much caffeine in the afternoon, so most chai teas don't work for me. 

Cardamom is one of my favourite spices so it plays a significant role here. You can use seeds or crushed pods. I often have seeds around as I bake with them but pods are often a cheaper, and more accessible, option. 

This is an easy concentrate that you can store in the fridge, warm up a cup at a time and add your milk of choice, to taste. You can also adapt to your own taste. One of my favourite Vij's chai recipes uses only fennel and cardamom, some use cloves instead of, or in addition to, cinnamon. I have also made a spicy drink for sore throats with all the spices and lots of honey but without the tea.

This time of year, stay warm with a comforting cup of chai. 

Chai Concentrate
Adapted from Vij's Chai
This makes approximately 8 cups of chai, add a bit of milk, almond milk or soy milk to taste. 

8 cups water
3/4 tsp cardamom seeds or 10-12 crushed pods
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 large cinnamon stick
8 orange pekoe tea bags, decaf or regular
1/4 cup cane sugar, or substitute, to taste

1. Bring water to boil with spices in a medium saucepan. Simmer about 5 minutes.
2. Turn up heat, when it comes to boil, add teabags. Turn down heat a bit. Slow boil about 1 minute. 
3. Strain mixture through fine mesh sieve into another heat-safe pot or jug. Stir in sugar or sweetener of choice. Refrigerate until needed up to about 5 days. 
4. To serve, warm amount needed with milk of choice. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Preserving herbs

It is that time of year when I am crazily harvesting herbs to preserve them for winter.
I hate to loose out on any of that flavour and I absolutely detest buying herbs imported from faraway places in the middle of winter. Yes, sometimes I've been known to do it, but I hate it. 
The last time I picked up a package of store-bought 'fresh' herbs, I noticed the sad little package of wilted chives were imported from Israel. Israel! The other side of the world from where I live. A ridiculous import when chives grow most of the year here.
Since I began growing herbs, I also have a really hard time buying dried herbs in a jar when that same cost would buy me several fresh plants in spring. 
So, this was my year to plant even more herbs and preserve them! 
Here is a little rundown on my favourite ways to preserve herbs this year.

1. Pesto it! My farmer friends have joked that if you don't know what to do with something, you 'pesto it'! There is so much written online about pestos. My favourite is basil or parsley, garlic, pumpkin seeds and a bit of oil. My farmer friends have done cilantro, kale or whatever is green! Freeze it in small containers or bags, or for small portions, in ice cube trays and then bags. You can add parmesan just before serving. Put it on pizza, pasta or swirl into minestrone. For more details, check out this article on thekitchn

2. Very finely chop herbs and freeze with a bit of oil or water. Great for adding more flavour to sauces, soups and stews. This article has some great tips.

3. Tie fresh herbs up in a small bundle and hang them to dry. This works great for hearty herbs such as sage, thyme, savoury, and bay. When completely dry, pack into glass jars. (Basil and parsley are really sad when dried. Pesto those guys.) Here are detailed instructions on drying, including the surprising method of microwave drying (which works great- I've used it for rose petals).

3. You can further process dried herbs by making them into a herb salt. Just stick dried herbs into a blender or processor for a super quick whirl with sea salt. Pack into jars. Then use it for seasoning vegetables or protein. 

4. Make a flavoured vinegar. I've written about my favourite chive flower vinegar, but try it with other herbs to add a mighty herbal punch to salads.

5. Make a better butter. Into softened butter, stir in minced herbs. About 1/4 cup loosely-packed minced herbs per cup of butter. Do single herbs (like sage butter, pictured) or a multi-herb blend. Sage butter is fantastic warmed in a small pan and stirred into fresh pasta or rubbed onto a chicken that will be roasted. Garlic-parsley butter can be put on a seared steak or steamed vegetables. Freeze it in a log and cut off coins as needed. 

I'd love to hear more ideas on preserving herbs! Share your ideas below.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pickled Turnips

I'm kinda addicted to these lightly-fermented turnip pickles.

They are fantastic in a falafel wrap or with Middle Eastern-themed appetizers (think pita, hummus, roasted veg, etc.) Sadly, they often never make it to their higher-purpose as they are often consumed straight from the jar...these barely made it through a brief photo-shoot.

'Tickled Pink' Pickled Turnips
Adapted from David Leibovitz and The Domestic Man, check out the links for excellent, and more descriptive, recipes.

This is not a lightly-fermented pickle, as you may not see bubbles or the signs of a traditional fermentation, but the flavour changes slightly over a few days. 

1 quart jar or larger
3 cups water
1/4 cup non-iodized kosher salt
1-2 bay leaves, fresh or dry
1/2 cup plain white vinegar
2 lbs fresh turnips (4-6 med), peeled and cut into large, thick matchsticks or slices
1 small beet, cut into matchsticks
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
small handful celery leaves (the small inner leaves from a head of celery work well, or picked from your celery in your garden)

1. Bring 1 cup water to a boil with salt, stirring to dissolve. Remove from heat, add remaining 2 cups water and vinegar. Set aside.

2. Put cut up turnips in a large jar, slide celery leaf and bay leaf down the sides. Place beet on top, pour cooled water and vinegar solution over top of the jar to cover all the veg (if not, prepare another 1/2 recipe of solution). Place a small circle of parchment to fit over the inside of the jar to keep ingredients submerged (usually around 2-3" round). Set aside in cupboard for a few days, tasting a day at a time until desired flavour is reached (slightly tangy). Then place in fridge to enjoy for the next few weeks. Repeat.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Oat Berry Bars

Recently I cleaned out my freezer and found a few bags of berries from over a year ago. 

Likely more than a bit freezer-kissed but I wanted to still use them and knew I had to find a use for them ASAP. Although they might not taste so great in a smoothie or in yogurt, these berries would be cooked with a little sugar and lemon- disgusing their imperfection.

I adapted this recipe from Epicurious to make it the way I wanted it- a thick, hearty square with a delicious mixed berry filling.

It is great served warm for a simple dessert. When cool, it makes a great bar for school lunches or taking to book club or knit nights.

You can use almost any frozen berries you have on hand and whatever jam you have on hand. They are sure to turn out perfect every time.

(Since writing this post a few years ago, I've found it is a great way to use up fresh berries that are beginning to soften and to use up jam from last year before the new canning comes into the pantry.)

Oat Berry Bars
Strawberries are a bit too moist for the main berry but can be used as the jam. The tartness of raspberries or blackberries is a nice counterpoint to the slightly sweet crust. These can be wheat-free if you use spelt flour.

2 cups oats
2 cups spelt or whole wheat flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cups melted or softened butter

1 lb/ 454 grams fresh or frozen berries (raspberry, blackberry, blueberry are best)
1 cup berry jam (raspberry, blueberry or strawberry jam)
5 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 small lemon or lime, finely grated zest and juiced

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 X 13" glass baking dish.
2. Combine oats, flour, brown sugar and baking soda in a medium-sized bowl. Add melted or softened butter and stir until combined. Press half of crust mixture into pan and bake for 15 minutes.
3. In another bowl, stir together berries, jam, flour, lemon zest and juice. When crust comes out of oven, spoon berry filling on top. Sprinkle topping over and gently press down on topping.
4. Bake for another 25-28 minutes or until top is golden and filling just starts to bubble at edges. Refrigerate until cool enough to cut into squares.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Kale Tapenade

There is probably nothing quite as easy, and hardy, to grow as kale. It is one of those vegetables that can grow year-round in our westcoast environment, and can last throughout the winter. In fact, it tastes better after a cold spell.

Needless to say, since it is so easy to grow, we eat it a lot. After many pans of kale chips, we usually need a little bit of a break from routine.
Photo by Asta Kovanen

I recently hosted a fundraising dinner where we ate local. Super local. Mostly grown by my farmer friends or myself. Of course kale made its appearance. It had to. It was featured in this tapenade, which I love and hope to share as yet another way to eat the almighty kale.

Kale Tapenade
You can make this your own by adding more or less kale, olive oil or seasoning. We have tried it on pizza and I think it would be pretty amazing stirred into pasta as a pesto-like sauce diluted with some pasta-boiling water too. 

Saute for a few minutes in a saute pan on medium heat:

3 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, chopped (or small mild onion)


1 lg bunch kale, washed and roughly chopped (about 4 cups chopped)
1/4 tsp salt
Cook about 5 minutes over med heat until water evaporates.

In food processor, combine:

Kale mixture
zest of 1 lemon
1 can green pitted olives (170g)
1-2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil (or more, to taste)
1/3 cup packed parsley leaves

Process until kale is finely chopped and is a thick spread consistency. Store in sealed container for up to 3 days. Best served at room temperature or slightly warmed.