Tuesday, June 28, 2011

12 Grain English Muffins

Today is exactly one year since I made my blog not by invitation only and opened it up to the world, beyond just my close family and friends. It was the greatest decision I ever made to just dive into the blog, really not having any idea where it would take me. This will be my 84th post since first begining on June 1st 2010. I honestly can't say whether I thought I would still be blogging about my food 'experiments' a year later, but I can tell you there is no end in sight. This blog affords me the opportunity to share my experiences in the kitchen (and sometimes in the garden). I hardly get in culinary ruts because I am constantly looking for something new to do in the kitchen and then share it with all of you. Thank you everyone for reading and thank you to all those who inspire me every day!

As I have shared before, I have been baking my own bread. It has been probably a month since I have purchased a pre-sliced bagged loaf of bread. While baking bread is slightly time and labour intensive, it is definitely worth it. While I have yet to bake a perfectly sliceable loaf, I have not given up. In the meantime, I wanted to try baking other bread products that I love. Up there on the list are english muffins. I had saved a few recipes that I had found online and finally had some time to make them today. They have a lot of rising time involved but are fairly easy to make.

I followed this recipe on A Full Measure of Happiness. I made a couple changes: I made regular sized muffins (it made 15 muffins), used 12 grain flour instead of whole wheat flour, used sucanat instead of sugar, used half the salt, and soy milk instead of cows milk. These modifications seemed to work okay.. The general procedure for making english muffins is to make the dough, let it rise, roll in out, shape some muffins, let it rise and then bake. I have also seen some recipes for doing them in the pan, but I think I will stick to the oven.

They turned out wonderful! They didn't have as many holes in them as the store bought ones, but they have a much better flavour.

I was surprised with how many muffins the recipe made and will be freezing most of them. I bet if I did a cost analysis on this they would be more inexpensive than the store bought variety. I will definitely be playing around with this recipe in the future, for cinnamon raisin, blueberry, and even cheese english muffins. I'd also like to try and get them a bit more fluffy, maybe with rolling them out thinner and letting them rise more. I tend to be a little impatient, especially when the dough becomes deliciously fragrant.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Garden Updates

On Father's Day I went home and spent some time with my parents. About once a week I get to check out the garden and how it is doing, but this is the first time I had my camera with me so I took some pictures. With all the rain, most of the plants are growing like crazy! There have been a few flops, but also some pleasant surprises with some plants that didn't look like they were going to make it.

I think the rhubarb got a little damaged in one of the thunder/hail storms that we have had since planting. Hopefully it will regain it's strength and we will get some decent stalks come Fall.

Here is the basil, which has flourished quite a bit, and some newly planted rosemary. The first plant died from who knows what. I think you can actually see it's skeleton in the bottom left of the pot there.

Here is the bay leaf tree provided from my Nonna. I have never used fresh bay leaf before, but I have a feeling it is best used dried. We will probably dry the leaves at the end of the summer.

The kale is actually doing quite well. At first it looked like it was getting nibbled by some kind of bug and looked like we wouldn't get much of a leaf. It is looking better though and I look forward to some nice full kale bunches this summer!

This is some baby swiss chard coming up from some seeds we planted. Another newbie for me, so hopefully it turns out.

Here are some leeks planted by seed. Last year, our leeks (we planted seedlings) did not grow very much. It may have been their location near a cedar tree, but either way, we were not planning on planting them this year. However, we got a free pack of seeds in one of the other packages we bought. So, here they are. The fact that they have sprouted is promising to me. I guess even if the leeks don't get that big it is still okay and we will still enjoy them.

These are beets planted from seeds. It looks like someone has been nibbling on the greens. I hope they survive those cunning little rabbits.

The lettuce on the left was grown from seedlings and the other lettuce that is sprouting is from seed. A lot of lettuce has been lost to bunnies. I hope they leave some for the rest of us. The lettuce that was planted between the tomato plants has been untouched and is ready to be harvested. Maybe that is a good strategy to prevent rabbits from eating it?

The outside plants are cabbage plants which seem to be doing well. No sign of the cabbage yet, but soon it will emerge, and I will wonder how on earth I will be able to deal with so much cabbage. In the middle are some radishes. I was astonished with how well they have done (from seed!). Last year our radishes were a huge flop. So it was a pleasant surprise to see some nice big radishes under all those greens.

I picked a few of the bigger ones to add to our salad at dinner. They were so fresh and soft. It was nice to  enjoy the first produce from our garden on Father's day. That along with some of my Grandfather's leaf lettuce.

These are all the pepper plants with some cherry tomatoes at the back. In this photo you can see the little irrigation system my Dad put in. All he has to do is plug in the hose, turn it on, and all the plants get some watering right on the soil, where it is needed. I like to think this saves some water.

Here is the pepper plants that I planted in a pot to bring to my own house and grow on my patio. It seems like one of the plants is not very happy. I think they are just planted to close together. Originally there was a third plant but one of the neighbourhood critters took it. I probably should have redistributed the plants, and I guess I still probably could. 

These are the tomato plants. They are doing quite well and have been tied a couple times already.

It is hard to see the comparison in these pictures, but the plant in the pot on my patio is not quite as big. It may be as tall but the stalk is not as big, and there are not as many "branches." Normally we have to be concerned with removing the "suckers" (as my Dad calls them) from the branches to make sure that less energy is put into growing the plant, and more is put into growing the fruit. I have not had any suckers yet (the vegetable bed plants have), and I am not sure if that is predictive of anything or not. This plant will definitely not get as big as the others but I am sure I will get a few good tomatoes out of it. It will definitely be worth it. That is, unless some city dwelling animal steals them from me. Anyone have any tips on how to keep the animals away? I have considered wrapping the pot in chicken wire, a few feet high. A bit much for one tomato plant?

Lastly, here are the squashes, melons, zucchini, and in the back are the beans. The initial honeydew and watermelon did not survive, so some butternut squash and cantaloupe have been planted as a replacement. So far so good!

Last week my parent's went to my Nonna and Tatone's (Grandmother and Grandfather) house and the topic of this blog came up. My Aunt mentioned that I have been posting about the garden, and he suggested I put up some pictures of his garden! I have only been sent one picture from my Mom but here it is:
This is inside the greenhouse beside my Tatone's garden. It is heated throughout the winter with a wood stove and inside he grows seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, marigolds and other plants from seed, to get a head start on the growing season. The real reason for the greenhouse is this fig tree. When my Tatone emigrated from Italy, the one thing he missed the most was fresh figs. Importing of figs became more common shortly after his arrival to Canada, but the high price made it an occasional treat. So, he took matters into his own hands and built this greenhouse. When the weather is warm in the summer, the sides of the greenhouse is removed and exposed to the Niagara summer climate. In the winter, the house is closed back up and kept warm enough to survive through the winter. I have been spoiled to have access to such fresh figs and didn't really appreciate it until recently. I only started liking figs in the last couple years and  now I can't get enough!

I look forward to when I own my own house and not only can grow my own garden, but also build my own greenhouse. I only hope that my future gardening ventures are half as successful as my Nonna's and Tatone's have been.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Zesty Balsamic Vinaigrette

I think it is safe to say that summer is here. Not only is it the first day of summer but it is also the longest day of the year. The local produce is really starting to appear and cravings for raw or grilled veggies have come full force. I have probably mentioned this before but I have never been a store-bought salad dressing kind of girl. I grew up with oil and vinegar dressing on my salad, made directly into the salad bowl. I continued this trend for the last 5 years since I first lived on my own. That trend has come to an end however. No, I am not buying salad dressing now (although I do have an emergency bottle in the refrigerator), but I am making it ahead of time in my magic bullet, for use during the week.

My first attempt at this was a while back with a Basil Vinaigrette, and I was definitely won over. Since fresh vegetables have become more prominent, I have been tweaking a basic balsamic vinaigrette to get it just how I like it. I think I have finished the tweaking and am ready to share the recipe with you. This amount gets me through 4ish individual salads, as a little goes a long way. It is zesty, creamy, and perfect with cucumbers, tomatoes, mushrooms, avocado and more.

Zesty Balsamic Vinaigrette 

3 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1.5 tsp mustard
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp oregano

1. Combine ingredients into magic bullet or blender and pulse for about 20-30 seconds. Some intense whisking may also work if you don't have a magic bullet or something similar. I find the bullet works very well at emulsifying the ingredients.
2. Top your favourite veggie combination!

I have made countless salads with this dressing but this one pictured is leaf lettuce, roasted asparagus, roasted mushrooms, avocado and parmesan cheese. All pictures that I took of this salad had the Pabst Blue Ribbon in sight and it was therefore unavoidable to admit that I like that beer. I guess I need to work on my food staging.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Asparagus and Mushroom Quesadillas

For the past while I have been baking my own bread. I have yet to perfect it however, and have not been able to slice any of my homemade bread into slices good enough for a sandwich, for example. The bread I have been baking is an oatmeal molasses bread from Good to the Grain. The bread is delicious, and I am perfectly fine eating a jagged chunk of bread (with peanut butter of course) until I perfect the kneading, rolling, rising, and folding process to make a perfect loaf of bread. This has inspired me to try and bake my own bread from now on though. I want to try making all of my favourite baked goods like bagels, english muffins, and tortillas. Since my last stint with making chickpea tortillas did not go so well, I was discouraged and purchased some tortillas at the market on the weekend. Tortillas are notorious for having the longest ingredient list of all, but these ones were the lesser of many evils.

I had many options for ways to use these tortillas. I opted to not go for my usual tortilla/pb/banana sandwich, which is my favourite combination ever, and made quesadillas. Believe it or not, I had never made this really easy meal before. I actually really like quesadillas, so I have no idea why I had not attempted this in the past. This isn't your typical quesadilla as I used ingredients I had on hand, but it was a winning combination.

Asparagus and Mushroom Quesadillas
Serves 2 (meal), or 4 (with a side)

8 white mushrooms, chopped finely
asparagus, chopped to 1-2 cm in length, enough that is about equal to that of the mushrooms in volume
1/2 cup pinto beans
2 green onion
4 tortillas
2/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
4 tsp hot sauce
salsa and sour cream to serve with

1. Sautee the mushrooms on a dry pan over medium heat.
2. Once they begin to soften, add the asparagus, and sauté until cooked. Remove from heat.
3. In the same pan, place tortilla on pan, add half of asparagus mushroom mixture, half the green onions, 1/4 cup pinto beans, half the hot sauce, and half the cheese.
4. Place second tortilla on top and press down to anneal the quesadilla. Heat until cheese is melting, and bottom tortilla is crispy. About 3-6 minutes.
5. Flip and cook for another few minutes until tortilla is crispy and all cheese is melted.
6. Repeat with the other half of the ingredients.

These were really good, especially with some good salsa and sour cream. I will definitely have to make quesadillas more often. I think I might wait until I land on a successful tortilla recipe. In the meantime, I am still plugging away in the kitchen finding a perfect recipe to use chickpea flour for. I almost found it yesterday. Let's hope it isn't too long before I can share something with you.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sweet Potato Enchilada Grain-Free Pizza

A while ago I made these enchiladas from Oh She Glows (without the cilantro avocado sauce). I brought them along to a Cinco de Mayo party, and then made them again a week later, substituting refried beans for the black beans, and adding some corn. It is a really fantastic recipe that I recommend you try. The second time I made them, I also attempted to make my own chickpea tortillas to use for the enchiladas. This turned out to be more of a chickpea crepe which I filled with the enchilada filling. Not quite an enchilada but still tasted good, in a different way.

I bought a huge bag of chickpea flour that was on sale after making the tortillas, as I saw a lot of potential in this high protein, gluten-free flour. My second venture with the chickpea flour was blueberry pancakes (omitting the sugar), which I was not a fan of. I think I will be sticking to the savoury flavours for chickpea flour. Next, I purposefully made chickpea crepes, which were delicious with avocado and scrambled eggs.

In order to escape the pancake/crepe rut I seemed to be in, I conducted a google search and found a recipe for Socca, similar to a pizza crust. Since I had enchilada filling in the freezer, I figured this would be a perfect topping for chickpea flour crust pizza. I followed the recipe on Food and Wine since it was more tailored to what I wanted to do.

It did not turn out so great. The first slice was kind of good, but after that, it was all downhill. I think the problem was that I didn't get it crispy enough. The middle was too mushy and had a bad texture. I think a good idea would be to actually make a crispy chickpea tortilla (like a flat hardshell taco shell) and then add the toppings and a quick broil. I think I also need to learn how to season the batter a bit better. All I have been doing is adding some cumin. I wonder if adding rosemary, pepper, basil and oregano would be a good bet? Of course, topping it with tomatoes, cheese, garlic, etc would work better instead of enchilada filling with that herb combination.

All I know is that I am not ready to give up on chickpea flour. I am discouraged, but I will not let that huge bag of flour go to waste. Anyone know of any good uses for chickpea flour? Anyone have any ideas? I almost refuse to believe that I have a distaste for chickpea flour, and must find a way that I will enjoy using it.

Before I close off this post I would like to draw your attention to the new look of the blog! If you are viewing this through email or a reader, I suggest you check out the site's new look. A friend of mine designed a logo for me and I think it looks great! It goes nice with the blog theme, and I think the sun is an excellent symbol for Food for Fuel. The sun is ultimately the energy source for the food that we eat, and since I feature mostly vegetarian recipes, these foods are as close as we can get to that source of energy. Kind of lovely when you think about it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Denver, CO Trip

Last week, I went to Denver, CO for a conference for school. After a week of not really cooking, I am very much looking forward to getting back into the kitchen, so you can bet that some real recipes will be posted soon.

My trip to Denver was great. The conference was an awesome experience, and in the evenings I had a lot of fun. I didn't get to do touristy things with the limited amount of time, except for maybe shopping on 16th street mall. Going into this trip, I really wanted to minimize spending on food, as it can get quite expensive to eat out at every meal. I prepared well, bringing cereal, protein powder, and healthy banana cranberry oat bars, to cover breakfast and snacks.

Without doing any previous research on good restaurants in the city, we did pretty well at finding good food, with only urbanspoon by our side. Here is a summary of some of the places I experienced:

1. Chipotle Mexican Grill
This was very close to our hotel, and on the night I arrived it was very convenient and fast. I hadn't eaten in 7+ hours (not my style) so I was in no mood for waiting long for food. I got a vegetarian burrito which was amazing! Maybe my fondness for this burrito was masked by starvation mode, but I'd say it was on the higher end of the burrito scale. My only complaint was that it wasn't grilled or heated once assembled, but I am sure I could have asked for that. Another problem, which didn't bother me, again because of my extreme hunger, was the presence of cilantro (my least favourite herb) in both the guacamole and the salsa. It wasn't as strong as it could have been so it didn't bother me too much. Turns out, this is a huge chain and there is one in Toronto, so I am sure I will visit Chipotle again.

The first lunch in Denver we were kind of bombarded with options. There was this madgreens place, voted best healthy lunch, numerous delis, tons of pizzarias, and a wide variety of cafes. We took a look inside Jason's Deli, which seemed busy, as a sandwich sounded like a good option. Jenna (who was with me on all these dining experiences) spotted a salad bar in the distance. Upon further investigation, we learned it was about 8 bucks for an all-you-can eat salad bar lunch. This salad bar had everything! It had all the vegetables you would expect, organic spring mix, cottage cheese, feta cheese, artichokes, eggs, a variety of nuts, croutons, and crackers. In addition, dessert was included, with chocolate mouse, yogurt and fruit, brownies and granola. It was a match made in heaven for us, which was a heavy dose of veggies with a lot of good protein options. We liked this place so much we went the second day, after informing numerous people of this incredible find.
My round 1 of 2 plate.

2. Tamayo
The second night there was an event being hosted courtesy of PINES (professionals in nutrition of exercise and sport). There was some free food, and drinks for sale. It was an authentic style kind of upper scale Mexican restaurant, which I would love to try again. For the event there were finger-food type items, so I would love to actually order an entree there. I honestly couldn't tell you what I had to eat, but it was really good. They also had in house made tortilla chips with fresh salsa and guacamole.

4. Mici
This place was found by searching for a pizza place close to the conference center. They had a great lunch special, which I think was 8 dollars, for a salad and a piece of gourmet pizza. This wasn't your average pizza joint. I ordered the Giardino slice which had sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, garlic, roasted red pepper, spinach, artichoke hearts, and zucchini on it. For the salad I chose the Insalata della Cassa which was mixed greens, grapes, walnuts, gorgonzola cheese,  and balsamic dressing. It was a really good last meal in Denver, and I am glad we chose this place out of the seemingly 50+ other pizza joints in the area.

Since this was the American College of Sport Medicine annual meeting, the exhibit consisted of some nutritional supplement companies, like solae, EAS, powerbar, gatorade etc. This lead me to collect a fair amount of protein/energy bars, protein shakes, and even a protein pudding (what is next?!). While this did help  a lot in keeping me content between meals and during my long connecting flights, I am a little sick of protein products. They have lost all of the excitement in trying a new product.

Now that I am back in my kitchen I am excited to try out some new ideas I have, and recipes I have come across. I just have to get by the barrier of turning on the oven with the arrival of the summer heat. I hope to share some new recipes soon.

By the way, my tomato plants were being taken care of by my housemate Megan, and as a result have grown a crazy amount! I swear, I turn away for a minute and they grow another centimetre. I am glad they are doing well after a little bit of a rough start (being dug up by an unknown animal).