Thursday, December 31, 2015

Vegan Ollie Bollen

Ollie Bollen are the traditional Dutch doughnuts or 'oil balls' eaten on New Year's Eve. This year, I decided to make a vegan version while my father still made the traditional version. Ollie Bollen really don't need to be non-vegan, many recipes are made with milk instead of water for extra richness, and some have egg, but it isn't necessary, so it wasn't too difficult to find a recipe. 

Vegan Ollie Bollen
170mL warm non-dairy milk (110F)
2 teaspoons granulated (white) sugar
1 package (8 grams) quick-rise yeast
2 teaspoons oil
1 1/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
splash lemon juice or lemon extract
handful of raisins

Dissolve the sugar in the milk in a medium bowl, then sprinkle the yeast over top. Let stand for ten minutes or so until frothy. Stir in the oil, then gradually mix in the flour to form a sticky dough. Cover the bowl tightly and let rise in a warm place.

Stir in the remaining ingredients. Drop dough by tablespoons into hot oil (375◦F) in a deep fryer. They should begin to turn golden and be crispy, flip them over halfway through cooking. Then immediately drain on paper towels and douse in icing sugar.

The difference between these and regular Ollie Bollen? No discernible difference. The only thing I noticed was the color of them does not become quite as brown, likely due to the lack of egg and milk. However, despite their slightly paler color they still are incredibly crispy. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Best Of 2015

Valentine Chocolate Nutella Fruit Cups
It's the end of the year, and I like to look back at all my accomplishments over the year and find the ones I am most proud of, the most difficult ones, the most delicious ones, and the most impressive ones. By far, my greatest accomplishment of the year was my five month culinary internship abroad, where I completed over one thousand hours of industry work. This took up a big portion of my year and I learned so so much and created so many delicious things!!! Since I have already reflected upon those experiences, here I will reflect upon items I have made at home. I am also very proud with the items I created at school this year - all the different cuisines I explored around the world in my international cuisine class.
Tank Cake



  • Puzzle Cake (January 3rd) - The challenging dessert I took on at the beginning of the year to celebrate the New Year. The cake alternates chocolate and vanilla flavors in the shape of a puzzle. To add to the challenge, I decorated it with a chocolate collar.
  • Tank Cake (January 15th) - A chocolate and butter pecan cake I decorated in the shape of an army tank for my boyfriend's birthday.
  • Valentine Chocolate Nutella Fruit Cups (February 14th) - A chocolate cup with a nutella filling topped with fresh berries and nuts. Quite simple, actually, but very elegant and so tasty.
  • A Week's Worth of Nutella Breakfasts (February 28th - March 6th) - Continuing with the nutella theme, when my boyfriend visited for a week in March, I spoiled him with a different breakfast item featuring nutella every morning. These included: Bread pudding, Pancake stacks, French toast towers, Overnight oatmeal, and Jumbo cupcake.
Maple Pecan Brownie Bombe

  • The Irish Feast (March 18th - 27th) - I made to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day, featuring: Irish porter cheese, Green avocado, Cream of asparagus soup, Irish lamb stew in a bread bowl, Champ potatoes, Irish soda bread, Pistachio-crusted mint chocolate cream pie, Mint nanaimo bars, Emerald truffles, Frothy malt grasshopper, and Ginger ale.
    Irish Feast
  • Maple Pecan Brownie Bombe (October 7th)- I created on a whim as a black box challenge, featuring a maple pecan brownie, spiced dark chocolate mousse, caramel crack, maple white chocolate ganache, and pulled sugar work.
  • Vegan Sacher Torte (December 13th) - And some more of my experimenting and trials in vegan baking I have recently partaken in.
  • Citrus Nut Spice Cookies (December 26th) - I made these just the other night, just throwing in ingredients, and they turned out to be such a great (vegan) hit. I was both surprised and delighted!
  • Ultimate Brownie Skillet (December 27th) - I made just the other night for my brother, featuring a (mostly vegan) triple chocolate brownie base, peanut butter caramel, maple caramel sauce, and chocolate sauce. It instantly became a top blog post hit!
    Puzzle Cake

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Bizarre Beer Battering

Tonight for supper my father made (vegan) beer-battered onion rings as a side dish. They were quite good. We own a deep fryer, but rarely haul it out to use it. So since we had the fryer out with hot oil, and had a little extra beer batter left over, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and do some experimenting. Chefs are curious by nature, and I love trying new things and playing around in the kitchen sometimes when there is no pressure.

Top left: Pasta, top right: Cashews, bottom: Brownie
I hadn't planned in advance, so I just looked around in the fridge and cupboard for (vegan) things I could try beer-battering; just to see how they tasted and if it would work. Here is what I tried, and what I discovered:

  1. Leftover Pasta - I've actually tried this before and it is awesome! It's such a nice, chewy and crispy texture. It works well with thicker shapes such as shells and bowties, not so much spaghetti. I once beer battered a filled ravioli and it was awesome!
  2. Cashews - This worked quite nicely as well. Put four or five cashews covered in a spoonful of batter and fry until golden. 
  3. Leftover Chocolate Brownie - This was AMAZING! The batter doesn't remain overly thick or provide a lot of flavor, but simply gives a protective coating, allowing the brownie to warm up again and the chocolate to melt.
  4. Tahnini - This one didn't really work so well, it was too thin to coat itself or blend in with the batter.
  5. Strawberry Jam - This went better than expected. It made a sweet-savory snack.
  6. Spice Cookie (commericial) - This was also very, very good. It is much like the brownie, where the cookie warms up and softens for that fresh-from-the-oven texture again.
  7. Plain Beer Batter - Of course, if you have leftover batter you can always spoon it or pipe it in different shapes and eat it as is because everyone knows the batter is the best part.

Spice cookie

The key for beer battering other items is a very thick batter. Sometimes a thinner, pancake-like batter works well for fish, but you need a thicker, muffin-like batter for items like cashews. You can flavor the batter with spices if you wish, to match whatever you are beer battering, or season after frying. A rule of thumb is anything savory should be sprinkled with salt immediately upon emerging from the fryer, and anything sweet with icing sugar.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Vegan Hollandaise Sauce

Vegan Hollandaise Sauce
1 cup raw cashews
1/2 - 2/3 cup reserved soaking liquid (from the cashews)
6 whole white peppercorns, crushed
1 Tablespoon minced shallot
3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
1-2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
cayenne pepper, to taste
black salt/kala namak or regular salt, to taste (black salt provides an eggy flavor)
splash of butter-flavored olive oil (if you haven't already you have to taste it - it's unbeleiveable and completely dairy-free!)
dash of hot sauce, if desired
For Béarnaise sauce: add chopped fresh tarragon (about one Tablespoon) at the very end; stir in by hand, do not process

Cover the cashews with water and soak for at least one hour. If you want to make the sauce immediately, use boiling water or even boil the cashews for a few minutes. If you plan ahead, the cashews can be soaked in water overnight. The longer the better - the cashews need to become soft to purée and form a nice cashew cream - the basis of this sauce. RESERVE THE SOAKING LIQUID!
Place the peppercorns, shallot, and vinegar in a small saucepan over low heat and reduce by half. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, reserving the liquid and discarding the solids. 
Place the cashews along with 1/2 cup of the liquid in a food processor and process until very smooth and creamy. It is kind of like making a smooth nut butter - you want no chunks of nuts and a texture similar to heavy cream as an end product. It may take awhile, scrape down the sides as necessary. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth, tasting and adjusting seasoning as necessary, or adding more soaking water as needed. Stir in the tarragon by hand for a Béarnaise sauce.
Serve on crackers, toast, asparagus, broccoli, or make a vegan version of Eggs Benedict. Makes about one cup of sauce.

I have never been a huge fan of the flavor of hollandaise sauce, and never enjoyed making it either - in fact, I have failed at making it many times. This vegan version is fool-proof, the food processor does all the mixing for you, and you don't have to worry about the sauce splitting. Temperature is not important either - all the ingredients are mixed at room temperature, and then if you'd like your sauce warm, gently heat it on the stovetop or in the microwave. The sauce keeps well and can be made in advance - just double-check for taste and consistency before serving. Of course this sauce isn't exactly like hollandaise, but considering it is trying to mimic the taste of non-vegan butter and egg yolks, it does a pretty decent job. The key is the cashew cream - it provides all the fat and richness normally given by the butter. I actually prefer it to traditional hollandaise sauce. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Ultimate Brownie Skillet

Ultimate Brownie Skillet
1/2 cup oil of choice (canola, coconut, vegetable)
3/4 cup sugar of choice (granulated, coconut, brown, date)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (or less if you use salted caramel)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup flour of choice (all-purpose, whole wheat, oat, spelt)
2 large flax eggs (2 Tablespoons ground flaxseed mixed with 1/3 cup water, let stand a few minutes)
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup chips of choice (semisweet, peanut butter, white chocolate)
Other optional add-ins (about 1/4 cup): chopped nuts, nutella, peanut butter, chopped chocolates or candies

Peanut butter caramel
Dark chocolate sauce
Maple caramel sauce
Ice cream of choice (vanilla, chocolate, non-dairy)

Preheat oven to 325F. Generously oil a ten inch cast iron skillet.
In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar, vanilla, baking powder, and salt. Add the cocoa, flour, and eggs, and mix all together. Then stir in the chips and add-ins.
This will not seem like very much batter, but spoon it into the prepared pan, then press it out with the palm of your hand so it forms a thin layer covering the entire bottom of the pan. Bake for 20 minutes until the edges seem a bit dry and firm. The brownie will still appear to be very soft.

Place the brownie on the stovetop, and let it sit for at least ten minutes. Carryover cooking will occur and the brownie will firm up a bit. If you don't mind a really ooey-gooey soft brownie that will not hold its shape in nice pieces when cut from the pan, and you don't mind burning your tongue, you can dig in straight away! If you want a brownie with more of a baked brownie texture and a piece you can actually slice, wait up to twenty minutes, the brownie will stay plenty warm. Don't leave the brownie in the pan much longer than forty minutes if you have any leftovers (leftovers, good one!), as the brownie will continue cooking and if you plan to reheat leftovers, it will overbake. 

Use a plastic or rubber or wooden utensil to cut pieces of the brownie and serve it - the brownie is very soft anyway, and a knife or metal utensil will scratch the pan. Serve the brownie with peanut butter caramel (recipe will follow), dark chocolate sauce (recipe will follow), maple caramel sauce (recipe will follow), and ice cream, or desired toppings.
I made this as part of my brother's Christmas present - at his request - and I really jazzed it up for him. He loved it! I began with a vegan brownie recipe, even subbing oil for the margarine because the only margarine I could find contains whey powder. Then I discovered the chocolate chips also contain milk ingredients. So everything else is vegan (the brownie batter without the add-ins, the peanut butter caramel, the chocolate sauce, and the maple caramel), but then I served it with vanilla ice cream for him since he isn't vegan.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Citrus Spice Nut Cookies

This is a cookie recipe I came up with tonight - inspired by a cupboard full on ingredients, holiday spice flavors, and vegan baking. This cookie doesn't necessarily have to be a holiday cookie, but it does contain some nice holiday spice flavors. It is a healthy cookie - not too sweet, but the sweetness comes from maple syrup, oranges, and raisins. It uses whole wheat and nut flours, and a baking soda vinegar mixture in place of the egg, and minimal oil. This retains a soft, moist cookie that is vegan-friendly.
Citrus Spice Nut Cookies
2/3 cup maple syrup
2 Tablespoons coconut oil
2 large (navel) oranges
1/2 teaspoon each: ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground ginger, ground cloves, ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup each golden and Thompson raisins
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup each: ground almonds, ground walnuts, ground pistachios
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon each: lemon extract, orange extract, almond extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place the syrup and oil in a medium saucepan. 
Peel the oranges, cutting the peel into small pieces and reserving. Cut all the white bitter pith from the oranges, and slice into segments. Add to the pot. Sprinkle all the spices over top, then add the raisins. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, cover, and simmer for ten minutes or so until aromatic and the orange segments have completely broken down. Let cool slightly, then transfer to a blender. Blend until no large chunks remain - it doesn't have to be completely smooth and should not be liquidy, just enough to cut the peel into fine zest.

Combine the flour, nuts, and baking powder in a large bowl. Add the blender mixture. Add the vinegar to the baking soda in a tall cup, let it bubble, then add along with the extracts. Mix well. 

Roll the dough into small balls, about 1/2 inch, and place slightly apart on prepared baking sheets. bake for 10-12 minutes until the bottoms are brown and cookies are no longer doughy. Let cool before transferring from the cookie sheets.
I decorated these with a simple rum icing to suit the occasion.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Yuletide Greetings!

Christmas - the one day of the year I never plan to have an actual blog post. If there is any single day of the year that is meant to be spent with loved ones, it is Christmas, as least in my family. Christmas is a time to celebrate, be thankful, reminisce, catch up on memories, and simply enjoy some good company. And let's not forget to enjoy some great food as well - whether it be the traditional turkey dinner with all the fixings, a myriad of family favorite potluck dishes, a more contemporary holiday feast, or simply a pile of decadent sweets!!!
PHOTO CREDIT:"download"  http://thanksgiving-day-2015.com/merry-christmas-food.html. All Things Christmas, n.d. Thursday, December 24, 2015.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas To Me

The other week, I received some great news that I have not shared on here yet. Back in November I had entered a recipe development contest for a local potato product company. I just recently received the news that my entry for 'Potato Mushroom Cheese Bake' placed first out of all the entries. This gold place winning also came with a nice cheque. I was then asked to prepare my recipe in front of a videographers and photographer in a special kitchen along with the other two finalists. I was absolutely delighted with the news, as after so long I had not been expecting to win, I figured the finalists had already been decided. But it was a nice little surprise close to Christmastime. As soon as the recipe is officially released, I will be sure to share it! :)
Now, I must get to bed before Santa Claus comes...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Buffets

Croquembouche or cream puff tower - an edible
centerpiece display on the dessert buffet table
Beginning in December, we spent the next two weeks of school planning, preparing, cooking, plating, and serving large Christmas buffets in the restaurant - which feed around ninety people each day and are prebooked by May! The buffet set-up was the same each day, with items and offerings varying slightly depending on the day of the week.

The pasta station - made to order. Choose plain or gluten-free pasta, chicken or shrimp, tomato or alfredo sauce, and an assortment of vegetables such as sauteéd mushrooms, sautéed onions, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, and olives, as well as garlic, fresh herbs, and cheese.
At the beginning of the line, there is the pasta station. At the pasta station, diners choose between two types of pasta (regular and gluten-free), two proteins (usually diced chicken breast and sauteed shrimp), and two sauces (tomato and alfredo). Then they choose any of the following pre-cooked vegetables we have available: red and white onions, red and green and yellow bell peppers, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, olives; as well as desired toppings: fresh minced herbs, minced garlic, and grated parmesan cheese. Two students stay at the station with saute pans and propane burners to complete the orders within minutes. 

The soup station with fresh bread rolls.
Next there is a daily soup (some examples are seafood chowder, parsnip cream, cheddar broccoli) and an assortment of freshly baked bread rolls. Next there is a charcuterie platter featuring thinly sliced pates and smoked meats with a variety of pickled, preserved, and fresh accompaniments. There is also a huge fruit and cheese mirror, usually featuring honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon, pineapple, grapes, and sometimes fresh berries, along with at least three different types of cheeses (goudas, cheddars, mozzarellas, blues, goats). This is followed by three different salads, changing daily; one green salad (garden, Ceasar), one starch salad (pasta, rice, potato, quinoa), and one other salad (waldorf, roasted vegetable). Two different vinaigrettes are also offered (persevered lemon, mango, maple sesame, cranberry lavender, tomato tarragon).
A huge fresh fruit and variety of cheeses on a platter - changed daily

Charcuterie platter - a variety of patés, paté en croute, smoked meats,
preserved fruits, jams, chutneys, pickled vegetables, and nuts.
 
Next to the cold line is the hot line, featuring the daily potato (roasted garlic and brown butter crushed potatoes, truffle scented mashed potatoes, herb roasted baby red potatoes), a medley of fresh cooked vegetables, the international seafood item (Asian haddock, salmon wellington, tropical monkfish), the chaffeur dish item (roasted chicken breasts in sherry mushroom cream, beef tips with peppers and onions, paella, tourtiere), and the large roast item (roasted pork loin, beef butt, ham en croute, or turkey) with accompanying sauce (pork jus, beef demi glace, sweet raisin and date sauce, turkey gravy and cranberry sauce).

Salad Station: a green salad, a starch salad, and another salad, accompanied by two vinaigrettes. 
A sample of offerings from the dessert table -
 festive shortbread cookies, linzer bars, and
miniature pavlovas with fresh fruit.
At the end comes the dessert table, featuring a large array of holiday-themed sweets, some bite-sized and some larger. I have seen peppermint cheesecake, cranberry cheesecake, chocolate hazelnut cheesecake, chocolate caramel bacon cheesecake, miniature plain and chocolate cheesecakes, chocolate and cranberry yule log, fruit cake, miniature fruit cakes, bread pudding, sticky toffee puddings, Bavarian creams, blueberry and mocha and gingerbread creme brulee, gingerbread and white chocolate blondies, chocolate mousse, English custard, shortbread cookies, cream puffs, miniature pavlovas, linzer bars, carrot cake, and best of all - a big bowl full of caramel rum sauce that some people like to drink!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pumpkin Gingerbread Blondies

A while ago I ate a `gingerbread white chocolate blondie`and it was delicious. Better than gingerbread cookies - it was sweet and rich and comforting. But also very sweet and very buttery. I liked the idea of a somewhat different holiday treat though, and decided to try to recreate a healthier, vegan version of the treat. I cam up with a pumpkin version, where the pumpkin provides the moisture and texture, but not too much flavor - that`s what the ginger and molasses are for. I can`t call it a brownie, because there is surprisingly no chocolate, but I can call it tasty. 

Pumpkin Gingerbread Blondies
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup raisins
2 Tablespoons ground flaxseed
2 Tablespoons sugar or brown sugar or coconut sugar, optional
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt, optional
1 cup pumpkin purée
1/3 cup blackstrap molasses
2 Tablespoons oil (optional) can also sub applesauce
up to 2 Tablespoons water or non-dairy milk, optional, use only if mixture is very dry
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325F. Line an 8x8 inch square pan with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine first ten dry ingredients.
In a separate small bowl, combine remaining wet ingredients.
Add the wet to the dry and mix well.
Spread batter in prepared pan evenly and bake for 15 minutes until set. Cool before cutting and serving.

Optional ingredients will add extra flavor and richness, but can be omitted for a healthier version. I also made a quick frosting for these, colored green by avocado, which I will share the recipe for soon.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Rosemary Tahini Crackers

Rosemary Tahini Crackers
2 Tablespoons tahini
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1-2 Tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon dry rosemary
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Blend all ingredients together well to form a dough that just comes together. Press mixture out as thinly as possible. Now it can either be cut into shapes, or simple baked as one large cracker and broken after baking.
Place on a baking sheet and bake at 400F for 8-10 minutes or so until crisp.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Deviled Avocado

Deviled avocado is a concept I came up with while I had some avocado and was eating it with tahini and nutritional yeast, admiring the perfectly intact shell. I decided to create a concept of 'deviled' avocado - some of the same flavors of a deviled egg, and the same procedure, but a vegan alternative. No, it doesn't taste like deviled eggs, but it does taste good and is very nutritious. 

Deviled Avocado
1 large, ripe avocado
2 Tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
squeeze of lemon or lime juice
1-2 Tablespoons nut or soy milk
salt and pepper, to taste
paprika
nutritional yeast, if desired
small dates, halved or quartered
Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit, and scrape all of the flesh into a bowl, leaving the skin halves intact. Mash the flesh, and mash in the tahini, mustard, hot sauce, juice, milk, and salt and pepper. Use a blender or immersion blender if desired to get the mixture really smooth. You can scoop it into a piping bag fitted with a star tip if desired, or simply spoon the mixture back into the avocado halves. Sprinkle with paprika, and top with yeast and dates, if desired.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Peanut Sauce

Peanut Sauce
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup tamarind soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon hot sauce
juice of one lime

Whisk all together until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings. Garnish with candied ginger slivers and peanuts. Great as a dip for samosas.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Leftover Rice Stir-Fry

Fry some fresh pork or any meat or tofu in some oil in a wok. Take some leftover cooked rice from various dishes (which may have some extra flavoring or ingredients). I'm talking about a bed of white rice you may have used as a base for a tofu vegetable stir fry, or a beef stew, then most of the flavorful stew or fry was eaten but a lot of the plain rice was left. Stir in some spicy chili sauce, some tomato sauce, some leftover vegetables, and the liquid from a leftover spicy soup. Add to the wok, stir until hot, taste and add whatever the heck you feel like, and adjust seasonings. Serve as a main dish, supplementing with more protein or vegetables as needed.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Spicy Noodles

Spicy Noodles
one pound Asian noodles (such as rice vermicelli)
hot water
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon chili oil
crushed red pepper, to taste
sweet chili sauce, to taste
thinly sliced green onions, for garnish
toasted black sesame seeds, for garnish

Soak the noodles in the hot water until soft.
Whisk together the oil, soy sauce, vinegar, chili oil, red pepper, and chili sauce. Stir into the hot noodles. Garnish with onion and sesame seeds.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Baked Figs

Baked Figs
fresh figs, tough top and bottom cut off, halved
sweet citrus spice syrup (see )
phyllo pastry
egg wash, water, oil, or melted butter

Toss the fig halves in the syrup until well coated. Lay a sheet of phyllo pastry out, brush with egg wash, butter, or oil (whatever you find tastes the best and sticks the best) and repeat with a few more sheets. Place one fig half (with some syrup) on top and wrap it, closing up the pastry in whatever shape desired and securing with a little or egg or butter or oil. Place pastries on a parchment-lined baking tray and bake at 350F for a few minutes until lightly browned and crisp. Serve warm or at room temperature, with some extra syrup to dip if desired.
This is a quick recipe I came up with to go with baklava when I had some extra ingredients. It makes an easy, different not too-sweet dessert or an interesting addition to a cheese platter.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Naturally Sweet Chocolate Icing

Naturally Sweet Chocolate Icing
1 cup pitted dates (the fresher and softer, the better)
warm water
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
That's honestly it!

Soak the dates in enough hot water to cover them. If you have really fresh and soft dates and a good food processor, this step may not be necessary if you don't have the time, but it does help. Aim to soak for at least 30 minutes, but the longer the better - even overnight.
Drain the dates, reserving the liquid. Add dates and cocoa to a food processor, along with some of the liquid - begin with 1/4 cup. Blend until very smooth, scraping down the sides and adding more liquid if necessary.

The amount of water you add to this depends on how fresh the dates are, and what consistency you are looking to achieve. If you want a fudge-like texture, you will hardly need any icing, but if you want a thin texture to glaze a cake, add more water. 
The dates provide all the sweetness and texture this icing requires! But you would never guess, the icing is very sweet, it doesn't even taste like a dark chocolate glaze. Be sure to blend until very smooth, as you can see from my picture, I don't have the best food processor, but even then the icing is still amazing. I am extremely impressed with this - I was eating it by the spoonful, and liked it more so than I like chocolate mousse or chocolate fudge. Yum!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Chocolate Fudge Cake - Vegan, Fat-Free, Whole Grain, No Refined Sugars

Chocolate Fudge Cake
3/4 cup whole wheat flour (sifted, if lumpy)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (again, sifted if lumpy)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsweetened applesauce (that's three of those single-serving containers)
1/3 cup agave (maple syrup can be substituted, but a hint of maple flavor will come through)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line an eight inch round pan.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, powder, and soda. Then add the applesauce, agave, and vanilla and mix well until batter is smooth. Pour batter in prepared pan.
Bake for about 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Gently remove from pan and cool completely, if you can stand it. I personally enjoy warm cake almost as much as I enjoy warm cookies, so it's your call!
This is a really easy chocolate cake recipe because it is one bowl with only seven ingredients - and no eggs to crack, no butter to cream, etc. Despite there being no milk or water, the applesauce makes the cake incredibly moist and fudgey, as does the liquid sweetener. You won't taste the fact that it's healthy.

TIPS AND TRICKS
- This cake contains no added fat. Therefore, the texture will be somewhat softer, but still really fudgey. If you prefer, substitute some or all of the applesauce for oil.
Agave nectar is a natural sweetener about 1.5 times sweeter than table sugar. It is high in fructose but low in glucose, so although it doesn't cause spikes in blood sugar levels, it is still sugar. I would like to find an even better alternative to this, so next time I may experiment with date sugar - a natural fruit sugar.
- That being said, any type of sugar can be used for this recipe. Adjust amounts accordingly, and if you use a non-liquid sweetener, you may need to add a little water or milk of choice.
- Add some chopped chocolate or chocolate chips to make the cake a little more decadent. Chopped nuts could also be added.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Vegan Sacher Torte

Sacher Torte is a famous Viennese cake invented in Austria by pastry chef Franz Sacher for the prince of Austria. Years later, the Sacher hotel was opened by Franz Sacher's son. The hotel soon became one of the finest in the world, and the only place that sells the original Sacher Torte. The recipe is top secret, and the authentic Sacher Tortes served at the hotel are labelled in chocolate with the name 'Sacher'. There are many, many versions of Sacher torte out their, in cafés and recipe books. The basis is chocolate spongecake, apricot jam filling, and chocolate icing. Theoretically, you could use any chocolate cake, apricot jam, and chocolate icing recipe, but more authentic versions will consists of a chocolate spongecake, the best quality apricot jam, and chocolate icing, and is often served with whipped cream. 

I have never made, or eaten, Sacher torte before, but I have always wanted to. So I decided to try a vegan, healthy version. I have no idea how authentic it is, but it was darn tasty. I began with a fudgey chocolate cake recipe, it wasn't exactly a 'spongecake' (no egg), but it contained applesauce for moisture and when combined with baking soda, it foams up a bit, think like chocolate mousse texture, so it creates a spongey, moist, and fudgey texture. The cake is whole wheat, virtually fat-free, and contains no refined sugars.

The apricot jam was a jam I found on sale at the grocery store that seemed of good quality and had no added sugar - it is sweetened with grape juice. I don't think I've ever had apricot jam before, but this one was very good and you would never guess it didn't have added sugar.

The chocolate icing was, in my opinion, the best part. I don't want to spoil things for my nexts posts which will feature the actual cake and icing recipes, but I enjoyed this frosting more than I enjoy eating chocolate mousse (too daiy-rich) or chocolate fudge frosting (too gritty with sugar), and it is actually a very healthy recipe!
In conclusion, this cake was very good and basically fat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and refined sugar free. It is sweetened with dates and agave - which is still a form of sugar, and not the best for you, but at least a better alternative than refined sugar. I made this cake for a friend studying pastry, who told me Sacher torte is his favorite type of cake.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Gluten-Free Baklava

Gluten-Free Baklava
1/4 cup rice flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
1 teaspoon granulated (white) sugar
1 Tablespoon oil
1-2 Tablespoons milk
Mix all together to form a dough. It may require more flour or milk. This dough will not be as smooth and easy to work with as a biscuit dough containing gluten, but just do your best if it rips or tears. Press it out into a thin rectangle. Spread with baklava filling (ensure it has not been contaminated with the phyllo dough). Prepare as for regular baklava, though check it early - it may not need to bake as long. Ensure the syrup for the gluten-free baklava has been kept in a separate container to avoid contamination. Makes about four mini baklava rolls.

When making baklava the other week, I had someone with a gluten intolerance. So I made a miniature batch of baklava especially for them. It wasn't too much extra work to make up this quick dough, you just need to be wary of cross-contamination. Flaky phyllo pastry contains gluten and I haven't seen a reliable gluten-free version available out there. So these pastries are not quite the same as baklava but it gives the same idea and at least this way it is the same filling and syrup.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Sweet Citrus Spice Syrup

Sweet Citrus Spice Syrup
1/2 cup honey
1 Tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 Tablespoon jallab syrup
2 teaspoons rosewater
2 teaspoons orange blossom water
juice and zest of one large orange
juice and zest of one large lemon
juice and zest of two small limes
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
4 Cardamom pods
2 whole star anise
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
3 fresh figs, halved

Combine all in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for thirty minutes or so until syrup is reduced and slightly thickened, it should not thickly coat a spoon but should begin to stick to a spoon, as it will thicken much more upon cooling. Remove from heat and strain syrup through a fine chinoise. Set aside to cool.

The original purpose for this syrup was to brush over baklava immediately after they are removed from the oven to give baklava its characteristic crisp texture and sticky sweet flavor. For this purpose, the syrup should basically be honey/maple syrup consistency. Molasses consistency is slightly too thick, anything thinner is too runny. It should be easily brushed on the delicate fillo/phyllo pastry without running off. It can be reheated gently or cooled longer in order to reach the right consistency.
This syrup could be used for a variety of other purposes as well. It has so much flavor - citrus, spice, and sweet, and is one of those rare occasions I created a great sweet item without chocolate or even caramel. Try this syrup (in a slightly thinner state) for soaking spongecakes, as a glaze for cookies to decorate them, to poach or bake figs, as a glaze for coffee cake, as a base glaze for meat or fish, etc. It will keep for ages in the refrigerator.
Don't be daunted by the long list of ingredients either - most of them are common spices or fruits, and the specialty ingredients are not too difficult to find and will keep for a long time, but if you can't find one of them, leave it out and sub some more of another flavor if desired.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dried Fruit and Nut Filling

Dried Fruit and Nut Filling
one recipe Khoshaf (dried fruit compote) from October 21st, 2015 post
1 cup ground hazelnuts
1 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup pistachios, shelled
1/4 cup macadamia nuts
1/4 cup cashews

Pulse all together in a food processor until nuts are chopped, and mixture is combined. It should hold together and not be dry, but not be overly sticky either. If too dry, drizzle in a little honey or fold in an egg white, if too wet, add some more ground nuts (any type).
This is the filling I made for my baklava. It makes quite a large batch and may be slightly more than needed for the recipe. You can use the leftover to make a few more baklava or use it as a filling for cinnamon rolls, use it as a compote, fold it into a cake or fill a cake with it, etc. I think it is tasty eaten as is as well.

It isn't a traditional baklava filling which would just contain nuts, but I incorporated some dried fruit for more taste, texture, and sweetness. This allows the use of less sugar as well. Feel free to vary the types of fruits and nuts to suit your tastes.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Baklava

Baklava
one box phyllo (filo) pastry, thawed and at room temperature (keep well wrapped and cover any pastry with a damp tea towel when not in use. It dried out and becomes brittle and impossible to work with immediately)
dried fruit and nut filling (recipe will follow tomorrow)
Sweet citrus spice syrup (recipe will follow the next day)
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet or baking tray with parchment paper.
Prepare sweet citrus spice syrup, then set aside to cool and thicken.
Prepare dried fruit and nut filling.
Lay one sheet of pastry on a clean, flat work surface. Gently brush all over with olive oil. Repeat with nine more sheets of pastry. Spread top sheet gently and evenly with the filling, you may not use quite all of it. Place another sheet of pastry on top and brush with olive oil and repeat with nine more sheets of pastry.
Gently roll the entire mass up tightly from a long end, jelly-roll or cinnamon roll style. Brush top with a little additional oil. Gently use a sharp knife to slice into sixteen equal pieces, trim off the ends where there is not much filling and discard. Gently place the pastries filling side up on prepared baking tray (they can be close together). Bake for about 20 minutes until crisp and golden.
Remove from oven and brush tops and sides with the syrup, let stand for a few minutes, then turn pastries over and brush again. Let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I have been wanting to make baklava for quite some time now, as I have never even tried it before but it looks so good! I decided to go for it during our middle eastern buffets and was certainly glad I did. I put my own spin on it, as most fillings only have nuts and no dried fruit, and I added extra flavor to my syrup. The big change though, was the way I formed my baklava. Normally the pastry is either divided into squares and individually rolled or formed, or it is baked in a rectangular pan in one big mass, cut before baking, and served as squares. However, the phyllo pastry I had taken out to thaw for myself was used by someone else, and was left uncovered and dried out. This made it impossible to scrounge up hardly any full sheets, so I could not form the baklava in the traditional way. I used any almost full sheets for the bottom few layers, then crumbled the pieces over top of this and drizzled them with oil as best I could, then rolled it up like a cinnamon roll. Thankfully, it worked, and I like this look of baklava even better than the traditional!

The lessons here are to be very careful with phyllo pastry - keep it wrapped and covered at all times, otherwise it dries out and will not be flexible at all; it will break and not bend. If however it is too late, this method will work for dry phyllo pastry, so don't throw it all out yet. Whether your pastry is moist or dried, this recipe is tasty!

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Black Cake Coconut Custard Trifle

Black Cake Coconut Custard Trifle = leftover black cake + leftover rum-soaked fruit + leftover coconut caramel custard.

Steps
1. Tear the cake into bite-sized pieces
2. Place in bottom of a small decorative bowl.'
3. Drizzle with dark rum and sprinkle with rum-soaked fruit.
4. Top with coconut caramel custard.
5. Garnish with additional rum-soaked fruit and macadamia nuts.
6. Serve!

Monday, December 07, 2015

Aji Criollo

Aji Criollo (Ecuador Hot Sauce)
4 hot green peppers (jalapenos or chilies)
6 Tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup green onion, thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons minced cilantro or parsley

Remove the seeds from the peppers unless you want the sauce to be extremely hot. Then mince them.
Purée everything in a food processor until smooth.
This simple sauce has a bright green color and hot spicy flavor. It originates in Ecuador and is served with a variety of dishes such as tamales, empanadas, and chimichurri. 

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Vegetable Bean Dip

Vegetable Bean Dip
roasted eggplant pieces, peeled and cooled
cooked or canned chickpeas
tahnini paste
diced red pepper
diced tomato
diced onion or red onion
diced cucumber
garlic cloves
fresh lemon juice
olive oil
minced parsley/cilantro/chives
spices - paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, etc.
salt and pepper

Purée all together until smooth, taste and add more of whatever you wish, then adjust seasonings. Make it as smooth or as chunky as you like.

Another idea is to simply combine several all ready prepared condiments (either boughten or homemade), such as hummus, salsa, baba ganoush, pesto, and tzatziki. 

This is simply a quick dip I came up with to use leftovers - just blend everything together. It works!

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Gingerbread House 2015


As I have mentioned the past four years, every year it is a family tradition to purchase a gingerbread house kit and assemble and it as a family. Fortunately, we have been able to spend all of our Christmas holidays together as a family. Unfortunately, we do not always get to assemble the gingerbread house together, because we always do it quite early - a few weeks before Christmas - so we can have it on display throughout the holiday season.

Here is this year's house that my parents did a great job of. Every year we try to get a slightly different kit, as every store seems to have a different version, but we have run out of different types a few years ago. One year we did a train, and I would like to do some of the new kits out there, such as carousels, palaces, horse and carriages, etc. but we seem to like the traditional house. 

Friday, December 04, 2015

Single Serving Sticky Toffee Pudding

Today was the first snow day and I am really beginning to get into the festive spirit. I even received a Christmas card in the mail today. As I usually do when I have some free time, I headed to the kitchen to experiment and create a yummy snack for myself. This winning, Christmas dessert recipe is vegan, 100% whole grain, and contains no refined sugars!
Single Serving Sticky Toffee Pudding
STICKY TOFFEE SAUCE
1 Tablespoon smooth nut butter (I highly recommend a really smooth one for this so the sauce doesn't end up gritty - peanut and cashew are good choices. Even smooth almond butter is a bit grainy)
2 Tablespoons blackstrap molasses (can substitute 1 Tablespoon maple syrup and 1 Tablespoon molasses for a slight mapley and sweeter taste. Molasses is essential to gingerbread recipes but can leave a very robust taste)
1 Tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
PUDDING
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch salt
1 flax egg (1 Tablespoon ground flaxseed stirred into 3 Tablespoons water. Let stand in refrigerator for at least 15 minutes)
2 Tablespoons raisins 
2/3 of sticky toffee sauce from above

SAUCE: In a small bowl or mug, place the nut butter, molasses, oil, and vanilla. Microwave in HIGH (100% power) for 30 seconds until bubbling and melted together stir. Set aside.
PUDDING: In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cocoa, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the egg, raisins, and approximately 2/3 of the sauce from above.
Place the remaining sauce in a large, wide microwave-safe mug (you can make the sauce right in the mug initially to save on cleanup and ensure you get every drop of the sauce). Spoon the pudding batter over top. Microwave in HIGH (100% power) for one minute until risen and firm. Allow to cool a minute, run a knife around the sides of the pudding, invert onto a plate, ensuring all the sauce is drizzled on top, and dig in!

I live alone, so I am used to making individual servings on things. I am sure the recipe could be scaled up, and baked in a pan in the oven successfully as well. I like the robust molasses taste (not to mention blackstrap molasses is quite nutritious), but feel free to add in other sweeteners if you wish. You may also alter the spice amount and type (cloves and nutmeg would be nice too). You won't taste the nut butter in it, nor notice it is whole wheat.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Paneer Cheese

Paneer Cheese
6 cups milk
1 cup plain yogurt
juice of one lemon
salt

Bring milk to a boil, then immediately stir in the yogurt, lemon juice, and salt to taste. Return to a boil, stirring gently until milk curdles and whey separated. Don't worry about overcooking, as the milk curds will float to the top and not burn, and the longer it is cooked, the firmer the cheese will be. Turn off heat and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain and place cheese curds in cheesecloth, squeeze tightly, tie, weigh down, and place over a colander in the fridge overnight to drain. It will be firm and ready in the morning.

If you've never tried making cheese before - this recipe is an excellent place to start. It is a basic, very quick and easy recipe. It is a cheese similar to ricotta or cottage cheese and mild in flavor. I suppose you could add different spices and flavorings in with the salt for a different flavor. If you are using the cheese just like cottage cheese, you can use it when it is still warm.