Sorry-for-myself Cake

I am going to apologize right now. Sorry. Sorry for wingeing. Due to a seemingly endless string of energy-sapping life incidences, I am tired and cranky. And tonight, in particular, I am feeling sorry for myself. Sorry that I’ve been neglecting my sourdough starter. Sorry that I haven’t written thank you notes and letters. Sorry that I’m so unorganized. Sorry that I can’t get things done in a timely manner. Sorry that I’m running out of steam.

I was feeling so sorry for myself that I baked myself a cake, (yes, I was feeling sorry that no one bakes me cakes). I didn’t need anything fancy, just something flavourful and simple and that didn’t require me to run out and buy anything.

French-style yogurt cakeI settled on a French-style yogurt cake. The recipe called for lemon zest and juice but I didn’t have the energy to zest and juice so I threw in a dash of vanilla. I did remember (and being able to remember anything these days is a major accomplishment) that I had some leftover homemade mincemeat in the fridge. I poured in half the batter, dotted it generously with the mincemeat and smoothed the rest of the batter over.

A quick cooling on the balcony on this unusually frigid night and voilà! Cake for a sorry Ms. Crankypants.

OK, I’m done with feeling cranky and sorry for myself now. Thanks for listening. I hope you bake a cake for yourself the next time you find yourself weary, tired or cranky.

Homemade Nutella

“You know, Mom, I don’t like nutella. I never have.” *walks away with a smug shrug* I looked up from the sauté pan and shot my child that one-eye-brow-raised look that parents give that says, “Did I really give birth to you?” or “How are you the product of your parents?”

I had been excitedly telling the almost-ten-year old about a nutella making project I’d been thinking about for some time. As with a lot of my food DIY projects, I can’t remember how the idea came about. Sometimes I come across a recipe or method for making something that I really want to eat and sometimes, to be honest, it’s not something I hanker for at all but I’m drawn to the technique, concept or ingredient and I am compelled to make it. Having a captive audience to eat the final result is also a motivator.

Deflated and knowing I’d have a limited eating audience, I was almost ready to drop this nutella project. Then I discovered that a food-forward friend’s birthday falls on World Nutella Day, February 5. Imagine having a birthday on such an auspicious day! Homemade nutella would be the most fitting of gifts.

12297176606_1d48d25420The project was a go! I wanted a sophisticated, full-fat, full-dairy, dark chocolate, not-too-sweet version and settled on an adaptation of David Lebovitz’s recipe (this guy is the bomb, check him out if you haven’t already). He uses whole milk but I substituted cream to lengthen the shelf life. Sometimes you can find already skinned hazelnuts which eliminates the skin rubbing step entirely.

12297060953_42d2a40c7aAfter refrigeration, the nutella firms up, so you might want to leave it at room temperature for a while until it’s spreadable. It’s perfectly fine, though, not to wait and scoop and eat it straight from the jar.

Homemade Nutella

2 cups (about 225 g) whole hazelnuts
1 1/2 cups cream
3/4 cup powdered milk
2 tablespoon mild honey, optional
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Pinch of salt

Place the hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast, stirring a couple of times, for 10 to 15 minutes or until they begin to brown and the skins split a little. If you are lucky enough to find already skinned hazelnuts, toast for 10 to 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together the cream and the powdered milk in a saucepan and bring just to a boil. Add honey and whisk to dissolve.
Add chocolate and salt to the hot cream and let sit for 10 minutes. Whisk until all the chocolate is melted and incorporated.
When the nuts are brown, pour them all onto a tea towel, gather the corners and edges of the towel and rub them to remove their skins. Skip this step if you’re using skinned hazelnuts.
Place the warm nuts into the bowl of a food processor and grind them until a paste forms. You may still have some nutty bits. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the hot cream mixture and process until well mixed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
The nutella will seem runny but will thicken up when chilled. You may also have some nutty bits left. If this really bothers you, you can strain the mixture. I wouldn’t bother.
Pour into jars, seal, refrigerate and use within 3 weeks, if it will last that long.

Makes 2 generous jars (one for yourself and one for a friend, World Nutella Day Birthday or not)

Oatmeal Ice Cream

Last year I got whiff of Ice Cream for Breakfast Day. About a month after the fact. I was kicking myself for missing an official opportunity to eat the dreamy, creamy treat to kick start my day (not that I need an official day to do that). So this year I have been vigilant and have noted the date months in advance: Saturday, February 1.

As a dietitian with a bent halo, I am pleased to say that ice cream makes a fine breakfast and hits all the food groups: milk (milk, cream), meat alternatives (eggs), fruits and veggies (fruit) and grains (what grains?). OK, ice cream doesn’t cover the grain group. Not until now.

Oatmeal Ice CreamSo to meet Canada’s Food Guide while honouring Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, here’s a breakfast inspired ice cream. Eat it with fresh or roasted fruit, waffles or pancakes. Imagine it all melty on top of a steaming bowl of apple studded steel-cut oats! Or you can eat it for dinner with a side of fruit. It’s a balanced meal after all.

Oatmeal Ice Cream

1/2 cup old fashioned oats
2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon whiskey

In a dry skillet, toast oats over medium heat until they are a few shades darker and they start to smell nutty. (I like to toast extra oats to top the ice cream just before serving)
Combine whipping cream, milk, brown and granulated sugars and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Add toasted oats and simmer for 5 minutes. The oats should be tender but should still hold their shape.
Meanwhile, lightly whisk eggs and salt in a heatproof bowl.
Gradually whisk cream mixture into eggs. Return the mixture to the pan. Stir and heat gently until custard is thickened and coats the back of a spoon.
Chill until very cold, at least 4 hours.
Stir in the whiskey and churn in ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm.

Makes 1 1/2 litres of homey ice cream goodness

Honey-roasted Apricot Ice Cream

There are a few food rules we like to stick to in our household:

  • Choose unprocessed foods.
  • Cook from scratch.
  • Choose the best ingredients possible.
  • Take time to enjoy your food.
  • Food is meant for sharing.

But of course, we all know that rules are broken. We will sometimes buy Timbits on a road trip. When we eat at Chinese restaurants, we don’t make a big deal about how the meat was raised. Sometimes we don’t want to share our food.

I’ve been making homemade ice cream for the past few years and have to say I’ve made some really delectable ones. None of them have wowed me as much as this luscious honey-roasted apricot version. The apricots were roasted to drive off moisture and intensify their flavour while the honey is present but gentle enough to impart a sweet nuance without being overwhelming. Summer perfection.

Sorry. I don’t think we’re going to share this batch. Nope. Gotta be a rebel and break the rules sometimes, you know.

Honey-roasted apricot ice creamHoney-roasted Apricot Ice Cream

Roasted apricots
About 2 lb. ripe apricots
Mild honey

Halve and pit apricots and lay them cut side up on a parchment lined, rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with honey.
Roast at 450 degrees F for 20 to 30 minutes or until apricots start to caramelize.
Cool and reserve 2 cups and chill. Happily eat the rest.

Crème anglaise
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/2 vanilla bean
2 eggs
Pinch salt

Combine honey and sugar in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, cook until honey starts to bubble and sugar melts. Turn down heat and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add cream, milk and vanilla bean and return to heat. Some of the molten honey will harden but will dissolve while the cream heats.
Turn off heat and let mixture steep for 15 or 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, lightly whisk eggs and salt in a heatproof bowl.
Remove vanilla bean from cream and gradually whisk cream into eggs. Return the mixture to the pan. Stir and heat gently until custard is thickened and coats the back of a spoon.
Strain through a fine meshed sieve and chill until very cold, at least 4 hours.
Combine with reserved apricots and churn in ice cream maker while pacing in anticipation. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm. If you live with other people, stash container at back or bottom of freezer so no one notices it. Savour when no one is looking.

Makes about 1 1/2 ambrosial litres

Canning Season is Officially Open!

By mid-June, both the Kid and I are jittery. He’s excited about the end of the school year and I’m just as excited about the official beginning of canning season. Of course I can preserve all through the year, but June is when we start our annual fruit picking pilgrimages to gather pounds and pounds of fruit to freeze or preserve. Pure joy to us DIY folks. Joy!

At this time of year I start dreaming up my master list of preserves for the season. Sometimes I get to all of them, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I come up with more ideas as I come across fresh produce. This is a sneak peak at some of the early season preserves I’m scheming:
-strawberry vanilla jam
-apricot cardamom butter
-raspberry lychee jam
-chocolate raspberry jam (!!)

As the summer grows into fall, I’ll be putting up peaches, a few chutneys and relishes and lovely things with pears and apples.

Will you find any of these goodies under the Christmas tree this year?

Oh! And not to be forgotten…strawberry vodka!
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Spring has stung, I mean, sprung

Whenever I tell someone about our fall mushroom foraging adventures I get this wide-eyed look of bewilderment and a guaranteed, “Really? Weren’t you afraid of getting poisoned?”

I get a similar response when I mention that we’ve been eating nettles, “Really? You mean the stinging kind?”

I suppose eating off the beaten path has never made me nervous. Besides, nettles and wild mushrooms aren’t exactly as risky as eating fugu or scorpions.

So when my foraging friend Carol brought nettles to work last Spring I was game at giving them a try. She put on a kettle of water to boil, reached for a pair of tongs and gingerly transferred the tender hairy leaves into the teapot. After dousing the leaves with scalding water and steeping for a few minutes, we sipped on a deliciously green, grassy, nutty elixir. I managed to get my hands on some more and made an emerald green nettle risotto and delicate risotto pasta.

Chock full of nutrients (Vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium), nettles are just too healthy to pass by. Especially if you forage, because then they’re nutritious AND free.

Now that Spring is once again upon us, the boy and I are looking forward to gathering our own nettles for some more springtime feasting from the forest floor. Don’t worry, we’ll wear gloves.

Making Peace with Red Velvet

There are a lot of things in this world that I don’t understand. War. Violence. Racism. Cats. Golf. Red velvet cupcakes.

For the life of me, I do not understand the appeal of the red velvet dessert phenomenon. The thought of eating something artificially dyed with God-knows-what food colouring makes me cringe. The often used flavouring of a wee bit of cocoa is barely detectable and is, frankly, disappointing. “Oh, but they’re so pretty!”…it’s totally fake, sister! You can’t fool me.

So when I was reviewing the brilliant new book, Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes by Portland author, Diane Morgan, I was intrigued to find a recipe for red velvet cupcakes. In which section you may ask? The beet chapter, of course. Instead of using a bottle of red food colouring to taint the cupcakes, the recipe calls for puréed roasted beets. Clever.

I was glad to see an alternative to the usual red velvet cupcake recipe but wasn’t planning to make them until the Kid got a hold of the book and talked me into making them for Thanksgiving guests. “Beet red velvet cupcakes! The red is completely natural! Our friends won’t even know! Get it, BEET red velvet!” followed by a peel of 8 year old laughter.

The recipe is deceptively easy. Roast the beets to conserve their deep, rich colour. Peel then purée them and add them to a very simple cake batter that doesn’t even require a mixer. Bake into vibrant magenta fluffiness. No food colouring. Nothing artificial.

The proof in the pudding was when I served them to our friends. The kids flocked to the cake stand and started chowing down. No one thought twice about them until our kid spilled the beans and told everyone they were BEET red velvet cupcakes.

Often it’s best just to stay quiet and keep the peace.