27 March, 2013

One A Penny, Two a Penny....

One of the biggest challenges I face these days is finding traditional recipes for old fashioned foods that I've loved for decades.  Irish soda bread, babka, schnitzel (German style)....the list is quite long.  For quite a few of these things I can defer to family but there are times when even their recipes will turn out to have been something that has evolved rather than remained authentic to its roots.

For hot cross buns...if you waste your time Googling that, you are going to find a ton of recipes that may or may not be traditional English hot cross buns.  One of the FIRST ways you can tell it is crapola in a pan is when you see what the "cross" piping material is made out of.  If it is sugary instead of something made out of flour, you my friend have just found a modernized recipe of poo.  It is amazing to me just how many recipes you'll find these days that USED to be slightly healthy (even though they were considered "treats" by people like my great grandmother) and are now heavily laden with sugar and all sorts of fillers that weren't there when the recipe was conceived.  Boo...  But that is part of my passion...keepin' it real, keepin' it as healthy as possible and keepin' it dairy free (if I can) in the kitchen.  

SO!  Hot Cross Buns....the history of these beauts are kinda mixed and so are the superstitions behind sharing them and making them.  It would seem that, for Christians, they are traditionally baked and served between Lent and Good Friday but....if you dig deeper there are some that say this wasn't a Christian tradition to begin with.  It was introduced by the Saxons to honor the Goddess Eostre and symbolized the 4 quarters of the moon.  It is widely believed that the name of the holiday "Easter" was even evolved from Eostre's name.  Seems legit, but because I didn't live back then, it is hard to say what the truth really is.  But, what I CAN give you is a recipe for hot cross buns that will knock your socks off!!

Something I didn't know until I made these was how DENSE traditional hot cross buns are.  Store bought, commercialized buns give you a light & airy texture and usually feature the icing crosses over the top.  This recipe yields 1 dozen VERY flavorful, but dense hot cross buns.  You've been warned!  I tried THREE different recipes and they all turned out fairly dense.  The recipe below gave me the lightest buns.

Hot Cross Buns
1/2 c. + 1 T. sugar
2 1/4 tsp. rapid rise/quick rise yeast (1 packet)
1/4 c. warm water
3 1/2 c flour
2 tsp. mixed spice
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. grated nutmeg
3/4 c. warm soy milk
1/4 vegan buttery spread, melted
1 egg + 1 yolk, beaten
1/2 c. currants OR raisins
1/4 c. chopped mixed peel (candied orange and lemon)
oil for greasing

Shortcrust Pastry
3/4 c. flour
1 3/4 oz. oil
4 1/4 oz. water  

2 T. sugar
2 T. water
4 T. of Lyle's Golden Syrup 

The very first thing you should do is proof your yeast.  After trying this recipe THREE times, I wasn't sure what was causing the dense, heavy buns.  So, put the 1/4 c. of warm water, 1 T. of sugar and 1 packet of yeast in a bowl, stir it up and let it sit for 10 minutes.  When it bubbles and froths...you have some live yeast.  Yay!

Next, sift the flour into a large bowl, stir in the remaining sugar, mixed spice, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and make a well in the middle. Mix the milk and egg together well, then slowly, little bits at a time, add in the melted butter while stirring.  Add to mixing bowl along with the currants and mixed peel. Mix to a soft dough.

Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, then shape into a round.  Put into an oiled large bowl, cover with oiled cling film, and leave to rise in a warm place for 1-1 1⁄2 hours or until doubled in size.

Knock back the dough with your fists, then turn on to a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes until smooth and elastic. Divide the dough into 12 pieces and shape into round rolls. (The way I ensure even sized rolls is to cut the dough ball in half, then each half in half once more.  Then each of the quarters gets cut into three equal slices.  It ends up looking like I sliced up a pie, but you just work the dough into balls and VOILA!)

Lightly grease or oil a 9 x 13 baking pan and arrange the buns in the pan.  (I also lined the bottom only with parchment paper, just ot be safe.  I've never made these before....)

Then cover with a kitchen towel and put in a draft free place to rise...OR, do what I do...  Heat your oven to 200 F then TURN IT OFF and let your dough rise in the oven with the door shut. 

Leave to rise for 2 hours or until doubled in size.  (Mine actually took 3 hours to "double" in size.  THREE HOURS!!)

Mix together the shortcut pastry ingredients and pipe them over the top centers of each bun.  Use a ziploc with the corner snipped off if you don't have a pastry bag with a tip.  Don't worry about using a shaped tip, the pastry is SO gooey that it won't hold the tip shape anyhow.

 Hot Cross Buns with Currants, crossed & ready to bake

Hot Cross Buns with Raisins, crossed & ready to bake
Bake the buns in a preheated oven at 350 for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer the buns to a wire rack, brush with the glaze or syrup, and serve warm or cold.

Hot Cross Buns with Raisins, baked & glazed

Hot Cross Buns with Currants, baked & glazed

As I stated earlier, these are some DENSE buns.  But the flavor really is remarkable.  The Sprout looked at them, smelled them and said "French Toast bread??"  Might as well be!  You taste everything in there; the lemon peel, the orange peel, the cinnamon, the nutmeg....I found myself partial to the buns that had the currants.  The bitter with the sweet really rounded things out nicely.

These aren't the prettiest buns at the party but, I don't think they were meant to be.  They ARE, however, a wonderfully sweet and moist addition to your Easter celebration!  Try them out this year for your holiday feast and let me know what you think!  I wish you all a blessed and joyful Easter celebration!   

26 March, 2013

Get Your Seder On Bubala!!

As an adult, I have always had a hard time NOT celebrating Pesach (in English...Passover) in some form or another.  Aside from having some relatives that are members of the Jewish faith, Jesus was a Jew....how can you separate that?  I have never been able to.  

Being a Christian, I find myself seeing more and more similarities between faiths than differences these days.  So I made an executive decision to bring one of my favorite Seder recipes to you for your feast.  A flourless walnut-fig cake.  Originally it called for dates, but I didn't have any.  Figs are a perfect substitute for dates because they are so similar in flavor and texture.  Also, this recipe can really be made out of ANY tree nut, but if you have a tree nut allergy...go for what you know you can have.  Matzah.  3 c. of crushed matzah will work just as well as nuts.  This recipe, of course, will no longer be "flourless" if you use matzah, but it WILL still be unleavened.  Which is the bigger deal!

Now, for those of those that don't know...Pesach celebrates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and the miracle of being "passed over" when G-d sent the plagues to Egypt.  One of the most important aspects to this holiday is eating foods that are "leaven free".  This illustrates the speed at which they left Egypt...they didn't have enough time to let their bread rise.  They were GONE!  This is usually where Matzah comes in.  Being an inventive and resourceful people, they have found MANY ways to turn matzah into some pretty awesome dishes.  But, because that is such a common occurrence these days, I decided to go in a bit of a different direction....no flour at ALL!  All while, of course....keeping it dairy free.

Flourless Walnut-Fig Cake

cooking spray
parchment paper
3 c. crushed walnuts (you can use ANY tree nut, but NO peanuts)
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. organic cane sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 tsp. finely grated orange zest
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of Kosher salt
3/4 c. chopped figs

2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 T. vegan buttery spread
1 tsp. honey
chopped, toasted walnuts for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Coat the bottom and sides of a 9-inch-round cake pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper. Put the walnuts, cinnamon and 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor; pulse until finely ground but not powdery. Whisk the egg yolks, orange zest and vanilla, if using, in a small bowl.  I added my chopped figs to the egg yolk mixture.  It just made things easier...
Beat the egg whites and salt in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until foamy. Beat in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until soft peaks form, about 8-10 minutes. (Good test to know if your whites are done...after 8 minutes, turn the bowl upside down.  The whites should NOT move a single inch.  To ensure that your whites whip well...you could put the bowl in the fridge beforehand to cool it down.)  I used a stand mixer on medium speed.  If you use a hand mixer, this could take longer.

Fold in the yolk mixture and dates/figs.

 Then fold in the ground walnut/nut mixture.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is golden and a toothpick comes out clean, 23 to 25 minutes (mine took more like 25-30 minutes...always check with a toothpick!!). Let cool in the pan on a rack, then run a knife along the sides and invert (flip over so the perfectly flat bottom is now the top of your cake) the cake onto a platter.

To make the glaze, put the chocolate (I used "Enjoy Life!" dairy free, soy free, gluten free, nut free semi-sweet mini chocolate chips),vegan butter spread and honey in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap and microwave until the butter melts, about 2 minutes OR melt it on the stove top at medium heat. Whisk until smooth. Cool slightly, then pour over the cake. Top with walnuts.

So!....this cake is absolutely AH-MAZING!!  You will NEVER notice that this cake is flourless.  Every single ingredient in this cake comes through in every single bite as well.  The orange zest hits you right about the same time as the fig/dates, the cinnamon is just a light note in the background and you TASTE walnuts but, after baking they take on the texture of a normal cake consistency.  Like I said....amazing!  The chocolate on top is, of course, the perfect kiss to this dish.  Just a light ganache that doesn't cover up or over power.  So fabulous.

I hope that you love this recipe as much as my Mister and I did.  The Sprout saw it and yelled "Cake!" but then didn't want to try it because there was chocolate on it.  I'm not sure how I had a child that doesn't like chocolate, but...that's what's goin on.  For our personal tastes, we won't be adding that many nuts to the top again, not even for presentation.  There was plenty of nut flavor in the cake and sprinkling raw walnuts all over the top was just too much and raw walnuts are a completely different flavor than baked or toasted walnuts.  So, for us...we will be skipping those when we have our next slice.  May you have a blessed and joyful Chag Ha'Cherut!!  

20 March, 2013

Take Two....

Every once in a while I find places on my own that I think are flog worthy.  One day I found myself STARVING down in Wellington West and I pulled my Mister into a place that I spotted out of the corner of my eye.  Springroll House Cafe.  It was SO fabulous that I decided to come back to eat a second time and flog it.

Spring rolls??  Sure, if they at least had that, I'd be happy.  When you're pregnant and hungry, your focus becomes singular; cravings.  I know that when I crave something my body is most likely in need of a nutrient that is in that food.  What is in a spring roll??  Fresh veggies and sometimes meat.  Sounded like a plan to me!  In a flash the menus were on our table along with our pot of tea.

Having been there once, I knew I was going to leave happy.  The first time we went I ordered House Special #55 with vegetable spring rolls and LOVED every bite.  This time, I figured I had better try something recommended by the staff.  I was sure I would end up eating a soup if I went by recommendation (which isn't my normal "go to" when I go out...I can have soup at home, right?) but, I wanted the best that Vietnam had to offer me.  After talking with our waiter we ordered the pork spring rolls and I went with a small bowl of 38A, Hu Tiu with sliced rare beef, chicken and shrimp with sate.

It was noonish when we got there, so I knew if I wanted indoor shots, I had better hurry.  While I was walking around, I spotted a highchair near the coat hooks...good sign.  Family friendly...you know I like that.


It didn't take long and our spring rolls were at our table...and piping hot!

Pork Spring Rolls

These were about as yummy as pork spring rolls can get.  It was a little odd to me that you only get 2 spring rolls for 4.95 here when just down the road at a Thai place we ate at a couple weeks back...you get 5 spring rolls for 8.95.  More than double the rolls for only 4 dollars more...and the rolls at the Thai place were much larger.  I suppose you do what you gotta do in this economy though...  The rolls themselves compared to others I have had were acceptable.  But, let me tell you what makes these babies sing...  The sauce.  I don't even know what this sauce is made out of but it just boosts EVERYthing about these rolls.  Comparing the sauce to every other place we've been...it leaves all other sauces in the dust.  It just highlights all of the right notes in the meat and the vegetables and I found myself want to just drink it when we finished our spring rolls.

Our waiter brought my bowl of bean sprouts and herbs to the table so I knew my main event was close at hand...

Basil, Lemongrass, Bean Sprouts, Lime & Thai Chili

 And then, lunch arrived!

 Hu Tiu Sliced Rare Beef, Chicken & Shrimp with Sate

Everything about this bowl was balanced and FRESH.  One of the things I LOVE about Asian cuisines SO much is that you can actually taste that your food is as fresh as possible.  I tasted the broth as is.  It was wonderful, but I could see where it could benefit from some of the goodies on the herb plate.  So, I rolled my Thai chili (to release the seeds), ripped off the tip and poured the seeds out so I could chop it up into my bowl.  (If you do this, remember to wash your hands immediately.  I forgot...then rubbed the corner of my left eye.  >.<   Not an awesome feeling at all!)  I ripped my basil and lemongrass into the bowl and squeezed the lime on top.  I waited a couple minutes so the heat could penetrate everything and I dug in.   

All of the meat was perfectly cooked, especially the shrimp.  Sometimes those get added too quickly when restaurants are in a hurry and they get over cooked making them hard.  My shrimps were soft and SO plump!  The noodles didn't have much flavor to them, which I expected.  The broth carried it over anyhow.  At some point I put down my sticks and just started ladling the broth into my mouth as fast as I could.  It was so balanced and lovely, I could have just drank a giant glass of that with a straw.  When I was done with my ladling, my Mister went to town on it.  I was SO glad that I went with our waiter's recommendation.  One of the other things he recommended when I told him I really wanted some red meat was the Beef Skewers on rice.  I want to go back so badly to try it!

Now...Vietnamese is a pretty straightforward niche in the food arena but, I assure you...a person can screw up a pho quite easily.  It takes know how and experience to make your dishes balanced.  Whomever they have in the kitchen knows what they are doing.  If you are down in the "Ton" and looking for a QUICK (everything WAS very quick even though the place filled up 2.2 seconds after I finished taking my indoor shots), flavorful and satisfying lunch, stop in at the Springroll House Cafe and give them a try.  I hope you like it as much as my Mister and I did!

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