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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Orange Carrot Cake

If you like cake, this cake is for you.  If you like carrot cake, this cake is for you. If you have an egg or dairy allergy, this cake is for you.  If you are vegan, this cake is for you.  This cake is for everyone!

I like cake of every type and this vegan Orange Carrot Cake is no exception.  Moist and flavourful, it makes the perfect lunchbox addition or can be dressed up to grace the most elegant table.  Its distinct orange flavour blends perfectly with the carrots and cinnamon.    

I ran across across the recipe a few years ago and found it to be a nice moist cake that actually worked without eggs.  Making cakes without eggs can be tricky as it's more than easy to turn a delicate batter into a stone-hard baked brick.  Since I first made this cake I've made a few changes to the recipe and added grated orange rind to increase the orange flavour.   You can find the original recipe here.

Orange Carrot Cake
1 ½ cup flour
1 cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
Grated rind of 1 medium orange
1 heaping cup of shredded carrots
¾ cup orange juice
⅓ cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon ground flax seed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and line an 9-inch square pan with parchment paper. 

Mix all dry ingredients in bowl and then add the shredded carrots. Stir until well coated.  Add remaining wet ingredients and flax seed and stir lightly until just blended.  Pour into prepared pan. Bake 25-30 minutes.

You can also sprinkle a little of the raw sugar over the top before baking.  This will give the top a nice crunchy topping.  No frosting is needed for this cake but you may use your favourite vanilla frosting if you wish.  To make the frosting vegan, substitute vegan margarine for the butter and water or a neutral flavoured plant-based milk for the dairy milk.  If you'd rather not use a frosting but would like to fancy it up a bit it's also very good topped with a dollop of non-dairy whipped topping.

Makes one 9-inch square cake.

Assemble the ingredients for the cake.  Mix the dry ingredients together.  Don't forget the sugar like I almost did, ha, ha.  I had to add it after I mixed in the carrots.  So do as I say, not as I do. After the dry ingredients and carrots are mixed together add the wet ingredients and the flax seed and gently stir together until just mixed.  If you aggressively attack this batter your cake will be like a brick when it bakes, so go gently into the batter.  

Spread the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Let cool for 10 or 15 minutes before turning out on a cooling rack.  You can see my finished cake sitting on a foil wrapped cake board.  I'll be decorating this for a friend.

This cake is delicious served plain or with a little whipped topping or you can decorate it for a friend.

Decorated with a vanilla buttercream frosting

M is for Mmm, Mmm, Good! 
A tasty morsel for everyone.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Just four simple ingredients make a sweet, thick and creamy frosting for your cakes and cupcakes.  This is sometimes called American Buttercream as opposed to Italian, Swiss or German Buttercreams which contain egg whites or whole eggs. You can whip this up with your mixer or make it by hand.  Vanilla is always a classic flavouring but any flavouring extract that compliments your cake will do as well.

A big mistake beginner cooks make when making this frosting is to pour in all the milk at one time.  This often results in a sloppy mess that is useless on a cake.  The trick to making this frosting is to add the milk gradually until the desired consistency is reached.  It's always wise to have more icing sugar on hand as it's easy to pour in too much milk. 

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
½ cup butter, room temperature
4 cups icing sugar, sifted if lumpy, plus more if needed
1 or 2 teaspoons vanilla or other flavouring
¼ cup milk

Beat the butter until fluffy.  Add the sugar gradually until the mixture become very thick.  Beat in the vanilla and continue beating, adding a small amount of milk.  Beat in the remainder of the sugar and only add enough milk to reach a spreadable consistency.  For a fluffier frosting, beat another 2 minutes on medium high speed.

Makes enough to frost and fill a 8 or 9-inch layer cake.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Chickpea Falafels


The first time I tasted falafel was at a fast food restaurant that specialized in pita bread meals.  I had anticipated the meal as I like chickpeas but when I bit into the sandwich it was nothing special.  The flavour wasn't too bad but the chickpea balls were like sawdust in my mouth.  I knew immediately that the falafel could be made much better than the dry, crumbly balls that were fare for my lunch that day.  So the search began.  

I looked through dozens of recipes on the internet as my collection of cookbooks had a limited range of Middle Eastern foods.  I tried several recipes using canned chickpeas and although they tasted fine, the texture was still dry or worse yet, wet.  I knew I'd have to venture into the "real" recipes using dried chickpeas.  It was then I came across the original recipe on which I base the one below.  Of course, I've put my own spin on the recipe and made it my own. 

I've made these many times and have usually served them in pita bread with all the fixings as you see in the pictures but I've also served them several other ways as well.  I've made them mini and served them like nuggets with a dipping sauce or put them in those little bite-sized pita breads as appetizers and I've even made them larger for a falafel burger.    

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight or longer
1 teaspoon baking soda, optional
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic
1/2-1 cup very finely minced onion  (I often just put a quartered onion in the processor with the chickpeas.)
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro or 1 teaspoon dried cilantro
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch (or more) of cayenne pepper
Black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup water, if needed
Oil for frying

Soak chickpeas overnight or longer in a bowl that will allow at least 3 or 4 inches of water to cover the beans. 

Drain the chickpeas and put them into a food processor or blender. Add the baking soda, salt and garlic. Blend until you have the texture of medium to fine bread crumbs in a chickpea paste. Do not grind the complete mixture into a paste as you want mainly "crumbs" with enough paste to bind the mixture together. 

Place the blended chickpeas in a large bowl. Add the onion, parsley, cilantro, cumin, coriander, black pepper, cayenne and  lemon juice. Mix gently.  Add water if too dry.  I find my mixture does not need the water added if the chickpeas have not been thoroughly drained.

Pour 1 inch of oil in a wok or frying pan and set it over medium low heat.

While the oil heats, form the mixture into patties. (Traditional falafel is formed into balls but patties are easier to fit in pita bread.) Form patties that are about 2 inches in diameter. Don't squeeze them or compact them too much. The patties should just hold together. Put as many patties into the hot oil as the wok or frying pan will hold in a single layer. Fry about 2 minutes on each side until golden brown. When the patties are done, remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Repeat with remaining falafel mixture.

Falafel mixture may also be formed into balls and deep fried or baked as patties on an oiled pan in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Makes about 18-24 patties.

Falafels are naturally vegetarian/vegan and are high in protein. Make a full meal sandwich by serving your falafels in pita bread with your favourite salad vegetables.  Add tahini sauce, hummus, yogurt or even salad dressing.   It's your sandwich--make it to your taste. 

Soak the chickpeas at least 24 hours.  Chickpeas must be one of the toughest beans to soak and cook so make sure you give them sufficient time in the water.  If the weather or your home is warm, keep them in the refrigerator so they don't ferment.  Blend or process the soaked and drained chickpeas until well ground but not to a paste.  The mixture should be somewhat crumbly.  Mix the remaining ingredients in with the chick peas and stir until well blended together.  If you like a spicier falafel increase the cayenne pepper.

Form the mixture into loosely packed patties.  Fry in oil over medium heat.  The patties will crumble some when they hit the pan but as they cook they will stay together, although there will be a few stray crumbs left in the oil.  

Fried to a golden brown, draining on a paper towel. 

 Break out the pita bread, hummus and vegetables and have taste party in your mouth.

What a colourful and tasty meal!  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

No-Bake Granola Bars


We like granola bars and have gone through hundreds or possibly thousands of boxes through the years with school lunches and the like.  Granola bars were and are touted a healthy choice for children and adults but many commercial granola bars are merely candy bars in disguise and have no nutritional merit apart from the cereal that forms the base.  I think, if you are going to eat a granola bar it should have a few more redeeming qualities than just sugar coated oatmeal.  (That last statement takes care of my conscience.)

I came across this no-bake recipe some years ago and it has been one of my favourite granola bar recipes since.  I can't even remember where I found this so I can't give credit but I thank whoever posted or wrote this recipe because it is so good.  It does contain sugar and honey so it's not as healthy as some but I did replace the original ingredient of butter with oil to make it a little more heart healthy.   Anyway, a person should eat only one granola bar at a time, right! 

Apart from the sugar and fat, these bars are stuffed with dried fruit and nuts giving you a compact nutritional boost along with the treat of eating a bar.  As with most granola bars, I would serve these as a dessert as opposed to a healthy snack or meal replacement. 

These bars are no-bake but you do have to cook them on the stove top which will take a few minutes but well worth the time and effort.

No-Bake Granola Bars
¾ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup honey
¼ cup water
½ cup oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup toasted chopped nuts (combination of anything you like)
1 cup wheat germ
¼ cup sesame seeds or flax seeds
1½ cup dried fruit, chopped if large (combination of anything you like)

Prepare a 9x13-inch pan by greasing or lining with parchment paper.  

Toast nuts in 300 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Chop when cool.  The nuts should not be too fine but should be in small pieces.

In a large pan, combine sugar, honey, water, oil, and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Do not bring to a rolling boil. Stir in oats, nuts, wheat germ, and sesame seeds. Cook, over low heat, stirring frequently, for 12 minutes. (Be very careful not to let the oat mixture burn.) Remove from heat and add fruit. 

Pile hot mixture onto the prepared pan. Press evenly to fill the pan.  Score the "dough" into bars of desired size, so you can re-cut along  lines when cool. Allow to cool for about 1 hour or until no longer warm. Re-cut along score lines. Store in an airtight container.  You may also wrap bars individually in waxed paper.

I like to line my pans with parchment paper because it's almost 100% stick proof.  Everything removes so easily.

Prepare the nuts by toasting and chopping.  I used a mixture of nuts (walnuts, brazil, hazelnuts, cashews, almonds and a scattering of pistachios).  I them bought at the bulk department of my grocery store.  You don't need the nuts finely chopped but they should be in small pieces.

Bring the sugar, honey, water, oil and salt to a simmer.  Cook 5 minutes but do not boil or else the liquids will evaporate and make the bars crumbly.

After 5 minutes add the oats, wheat germ, sesame or flax seeds and nuts.  Cook over low heat, stir occasionally.  The heat should be low enough so the mixture will not stick and burn on the pot.  

When the mixture has cooked 15 minutes remove from heat and add the dried fruit.  I used dried blueberries, cherries, golden and sultana raisins. Chop any large fruit. 

 Pile the "dough" onto the prepared pan.

Spread out and smooth the top.  A flat bottomed measuring cup is very useful for spreading the hot mixture.

Chocolate chips are not in the ingredient list but I sprinkled half the hot “dough” with a handful of chocolate chips and spread them over the bars when they had melted.

Cut through the "dough" while it is still warm.  When the bars are cold re-cut and remove.  I cut this pan of bars 8 across and 4 down giving me 32 pieces. 

Bars can be individually wrapped in waxed paper and stored in an airtight container.  Of course, you don't have to wrap them but it makes it very convenient to grab a wrapped bar for a lunch box or traveling snack. You can see I have a great pile of granola bars to share.

Stuffed with fruit and nuts. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Red & White Cake--Leftover Treasure

I found myself with a bowlful of red cake scraps from the O Canada Day Cake I made earlier this week.  What to do with those scraps aside from eating them?  I did use some of the scraps to make crumbs to decorate the sides of the O Canada Day Cake and I would gladly eat cake scraps but they're not the healthiest thing to munch on.  If I'm going to have cake I try to have it as dessert and share it with family and friends.  I suppose I could have made bright red cake pops but I find those cloyingly sweet and a bit fussy to make just to get rid of cake scraps.  So I put the said scraps in the freezer until I could think of something more suitable to do with them.  But they didn't stay there long because I decided to make another cake with them.  Yes, another cake using the same principle as the O Canada Day Cake.  

I made another recipe for the white cake and used a bundt cake pan. You can find the recipe for the white cake HERE. I had a few cake crumbs left from decorating the sides of the O Canada Day Cake.  I mixed them with 2 tablespoons sugar and a tablespoon of butter and packed them in the bottom of a well greased bundt pan.

I had a few cake crumbs left from decorating the sides of the O Canada Cake.  I mixed them with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of butter and packed them in the bottom of a well greased bundt pan.

I trimmed off any overly browned bits on the cake scraps.  I carefully spooned white batter over the crumbs in the bottom of the pan and then placed the red cake scraps around the batter, then more batter and more cake scraps and topped with the last of the white batter.  I baked the cake at 325 degrees about 1½ hours until it tested done with a cake tester. 

The cake turned out lovely.  
I let it cool on the cake rack before giving it a drizzle of Cream Cheese Frosting.

I made one-third the recipe of Cream Cheese Frosting.  It can be thinned with a tiny bit of milk.

It looks quite nice with the frosting running down the sides and a sprinkling of red sugar.

 And there's the leftover hidden treasure buried inside the cake.  

The cake is ready for a church picnic/barbeque that we'll attend.  
It's safely hidden away in the freezer until then.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

I promised I'd give you a recipe for pita bread when I made the Donairs, and here it is.  But that wonderfully versatile pocket bread, can be used for a multitude of fillings.  Just use your imagination. 

The first time I ever saw pita bread was over 40 years ago.  I was attending collage and had to work for my board and tuition and found myself working in the school cafeteria and bakery.  The cafeteria work was an everyday occurrence but the bakery only happened two or three times a week.  I liked my work in the school kitchen and cafeteria but I really enjoyed the afternoons we spent in the bakery.  The bakery was comprised of a small building located directly across from the cafeteria. Compared to the basement cafeteria, the bakery seemed so bright and airy and roomy as well.  The room smelled of yeast and fresh bread, of sweet cookies and pies and I delighted in the aromas that wafted past my nose.  The large butchers block table was set in the centre of the back part of the bakery and the ovens and proofer near the front.  The big Hobart mixers were things of beauty and turned out dozens and dozens of baked goods in one huge batch.  

Mrs. Watson was my supervisor and the director of the cafeteria as well.  There used to be a head baker but the year I worked in the bakery Mrs. Watson was in charge of that as well.  Mrs. Watson and her family had immigrated to Canada from Egypt some years before.  Her husband was a teacher and worked out of town each week, returning on the weekends.  The two older children were attending university in the United States and her youngest was in high school.  Mrs. Watson worked long hours to keep her children in private christian schools and she expected no less from us, her student employees.  For some, Mrs. Watson was an unyielding taskmaster who expected the impossible from those who were remiss in the duties assigned them.  But for me she was a mentor.  Her approval was sought after and her long hours of work spurred me on to work as much as I could to pay my own school bills.  

Because Mrs. Watson worked such long days, beginning around 5 am and some days stretching past 7 pm she was seldom at home to do her own housekeeping and baking.  In order to provide bread for her family she would sometimes make the bread at the bakery during the couple of hours she had off in the afternoon.  Of course she didn't do this every day but every once in a while she mix up a big batch of pita bread and bake it in the school's bakery ovens.  Of course, at that time I'd never heard of any kind of flat bread other than the 5 barley loaves mentioned in the Bible, so it came as quite a surprise when I watched her make and bake the flat disks of dough that magically billowed into hollow bubbles of bread.  She would laugh and tell us it was Egyptian bread and it was very good, better than the bread we ate.  And to prove her point she always gave us a hot pita to eat with butter and honey.  Oh, they were so good.  Even now, my mouth waters as I remember those rare afternoons when Mrs. Watson made Egyptian bread for her family.  She would stuff hers with leftover potatoes, raw onions and a squeeze of lemon juice.  That was delicious as well.  

It's been years since those pleasant days in the bakery but I think Mrs. Watson had a point when said her bread was better than ours.  A fresh-from-the-oven pita can't be beat.  But aside from the obvious pleasures of fresh bread, a pita can double as a plate, holding a full meal in its open cavity.  And unlike a sandwich made with sliced bread, the pocket keeps everything in place and nothing falls out the other end.  What's not to like?  

Now, another fascinating aspect of the humble pita bread is the baking which produces the hollow pocket bread.  The extremely high heat produces steam which pops the bread into a hollow pocket.  Is that ever fun to watch through the oven window.  Once the dough hits the hot baking surface it comes alive.  Within a minute or so it starts to rise, almost moving off the pan as it grows in front of your eyes.  In five minutes you're good to go.  Dinner or supper can begin.  

I find you can make pita bread from any plain bread recipe.  I use half my Whole Wheat Bread recipe which makes sufficient pitas to use for the upcoming meal and plenty to freeze for later on.   Pitas can also be made from white bread dough but Mrs. Watson always made whole wheat and that's what I usually make as well.  

Whole Wheat Pita Bread
2 cups lukewarm water
2½ tablespoons oil   
1 tablespoon honey   
1 teaspoons salt

1½ teaspoons instant yeast   
2 cups white flour, or use all whole wheat
3-4 cups whole wheat flour

Mix lukewarm water, oil, honey and salt and any optional ingredients together in mixer bowl.  

Mix yeast with the whole wheat flour.  (I just dump it all together in the mixer bowl.)  Add to the liquid ingredients.  Using the dough hook mix thoroughly on low adding the white flour as you mix until you have a smooth ball of dough that leaves the side of the bowl.  You may not use all the flour or you may use a little more.  It all depends on the humidity the day you make bread. Knead about 10 minutes. 

Place in a greased bowl and cover with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap.  Let rise 1 hour or until doubled in size.  

Preheat oven to 450-500 degrees.  If your oven is hot use the lower temperature.

Divide dough into 12-14 pieces.  Shape into balls and let rest 20 minutes.  Roll each ball to about ⅛-¼ inch thick with a rolling pin on a flour sprinkled surface.  Cover and let rise about 20-30 minutes.  A few minutes before baking, place a baking stone or upside-down cast iron frying pan in oven.  If you don't have a stone or cast iron pan use a cookie sheet.  Pull oven rack out and gently slide a pita round on hot surface of stone or pan. Fit as many pitas on the baking surface as it will hold without breads touching.  Bake for 3-5 minutes, until puffed and golden brown.

Remove from oven and continue baking the remaining dough.

Makes 12-14 pitas.  I made 13.

Mix the warm water, honey, salt and oil together.  Add the yeast and part of the flour and mix. 

I throw everything in the mixer bowl, except the flour which I add gradually until I have a dough that leaves the side of the bowl.  

Using instant yeast the dough takes about 45 minutes to an hour to double in size.

When the dough has risen, divide it into 12-14 pieces.  Round into balls, flatten a little and let rest for 20 minutes.  This will make the dough easier to roll out.  Roll each ball to about ⅛-¼ inch thick.  Make sure you have the surface lightly floured so your pitas won't stick. 

Preheat the oven to 450-500 degrees.  I don't have a pizza stone so I use an upside-down cast iron frying pan.  It works just as well.  If you don't have either, use an old cookie sheet.  See how the bread has puffed up in just a couple of minutes. Bake 3-5 minutes.

Oops, sometimes a pita doesn't rise and puff all the way or not at all, but don't worry, these are still good to eat.  These can be used to make individual pizzas. Or just spread and layer the fillings on top and fold the bread around the fillings.

Here's perfectly puffed pita bread.

When cool, the pitas collapse.  These are stacked and ready to go in the freezer for future meals.

I find the best way to cut a pita is with a pair of kitchen scissors.
This makes a good clean cut across the bread.

Leftover patties from dinner make a good filling for the pita bread.

No wondering what's for supper when you have a few leftovers and pita bread.

Ready to eat.