Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spelt Johnny Cakes

I'm really enjoying trying all of the recipes in the Babycakes cookbook. It's kind of fun to get a bit more practice at gluten-free cooking. I always enjoy varying the textures and flours in the things I bake anyway and now when I need to make something for an event that includes some gluten-free people, I'm quite a bit more capable of doing so. Well, some of the recipes in Babycakes are made with spelt flour, so I know those don't exactly qualify as gluten-free, just lower in gluten than wheat flour. I do really enjoy the flavor of spelt in a lot of baked goods, though. I think muffins are especially great for it.


As a good Southern girl transplanted into Canada, I often miss some of the foods I was used to growing up. I mean, seriously. How has no one here ever tried grits or okra or collards?! When I saw the Johnnycakes recipe in this book, I knew I had to try it. Just looking at the ingredient list I could pretty much tell right away that these weren't going to be very authentic. Healthier, yes, but authentic, not so much.

The Johnnycakes are made with a base of spelt flour and cornmeal and drizzled with agave nectar after baking. I think that frying these in a little bit of oil in a cast iron pan would probably give them a bit more oomph, though you'd definitely be removing some of the healthy from them by doing that.

I don't know. I didn't hate these, but I didn't love them, either. I don't really like to write about things I don't totally love, but I was in the middle on these Johnnycakes. I think they ended up being a bit too dry for my taste. They really needed something else to make them shine. Maybe the addition of some fresh corn kernels would have given them a bit more moisture. If I try making these again, I'll probably bake them for just a few minutes and then fry them for the rest of the time. I just expect Johnnycakes to be a bit greasy, you know? It's like eating grits with no Earth Balance. It's just not done in polite society. I'm sure there is a way to still bake these and keep the calories down and improve the flavor, I just have this particular expectation in my head, you know?


If you decide to make these Johnnycakes, make sure to eat them right away when they're warm. If you end up needing to reheat them, toss a few sprinkles of water on them before you do. They're even drier when they've cooled down so you need to add a bit of that fresh from the oven steam back in.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fresh Orange Juice

Well, we've had our juicer for a little while now and we're still using it quite a bit. Our favorite juice is definitely the apple-carrot-beet-ginger juice but I think fresh orange juice is a close second. We've become completely spoiled now. I don't ever want to drink juice anymore unless it's one we make ourselves.

I'm wondering if we're getting any extra vitamins since some of the white part of the orange gets juiced doing it this way. I think that's where bioflavanoids and stuff like that hang out. I don't know, but it sure tastes delicious.


The coolest thing about orange juice made through a juicer instead of just being squeezed is the frothiness. It sounds kind of odd when you think about frothy orange juice, but it's awesome. It tastes almost creamy or something. I mean, just look at those awesome little bubbles!


I think my cats like juice, too because they always seem to be hanging out when I'm taking pictures of it. I think I might go make a glass of carrot juice right now, actually.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pie Fillings and You

Now that you've unlocked the secrets to flaky pie crust you probably need something to actually put in that pie. This is going to be about fruit pies, but I might do another post about other types of pies.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with some pieces cut from it

I almost feel like I'm cheating or something by writing about this. I've been making fruit pies for so many years that it's like second nature almost. Fruit pie fillings are crazy simple to put together. Seriously, even if you're one of those people that gets a bit nervous if you don't have a recipe, you can do this. Many times I'll decide I want to make a pie and then head over to the market and see what kind of fruit catches my eye and that's what type of pie I'll make.

I highly recommend buying fruit that's in season, especially if you can get to a farmer's market or something like that. The great thing about buying from a farmer's market or one of those pick your own places is that you're getting fruit that's been ripened naturally. Even when you're buying in-season produce from your local grocery store, it might have been shipped in from somewhere else and it's likely been picked when it was green. You'll get the best flavor out of your fruit if it's been allowed to ripen before it's harvested.

But what if it's the middle of winter and you're just dying for a blueberry pie? Go for frozen fruit. The great thing about frozen fruit is that you can get it any time of year from pretty much anywhere you might live. It's a great solution when nothing's in season or all of the produce looks a bit dodgy at your local market.

When you're deciding on a fruit for your pie, don't be afraid to be creative! Combine a few and see what happens. Strawberries and mangos go together quite nicely in a pie as do apples and blueberries or figs and strawberries. (Fresh figs are pretty awesome in pies, actually.) If you're combining fruits, think about the flavors of each. Do you want an equal amount of strawberries and rhubarb or do you want just a little bit of rhubarb to complement your strawberries?

Now that you've got that down, you need to know how much fruit to buy. Keep in mind that fruit shrinks a bit when you cook it so get a little bit more than you think you'll need. Also, it's totally acceptable to pile up the fruit into a mound that goes a bit taller than the edge of your pie dish. I do that with apple pies most of the time, actually. It'll cook down a bit and besides, the crust will keep your filling in there nice and snug.  Here's a good trick to figuring out how much fruit to buy. Just pile it up inside your pie dish before you do anything to it. Account for the spaces that aren't being filled since your fruit isn't cut yet when you're doing this, though. If you're already at the store and your pie dish is at home, just go to the aisle with those aluminum pie pans and pile some fruit in it when you're in the produce aisle, then put the pan back when you're done. Most grocery stores have those hanging around somewhere.

Now you want to think about sweetening your pie filling. Taste a little piece of your fruit. How sweet is it already? Sometimes I'll leave out the sugar entirely if I'm using really sweet fruit. If you're adding sugar, you want to start out planning to use 1 cup of dry sugar. Depending on how sweet your fruit already is, cut that amount down a bit. The rhubarb in the pie I just made was quite tart and the strawberries were greenhouse strawberries and not quite as sweet as I would have liked so I went ahead and added the whole cup of sugar. If you just plain old like things super sweet, then go ahead and always add the whole cup. No worries.

You can also switch up the type of sweetener that you're using. Use brown sugar, white sugar, sucanat, agave nectar, maple syrup, etc. Different sugars will give a touch of a different flavor to your pie. If you're using liquid sugars, you may not need an entire cup. I'd start with about a half cup of those and maybe mix in a bit of granulated sugar with it so everything doesn't get too soggy.

What else to add to your pie? I like to add a bit of vanilla to mine, pretty much all of the time. Sometimes I'll use real vanilla beans, but mostly I'll just use some vanilla extract. You can also experiment with using some other extracts as well. Lemon, orange, chocolate and maple extracts can be especially delicious in a pie. Add them along with your vanilla or instead of. I usually add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla with 1-2 teaspoons of whatever other extract I'm using.

Lemon juice is your friend! I find that adding a bit of something acidic like lemon juice gives your fruit such a fresh boost. Sometimes I'll use apple cider vinegar instead if I'm feeling crazy. You only need a few tablespoons. Usually I'll use the juice of one lemon or 2 tablespoons of vinegar. If you're making an apple pie, I would especially say to use the lemon juice. It'll add so many nuances to the flavor.

You're going to want to add a thickener of some kind as well. I usually add about a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour or a few tablespoons of arrowroot or cornstarch. Why? Because this will mix with the fruit juices that get released during cooking and give you a nice thick sauce around your fruit. Just make sure to mix it into your fruit evenly and you're good to go.

Adding a pinch of salt is usually a good idea, too. Not much, just a touch. If you have some of those flavored salts, that might be really awesome in a pie. Someone was telling me about lavender salt the other day, I would love to try that!

Now you can get creative and add some more stuff. Lemon zest, orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, hazelnuts, raisins, cranberries, chocolate chips... anything!

Sometimes after I've put the filling in the pie dish and before I put the top crust on, I'll dot a bit of Earth Balance on top. It adds a nice bit of flavor to your pie. I've never met a pie that didn't like that little addition. I don't always do it, mostly because I forget, but it's delicious when I do.

Really, it's that easy!

For the strawberry rhubarb pie that I made the other day I used 2 containers of strawberries, 3 stems of rhubarb, 1 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon vanilla, the zest of one orange and a pinch of salt.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

How to Rock a Flaky Pie Crust

Pie is pretty much one of the most awesome desserts ever. You can use any kind of crust you want and you can usually just wing it with the fillings. If you're making a fruit pie you're even getting a few vitamins in there, too. That's kind of rad. That being said, I know there are a bunch of people out there who are intimidated about making a pie at home. Or maybe you do make pie at home, but you always use a store-bought crust or only make pies with graham cracker crusts because it's easier. I want to change that.

Here's the thing. Pie crust is actually pretty simple once you understand a few things about how it works and what makes it behave the way you want it to. It took me years of trying recipes for pie crust that tastes like cardboard before I finally had my "Eureeka!" moment. Now, I can pretty much rock the pie crusts every single time. It's easier than you think it is.

There are about as many recipes for a plain old pie crust as there are types of pie fillings. It can be overwhelming. Try this one if you're looking for a simple, flaky crust. The ratios in this recipe make the dough easy to work with and it comes out flaky every time if you keep a few things in mind while you're making it. Here's the overview: don't overwork the dough and keep it cold. Did I mention keep it cold? Because that's the big one here.

Super Awesome Flaky Pie Crust (I got this recipe from somewhere on the internet a while back, but I can't remember where)

This makes enough for two crusts.

2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) non-hydrogenated margarine like Earth Balance, cubed, divided
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) non-hydrogenated shortening like Earth Balance
1/4 cup ice water
small amount of non-dairy milk of your choice (any kind is fine, I usually use rice or almond)
1 tablespoon sugar (or you can use one of those cool packets of vanilla sugar)

Before you begin, go ahead and cut up the margarine and shortening and put it in the fridge until immediately before you're ready for it. I put half of the margarine on one plate and the other half with the shortening on another since you'll add them that way. The cubes don't have to be small, either. I usually just cut lengthwise twice so each slice will give you four little cubes.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Add half of the margarine.

Using a pastry blender or a fork, mix this until you get a coarse meal. You don't want any large pieces of margarine left at this point. Aim for something like in the photo above.

Take the remaining margarine cubes and the shortening out of the fridge and dump them in the bowl.

Make sure your hands are clean and dry at this point. If you need to wash them, put the bowl in the refrigerator while you do it. Now, use your hands to mix everything. You want to use your hands because you'll have more control over the size of the chunks of margarine this way. A pastry blender or a fork will end up making everything a bit more uniform and that's not what you want. Just keep squishing everything through your fingers for a minute or two, it doesn't take long.

You're aiming for the dough to look like this. I know, there are probably bigger pieces than you might expect in the bowl. Resist the urge to make everything uniform and just stop mixing. This step right here is part of what makes a flaky crust act flaky. Keeping everything super cold until it gets into the oven is another part of that. You want to keep the fats as separate as possible within the dough until it gets shocked into baking when you put it all in the oven. I don't really understand the science behind it, but I do know it works.

Now you want to go ahead and add the ice water to the bowl, a little bit at a time, mixing gently with a fork to incorporate it. I always end up needing the entire 1/4 cup of ice water, but if you don't need that much to get a nice, soft dough, don't add the rest. Basically you want the dough to be soft and smoothish looking. It shouldn't be sticky or tough. (I forgot to take a picture when I was at this point, so just pretend that you know what my dough looked like here.)

Divide the dough in half and flatten each half into a little disc. Wrap it up in parchment paper or plastic wrap or even just put it in a little container if you want and put the dough into the refrigerator. You want to let it cool for about 4 hours. You can even let it chill overnight if you want, but you don't need to do it for that long. I know. 4 hours is a long time, but you really want to make sure that this dough is cold, cold, cold. You can try putting it in the freezer for part of the time if you're in a hurry, but sometimes that doesn't chill it all the way through or it ends up freezing the margarine too much and you don't get the same results.

Preheat your oven to 450 F. Go ahead and get your filling ready just before the 4 hours is up. I decided to make a strawberry-rhubarb pie. I'll get more into fillings in a second post tomorrow.

Take one of the discs of dough out of the fridge and roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle just a tiny bit of flour on top and rub some on your rolling pin, too. You don't want much, just enough that your rolling pin doesn't stick. Try and get it round and just a bit larger than your pie dish. Don't worry if your dough isn't a circle. Mine never is. Perfect circles don't taste any different than my crazy shaped dough, anyway, I'm pretty sure.

Gently fold  the dough in half and put it in your pie plate like this. Unfold it to cover the entire dish. Try and get the dough as flush with the sides of your dish as you can so there won't be any giant air bubbles between the crust and the dish when you're baking it. You want the dough to be just a bit larger than your dish right now so you can fold it over the top crust. Add your filling, then put your pie plate in the fridge and take out the second disc.

If you want to make a lattice crust, you can cut the strips out with a pizza cutter or a sharp knife. I usually like to use the pizza cutter. Don't worry if your strips are uneven, no one will notice once it's all assembled. If you have a strip that breaks, just put that part underneath one of the other strips when you're assembling it on the pie. I have 4 broken strips on this particular pie, but I bet you can't tell where they were. That's the great thing about a lattice crust. It's very forgiving and it looks great.

If you're making a flat crust, follow a similar procedure to how you made the bottom crust. Make sure to cut some holes in the top of the pie so the steam has somewhere to escape. If you don't, your pie might explode all over the oven and you really don't want that.

Now you want to fold the overlap of the bottom crust over the top one. I've never really been very good at making this part look pretty. I envy the people that can make cute little ripples in their pie crust from pinching it. I just sort of suck at that for some reason. No matter, I just use a fork and press it all in place. Cut away any extra dough with a knife.

Brush the crust with your non-dairy milk and sprinkle it with the remaining sugar. I really like using those little packets of vanilla sugar for this. It adds a nice bit of extra flavor to the pie.

Put your pie in the freezer for 15 minutes. Yes, I just said freezer. You want to make the top crust just as cold as you possibly can before it goes into the oven. It also helps to keep the filling from making the bottom crust soggy before it can start to bake.

Take the pie directly from the freezer and put it into the oven. Bake for about 10 minutes and turn the heat down to 375 F and bake for 45 more minutes. At this point your crust should be a nice golden brown with crunchy sugar bits baked into it.

You want to bake the pie at the higher temperature first to give the crust a nice toasting right off the bat. That'll keep it from getting soggy.

Tomorrow I'll talk pie fillings so you have something to put between this awesome flaky crust of yours.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Tomato Caesar Salad

It's been a gorgeous day in Vancouver today. The sun was shining all day trying hard to warm us up despite the cold wind. It's still a bit cool, but today was the first day so far this year that it's been warm enough to eat my lunch in the park. Awesome. I'm definitely looking forward to many more lunch breaks like that.


For dinner, I think I'll just stick with something simple and fresh and think about those warm summer days on the horizon. I just chopped up some romaine lettuce and heirloom tomatoes and topped it with some balsamic croutons. There's a homemade caesar dressing as well, but I put it on after I took the photos. The salad looks prettier without it, anyway.

I'm looking forward to the farmer's market tomorrow, too. I now live just a block or so from the market at Trout Lake so I have no excuse not to go every week. I'm quite looking forward to seeing what goodies I can discover. I'm hoping to find some fruit for a pie or even some sweet, organic, local strawberries to use in making some strawberry shortcake cupcakes.

My absolute favorite thing from the farmer's market is the garlic. Oh, goodness. Fresh garlic is where it's at.  I'm going to venture into making some more sourdough bread this weekend and I'm thinking of filling the dough with loads of roasted garlic cloves. Yum! I can't wait to see how that'll turn out.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Olive Lentil Burgers

Summer's coming. That means cookouts by the beach and backyard barbeques are coming, too. I know I'm kind of tired of always having the same old veggie burgers. Don't get me wrong, I like veggie burgers and all but sometimes the packages ones aren't so great. Not to mention that they're pretty high in sodium and usually even the best brands contain ingredients that you can't pronounce. So now you're getting all bummed because you know I'm right. Stop planning to cry in your mojitos, I have a solution - olive lentil burgers!


Okay, seriously. I've always been super intimidated by the idea of making my own veggie burgers for some reason. I know, I'll totally go crazy and make some super complicated dinner that takes all day, but I'm scared of a little veggie burger. Or, I used to be at any rate. I don't know why, but one day I got the urge to try and make some from scratch for the first time. I think it was because we had one of those first gorgeous Vancouver days that made me think about lounging around on the beach with friends and food and a few beers. But I digress.

These puppies are so easy to make and they come together fast. I got this recipe from Isa's blog, which is probably not a surprise to anyone who is used to reading about me making something or other that she came up with. I think what drew me in at first was the kalamata olives. Oh, man do I love those. These veggie burgers are full of flavor, hearty and they don't fall apart when you're eating them like so many do!

Someone in the comments over on the PPK (I think that's where I read that at least) suggested using the o-ring from a wide-mouthed mason jar to shape these if you don't have a mold. (You know, the screwy top part of a canning jar.) Seeing as how I have a ton of those lying around, that's what I used and it worked like a charm. One tip - wet your hands and the mold when you're doing the shaping and you won't get veggie burger stuck to either.

The recipe calls for canned lentils, but since I had a bunch of lentils already and they cook fast, I just made some. Just simmer the lentils with a crushed clove or two of garlic and a bay leaf until they're soft and you're good. I think it only took about 45 minutes for mine. I didn't time them, I just started tasting them after about 30 minutes until they seemed like the right texture to me.

Here's something else that's cool. You can totally make these ahead of time and freeze them for later. Just put a little piece of parchment paper in between them before you put them in the freezer so they don't stick together.


We just added some sliced heirloom tomatoes, lettuce and pickles in addition to the usual vegan mayo, mustard and ketchup. Well, James used ketchup, I didn't. I'm not really a fan of ketchup on veggie burgers. You could really put anything on these, though. Keep it simple or make it fancy, they'd be great either way. You might recognize the potato salad from my Potato Salad to Rule the Universe recipe. Yeah, that goes nicely with these, whether you're eating at home or transporting food elsewhere.

Olive Lentil Burgers (recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz, copied and pasted directly from her site here.)

Olive oil (from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons, your choice)
1 small yellow onion, diced medium
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives (really, use any pitted olive you like)
1 15 oz can cooked lentils, rinsed and drained (1 1/4 cups)
1 cup breadcrumbs, divided
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)

Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Preheat a large, heavy bottomed pan non-stick (preferably cast iron) over medium high heat. Saute onion for about 3 minutes with a pinch of salt. Add mushroom, garlic, black pepper, thyme and tarragon and saute for 7 to 10 minutes, until mushroom is cooked.

While mushroom is cooking, place olives in food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped (not pureed.) Remove from food processor and set aside. (No need to clean it out for the next step.)
When mushrooms have cooked, add mushroom mixture to the food processor. Add all other ingredients except for 1/2 a cup of the breadcrumbs. (Did you hear me? Reserve 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs, this will give them better texture.) Pulse until mostly smooth, but there should still be a little texture. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining 1/2 cup breadcrumbs to the burger mixture, along with the chopped olives, and thoroughly combine.

Divide burger mix into 6 equal pieces. An easy way to do this is divide it in half, then cut each half into 3 basically equal portions. You can do that right in the bowl if it’s large enough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. Form mixture into patties, spray with a little more cooking spray and bake for 15 minutes. Flip burgers and bake for 12 to 15 more minutes, until nicely browned.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Breakfast in Tofino

We took a little trip up to Tofino, BC this past weekend and made a sort of mini-vacation of it. We realized that we probably won't get to take an actual vacation this year so we thought we'd just make a 3-day weekend a few times between now and fall since that's much easier to do sometimes. Besides, there are still a ton of places in BC that James and I both would like to explore.

Funny enough we were trying to decide between Tofino and Jasper for our first long weekend when the internets helped decide for us. I get a ton of emails every morning from all of those coupon sites like Groupon, Ethical Deal, Living Social, etc. One morning a coupon for a half-price stay in a really nice little resort in Tofino came up. Perfect! Half price made it about the same as what we would have paid to stay anywhere else and now we get to pretend we're all fancy and stuff.


The place we stayed was sort of like a little condo on the beach. We had a little living room and kitchen, which was really nice. I love being able to cook when we're traveling. It makes it a bit less stressful to find food, especially first thing in the morning when you're barely awake anyway. As you can see, we did pretty well for breakfast while we were there.


It was kind of amazing how awesome this breakfast turned out to be. Not that I didn't think it would be good, but wow. This was so delicious it's not even funny. We found a little organic market in Tofino thanks to some help from my Twitter friends. We got a bunch of veggies for breakfast and some stuff to make a quick and easy dinner, plus a jar of pickles. Because really, we like pickles quite a bit. It was a bummer to find that these dill pickles had sugar added to the brine. I'm not a fan of sweet pickles, and especially not sweet pickles pretending to be savory and tricking me. To be fair, James didn't really think they were sweet, I just pick up on that like crazy in things that I expect to be savory.


Isn't that little kitchen cute?! The oven was full sized, too! Living in Vancouver, I've almost forgotten what full sized appliances look like. Everything is miniature here since the apartments are so small.

We ended up just buying a tub of Earth Balance instead of olive oil for cooking everything. That way we could also have a loaf of garlic bread with our dinner and not have to shell out for both Earth Balance and olive oil. I wish I had thought to bring that stuff with me. Oh well, it's not like we won't use it.


James spotted the fiddleheads right away at the market. I've never had them so I was quite intrigued. Thankfully there was a little flyer thing that gave a short run-down on how to cook these or I would have probably steamed them, though I'm sure that would have turned out just fine, too.

First you want to clean all of the brown bits off of the fiddlheads. It's hard to get it all, but just get as much as you can. To cook them, basically you want to slice up some garlic, saute it in olive oil for a few minutes then add the cleaned fiddleheads. Saute for 5-7 minutes and you're done. It's really that simple. They were quite fantastic.


The fiddleheads tasted quite unique. Sort of like asparagus or broccoli with just a tiny, subtle hint of bitterness. Sauteed for just a few minutes like that they were just soft enough and retain a bit of crunch. Yum! I'm going to check the local farmers market for some more of these for sure.


Oh, the rainbow chard. I have no idea what made these so stellar. I just lightly steamed the chard, I didn't even add salt or anything. They were so good, I couldn't stop eating them. As much as I love kale, I had forgotten how delicious this stuff can be. Wow.

We rounded everything out with some roasted yellow potatoes and sweet potatoes. I don't normally throw in a sweet potato with my breakfast potatoes, but I think I might do that more often from now on. Not only did it look cute, it was tasty, too!

We pretty much made all of this on the stove top, too. The potatoes I boiled until just soft and then stuck them in a 350 F oven with some Earth Balance, salt and pepper while I finished cooking everything else. Keep that in mind when you're traveling. A hot plate or a kitchenette or even a camping stove can bring you a wonderful, healthy meal that'll put a smile on your face (even if you haven't had your coffee yet) and keep you going all day. I know I was thrilled to have had such a great breakfast before a day of searching the beaches for starfish and looking for whales.

We didn't get any photos of the whales, though we did see 3 humpbacks! We did take a lot of photos at the beach while we were climbing on rocks and peering into tidepools. Though, here's a tip for you. If it's a really sunny day, but it's still cold and you're out playing around on the beach, think about not wearing your scarf. I had my scarf on all day long in the sun because it was cold, especially the wind. Now my face has a ton of color but my neck is stark white. It looks like I'm one of those women who wears too much face makeup of the wrong color for her skin or something.

Edit: Yes, these are my own photos. A couple of people asked me about them. We took a seaplane tour, that's how I got that shot of one of the islands. :)