October 31, 2012

Apparently I missed the boat on Halloween. I went to Bulk Barn on the weekend to stock up on Halloween treats and most of it was already on sale. The normal Halloween fare was pushed to the side and heavily discounted next to Christmas-coloured candies and treats.

On the way home from a concert last Saturday, I saw crowds of people wandering the streets dressed up in costumes of all sorts. According to my calendar, I'm celebrating Halloween THIS Saturday at a Halloween party, but it seems like it's almost a week too late. I suppose everyone is distracted this week by a certain storm. Many people have more on their mind right now than costumes and candy.

If you have to be stuck indoors, why not stock up on some sweet treats? Even if no one treks to your door this year, you can still enjoy these easy desserts that take less than 10 minutes to make and will satisfy your candy cravings.

I made some Holiday chocolate bark last Christmas using holiday-themed candies and treats. It's an excuse to buy bags of fun treats and melt them together. The problem is that you may want to snack on everything as you're making the bark.

You can also store it in the freezer and break off a piece when the mood strikes. With this gloomy, rainy weather, the mood for sweet treats and comfort food has definitely been passing through. Here's hoping all of this chocolate lasts until Saturday...

White Chocolate Bark (adapted from this recipe)

1 cup white chocolate melting wafers
1 tsp canola oil
1/2 cup chopped pretzels
1/4 cup candy corn
1/4 cup dried cranberries

They all kind of start out looking like pieces of art. Melt the chocolate wafers in a small saucepan with a teaspoon of oil. The oil makes the chocolate a little easier to spread when it's melted. Make sure to turn off the heat just as all of the chocolate has smoothed out, so as not to leave it on too long.

I usually find it's best to take off the heat right as the last few lumps are melting. You can add the rest of the ingredients straight into the saucepan and mix it all together or leave half to sprinkle on top--depends on your aesthetic choice. 

"Butterfinger" Chocolate Bark (adapted from this recipe)

2 cups milk chocolate melting wafers
1 tsp canola oil
1 cup candy corn
1/4 cup peanut butter


In a small bowl, melt the candy corn and peanut butter for about 30 seconds in the microwave. Melted candy corn does look kind of cool. In a small saucepan, add the melting wafers and oil and melt the chocolate wafers.

Spread about half of the melted chocolate onto the parchment paper. Let the layer set in the fridge for about 10 minutes.
Once the layer has cooled, spread the peanut butter and candy corn mixture on top and repeat the cooling process.
Spread the remaining chocolate on top of the middle layer and let set in the freezer for about 20 minutes.

After about 20 minutes of freezer time they are ready to break apart. The measurements for the recipes aren't exact; just add a bit of this and that or make your own combinations of sweet and salty flavours.

Reeses Peanut Butter White Chocolate Bark (adapted from this recipe)

1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp melted butter
1 cup white chocolate
1 tsp canola oil
1/2 cup Reese's Pieces, chopped


In a small bowl, melt the butter for about 20 seconds in the microwave then add the peanut butter and icing sugar. In a small saucepan, melt the white chocolate wafers. Pour half of the white chocolate onto parchment paper. Spread the peanut butter mixture on top of the white chocolate; it's alright if it swirls together.

Add the Reese's Pieces to the remaining white chocolate and pour it on top of the middle layer. I found the colours of the candies melted together somewhat in the white chocolate, so you can always add some on top afterwards to add more colour.
Since I was in such a baking mood, I also made these marshmallow rocky road squares from The Happy Baker cookbook. Are marshmallows considered a spooky treat?

Now to get my costume ready. Hint: the red wig is coming out again this year and I grabbed a few pieces of retro costume jewellery from the thrift store to wear with a red vintage-style dress. Any guesses as to the stylish lady I'll be dressing up as this year?
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October 24, 2012

On Sunday, about 40,000 hungry people showed up in Woodbine Park to try soups created by more than 200 local chefs and restaurants for Soup Stock. If it sounds amazing that's because it was. And it was all for a good cause. The one-day culinary festival was held to protest against the "mega-quarry," a proposed construction project that would affect about 2,300 acres of farmland outside of Toronto.

Riding the Queen Street streetcar to the event, I overheard a fellow passenger nicknaming it the "Soup Stock Express" because so many people were geared up with their bowls, blankets and bags. The event was "B.Y.O.B:" Bring Your Own Bowls (and spoons) although there were dishes and merchandise for sale. I loved seeing everyone's soup vessels from mason jars to thermoses to cups.

There were lots of fall-insprired soups with seasonal ingredients, such as squash, beets and carrots. Beet Borsch soup seemed a popular option, as were stews with beans and root vegetables. The ingredients--apparently about 12,000 pounds of them--were all donated by local farmers.

I got a map of the soup stations laid out in the park, but frankly it was overwhelming. There were so many delicious sounding soups from well-known restaurants that I wanted to try. This soup by Taboo Resort based out of Gravenhurst caught my eye frankly for its display and the fact that split pea soup is one of my favourite types of soup.

Next up was Mildred Temple's Kitchen with mulligatawny soup and Irish soda bread. Is it bad that I went straight for the stations that were serving bread along with their soup?

The mulligatawny had beautiful curry flavourings with some toasted curry leaves sprinkled on top. I have never had this type of soup blended and smooth before--the ones I have had previously have all been fairly chunky soups--but this was nice.

Urban Herbivore had sweet potato coconut soup with a squirt of siracha sauce on top. This was another nice blended soup that wasn't too rich or creamy.

They also served it with some crunchy breadsticks. The soup tasted similar to the mulligatawny with a little extra kick from the hot sauce.

The highlight of the event was probably getting soup dolled out by Susur Lee himself from his restaurant Lee & Bent. I'm such a Food Network fan girl. There were some other big names in attendance: Connie DeSousa, Dustin Gallagher, Carl Heinrich, Jamie Kennedy, Rob Rossi (I'm sensing a Food Network theme here) and more. CBC Host George Stroumboulopoulos also got up on stage to speak and introduce some great Canadian music that played while everyone slurped on their soups.

This soup was hot and sour with mushrooms, which I'm guessing is similar to the one he serves at Lee.

There was even dessert soup. I could tell by some reactions from it that the thought of pink soup was a little odd, but Leah's Bakery "dessert soup" of raspberry mousse with an oatcake hit the spot after all of those spicy soups.

Interesting, right? But I had to go back to get seconds of this one.

There were also a few free samples in the mix, like these crostinis from Petite Thuet, and definitely lots of eating, sitting and trying to juggle a bowl, camera, purse and bag while walking around.

The park was fairly spacious, so it wasn't too much of a hassle to navigate the lines and stations. There were a lot of spots to rest and recharge after so much soup eating and mingling.

I heard about last year's event in Woodstock, Ontario called "FoodStock," which saw about 28,000 people attend, so I was pleased to go this year. Foodies lead a strong fight and who doesn't love soup? This year the fundraising efforts went towards the David Suzuki Foundation and Canadian Chef's Congress. It was great once again seeing the local food community come together for a good cause and some good food.
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October 15, 2012

The other day I was at a friend's house and she was eating Hamburger Helper. You know, that cheesy, meaty dinner mix that--like I learned about Kraft Dinner--is a good idea in theory, but is not so good for you.

I don't even want to know the list of preservatives, and not to mention the sodium, inside a box of Hamburger Helper; however, there was something about the smell that made me crave a big bowl of cheesy pasta. I like to think my cooking repertoire has expanded since my days of boxed, canned and frozen meals. I try to use fresh ingredients as much as I can, but I had a craving for comfort food and wanted to create my own version of the classic.

There's something about the weather getting slightly colder and drearier that makes me want to dive into a plate of carbs with a hot cup of tea or hot chocolate and maybe a slice of something decadent for dessert. Am I right? This version of "Hamburger Helper" is made with whole wheat pasta, homemade tomato sauce and even some kale thrown in there for good measure. 

"Hamburger Helper" (Low-fat, dairy-free alternative to the boxed mix)

2 cups whole wheat macaroni
200 g lean ground beef or turkey (about 1/2 cup)
Tomato sauce:1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, diced
1 can of tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 bunch kale, stems removed (about 1 cup)
White sauce:1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup milk (soy/almond milk for dairy-free)
3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp nutritional yeast (substitute grated cheese for a dairy sauce)


1. Brown the ground beef until cooked through and drain any excess oil or fat from the pan.

2. For the tomato sauce, add the onions and garlic to a saucepan and saute for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and any additional water depending on how thick you want the sauce. Let simmer for about 30 minutes until the sauce thickens and add the kale.

3. Cook the pasta and drain. In a separate saucepan, make the white sauce: add a tbsp of olive oil, then the flour and let cook for a few minutes. Add the milk and whisk repeatedly for a few minutes until thickened. Add the nutritional yeast and season with salt and pepper.

Depending on how tomato-like or more creamy you want the sauce, add about a half of the tomato sauce portion to the white sauce. Freeze the rest of the tomato sauce for another meal (I always have some in the freezer for a quick pasta meal). Add the pasta and ground beef to the sauce mixture.

And then there's dessert. As soon as I come home the kettle is on and I am warming myself up with some tea and thinking about a snack, or dessert.

I recently tried the new lemon flavoured Activia yoghurt and thought it tasted exactly like lemon meringue pie. I also tried the President's Choice 0% Greek Yoghurt with lemon fruit on the bottom and enjoyed that it had an actual lemon swirl in the yoghurt, unlike the Activia version.

So I got to thinking that all the lemon yoghurt needed was a crust and it would taste exactly like pie without all of the calories of pie. It's not an exact replica, but it's a healthier lemon treat that can be frozen and eaten cold or consumed straight away.

"Lemon Meringue Pies" with Lemon Yoghurt (makes 6 mini pies)
Ingredients: Crust (Gluten-free)

1 cup almonds (or almond flour)
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp melted butter or margarine
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon, nutmeg and salt
Filling1 cup low-fat milk (can be soy or almond milk)
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice (can also add grated peel of 1 lemon for more lemon flavour)
1/2 cup low-fat lemon yoghurt


1. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until they reach a flour-like consistency.
2. In a large bowl, slightly melt the butter then add the remaining crust ingredients. Press the mixture firmly into a muffin pan.
3. Bake for 15 minutes at 350F.

4. For the filling: In a medium saucepan, combine milk, cornstarch and sugar over heat. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and lemon yoghurt. Pour into the shells when they have cooled. Set the pies in the fridge for about 3 hours. Sprinkle candied ginger, lemon peel or brown sugar on top for decoration.

So there you have it: a comfort-food inspired pasta dish and dessert without all of the guilt of their original versions. Now all you need to do is turn on the kettle, cuddle up under a blanket and find a good book, T.V show or someone to snuggle with and you're all set for winter.
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October 10, 2012

It seems the "great pumpkin" has arrived. Although it is almost time to pick out your own orange friend, I'm not talking about the pumpkin that Linus longed to appear on Halloween night.

I mean the "great pumpkin" of the food blogging world: the endless recipes of pumpkin and fall-inspired desserts, my vast amount of bookmarks and "favourites" of pumpkin bread, cakes, desserts and even pastas (like this recipe) and the bursting to the brim of Google Readers, Pinterest boards and Delicious accounts everywhere with pumpkin everything. Check out these pumpkin spice donut holes dipped in white and milk chocolate I picked up from the Cupcake Diner the other weekend:

Cupcake Diner pumpkin spice donut holes

I made my own version as well. Apparently the trick to these donut holes was baking them in a mini-muffin pan. I tried making baked donuts awhile back and they did not turn out like this at all. The trick might have also been the buttery, brown sugar coating.

Pumpkin donut holes

Because I needed a pumpkin dessert detox after all that, I decided on a healthy (healthier) treat for dessert the other night. There's nothing better than taking a solid baking recipe and substituting healthier ingredients to make it better for you. I admit, sometimes it doesn't work out. Sometimes you're expecting cake or cheesecake and your "healthy alternative" doesn't resemble the real thing in any way and it's downright disappointing. But sometimes you can surprise yourself...

The California Walnut Commission sent me a sample of their California walnuts and some recipes for "edible gifts" this holiday season. Although it's not quite time to stock up on holiday baking supplies, it's never to early to start thinking about gifts. And I'm always looking for an excuse to bake and pass on the goods to fellow "taste tasters," or gift them to myself I suppose.

Gluten-free Walnut Brownies

This brownie recipe is easy on the stomach with no gluten or refined sugars. The walnuts are a nutritious addition and provide those good-for-you, heart-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats. According to the recipe, these brownies only have 194 calories per serving.

Fudgy Walnut Brownies (Gluten-free)
"Guaranteed to please any sweet tooth, this gluten-free brownie packs a nutritious punch in every tasty bite. The addition of dates and quinoa flour add the fudgy texture while significantly raising the bar for a scrumptious treat that's full of goodness."

Gluten-free walnut brownies

Gluten-free Fudgy Walnut Brownies (Recipe by California Walnut Commission, walnutinfo.com)

1 cup dates, pitted
2 tsbp water
7 oz dark chocolate (good quality) chopped
6 tbsp butter, salted
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbsp quinoa flour
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp icing sugar


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line the inside of a 9-inch square pan with foil and set aside.
2. In a food processor, place dates and and 2 tbsp of water and blend into a paste. Set aside.
3. In a medium sauce pan over low heat, melt butter and chocolate, stirring until smooth. Remove butter and chocolate from heat and mix in the date paste followed by one egg at a time until fully incorporated.
4. In a separate bowl, sift together the cocoa powder and quinoa flour and stir in the chocolate mixture. Mix in the walnuts and pour the mixture into prepared baking pan.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the brownies feel set in the centre. When ready, remove the brownies from the oven and allow to cool completely. Sift icing sugar over the top of the brownies.

This was my first time using quinoa flour. I decided to buy a small bag instead of grinding some quinoa in the food processor and making my own. Although I didn't necessarily need the brownies gluten-free, I wanted to test the exact recipe. I have tried gluten-free brownies from a boxed mix and these were just as good.

The chocolate I was using wasn't high quality dark--only melting milk chocolate chips--so they weren't as chocolate-y as they could have been. The brownies were a little on the crumbly side, but it might depend on how long you bake them. Next time I think I would only put 1/2 cup of walnuts in because I personally like brownies chewy rather than crunchy. For a break from the month of pumpkin craziness try these chocolate treats for some sweet crunch.

Disclosure: I received samples from the California Walnut Commission for review purposes. The opinions expressed are completely my own.
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