Brassica Grain Bowl

While this is ostensibly a post about a Brassica Grain Bowl, what I really want to tell you about is a new habit I have adopted. If you are a friend of my daughter, you know not to call her on a Sunday afternoon. That’s when she does her weekly meal prep. She chops, roasts and steams various vegetables and grains and fills her fridge with the component parts she will need for healthy meals all week long. That way, when she gets home from work, she is less likely to call a glass of wine and a bag of chips dinner, as her mother has been known to occasionally do, 
At some point, many children’s intelligence surpasses their parents and they start teaching us. I have decided to take a page out of my daughter’s book and start doing some weekly meal prep, so that my occasional solitary meals will be a bit healthier.

At the beginning of the week I fill a big zip-loc bag with chopped raw vegetables. My blend includes raw broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale and sugar snap peas.
Shredding Brussels sprouts is admittedly a fiddly task. Do it by hand to work on your knife skills or go ahead an bust out the Cuisinart.

All this chopping takes time. I binge-watch something addictive on Netflix. This month I’m watching Offspring. Shot in Australia, I have become smitten with the protagonist, Dr. Nina Proudman, a slightly neurotic and very funny OBGYN. She is a rockstar in the operating room, but not so skilled in her lovelife. The series showcases her two siblings and parents. While I would not call them dysfunctional, they are decidedly eccentric and unconventional. Good luck watching just one episode! Completely addictive.

This raw veggie mix makes a great base for a grain bowl, an excellent slaw to accompany roast chicken, a delicious stuffer for Tuesday fish tacos, and a perfect foundation for some shredded chicken for lunch. You can sauté it in butter or olive oil and garlic and serve it as a side dish.

After I chop the vegetables, I cook up one or two kinds of grains or some brown rice. I love farro, barley and I’ve really been into wheat berries lately. I adore their chewy texture and nutty flavour. If you like quinoa, go ahead and cook up a batch of that. I won’t judge you.

I like to keep a jar or two of homemade dressing in the fridge so that a salad can come together quickly. For this grain bowl I mixed up a herb-lemon vinaigrette.

I also roasted some butternut squash. Sweet potatoes would also be delicious. Chop it small so it roasts quickly.The last component of my meal prep is a batch of pickled vegetables. Carrots, cucumber and shallots are a nice mix. They last for a while in the fridge and are excellent on tacos and sandwiches.You can top your grain bowl with whatever protein you like. Grilled chicken, skirt steak, salmon, tofu, chickpeas, cheese and eggs are all great options. Avocado is always a good idea and don’t forget the crunch on top. Seeds and nuts of all kind add welcome texture.

 

 

Breakfast Toast with Labneh, Roasted Strawberries and Hazelnuts

I tend to eat the same thing for breakfast everyday, for about 5 years, until I get bored of it (clearly I don’t get bored very easily!) While I haven’t totally given up on my Double Coconut Granola with yogurt and fruit, I am having a brief, but passionate, dalliance with labneh.

Labneh, also called “yogurt cheese”, originated in The Middle-East thousands of years ago. It continues to be a daily staple there, showing up for breakfast drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkling of za’atar to dip your pita into, as a spread for sandwiches at lunch and in mezze platters at cocktail hour. It is made by straining the whey off yogurt, past the point of even Greek yogurt. Thick and tangy, it is extremely smooth, delicious and very versatile. 

If you have a Middle-Eastern market near you, they often sell it. In Ottawa they make excellent labneh at Damas Supermarket. If you can’t find it, you can make it easily at home. Just mix a bit of salt and fresh lemon juice into plain yogurt. Place it in a strainer lined with cheesecloth, set over a large bowl, to catch the whey. Put it into the fridge to 24-48 hours. If you are planning to use it as a dip, 24 hours will be sufficient. If you want to use it as a spread, 48 hours will give you a thicker product. I have tried straining Greek yogurt as well as regular yogurt, and I prefer the final texture of plain regular yogurt. Just use full fat yogurt. It will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

I decided to pair my morning labneh with strawberries, toasted hazelnuts andf a drizzle of honey. Winter strawberries need a bit of help. I sliced them in half, mixed them with a spoonful of sugar and roasted them for 30 minutes. Leftover roasted berries will keep in the fridge for a week. Toast up your bread of choice. Something dense, and seedy to hold up to the weight of the labneh would be a good idea. Finish with a drizzle of your favourite honey and get ready to face the day.

Click here to print recipe for Breakfast Toast with Labneh, Roasted Strawberries and Hazelnuts.

Hazelnut Praline Truffles

Happy Valentines Day to all of you who celebrate this Hallmark holiday. Guess I just revealed my bias. My husband and I are not even going to be in the same city together tomorrow. And if I were to make him treats, it would not be chocolate. Anything apple is the way to his heart.

Truthfully, I  just made these truffles to have something beautiful to shoot and put on my Instagram feed and blog. I have been delving deep into learning food photography and editing on Lightroom with Rachel Korinek. I have learned so much from her and feel very grateful she has decided to devote time to teaching. She is a natural educator and her passion is evident.

I am not what you would call a romantic person. But I do love beautiful things and these chocolates are stunning. I was inspired by Carla Hall on The Chew when I saw her make these truffles.

I decided to flavour mine with hazelnut praline. Toast some hazelnuts and set them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cook some sugar with a few tablespoons of water to a deep amber colour (360°F) and pour it over the hazelnuts. Let harden and then blitz it it to a powder.
Use good quality chocolate, for the best results. I bought a big bar of Trader Joe’s Belgian 72% Chocolate. 
Melt the chocolate over a double boiler. While it is melting, get your candy molds ready. I used square and round silicone mini ice cube trays. I decided to make my truffles extra fancy by using a bit of edible gold leaf on top. I had a jar left over from another project. You need just a tiny bit to really make a statement. You will need to use tweezers to put the gold into the bottom of the molds, as the gold will just stick to your fingers.
Once the chocolate is melted, add some coconut oil, to make the truffle mixture extra creamy, the hazelnut praline and some salt. To make your life easy, transfer the truffle mixture into a disposable piping bag. Trying to pour or spoon it into the tiny molds will only end in a mess and cursing.
Chill for about an hour and then pop them out of the molds. Because the chocolate was not tempered, they need to be stored in the fridge. They will keep for several weeks.

Click here to print recipe for Hazelnut Praline Truffles

 

Blood Orange Poppy Seed Bundt Cake

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then I qualfy as insane. You might also say that I am a slow learner, and don’t always see the obvious clues that others spot so readily.

Last March I bought this beautiful heart shaped Bundt pan. I patiently waited 11 months to use it in a Valentines Day post. I decided to make a blood orange poppy seed cake. I used Ina’s recipe for Glazed Lemon Poppy Seed Cake as my base and adapted it so that I could celebrate blood orange season.

My pan was heavily buttered and greased and I followed the directions very carefully. I baked it for 45 minutes, cooled it in the pan for exactly 10 minutes. Holding my breath, I gingerly inverted the cake to release it from the pan. Half of it stuck to the pan. I cursed, chopped the broken pieces up and froze them for future snacking and hustled off to the store for more blood oranges and cake flour. Before starting again, I did a quick google search to see what went wrong. The King Arthur website advised me that buttering and flouring was not the way to go. I followed their tips and tricks and baked the cake again, and again and again. My freezer is now full of lots and lots of broken cake for snacking. Come on over!

I finally realized that this heart shaped pan was the problem. I’m not quite sure why. Nordicware baking pans are usually so reliable. But, slow as I am, I was not about to try this pan for a 5th time. I pulled out my trusty round fluted Bundt pan.Fifth time’s the charm! After a brief 10 minute cooling period, the cake slid out like a boss! Cue the fireworks.

While the cake cools, make a blood orange simple syrup. Pour this all over the warm cake to really intensify that blood orange flavour and keep your cake super moist.Once the cake is totally cool, it gets a final drizzle of the most gorgeous pink glaze. I adored this cake. Dense, but in the best possible way, buttery and bright, slightly tangy and not too sweet. A perfect ray of sunshine on a cold February day. Celebrate Valentines Day with this luscious love letter to blood oranges.

Click here to print recipe for Blood Orange and Poppy Seed Bundt Cake.

 

Banana Coconut Cream Cake

When I was growing up, our family’s favourite dessert was Sara Lee Banana Cake. We never even bothered defrosting it. Just ate it straight from the freezer. Someone, not mentioning any names here, would even pick off the frozen cream cheese frosting and leave the cake bare naked and shivering in the freezer. I have since graduated to homemade banana bread and cake, but I never could quite get the texture to be the same as Sara Lee.

My favourite dessert as an adult is Coconut Cream Pie. Not just any coconut cream pie. The very best is in Toronto, at Sacaramouche Restaurant. I got this idea in my head of doing a mashup of these two desserts. I’d fill three layers of banana cake with coconut cream pie filling and then smother the whole thing in cream cheese frosting.

The first time I attempted this concoction, the cake batter curdled in the oven. I’m not quite sure what happened. It ended up in the garbage. The second attempt resulted in cake layers that were too soft and fell apart when I tried to stack them. It tasted good but looked like crap. And then I remembered this banana cake and tried again.

This is now my new favourite dessert. The banana cake is moist, but dense enough to handle the weight of the silky coconut cream pie filling. The tangy cream cheese frosting balances all the sweetness from the cake and filling. It’s perfection.


Start with the coconut cream pie filling, as it needs to chill in the fridge for several hours. You could even make this a day or two in advance. Basically you are making a coconut custard.
As long as you remember to temper the egg yolks, all will turn out perfectly. This involves pouring a little bit of the hot milk-coconut milk mixture into the egg yolk-sugar mixture, before putting it back on the stove to thicken.
Make sure your bananas are very ripe before mashing.
I baked the cake in three 6-inch pans for a tall majestic cake. You could also bake it in three 8-inch pans for a shorter but equally delicious cake.
Assembly of the cake is where you need to take some care. This cake is very much like a teenager. You need to set boundaries or she will run amuck! Before spreading the coconut cream pie filling on the layer, pipe a border of cream cheese frosting. This will contain the filling and prevent it from oozing out of the side of your cake.

 

Click here to print recipe for Banana Coconut Cream Cake.