Chocolate has a serious hold on my heart all year, but lately it feels like a love for the ages. This is mostly to say that I can’t seem to stop it from being around me at all times. Snow flies, we’re in the thick of December, treats abound. Love has proven to be a dangerous and rather heady thing across the entirety of existence and yet, oh weird, there’s my fingers getting to work on another sparkly wrapper. Love and excess is perhaps a more relevant, still timeless, pairing that I’ll accept for the moment. It’s too real and never enough.
So to keep that whole gravely serious thing going I made a very seriously delicious thing. Chocolate cups with tasty fillings are nothing new, I realize. My little version here is pretty wholesome and crazy rich though. It’s vegan appropriate and a very simple gluten-free-friendly adjustment can be made. This combination was a bit of an experiment for me and it worked out so pleasantly. The vanilla, walnut + bourbon butter is a touch intense on its own, but in a sweet little chocolate case it’s perfect. Happy sparkles of vanilla bean-flecked fleur de sel grace the tops and the world feels right.
This recipe is easy and highly adjustable. You can swap the walnuts with any nut or seed you like. I use some graham cracker crumbs for body in the filling, but they aren’t necessary at all. If you don’t have a food processor or blender, you could stir the maple syrup, coconut oil, bourbon etc into some store-bought nut butter for total ease. I’ll be toting these to any holiday gathering I find myself at for sure. Hope you’re all still enjoying this lovely season of warmth and togetherness. If anyone needs me, I’ll be listening to my favourite sort-of-Christmas-y-but-not-actually-a-Christmas-album and passing out on the couch from way too much chocolate/love :)
Oh, and another lovely thing: the holiday/winter issue of FoodieCrush Magazine is out! I have a recipe for a sticky and wonderful demerara sugar and vanilla breakfast bundt inside along with a little story on our holiday traditions. This beautiful publication is full to the brim with great recipes and content by some seriously talented bloggers (and it’s free!). Check it out here.
salted maple walnut + vanilla bean chocolate cups
serves: makes around 20 small/mini cups
notes: It’s good to grind up the walnuts and make a walnut butter base before you add the maple syrup and everything else. Nuts/seeds tend to zap the moisture out of everything around them when they’re getting ground into things. Also, I would make up the walnut butter right before you intend to assemble the cups to avoid any oil separating issues.
1.5 cups walnut halves, toasted
seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean, divided
2 tbsp melted coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
pinch of ground cinnamon
1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs (use a GF brand or leave them out if need be)
1 tbsp bourbon or other brown liquor of choice (very optional)
1 1/4 cups semi sweet chocolate chips/pieces
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp milk of your choice (I went with almond)
pinches of fleur de sel or other nice salt
Make the walnut filling: Place the toasted walnut halves and half of the vanilla bean seeds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to chop the nuts up small. Turn the food processor on to high and process nuts and vanilla until a smooth paste begins to form, about one to two full minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl down and process again. Add the graham cracker crumbs and pulse a couple times. Then, add the coconut oil, maple syrup, cinnamon, bourbon and a pinch of salt. Process on high until fully combined. Scrape walnut butter into a small bowl and set aside.
Mix 1-2 tablespoons of fleur de sel with the remaining vanilla bean seeds in a small bowl/vessel. Pinch the salt and seeds together until the little black flecks are evenly mixed up with the salt. Set aside.
Combine the semisweet chocolate chips and milk in a non-reactive bowl. Set the bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl isn’t touching the water in the saucepan). Stir with a spatula until the chocolate is totally melted and you have a smooth, homogenous mixture.
Assemble: Set out 20 or so small paper cup liners (or 10 big ones). Divide half of the melted chocolate amongst the liners. Drop heaped teaspoons of the walnut butter into the center of the first layer of chocolate. If you have the cups in an actual muffin tin for assembling, bang and twist the pan on the table to settle the initial layers. Pour the remaining melted chocolate on top of the walnut butter layer. Sprinkle cups with vanilla bean fleur de sel. Place cups in the fridge to set.
Brassicas = mustard-y cabbages, brussels, broccoli, cauliflower etc goodness. This hearty winter salad is one of the better things I’ve made as of late. As you can see, it’s unapologetically golden brown. I’ve tried before to roast these babies and keep some green intact for the sake of aesthetic presentation, but for real? The more brown edged bits abounding, the better. Embrace the brown.
It has the aforementioned winter vegetables, light sweetness, sharp dijon plus so many textures and things popping at once. It’s a bit of a riff on a brussels sprouts dish I was into last year–the roasting treatment, a strong acidic component, the crunchy hazelnuts and a heavy dusting of pomegranate arils (love that word). This time I invited some other brassica buddies to the party, changed up the vinaigrette and steeped the roasting oil with Mexican oregano and a smashed garlic clove before I slid the veg into a really hot oven. The sour and juicy hits of pomegranate burst on the palette just when you need something to tame the overall heft of it.
My mother tells a really good story about the first time she tried a pomegranate as a child. A girl had brought one to school and shared it with her. Alight from the experience, she came home and told my Nana about it. The mysterious new fruit! So delicious, fun to eat and completely beautiful! Like any good mum, my Nana went right to the Italian market and splurged on one so that they could share it together at home. Maybe this isn’t so much a story as it is a nice way to remember my favourite ladies: a mini version of my mum picking out the little jewel-like seeds and showing them to my Nana for the first time and maybe a small amount of griping about how much work it was to actually eat the thing. Warm fuzzies are still pretty much guaranteed every time I cut into the fuschia holiday staple.
That sweet image was on my mind again when I was watching some morning news the day after we got back from a little time in Costa Rica. Young girls were full-on convulsing/crying at the hands of a Justin Bieber ticket giveaway gone awry. It was an instance of recognition that went along the lines of “Oh right, this continues to exist in the world.” I guess I wasn’t ready for it. Maybe someone should give those gals a pomegranate? Anyway. (No judgment–all love for Biebz) (But seriously, those young ladies would cry way too hard if someone gave them a pomegranate).
This could serve a lot of your peeps at a festive gathering for sure. If you’re like me, it MIGHT carry you over three lunches once you store it in the fridge. I couldn’t stop eating it, seriously. I went from tropical fruit breakfasts, ceviche all the time and 30+ Celsius beach days to some serious cold and gray Canadian winter vibes rather quickly. Pulling on the woolies, lots of hot tea, basking in some twinkle-lit glow, cozy music and giant (GIANT) bowls of cabbage-y darlings sprinkled with pomegranate and hazelnuts have all been pretty great things.
Hope you’re all easing into holiday time with lots of joy, gratefulness and cup-overflowing-levels of abundant health. Be kind, say thank you and eat some vegetables, friends. Big love to you all.
roasted brassicas with pomegranate, hazelnuts + maple dijon dressing
serves: a crowd
notes: I meant to throw a handful of crumbled sheep’s milk feta into this, but completely forgot pre-photo. It’s delicious without it, certainly, but dang if it wasn’t on a whole other level afterward. If you got it, do it.
vegetables + roasting oil:
1/4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 clove of garlic, smashed and peeled (reserve after steeping)
1 tsp dried mexican orgeano
1 lb brussels sprouts, trimmed + quartered
1 small head of cauliflower, trimmed + broken into bite-size florets
1 bunch of broccoli, stems trimmed + sliced, florets broken off
salt + pepper
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp filtered water
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp dijon mustard
reserved garlic clove
salt + pepper
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
1 small pomegranate, seeds removed (a good guide can be found here)
1/4 cup whole hazelnuts, toasted + chopped
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a very large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Make the roasting oil for the vegetables: in a small saucepan over low heat, combine the 1/4 cup grapeseed oil, garlic clove and oregano. Bring it to a very faint simmer, remove from the heat and let the mix steep for 10 minutes or so while you trim the veg. Fish out the garlic clove and reserve it for the dressing.
In a large bowl, combine the brussels sprouts, cauliflower florets, broccoli stems and florets with the oregano oil, salt and pepper. Toss until all vegetables are coated. Place vegetables on the parchment lined baking sheet and roast in the oven until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Flip them around here and there.
Make the dressing: combine all dressing components in a blender and blitz a few times until a homogenous mix is achieved and the garlic clove is completely pureed. Check for seasoning and set aside.
Toss the roasted vegetables with the vinaigrette, pomegranate seeds and chopped hazelnuts. Place salad in your serving dish and garnish with a few more pomegranate seeds and nuts. Can be served warm or room temperature.
Everyone should learn how to make bread. I’m not being an idealist on this. It is a chief form of sustenance for many of course, but it is also a deeply meditative undertaking when you get yourself into it. There are repetitive motions to sink every strand of your awareness into, astute measures, risings to patiently wait for and monitor, that universally smile-inducing warm smell… Whole body, whole mind, loaves of bread. We all have the ability to bang it out; just a simple awakening to its powers is perhaps necessary. See where I’m going with this?
I’ve winded down to a bit of vacation time currently, it’s true —publishing this one from somewhere in Costa Rica, hopefully out in the surf at this point *waves hello*—, but deadlines, actual scheduled work, and loose ends abounded before an obligatory rum on the rocks found its way into my hot little hands by the ocean. I didn’t really know which of the umpteen-jillion things on my list I was supposed to finish first. So I did something that wasn’t on my list, or rather something that I didn’t know was on my list just yet. I made bread. (And listened to some 90s/early 2000s R&B).
Walking into any kitchen in any capacity to make bread with whatever equipment available is completely badass to me. Providing basic sustenance on a whim = a life skill supreme. Some of the coolest people I’ve met in my life were serious bread bakers and eventually I figured out why. I started to appreciate what the practice offered when I had to make it every day at a restaurant I worked at for a time. There is a slowness that you have to learn how to appreciate when you make it. It was such a non-stop-work-all-the-time period of my life (an aside: that is still actually a thing), but the small responsibility brought me some serious calm and quietude. So it was then, here I am now; hands in the flour working it all out.
This recipe from Kim Boyce is completely simple to remember. Focaccia is generally considered a good beginner’s bread undertaking. Equal amounts of whole grain and plain/softer flour, packet of quick yeast, fat pinch of salt, glugs of olive oil and whatever flavour/textural components you’re feeling at the moment. Easy.
I went very classic with this. Caramelized onions become the flavour salve of dreams in cool weather, going on everything to make it instantly better. Fresh thyme is easily my favourite herb, so it’s always poking out of some spot in the fridge, and I generally enjoy the crunch-surprise of seeds in almost everything bread-related (bagel memories, guys). Other ideas: dried figs, olives, roasted bits of squash, fried sage leaves, concord grapes if you still have them around, walnuts, a firm blue cheese (drizzle the whole thing with honey at the end-oooooh man), dabs of harissa and almonds etc etc.
spelt + seed focaccia with caramelized onions + thyme
very lightly adapted from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain
serves: makes a large rectangular focaccia
notes: If you want to age the dough a bit for a hint of sourness/more depth, tightly cover the dough after the first rising and place it in the fridge. When you’re ready to bake it, remove from the fridge well in advance so that the dough can come to room temperature and then follow through with the second rising and baking steps.
1 package quick rise yeast (2.25 teaspoons)
1 tsp raw honey (or natural sugar)
1.5 cups whole grain flour (I used spelt)
1.5 cups light spelt flour (or unbleached all purpose)
1 tbsp flaky/sort of coarse salt (I used Himalayan pink salt)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp olive oil + extra to grease the bowl
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
big handful of raw sunflower seeds
1 onion, peeled and cut into half moons
splash of sherry vinegar (optional)
Grease a medium-large bowl AND a large baking sheet with some olive oil. Pro tip: place a sheet of parchment on the baking sheet too to prevent heart-wrenching bread sticking (guess who forgot to do that..). Set both the bowl and the baking sheet aside.
In a large bowl, or the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the packet of yeast, honey/sugar and 1 1/4 cups warm water. Stir them together. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes or so. The yeast should bubble a bit, seem foamy on the surface and bloom.
To the yeast mixture, add the flours, salt and 2 tbsp olive oil. Mix it all together to combine.
If you’re using a stand mixer: attach the dough hook and knead the mixture for 7-8 minutes, adding more flour if necessary to prevent sticking (I usually add around 1/4 cup extra). Mix until the dough is supple, stretchy and ever-so-slightly tacky. Scrape the dough into the greased bowl, coat it in the oil and cover. Let it rise for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
If you’re doing it by hand: start to knead the dough a bit in the bowl to get it going. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is supple and stretchy. There should be a slight tack to it when you poke your finger into it. Place the dough into the greased bowl and rotate the to cover in the oil. Cover and let it rise for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
Make the caramelized onions: Place the half moons of onion in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. Add a few thyme leaves at this point if you like. Stir them up here and there to promote even browning. The sizzling sound should be like a faint whisper. Keep stirring them here and there, adding splashes of water to prevent sticking if necessary. Once the onions are super soft, brown, juicy, delicious etc looking, add the splash of sherry vinegar, stir it around and remove pot from the heat. Set aside.
Second rise: Empty the dough out onto your prepared baking sheet. Stretch it out to fit the pan, dimpling it with your fingers (so fun). Once it’s all snug and fitted in the corners, cover the baking sheet and let it rise another hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Pre-baking: scatter the thyme leaves, caramelized onions, sunflower seeds and pinches of coarse salt over the top of the dough. Pour the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over the top as well. Dimple the dough very lightly, allowing the oil to sink into some bits of the dough and slosh around the edges for crisp end-results. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and allow the bread to slightly cool before serving.
Judging from most of the American food mags I’ve been glancing at, stuffing, dressing etc. is a bit of a thing on the table of festive gatherings. There are generally no less than 17 recipes for it in any publication’s holiday issue. There are discussions of technique, pre-drying the bread, never actually stuffing it in the bird, the option of using grains instead, the classic celery-sage-onion-butter profile vs. completely new-fangled renditions (olives! fennel! dates!). It’s a flavour-y starch thing that soaks up the goodness of everything else on the plate, so I guess I can understand the passion behind it.
We’ve had Thanksgiving in Canada a month ago already, but no matter. I’m fairly grateful in a general way, so stuffing can certainly be made appropriate at a moment’s notice. I never go with a set recipe for this holiday meal fixture exactly. Like most of the things I make, it’s more of a feel-y approach. If anyone wanted to know what kind of cuisine I specialize in, that’s your answer: it’s feel-y. It’s incredibly easy to complicate the one life you have. A simple, but focused approach with food remains as a bastion of calm in mine.
Here’s two things I keep in mind throughout this decidedly felt cooking adventure: the bread should be really good (actually a defining characteristic of all of the bread in your life) and fat should be applied with abandon (arguably less appropriate at times throughout your life). That’s it, that’s all.
I went a cornbread route on this version. I had never done that before, but my love of this sweet-savoury treat has always been pretty serious. I was dreaming of its slight grittiness made crisp, paired up with smoky-spicy chipotles, sweet potatoes, garlic and some kind of greens. The chard in the garden continues to be prolific, staring me down from its thick rows every time I look out back. The earth is still soft and those perfectly emerald green and crinkly leaves, with their defining salty bite, just grow taller. Put the little seed down in springtime and the land gives in the most utter sense; with no expectation of what is owed after all this time. A recognition of a love that intense that can just exist in the world makes my eyes go wide. Stating the obvious: I’m thankful for that. Big time.
sweet potato, chipotle + chard cornbread stuffing
notes: I add some of the cooked chard towards the end of the baking process so that I still get some pretty green bits all through. Also, if cornbread isn’t readily available to you, Bryant Terry’s recipe is one of my favourites (link).
7-8 cups cubed cornbread
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp grapeseed oil, divided (+ extra for greasing/drizzling)
6 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1 cooking onion, small dice
1 celery stalk, small dice
1 clove of garlic, minced
3-4 stalks of chard, leaves roughly chopped
1 small sweet potato, peeled, small dice
1-1.5 cups vegetable stock
1 chipotle pepper in adobo + extra adobo sauce (use as much or as little as you want)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease an 8 X 11 baking dish, line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
Toss the cubed cornbread with 2 tablespoons of the oil, a pinch of the minced thyme, salt and pepper to coat. Place cubes on the parchment lined baking sheet and push into the oven. Bake until bread is golden brown and dried out a bit, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and dump croutons into a large bowl.
Heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced onions, celery and remaining chopped thyme. Stir constantly until onions are soft and ever-so-slightly browning, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic. Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Start adding the chard. Stir the greens around with the other veg until they begin to wilt a tiny bit and turn bright green. Remove from the heat and scrape into the bowl with the bread cubes, reserving some of the chard for a later addition if you like.
In the same saucepan, place the diced sweet potatoes, chipotle + adobo and vegetable stock over medium heat. The stock should cover the sweet potato dices by an inch. Bring to a boil and simmer until sweet potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Mash the sweet potatoes up with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher so that you have various sized pieces.
Pour the sweet potato mashy-chunky bits and stock over the cornbread, greens and other vegetables. Stir gently to combine. Spread the whole mixture into the greased 8 x 11 baking dish. Drizzle a bit of oil over the top if you like. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown. If you’ve reserved some of the chard, scatter it over the top with about 10 minutes left of baking.
I’m struggling with how to begin this post since my head has been a bit of a jumble this week. I’m trying to fathom certain things while feeling a surge of awe visiting me now and again from simple experiences–turning the volume up beyond reason in the car during twilight hour drives is a good example. Another one: this film in its entirety. One more: I loaded fresh batteries and film into a much-neglected old camera last weekend and whoa! The thing works.
All the while I’m forgetting things, trying to peel myself away from the news here and there, waking up SO early and maybe drinking a bit too much coffee most days. My mind is floating in and out of dreamy-spacey and obsessively interested. Daylight savings/the entire world has thrown me for a loop and I’m slow to admitting defeat.
I’ve been reading so much news in general and when you feel a distinct geographical separation from everything, your heart-mind seems to rise to the occasion as an appropriate response. There’s a tendency to forget about your dependence on others and what they reflect back in your life. Beauty and goodness become cloudier concepts when you read about the trials of others that aren’t so entirely other. They become questions with no answer, but a prevailing will to get back to a place of familiarity seems to rise.
A preoccupation with trying to eat as many healthy/immune boosting foods as possible has bubbled up. This concern is creating its own little foggy space up there, but proving to be a worthy detachment strategy. I’m going on a little trip soon and I’ll be damned if I come down with something that has me sniffling on the beach. An hour doesn’t pass without thoughts of what leaf, seed, herbal tincture-thingy, protein source I’m going to eat next, which is admittedly silly but on it goes. Green juices, this unbelievably restorative hot detox drink from Elenore, vegetables galore and herbal teas have been in constant rotation. I’m usually wholesome on the meal and snack choices tip, but this has become a rather sincere endeavor.
So eventually I got to tangling up some of my favourite vegetables in another effort to de-jangle myself on all fronts. I didn’t totally plan on sharing this, but we loved it so much that I just felt compelled to. This fall vegetable slaw is lovely to lay eyes on with all of its fall colours, wispy shreds and crunchy bits. Cruciferous vegetables have always been some of my favourites. The light spiciness of raw cabbage and brussels sprouts is so pleasing here, their crinkly leaves soaking up an incredibly zippy and fresh ginger dressing. The idea was to kind of bathe a bunch of crunchy leaves and seeds in something that suggested the flavour of spicy ginger tea. There’s shaved fennel and pears too, detectable shreds of parsley for a bitter peppery note and a big scatter of warm and toasty sunflower seeds.
An overflowing bowl of the spicy-sweet with rioting colours in the hands, big awe for the world at large in my heart. Hope you’re all keeping well and taking care of each other.
fall vegetable slaw with hot + sweet ginger dressing
notes: I might veer towards thicker shreds if you need to hold the slaw for a bit. I went super thin (as you can see) and the dressing saturated the salad way quick so we ate it up. I use a Japanese mandoline (pro tip: a Benriner is the only one worth your hard-earned money) for all the slicing/shredding, but some good knife work will carry you through if need be.
1-2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
juice of 1 lemon
2-3 tbsp honey or agave nectar
pinch of cayenne (as much as you want)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
1/2 head red cabbage, cored and shredded
1/2 lb brussels sprouts, shredded
2 kale stalks, stems removed and finely sliced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
10 sprigs of parsely, leaves sliced
1 small fennel bulb, halved, cored and shaved thin
1 semi-ripe bosc pear, cored and thinly sliced
1/3 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
salt and pepper
Make the dressing: combine all of the ingredients in a blender and flip to high for 30 seconds. Taste for seasoning and set aside. If you don’t have a blender, whisk the finely minced ginger, lemon juice, cayenne, salt and pepper together to combine. Slowly drizzle the grapeseed oil into the ginger mixture while whisking until thoroughly mixed.
Toss all of the slaw ingredients except for 2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds with a a good amount of salt and pepper. Pour the ginger dressing over top and mix with your hands to combine. Scatter remaining sunflower seeds over the top and serve.