DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED!  Please visit us at the shiny new home of DDD, by clicking here.

alookale2

[Potato-Kale Curry]

First, and most importantly: Happy 2009, everyone!  Thank you all so much for your wonderful comments and good wishes for the new year.  I can’t even begin to express how much I appreciate them all and how much blogging has brought into my life.  But by far, the best part is you–readers and other bloggers.  Thank you for sharing 2008 with me, and I look forward to 2009!

The HH and I (sans The Girls, unfortunately, as our Elsie Girl refuses to play nice with the other five dogs who live there) spent another lovely, bucolic New Year’s Eve with my friends Gemini I and II and their broods up at Gemini I’s palatial country “cottage.”  We ate, we drank, and Gemini II’s hubby lit fireworks just before midnight, when we toasted in 2009.  The rest of the time, we chillaxed to the max, reading in front of the fireplace, watching ice fishers huddled by their hut atop the lake, taking photos of indigenous birds perched at the feeder outside the window, or working as a group on the massive, 2-page annual crossword puzzle  that’s printed in The Globe and Mail.  I didn’t even mind the snow and ice (a New Year’s Eve miracle!).

And now, back to reality. . . and back to business.

 Although I more or less threw resolutions out the window many years ago (really, don’t I already know I’ll want to lose weight after the holidays?), I do update a list I call my “Five Year Plan.”  In it, I write down goals for the following six months, the following year, two years, and five years.  I try to arrange them so that the earlier goals might naturally precede the later goals (eg., six months:  take a course in html; one year: design own web page). 

Okay, so maybe it’s just another version of resolutions after all. . .but this long-term view has worked well for me in the past: one of the most unusual “goals” that came to fruition was “work with a business coach–for free”; and so far, the best one (way back before I met the HH) was “own my own home,” something I’m adding back to the list this year, now that we’ve been renting for. . . well, far too long.

I’ve decided that this list works best when it’s kept private, as last year’s list, while not that different from the ones I wrote before it, was a total bust.  Instead of losing 50 pounds over the past 50 weeks or so, I’ve gained about four (definitely more than the “1.5 pound” holiday average. My parents always encouraged me to try to be above average, so I guess I can say I’ve accomplished that now).

Still, I believe the concept is a great one and one that most people should try at least once.  As the famous Harvard study  demonstrated, those who write down their goals (as opposed to simply thinking of them) tend to concretize them, and the goals are more apt to come true.  For whatever reason, putting something down on paper triggers a mechanism in the brain that impels you to action.  I will share the easiest goal on my list, though:  remain part of the blogging world, and keep blogging regularly.  That one, at least, I know will be pure pleasure to enact!

Before I bid 2008 adieu permanently, however, I wanted to share the amazing Indian feast we had when the CFO visited at Christmas time.  Although our meal on December 25th was relatively traditional, it was this one (the following night) that became the high point of holiday meals for us. 

peascreamysauce2

[Peas in a Creamy Curry Sauce]

I first discovered Indian cuisine about 10 years ago, after having to change my diet dramatically and seek out foods that met my dietary challenges.  At the time, being both a meat eater and a wheat eater, those challenges were plentiful.

Then I began to frequent Indian restaurants.  Most dishes were not only wheat-free, but gluten-free as well!  And the vegetarian/vegan options seemed endless.  Here in Toronto, many Indian restaurants operate as all-you-can-eat buffets.  These ostensibly boundless displays of vegetable- and legume-based dishes were dazzling and even a bit overwhelming at first, as I was determined to try every dish in my new culinary repertoire. (Eventually, I realized, many of those dishes had been sitting out under warming lights for hours, or were thrown together from leftovers of two or more of the previous day’s dishes; I began to opt for sit-down restaurants instead).

It seemed natural to attempt to re-create those spicy, saucy, succulent meals at home. I  bought a couple of Indian cookbooks and went to work.  In those days, I cooked a lot of chicken and meat dishes, some of which I’ve converted over the years.  Perhaps it was curry overload; perhaps I assumed I’d never achieve a comparable result without the meat.  For whatever reason, I hadn’t cooked a full Indian meal in some time.

Then I remembered that the CFO was also a fan of the cuisine and had an idea to whip up our own little Indian buffet as a post-Christmas dinner.  The results were stellar, and made me wonder why I’ve neglected those recipes for so long.

lentildal1

[Three-Lentil Dal]

Our meal included a fabulous multi-lentil dal based on Lisa’s recipe (my only change to the original recipe was using three types of lentil instead of lentils and moong beans); peas in a creamy sauce; curried potatoes and kale; and cheela (chickpea pancakes) along with basmati rice.  While the potato dish was pretty much a haphazard combination of leftover tomato sauce, chopped kale, and chunks of spud, I did take note of the other recipes and can share them here.

Each of these dishes on its own would make a warming, satisfying light meal; put them together, and you’ve got a memorable finale to an eventful year. 

One definite item in my next 5-Year Plan:  Cook Indian more often.

Peas in a Creamy Curry Sauce

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

peascreamysauce1

Super quick and easy, this side dish provides a lovely visual contrast to the mostly dull colors of long-simmered curries.  The vibrant green and sweet flavor of the peas is perfect as an accompaniment to the intense spice of the other dishes. From  an unidentified cookbook–sorry!

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

Cheela* (Chickpea Pancakes)

adapted from Meena Pathak’s Indian Cooking for Family and Friends

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

*From what I can tell, these are also sometimes called pudla. Whatever you call them, they were so remarkably good that we consumed them all before I realized I’d not taken a photo. But other versions abound on the net; for photos, check out the blog posts by Johanna, Lisa, Pikelet and Pie  (with zucchini) or (for an Italian twist) Kalyn.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

 

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED!

Please come visit the shiny new home of DDD by clicking here.

 

breadpud4

A few of you asked for the Pumpkin Bread Pudding recipe about which I posted yesterday. Since I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the pumpkin bread on its own, and I was most assuredly dissatisfied with the sweetened condensed milk (the base for the caramel sauce) on its own, I hadn’t intended to post the recipe.

But you know what they say about the sum of individual parts. . . despite the haphazard way the dish came together, it ended up being a winner, so I’ll try to reconstruct the recipe here.  It was a huge hit and would make a spectacular New Year’s Eve dessert served in wine or martini glasses.

[BIG caveat:  I didn't take notes while making this, so you may have to play with proportions a bit, particularly with the caramel sauce. Results may vary.]

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Warm Caramel Sauce (GF option)

breadpud3

With pumpkin in both the bread and the “custard” in which it bakes, this pudding is definitely rich in pumpkin.  Lightly spiced, this moist bread pudding is highlighted with a rum-infused caramel sauce. 

FOR THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

Family and Festive Feasting

December 28, 2008

 [Diet, Dessert and Dogs has moved!  If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls! 

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we?  Because (and sorry to have to tell you this) we actually have more fans on this blog than you do.”

 pumpbreadpud1

[Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Warm Caramel Sauce]

As I mentioned in a previous post, the CFO came to visit over the holidays, and we had a truly lovely time together, chillaxing (I can’t understand why that word has evaporated from the lexicon.  I mean, it just seems to capture so perfectly the concept its meant to convey), laughing, watching movies*, laughing, shopping, playing with The Girls, laughing, and eating far, far too much.  I’m happy to say that my sister also bonded with both of our furry babies, who have been wandering aimlessly around the house since she left this morning. 

(“Mum, what do you mean, ‘she left’? Doesn’t she live with us now?  Where did she go? And, um, who will rub my belly tonight?”)

It does seem like ages since I’ve written on this blog, when in fact, it’s been just a few days. I’m just fascinated by the science fiction-like relative quality of time at the holidays: the space-time continuum stretches infinitely as you wait for the Big Day (or Days, depending on your belief system); then, like the Big Bang, it’s over in a flash.

Not to belabor the physics theme or anything, but I think my stomach has taken over the role of a black hole this holiday season.  Truly, I didn’t know it was possible that so much food could be sucked into that abyss in so short a span. Ah, if only time could stretch as infinitely as my appetite (and if only the waistband on my pants could do the same. . . ). 

Ah, what the heck, it’s the holidays. While the CFO was here , in effect, we enjoyed two major feast meals:  the first on Christmas Day, a semi-traditional repast that blended the Judeo-Christian cuisines; then, the following night, an Indian-themed feast, because we felt like it. 

Although neither my sister nor the HH is vegan (or even vegetarian), the bulk of the menu accommodated my dietary restrictions, so that we could all enjoy freely. And despite much good-natured ribbing in both directions (the CFO pooh-poohed almost every recipe I suggested on the grounds it was “too Veeee-gan”, while I countered by calling her a “rabid anti-Veegite“), it was the dish about which she was most skeptical, the wheat-free, egg-free, dairy-free pumpkin bread pudding, that turned out to be the star of the show. 

For the holiday meal, I relied on several tried-and-true recipes such as herb-roasted root vegetables, balsamic-dijon brussels sprouts and roast on the 25th, plus (in keeping with the Hannukah theme I started with those latkes the other day) an apple-noodle pudding (or kugel).  Even though this was a sweet kugel and more of what I’d consider a dessert, it did work well with the other dishes, offering a bit of luscious creaminess punctuated by tart cherries, along with the similar sweet-tart contrast in the brussels sprouts.  In fact, this noodle pudding would be perfect for breakfast, I’d venture.

kugelwhole2

[Apple-Noodle Pudding with Tart Dried Cherries]

The bread pudding my sister so loved began with a pumpkin bread (recipe from Simple Treats), soaked in a pumpkin “custard” based on the mixture I used in my French Toast Soufflé.  I baked the puddings in individual ramekins, but you could easily do a single pudding in a loaf or square pan and scoop it from there. I topped the puddings with a homemade caramel sauce–a concoction based on a sweetened condensed milk experiment that went awry–that I’d kept warm. 

pumpbreadpudfork

[A bite of pumpkiny-caramelly bliss.]

The result was spectacular–warm, slightly crisp on the outside but moist and spongy on the inside, über-pumpkiny, slightly spiced, and with the smooth, glossy thickness of warm caramel blanketing the whole affair. This is a chic, stylish dessert, yet one that was really simple in its preparation.

We certainly didn’t need any additional desserts after that finale, but since I had loads of tester recipes in the house that I’d recently done up for the cookbook, I put out a tray with Glazed Almond Bars, Dalmatian Cheesecake Brownies and Hazelnut Mocha Cookies; as well as leftover Marzipan-Topped Shortbread, Tutti Fruiti Christmas Cookies, and Chocolate Macaroons.  All were CFO-approved, I’m happy to say.

The next night, though still full from the Christmas dinner, we managed an incredible follow-up with an Indian feast that, we decided, will go down in the annals of Most Memorable Meals in the DDD household. 

The menu included a lentil dal recipe I first saw about a week ago on Lisa’s blog; peas in a creamy sauce (adapted from a recipe I once borrowed from Gemini I); an aloo saag (well, not really–I just don’t know the word for “kale”) that combined potatoes and shredded kale in a spicy tomato sauce; coconut brown basmati rice; and homemade chickpea pancakes from Meena Pathak’s Indian Cooking for Family and Friends.  I can tell you, there was a symphony of lip-smacking, lentil scooping, potato spooning, and sauce sopping going on, as well as a mellifluous refrain of friendly chatter and wine-glass clinking that evening.  Very chillaxing.

I promise to share the goodies from our Indian feast in a future post, but rather than inundate you with so many recipes at once, I thought I’d start off with the lovely Apple Noodle Pudding with Tart Dried Cherries.  This alone would make a great light mid-week  supper–and I, for one, could certainly use some lighter meals these days.

Also:  I’m a little late jumping on this bandwagon, but wanted to mention a charity drive put on by Katie over at Chocolate Covered Vegan.  In honor of the season, Katie is offering to donate 20 cents to the Enough Project (an organization that works to counter crimes against humanity) for every comment she receives on this post.  How sweet is that? It’s incredibly easy to help out this way–just hop on over and leave a comment!

 *Christmas Day:  that classic chestnut, White ChristmasThe CFO and I, while sisters ourselves, bear no resemblance to either Rosemary Clooney or Vera-Ellen (well, perhaps my wrist bears a resemblance to Vera-Ellen’s waist).

Boxing Day:  taking advantage of the nearly-empty theaters, Seven Pounds. What I learned from watching this movie:  1) Will Smith is (still) preternaturally gorgeous;  2) Will Smith is an extraordinarily talented actor; 3) that is one whacked reason to keep a jellfish as a pet.

Yesterday: The Dark Knight. I agree that Heath Ledger deserved an Oscar for his performance.  Not only that, but also a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for being able to unravel the convoluted structure of the multi-pronged plot in this movie.  (Okay, perhaps a not-entirely fair assessment on my part, as I couldn’t bring myself to watch the violent scenes.  Which means I missed about 94% of the movie.)

Apple Noodle Pudding with Tart Dried Cherries

kugelslice

Unfortunately, I can’t recall the original source of this recipe, which I copied from a magazine several years ago in the BB (Before Blog) era of my life.  Nevertheless, I’ve added several elements and changed others over the years, so I consider this my own variation on the original.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

© 2008 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

 

*Or, Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. Now Eat Some Delicious Spread.

[There's just nothing like a homemade gift for the holidays.  This year, with the purse strings a little tighter than usual, I'm determined to make at least a few in my kitchen--and thought I'd share my ideas in case you'd like to partake, too.  ]

pumpkinbutterplate1

I know that pretty much everyone in the blogosphere (well, and the rest of the galaxy, too, come to think of it) has already made this spread.  But hey, I’ve always been a late bloomer.  And now, I’ve finally tried it, too.  And it is so *&$@!% good that I had to include it as this (penultimate) Gastronomic Gift this year.  (I’ve got one more planned, as long as we can shovel ourselves out of the *&$@!% 25 cm. (just under a foot) of snow that battered the city yesterday and I can get to the store).

Pumpkin butter is the perfect means to use up cooked pumpkin (or squash, to those of us in North America).  It’s a great nut butter substitute if you’re trying to reduce fat and calories.  Or if, like me, you’ve once again allowed the insidious holiday-time profusion of chocolate and chocolate-coated/ chocolate studded/ chocolate-molded/ chocolate-frosted/ chocolate flavored/ chocolate filled/ chocolate-related-in-any-way desserts that seem to reproduce of their own accord on countertops and dining room tables and candy dishes and office desks and buffets and coffee tables and bar tops and glove compartments and pockets and dessert menus to override your (wobbly at the best of times) self control, and you find that you’ve now consumed more chocolate in the past two weeks than the entire GDP of a small country, more than Big Brother’s secret stash in 1984, more than the exports from Switzerland at Valentine’s Day, more than the full contents of Willie Wonka’s factory–more, really than you’d rightfully expect any normal human being to ingest under any circumstances whatsoever in a lifetime, except maybe under threat of torture. 

What? You mean it’s just me?

For some strange reason, I felt the need for a break from chocolate for a while (ahem). Now that I’ve made my own pumpkin butter, I can join the chorus and say that I, too,  am  smitten.  It’s the perfect accompaniment to pretty much any carbohydrate with a flat surface (or even a somewhat bumpy one–have you tried this on rice cakes? Divine.) 

But I must admit that my favorite use for the butter isn’t on toast, or a muffin, or pancakes, or any other solid food.  I think I love it most blended (using my hand blender) in a tall, cold glass of almond or soymilk.  Yum-mers!

pumpkinsmoothie

It also makes a fabulous hostess gift, of course, and a wonderful last-minute present; it’s the perfect way to use up that final can of pumpkin purée that’s been biding its time in your cupboard since Thanksgiving. 

This recipe (the ubiquitous allrecipes version) makes a pretty big batch, so you can scoop some away for home use and still fill two or three pretty little gift jars with the stuff to give away.   If you can bear to part with it.

Oh, and there are still four more days to bid on some amazing prizes from Menu for Hope! Hop on over to the main donation page and give it a go!

Pumpkin Butter

adapted from AllRecipes.com

pumpkinbutter

 Try this lovely alternative butter anywhere you’d spread jam or nut butter.  It’s got no fat, with the bonus of holiday spices all year round.

3-1/2 cups (about 820 g.) cooked, puréed pumpkin

3/4 cup (180 ml.) apple juice [but personally I think OJ would be great in this]

2 tsp. (10 ml.) ground ginger

1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) ground cloves

2/3 cup (160 ml.) agave nectar (light or dark)

2 tsp. (10 ml.) ground cinnamon

1 tsp. (5 ml.) ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium sized pot.  Heat over medium-high heat until mixture boils; reduce heat to low and continue to simmer, stirring very frequently, until the mixture is thick and has darkened (the original recipe said 30 minutes, but mine took a bit more than an hour).  This might also be a good time to pull out that old splatter screen if you have one, as the mixture tends to boil and pop a bit (my walls needed a good wipe-down after I was done).

Pour into clean glass jars and store in the refrigerator.  Makes about 2 cups (500 ml.). Will keep at least 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

Other Gastronomic Gifts:

GG I: Fudge Two Ways

GG II:  Brandied Apricot-Ginger Spread

GG III: Marzipan-Topped Shortbread **Note: the original recipe was somehow transcribed incorrectly–please use the current version with the correct amount of flour!!

GG IV: Jam-Filled Turnovers

GG V: Tutti Fruiti Christmas Cookies

GG VII: Chocolate Macaroons in a Flash

Last Year at this Time: Holiday Cranberry Chippers

© 2008 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! PLEASE VISIT THE SHINY NEW HOME OF DDD BY CLICKING HERE.

[I've decided to offer a mini-post every once in a while, for a dish that comes together incredibly quickly, or else is so easy to make that no recipe is required.  Here's today's "Flash in the Pan."]

butterspread3

What??? Another Flash in the Pan, back-to-back with the previous one? 

Honestly, I was working on a post about cookies (a Gastronomic Gift to be shared next time, promise!) when I accidentally happened upon this amazing discovery.  I was so thrilled with myself that I just had to share it immediately! (Yes, you’re right, I really must get another hobby).

And, as today’s post title implies, my life has been rather out of balance lately.  Scrambling to complete a cookbook manuscript (oh, woe, oh, woe, I fear I may miss a deadline for the first time in my life!), marking student exams, preparing for the holidays and a visit from the CFO, tending to an injured Girl, my weight hopping between lows and all-time highs like critic’s reviews of Britney’s music–well, let’s just say I needed something to balance the mood. 

And, as serendipity would have it, this recipe filled the gap.  This is my version of a creamy, smooth, spreadable, nonhydrogenated, trans-fat free, yellowish in color, firm-when-refrigerated-but-not-melty-when-room-temperature, spread-it-on-bread or melt-it-on-a-pancake, tastes-rich-and-incredible, all-purpose, homeade and waaay-cheaper-than-that-famous-brand BUTTERY SPREAD. 

Well, as you know, many a great invention has been discovered by accident.  I think most people are aware of the accidental discovery of Post-It Notes (for which, apparently, the inventor was never properly compensated).  On the other side of the sticky/non-sticky spectrum is the unintentional discovery of a new substance even slicker than Teflon (though, of course, we’re all aware that any kind of nonstick cookware can emit deadly gases, right?).  Or how about the monumental “mistake” that was the development of penicillin? My sinuses thank you, Alexander Fleming.

And yesterday, this entirely fortuitous concoction was created in my kitchen.  I was so shocked after I turned on the little food processor (I have one of those “Mini-Prep” processors for small batches) and saw the result that I did an internet search to check who else had already come up with the same recipe.  It seemed too simple!  Too easy!  Too good. 

I found lots of coconut oil-olive oil based mixes,  Bryanna’s low-fat “Corn Butter” and a great-sounding recipe in Alisa’s new book, Go Dairy Free, but nothing like this.  At first I thought the tofu in the recipe might be a problem (well, it is for those with soy allergies), but I checked out the Earth Balance website for a list of ingredients, and since it, too, contains quite a bit of soy protein, I assumed this would be fine (and that accounts for the similarity in appearance between the two, I imagine).  A little tweaking, and I found my new favorite spread!

The only caveat I’d offer with this spread is that, made from coconut oil, it is, after all, mostly fat (specifically, saturated fat). Unlike the prepared spread, though, this contains no canola oil (which can be controversial) or other additives. 

I don’t know if this would work as a butter substitute in recipes other than baked goods, but please, give it a try and let me know!  Also, since I’ve never tasted Earth Balance, I don’t know if the flavor of this spread is similar or not.  I do know that I really enjoyed it on bread (even though I was never a butter-on-bread kind of gal in the old days), and that  the HH loved this so much, he ate three pieces of bread with it and proclaimed, “Hey, this is good stuff, man!”**

It may not balance the chaos in your life, your chakras, or even your budget–but I bet you will still love this buttery substitute!

My Life in Balance Buttery Spread

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

butteryspread1

You can spread this mixture as you would butter on any bread, pancake, or muffin.  There are myriad possibilities  for  fruited butters, herb butter, garlic butter–use your imagination, and let me know how it turns out!  

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

butteryspreadpat

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

© 2008 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! PLEASE VISIT THE SHINY NEW HOME OF DDD BY CLICKING HERE.

[There's just nothing like a homemade gift for the holidays.  This year, with the purse strings a little tighter than usual, I'm determined to make at least a few in my kitchen--and thought I'd share my ideas in case you'd like to partake, too.  ]

 apricotspread1

As I’m wont to do during the drive to work, I tuned in to the CBC this morning and overheard Jian Ghomeshi (isn’t he just the dreamiest??) talk about how excited we Canadians get any time we’re mentioned on American TV. Last evening, in fact, Jon Stewart satirized our impending governmental crisis (if only that were a dream!) on The Daily Show.  As a food blogger, I must admit I felt the selfsame patriotic pride last month when Susur Lee  (also dreamy) was fêted by Ruth Reichl et al in New York, for the opening of his newest resto, Shang. I mean, now that we’re all firmly entrenched in the Era of the Celebrity Chef courtesy of Food TV, isn’t it just as exciting for us Canadians to hear mention of a Canadian chef in the U.S. media?

Oh, but way back before Canadian chefs were known anywhere beyond their own kitchen walls, before the days of Yum-O or Love and Best Dishes or eponymous cookware or chefs with “peasant” kitchens invading gradeschools and  riding Land Rovers–before all that, there was Bonnie Stern.

Stern was one of the very first “celebrity” chefs in Canada, known across the country at a time when the only viral netorking was an actual virus that networked its way through your mucus membranes and into your sinuses.  She ran a highly successful cooking school in Toronto, she owned a kitchenware store beside it, she published several best-selling cookbooks, had her recipes published in a variety of newspapers, and even tried her hand at her own cooking show for a time. 

Back in the 90s, at the apex of Stern word-of-mouth buzz, I attended one of her cooking classes; the topic was “Homemade Gifts for the Holidays.”  I was thrilled to have secured a coveted space in the always-sold-out classes, even at the exhorbitant fee of $95 (back then!). I was primed to observe the doyenne of cooking in her element, absorb every word she uttered, and finally become privy to the professinal tips and tricks she’d reveal as she prepared the most delectable and irresistible tidbits I’d ever tasted on a holiday table. 

Well, I have to tell you straight up that I was bitterly disappointed.  Sitting against the back wall of an auditorium-sized classroom (seriously, I had closer seats for forty bucks at the Bruce Springsteen concert that year), all I could see was a tiny figure in the distance that resembled the barely distinguishable collection of phosphor dot people I squinted at regularly on my (then) 12-inch television screen at home–and it wasn’t even Stern herself; it was a poor substitute, a culinary surrogate!  After whipping up a series of recipes in quick succession and without much instruction, the recipe demonstrator passed around trays of thimble-sized samples for each person to nibble upon, all fairly bland and unexciting.

One recipe, however, stood apart from the rest, and it alone was (almost) worth the price of admission:  Honey Liqueur Fruit Butter.  It was a quick, easy spread consisting of dried apricots, candied ginger, and orange liqueur.  Although I’m not, as a rule, particularly enamored of jams or jellies, I fell in love with this spread.  I swooned.  I drooled.  I surreptitiously tasted three thimbles full. 

I returned home and promptly re-created the spread, not once, but several times over the following few months.  I gave away little jars as hostess gifts; I bestowed a few jars on my sisters and close friends;  I spread it on bagels, pancakes, muffins and bread.  And then, I tucked the recipe away in a file folder and forgot about it for over a decade.

That very folder–older, grayer, fraying at the edges–has been packed up and upacked during seven separate house-moves since that time. This year, while pondering what I might cook up as holiday gifts from my kitchen, I finally remembered it.  Like the memory of a first kiss, the thought of that recipe unearthed a wave of longing and a compelling desire to once again re-create that long-ago, captivating sensation.  I dug out the file folder and cooked up a batch.  And (perhaps unlike that first kiss with your childhood sweetheart) this spread was just as good 15 years later.

I’ve subbed agave for the honey and brandy for the liqueur, with spectacular results.  This is a smooth, glossy spread that will keep for more than a month in the refrigerator, since the alcohol acts as a preservative. I love this slathered on breakfast food, but it would be a terrific filling for a danish or rugelach as well.

This recipe is my submission to Happy Cook’s blog event, Home Made Christmas Gifts, featuring home made gifts for the holidays.

(“Mum, too bad we can’t have anything with alcohol in it. . . but we’d be happy with all those breakfast foods on their own, next time you’re slathering.”)

Brandied Apricot-Ginger Spread

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

apricotspread3

My notes from the original class tell me you could also substitute dried pears for the apricots, or a combination of prunes and dried apples, adjusting the liqueur accordingly (poire William and armagnac come to mind, but any favorite will work nicely).

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

(c) Diet, Dessert and Dogs.

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! PLEASE VISIT US AT THE SHINY NEW HOME OF DDD, BY CLICKING HERE.

* Or, “Nothing Like Fried Rice, Really, But Still One Darned Tasty Cauliflower Salad”

rawfriedrice

[Sorry about the blur.  I may need to return to my old point-and-shoot until I finally read that new camera manual!]

For those of us fascinated by the topic of food, December is more or less highjacked by baking projects.  Cookies for the cookie exchange.  Bars and squares for the gift tins.  Cakes for the pot lucks.  Croquembouche for the neighbourhood party.  

Taken to its syllogistic conclusion,  the state of affairs in which many of us find ourselves this month would go something like this:

Major Premise: December is filled with many types of baking. 

Minor Premise: All types of baking require taste-testing. 

Conclusion: Therefore, December is filled with all types of  taste-testing  sampling quality control eating–something like 4,287 different sweets, types of chocolate, candy, cookies, fudge, frosting, glazed nuts, trifles, truffles, cakes and pies–thereby creating a massive spike in caloric intake for the month, which will lead to outright neglect of all other food groups and the overindulgence of rich, alcoholic and chocolate-based comestibles during the next four weeks or so, to the inevitable result of chocolate overload and the proverbial 7 pound weight gain over the holiday period. *

Well, given my own propensity to binge on sweets and carbs over the holidays, I thought I’d take some advice I heard dispensed by a dietician on a local CBC radio show the other day about “How Not to Gain Weight Over the Holidays.”

Get a load of this:  the dietician (who shall remain nameless–she probaby wouldn’t want you to know her name after this advice, anyway, but mostly because I can’t actually remember her name) said something to the effect of, “Well, I know that people are always told to eat a meal before going to a party to avoid overindulging, but I find that people will overindulge anyway.  And then they’ve basically eaten two meals, which is really not so good.  So what I suggest is, if you do eat a bit too much at a party, then–and I’d never suggest that you do this on a regular basis–but then you can just skip a meal or two the next day to compensate.  If you follow this plan over the holidays, you shouldn’t really gain any weight.”

Hallellujah!  In a nutshell, here’s December: Pig out.  Fast.  Pig out.  Fast.  Pig out. Fast. Pig Out. Cut back a wee bit.  Pig out. Fast. Drink champagne and kiss a bunch of strangers.

Truly, I don’t think this plan is very wise, but I’m going to adapt it to my own needs, anyway.  During this festive period when I’m more likely to succumb to the siren call of chocolate, I’ve decided to deliberately make the rest of my meals as clean, simple, and vegetable-based as possible.  To wit, Raw Imitation Fried Rice.

I came across this recipe a while ago and then, a few days later, happened upon this version by Veggie Delight.  Since the dish is raw, it’s much easier to digest than a cooked meal, and won’t tax the digestive system the way heavier, fatter meals can. It’s also mostly vegetables with a hint of dressing, which provided me with yet another novel way to incorporate cauliflower, a vegetable I’m otherwise indifferent about, into my diet.

The salad is crunchy and even a bit juicy, with a hint of toasted sesame and just enough saltiness from the tamari to provide a satisfying contrast to the neutral cauliflower. It’s incredibly easy to make and comes together very quickly courtesy of the processor. I thoroughly enjoyed it and could even feel virtuous as I chomped away. 

And it’s the perfect light meal to help you detox between all those tastings of baked goods and treats.

*Okay, so it’s not technically a syllogism.  And the conclusion is drawn from the predicate of the premise rather than the subject (totally illogical).  And (well, according to Giz, anyway) the average weight gain is only 1.5 pounds over the holidays.  As if.

Raw Imitation Fried Rice (aka Cauliflower Salad)

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

rawfriedricetop

Asian-inspired flavors meet light and refreshing salad in this mock fried rice dish.  Makes a great side salad or raw main.  And a sneaky way to include cauliflower!

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

elsieconeheadbed

Yes, it really is the pits, Mum.  It’s also very difficult to lick all the crumbs off the floor with this thing on my head.”

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

Last year at this time:  Dog Day: How Elsie Got Named

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED!  TO VISIT THE SHINY NEW HOME OF DDD, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

[There's just nothing like a homemade gift for the holidays.  This year, with the purse strings a little tighter than usual, I'm determined to make at least a few in my kitchen--and thought I'd share my ideas in case you'd like to partake, too.  ]

fudgeorangeapricot

Back in the day (haven’t you always wondered about that expression?  I mean, which day?), I used to bake entirely conventional, non-vegan, sweets and treats. As a graduate student with a job as a Teaching Assistant as well as a scholarship, I was lucky enough to have both a flexible schedule and sufficient finances to indulge my love of culinary invention.  My favorites at the time were cheesecakes, light and fluffy (and, in particular, a chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake–yep, studded with globs of raw chocolate-chip cookie dough), whipped cream-topped layer cakes or pavlovas, and thick, dense, decadent brownies of all spots and stripes (top contender there was an intensely dark chocolate brownie with hidden pockets of Caramilk chocolate bar strewn throughout–cut the brownie and be treated to surprising little bursts of oozy, gooey caramel, enveloped in creamy milk chocolate. . . there must be a way to do this in a [semi?] NAG-friendly version!).

In any case, what I really loved was baking for the holidays.  Between studying for finals, I’d take breaks by whipping up assorted cookies and bars, and filling dainty, decorative tins with dozens of them as Christmas gifts for my friends and colleagues. It was a fun challenge to find 12-15 recipes for cookies in differing flavors, textures, shapes or colors, so that the varying hues and contours complemented each other visually when placed together like pieces of a mosaic in the tins.   Most years, I went so far as to draw a legend on a circle of paper (placed atop the cookies before closing the tin), like the kind you get in boxes of mixed chocolates, illustrating each different flavor and shape so people would know in advance what they chose (can you say, “anal”?).

Even though my schedule isn’t nearly as flexible any more (not to mention my hip joints), I decided that this year, I really wanted to resurrect that tradition for the holidays.  And while cookies are still on the list, I’m going to focus more on slightly less perishable items, so that I (and you) can send these goodies to loved ones far away, or as parting gifts with visitors who pop in over the next few weeks. 

One thing I’ve never made as a gift, though, is fudge.  When the HH and I were first together, we once took a weekend junket to Niagara-on-the-Lake (not far from the Canadian side of Niagra Falls) to trundle around and see a play at the Shaw Festival.  Well, I said I was going for the play, anyway.  What I really looked forward to was a visit to a little candy shop that’s become semi-famous for its fudge.  Have you ever tried fresh, satiny homemade fudge, like, 30 seconds after it’s set? 

Oh.

MY.

They say chocolate is better than sex, but really, chocolate fudge is even better than chocolate.

Still, I’m aware that no self-respecting holistic nutritionist or health-conscious foodie would foist fudge on friends (and no self-respecting writer would pen such an obviously hokey alliteration!)  Craving all that is chocolate, smooth, and fondant-like, I sought out a healthier version–but one that would still embody the same indulgent, creamy, and, most importantly, chocolate–qualities of “real” fudge.

Well, I’ve found it!  Today’s recipes are both based on a Carob Fudge I saw ages ago on Deb’s blog.  I’ve been waiting to try it since then, and this seemed the perfect occasion.  Of course, since I can’t even imagine a non-chocolate variety, I played with the recipes somewhat and created not one, but two cacao-flavored versions.  The first is orange-scented, studded with tangy bits of chopped dried apricot, while the other is draped over clusters of mixed nuts and dropped into little truffle cups to serve as individual candies.  I have no doubt that whomever you choose to bestow these upon, they will devour them most gratefully.  Perhaps best of all, this is incredibly quick to make!

Mum, we love the idea of food-based gifts for the holidays!  But why did you take out the carob–now we can’t have any. . .

I’d also love to hear what you’re whipping up this year as gifts.  Do you have any old favorites, or perhaps some newfound treasures?  Leave a comment (or a link to a recipe) so we can all increase our gift-giving repertoire!

I also thought this would be the perfect submission to the Monthly Mingle:  Low-Sugar Sweet Treats, this month hosted by Dee at The Daily Tiffin and originated by Meeta at What’s for Lunch, Honey?.  This month, they’re requesting desserts low sugar. 

Chocolate-Orange Fudge with Apricots

adapted from Altered Plates

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

fudgeorangeapricotclose

Smooth, rich and as dense as cream-based fudge, these squares are a perfect post-prandial sweet to help settle a meal (or, in my case, the final course of the meal itself).

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

Fudge Nut Clusters (variation)

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

fudgenutcups

These little confections are perfect to serve at tea or on a dessert tray for a buffet celebration.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! PLEASE VISIT US AT THE SHINY NEW HOME OF DDD, BY CLICKING HERE.

omeletpestofront1

Now, I realize I promised a light and not-too-filling recipe today, but before we get to that, I must share something very rich and decadent and–because I ate most of it in one sitting–rather filling: the Peppermint Ritter Sport bar I won (a while ago, now) in Amey’s contest!

rittersport

I received the bar in the mail a couple of weeks ago, and was thrilled to rip open the envelope and find that it reached me in perfect condition–all the way from California! While a couple of the squares had broken apart, the smooth, white, minty filling remained enclosed in the chocolate and every piece was perfectly edible.  And believe me, eat it I did (well, I shared–just a wee bit–with the HH). 

ritterpackage

I also loved that the entire wrapper was in German!  Here in Toronto, anyway, the Ritter Sports we get have multiple languages on the wrappers, including French and English.  It made Amey’s seem much more authentic.  Thanks so much, Amey!  It’s always so exciting to get something fun in the mail, and that bar is a definite new favorite.  (Wow, I think I’m a little overwhelmed with all the goodies I’ve received in the mail from other bloggers these past few months!  Have I mentioned lately that you guys are THE BEST??!)

And after dessert. . . . breakfast!

A couple of weeks ago, I went out for brunch with my friend PR Queen to celebrate both our birthdays, which are a month apart. (Yes, this really was the birthday that refused to surrender!)

In any case, we went to an upscale vegan resto called Fressen, where the food is stellar (and the prices are equally astronomical). I relished my fresh beet, apple and carrot juice; salad of baby greens and balsamic-dijon dressing; and stuffed tofu omelet.  But I just couldn’t see myself going there on a regular basis, mostly because (a) it’s right in the heart of the Queen West area of Toronto, just a minim too trendy, too grungy and too crowded for my taste; (b) Queen West is right in the heart of the general downtown in Toronto, a 35-minute drive away at the best of times, but more like an hour-plus when there’s traffic; (c) the prices there are, as I mentioned, bordering on the stratosphere; and (d) if I kept eating brunch there on a regular basis, I’d be denying myself the challenge of re-creating the same brunch at home.  Which, because I’m just wacky that way, I endeavored to do the very next weekend.

First, I suppose I should pause here to admit that, for most of my life, I have been severely Ovule-Challenged.  Whether soft boiled, sunny-side up, over easy, or any other way, I never did master egg cooking skills.  And omelets add yet another layer of difficulty: the perfect (egg) omelet is meant to be uniformly puffy and light, all in one piece, possessing a slightly gooey interior that I’ve always found rather gag-inducing. Even when the HH and I were first together and I attempted omelets on a regular basis, my egg oeuvres (or would that be oeufres?) would invariably crack and split and wilt like leaves on my sorely neglected ficus plant every time I tried to flip them, resulting in breakage and a pan housing three or four large, ragged-edge slabs of egg, sprawled at odd angles. I’d end up stirring the mixture furiously, ultimately transforming it into a semi-scramble and calling it frittata.  It wasn’t long before the HH took over omelet duty.  He’s never had a problem whipping one up (literally); and, to this day, he cooks an omelet for himself almost every Sunday. 

I assumed I’d have more success re-creating that tofu-based Fressen beauty (even though my first attempt at a tofu omelet also lacked that airy, pillowy texture, despite its wonderful flavor). What I loved about the Fressen version was how it seemed both moist and fluffy at the same time; while clearly cooked and browned on the outside, the inside remained soft, creamy, and light as custard. Stuffed with a succulent, rich filling of pesto, caramelized leek and mushrooms, it was a vision to behold: golden and crisp on the outside; vibrant green, tan and walnut-brown on the inside.  And the flavor!  The perfect edible mixture of woodsy, grassy, and airy. I wanted more!  

Given its ultra-light texture, I surmised that the omelet included silken tofu along with the firm. I’d already mastered pesto during the summer when my experimental home-grown basil flourished so remarkably; and while we didn’t have leeks in the fridge, we did have an abundance of onions, which served as a servicable replacement.

I created the omelet base by adapting the generic recipe in Joni Marie Newman’s  Cozy Inside, with several adjustments and additions.  I used home-made pesto, but you could just as well use store-bought.  The rest of it comes together in a flash. 

While the result wasn’t quite as fluffy as I’d hoped it would be, this did render a reasonable facsimile of the original.  Great for a brunch at home after a holiday feast, and an especially tasty way to economize and avoid those sky-high restaurant bills :) .

Given the cilantro-based pesto filling, I thought this would be a good submission to Weekend Herb Blogging, the event run by Haalo over at Cook (Almost) Anything Once, and this week hosted by Scott over at Real Epicurean.

Tofu Omelet with Pesto, Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

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You can use any tofu-based omelet recipe you choose for this recipe.  While this one tastes great and the flavors are beautifully complemented by the filling, it is very fragile and breaks easily.  A more sturdy recipe is this one; or use a version of your own.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

 

.

I had intended a lovely post today, in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving long weekend to the south of us.  But time constraints (read: massive, unwieldly pile of essays and assignments to mark) have prevented me from following through. So I’ll just have to wait till the next batch of holidays in December to post about some new, frost-and-snow inspired, treats.

Instead, I thought I’d pull together a few recipes from previous posts that are suitably festive for a holiday table, or the breakfast table the following day (I’ve also got a few detox recipes on the blog–I’ll let you seek those out yourselves, as required).  Most of these are fairly quick to make as well, as long as you’ve got the ingredients on hand.

Hope everyone enjoys some togetherness with friends and family, great food, and a bit of time to relax and play.

See you after the holiday!

chaserunderbed

Mum, will Elsie be able to play again after the holiday?  I mean, it’s just so boring with her out of commission. . .

Main Meal Dishes:

Side Dishes:

Desserts:

Breakfast Dishes:

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