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.

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 though...so 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.