Muffins & Schnitzel & Faux Alfredo

Yesterday was a busy day for cooking. The first thing Thing 2 did when she returned from school was to request that we make muffins together. I used up the leftover pancake mix from the Pancake Mix & Peach Muffins to whip up a second batch; it turns out that the size of box that they sell at the dollar store will make two batches with a little left over. This time we tried the recipe with the spices (which greatly enhanced the flavour), and added apricots instead of peaches as the fruit. No nuts again this time, since the kids want to take them to school. They turned out quite well!


Pancake mix & apricot muffins.

For dinner I decided to try a few things I hadn’t made before, the first of which was chicken schnitzel. Schnitzel is one of my husband’s favourite foods from his childhood (although he insists that it’s not real schnitzel unless it’s pork). I found pre-tenderized and breaded schnitzel on clearance at the grocery store yesterday, so I figured I’d give it a shot. In all honesty, I did overcook it, but my husband still ate his portion and the kids’ leftovers, so it wasn’t that bad. I think I know where I made my mistakes and I know what to change when I try this dish again in the future.


Chicken schnitzel, linguini with cauliflower Alfredo sauce, and steamed spinach.

The second new dish that I made was linguini with Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce from Just A Pinch. I’d seen this recipe referenced on a few cooking blogs and it was touted as being fantastic. I love creamy sauces, but my digestive system can’t handle much milk, so I thought that this was the perfect solution. My sauce turned out a little more brown than the recipe’s, but that’s because my homemade chicken broth turned out more brown than the commercial kind because of the way the chicken was originally prepared. Taste-wise, I don’t think that affected it much, though.

My main problem with the recipe is that after following all of the instructions to the letter, the sauce ended up being really, really watery. I mean, it was more of a soup than a sauce and would never have stuck to the noodles. I suspect that this was because my cauliflower was smaller than the one from the recipe, which affected the solid-to-liquid ratio; I find that accurately recreating a dish can be difficult if the ingredients aren’t given in a weight or volume-based measure. I also had to use almond milk instead of heavy cream, which probably didn’t help, but there’s only 1/4 cup of that in there in any case. In the end I was able to save the sauce. First I whisked about 4 Tbsp of flour with some water to make a smooth paste, which I then whisked into the sauce. I simmered it all together for a while but I found that it wasn’t thickening fast enough, so I chucked it all into a microwave-safe casserole dish and microwaved it in three-minute increments (stirring after every three minutes) until it reached the desired consistency.

So would I make this recipe again? Probably, when my desire for a creamy alfredo-like sauce resurfaces. You definitely could taste the cauliflower in there, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’d say it’s a reasonable replacement for a proper Alfredo, and it’s still a thousand times better than some of the canned versions that are available around here. Next time I’ll just adjust planned cooking times to accommodate having to thicken it.

Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread Recipe

I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while, but I like to accompany my recipes with a picture, and my family keeps cutting into the loaves before I get a chance to take a photograph! This recipe is for a fluffy, high-rising loaf that stands up well on its own, but really shines when it is speckled generously with fresh or dried herbs. As a bonus, this bread is also dairy-free, nut-free, vegetarian, and can be made vegan with the proper sourcing of ingredients. Because of the herbs, it is a very savoury bread, and pairs well with eggs and meats — especially as toast with dipping eggs, and as sandwich bread for leftover roast or cold cuts.


A 2lb loaf made with rosemary.

Herb Bread
Yields one loaf

A note about loaf size:
Quantities for a 1.5lb loaf are in bold, quantities for a 2lb loaf are in bold purple. However, this loaf is very light and fluffy — so it expands a lot. Use the settings for a 1.5lb loaf if your machine goes up to 2lbs; only make a 2lb loaf if your machine has the capacity to make a loaf that is 3lbs or greater.

A note about bread machines:
Every bread machine comes with an instruction booklet (most of which are also generally available online) that will specify the order that ingredients should be added. Mine says that liquids should be added first, then flour, then yeast. When preparing this recipe, the instructions for your specific bread machine should take first priority, so if your manual says to add the ingredients in a different order, do so.

Into the bread machine pan, pour:
1 1/4 cups (1 1/2 cups +3 Tbsp) water
2 Tbsp (2 Tbsp) olive oil
Over the liquids, sprinkle:
3 cups (4 cups) all-purpose flour*
Ensure that the flour covers the liquids entirely.
Into opposite corners of the pan, add:
1 Tbsp (1.5 Tbsp) sugar
1 1/2 tsp (2 tsp) salt
Create a well in the flour at the center of the bread pan, being sure not to go all the way down to the liquid. Into the well, add:
2 tsp (2 tsp) active dry yeast
Over the entire contents of the pan, sprinkle:
2 Tbsp (2 1/2 Tbsp) dried OR 4 Tbsp (5 Tbsp) chopped fresh herb of choice**

Set the bread machine to the basic/normal/white setting, with a light or medium crust to your preference. Press start. Running this cycle should take about four hours.

Remove the bread at the end of the baking cycle. Turn it out of the pan onto a wire rack to cool, making sure that the kneading paddle(s) are removed from the bread. Serve immediately (being careful to cut gently when it is warm), or when cool. Do not wrap the loaf or put it into a container until it is entirely cool, or it will become mushy.

* For a healthier loaf, substitute half of the all-purpose flour for whole-wheat flour. A whole wheat loaf will not rise as high, however.
**Suggestions: rosemary, dill, oregano, basil, chives, thyme, or sage.

Spiced Pancakes with Apples & Caramel Syrup Recipe

Last night I had a very specific idea of what I wanted to make for dinner, and I really didn’t want to head out of the house again to buy ingredients, especially dragging the kids with me. It’s not really that big of a deal to get groceries with my kids, but it inevitably takes twice as long — or more — than shopping on my own. I looked at a couple of pancake recipes in my cookbooks, but nothing was exactly what I was craving. I wanted to make some kind of spiced pancake that paired well with chopped apples, which were the only fruit I had left in the fridge. Apples are a staple around here, since they winter well and can last months if kept properly. For those reasons, they’re also relatively inexpensive all year long. (Berries, which I generally prefer, get ridiculously pricey in the winter since they all have to be imported, and they begin to spoil after only a few days.) I started by combining about four different recipes; I made so many changes after a while that I knew if I didn’t write it all down, I’d never be able to duplicate my results.

In the end, I’m extremely happy with what I came up with: Spiced Pancakes with Apples & Caramel Syrup. We had it for dinner, but it would make an equally tasty breakfast or even a dessert. The pancakes are also great on their own and can be served with the more traditional butter/margarine with syrup (preferably maple), honey, or jam, or fruit butter (apple butter would be divine).

Here’s the recipe:

Spiced Pancakes with Apples & Caramel Syrup
Yields 10 to 12 five-inch-diameter pancakes (approx.)*

In a large bowl, mix together:
1 1/2 cups flour
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
In another large bowl, combine:
1 1/2 cups plus 2 Tbsp 2% cow’s milk OR almond milk OR soy milk**
3 Tbsp plus 1 tsp canola*** oil
1 egg, beaten

Whisk together wet ingredients until they become a smooth mixture. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Beat mixture with an electric or hand mixer until batter is smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula to remove lumps.

Cooking the spiced pancakes uses the same technique as my buckwheat pancakes. Lightly coat the cooking surface of a heavy, non-stick frying pan with cooking spray. Place the pan on the burner, turn the heat on to just a little bit higher than medium heat, and immediately pour a single ladle-full of batter directly into the center of the pan. (Never preheat an empty nonstick pan.) The batter will spread out without help to its optimal thickness. Watch the cooking pancake carefully for bubbles to appear on its surface. When the bubbles pop and leave little craters behind that don’t immediately refill in with batter, it’s time to flip the pancake. Have patience when cooking pancakes; better that they be cooked on a low temperature and finish slowly than to have them burn. Once the batter has started to solidify, you can peek underneath the pancake to check its colour. Cook each side until it is golden brown.

While the pancakes are cooking, core and roughly chop:
4-5 medium-sized eating apples****
Place the apples in a bowl to serve alongside your pancakes, if they are to be topped at the table. Beside the apples, place:
caramel syrup*****
whipped cream (optional)******
finely chopped walnuts

When the pancakes are cooked, serve immediately or stack on a warm plate which is covered by another warm plate when not being dished onto. To keep the pancakes warm, it helps to cover the top plate and edges with a tea towel or two.

My preferred way of plating the pancakes is to place one or two on a plate, mound with chopped apples, (optionally) dollop on a bit of whipped cream, and drizzle with caramel syrup. Lightly sprinkle each dish with chopped walnuts for added crunch and flavour.

Enjoy!

*This recipe can easily be doubled (or more) to serve a larger crowd. My family of four generally eats about a batch and a half of pancakes, and the leftovers go in the fridge to be reheated the next day.
**I used almond milk.
***Canola oil may be replaced by another light oil such as sunflower or vegetable oil.
****My favourites are Ambrosia and Honeycrisp, but whichever you like is fine. Use your best judgement about the size of the apples and how much the people you’re serving are likely to eat; my family likes their pancakes loaded with fruit, as pictured, but yours may differ. Since the apples are a topping and not a baking ingredient, having an exact quantity is not as essential.
*****Store-bought is fine, but you can also make your own. I got my recipe from the Joy of Cooking (page 849, 2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker), but you could just as easily use the Caramel Syrup Recipe from Martha Stewart, as they are virtually identical. They’re both essentially cooked sugar and water. Optionally, you can add a splash of vanilla for additional flavour. I’d recommend preparing this in advance, since it takes a while to cool down enough to eat. Also, I burned my first batch because I was trying to do too many things at once and forgot about it for about twenty seconds. That was all it took to make it completely inedible. The second batch was supervised nonstop and turned out well. Please learn from my mistakes!
******Real whipped cream, canned whipped cream, and non-dairy whipped cream substitutes are all grand.

Pumpkin & Sage Pasta Recipe

I did manage to finish Thing 2’s skirt last night, as well as doing a bit of Christmas shopping. That being said, Candy Cane reminded me today of another task that I really have to complete.

It says something about your ability to procrastinate when your Christmas elf can sit on your Halloween pumpkins. The squash are still in good shape because they haven’t been cut, and they have been set on holders off of the ground so that air flow underneath keeps them from rotting. They’re actually more likely to dry out than decompose at this point. I started by cooking the first of the first of my four pumpkins today. I used the same technique described on Elana’s Pantry, but the pumpkin was so large that each half took about an hour and a half to cook. Then I scooped out the roasted pumpkin flesh and blended it smooth it in the food processor. These pumpkins are going to yield a lot of pumpkin puree, but that’s fine by me! It freezes well, and I still have two cookbooks worth of pumpkin recipes to try.

Having all that pumpkin puree on hand meant that I really wanted to incorporate it into dinner. I went with my tried-and-true Pumpkin and Sage Pasta Sauce, which I have modified many times over the years to accommodate both food preferences and allergies/sensitivities. I’m very happy with the latest iteration, as is my family. The sauce tastes more of sage, garlic, and onion than it does of pumpkin (which itself has a rather mild flavour). Instead, the pumpkin is what creates the creamy texture without using any actual cream. These days I make a non-dairy version, but if you prefer it can be made with milk and topped off with a bit of sour cream. Also, if fresh pumpkin puree isn’t available, canned is perfectly fine.

Pumpkin & Sage Pasta
Serves 4 adults

Into a deep saucepan or heavy-bottomed pot, pour:
2 Tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oil, then add:
1 medium white onion (100g peeled), diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
On medium heat, sweat the onions and garlic in the olive oil, being careful not to let them brown.
Turn up the heat to medium-high and add:
200g ground pork
200g lean ground beef
Fry the meat until it is browned, breaking it up as it cooks so that there are no large lumps. Drain the excess fat/oil.
Add:
2 cups pumpkin puree
250mL chicken broth
60mL 2% milk, almond milk, or soy milk
1 tsp ground sage or 3 tsp fresh sage, chopped fine
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 Tbsp fresh parley, minced
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Stir together and simmer gently to reduce slightly for about 10min. While the sauce is simmering, cook as per package instructions:
400g fettuccine*
Drain the pasta, then return it to its cooking pot. ** Pour the sauce over the noodles and stir to mix. Serve, optionally sprinkled with:
grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, to taste

*I’ve found that an equal amount of penne works as well.
**If you want to add sour cream to the sauce, stir it in at this point. You will need anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup, depending on your personal taste. I recommending starting with 1/4 cup and seeing how you like it, then adding more if necessary.

Thai Coconut Curry Recipe

I’m trying to broaden my culinary horizons further, not only because I love eating new things, but also because I get bored of cooking the same things all the time. To that end, I’ve been perusing cookbooks and browsing YouTube cooking videos to find inspiration. One of the channels that I discovered was Brothers Green Eats (and I say I discovered because they’ve been posting cooking videos for about four years, but they’re new to me). I’ve really been enjoying working my way through their videos, and they’ve given me some great ideas.

This past Saturday I cooked up some coconut curry based on their Cooking “Cheat Codes” – Make Anything Taste Delicious tutorial, with the relevant bits about curry paste and coconut milk starting at about the 5:00 mark). This recipe is customized according to the ingredients that were available locally and seasonally, as well as to suit the tastes and dietary issues of my family. However, it is a very flexible technique that can be used with a wide variety of ingredients. You don’t have to use the brands that I did, either, but I thought it was necessary to note what worked well for me. This dish is dairy-free, and can easily be made vegetarian or vegan by omitting the meat; since it’s added more or less at the last step, the meat doesn’t have a huge amount to do with the development of the flavour. I should note right now that the curry paste that I used is not vegetarian or vegan, but I’m sure you could find one that is, or make one of your own to suit your personal dietary requirements.

I have a feeling that I will be making this recipe over and over again — especially since there are almost infinite variations available.

Thai Coconut Curry
Serves 4-6

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
Please note: weight measurements for the vegetables in this recipe are taken after peeling and removing inedible portions like leaves and stems.
Wash and slice:
1 small onion (60g (2oz))
1 small yellow zucchini (200g (7oz))
1 small green zucchini (200g (7oz))
2 medium carrots (200g (7oz))
1 small eggplant (200g (7oz))
On a baking sheet, spread evenly:
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
Add the sliced vegetables to the baking sheet. Mix them by hand or with a spatula until the vegetables are evenly coated with the oil and spice mixture.
Roast the vegetables in the oven at 350°F (175°C) for between 40 and 60 minutes, turning the veggies in the pan halfway through that time. The vegetables are done when they are tender but before they start to fall apart.
In the last 20 minutes or so of the roast vegetables’ cooking time, steam and drain:
150g (5.25oz) chopped baby bok choy
According to the package directions, cook until al dente and drain:
340g (12oz) medium egg noodles
In a large, deep, non-stick frying pan or non-stick wok, heat on medium heat:
1 Tbsp olive oil
Add to the oil:
3 Tbsp Blue Dragon Thai Red Curry Paste*
Cook for 1 minute, stirring regularly to prevent burning and sticking.
Add to the pan:
one 398mL (13.5fl oz) can A Taste of Thai Lite Coconut Milk
Stir until ingredients in pan smoothly combined.
Add the roast vegetables, baby bok choy, and medium egg noodles to the pan. Stir until all solid ingredients are evenly coated. Add to the pan:
250g (9oz) peeled, cooked shrimp**
Stir until ingredients are heated and coated evenly.
Serve, optionally topping each dish with:
a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds

* Or curry paste of your choice.
**Or an equal amount of cooked chicken chopped into bite-sized pieces.

Dairy-Free Pumpkin Spice Cashew Spread Recipe

I’m still working through a batch of pumpkin puree that I thawed and then didn’t end up needing. One of my favourite pumpkin-based recipes is Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Spread by Pinch My Salt. The original recipe is simple — no cooking required, it’s as easy as throwing everything in a blender and pushing a button. Sadly, since I now have to avoid dairy products, any recipe based on cream cheese is out. So I made my own slightly-more-labour-intensive dairy-free version, and I think it tastes just like pumpkin pie.

My first version of this recipe was made with tofu, but that was a wash — despite the spices, it still mostly tasted like beans. My successful version is made with cashews as the base, which means it definitely contains nuts and is not school-safe. That’s okay, my kids can have dairy, I can send them to school with the cream-cheese-based version. My version also doesn’t use premixed pumpkin spice, but instead all of the individual spices that are usually found therein, allowing for a bit more customization. The recipe is vegetarian, and could be made vegan if you source your ingredients right (many brands of sugar, including brown sugar, use bone char as part of the filter process).

I like both versions of the spread as a dip for a freshly-cut-up cold, crisp apple. It also works well as a spread for bagels, toast, or a topping/core for muffins or cupcakes.


Pumpkin spice cashew spread with sliced gala apples

Dairy-Free Pumpkin Spice Cashew Spread
Yields about 1 1/2 cups

Pour into a heat-safe container:
1 cup roasted unsalted cashews
Cover the cashews with boiling water and leave them to sit for a minimum of 1 hour, up to 4 hours. Cashews should be plump and soft after soaking.
Drain water and place cashews in a blender.
Add to the blender:
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp corn starch
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
6 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp allspice
1/2 cup water
Blend mixture until smooth.
Pour mixture into a cooking pot. Stirring constantly, cook until the mixture just begins to simmer. This recipe will burn to the bottom of the pot very quickly, so stirring constantly is essential. Once the mixture has reached a simmer, remove it from the heat. Scrape the mixture into a container with a lid that seals, then refrigerate until cooled through. Serve.

Vegan Cheese

My friends know that I’ve been looking for dairy alternatives lately because, as I have mentioned before, I love dairy, but it doesn’t love me back. One of my friends send me a link to the Vegan Cheese recipe and tutorial video by The Buddhist Chef. The video makes it look really simple, so I thought hey, why not give it a shot?


Vegan cheese molded in a bowl instead of a ramekin, hence the dome shape.

My first hurdle was sourcing the ingredients (although I had many of the basics at home). My local Bulk Barn carries roasted, unsalted cashews, and nutritional yeast. The agar agar powder, on the other hand, was difficult to find. Bulk barn didn’t carry it, and most of the health stores I tried normally carried it, but were experiencing supply issues. I finally found the powder at Kardish, at about $12 for 57g (smallest package size available), so about $21.05 per 100g. For comparison, 28g of Knox unflavoured gelatin (the animal product that agar powder is supposed to replace) is $3.29 for 28g, or $11.75 per 100g. Since I’m not a vegan, I may try this recipe with gelatin instead of agar agar powder if I make it again, just to save some money.

The recipe did come together as promised by the recipe; it was actually fairly easy to make, once I had the ingredients. Flavour-wise, I unfortunately can’t say that this dish tastes much like cheese. However, it is a tasty spread in its own right. I would put it on a bagel or a pita bread, or serve it with crackers at a party. But it can’t really be mistaken for dairy cheese. Darn it.

Also, when made in a bowl instead of a flat-bottomed ramekin, this vegan cheese visually reminds me of “chicken cutlet” silicone breast enhancers that are inserted into a bra. Possibly not the best choice on my part, aesthetic-wise, but it did make me laugh.