Sunday, January 15, 2017

Quick-toasted Maple Sunflower Seeds

I almost grabbed a salad mix kit this week.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. I do it sometimes. It's just so overpriced for what you actually get in those kits (about a handful of salad with a bunch of delicious crunchy and salty toppings). The one I almost grabbed had maple sunflower seeds in it. I realized that I have sunflower seeds in the pantry that needed using up and well, if I invested a few minutes of time, I too could have some maple sunflower seeds on my salad at home and save myself some money.

But I made the first batch and I began eating them by the handful. I was not feeling any shame since they are completely healthy and satisfy my need for crunchy, salty and sweet all in one bite. And they are super high in fibre, protein and iron. And my doctor did say I had to increase my iron consumption...

I had to quickly make more because that batch was most certainly not making it to the salad.

I present the most delicious and perfect snack...which can also be used on salads. If they make it past the cooling stage. Good luck with that.


Quick-toasted Maple Sunflower Seeds
Easy
I love using my Le Crueset enamelled cast iron frying pan for sugar work, but any non-stick pan would work with a slight adjustment in temperature to reduce risk of burning. I didn't want to double the recipe given the small pan I had to work with but bigger frying pans should accommodate a double recipe.

1 cup raw, hulled sunflower seeds
1 tsp coconut oil
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp maple syrup

1. Preheat frying pan over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, while assembling ingredients.
2. Add sunflower seeds to pan and toast for about 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until light golden brown.
3. Add remaining ingredients to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, for another 4 minutes or so, until the seeds are toasting more but not burning (if it smells burnt, remove from heat immediately).
4. Spread seeds onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Let cool for several minutes.
5. When cool, you may break into smaller pieces if desired. Store in sealed container.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Easy Vegan Split Pea Soup

It is the beginning of a new year and the resolutions are being tossed about...in a somewhat hushed tone in case I don't accomplish them.

But I forge on and say it aloud: I'm not buying anything this month. Silence. Did I really say that out loud? I did. Now I really have to do it. Gulp.

My resolution is to cut out any extraneous spending this month. Except food and grocery items. We need to eat, right? And unlike the peak of summer, there is no chance of living off the land right now. The shockingly-perky thyme, meagre rosemary plant, sprouting garlic, and rather sad-looking kale are all currently covered in snow.

But even then, I am wondering...could we do like my friend who lived in the Yukon and only grocery shop once a month? And what counts as essential items? Cleaning products? Contact solution? (Luckily I found a hidden bottle!) What about birthday gifts? Kid bribes? Too many things to consider.

It may just be more about reducing consumption. Try and use what we have. This means cleaning out cupboards, not hitting the store every time I think I need something, making do. It might mean I need to beg, borrow, or google some random DIY stuff. But that stuff never works anyways, so I will make do.

In addition to cutting spending, I will be hitting the pantry hard this month: using up the random varieties of rice, lentils, and beans that have sat forlorn on the back shelf. Risotto rice, wild rice, brown short-grain rice, white basmati rice, sushi rice...the list goes on. Seriously, how do I have this many varieties?!? And trying to get to the bottom of that freezer. I think it may need defrosting?

The first recipe of the year uses the split peas that were sitting in the pantry. And this soup is pretty simple to make, nourishing, and well, it's cheap. I have been making this since my basement-living university days, and pretty much have it memorized, so it's a keeper.

Easy Vegan Split Pea Soup 
EASY
Serves 4-6
Easily customizable if you have some carnivores in the house: add bits of chopped ham or bacon at the end. Soak the split peas for a few hours if you remember. If you forget, like I do, just rinse them a few times and then pour hot water over them while prepping the soup, then drain and proceed.
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 bay leaf, optional
1/2- 1 tsp dried thyme
2 cups split peas, soaked, rinsed and picked over
8 cups vegetable bouillon, broth or just water
salt & pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and stir occasionally until partially cooked, about 5 minutes. Add bay leaf and thyme and stir again.
2. Add rinsed split peas and broth or water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Turn down the heat to low and cook for at least one hour, again, stirring occasionally so it doesn't burn. Season to taste. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Easy Homemade Granola

Granola is great for gifting.

It’s naturally gluten-free, and it can be made without nuts or refined sugar, so it is perfect for everyone on your gift-giving list. And each batch (or portion of a batch) can be completely customized, tailored to your recipient's favourite flavours; thus, making it a bespoke and special granola.

Whether eaten by hand, served up with milk, yogurt or ice cream, granola will find a loving home wherever it goes.

Go ahead, give the gift of granola. For your friends or, more importantly, for yourself. Because this might be too good to share...


Easy Homemade Granola
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen

5 cups old-fashioned oats (buy a certified gluten-free brand for those with a gluten allergy)
½ cup coconut oil or vegetable oil
½ cup maple syrup or honey
3 teaspoons vanilla & 1 teaspoon almond extract (or 4 teaspoons vanilla)
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup seeds or chopped nuts (pumpkin seeds, sliced almonds, hazelnuts, etc.)

1. Whisk together all wet ingredients in a large bowl, stir in oats. Press onto parchment-lined baking sheet and Bake at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes.
2. Let cool for about 30 minutes, before breaking it up and adding customizable add-ins.
3. Package in jars with lids or in clear plastic bags. Label and give.

Customizable add-ins:

Chocolate-coconut: Omit seeds or nuts. Use coconut oil. Add toasted coconut flakes and chocolate chips or chunks to cooled granola.

Cranberry-almond: Use almond extract and almonds in baked portion. Add dried cranberries to cooled granola.

Tropical: Omit seeds. Use coconut oil. Add toasted coconut flakes, diced dried pineapple and a bit of chopped crystallized ginger to cooled granola. Optional: white chocolate chunks.

Nutella-ish: Use coconut oil, use 2 tsp almond extract and 2 tsp vanilla, and chopped hazelnuts in baked portion. Add chocolate chips or chunks to cooled granola.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Easy Greek almond cookies (gluten-free & vegan)

I was searching for an easy cookie to go with a Greek-themed menu for a community kitchen. This one fit the bill- simple ingredients, easy to make and easy to produce a large quantity for participants to take some home.

These are a cross between a cookie and a candy, so delectably chewy and with just a hint of orange. These would be a great Christmas cookie too. The snow-capped peaks and the orange-flavour would be so perfect.

I have made these cookies with different groups now and have had slight variations on this cookie based the almond flour we used, the hand that measures and the hand that stirs the pot. Sometimes thick and chewy, sometimes thin and crisp. Every way we made them, they were always delicious. But I do have to say, these are really at their best the day they are made. If you were serving them after that, I would slightly warm them for guests. But here I am eating one a week after making them, and they are still yummy straight from the jar.

Naturally gluten-free, egg-free, vegan and simple to make: what are you waiting for? These are great for everyone!


Easy Amygdalota Cookies- Greek Almond Cookies (egg-free, wheat-free, gluten-free, vegan)
Adapted from greekboston.com
This recipe makes a thick, sticky dough that can be thinned with slightly more water for a cookie that spreads a bit more, resulting in a thinner, crisp cookie.
Makes about 18 cookies

2 cups almond flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tsp orange extract or flavouring
*optional but recommended: icing sugar or confectioner's sugar for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until all ingredients come together (just wait, it will look dry but eventually the sugar will begin to melt), and no moisture remains, about 5 minutes or so. It will have the consistency of play dough.

3. Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving only a little bit of room for them to spread. Leave in heaping scoops if you want them rounded or press down gently with palm.

4. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until cookies spread and are golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes before removing to a cooling rack.
5. Dust with icing sugar if desired. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

One pan baked pasta with cherry tomatoes


When I say I have been inundated with cherry tomatoes these last few weeks, it is no lie. After a few weeks, I became completely negligent and let them fall over, overgrow like crazy and let them be. It became a kind of an experiment of sorts. (Or, I may have been too lazy to pull them all out...)

Anyways, here we are into what is generally regarded as fall weather and my cherry tomatoes are still producing. I don't always do what gardening books tell me to do and instead prefer the experimental approach. I have started seeds way too early, way too late, and transplanted dill- successfully. And this time I didn't strip the bottom leaves from my tomatoes, yet here it (still) goes. It just goes to show you that experimentation is still a valid gardening technique.


Right now I have cherry tomatoes in successive stages of ripening on my windowsill. Some are always at the ready for snacks, a quick tomato salad or for this unbelievably easy baked pasta.

This baked pasta is fresh, oozing with cheese (just enough, not too much), and quick to make. And it only uses one pan! That is always the biggest bonus in my books. This is a great end-of-summer dish for those beautiful cherry tomatoes.


My husband first perfected this dish after getting the Cook's Country, Cook It in Cast Iron Cookbook as a Father's Day gift. It was also a signal that I was more than willing to hand over more meal responsibilities to him. His repertoire increased significantly with the introduction of this dish. The kids call it "Dad's pasta" now. His specialty used to be Annie's Mac & Cheese. Clearly, it is that easy.

One pan baked pasta with cherry tomatoes
You can use a large 12" cast-iron skillet for this recipe, or a large oven-safe skillet. Or, make in one pot and throw into an oven-safe dish for the broiling. Adapted from Cook's Country: Cook It in Cast Iron Cookbook. You can use any small to medium-sized pasta in your pantry, but I prefer the small lasagne-type noodles or penne. 


1 1/2 lbs grape tomatoes, rinsed (depends on size of tomatoes, but mine equal about 4 cups) 
1 tbsp olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
12 oz dried pasta (or about 3/4 lb) penne, ziti, or the tiny lasagne noodles which I prefer
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped basil 
1 cup shredded mozzarella or mixed shredded cheese with mozzarella

1. Preheat broiler (mine has a medium setting, which works great). Heat cast iron skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add oil, tomatoes and 1 tsp salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly charred, about 10 minutes. 

2. Stir in garlic, tomato paste, pepper flakes and cook about 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat and mash tomatoes with a potato masher or fork. Stir in pasta and 3 cups water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, cover (with a large lid, foil or whatever you can find) and cook, stirring often, until pasta is tender, about 15-18 minutes. 

3. Stir in parmesan and add extra hot water if needed (should be a slightly 'loose' sauce, not too thick). Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with grated mozzarella or mixed cheeses and transfer to broiler. Broil until cheese is melted and browned, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.




Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Easy (one bowl) whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

These chocolate chip cookies are incredibly easy. And if that isn't enough to lure you in, I am smitten with their crackly cookie top and chewy centres. They are absolutely amazing.

What if I said that you could be eating these cookies in 15 minutes? About 5 minutes to stir together in a bowl with a wooden spoon and 10 minutes to bake. Then you are done. No fancy ingredients, no creaming "room temperature" butter, no messy mixer to deal with. Simply fantastic chocolate chip cookies, made simple.

Perfect for school lunch emergencies, last-minute visitors or after school snacks. Or when you are having a late night craving.


Easy ONE BOWL Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 10 minute cookie from River Cottage Everyday

Whole wheat flour differs significantly in its coarseness and thus, can affect the 'spreadability' of these cookies. If you want thicker cookies, you can let the dough rest for about 10 minutes before scooping, or put in the fridge for a few minutes. But if it is truly a cookie emergency, just go for it! Thin cookies are wonderful!



Whole wheat flour can go rancid quicker than all-purpose, here are some tips on storing whole grain flours.

In a large bowl combine:
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar or dark brown sugar (for extra crinkly tops!)
1/2 cup melted butter (unsalted preferred, but if you use salted, skip adding the pinch below)

Stir in:
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

Then add:
1 cup whole wheat flour

Stir in: 
1 cup chocolate chips
*optional: smarties, m & m's: can be pushed into the tops before baking

1. Drop by about 2 tablespoonfuls (or heaping tablespoon) onto parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving space for them to spread.

2. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes (this depends on size of cookie, so somewhere between 8-12 minutes).

3. Cool on the sheet for a few minutes before removing to a cooling rack.
Try not to eat these all. If you somehow succeed at this, then pop them in the freezer for up to a few weeks.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Gluten-free Chocolate Blender Cake (made with leftover rice!)

I was researching what to do with leftover rice when I stumbled upon this gem: a chocolate cake made with leftover rice. Made in minutes, in a blender. Seriously, genius.

I just had to tinker with the weighted measures of this a bit. My family loved the experimentation. Except the time I forgot the sugar. Big, giant disappointment. (Cue crying, sad faces of children.)

Not only does this avoid expensive gluten-free flours, it is extremely simple to make. Have 5 minutes to pop this in the oven before dinner? Dessert is done.

Leftover rice is completely and utterly transformed into this moist and delicious chocolate cake. The fact that it is gluten-free is kind of a bonus if you need to make something for someone who is avoiding gluten, but no one else will ever know the difference.

Trust me. My family inhales this. I used to use leftover rice to make this. Now I make rice just to make this cake.

Chocolate Blender Cake 
Easy, Gluten-free
White or brown rice works for this, freshly made or leftover from yesterday. I love my glass 8"X 8" baking dish for making this cake, but any pan about this size would work. You can blend raw almonds before beginning to make 1/2 cup flour. This works best with a high-powered blender, or use a food processor if your blender isn't good at thick batters. The original recipe calls for 6 eggs which we found a bit too eggy, so I opted for a bit less egg with 4-5 eggs, depending on size.

8” or 9” square or circular pan, greased with butter

5 medium eggs or 4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
½ cup almond flour (or ¾ cup handful of almonds, blended first)
1 cup cooked, leftover rice (white or brown)

1. Blend eggs, sugar, vanilla, cocoa, baking powder and almond flour until smooth. Add 1 cup leftover cooked rice, puree until smooth. Use a spatula to scrape down sides and then continue to puree for another minute or two until smooth.

2. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through. Let cool for at least 30 minutes, before cutting into 9 pieces.

3. Serve with a dusting of icing sugar (confectioner's sugar), a dollop of frosting or a spoonful of ice cream. Or serve with sliced strawberries or mushy raspberries. Just serve it. It is best the same day of baking. I think. 
It never makes it long enough to figure that out.