Apple Cinnamon Muffins

This morning I woke with the full intention of working out and then baking a batch of muffins. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of pressing the snooze button a couple of times and by the time I wandered downstairs, bleary eyed and chilled from leaving the comfort of my bed there was only time to bake the muffins. The word I am struggling to commit to that act is “priorities”.

Apples and Muffins

This weekend at the farmer’s market we were fortunate enough to find some sweet, unpasteurized apple cider at The Hutten Family Farm stand in addition to the biggest apples I have ever seen. The round globes of apple-y goodness are definitely oversized making them perfect to share with a friend or for some very tasty apples. I needed only two apples for the batch of 16 muffins but if you can only get your paws on some regular apples, use four to five instead. I am quite pleased with the amount of whole wheat flour in this batch as it doesn’t weigh it down and it also adds just a touch of extra nuttiness to the overall flavour. I’m a big fan of whole wheat flour because of the health benefits; it may not be the powerhouse of other flours but it certainly can hold its own. The key is to always look for a flour that contains the germ since that is the precious little bit of the wheat that holds the nutrition. There is also a sprinkling of ground flax seeds on top of the muffins, added prior to baking.

Apple Flax

The shear amount of apple chunks has transformed these muffins into clumps of apple bits loosely held together by muffin batter. This is the best way to have an apple muffin. When Mr. and I were baking on a regular basis for the Halifax Farmer’s Market we had the most amazing “Apple Breakfast Cakes” which were fortified by at least an apple in each muffin. A hint of cinnamon makes these little treats divine.

I must admit that when I went to bed last night I had apple muffins on my mind because of Kristen at Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker and her delicious looking Apple Streusel Muffins.

The Muffins

Adapted from the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook, Versatile Muffins.

one cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup apple cider

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 large apples, peeled and diced (or 4-5 apples)

1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.

2. In a two cup liquid measuring cup (or a separate bowl) whisk with a fork the wet ingredients, excluding the apples. Pour into the dry mix and stir to incorporate.

3. Fold in the apple chunks.

4. Spoon into muffin tins and sprinkle with ground flax seeds, approximately a teaspoon on each muffin. Bake for 20-25 minutes. I always check at the 20 minute mark and then judge from there. Keep in mind these are quite moist because of the apples and the cider. Feel free to tear one in half if you feel unsure about whether or not it is done.

Enjoy.

Tourtiere: A study in delicious contradictions

Tourtiere with George Eliot

A few weeks ago, perhaps a little further back in time and closer to Christmas than I realize, Carolyn of All Day I Dream About Food wrote up the recipe for a delicious looking French-Canadian Tourtiere. I am not much for meat pies but there was something about Carolyn’s recipe that I found intriguing so when I found ground pork at the farmer’s market I quickly snagged about a pound. As luck would have it I didn’t get around to making my own tourtiere in a very timely fashion and Mr. made a very delicious pasta with half of it. I think this may have been fortunate because even though I was making a meat pie I was put off a bit by the amount of meat used and this gave me the perfect excuse to stretch the filling a bit with brown rice and green lentils.

A firmly entrenched habit of mine is to peruse numerous recipes before I start my own. Doing this gives me a feel for the cooking times, the traditional spices used and anything that has the potential to throw a wrench into the whole lot. A cookbook that I seem to be mentioning on a fairly regular basis has been my father’s Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook. It is similar to the cookbooks put out by various flour companies years ago and it is still a beautiful book, filled with traditional recipes that give you a great base of food knowledge. I highly recommend tracking down such a book for yourself. In fact, most of my cookbooks are at least 25 years old and I love every one of them because they haven’t been swayed by food trends or health fads and they present the recipe as it should be done, free of modifications – this lets you play as much as you like! I’m a bit of a traditionalist I suppose, I firmly believe that before you can start mucking about (and this applies to music, art, literature and philosophy) you need a firm grounding in the classics.

The Laura Secord Cookbook recounts that the original tourtiere was made with passenger pigeon and while there is a pesky pigeon tormenting my cats from the balcony I decided to stick with pork, another common filling. The only other ingredient in the recipe was one whole white potato, mashed and as I looked over a few other recipes I was finding the same thing: meat, potato, pastry. It’s a tasty trifecta but not exactly a healthy one. After my adjustments I would say that my filling, seasoned with a touch of nutmeg (this is absolutely necessary. we can’t be friends if you don’t add nutmeg) was in thirds: pork, rice and lentil mix and the always flavourful sweet potato. There were a few other things but for now, rest assured you won’t be eating meat and starch for dinner tonight. As funny as it sounds, I’d be willing to bet that tourtiere could very easily be made vegetarian with a bit of tweaking.

As I was taking things out of the refrigerator Mr. mentioned he was sure the filling was covered in gravy before the second crust was added. It couldn’t hurt to add the gravy (goodness, this tourtiere is a study in contradictions: I make it healthy-ish only to add gravy to the whole thing) since ground pork isn’t nearly as moist as ground beef – keep this in mind while you cook it, also it cooks in seconds. Simple gravy is very easy to whip up if you have stock, an onion and a roux of butter and flour.

The pastry is rolled quite thin because I baked the tourtiere in my monster tart pan. I measure it once and it’s about 13 inches across but only about 2 inches high. I didn’t want the pastry to overpower the filling so the bottom layer is perhaps just a few millimetres thicker than the top layer. I intended to use a straight lard crust but as chance would have it, I broke the glass jar I used to store the lard after only reserving 1/3 of a cup. I actually do think it was fortunate because I substituted oil for the rest of the fat and it made for a sturdy, flavourful pie crust that stood up to the weight of the filling. The recipe can be found here. Take note that it is for a 9 inch pie crust pan and that I like my pie crust very thin, you can’t see through it but it is thin.
<basic roux
Simple Gravy

1 1/2 cup chicken stock, boiling

1/2 onion, minced – I used a beautiful, large purple onion

1/3 cup roux

S&P to taste

tablespoon oil

1. In a small sauce pot heat the oil until it slips easily across the bottom. Add the onions and cook until translucent and the juices release.

2. Add the stock and bring the whole thing to a boil.

3. To prepare the roux, mix 1/3 cup of butter or margarine with a handful of flour. It should be creamy but very thick, you don’t want it dry. Add to the boiling stock and quickly whisk to incorporate, take care it is at this point that you can end up with lumpy gravy.

4. Reduce the heat to low, stirring occasionally. Season well with salt and pepper.

Reserve for the tourtiere. This is a simple gravy that will lend moisture and a subtle bit of flavour to the filling which will already be seasoned with its own spices.

The Tourtiere

1/2 purple onion, minced

1/2 cup breadcrumbs – I used the last bit of bread from my molasses whole wheat bread.

1/2 pound ground pork

one cup brown rice and lentils, cooked*

one sweet potato, mashed

S&P to taste

nutmeg

one 9 inch double pie crust, rolled out and in the pan – feel free to use a 13 in tart pan

1. In a saute pan with high sides, heat a tablespoon of oil until it slips easily across the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and cook until translucent and the juices release.

2. Add the pork, breadcrumbs, and rice and lentils. Mix together well and cook until the pork is browned. This will take seconds so keep a close eye. Add the sweet potato and gently mix.

3. Season with nutmeg and the salt and pepper. Spoon the mix into the pie shell and pour the gravy over top. Top with the second pie shell, taking care to pinch the bottom and top together.

Bake at 425º for 20 minutes then lower the heat to 350º for an additional 20-30 minutes.

Enjoy.

Red Pepper Pork and… Chocolate?

>pepper chocolate pork

The winter equinox has passed but winter still clings tight, the dark of night continues to encroach upon us early and the snow swirls into the street and across our faces. The walk home from school the other night took an hour as the children took the time play in the snow, rolling it between their hands and drawing “Danger! Bears!” signs into it with sticks. I stamped my feet to stay warm and occasionally threw lightly packed snowballs at those little marshmallows. Upon arriving home we were rosy-cheeked and in need of some warmth. While the children sipped at the hot cocoa and snuggled in to watch an episode of Curious George I set upon dinner. Thus, pepper chocolate pork chops were born.

I understand chocolate and pork chops may not seem that appealing but they truly were, Mr. and I happily gobbled them up and the children were pleasantly surprised. Also, if you get the chance to tell your children there is chocolate in the main course I can guarantee you they will eat it. The chocolate flavour was extraordinarily subtle because it came in the form of an infused tea I used to deglaze the pan. My mother-in-law gave me a tin of Read My Lips tea from David’s Tea, a funky teashop out of Montreal that quickly spread across the country. This tea is delicately flavoured with red pepper flakes, tiny chocolate chips and black tea. It all mingles to create this beautifully spicy, sweet and heady aroma that is complex without being overwhelming.

The pork chops I used came from my favourite meat farmer at Halifax’s Brewery Market, Maureen at Little Dorset Farm. All of her animals are grown without hormones, additives or in Maureen’s words “anything funky” and it truly shows in the flavour and quality of her meat. I love the thick cut pork chops and I habitually buy two every Saturday morning. Two are perfect for our small family as the kids share one and Mr. and I share the other; it is enough to have just half of one of those pork chops. We try to take care in our meat consumption and this is definitely one way to do it. By cutting the chop in half I focused on the mesclun salad to help fill me up which means more vegetables and a lighter feeling when I stepped away from the table to go read with Miss N.

Hot Lips Tea

 

The Pork Chops

One large purple onion, roughly diced

2 medium-sized apples – roughly diced – I used organic mason apples

250 mL/ ½ cup chocolate pepper tea

2 pork chops

S & P to taste

Olive oil

1. In a medium pan, ensure it has high sides and a lid that fits it; heat the olive oil until it slips easily across the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and cook until they are translucent and the juices are released.

2. Add the apples and mix in; I was surprised by the amount of onion. Add a splash of the tea to prevent the onions and apples from burning. You will be adding it incrementally. Lower the heat to low to allow it to caramelize.

3. Prepare the pork chops. Liberally salt and pepper both sides.

4. Scoop the onion mix into a separate bowl and reserve. They will be going back into the pan; this is to prevent them from burning. Raise the heat to high and splash about a tablespoon of the tea into your pan to deglaze and use a wooden spoon to dislodge the bits of delicious from the pan.

5. Just before the bubbling tea all disappears, lay the pork chops into the pan to brown. Leave for 2-3 minutes on each side. Keep in mind that my pork chops were approximately an inch thick, you might need less time; lift a corner of the chop to peak if you will.

6. Once the chops are browned, lower the heat and scoop the onion mix back in, nestling the pork chops into it. Add half of the tea and cover. Simmer for 15-18 minutes.

If the mix is starting to look dry, add some more of the tea. The tea is there to lend moisture and flavour but you don’t want to boil the chops. It should bubble from within the onions and create a beautiful caramelized effect on the pork chops.

Our dinner was served with a light green salad and spaetzle mixed with chevre and cubes of roasted nutmeg squash.

 

Enjoy.

Chocolate Cranberry Muffins and The Gift Project

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Harvey's gift
I am a morning person. I have fought this notion for a long time because it just didn’t seem possible but it’s true. If I manage to sleep in I am up at 9 am and if I make it past the midnight mark I am bound to get cranky and irrational by 2 am. This morning at 6:30 I bounded out of bed, woken by the dinging of my phone’s alarm and wandered downstairs. The coffee was soon perking as I looked around for something to do and then it dawned on me: I should bake the muffins for The Gift Project. I have been obsessing over my first recipient; I wanted someone special in our lives and who deserves a little appreciation and it was not long before I thought of Harvey, our school crossing guard.

Harvey is there every single day and now that the weather has turned from quaint cool to frigidly cold he is still there, protecting my daughter along with numerous other children without so much as a muttered complaint. I attempted to cajole Miss N into handing over the brightly coloured gift bag but she comes by her shyness naturally and so it was left to me to hand over the bag with a quiet, “Morning Harvey. Just because”. My stomach was in a few knots; I think I’ll learn as much about myself as others with this project and I think I might be looking forward to that most of all. My personality is so evident in Miss N’s, her reticence and downcast eyes when in public then jumping on the bed and laugh-screaming at home.

I am terribly excited for this and after the jitters of putting myself out there had passed I felt inspired. Harvey’s smile and surprise, he blushed when I had to walk past on the way home, was worth it. It took very little time to put these tasty muffins together this morning and I even had enough shredded carrot leftover to make a quick carrot slaw for Miss N’s lunch.

I am so pleased to say that Merry of Merry Makes has just contacted me to let me know about her Luscious Lentil Soup, her contribution to The Gift Project. You should definitely head over to Merry’s blog to check out this delectable and perfectly warming recipe. This is the spirit of The Gift Project, finding inspiration from one another to not only develop our recipes but to share them beyond our computer screens and dining room table and into the lives of people in our real life. My biggest heartfelt thanks to Merry for participating!

It is at this point that I will invited you to join me in this handmade project and the chance to spontaneously spread some kindness in your life. If you feel limited by the not having a blog, send me the link to your flickr page! I have established a public flickr group for this project entitled The Gift Project (how appropriate). Now that the administration stuff is over, onto the recipe:

 

choco cran muffins

The Muffins

Adapted from The Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook: Versatile Muffins.

1 cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup whole-wheat flour

3-½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

¼ granulated sugar

1 tbsp. crushed flax seeds

3 tbsp. water

1 ¼ cup soymilk

¼ sunflower oil

½ cup shredded carrot

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup chocolate chips

 

Preheat oven to 400°.

1. In a bowl mix the crushed flax seeds and 3 tablespoons of water, set aside.

2. Combine the dry ingredients and whisk to incorporate.

3. In a liquid measuring cup combine the soymilk, oil and flax mix. Beat with a fork. Add to the dry ingredients and mix to a smooth consistency.

4. Add the carrot, cranberries and chocolate chips. Transfer to muffin tins. I fill mine to the top so that they rise. Bake for 20-23 minutes.

Incidentally, I make the ugly muffins but they always taste delicious. It’s like a backwards skill.

Butternut Squash Hash

butternut hash

The star of dinner last night was a butternut squash and mushroom hash. There are just a few ingredients in the dish but you would not know that it started out so simply. The main flavour, besides the base of onions and leek is sage; most often used in gravies or with poultry – it is the main ingredient in a packaged poultry seasoning mix, the slight peppery flavour lends itself well to butternut squash. My mother has three gorgeous bushes of sage, a common green sage and a purple and variegated variety. The sage for this dish came from her garden; it is dried but still has a bit of body.

A few nights ago on Twitter there was something about people using whatever they happen to be drinking to deglaze the pan while cooking. This is something I always do; I suppose that’s my secret. If you see wine or beer or apple cider in a recipe, it’s probably because I have glass of it next to the cutting board. Each liquid adds its own qualities to the dish and of course there is that ever-present sugar that bubbles out of that liquid, buoyed by the flavours of the dish. The liquid for this dish was most of a lager and the neck of an apricot beer; there’s your very helpful measurement guideline. I added the beer gradually, the same technique used in risotto because I did not want the squash to lose its shape and the caramelizing I’d been careful to create with the onions.

The hash paired well against pork chops and tangy purple sauerkraut, hearty enough to fill our bellies as the snow swirled outside. The snow fell in clumps last night, whirling under streetlights and into the branches of trees, caught by the tendrils of stillness. The view this morning is a sea of white, clumps of snow caught in the bushes and the dried husks of Queen Anne’s lace.


Miss N's dinner
Notes on the recipe: Our leeks tend to be about an inch in diameter, and I used a three-inch length of it. That roughly equals a handful in a half, just in keeping with my very exact measurements.

I used half of the bottom bulb of the squash. If you were to look at a butternut squash, this would no doubt make more sense. The squash I used was huge and has lasted muffins, quiche and this dish. There is still some left over.

The sage I use is in a particularly strange state because it was in a cup of water in the fridge and our fridge has temper control issues: It froze the water. So, the sage has been preserved/dried but it still has full flavour.

The Hash

One onion, cut into chunky pieces

3 inches of leek, minced

15 oz/ 440 g butternut squash, peeled and cubed

6 white button mushroom, quartered

One beer – lager works well

Sage – see the note above. I won’t put a measurement for it for obvious reasons.

S & P to taste

1. In a pan, heat a tablespoon of oil on medium heat until it slips easily across the pan.

2. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook until translucent and the juices begin to release. Add the leek at this point. Be careful at this point, leeks take three seconds to go from a lovely state of browned to charred black. If you start to feel a bit nervous about it, add a tablespoon of the beer and reduce the heat to low.

3. Add the mushroom and mix things up at this point. Allow the mushrooms to brown a bit and pick up the flavour of the onions.

4. Add the butternut squash and ¼ of the beer. Add half of your sage at this point. A pinch of salt and a few turns on the pepper mill. Cover to keep the moisture in. It takes approximately 35 minutes to cook the squash at a low (but still simmering) heat. Keep an eye on the pan and add liquid whenever you feel it is necessary. Halfway through the cooking process, add the rest of the sage.

Serve warm and enjoy.

Butternut Squash Quiche

butternut squash
Quiche is one my favourite recipes to make when I am only slightly pressed for time and want something light but filling – think of the full feeling you have when you eat an entire plate of sushi, and I don’t mean the rolls stuffed with tempura. I mean the fresh fish. It’s this amazing feeling that we have forgotten in North America, mostly a result of over-stuffing ourselves with too large plates of fries and cheeseburgers. Now, whenever we have a completely satisfying meal that doesn’t want to make us nap it is intriguing, enlightening even. Food isn’t heavy? It doesn’t weigh you down? Really, it needn’t do that because that is sodium and fat, my friends. Think of your holiday dinners and they reason why you wear your most comfortable pants.

Quiche, and this one in particular because it has only a moderate amount of goat mozzarella and plain goat yogurt – goat products offer a more pungent and “cheesy” flavour so you don’t need to use as much to achieve the same flavour; makes for a great lunch or fortified dinner. I think that is my favourite quality of goat milk products; just a small amount of milk in a dish can transform it into this magically creamy dish without the extra heft from cheese.

I am not usually blatant about the fact that the kids and Mr. are dairy intolerant; I am aware that I mention it but at home we do not make a big deal of it. I think it’s important to experiment and attempt to at least recreate the dishes my children won’t have the opportunity to eat. Mr. was already in his twenties when he had to stop eating milk products; it is the children who have never known any different. A funky little anomaly is that (mercifully) everyone can happily indulge in goat milk products. Goat is … more fragrant but that is what makes it so much more enjoyable if you don’t use a heavy-hand with it. Chevre has replaced cream cheese in our icing recipes.

Goat milk came into our lives out of a desire to loosen our reliance on soymilk, cheese and yogurt. Miss N was the only fan of almond milk and she was still only lukewarm on the idea and then I learned a friend of my mom’s substituted with goat milk because of her own dairy intolerance. Replacing soymilk was a slow process and at this point goats are one of Miss N’s favourite animals because “they give her milk”. Sweetness.

The crust of this quiche is oil-based despite my fondness for a lard crust (which make the absolute flakiest pies!); the oil crust is sturdier but that doesn’t mean you will be making any flaky sacrifices. I used warm water to ease the mixing process and I did find the dough to have a bit of spring to it. I think that might just be me since it happens anytime I make a pie. I won’t include the recipe here because Mari of Once Upon a Plate wrote a fantastic recipe for an oil crust and I have always followed that one since discovering her gorgeous blog nearly 2 years ago. I haven’t revisited in a very long time and I should return. The tip about the mustard also comes from Mari!

Butternut Squash quiche
The Quiche

1 piecrust, unbaked

2 – 3 eggs –my tart pan is approx. 11 inches

1 cup milk

¼ cup plain yogurt

handful grated mozzarella

½ cup butternut squash, shredded

mustard – I used tangy mustard from a beautiful gift basket from my sister-in-law

S & P to taste

basil oil – the gift basket, again

1. Preheat the oven to 400°.

2. In a bowl whisk together the eggs, milk and yogurt until smooth. Add squash and mix gently until thoroughly blended, salt and cracked pepper. Obviously you can’t really taste the mix but a solid pinch of salt and a few turns on a pepper mill should work.

3. With the back of a spoon or a brush, smear the bottom of the pie shell with a thin layer of mustard.

4. Pour in the egg mixture. Drizzle with the basil oil (feel free to use an alternative and complementary flavoured oil), just enough to flavour it.

5. Bake for 30 minutes or until very lightly brown around the edges and set in the middle. Allow to rest for about 6-8 minutes before slicing into it, other wise it can “poof” or.. In fact, I don’t know. It will be the egg will be slightly puffed up as if it were trying to be a soufflé but if you give it a few minutes the delusions of grandeur will subside and you can eat it.

I served this with Mr’s gorgeous salad in last Friday’s Photo Friday post. Enjoy.