Five Seed & Honey Bread

IMG_4289-2 2.jpgI haven’t been feeling ultra magical lately.  Not with focus, anyway.  Like there is power (as we all have power) brewing and burbling but given no direction it just languishes (or worse, comes out negatively).  So, I’m changing this.  Especially in light of the state of the world right now, it’s so important to meditate on positive magic.  Connectivity, and acts of brave love, and hard, dedicated work even when it feels too difficult.  To push outwards with golden light, etc etc.  Continue reading

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Gingersnaps, Ethereal Pear Muffins, and Honey-Mustard Glazed Carrot Soup

It’s autumn here in Vietnam, but you wouldn’t know it, to the extent that we’re going to the Tam Dao mountain region this weekend to escape the heat.  But!  I know it’s properly autumn somewhere, so the least I can do is offer a few seasonally appropriate (for temperate regions) recipes to cozy up to.  They’re all from Mark Bittman’s impossibly useful cooking apps, How to Cook Everything, and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian – both of which are great in that the recipes are simple, but the techniques are sound, and the adaptations are numerous and truly inspired.  I don’t mind being out of wifi zones anymore, because I know I can make virtually any taste of home just through a quick search on my iPod.  Brilliant.

So, the honour of being the last proper cookie I made (properly baked cookie) goes to a gingersnap that embodied within it’s tiny wafer-small body the whole of what a proper gingersnap is, was, and should ever be.  It was snappy.  Not crisp, but it broke like a piece of hard wood and then dissolved into ginger-hot crumbs that stuck in my teeth like anything made with a whole cup of molasses really should.

I had to savour it.  Oven-less at the moment, I have no way to make more.  But back home I made a whole arsenal of these little perfections for about as much trouble as it takes to mix a few things in a bowl, make a log, and then slice it – the easiest kind of cookie ever.  It’s the kind of thing that brings to mind elder relatives – in the best way – and my gratitude goes to whoever Aunt Big is and her recipe that has ended my search for the perfect gingersnap.

Aunt Big’s Gingersnaps

from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 heaping teaspoon baking soda
  • 31/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 heaping tablespoon ground ginger (or more)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch salt

Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter, sugar, and molasses until smooth. Mix the baking soda with 2 tablespoons hot water and beat into the dough.

Combine the flour, spices, and salt in a bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the dough and beat well. Shape the dough into 2 long logs, wrap in wax paper, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight (or wrap very well in plastic and freeze indefinitely; you can proceed to Step 3 with still-frozen dough).

Heat the oven to 350°F. Slice the cookies as thin as you can and bake on ungreased baking sheets until golden around the edges, about 10 minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning. Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to a rack to cool. Store in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to several days.

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These muffins were so incredibly light, so innocent tasting, barely sweet but toasted outside and feathery delicate inside, with sinful caverns of gooey milk chocolate and moist from shredded ripe Anjou pears – I could only imagine them improved with some cliched scene of enjoying them at an old-world writing desk with a mug of hot pomegranate tea big enough to drown all your erased sentences in (starkling bright window view of trees and birds probably necessary).

Featherlight Pear & Milk Chocolate Muffins

adapted from Mark Bittman’s Muffins, Infinite Ways, in How to Cook Everything 

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup melted butter, cooled
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup shredded juicy pear
  • 1/3 cup chocolate pieces

Preheat your oven to 375 and lightly grease a muffin tray.  (If you want to use paper liners, I would recommend spraying them with spray oil).

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Beat together the egg yolks, milk, vanilla and melted butter in a medium bowl.

Whip the egg whites until stiff but not dry.  Add the egg yolk and milk mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until almostcombined, then fold in the egg whites.  The batter should lumpy and moist – add more milk if necessary.  Then, scatter the chocolate and pear over top and fold them through with two or three strokes.  Spoon into muffin cups and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until nicely browned on top and set in the middle.

* * *

By glazing the carrots first, this soup gets a surprisingly deep flavour, and is super creamy without using dairy at all.  It’s a celebration of carrots!  And just a bit spicy from the mustard… a bit wild from the honey.  Best afternoon snack ever.

Glazed Honey-Mustard Carrot Soup

adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

  • 1 1/2 pounds carrots, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey (strongly flavoured is good here)
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, chervil, or spring onion, for garnish

Put the carrots, butter, mustard, 3/4 cup water, and the honey in a soup pot and turn the heat to high.  Sprinke with salt and pepper, then bring the mixture to a boil.  Cover, turn the heat to medium-low, and cook for about 5 minutes.

Uncover and raise the heat a bit.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the carrots are cooking in the butter.  Lower the heat and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are very tender, about 10 minutes more.  If they start to stick or brown, add a a tablespoon or so of stock.

Add the stock and turn the heat to high.  Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the syrup at the bottom of then pan.  Lower the heat so that the stock gently bubbles and cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens slightly, about 10 minutes more.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pan or cool the mixture slightly, pour into a blender container, and carefully puree.  (The soup may be made ahead to this point, cooled, and refrigerated.  Serve cold or gently reheated.)  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.  Serve, garnished with a sprinkle of something green.

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Cape Breton trip Pt 1: Sangria muffins & brined chicken sandwiches

Staring out the window, nestled with my whole spinal region melting into a backseat pillow, bumping and floating my way towards Cape Breton… yet another time (a gifted time) where the rigeurs and the rigidity of everyday life are left behind like so many un-needed sneakers and bargain books on silly things like the Kabbalah I’m never going to read anyway.  Not to mention, my job, my house, the city of Montreal, and a regularly scheduled program.

Hello Cape Breton!  Well, hello Edmunston, so far.  I’m here with my love and his brother who’s been so kind to drive us the whole way and have the good taste enough to play Guided By Voices, and Monty Python and CBC.  We left yesterday afternoon, after a good 3 hours of Food Packing (read: AWESOME FUNTIME LIZ-INDULGENCE CAR-PIC-NIC CHEFFERY) and 20 minutes of Regular Things Packing (yes, I remembered everything.  Underwear, computer,

not vanilla pods but BEANS! Magic garden beans.

toothbrush, check).  On the road, I’ve already discovered that dairy creamers stolen from highway cafes are a cereal addict’s best friend, and that flakey varieties of cereal are verily muncheable out of anything kinda resembling a bowl, and with chopsticks no less.  I have dreamy plans of making a sticky toffee pudding for my BF’s toffee loving mom-with-a-birthday-on-Tuesday (which will bring the heritage score to Brits: a zillion / Scots: well, also a zillion).

The trick is to use cardboard as a plate. S.M.R.T.

But, being a food-centered blog, I’d be remiss to skip a bit of recap on the car-picnic making action.  It wasn’t hard at all, really.  I needed to rescue some things, so I harvested the last of our current vegetable garden production to twizzle together some ace & spicy peanut noodles with fried peanuts and summer beans and mint.  Haven’t even cracked that yet (it’s still in the motel fridge), but we for SURE started into the mega pesto chicken sandwich of Awesome.  The pesto was also a bit of a garden rescue, after I plucked all the tops off our basil plants and cradled the crunchy leaves in my fists all the way to the kitchen to make that most luridly green spread.  I brined two chicken breasts overnight in a salt and sugar solution.

PS, How to Brine a Chicken Breast:

take: 1 quart of water / 4 cups

1/2 cup sea salt

1/4 cup sugar

2 chicken breasts (about 1.5 pounds, bone in, but really whatever will fit in the water)

…. let it sit in the brine solution for 6 hours, or overnight, then cook as usual.  SO MADNESS JUICY, OMG.  Thank you Serious Eats yet again for your so useful secrets.

Once chicken is roasted, get all the meat parts off the bone, then mix with the fresh pesto, spread a big rosemary foccacia on both sides with thick herbed tzatziki, and mound things in this order: Bread, spread, 2 tbsp finely chopped kalamata olives, 3 tbsp finely diced marinated red onions, 1 big avocado sliced thick, salt & lemon, pesto chicken, tomatoes, and fresh spinach dressed with a bit more lemon & salt & olive oil.  Wrap the whole thing tight in plastic and press it tight for a while (I just packed it on the bottom of the bag, under a flat book that ended up doubling as a totally essential cutting board).  YUM.

I threw some meat pies I made a long time in the oven, too (I love my freezer stash).  They were kind of a riff on a pastilla pastry, which is usually made with chicken (I used lamb instead), but the idea of finely shredded meat cooked with lots of butter, fried almonds, cumin, cinnamon and onions, until it tastes like something sultans should eat, then that’s tucked into a crisp-but-sturdy cornmeal pastry shell, and these are so addictive, man, seriously… wow.

Also convenient: I invented a muffin! Well, sort of.  It’s got a cute name.  I ran out of milk while making blueberry granola muffins so I subbed in some sangria I made the other day and it worked SO WELL.  Yes, there is technically rum in those muffins.  And, 80% whole wheat flour, although you’d never be able to tell, they are fluffy as heck.  I’m a huge fan of using granola in muffins, it just seems to give it a texture and taste that totally distinguishes it from cake in any form – craggy and hearty and toasted-sweet, and it never gets claggy the way using straight oats does sometimes.  I even have the recipe memorized, oho.

don’t forget to bring your road-knife!

Blueberry Sangr-ianola Muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup granola

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground ginger

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups sangria (you can use orange juice instead, of course!)

1 tsp vanilla

1/3 cup mild oil

1 1/2 cups blueberries, or a mix of blueberries and peaches

3/4 cup granola (for topping)

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 400 F.  Line a muffin tray with papers, or grease the cups.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the wet ingredients (sugar through oil).  In a medium bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (flour through granola).  In another bowl, put all your fruit in that, and toss with 1 tbsp of flour – this ensures that the fruit stays suspended in the batter and doesn’t sink to the bottom.

3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir just enough to combine.  Fill 12 muffins cups high with batter – there will be lots – sprinkle with the 3/4 cup granola and bake until they are firm, golden and toasty.  18-22 minutes perhaps, but check after 15 minutes because every oven is different, and don’t forget to rotate the pan.

Guess that’s it for now.  Now I’m just contemplating the wonders that is the potential complementary breakfast at a motel, and if I should maybe with pour myself another nice bowl of Frosted Flakes and eat it outside in the surprisingly chilly pre-dawn air in the parking lot overlooking the vista of Edmunston.   More updates later!

Favourite (sweet) things, hot from the oven.

And while admittedly I’m revelling in brown rice, legume soups, fresh vegetables, kashi-krakkling 7-oat health snacks and yes (always) the occasionally hunk of HEALTHY dark chocolate (mmm), there is always a place and a time for a snatched sweet treat.  All the better if homemade, and not because it’s always necessarily more delicious at home – although it often is – but because making a batch of something means you get tons and tons of sweets to share with your friends instead of one luscious bakery-gotten bite.  Maybe not metric tons and tons, but that “swimming in cookies” feeling, haha, you know what I mean…

Moving backwards in time, because that makes sense to me, just last night I rolled a bushel of tiny PB & J thumbprint cookies with short sandy texture and bellies full of button-bright apricot-cognac jam.  Almost grown up but you can’t ever go wrong with peanuts and jam together, and I’m not sure why kid-ish is bad or necessarily unrefined.  No, they’re pretty refined actually, and take longer than I thought they would take (ie: slower than chocolate chip cookies, slightly) – make batter, roll 4 dozen cookies, chop peanuts, dredge cookieballs in peanuts, bake, fill with heatened up jamjam, EAT.  Then eat more cause they’re SUPER good.  And worth a bit of respect and care and time.  I kinda wanted to a try a tahini and thai marmalade version, too.  Or almond and orange.  Cashew and blueberry?  COCONUT CHOCOLATE CARAMEL CRISPY FUN?  Oh wait.  That’s a samoa.  Moving on…

6750337459_71b52a0123_b-1-2In other recent news I made a kind of thyme & chocolate cake that was pretty good but I wanted it to be even more drenched in thyme syrup, and with a more velvetty cream, and maybe with a third/fourth layer… you know, like a MMM MELTING HERBAL MOUSSE & FUDGE kinda sensation, totally over the top.  That being said, it was devoured in a few hours (gone gone gone without a crumb), so yes, it was good anyway.  ^^;  I DID appreciate that it wasn’t very sweet, yet deeply chocolatey, light (surprisingly) in texture and fairly grownup-ish.  Also, sliced like a freaking dream – perfect layers.  Easy to make, too.

6502036455_0c341cda6a_b-1-2Moving back, back back in time, to a place where insanely buttery crusts house tea-poached pears and frangipane…. and then get draped with drizzles of creme anglaise like it’s the most natural thing in the world.  My kitchen!  And yours, too, potentially!  I wish I could tell you exactly how to make this, but it’s more of an amalgam of parts than a single recipe.  In that way, it’s actually kind of freeing for the baker at home.  All you need is a simple pie crust, 3 or 4 poached pears to slice thinly and arrange in a pretty pattern, and a quick frangipane (almond cream) to spatch all around it like a lilting duvet that hugs the fruit as it bakes… for about 30-40 minutes at 350 C, or until the crust is browned and the frangipane is puffed, golden and set.  Warm it’s ambrosial, and good at room temp, too.

More franken-recipes for complicated people, this time in the form of a dirt cake.  I rather draw the line at litter cakes, having few to no pleasant olfactory associations to cat pans and all that jazz… but a faceful of warm fresh earth wasn’t out of the question as a cake theme at all.  Flowers and moss and berries and … worms!  Especially for a birthday boy who’s heart lies with horticulture and gardening.  And sugar.

The trick was making it 100% from scratch, which included, I’m afraid, a batch of homemade gummi worms to eventually  crawl their way through the chocolate.  I just followed this recipe, and used fresh squeezed juice for two of the layers (raspberry and orange), and then made a yogurt-strawberry-banana layer for opaqueness and fun.  All striated together, and then sliced up into some of the most delicious and gruesome little bugs ever.  Oh, and they stuck like slugs to everything!  Fantastic!

After that, the rest was easy as whipping up a batch of homemade chocolate wafers, a double batch of moist vegan chocolate cake, loads of chocolate pudding, whipped cream, and topping it all with real seeds, mint sprigs, wild strawberries and flower gummies (admittedly the flower gummies were store bought, but they were already there on my dresser and they looked mega cute, I couldn’t resist at all).  Layer inside of a giant planter pot, serve to 40+ guests, enjoy the chocolate goo, crunch and fluff.  (Also scraped clean by the end of the night).

There were also, for some reason, some chocolate chunk muffins.  With cherry-amaretto-cinnamon preserves.  My roommates are currently making vegan ginger-lime-vanilla cupcakes in twee baby blue liners.  It’s a miracle I’m not fat.  God, I can’t wait for those cupcakes.  Yay for dessert!

Chocolate Chunk Muffins

from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

Yield: 12 muffins

  • 3/4 of a stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter / 85 g
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped / 112 g
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour / 160 g
  • 2/3 cup sugar / 133 g
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted / 33 g
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk / 312 g
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups. Alternatively, use a silicone muffin pan, which needs neither greasing nor paper cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Melt the butter and half the chopped chocolate together in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water; or do this in a microwave. Remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg and vanilla extract together until well combined. Pour the liquid ingredients and the melted butter and chocolate over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough—a few lumps are better than overmixing the batter. Stir in the remaining chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin molds.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the centre of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.