Sunday, May 3, 2015

Homey Brown Sugar Bread

Where we love is home - home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


Life is strange, even at its best. Life is also not a spectator sport. You have to muck in.

You will have noticed, dear readers, that it has been an ungodly long time since my last post. March 19, to be exact. No I haven’t died, but my mother-in-law has. We received some extremely bad news at the end of January. The “C” word. It took only two months for her to leave us.

Instantly upon hearing the news, my husband withdrew from college and moved back home to be with, support and care for her. He did an amazing job, and I could not be more proud of him.

I also helped out the best I could at every opportunity. A functioning “office” was set up in her home so I could work as comfortably from there as I did from my other two offices. You do what you must when circumstances are thrust upon you, and there was no way in hell I would not be there for both her and my husband.

Her other son, who lives with his family out west, also did the best he could – coming home twice in close succession. It was hard for us, and must have been equally hard for him being so far away.

But, at the end of her days, she knew she was loved, is loved, and will be missed terribly. In her own quiet way she was an incredible woman, and I feel honoured to have gotten to know her better, even under the circumstances.

Now we have moved beyond the traumatic shock that caring for a dying parent brings, on to the practical matters of closing up house, and setting affairs in order. Life is still, if you will pardon the colloquialism, a shit show.

Out of all of this I have learned a very valuable lesson. Home actually IS where the heart is. It’s not bricks or mortar or a plot of land. Home is wherever you are, where you are surrounded by those you love and who love you. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a short-sighted fool.

What does this have to do with bread? Probably not much, but it seems I always give you a recipe, so why not, eh? I could go on at length about home and homeyness and memories and  such. But you know all that.

So here it is. This is not a sweet bread, but a toast and sandwich bread. With four buns there's plenty of "fluffy bits" for people to fight over. You could just as easily do three, two or even just one. 

Think of this bread as a pale, winter-weary version of Maritime Brown Bread. Anyone experiencing this year's spring in Nova Scotia knows exactly what I mean. (link here)


Brown Sugar Bread
Prep: 20 min  |  Rise: 3 hrs  |  Bake: 30-35 min  |  Yield: 1 big-ass loaf


2 cups water, 110°F
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp yeast
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, melted
1-1/2 tsp salt
5 cups flour

Place the warm water and brown sugar in a large bowl. Add the yeast and allow to proof until bubbly and creamy, about 15 minutes.

Add the egg, butter, salt and flour. Knead for 5 minutes on the counter. The dough should be slightly wet feeling to the touch, but fairly firm and soft.

Wash and butter the bowl you brought the dough together in. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel and let rise for 2 hours, or until doubled.

Punch the dough down, knead briefly and divide into four equal balls. Line the balls up in a buttered high-sided 5”x9” baking dish. Let rise until doubled again, about 1 hour.

Just before the dough is finished rising, preheat the oven to 425°F. Place a shallow dish with a cup or so of water in it on the bottom rack. This hydrates the oven and gives the bread an initial “push” as its baking.

Bake on the middle rack for 30-35 minutes, until browned on top and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped with your fingers. Let cool, if you can wait.

Have butter and your favourite jam very close by...


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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Blood Orange & Ricotta Pound Cake

All things are only transitory. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



If you think it’s been a long time since my last post, you’re right. Things are very interesting around here right now. It’s like the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.” I feel pulled in about 4 different directions at once. 

I know Goethe is right, it’s just being in the middle of it that sucks. I won’t bore you with the details. Instead I’ll bore you with a recipe...

Blood oranges, also called Moro oranges, are a type of orange that has tart, sweet flesh that is unexpectedly red – hence the name. Although grown commercially in California, many blood oranges come from Southern Italy, particularly Sicily. They are usually available from January through April. So you have to take advantage of them while they’re around.

This is what "creamed" butter and sugar
looks like. Light and fluffy.
You can tell a blood orange (besides the name on the bag or the sign above them...) by the reddish blush that appears on the skin when fully ripe. They can be smaller or larger than a regular Valencia (common) orange, and contain very few seeds.

I find that the flavour of a well-ripened blood orange is still tart, but almost raspberry-like. They are quite delicious.

Here’s some orange facts, thanks to the folks at Sunkist®:
All oranges contain carotene — that's what makes them orange. Moros get their red color from high concentrations of a pigment called anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are the agents believed to be responsible for cancer, aging and other health ailments.

Since I’m on my third bag of blood oranges, I thought it might be okay to sacrifice one for a cake. Orange pound cake is always a favourite, especially for a dinner with one’s mother – which I had the evening I made this. She was pleasantly surprised. :-)

Abraham Lincoln said: “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” Show yours some love. Do something nice for her today. Just like blood oranges, you are only blessed with her presence for far too short a time. 


Blood Orange & Ricotta Pound Cake
Prep 15 min  |  Bake 60 min  |  Yield 9” loaf
The dough is pretty stiff. Don't worry.
1-1/2 cups white flour + 1 tbsp
2-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup low-fat ricotta
juice and rind of 1 blood orange
1-1/2 cups white sugar
3 lg eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
icing sugar, for dusting after baking

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch loaf pan.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside. Wash, and then zest and juice the orange. Set aside.

Cream together the butter, ricotta, and sugar on medium speed until light, fluffy, smooth and no longer grainy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the eggs one at a time – beating just long enough that they are incorporated. Then beat in the rind, orange juice and vanilla.

Beat in the dry ingredients until mixed.

Scoop the batter out into the pan, taking care to not trap any air pockets in the corners and level the top with a spatula. 

Bake for about 50 minutes and then test the cake by inserting a toothpick in the centre. If the toothpick does not come out clean, put it back in the oven for 10 more minutes and test again. It may take longer than an hour to bake, depending on the amount of juice, moisture content of flour, wetness of the ricotta, etc. Toothpick testing is reliable. Mine took longer, by a fair bit.

Expect the top to mound up and crack open – it’s the sign of a classic pound cake.

The classi pound cake crack. 
Remove from the oven, let cool for 10-15 minutes; then remove from the pan to finish cooling on a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar after it cools.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Crispy Baked Beet Chips (that aren’t burnt)

You don't fix the problem until you define it. – John W. Snow


This recipe is posted in loving appreciation of our mothers, who tried their best to get us to eat things we didn't want to. Most times with a pinch of thanks and a pound of opposition. We love you.

My previous burnt beet chips.
And these were the "good" ones.
I’ve made beet chips before, about as successfully as most of the other home cooks that have posted comments online. In other words, very unsuccessfully. To contribute to the overall betterment of our species, I felt it fell upon my shoulders to fix the problem.

Most online recipes aver such confidence-inducing statements as “crispy, baked beets in XX minutes!” or “this recipe is so easy...”. Well, yes, it is easy, or at least slicing beets with a mandolin is easy. 

But 30 minutes at the most commonly listed temperature of 375°F? That is where things go downhill. Quickly. Have you ever tasted a burnt beet slice? I recommend that you don’t. They’re ugly.

Four medium beets is probably enough for 2 people.
375°F is just too high, especially when non-adjustable mandolins slice food paper thin. You know what I mean by paper thin: like potato chip thin. When one is touting a recipe as beet “chips” they should be “chips” as opposed to beet slabs. Slabs are the only way I can figure the beets in those recipes didn't burn.

The first time I made these—they’re very low calorie—I ate about half of the slices I put into the oven. The other half were burnt beyond consumption. I believe even my compost bin ejected them. I followed the recipe to a “T,” and carefully watched them. It took seconds to go from not-quite-dry-enough to charcoal.

So something had to be done, because the ones that weren’t burnt were pretty good. I hate to put in 100% effort on a 50% return.

But there's more to this post than just the satisfaction of making a recipe work. One medium beet (2” / 5 cm wide) has 35 calories. That’s the same as a slice of “calorie-wise” Kraft swiss cheese food. (“Food” – it’s that way on the packaging.) Plus beets have a significant amount of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory betalains. And don’t forget potassium, dietary fibre, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

The red also colours whatever's in your stomach, so the
next morning don't be startled if things look unusual...
So as you can see, it’s a shame to waste them by burning the heck out of them. And before you say you don't like beets – no, they don’t taste like dirt. The sugars get concentrated. They taste like heaven.

I took a cue from the sweet potato chews I used to make for our Bouvier, Henry. They’re posted on this site if you want to look them up. They ended up not being so much chewy as crisp. They took a couple hours, being much thicker, but the magic was in the oven temperature. They were baked at a low temperature. No burning.

So that’s what I did, and if you follow the recipe below you will have success. I made two trays, one sprinkled with ground ginger and one with ground rosemary, plus salt.

If you like #stormchips but not so much the fat they’re fried in, give these a try. You’ll be surprised how delicious and guilt-free they are.


Crispy Baked Beet Chips
Time, including baking: 45 min
4 medium beets, washed well, stems removed
4 tsp olive oil
salt to taste
optional: ground ginger, sage, ground cumin, 5-spice powder, or orange zest

After 35 minutes at 265°F. They crisped up in about a minute after being
removed from the oven. And not one was burned.

Preheat the oven to 265°F.

Slice the beets, using a mandolin slicer. Divide the olive oil between two cookie sheets or jelly roll pans. Cover the entire surface.

Lay the beet slices in the pans without touching. Sprinkle with salt and then your favourite optional spice or herb topping.

Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 35 minutes. After 35 minutes, check the slices. They should be curled but still deep red. If you wish, bake for 5 minutes more, but watch them like a hawk.

Remove from the oven and let cool. They will crisp up as they cool.

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Monday, February 2, 2015

Tandoori Chicken, for the calorie-conscious

Hell isn't merely paved with good intentions; it's walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too. – Aldous Huxley


I had made myself (and you) a promise in the new year. I was going to post more often. I guess I am on my way to hell, unless I soon rectify it. 

I suppose, if I do have an excuse it would be that I have been on an extremely low-calorie diet. I’ve been experimenting a bit more than usual with trying to get maximum flavour into minimum food, sometimes with spectacular failure. 
The mixed marinade.

So there’s been recipes that were either uninspired or not fit to ever make again – let alone post. Hooray for memorably bad meals!! Not.

But every once in a while you dig up a gem. And if you're lucky you only have to swap out one ingredient. Like full fat for low fat yogurt. 

Chicken is the dieters friend once the skin and fat are removed, unlike beef and even pork. I’m learning, slowly, how to "low-cal interpret" the things I eat. I’m not starving, but I do watch my in-take, and evening snacks are definitely (definitely) O-U-T.


Seal and let the chicken marinate for
one day. There's enough marinade for
four breasts, if you would like.
Here's a little diet factoid for you. Two teaspoons of butter (70 cal) have fewer calories than grape seed oil (80 cal) and about the same number as olive oil (65 cal). 

So don't feel you have to ditch butter on a low calorie diet. Just everything in moderation. Oscar Wilde added "including moderation." I tend to concur.

For your edification, I have broken out the calories per ingredient in this dish. Knock on wood, but I have had success since starting my calorie death watch about a month ago. I have dropped slightly over 8 pounds. No time to quit now. 10-15 more to go!

The size of your chicken breast will determine the end calorie count. Eat a monster and you get monster calories... makes sense, right?

The accompaniment for this dish is a Raita, made with yogurt-marinated onion, tomato, cucumber, and cumin. Very fresh and delcious against the spiciness of the chicken. Keep in mind, you're not consuming all of the marinade, probably 1/4 of it per chicken breast.

And, just so you know, I have about 4 more recipes lined up. So heaven’s getting closer all the time.


Tandoori Chicken
Prep: overnight  |  Bake: 20 min  |  Serves 2
2 medium chicken breasts, skinless and boneless 6oz = 300 cal
1/2 cup low-fat greek style yogurt 125 cal
2 tbsp lemon juice 8 cal
1 tsp ground garlic 5 cal
1 tsp ground ginger 2 cal
1 tsp ground cumin 8 cal
1/2 tsp ground cardamom 3 cal
1/2 to 1 tsp cayenne pepper 3-6 cal
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper 8 cal
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon 1.5 cal
6-8 drops each, red and yellow food colouring (optional, but a good addition)

Mix all the ingredients of the marinade in an electric blender or a food processor and process until thoroughly puréed. Pour the marinade over chicken, toss and rub, to coat thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place chicken in a single layer on foil. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, turning once and basting with marinade juices  until cooked.

For a low calorie accompaniment for 2, serve Raita: mix 1/2 a sliced field cucumber, 1 sliced medium onion, and 1 diced plum tomato with 1/2 cup yogurt and 1 tsp cumin seed. Let sit for 1 hour, or overnight in the refrigerator, before serving.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Pear Brandy Liqueur

Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such. – Henry Miller


Golden moments, captured in liquid form? I suppose this liqueur could be considered such.

The scent of ripe pear is a golden moment of autumn. Close your eyes, lift a pear to your nose, and breathe deep. It’s the smell of a well won harvest, of garden labour winding down, of pride in accomplishment.

All in one small, yellow orb.

It’s a nostalgic smell. And it’s one to counter the weeks of cold and wet still ahead. “Farch,” the term coined by local writer and consultant Jim Meek to describe the seeming eternity of February and March in Nova Scotia, is very apt.

There’s really only one caveat for this recipe. Get a ripe, very fragrant pear. It has to have the aroma you want to capture. So look weird, smell the pears in the produce section.

Yes, I may be on a strict diet right now, but I will not always be so. And then I’ll be able to enjoy a sip or two – on occasion – of this wondrous golden liquid.

If you want to capture a few rays of autumn sunshine to brighten this winter, try this liqueur. It’s so very easy, and so delightful.


Pear Brandy Liqueur
Time: 1 week  |  Yield 750ml  | 20% alc/vol (estimate)
375 ml (1 pint) brandy
1 medium pear, fragrant
2 whole cloves
1 cup sugar
1-1/4 cup water

Wash and slice the pear into 12 wedges. Combine the brandy, pear and cloves in a jar. Seal and let steep for seven days. Shake gently once per day.

At the end of the week, strain the pear and clove from the brandy, reserving both. I used a fine sieve lined with eight layers of cheesecloth.

The fruit will discolour. This is normal.
Combine the sugar, water, pear slices and cloves in a saucepan. 

Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Strain the syrup through the cheesecloth again, pressing gently on the pear slices to extract the juice. Then combine with the brandy. Bottle and seal.

The liqueur should last 6 month unrefrigerated if stored in a cool place out of direct sun.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A rant about calories, and a recipe for Shrimp Curry

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. Buddha

That's me on the left.

Let’s just admit it. We all have at least one secret. But did you know that many of the foods we put in our mouths have secrets as well?

It’s secret calories – or calories that you don’t realize are there – that put a diet off the rails. If you’re trying to drop a pound or even 100, it’s important to track each and every calorie.

To lose weight you must run a calorie deficit for what your body needs. Sources say that to lose 1-2 pounds per week you must consume 500-1000 fewer calories than you need to maintain your current weight, at your activity level.

I’m too sedate. To maintain my proper weight (several sources say no more than 150 lbs...), I should be consuming about 2,000 calories per day. I didn’t check before I started, but I bet I was up to 3,000. Now I’m trying to keep it to 1,500 per day to get results.

It’s not really that difficult if you know what you’re eating. For example, one serving (2 bars) of Nature Valley Crunchy Oats and Honey Granola Bars has 190 calories. A medium apple is only 100 calories; a regular sized banana is 105.

To burn the calories just in those granola bars you would have to walk for nearly an hour. 

Unexpected calories are in everything – from added fats and oils, corn syrup and coconut oil, to the most sneaky of them all: the serving size listed on the nutrition label. Even if you do check, the “serving” may be for 1 teaspoon of that item—nowhere near what you would normally use.

Even foods you may think are healthy (or healthier) can sabotage you. One Tim Hortons cran apple walnut bran muffin contains 350 calories. That’s more calories than 2 cups of cooked oatmeal. Don’t think you’re getting away better with a fruit explosion muffin. They’re 340 calories. (Source timhortons.com)

Spice mixture for the recipe.
And for goodness sake, watch out for nuts. There’s 410 calories in 1/2 cup of almonds. That’s apporaching the whole dinner recipe I’m posting today. Cashews are 320 cal per 1/2 cup and walnuts are just under 400 calories.

Calories even sneak in through the most innocuous ingredients – for example, garlic, ginger and spices. That splash of olive oil in the pan adds 120 calories per tablespoon. Who thinks of calories in them? Every. Calorie. Counts.

You have to be hyper-aware of what you’re eating if you’re going to keep a weight loss resolution. Write down what you eat. Cut back on the things you don’t need (like too much sugar and fat) and start putting better foods back in your diet.


Shrimp Curry, for One
Prep: 5 min  | Cook: 20 min  |  Serves: 1  | Calories per serving: 433
12 large shrimp, 31-40 per lb size (65 cal)
1 cup tomato purée (95 cal)
1/2 cup onion, chopped* (32 cal)
1 garlic clove, diced (5 cal)
Juice of 1/2 lemon (23 cal)
1 cup basmati rice, cooked (190 cal)
Spice blend:*
1 tsp coriander, ground (5 cal)
1 tsp cumin, ground (4 cal)
1 tsp turmeric (4 cal)
1/2 tsp ginger, ground (3 cal)
1/4 tsp cinnamon, ground (2 cal)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (2 cal)
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper (2  cal)
1/4 tsp salt

First, start cooking the rice. It takes 20 minutes (15 min simmer, 5 min sit).

In a saucepan, dry sauté** the onions. Then add the tomato purée, onion, lemon and spice blend (or curry powder). Let simmer on low for 5 minutes. Peel the shrimp, add to the sauce and let cook just until opaque.

Serve over the rice.


* Instead of making your own spice blend, substitute your favourite pre-made curry powder, and add the black pepper and salt.

** No one likes crunchy onions in their curry. To minimize this, add 1/2 cup of water while you sauté the onions. Cook until the water evaporates. Then cook a further minute; then add the tomato, etc.

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Chicken, Fruit & Wild Rice Pilaf

Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.  Elsa Schiaparelli


I’m in need of a morale boost this month. I made a distinctly wrong decision by stepping on the scale last week. Not a good idea. I’m in need of dropping quite a few pounds. 

I KNEW those tight pants were telling me something... Against my hopes, it was not an evil conspiracy hatched by the clothes washer and dryer.

I have an ugly habit – I’m a boredom eater. While sitting in front of the TV in the evening, my oft-time companions are ice cream, cookies or potato chips. Kind of like the twins in The Shining with an extra sister... So I’m starting to pay much more attention to what I eat.

I know that January is the “guilty” month so weight loss is what we’re being pedalled by the media. But this morning on CBC Radio the hosts were talking about weight gain and age, and how people of my vintage start to see changes in body shape.

The browned chicken balls, onion and garlic.
Great. Just great. But I will not go down without a fight. I may even pull out the big gun in this battle: exercise (shudder). I’m a rather sedentary creature—even more so since Henry our dog passed away—which I know will come back to bite me in future if I don’t do something about it.

So I have a lot on my plate, metaphorically. But I will succeed. And the first step is what goes into my mouth, as opposed to that which falls out, like this post.

This is an “under 500 calorie” dinner. I succeeded and it was quite delicious and filling, to boot. You don't really have to suffer while watching what you eat.

I’ve broken out the calorie count for each ingredient (number is for whole ingredient) so you can see where the big calorie items are. Those with zero or one calorie are not listed. Six servings does not give heaping platefuls, but the rice and chicken are quite filling, and the sweet fruit rounds it all out nicely.

If course, if you’re not in need of low calorie meals, feel free to make this recipe four servings, two servings, or even just one! We all know how that ends... :-)


Warm Chicken, Fruit & Wild Rice Pilaf
Prep and cook: 1 hour  |  Serves: 6  | 437 calories per serving
1 cup wild rice (478 cal)
Chicken and fruit. Covering the pan not only finishes cooking
the meat, but also partially re-hydrates the fruit as steam collects.
1 cup chicken stock (86 cal)
3 cups water
1/4 tsp salt
chicken balls:
1 lb lean ground chicken, breast (496 cal)
1 cup bread crumbs (427 cal)
1 tbsp finely diced onion (6 cal)
1 tsp yellow mustard (3 cal)
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp mint
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
remaining:
1 tbsp olive oil (120 cal)
1 cup chopped dried apple (290 cal)
1/2 cup dried cherries, whole (268 cal)
1/4 cup pecan pieces (340 cal)
1/4 cup diced onion (16 cal)
1 garlic clove, minced (5 cal)
1/2 cup orange juice (55 cal)
1 tbsp corn starch (30 cal)


The sauce is key. It adds a moistness to the dish that it
otherwise would not have. It makes it more of a "meal."
Combine the rice, stock, water and salt in a saucepan. (If stock is heavily salted, omit salt). Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and cook for 45 min, or until about half the rice has begin to split open.

While the rice is cooking, make the chicken balls. Mix together all the ingredients listed for the chicken balls. Using slightly moistened hands, roll into 3/4” to 1” balls. Heat the oil in a wide sauté pan with a lid. Cook the balls until browned, being careful not to break them apart as you turn them. 

Then add the onion and garlic and sauté until slightly softened. Reduce the heat to medium low. Add the pecans, apple and cherries and cover. Let cook for 5-6 minutes, until chicken balls are cooked through.

Mix together the orange juice and cornstarch. Add to the pan and cook until thickened.

Drain rice, carefully fold together and serve.

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