almond butter oatmeal cookies

IMG_3016_2

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.

inspiration October 2013

IMG_6177

Fall. Is. Here. There’s that extra crispness in the air. I don’t leave the house without a scarf, just in case. The leaves are showing their crimson best, with the real fighters clinging to almost bare branches, looking down at their fallen friends below. As my thoughts drift more and more towards hearty dishes and afternoons spent curled up on the couch with a good book, here is what I am finding inspiring right now…

What I am reading…
I have a couple of books on my nightstand, their bookmarks peeking out to remind me that there’s more story still to go. The first is Stand Facing the Stove, which recounts the journey of Irma and Marion Rombauer, the women behind the infamous kitchen bible The Joy of Cooking. The second is quite a different beast. Part memoir, part textbook, I am working my way through the brick that is The 4-Hour Chef by lifehacker Timothy Ferris.

Beyond books, I’m enjoying learning more about the vegan community through Chickpea Magazine. If you can’t find it at a retailer near you, you can order the fall issue, and back issues, online. I was inspired to work on some vegan dishes of my own and developed these almond butter oatmeal cookies, which make a great breakfast treat or afternoon snack.

To keep my mailbox interesting, I have subscribed to Kitchen Letters . Imagine finding a letter from one of your favourite chefs, along with a recipe, in your mailbox twice a month. Well that’s what Kitchen Letters offers. Way more fun than my usual mail. And an interesting twist on food media.

What I am watching…
This TedX Toronto video, which I was fortunate enough to see presented in person at the TedX event in September. Speaker Joel MacCharles of wellpreserved.ca makes a good case for a little more preservation in all of our lives. In fact, you may already be preserving and not even know it.

I have not watched this yet, but am looking forward to an inspiring evening on the couch with a mug of warm cider (or maybe even mulled wine). The documentary To Make a Farm looks at the future of agriculture by following different young people trying to make a living through farming. You can check out the trailer, or download the full movie through iTunes.

What’s on my wish list…
In my compact kitchen there’s only room for one set of mixing bowls, so I’m trying to choose between these two: the durable, hard-working tempered glass 9-bowl Duralex set or the beautiful, more delicate Falcon enamelware prep set. Both companies have been making their wares for over 70 years, and the design hasn’t changed much, because classic design is just that – classic. It worked then, it works today, and it will still work in the future. How will I ever choose!

photo

simple raspberry breakfast muesli

photo (1)

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

MorningGloryMuffins

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

BananaBread

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

PolentaFries

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

chickpea

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.