Carrot-Banana Muffins

Just to be certain, I've just run back into the kitchen to take another nibble off of one of these muffins. Can it really taste that good with no flour and no sugar? Well yes, it does!

You are now probably thinking, "What is she, a health nut now?"  I wouldn't say that, but I do like to dabble. This recipe comes from a surprisingly good cookbook called True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure by Dr. Andrew Weil. I say surprisingly because I probably wouldn't have given this book a sideways glance but one of my favourite food websites recommended it (www.splendidtable.org) and whatever they say merits a full-on glance.

Carrot-Banana Muffins
Makes 18 medium muffins

2 cups almond flour (aka ground almonds or almond meal)
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup unsweetened  shredded coconut
3 large eggs
3 bananas, mashed
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed and softened
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups pitted and chopped dates
2 medium carrots, shredded
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.
In a large bowl, mix together the almond flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and coconut. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, bananas, butter, honey, and vinegar together. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ones. Fold in the dates, carrots, and walnuts. Divide the batter among the muffin cups.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown or a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. (Since there's no actual flour, the muffins will not rise significantly.) Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn out the muffins onto the rack and let cool to warm or room temperature.


Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

I have always wanted to try this cake. It contains no wheat and since Alan is avoiding wheat these days, it was the perfect choice for his birthday cake. And what a treat it was! By the time I got around to taking a few pictures of it, there was very little left. This was a recipe that I have had in my scrapbooks for a while now, cut out of an old "Cook's Illustrated" magazine. You can always trust those hard-working Cook's Illustrated people.
Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake
Serves 12

Bottom Layer:
6 Tbsp butter, cut into 6 pieces, plus extra for greasing the pan
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
3/4 tsp instant coffee or instant espresso powder
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, separated
Pinch fine sea salt
1/3 cup packed brown sugar, lumps removed with your fingers

For the bottom layer: Preheat the oven to 325F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Melt butter, chocolate, and coffee powder in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.
Remove from heat and cool mixture slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the vanilla and egg yolks; set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites and salt at medium speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Add half of brown sugar and beat until combined, about 15 seconds. Add remaining brown sugar and beat at high speed until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted, about 1 minute longer, scraping down sides halfway through. Using whisk, fold one-third of beaten egg whites into chocolate mixture to lighten. Using rubber spatula, fold in the remaining egg whites until no white streaks remain. Carefully transfer batter to prepared pan, gently smoothing top with offset spatula.
Bake until cake has risen, is firm around the edges, and centre has just set but is still soft (centre of the cake will spring back after pressing gently with finger), 13-18 minutes. Transfer cake to wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour. (Cake will collapse and shrink as it cools and this is fine). Do not remove the cake from pan.

Middle Layer:
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
5 Tbsp hot water
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/8 tsp fine sea salt

For the middle layer: Combine the cocoa powder and hot water in small bowl; set aside. Melt chocolate in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat and cool slightly, 2-5 minutes.
In clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip cream, granulated sugar, and salt at medium speed until mixture begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted, 15-60 seconds.
Whisk cocoa powder mixture into melted chocolate until smooth. Using whisk, fold one-third of whipped cream into chocolate mixture to lighten. Using rubber spatula, fold in remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Spoon mousse into springform pan over cooled cake and gently tap pan on counter 3 times to remove any large air bubbles; gently smooth top with offset spatula. Wipe inside edge of pan with damp cloth to remove any drips. Refrigerate cake at least 15 minutes while preparing top layer.

Top Layer:
3/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1 Tbsp water
6 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream

For the top layer: In small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over water; let stand at least 5 minutes. Place white chocolate in medium bowl. Bring 1/2 cup cream to simmer in small saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat; add gelatin mixture and stir until fully dissolved. Pour cream mixture over white chocolate and whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth, about 30 seconds. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, 5-8 minutes (mixture will slightly thicken).
In clean bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip remaining cup cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to gigh and whip until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted, 15 to 60 seconds. Using whisk, fold one-third of whipped cream into white chocolate mixture to lighten. Using rubber spatula, fold remaining whipped cream into white chocolate mixture until no white streaks remain. Spoon white chocolate mousse into pan over middle layer. Smooth top with offset spatual. Return cake to refrigerator and chill until set, at least 2 1/2 hours.

To serve: If using, garnish top of cake with chocolate curls or dust with cocoa. Run thin knife between cake and side of springform pan; remove side of pan. Run cleaned knife along outside of cake to smooth sides. Cut into slices and serve.



Last Friday I taught the "Scrumptious Vegetarian" class. All of the recipes were from, or based on, recipes from one of my favourite books of the last year - Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. If you don't know this book, run to the library or your local bookstore asap. I have found this book to be truly inspiring. 

Harissa is a hot chili pepper condiment that is traditionally served with couscous or fish stews. The original recipe in Plenty calls for one red pepper to be roasted before anything else is done. I made the recipe four times before I wised up and bought a jar of whole roasted red peppers. Roasting peppers isn't rocket science but it does take some time and I think it is probably one of those things that make the difference between someone making this recipe or passing it by. So use the jarred pepper and  keep a stash of this in your fridge to serve with just about anything. Scrambled eggs, fried rice, stews, soups, stirred into pastas... The opportunities are endless! 

How did I know this was a hit immediately? I ate my whole first batch before the clock had even reached 11am.

Makes 1 cup. 
1 roasted red bell pepper
¼ tsp coriander seeds
¼ tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp caraway seeds
½ Tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1-2 medium-hot red chilies, seeded and roughly chopped
½ Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp sea salt

Place a frying pan over low heat and lightly dry-roast the coriander, cumin and caraway seeds for 2 minutes. Remove them to a mortar and use a pestle to grind to a powder.
Add the olive oil to the frying pan and heat, then fry the onion, garlic, and chilies (if you don't want it that hot, use one red chili) on medium heat for 6-8 minutes, to a dark smoky colour. Cool slightly, then tip into a blender or a food processor. Add the remaining harissa ingredients, including the roasted pepper and ground spices, and blitz together to make a paste. Keeps in the refrigerator couple of weeks (well, I think it does, but mine has never lasted more than a few days).


Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! There is a calendar hanging in my kitchen that is full of beautiful pictures of fruit and vegetables and the occasional flower. Last years has been replaced by the new-and-improved version and it was in a pile headed for the basement. My camera sat nearby and inspiration took hold. Here are some of the pictures that I photographed from the calendars that I love so much. 

While visiting my sister and her family last weekend, I came across a current seed catalogue in their bathroom. Leafing through seed catalogues in January is a wonderful way to look forward to spring, imagining the world of possibilities at your finger tips. My mind gives no thought to the work involved in sowing, growing, hoeing, and harvesting. Armchair gardening holds a lot of appeal for me.

This is the year that I'm going to make all of those recipes that I've always wanted to try and never have for whatever reason. Too caloric? I'm not bothered anymore. Too labour intensive? Don't be daunted. Why make it when you can buy it? Let's try it at least once. I'm tired of putting recipes off. There are so many foods to make, try,  and savour. If I don't start this year, when will I?

In preparation for making everything I've ever wanted to this year, I spent a few evenings (ok, more than a few) this fall indexing my recipe scrapbooks. What a chore, you're probably thinking. But no. The recipes and food ideas that I have haphazardly collected over the years are nothing short of amazing. Each scrapbook could be a cookbook in itself. And now I can turn to my neatly typed out indexes when I'm looking for something specific, or I can peruse the lists with little more than an ingredient or a thought in mind and find the most inspiring ideas and pictures.

I feel a good year coming on. Family, friends, good food & drink.... I just brewed a cup of Kombucha green tea and the tag on the string says, "The purpose of life is to enjoy every minute." Let's try.