Friday, August 19, 2016

Cocoa Rice Crispy Treats

Recently a friend and I were interviewed about a project we were working on about food gardens. One of the questions was about which foods represent home to us. Some people who don't know me well would probably say "Kale!", "Peas!", or "Swiss Chard!" Yes, I love growing these foods but these don't represent home to me.

We laughed when we both said processed food reminded us of home and childhood. Her selection was Kraft dinner and mine was Sapporo Ichiban, and we agreed on a bunch of other things like perogies...mostly processed foods. Don't get me wrong, both my parents were good cooks and made some things from scratch.  But we grew up in the era of convenience foods- and my mom was a renaissance woman of the 80s, holding down a job and a family so these foods were definitely convenient. And we may have eaten less processed food than some kids but Sapporo Ichiban (and of course Kraft dinner!) was what remind me of home and childhood.

Nowadays home-cooked foods and making things myself are delicious and rewarding---from making homemade pasta noodles and pressing corn tortillas to crafting homemade candy. I like tinkering and trying to make things just to see how challenging they are to make. But truth be told, this is not an every day occurrence.

I love making these things but you sometimes need extra time, which doesn't always happen. I only make things that make a huge difference if homemade. Cookies? Yes! Pickles? Yes! Ketchup? No. (Plus, my kids go through ketchup like water. I could never keep up with that demand!)

I do love Michael Pollan's quote, "Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself." This generally applies to cookies and homemade doughnuts in our house. This is not always a good thing, but it is a delicious thing. We still love treats I try to make them more than buying them if and when I can.

This is one of the treats that represents home to me- it's a cross between my mom's famous Cocoa Puffed Wheat Squares (required eating for camping and summer) and standard Rice Crispy Treats. I just made them for my kids so I thought I would share a slice of real life.

So eat treats. Make them if you can. But try to eat them in a garden...where you are growing some of your own food. :)
Cocoa Rice Crispy Treats
Use the wrapper from the butter to grease the pan if you can. These are naturally gluten-free.

1/4 cup butter, unsalted preferred
1- 400 gram bag mini marshmallows (can buy vegan ones if needed)
4 tbsp cocoa
2 tsp vanilla
10 cups rice crispy cereal

1. Butter a 9"X 13" glass or metal pan.
2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, cocoa and marshmallows together. Stir constantly with a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon until smooth.
3. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and rice crispy cereal until combined.

4. Spoon into greased 9"X 13" pan. Press down with parchment or greased fingers. Leave parchment on and refrigerate until firm. Cut into squares. Store in fridge if keeping for more than a day or two. Good luck with that...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Zucchini & chickpea flour fritters

We currently have a glut of zucchini.

I have sautéed zucchini, barbecued zucchini, made zucchini brownies (meh), experimented with zucchini cookies (yes!) and now I'm finally onto zucchini fritters. 

I have made zucchini pancakes or fritters with eggs and flour in the past, but I couldn't help thinking how good they would be in a chickpea flour batter. Channeling my recipe for pakoras, this is like a zucchini pakora pancake. 

These crispy, hearty, gluten-free pancakes truly deserve to be called a fritter. The summer squash-packed morsels are delicious made small for an appetizer size, or larger for lunch or dinner. Serve it up with plain yogurt spiked with salt and minced mint, raita or tzatziki. Or maybe tamarind chutney? Oh, the possibilities!

These are hearty, so something like a big salad or cut up vegetables would go well alongside.

Zucchini & chickpea flour fritters 
Chickpea flour goes by many aliases, but it is now easily available in most grocery, health food or ethnic stores. 

1 cup chickpea, garbanzo, gram or besan flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp garam masala
½ tsp turmeric
pinch cayenne pepper or black pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil, melted butter or coconut oil
3/4 cup cold water
1 medium zucchini
additional cooking oil
for serving: plain yogurt, raita, tzatziki or tamarind chutney (for vegan)

1. In a bowl, combine chickpea flour, salt and spices into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add oil and water. Stir until well mixed. Let stand for a few minutes, while you grate the zucchini. 
2. Stir zucchini into batter. 
3. Heat a few tablespoons of cooking oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Spoon heaping tablespoons, or larger size, into pan. If desired, flatten slightly for even cooking. Cook for a few minutes on each side until crispy and golden. 

4. Drain pancakes on paper towel to absorb extra oil. Sprinkle with a touch of salt. 
5. Serve immediately with yogurt, raita or chutney. Refrigerate any leftovers and reheat in oven.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Quick Mango Pudding

My kids love their aunt's mango pudding. Rich, creamy and spiked with fresh mango, they would probably sell their mother for a pan of it.

I asked her for the recipe and have been sitting on it for years, desperately trying to replicate that flavour. Hers requires cans of mango purée which can be hard to source where I live. However, I have been working on recreating it and I think I have finally 'cracked the code'.

Here is my version of her mango pudding but made with (the much easier to source) mango juice. It is such an easy, no-cook, summer dessert. And my kids have never been happier.

Quick Mango Pudding
Serves 4-6
This can be easily customized to have no additional sugar to adding just to taste. I generally use bulk organic gelatine, but either works great. Alternate thickeners like agar agar can be used, but the quantities will need to be adjusted. The mango juice can be anything in a tetra pack carton (any will work) but, for best results, preferably one that has some thickness to it like a nectar with puree listed in top two ingredients. If it contains added sugar, you may not need as much (or any) sugar in the recipe. 

1-2 mangoes, peeled, chopped into chunks
2 pouches of powdered gelatin or 5 tsp bulk powdered organic gelatin
2 1/2 cups mango nectar or juice (1/2 cup cold or room-temperature mango juice & 2 cups warmed, not boiling, mango juice)
1/4- 1/2 cup sugar, if desired
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup milk

1. Place gelatin and the 1/2 cup of room temperature juice in a large bowl. Whisk together for a minute or so. Let stand or 'bloom' for 3-5 minutes. For more info on blooming and gelatine, click here.

2. Put mango chunks into the serving dish (any container that will hold about 4 cups of liquid---a pie plate, a 8" X 8" pan, anything).

3. Add the 2 cups microwaved or stove-heated mango juice (not boiling, but hot) to the bloomed gelatin. Note: Organic gelatin typically specifies not using boiling liquid, but just hot liquid. However this does not seem to be an issue for conventional gelatin. Whisk until smooth. If it could use a bit of sweetener, add 1/4 cup sugar to start and whisk until dissolved. Whisk in cream and milk.

4. Pour mixture over the mango pieces and place into the fridge for 3-4 hours or overnight. Can be served with additional cream poured over if desired.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Easy Strawberry Chia Jam

I love the smell of sun-warmed strawberry fields. It really makes the sometimes back-breaking labour of harvesting u-pick strawberries worth it. The fields smell like jam and it reminds you why you are doing what you are doing when you get tired. You think of the reward. And that reward can come soon but it is at its very sweetest in the middle of winter when you crave a taste of summer.

Although I harvest from the u-pick, I also buy from the roadside stand when I tire of picking. I usually freeze them whole and make freezer jam, long-cooked jam, fruit leather and ice cream. Just when I can't stand the sight of another flat of strawberries, I remember the taste of summer in winter and I press on. Just one more batch.

This  year I decided that I wasn't going to go so crazy. So I tried to find some other options for no-cook strawberry jam recipes. I love this Chia Jam from the kitchn. Although they cook the fruit slightly, I prefer their raw fruit version for strawberries but I could see the cooked version working better for blueberries.

The nice thing about this jam is that all the ingredients are recognizable: chia slightly thickens, lemon helps to keep the colour vibrant and the sweetener is customizable. I used organic cane sugar because I like how it doesn't mask the strawberry flavour at all and acts as a slight preserver too. It takes a few minutes to mash it all together and it makes for a very tangible reward afterwards when you get to taste a spoonful of this saucy jam.

Easy Strawberry Chia Jam
Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups
I leaned towards 4 tbsp of sugar for my early strawberries. I might use less the next time if the strawberries are sweeter. Use on waffles, pancakes, stirred into yogurt or on ice cream, cheesecake and other desserts. It should last about a week in the fridge but it definitely won't make it that far. But if it does, it could come in handy to enhance a smoothie!

2 cups strawberries, cleaned and tops removed
juice of 1 lemon
2- 4 tbsp organic cane sugar or sweetener of choice (honey, maple syrup, etc.)
2 tbsp chia seeds, any colour

1. In a large bowl, mash strawberries until juicy but chunks of berry remain. Add lemon and sugar and stir for a few minutes until sugar dissolves. Stir in chia.
2. Pour into clean jars and cover with lids. Refrigerate overnight for best texture.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Strawberry-Rhubarb Scones

These scones are a classic flavour combination and they are super simple to make. With no butter to cut in, just a quick stir with cream, they are fast. Work quickly so they stay cool and get them into the oven right away.

I love scones for a weekend brunch treat or for a fancy afternoon tea.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Scones
Makes 12 small scones
You can easily sub all strawberries or all rhubarb in this, but you may want to adjust the quantities as the strawberries do add more moisture. And all unbleached flour works too! Serve with butter or with ultra-decadent clotted cream.

1 3/4 cup finely chopped rhubarb
1 1/2- 1 3/4 cup finely chopped strawberries
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
approx. 1/2 cup sugar
approx. 1 1/2 cups whipping cream or heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a frying pan or saucepan, quickly saute the finely chopped rhubarb, 1-2 tbsp water and 2 tbsp sugar until just slightly tender, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together: whole wheat flour, unbleached flour, baking powder, salt and 1/3 cup sugar.

3. Gently stir in 1 1/3 cups whipping cream with a fork until it comes together. Add rhubarb and strawberries and gently stir. Add only a tablespoon more of cream at a time until needed to make it come together. 

4. Divide the dough into two and gently and on flour-dusted surface, quickly pat into 2 circles approximately 1 1/2" thick. Cut each piece into 6 wedges.

5. Place onto parchment-lined baking sheet(s). Drizzle or brush all the scones with additional 1-2 tbsp whipping cream and sprinkle with approximately 1 tbsp sugar (in total, not each). 

6. Bake for approximately 15-17 minutes, or until edges are slightly golden. Best served the same day or warmed up the second day.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Fattoush Salad

This time of year, I get so excited about fresh produce. Salads become meals and meals become salads. A bit of chopping and dinner is made. Perfection.

Just over a year ago I tried Fattoush salad for the first time and I was immediately smitten. I wondered how I had lived so long without ever encountering this Middle Eastern salad. The fresh herbaceous flavours make this the perfect accompaniment to summer barbecues, but it is also stellar on its own with some feta or served alongside some olives, hommous and pita.

And try to refrain from eating all those freshly baked pita chips as they come out of the oven. They may become your new favourite snack and a great accompaniment to summer appetizers.

Fattoush Salad
Serves 4
Fattoush is a Middle-Eastern salad of varying compositions but generally consisting of using dried pita bread and a variety of greens, vegetables and herbs. It is a great way to use leftover pita bread. 

Although what follows is a recipe, play with it and adapt it to what you have in your fridge and what ingredients you like. A touch of mint and parsley are highly recommended.

Toast pita bread: 
Using 3-4 pitas, brush with olive oil, or melted butter/olive oil combo, sprinkle with salt, cut into pieces and toast in oven at 350 degrees for 6 minutes. Let cool. Can be made ahead and stored in a sealed container for several days.

In large salad bowl, whisk together dressing:
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice (approx. 1 lemon, juiced)
1 garlic clove, minced or crushed
1/4 tsp salt 
optional: ½ tsp sumac or za'atar spice 
(I sprinkled my salad with za'atar which contains sumac)

Into the dressing bowl, add:
Spring salad greens or chopped romaine lettuce
2 bell peppers, chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped or 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large cucumber, chopped
2-3 radishes or green onions, chopped
optional (but highly recommended):
 ½ cup chopped assorted herbs: parsley, chives, mint
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled

Toss until combined with pieces of pita chips. Serve immediately.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Homemade Insecticidal Soap Spray

I haven't written much lately. I am absorbed by the garden and all things sprouting and green.
Apparently, the bugs are too!

I was noticing that someone was already munching on my rhubarb and hostas again and was reminded that it was time to make my homemade insecticidal spray.

This spray can definitely be tinkered with as you may need to adjust the concentration based on your plants. I have found it really great for rhubarb, kale, hosts, small fruit trees and basically any other green plant that is being munched on by insects. I am also finding it useful in the home to spray around areas where ants like to gather, but you may need to check that it doesn't harm your wood or any surface you spray it on.

All you need is a good spray bottle and some kitchen basics and away you go! It is much cheaper than the soap sprays that they offer in stores and you will have a good batch to last for several applications.

Make sure you spray during dry periods, when there is no risk of rain, or you will be applying right away again. It is generally recommended to spray in the morning or in the evening, and to spray both the top and bottom of the leaves. Your intention here is to directly spray aphids or other soft-bodied insects. It is not recommended for tender greens such as tomatoes or peas.  Read more about how to use these sprays here.

Homemade Insecticidal Soap Spray
I prefer using Dr. Bronner's liquid peppermint soap as it also has the peppermint as a bit of a repellent, but any dish soap will work. The least toxic and unscented is better, especially if you intend on eating the leaves. Some people use a bit of onion in this spray too, so just use a bit if you want to try that in place of some of the garlic. Warning: DO NOT COMBINE THE SOAP in the blender. Have fun cleaning that up if you do! (Yes, accidents happen!)

spray bottle
1 Litre water
1 head of garlic, peeled (I use my sprouting, sub-par garlic)
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 tbsp liquid soap (I prefer Dr. Bronner's)

1. In a blender, combine water, garlic and cayenne. Strain through the finest mesh strainer you can find (like a tea strainer) or through a few layers of cheesecloth. This is essential so you don't clog your sprayer. *if you do, a fix is to check the bottom cover of the middle straw in the sprayer and rinse it off or remove it.
2. Pour into spray bottle and add liquid soap. Shake to mix well. Use immediately or within a week or two.