DIY artisanal crisps

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When I discovered Raincoast Crisps a few years ago, they really rocked my cracker world. With all the various fruit and nut combinations, they were so much more interesting than a basic biscuit.  When a friend (well, actually a friend’s mom’s friend…try saying that 10 times fast!) told me she had a recipe for a homemade version, I was very excited to give it a go. Turns out they’re not really crackers, but more like double-baked biscotti – first you bake a loaf, then you slice and bake again. I have tweaked the original recipe over the years and ultimately find the one below works quite well. This recipe gives you three small loaves, so you can choose to do three different flavour combinations with your choice of fruit, nuts and seeds.

MAKES 3 SMALL LOAVES (APPROXIMATELY 30 CRACKERS PER LOAF)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flax seeds, ground
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup liquid honey

suggested flavour combinations:
1/4 cup raisins; 1/4 cup dried cranberries; 1/3 cup whole almonds
1/4 cup raisins; 1/4 cup dried cranberries; 1/4 cup sunflower seeds; 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/3 cup dried figs, finely chopped; 1/3 cup hazelnuts (filberts); 1/4 cup flax seeds
1/3 cup dried cherries; 1/3 cup whole almonds; 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup dried cranberries; 1/4 cup dried apricots, finely chopped; 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine flours, baking soda, salt, brown sugar, ground flax seeds and rosemary in a medium-size mixing bowl. Set aside. In a separate bowl, combine buttermilk and honey. Stir until blended. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir gently until dough comes together. Add your choice of flavourings.

Grease three small loaf pans (or line with parchment paper). I use three 5.75″x3″ pans (14.6cmx7.62cm). Bake at 350F for 22-25 minutes. Check if the loaves are done by inserting a toothpick into the centre – it should come out clean.

Remove from oven and transfer cooked loaves to a cooling rack. I find the loaves easier to slice when they are really cool, so you can pop into the fridge, or even the freezer, for a few minutes before cutting into individual crackers. Place slices onto a baking sheet. Reduce oven temperature to 300F. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip crackers and return to oven for another 10-12 minutes.

Alternatively, I bake the loaves, cut them in half, and freeze them. Then I bake up the crackers in small batches when I am ready to serve. To cook from frozen, remove from freezer and allow to defrost for about 30 minutes. Slice into crackers. Spread slices out on a baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip crackers and return to oven for another 10-12 minutes.

Serve with your favourite cheeses and spreads, or enjoy them straight up.

roasted pumpkin seeds

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For the past five years, we have had a standing pumpkin carving soirée with a couple of friends. It’s an evening full of creativity, friendly competition, and much discussion of carving tools and techniques. While my favourite part of the night is seeing our creations lit up for the first time, running a close second is the sound of pumpkin seeds popping in the oven as they toast up for a midnight snack. All the scraping, spooning, and clearing of pumpkin goop is well worth it. This year I added a dash of smoked paprika and a very light dusting of cayenne pepper. You can’t go wrong with the classic olive oil and sea salt combo, but the paprika adds some nice colour while the cayenne gives that little hit of heat.

Preheat oven to 300F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Thoroughly wash and dry the pumpkin seeds. Spread out on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sea salt, as well as any other seasonings of your choice. Mix to coat.

Toast for 15 minutes. Stir. Toast for another 10-15 minutes. Check to see if the seeds are as crunchy as you would like. If not, put back in the oven for another 5 minutes of so until the seeds are fully dry and have a nice crisp bite. Store in an airtight container or bag for a few days (if they make it that long…they disappear pretty quickly in our household).

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cranberry relish

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This raw cranberry relish is a fresh alternative to cranberry jelly or store-bought canned cranberries. The recipe originated with my great-grandmother, but has become known as ‘Momma Coop’s cranberries’, named after my mom. After a big turkey meal shared with friends and family, there is usually at least one request for the recipe. And I’ve had guests take some home with their leftovers and enjoy it with yogurt for breakfast the next morning. It is a great addition to a festive feast, however you like to enjoy it.

1 bag fresh cranberries
1 large seedless orange
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup orange liqueur like Grand Marnier
½ tsp ground cloves

You want to use the outer rind and the inner fruit of the orange, not the white pith that is bitter. Here is a helpful video on how to zest and section an orange. They show a grapefruit in the video, but the techniques work for an orange too.

Zest the orange using a microplane to remove the outer orange rind. Transfer zest to food processor. Cut around the outside of the orange to remove the white pith from the fruit. Then section the orange to remove fruit segments by cutting the membrane on both sides. The juicy fruit pieces should release easily. Discard membrane and white pith. Transfer orange segments to food processor.

Add cranberries, liqueur, cloves and 3/4 of the cup of sugar to the food processor.

Pulse until you have a coarse relish and the mixture is evenly blended. Taste for sweetness and add remaining 1/4 cup of sugar as needed. The total sugar needed will depend on how naturally sweet your orange and cranberries are.

Transfer to a glass storage container and refrigerate.  Make one to two days ahead in order to allow the flavours to meld and to allow the relish to develop its beautifully cranberry colour.

This relish keeps well in the refrigerator for several days and is great with holiday leftovers.

almond butter oatmeal cookies

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These vegan cookies have been a hit with my omnivorous friends. Not because they are impressed that a vegan cookie could ‘actually taste good’, but because these cookies actually taste good. Enjoy one for breakfast with a double espresso, pack one in your purse for an afternoon snack, or brew up a cup of cinnamon tea and enjoy after dinner.

MAKES 12-15 COOKIES

2 tbsp raw whole flax seeds, ground
6 tbsp water
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup Sucanat (or dark brown sugar)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup almond butter (all-natural, no sugar added)
1/3 cup dried cranberries or raisins (or a combination of the two)

Preheat oven to 350F (175C).

Start by making your flax meal binder – this is what replaces eggs in a traditional cookie recipe. Grind flax seeds – a spice grinder, Magic Bullet, or mortar and pestle will do the job. Add the water to the ground flax seeds and whisk together. Chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

Combine all dry ingredients. Add almond butter and stir well to blend into a dry dough. Add the chilled ground flax seed mixture. Stir until dough comes together. Mix in the dried fruit. Cover bowl and let the dough rest in the fridge for 1 to 2 hours (sometimes I don’t let the dough rest and the cookies turn out just fine, but the dough is easier to work with after being chilled).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using your hands, roll dough into balls, about the size of a ping-pong ball. The dough may be a little sticky, so you might need to rinse your hands and then roll out the rest of the cookies. Gently press balls onto baking sheet to flatten into round cookies.

Bake for 18-20 min. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet. These need to set up on the cookie sheet as they cool. Store in an airtight container or bag for up to four days.

simple raspberry breakfast muesli

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When I took my course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, each morning before class, we gathered in the sunroom for a decadent breakfast. Although there was house-churned butter to lather on soda bread and scones, poached fruit medley, plus a local cheese spread to choose from, the simple raspberry muesli was my favourite. It reminded me of the absolutely lovely Bircher-style muesli I had enjoyed earlier in the year at Mollies in Auckland, NZ. My attempts to recreate the version from Mollies, full of shredded apple and plump raisins, never lived up to the original (I imagine the kitchen crew at Mollies indulged me with some heavy cream, but that’s a guess).

When I asked my instructor at Ballymaloe how to make their version, I was pleasantly surprised to learn it’s dead simple, it’s quick (no soaking overnight), and it’s light. It’s also easily customizable, so you can change it up with the seasons to include your favourite fruits. In my version, I substitute maple syrup where Ballymaloe uses honey. Darina Allen, who runs the cookery school, insists that muesli is best when eaten with brown sugar and cream – perhaps she’s been talking to the folks at Mollies.

MAKES 2 SERVINGS
share with a friend, or put half in the fridge for the next day

3/4 cup rolled oats (not instant oatmeal)
1 cup water
1/2 cup raspberries (frozen will do the trick)
drizzle of maple syrup

Optional additions: pomegranate seeds, shredded apple, diced pear, stewed apricots, fresh berries, dried fruit, chopped nuts like pecans or walnuts, dried flaked coconut

Combine the oats and water in a bowl. Give the mixture a gentle stir and allow to sit for 15-20 minutes. While the oats are soaking, allow the frozen raspberries to start to defrost on the counter.

When the water has been absorbed, stir again. You should have a nice soft oat mixture with a little bit of ‘oat milk’, the slightly creamy liquid created by the soaked oats. Mash in the raspberries. Drizzle with maple syrup – adjust based on how sweet you like your muesli. Add any other seasonal fruit or nuts. Darina Allen would strongly suggest you sprinkle with brown sugar and drizzle with fresh cream.

hearty breakfast muffins

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The current location of the Toyota/Lexus dealership at Leslie and Eglinton was once home to The Inn on the Park, and on that same property was a Sports Clubs of Canada facility, and within that fitness club was a cafe that served hearty morning glory muffins. I was around 6-years old when these muffins came into my life, emerging from the playroom to join my mom for a post-workout breakfast. In my somewhat foggy childhood memory, I remember the muffins being full of tasty bits, each bite like a treasure hunt. They were also super-sized, which made them all that much more appealing to my small self. Looking to recreate a compact breakfast treat that was both tasty and wholesome, I experimented until I landed on this version. With the wisdom of age, I now prefer them as mini muffins (yes, it’s okay to eat two!), so this recipe makes 24 small ones. 

You can use walnuts instead of pumpkin seeds, dates instead of apricots, or raisins instead of cranberries – work with the flavours you like and what you have in your pantry. These muffins freeze well, so I will make up a batch and then wrap them in sets of two or four to be easily defrosted at a later date.

MAKES 24 MINI MUFFINS

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant oatmeal)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup grated carrot (about 2 large carrots)
1/2 cup grated apple (about half an apple)
1/2 cup grated zucchini (about 1 whole small zucchini)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried apricots

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, stir together flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk egg, buttermilk, brown sugar and oil until smooth. Pour wet ingredients into bowl with dry ingredients. Stir to combine. It may seem dry, but the addition of the grated fruit and veggies will fix that.

Add shredded carrot, apple, and zucchini. Mix until all incorporated. Gently stir in dried fruit and seeds.

Line a mini muffin tin with paper cups (I prefer the Paper Chef parchment liners). If you don’t have liners, lightly grease the muffin tin with vegetable oil. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin, filling each to the top.

Bake for 15-17 minutes. The muffin tops should be firm and golden. Pierce a muffin with a toothpick – it should come out clean with no batter when they are cooked through. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for 2-3 days, or store in the freezer and then take out the night before so they will be defrosted and ready for breakfast the next morning.

Kevin’s banana bread – revisited

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We’ve had a lot of overripe bananas lately, which means lots of banana bread and banana muffins. I’ve been playing with the recipe, as I found some batches to be a bit flat and a bit dry, especially the next day. There was one loaf where I added maple syrup and peanut butter – too sweet. Some muffins with just peanut butter – better. In the most recent batch I added some buttermilk and was very happy with the result. Even on day 4, the lone remaining muffin of the batch was still tasty. Below is the updated recipe, with changes noted in italics.

MAKES 1 LARGE LOAF, 3 SMALL LOAVES, or 10 MUFFINS

4 ripe mashed bananas
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour (optional: you can use all purpose flour for a total of 1 3/4 cups if you prefer)

make it your way: add up to 1 cup of chocolate chips, toasted walnuts, or dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 325F.

Mash bananas in mixing bowl. Stir melted butter into bananas. Add buttermilk and stir to combine. Blend in sugar, egg, and vanilla. Add the baking soda and salt and mix in well.

Lastly, stir in the flour until well blended. If you are adding chocolate chips, walnuts, or cranberries, add them now and stir into the batter. Pour mixture into a buttered loaf pan. If making one large loaf, bake for 50-60 minutes. If using three small loaf pans, bake for approximately 30-40 minutes. Muffins will rake about 20 minutes. Every oven can run a bit differently, so I like to check on the loaf about 10 minutes before the suggested time to make sure it’s not overdone and then let it finish if it needs a bit more time. Slide a toothpick into the centre of the loaf to check if done – if toothpick comes out clean then loaves are cooked all the way through.

Transfer to wire rack to cool. Store in airtight container or wrap tightly in aluminum foil. These also freeze well – wrap in saran wrap and then in a freezer bag.

View the original recipe here.

polenta fries

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These ‘fries’ are a nice alternative to potatoes for a side that is warm and salty with a little crunch. Plus, they’re a great way to use up leftover polenta. And they’re gluten-free.

MAKES 4 SERVINGS as a side

1 cup polenta (cornmeal or corn grits. I like to use Bob’s Red Mill.)
3 cups water
¼ cup milk
1 tsp salt

2 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
salt and pepper to taste

To make the polenta, bring 3 cups water and ¼ cup milk to a boil. Add the salt. Then add the cornmeal, stirring constantly as you add to the pot. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir, stir, stir. This one requires constant attention to avoid lumps. I find a spatula works best so that you can scrape down the sides and bottom of the pot as you stir continuously. If you find your polenta is really bubbling, turn down the heat to low. You want a creamy, thick consistency. Just keep stirring. Timing can range, but it may take 20 minutes (it’s a good arm workout).

When the polenta is quite thick – challenging to stir and retains its shape if you pull up a peak with your spatula (like whipped cream) – and then remove from the heat. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the polenta onto the baking sheet. You want a thin even slab. It’s okay if it does not fill the entire sheet (it will probably fill about half). Allow to cool to room temperature and then cover and chill in the fridge for at least one hour, or preferably overnight.

To make the fries, remove set polenta from the fridge. Preheat your oven to 450F. Cut polenta into thin even rectangles or wedges, depending on what shape you want your fries to be. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Lightly brush fries with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then flip the fries and bake for another 10 minutes. They should be crispy and start to go golden around the edges. Remove from oven and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Return to oven for one minute to warm the cheese. Add a final dash of salt and pepper before serving.

summer chickpea salad

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I like hummus with carrot sticks and sliced cucumber as an afternoon snack. Falafel with homemade tzatziki sauce – yum! But beyond those two dishes I often look at the can of chickpeas that has been hiding in the back of my pantry for who knows how long and wonder what to do with them. Inspired by this great Moroccan-influenced recipe on the food blog 101 Cookbooks, I made up a light chickpea salad for lunch the other day. It’s quick to put together, zesty and light, and easily portable for a summer picnic.

MAKES 4 SERVINGS as a side salad

DRESSING
2 tbsp (30ml) lemon juice
3 tbsp (45ml) olive oil
1 generous tbsp  (15ml) honey
2 tsp (10 grams) ground cumin
pinch red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground pepper

SALAD
1 (500g) large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup (65g) finely sliced carrots
1/4 cup (30g or about 8) chopped dried plums, also known as prunes, but “prunes” sometimes get a bad rap

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
handful chopped toasted almonds

Whisk the dressing ingredients together and set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, combine chickpeas, carrots, dried plums and 1/4 cup mint. Add three quarters of the dressing and stir. Depending on how wet you like your salad, add more dressing until it suits your liking. Taste and adjust salt and pepper seasoning as needed.

Salad can be stored in the fridge until ready to serve. About 20 minutes before you’re ready to enjoy your chickpea salad, remove from fridge and sprinkle with chopped almonds and remaining mint.

romesco sauce

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This is one of my favourite sauces. It’s so versatile and so tasty. In Spain, where the sauce is originally from, it’s served many ways – with patatas (fried potatoes) or grilled vegetables or grilled fish. I think it tastes best on the second or third day, after the flavours have had a chance to meld, so if you can, make it a day ahead. But it’s pretty darn good slightly chilled right after it’s made too – I would recommend saving a hunk of bread to wipe out the food processor for a well-earned chef’s taste test. I like to serve romesco sauce as an appetizer dip with fresh crusty bread, lightly drizzled with olive oil and a crack of sea salt, with mixed olives on the side. Or I will toss it with hot pasta, roasted tomatoes and fresh Parmesan for a simple dinner.

The origins of this recipe are from the LCBO Food & Drink magazine, but I have made a few adjustments from batch to batch to end up with this version that I like best.

SERVES 6 AS AN APPETIZER DIP
SERVES 4 AS A PASTA SAUCE

2 large sweet red peppers
8 large plum tomatoes (or about 20 of the smaller roma tomatoes)
5 large unpeeled garlic cloves
4-6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup toasted almonds, ground
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking tray with sides, or a glass dish, with parchment paper. Cut peppers into quarters. Remove seeds and white pith. Cut tomatoes in half and remove seeds. Place vegetables cut-side down onto baking tray. Add garlic cloves. Drizzle with 2 tbsp of olive oil. Toss garlic to coat with oil. Roast in oven for 30-40 minutes or until soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool down enough that you can handle vegetables to transfer to food processor.

While the pepper and tomatoes are roasting, prepare the breadcrumbs and almonds. You can use store-bought breadcrumbs, but you can also take a couple of slices of slightly stale crusty bread (I include the crust, even though many recipes suggest you cut it off) and pulse in the food processor to make your own breadcrumbs. They’ll taste better and don’t take too much work. To toast the almonds, place a pan on the stove top over medium low heat. Spread the almonds in the pan. Every couple of minutes, give the pan a shake to move the almonds around and flip them. You just want to give the almonds a light toast. Transfer almonds to the food processor and pulse to grind into almond crumbs (they should be similar in texture to the bread crumbs).

When vegetables are cooled, remove skins from peppers. You can also remove the tomato skins (they will slip right off), but I include the them. Peel the roasted garlic cloves. Transfer peppers, tomatoes and garlic to food processor. Add half the breadcrumbs, all of the almonds, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Whirl until almost smooth. I like the sauce to have a bit of texture, so it’s okay if you have a bit of grit from the almonds.

Add more olive oil if you want the sauce thinner, or more breadcrumbs if you want it thicker. You are looking for a pudding-like texture. Taste. Adjust the salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar as needed. Store in the fridge in a covered container for up to 4 days. It freezes well, so you can freeze any leftovers. And don’t forget to wipe out the food processor for your well-earned sample!