Aside from the odd book or kitchen do-dad here and there, I am a homemade gifts kinda girl to the hilt. I have everything I need in life, but some lovely homemade granola? Or preserves and rustic pickles from your garden perhaps? A pair of chunky-knit mittens with a home-screened tea towel? All of those kinds of things warm my heart and make me feel pretty alright with the world. You know what else does? A big, hot cup of dreamy-spicy chai on cold and bright winter mornings in Ontario.
So in the spirit of the season and wanting to share those warm and lovely feelings with some friends, I made up a batch of really simple chai concentrate. The flavour is leaps and bounds away in deliciousness from the stuff you can buy at coffee shops (which costs more money than anyone should ever have to pay for tea, sugar and spices). Plus! You can mix it with whiskey if you fancy a spicy little hot toddy on a brisk evening. How many coffee shops can do that?
I will definitely recommend that you use some loose leaf tea from a local purveyor of fine quality for this. The taste will always be better because there’s a greater quantity of actual whole leaves (not dusty, icky leftovers) and the freshness can’t be beat. I love to use assam tea here. It’s a variety of black tea from India that has a typically rich and malty flavour profile that stands up to the spices and tangy citrus flavours quite well. A particularly good variety from my favourite teashop ever can be ordered here.
Happy sipping and warmest holiday wishes,
spicy chai concentrate with an orange twist
serves: makes about 2 litres or 16 one cup servings once mixed
notes: Try to remove most of the white pith from the orange peel to avoid bitterness. Also, this isn’t limited to beverages! A little dab with some steel cut oatmeal would be delicious.
9 cups filtered water
1 orange, peel removed in large strips (save the fruit for a snack)
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cinnamon sticks (the big ones)
3 star anise
5 whole cloves
10 green cardamom pods
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
a few twists of black pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp black loose leaf tea (try rooibos for a caffeine-free version)
2/3 cup maple syrup or agave nectar
2 tsp vanilla extract
Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Once boiling, turn off the heat and add orange peel strips, ginger, spices and tea leaves. Steep this mixture for 10 to 15 minutes depending on how strong you want it.
Strain the steeped tea into a large bowl or pitcher. Stir in the maple syrup and vanilla extract. Allow the concentrate to cool completely before pouring into clean mason jars/other container of your choosing.
When heating with non alcoholic liquids, use concentrate in a 1:1 ratio (ie with hot milk, cider, other juice etc). Using booze? Totally your call!
Cauliflower is one of those more economically efficient and deeply satisfying cold weather vegetables, in the league of root veggies, onions and alliums, various other crucifers and tubers. Cellar vegetables. Stick to your ribs fare. I find, like most other winter veggies, the method of preparation is really important when you want to make it appealing. I could eat cauliflower roasted at a high temperature every day in the cold months with just a pinch of salt and pepper. Seriously. It gets all toasty, a bit crunchy and it develops some lovely colouring, ranging from pale golden brown to almost black little flecks on the edges. It’s beautiful and crazy affordable.
I do enjoy some of the more gourmet items here and there, maybe when I’m out or I’ve received a nice gift from a friend or something. A dab of truffle oil is sometimes appropriate, high quality vanilla extract is a generous gift to be sure or some rare heirloom vegetable variety at the farmer’s market is usually too cool to pass up. But all things considered, I mostly love turning a humble and unassuming vegetable into something delicious and hearty. I appreciate accessible food and what it means to others to try and make the most of it. The best way to eat and live well is to cook and share that wealth with everyone you know.
So I’ve taken a basic roasting method and classed it up a teeny bit with some add ins that you combine the beautifully browned cauliflower with: sweet chopped dates, briny green olives, a sour squeeze of lemon, earthy thyme and crunchy little sesame seeds. I was trying to evoke a bit of a za’atar flavour, thinking it would be a good match for the robust cauliflower. The sesame seeds hug the cauliflower as it roasts and a nice dusting of parsley flecks makes it colourful. I’m so grateful to still have parsley in the garden, a vibrant, nutritious and green patch sticking out of the mud and browned leaves. Great proof that with a little mindful tending and effort comes deeply nourishing results.
sesame and lemon roasted cauliflower with dates & olives
notes: Feel free to squeeze the lemon on top after, but I kind of like the slightly more caramelized flavour it develops throughout the roasting.
1 small to medium head of cauliflower, cored and cut into medium-sized florets
2 tbsp raw sesame seeds
1 sprig of thyme, leaves removed and chopped (or 1/2 tsp dried)
2 tbsp grape seed oil
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper
3-4 dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1/4 cup green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
2 sprigs of parsley, leaves removed and finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Toss the cauliflower florets in a medium sized bowl with the sesame seeds, thyme, grape seed oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Dump the bowl onto a parchment lined baking sheet, making sure to scrape out all of the little sesame seeds.
Roast cauliflower for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown and tender. Stir mixture a couple times throughout the roasting to avoid burnt sesame seeds.
Once removed from the oven, toss hot cauliflower with chopped dates, olives and parsley. Adjust seasoning if necessary and serve.
There’s something about pomegranates and their tiny fuschia, jewel-like seeds that is so undeniably festive. They shine and sparkle so beautifully wherever they land. There is also something so inherently frustrating about their construction, webs of honeycomb-ish pithy rind gripping onto those gorgeous seeds for dear life, spattering hot pink juice everywhere when you try to extract them. In recent years I’ve figured out how to go about deseeding those iconic pink fruits without making a giant mess. Just a little plunge in some water, a cut here and there and voila! Instant glamour on everything: salads, granola, yogurt and more importantly, roasted brussels sprouts. Oh yes.
The tart juiciness of the pomegranate seeds is a nice match for the strong, cabbage-y flavour of the roasted brussels sprouts. Add some toasted hazelnuts, lime zest and juice to the mix and you’ve got yourself a lovely and incredibly easy holiday side dish. Although I’d say it’s perfectly appropriate to enjoy throughout all of the cooler months.
We never really grew up eating much of these cruciferous veggies. Any exposure I’ve had to them up until recently was in a rather blah and mushy steamed/boiled format. The first time I tried them roasted I was totally sold. Nice little salty crust on the outside contrasts the slightly tender leaves within just right. Aside from this method, it’s the only way I can really, sincerely enjoy them. I’ve specified a 1/4 cup of the pomegranate seeds. Now I know you’ll never find such a fruit that contains that amount, but here’s some lovely ideas from around the internets to use up those extras:
Pomegranate, Kale & Pearl Onion Orzo from Happyolks
Chick Pea and Lentil Curry with Pomegranate from Cook Republic
Poppy Seed Crusted Butternut Squash with Kale and Pomegranates from My New Roots
festive brussels sprouts with hazelnuts and pomegranate
notes: Wanna know the best way to de-seed a pomegranate? Look right here.
1 lb (454g) brussels sprouts, outer leaves trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
1 tbsp grape seed oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (or arils, if you will)
zest and juice of 1 lime
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the halved brussels sprouts in the oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Place on a lined sheet pan or oven-safe baking dish and roast for 20 minutes, tossing at the 10 minute point.
While brussels sprouts are roasting, place hazelnuts on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast in the same oven for about 10 minutes. When cool enough to handle, rub the skins off of the hazelnuts, chop them roughly and set aside.
Remove brussels sprouts from the oven and toss with the chopped hazelnuts, pomegranate seeds, lime zest and juice. Serve immediately.
Totally last minute Thanksgiving dessert post! Maybe you’ve noticed that I’ve featured quite a few chocolate treats lately. I mean, it’s kind of an accident, but the reality is that I love the stuff big time. It can go healthy or super rich, either way (and every single, humanly possible way) it’s amazing to me. This pie is remarkably healthy considering the general corn syrup-laden nature of pecan pie. The taste is so not lacking though. Like not even a bit. Rich, chocolaty, nutty, creamy-sweet gooeyness all bundled up in a hearty crust. Yes!
Holiday meals and little indulgences go hand in hand, it’s really wonderful. I love gathering around food and everything that comes with it so much. When I sit down to a meal, I usually feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to tuck in. There’s so much effort, experience and years of wisdom tied up in what’s placed before you. A dollop of mashed potatoes, a slice of pie, a piece of gratin… they’re all brimming with moments and human experience. Like never-ending stories that nourish every little part of us. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.
With that observation in mind (harsh transition): I don’t care if I eat white flour most of the time. I have a background in nutrition and generally go about my life in a wholesome way, but I never ever refuse something because it may contain some refined flour/sugar, a dab of butter, you get the idea. It’s an offering made by someone I care about. That’s all I need to know. I like to say yes and keep that exchange going. There’s so much value in that simple act, to you and especially to the other. So all of this is to say that yes, I’ve used some white flour in this recipe. It’s not a big deal, right? Didn’t think so. Have a lovely Thanksgiving, American friends.
chocolate pecan pie
lightly adapted from here and here
serves: makes a 9 inch pie
notes: I find grinding flaxseeds right before you need them to be more effective with the whole binding thing (rather than using pre-ground). The pie has a slight banana tang since you’re using it as an egg/binder. If bananas aren’t your jam, you could replace it with an equivalent amount of mashed up tofu maybe? Or 2 beaten eggs if you eat them.
1 cup whole spelt flour (or whole wheat, kamut etc)
1 cup all purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/4 cup natural sugar
1 tbsp ground flax seeds
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
3/4 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
1/4 cup arrowroot
1 small banana, chopped up rough
3/4 cup chocolate chips, melted
1/2 cup maple syrup (or agave)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1 1/2 cups pecan halves, all chopped except for about 1/4 cup
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Make the crust: combine the flours, salt, sugar and ground flaxseeds in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on low to combine. Add coconut oil and non-dairy milk. Mix on medium until just combined. Turn dough out onto a floured surface (no resting!). Roll dough with a floured pin evenly until you have a circle that is about an inch larger than your pie plate.
Gather dough by rolling it onto your rolling pin. Gently roll the dough back over your pie dish. Carefully tuck the dough into the dish with your hands. Prick the bottom crust with the tines of a fork a few times. Lay a sheet of parchment paper or tin foil onto the crust and place dry beans or pie weights in. Bake for 8-9 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Raise the temperature to 425 degrees F.
Make the filling: Combine the milk, arrowroot and banana in a blender or food processor. Blend until all banana and arrowroot lumps are gone. Add to a medium bowl along with the chocolate, maple syrup, vanilla, coconut oil, chopped pecan halves (reserving the whole ones), cinnamon and salt. Mix until thoroughly combined.
Pour filling into pie shell and arrange remaining pecan halves on the top. Cover the edges of the pie with tinfoil and bake 20 to 25 minutes or until the filling in the center of the pie seems firm. Let the pie cool at room temperature for about an hour. Chill in the fridge for at least two hours before serving.
So recently I’ve taken on a teeny bit more responsibility at work, but! It’s allowed me to enjoy weekends with my man, which is pretty amazing. For as long as we’ve been together, I’ve worked in restaurants–being scheduled on the weekends goes with that territory. He works Monday to Friday, so our together time was usually pretty well planned out when we had it. I still work in the industry, but lately, what with my new weekend freedom, we just decide on an activity at our leisure. Crazy. We go for hikes, look at the wildlife (there’s a lovely and very social duck pond nearby), sit around and play with our dogs, go for a run together, watch a movie, enjoy a coffee in the still-bright autumn sun–whatever we decide in that moment, that’s what we’re doing. I know this is totally normal for most people, but I’m still pinching myself.
I don’t know if it’s the coziness of Fall or the new free time or what exactly, but it’s making me feel a lot warmer and fuzzier about relationships in general, so grateful for all the interesting and lovely people in my life. I do revel in the complexities of the world and love working out problems of all persuasions, but I honestly don’t need much to be happy in my day to day. Lovely people and good food, roof over my head. That’s it. Just with that slight schedule change, I feel like I’ve won the lottery or something. My corner of the world is pretty rosy right now.
So to tie everything (and it really is everything) back into the recipe du jour: This dish is inspired by one that Mark and I recently enjoyed when we spontaneously (wee!) decided to eat at a place I’ve been dying to go to for a while. I kind of panicked a bit when I entertained the idea of going there, thinking we would need a reservation on a Friday night. Everything worked out fine. It was cozy, our waitress was so sweet, I warmed my hands (and insides) with a delicious hot toddy, we enjoyed the mentioned salad, some warm olives and fantastic wood-fired pizza. Happy endings for sure.
salty-sweet butternut and lentil salad
notes: I steam the squash so that I can retain the clean shape of it, but you could make this with some leftover roasted squash (perhaps from your Thanksgiving festivities…) if you have it on hand.
juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
2 tbsp agave nectar
salt and pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small butternut squash, peeled
1 cup green lentils, picked through and rinsed
5-6 handfuls arugula
1/4-1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt and pepper
Cook the lentils: combine the rinsed lentils with 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until lentils are just tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir here and there while they’re cooking. Set aside when done.
Steam the squash: fill a large pot with an inch or two of water and bring to a boil. Cut the peeled squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and slice both halves into 1/2 inch slices crosswise. Place slices on a steamer basket and drop into the pot of boiling water. Cover and steam for about 15-20 minutes or until squash is tender, but still has a little toothsome quality.
Make the dressing: combine all dressing ingredients in a blender and blend on high until combined. Set aside. You could whisk them all together too.
Assemble: toss the lentils and arugula with 3/4 of the dressing. Season with salt and pepper. Place this mixture onto your serving plate. Top with the cooked squash slices. Pour remaining dressing over top. Sprinkle the top with feta and serve.