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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Low Sugar Rhubarb Cherry Jam

It's been awhile since I wrote last. No reason, really; I'm still cooking a lot, but somehow none of it made it here. Honestly, I'm not really sure why. Let's fix that shall we?

Some time ago, my friend Alexis began posting about Pomona's pectin. I had trekked out to Alexis's house last year to teach her how to make jam and while it was gloriously fun, Alexis pointed out how much sugar my typical recipe had and that she strived to make one less sugary. Time passed, and then she found Pomona's Universal Pectin.

pectin

Pomona's is a citrus pectin which allows you to make jam and jellies with only a fraction of the amount of sugar that you would have to use with other leading pectins. With a husband who is very conscious about his sugar intake, I thought I would give this product a test drive and see how things turn out.

With memories of that really tasty rhubarb cherry crumble, I wanted to use up the rest of the rhubarb in my freezer by turning it into a jam. Superstore has some really great frozen cherries which I picked up, and I found a really amazing recipe that I just had to try. After being a jam maker for years, I found that the end result is really delicious-like pureed fruit on your toast rather than a sugary syrupy version, but for what you gain in flavour you do lose a little in texture. The jam made with Pomona's is more jello-like than a soft set, but I don't mind. The flavour is really all I cared about.

First of all, before you start this recipe you need to make calcium water with powder in a small packet and water. Shake it up in a Mason jar and store in the fridge.

calcium water



Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups sugar
3 tsp Pomona's Universal Pectin
6 cups diced rhubarb
1/2 vanilla bean
2 cups fresh or frozen pitted cherries, thawed
zest and juice from one lemon
4 tsp calcium water
2 tbsp Grand Marnier

Directions:

Prepare your kitchen for canning; this means getting the water bath canner going so it's good and hot. Sterilize your mason jars and have all your equipment ready to start canning. (see how to do that here)

Combine the rhubarb and vanilla bean together with 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan. Bring it to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it bubble away until the rhubarb has started to break down. This should take about 10 minutes or so. Let it cool a bit and set aside. You should have 3 cups.

In a food processor or blender, puree the cherries. If they are fresh you need to pit them first-you can use a cherry pitter (use it over the sink or outside), or here's some other interesting methods! In the end you should have 1 cup of cherries.

Whisk the sugar and pectin together in a bowl. Set aside.

Fish the vanilla bean out of the rhubarb. Measure out three cups of the rhubarb and one cup of the cherries, and mix them together in a bowl. Pour them both back into a saucepan and stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and calcium water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring. Once it's boiling, add the sugar and pectin. Bring it back to a boil while constantly stirring and let it boil hard for 1 minute.

Take the jam off the heat and add the Grand Marnier. Ladle the hot jam into hot, sterilized jars and top with lids (remember to have the snap tops warmed up and everything). Process in your boiling water canner for about 10 minutes.

Makes about five 250 ml jars of jam, possibly with a bit left over to enjoy right away.

jammy bun

Adapted from Serious Eats







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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Blendtec Blender Cookies

cookie

I never, every thought that you could make cookies in a blender. The very idea goes against everything that I've ever known about baking, along with idea of making brownies in it. So weird, but at the same time, it works, right?

These cookies are a little healthier than what I usually make, with the addition of whole oats, flax, and whole wheat flour. It does make for a cookie that is a little drier, maybe a bit more crumbly. The original recipe calls for white whole wheat flour, which I've never found at the store here, so I substituted half whole wheat and half unbleached white. You can experiment with it a little more if you like, or if you can find the white whole wheat, use that. Normally, I almost never would recommend that you reduce to the chocolate chips but in this recipe, I will. The batter just couldn't hold that amount of chocolate and I had about 1/4 cup of chips left over.

These are really fantastic cookies though, and just the right size for a lunchbox. We really enjoyed them and the best part is that it freed up my mixer for other pursuits!

Ingredients:

2/3 cup rolled oats
2 Tbsp flaxseeds
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Blending oats for cookies

Directions:

Pre-heat your oven to 350 F.

First, blend together the oats and flax at speed 3 for about 25 seconds. The oats will become pulverized into a flour-like mixture. The flax will mostly stay whole, which adds a little texture to the finished cookie. Give the mixture a stir and then add flours, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Pulse it a couple times to whiz it up a little.

Dump the works out into a large mixing bowl.

blender cookies

Put the jar back on the base and add the oil, softened butter, egg, sugars, and vanilla. Put on the lid and select "batters". Now, what I find confusing is that my machine doesn't have a batters function, but if you look in the manual it will tell you approximately what speed and for how many seconds each blend cycle is, so you can try to replicate it. I have done that with success. I basically just use the pulse function to do that. If you don't have a Blendtec and want to try this, I'd say that you need to blend it until everything is well incorporated, especially the butter.

dough

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the chocolate chips and stir well.

Spoon out by tablespoons onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 8-10 minutes until set, and then transfer to a rack to cool. The cookies can last for about 3 days in an airtight container on your counter, or you can freeze them.

Makes about 1 1/2 dozen cookies

 Disclosure: I was very generously sent a Blendtec Blender to review. I was not compensated in any other way to post. This recipe is adapted from the book that came with my blender.


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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Rhubarb Cherry Crumble

cherry rhubarb crisp

Fruit crisp? Crumble? We use the names interchangeably in our house for a warm baked fruit dessert topped with an oatmeal, flour, sugar and butter mixture. The fruit combinations are endless! Rhubarb has not always been my favorite fruit, but paired with cherries, it goes from ho-hum to downright amazing. I could eat this for breakfast, but for dessert with a scoop of ice cream it's absolutely heavenly.

Frozen cherries are great when fresh aren't available in store or when the prices are higher, and you don't feel like pitting them. I also used frozen rhubarb, but you could likely use fresh fruit and it would be just as good. Make sure you pit them, but do it in a sink or the cherry juice splatter may make your kitchen look like a murder scene!

What's your favorite kind of fruit crisp? And do you call it crisp or crumble?

 Filling:

2 cups frozen pitted cherries (you can find these at Superstore, President's Choice brand)
3 cups fresh or frozen chopped rhubarb
1/3 cup sugar (you can reduce it if you wish, but found this much good-it's still a bit tart and not overly sweet)
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)

Topping:

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch nutmeg

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, toss together the cherries, rhubarb, sugar, and cornstarch. Put into an 8x8 pyrex glass pan. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Melt the butter in the microwave and stir into the flour mixture.

Sprinkle the oat mixture over the fruit. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until bubbly and the fruit is soft.

Let sit for about 20 minutes to cool, then serve with ice cream.

Serves four




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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Scrumptious Smoothies and a Blendtec Review

I've always liked smoothies, and when the weather gets warm I often forgo my usual lunch fare and begin blending up all kinds of smoothie combinations. Smoothies are great; they're portable, I can drink them on the go, the cold drink is perfect in the summer when it's often too hot to eat much, and when fruit is in season it is a great way to take advantage.

The arrival of the Blendtec to my kitchen just sped up the process. This is one incredible machine, let me tell you. When I plugged it in and screen lit up, I may have squealed.

will it blend
Yes, I've used it a lot. It keeps track of your blends!

Smoothies have become an every day event in my house, now. I make myself one to take to work, and then Kevin wakes up and drinks the other half for breakfast. If I forget to make one or choose not to, he now slyly asks me to make him one after dinner.

I think smoothies are pretty personal; a little bit chunky or super smooth, a bit sweet or even green with spinach in it, what your favourite smoothie is depends on you. I've learned a few things in my own smoothie experimenting over the past few weeks.

1. I love berry smoothies. Blueberries, especially. Cherries, even more so.  The Blendtec also whips those babies up so much that I don't have any bits of blueberry or strawberry seeds left to get caught in my teeth, which is a bonus. With strawberry season starting up here, I plan to get a big flat at the store to slice and freeze. Most fruit, in fact, can be processed and put in the freezer when I find it on sale (bananas, mango, pineapple, various berries). It's a real bonus when you have a lot of fruit that you can't use up too quickly. To make my mornings quick I peel and chop the fruit the night before a put it in the freezer, all ready to go into the blender when I'm in a hurry!

Frozen cherries were hard to find, but I finally scored some at Superstore in Chilliwack. I found the smoothie quite thick so the next time added some apple juice and a few strawberries to make the cherries stretch a little further.

cherry smoothieCherry Banana Smoothie

2. Adding spinach to a smoothie makes it REALLY green. I'll be honest, I'm not really a fan of the spinach in my smoothie thing. Sure, it's good for you, but the last one I did with banana turned this awful shade of nearly black as it sat and my co-workers were completely grossed out. There's a bit of a grassy flavour I'm not crazy about, either. I think I'll take my spinach in my salad.

3. The Blendtec is a bit loud-in fact, enough that it wakes my 18 year old up, which is a feat in itself. I admit, it's so powerful that at first we were slightly frightened of it. Nobody in the house will touch it-they figure that I'm the one who has tamed the machine and so they ask me to be the one to whip up their treats. Which is fine with me really, I just find it amusing.

Besides, I tend to be territorial over appliances that I love.
logo

4. Leftover yogurt or coconut milk that may go bad before you can use it really freezes well in an ice cube tray. I thaw the cubes a little before throwing them in the blender, and they whiz up really nicely.

5. There is somewhat of a learning curve to the Blendtec. Nothing too hard mind you, but I think it's worth going through the manual and  reading about all the different cycles, what each button means, etc. I did find the books didn't quite match the blender I have, and some of the cycles that were listed aren't a selection on my model. It can be a little confusing that way. I'm still figuring it out.

6. You need to be adventurous and let go of how you usually do things. For me, a blender has only been used for...blending. Baby food, pureeing soups, smoothies... that's about all I ever made in it. Using a blender to make brownies has gone against every fibre of my being, because my brain screams,

"NOOOO! You do NOT make brownies in a BLENDER!"

But the truth? Best brownies ever. Itty bitty bits of chocolate all through them made them amazing. My next experiment? Bread. It's mind blowing, really. I've never thought you could do bread in a blender. That just sounds wrong-but you can, and I'm going to try it. Plus cleaning is a snap. Speaking of cleaning....

7. The Blendtec is the easiest appliance ever to clean. My old blender had to be taken apart into 6 pieces, each washed separately, then dried and put back together or at least in proximity to each other so I wouldn't lose a piece and be searching for it the next time I wanted to use the blender. I hated washing that thing. The jar was heavy glass and cumbersome. The blades were sharp, and the plastic ring had cracked more than once.



A Blendtec has three parts. You put a drop of dish soap and about 1 1/2 cups warm water in the jar, pop on the lid, sit it on the base, and hit the self clean cycle. then you just rinse it out. Done!
Self cleaning
Wheee! The self clean cycle is awesome.

My family still gathers around to watch the self clean cycle because we're all so easily amused.

self clean2

"It sounds like it's going to take off," John comments. I lovingly rinse out the jar, dry it, and gently set it back on the stand. It's pretty clear that this appliance holds a special spot in the kitchen which in the past has been usually reserved for my stand mixer but now the blender right up there with it. This isn't just a blender. It's a super cool appliance.

The verdict:

Do I recommend the Blendtec blender? Yes. Oh, yes. If you can get one, by all means, I highly recommend it. In fact, I'd say that instead of getting a food processor and blender for your kitchen, just get a Blendtec and you'll be good. So far I've used it every single day.

If you are a moderate to obsessive cook and you cook from scratch a lot, I highly recommend the Blendtec. It will make your life easier. If you don't cook at all, a high end blender may be a bit much for you, but I think if you were interested in trying it and could possibly see yourself getting into cooking in the future, then go for it.

There's more to come than a review, of course. I've tried cookies, brownies, crepes, I want to try bread.... bread in a blender, you say? How does THAT work?

I'm going to show you.

Disclosure: I was very generously sent a Blendtec Designer series blender to try. I was not compensated otherwise to post. My opinions are entirely my own. (as are my smoothies, but if you ask nicely I may share)


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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Strawberry White Chocolate Scones with Lemon Glaze

biscuits2

Some time ago, I was at a bakery and tried a sample of their latest offering; a blueberry lemon scone with bits of white chocolate in it. As I nibbled, I began thinking that I could make these at home. I have a tendency to do this; almost like it's some kind of challenge, to figure out how to decode what they've made and create my own.

Local strawberries are just hitting the markets right  about now, and you can even go to Mann Farm in Abbotsford to pick your own. Sweet and juicy, what's not to like about strawberries? In these biscuits with a bit of Meyer lemon zest and white chocolate chips, they are heavenly. If you can't find Meyer lemons, don't worry-a regular lemon will do fine.

The secret with biscuits (or scones-they are the same thing in my kitchen) is not to handle the dough too much. This dough, studded with bits of strawberry, tends to get more moist the more you handle it and the juices of the berries seep into the dough. Don't worry, they'll still be good. The biscuits don't rise as much as the usual and may fall a bit flatter after they cool, but they'll still be just as tasty.

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (maybe a little more) whipping cream
6 tbsp/85 grams of cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup strawberries, sliced into small pieces

1 Meyer lemon, zested and juiced (you'll need 2 tsp lemon juice)
1/2 cup icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 F  and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

In a large bowl, measure the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt and whisk together. With a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs or bits of butter the size of peas.  Add in the strawberries and toss them in the flour to coat. Stir the whipping cream in with a fork until you have a ragged dough. You may need to add a little more because there could be dry bits on the bottom-I added up to 2 tbsp more. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over and stir them in.

dough

Turn the dough out onto your counter and bring it together with your hands. You may need to knead it once or twice. Pat it out into about 3/4 inch thickness and cut into biscuits with a 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter. You'll have to re-roll scraps and as you do, the dough will become more moist as the liquid from the strawberries starts to seep into the dough. Don't worry, it will be okay.

Bake the biscuits about 10-12 minutes until golden.

In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice  and icing sugar until smooth. Brush over the warm biscuits.

Serve the biscuits immediately. They will last for the day, but after that will become soft and a bit mushy.

Makes about 12.


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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Eggs, Cream Cheese, and New Blenders-Oh My!

It's been a busy few weeks over here. Between creating recipes for BC Eggs and writing things up for Philadelphia Cream Cheese, I haven't been posting a whole lot here-but WOW have I been churning the stuff out in the kitchen.

lemon buttermilk tartscream cheese berries1
hamcheeseapplesbiscotti5

Over at  Philadelphia Cream Cheese, there's a whole bunch of ideas for using your spreadable Philly on anything BUT a bagel. On BC Eggs you're going to find chocolate almond cherry biscotti, lemon buttermilk tarts, swiss and spinach strata, and of course these amazing biscuit sandwiches.

biscuit sandwich3

Just last week a new toy arrived at my door. I don't often get new appliances (read: never) and this one was very generously sent to me by the people over at Blendtec. I must admit, I hadn't even heard of Blendtec and had no idea that this product is so much more than your typical $40 blender from a department store.

See, I've been in the market for a new blender for awhile. Mine is a cheap but long lasting $40 blender picked up a whole 20 years ago that I used to make Kevin's baby food when he was born. The funny thing is, the plastic ring for it was cracked and every time I used it, I half expected the entire thing to let go and spew liquid all over my kitchen. It seemed like only a matter of time, really. I'm one of those terribly stubborn people who use things until they die, and at this point, not just my blender but my tiny food processor both were on their last legs.

The box arrived and when I pulled it out, John and I just stood there with our mouths open.

"That is not a blender," John sputtered, "It's a whole appliance."  And you know, he's right. For the longest time I wanted both a blender and food proccessor, but with a Blendtec I don't need both. The Blendtec is such an amazing machine that it does everything I'd need anyway. Already, I've stocked up my kitchen with the ingredients to make all kinds of fantastic smoothies, but you can do so much more with this machine. In just a week I've pureed soup, blended up applesauce, made three different kinds of smoothies, and whipped up these.

brownies4

I know what you're thinking. I thought the same thing. Brownies? In a blender?You're kidding, right?

Nope. Not kidding. You dump some chocolate chips and melted butter in the jar and pulse. Then add the other stuff and pulse some more. The cool thing is the chips don't get completely pulverized, so you have these tiny bits of melty chocolate throughout the brownies when they come out of the oven. I mean, you could do the old melt on the stove top and whisk, but this is so much fun and wow, they are SO. GOOD.

Over the next month or so, I'll be sharing all kinds of things with you-putting this blender through it's paces with far more than just smoothies, but making things that I never thought a blender could do. Between pizza dough, nut butters, juices, and homemade veggie burgers, I'm going to have lots of things to make! Ever wonder if a high end blender is worth it? Follow and find out!

 I can't wait to see what else it can make.




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Monday, April 21, 2014

Contest! $100 in Groceries, a Dinner with Me, a BBQ, and more.

I've been recruited to assist a super special, top secret (or maybe not?) squad dedicated to de-bunking some pervasive myths that keep floating around. Myths about something you probably eat.

There's a lot of misinformation floating around, you see. Information that has been put out there that is simply just not true. Did you know that 64% of British Columbians believe that hormones and steroids are added to chicken?

The use of hormones and steroids in chicken has been banned for over 50 years in Canada. Period. 

This is where the Chicken Squad comes in. Local chicken farmers have created a documentary in an action movie style to get their point across; that chicken is pure and delicious to eat, without any hormones and steroids. The trailer launches May 12, 2014.


But wait, you can also attend an amazing event with me AND get yourself a Weber BBQ!

On May 10th, the chicken farmers are hosting a huge barn yard bash at a secret Fraser Valley location for the premiere of the movie. There will be a BBQ workshop, barnyard tour, concert with Medeline Merlo, opportunity to meet the farmers, and more. Head on over to their site to enter to win 4 tickets and a Weber BBQ! I'll be there rocking out with the chickens and farmers, so come join me!

Wait, there's MORE!

What else can you win? Well, for one lucky reader here, you can pick yourself up a $100 gift card to Overwaitea for groceries, and a Chicken Squad swag kit containing a t-shirt, ball-cap, notepad, keychain, pins/stickers) You don't even have to do much! This contest is open to Canadians only and will end April 29th, with the winner being announced May 1st, 2014.


a Rafflecopter giveaway
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