Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tart-zza Anyone?

We had some friends visit with us and they left us a delightful tart pan (like this).  They also made a spectacular almond peach tart for us, with a cookie-dough like crust, and that got me thinking, when my brain wouldn't shut down as I was trying to get back to sleep this morning at 5 am, maybe I can do something savoury with that?

I've got a short crust recipe that I've used before for a meat pie, and wondered if I could jury-rig something using that to create a sort of tart-pizza crossover.  On top of that, I had to make it wheat free (and I've never really liked the pizza dough recipes without wheat I've tried thus far), no tomato paste, no basil... hmmm.  Well, it worked pretty well!

The crust recipe is:

1 lb of all-purpose flour or whatever you use for flour alternative (I did roughly 1/3 tapioca starch and 2/3 teff flour for this)
1 1/4 cup boiling water
4 tbsp butter
9 tbsp shortening or lard (I used bacon fat)

Boil the water & melt the fats in it, then gradually blend into the flour until it makes a dough.  Work the dough until it's well combined, then press into the tart pan (or two... depending on how big the pan is).  Bake at 375 for about 15-20 minutes until shrunken from the edges somewhat and tart shell is mostly cooked in the middle.

The parsley pesto was made with probably about 2 cups densely packed parsley, finely chopped, 2-3 tbsp of olive oil, romano cheese to taste, and about 2-3 tbsp pine nuts, ground.

Spread  pesto on the baked shell, then layer on the goodies.  I used ham, havarti & a few slices of our garden tomatoes.

Bake at 400F for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the tomatoes are a little cooked.  All in all, a great success - we might be able to do pizza night on a regular basis now!

Nose to Tail Spot Prawn Feast

Thanks to our friend Maarten, we were provided with a bag full of spot prawn heads and tails.  The tails were sautéed with butter & garlic and served with a pesto pasta, and the heads were turned into this fabulous soup.

Spot Prawn "Bisque"

approx 1 lb of fresh prawns, head on
olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3-5 small shallots, minced
1-2 baby fennel bulbs, fronds removed & diced fine
3-5 small to medium fresh carrots, diced fine
3-5 small to medium tomatoes, chopped fine

  1. Separate the heads from the tails; keep the tails for another dish, or add them at the very end.
  2. Roughly chop the heads (which includes legs and antennae), toss in a little olive oil and place in a rimmed baking pan.
  3. Bake at 300F for about 20 minutes, or until caramelized and roasted smelling
  4. While the prawn heads are baking, sauté the garlic, shallots, fennel & carrots.  Once the vegetables are softened and browned slightly, add the chopped tomatoes and simmer.
  5. Scrape the baked prawns into another saucepan, add boiled water, and use a little of the boiled water to dissolve the prawn bits stuck to the baking tray and scrape all the goodness off into the prawn saucepan.
  6. Bring the prawns in the water to boil, and then reduce to a simmer.  After it's cooked for at least an hour, strain the liquid into the vegetables, and run the prawn heads through a food mill to get the last of the juices out.  Alternatively, you could finely food process the heads, then run through a sieve or a sieve and cheesecloth.
  7. Add the prawn juices to the soup, and reduce to a low simmer, and cook for a number of hours (one at least).
  8. When you're ready to serve, bring back to a boil, and if you like, add the prawn tails to cook for less than 1 minute.  Alternatively, use the tails in another dish.
  9. Serve the soup topped with grated romano or parmesan cheese or just as is.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Baking for Allergies

Moo Two, II 
Got Milk?  Nope, we don't.

 While avoiding wheat is not a new thing in this household, we've now got the list of allergens or foods to avoid up to quite a challenging tally:
  • dairy (K)
  • eggs (K)
  • wheat (K, B)
  • corn (K)
  • rice (K)
  • soy (B)
  • millet (B)
  • flax (B)
  • chocolate (D)
  • most nuts (A)
(K = Kate, B = Betty, D = Dave, and of course, for now, much of what Kate is off, so am I)

I've found a lot of useful food ideas from the vegan community, since, by default, they don't use any animal products, and that eliminates any possibility of dairy or eggs in their recipes.  There are a lot of people out there going wheat-free, so that helps too.  But when I can't use rice or corn either, that certainly throws up a further challenge.

Here are some useful things that I've learned.

Baking powder usually has corn starch in it, and may even have wheat or gluten hiding in there.  So you can make your own!  All you need is baking soda, some kind of starch (e.g. tapioca, potato, or corn if you want) and cream of tartar.  Easy to do and it stores just fine.

While we've used brown rice flour for yonks (usually at 1/8 cup less per cup of wheat flour called for) instead of wheat flour, we only recently started using sorghum flour, thanks to the recipes from  I've also played around a lot with flour/starch mixes, and have learned that approximately 70% flour to 30% starch to replace what's called for as wheat flour works pretty well in many applications (I can't remember for sure where I pulled that from, but I know I didn't invent it).  I'm pleased with the  tef grain flour / tapioca or potato starch mix for cookies and muffins; I've yet to try it with cakes, but that'll be next on the list.

What to do about eggs?  Well, for those people who can use soy, that's often an alternative to certain recipes (especially stuff like quiches, I understand).  A half a banana can also replace one egg in a recipe (works for muffins or pancakes, and some more "rustic" cake recipes).  Ground flax meal (best if you grind the seeds fresh yourself) mixed with water (about 1 tbsp meal to 3 tbsp water per egg replaced) apparently gels well and works.  Since flax is one of the things we can't use for everyone here, I thought I'd try chia seed instead.  Same thing: 1 tbsp chia seed (but you don't have to grind it) to 3 tbsp liquid per egg replaced and let it gel.  So far, it's been great in the muffin and cookie recipes I've tried it in.  We've also used the commercially available egg replacer powder; however, I'm enjoying the chia goo more now. Obviously, you can't really replace eggs when it's a true "eggy" dish, like a custard or a sponge cake.

While nothing really replaces butter, I've found that for most of my baking I can get away with olive oil or similar vegetable oil.  Once in a while, though, you need something that will be more or less firm at room temperature, and I've been using palm oil shortening for those situations.  I've not yet tried coconut oil, but since it's usually solid (or at least firm) at room temperature, I think it might work, too.  I did a ginger shortbread recipe using the palm shortening that, ok, wasn't shortbread really, but it tasted fabulous (kind of like the crumble crust on a cheesecake, but with lots of ginger!).

As for milk, it's probably the easiest thing to replace, as long as you can use any one of the milk substitutes, like soy, almond, rice or coconut milk (now also they have barley milk!).  Still haven't figured out how to get around not using full heavy cream, but coconut milk cream does a pretty good job in many situations, and coconut milk is certainly my go-to milk replacement in any creamy-type soup.  And while it's not custard, chia pudding or using gelatin (if you're not vegan) to make puddings with milk substitutes is pretty darned tasty.

Whatever you try, remember, it's probably better than nothing, and sometimes really darned good, but you're never going to get the same results as you would using traditional wheat/dairy/egg in those recipes.  Experiment and see what you come up with - at worst, it's compost, at best, you'll discover a new family favourite!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Chia Pudding - Theme and Variation

Now that I'm at the "what on earth do I feed her" stage of Kate's development, compounded by complications of multiple allergens, I've been scouring the interwebs looking for dairy-, egg- and wheat-free food (preferably baking and desserts, I'm just that kinda gal).

Enter the idea of chia seed pudding: fits in with those of you raw and vegan (if you use a dairy-free option fot the liquid) foodies, fibre-full for those trying to "feel full", great source of calcium and omega-3s, plus endless opportunities to play with flavours.  Now, if you don't like gel-textured things (think: tapioca pudding), run, don't walk, away from this post.  You'll need to come up with some other way to eat your chia seeds.

photos source: blogilates

I started off with blogilates' chia seed pudding: 2 tbsp white chia seed plus 1 cup liquid (in my case, I tried it with rice milk first - this was before we were off rice...).  While it was tasty, it didn't gel at all like in her blog post.  Hmmm.  See how those are dark little bits floating around in the milk?  One of the staff at the Duncan Community Farm Market indicated there wasn't much difference between white and black chia, so I grabbed the least expensive available at the time, which was white.  I went back and picked up black, and it gels way better.

photo source: choosing raw

Next stop: leftover oven-roasted squash with smoked sea salt and rosemary.  That'd be neat, hey?  I used choosing raw's pumpkin chia pudding as a springboard, adding our own home-grown & pressed organic apple juice for the liquid.  Yum, yum.  Very nice use of leftover squash!

Now I have an opened jar of apple juice... let's add a banana, handful of frozen blueberries, and chia seed to the juice, plus a sprinkling of cardamom (a very under-utilized spice in my opinion), combine with stick-blender, and voila!  If you add a few more whole blueberries after the fact, it makes it even more appealing to blueberry-faced toddlers.

photo source: dinutrition

dinutrition decided to riff on this with her own take - I quite like the idea of adding some nut/seed butter to the mix; I will have to try tahini and almond milk next, I think, maybe with some vanilla and a little garam masala?  So many possibilities!

I also recently tried our own cranberry juice (read: extremely tart) with some of our apple juice for sweetness (about 3:1 cranberry to apple juice), some cardamom for spice, and it was really great.  Tangy, interesting, and the chia seemed to soak up the sour.  I wonder what pudding I'll try next...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Diapering Dilemma - An Overwhelming Choice

Trying to be somewhat responsible to the planet, and yet recognizing that life needs to be not too complicated, we have travelled down a convoluted path, working out what diapers to use. I really hate the concept of disposables, but they are undeniably convenient. We started with a local diaper service, and at the beginning when Kate was brand new (I can't believe that was 18 months ago!!!), we were really happy. They provided unlimited cloth diapers, and once a week picked up the bag of soiled diapers and left freshly cleaned ones for us. It was perfect, until she grew a little bigger, and then she was in between diaper sizes for some time. The positives about the diapers used by the diaper service: they were very absorbent (they had microfleece lining and some kind of microfleece suede outer cover) and the waterproof covers meant that usually we only had to change the diaper but not the cover, and of course the convenience of having them collected and cleaned cannot be overstated. The negatives, however, were too annoying to overlook. The diapers themselves didn't have many snap choices. They sold that as a positive (i.e. only one snap per side!) but that was not a positive as far as we were concerned, because as Kate grew, it became more and more challenging to find an appropriate setting for the snaps. That, and the manufacture of the diapers was hugely inconsistent and variable in the placement of the snaps and the shape and dimensions of the diapers themselves, so if you figured out the alignment for one diaper, it certainly didn't automatically work for the next one. I also wasn't a fan of the rash that developed along the serged seams on the leg openings. We ended up having too many blowouts for my liking, which kind of defeats the purpose as far as I'm concerned: it ceased to be convenient and relatively easy to use.

So we thanked them for their wonderful service, explained that it was more about the product than their service (which was fantastic, and for other babies, it's possible the diapers would work just perfectly), and I had to figure out what else we could do. We went through some various disposable options; I hate the chemical smell that most disposable diapers contain to let you know when the diapers are wet (like you can't tell just by squishing them slightly), so I tried to find unscented and undyed options. We loved the price and fit of the PC Green disposables, but I hated the plastic smell of them so much that I'd open a package and open every single diaper to try and air it first before Kate used it. They also gave Kate a rash, so that didn't work  We ended up using the 7th Generation disposables for a number of weeks. They worked well, they didn't give Kate a rash, and they didn't smell, but they are not inexpensive.  We went back to the PC Green brand since, as they have ceased to be plastic smelling, and haven't given Kate a rash again, so they're now our go-to disposable for travelling and night time; not cheap, but a somewhat inexpensive dye-free and scent-free alternative

I didn't want to stay with disposables, so I started the search for cloth diapers. Oh. My. Goodness. The options! Well, I suppose that's good, but it's certainly overwhelming. We luckily had a store not too far away that offered a trial borrow program. Fantastic! I decided that I wasn't a fan of fitted and prefold diapers. The fitted were pretty similar to the diapers used by the service, but like those diapers, the serged stitching along the leg openings were abrasive. One-sized diapers appeal, because they will grow with your baby, and in theory, you only have to buy one set to last for the length of diapering. The down-side is that for small babies (and Kate seems to have a skinny waist and thighs), one-sized diapers can be too big for some time. I didn't mind the concept of stuffing, so pocket diapers were a reasonable sounding option.

So we tried a few different varieties, and my favourites that we borrowed were the Baby Kangas one sized pocket diapers. The pockets on these were accessed from the front and outside, which, when you consider what you have to do to unstuff a poopy diaper, had huge appeal. They worked quite well, but had hemp inserts. While hemp and cotton are very absorbent, they're not very good at wicking moisture away from the skin. The Kangas do have a polyester layer between the baby and the inserts, it didn't seem to do a good enough job keeping Kate's bum dry.

I decided that I really liked the ability to remove a soiled layer and replace it, while keeping the outer covering for reuse.  I started looking for something along those lines, and discovered gDiapers, which seemed to fit the bill perfectly.  I looked high and low for them, but the only option you can buy here in Canada is the cover and the disposable insert.  Well, that kind of defeats the purpose of the reusable cover and not disposing (they say they can be flushed, but we're on septic and I sure didn't want to take the chance).

Finally, I ran across the Flip diaper system, and it seemed to meet all of my requirements: an absorbent insert that is easy to load & unload, leak-proof outer covers that have soft edges for around the legs and middle with lots of snaps options, and they're "one size" such that you change the rise dimensions with the three sizing snaps in front.  And I was able to purchase them in Canada!

The verdict?  These work really, really well for us.  They seem to fit our skinny, tall & lanky little girl, and they've grown well with her.  The process of washing every three days takes a little getting used to, and making sure to strip the detergent build up every once in a while is important too.  Sadly, since we have to use so much oily creams etc. on Kate's legs and mid-section for her eczema, I've had to replace the covers recently (i.e. after about a year of use) because they all of a sudden just lost their waterproofing (hardly surprising: oils and waterproofing do not mix well), but I think that wouldn't be necessary in most situations.  I believe that this product should be useful for most people right up until no more diapers are required.  And I feel that they were a good, economic solution to the cloth diapering that we were hoping to achieve (because oh boy, are those "all in one" diapers expensive).

What are your favourite cloth or disposable diapers and why?  Have you had any true disasters?  Please share - it's great to learn other options!

Winter Relief Update

I originally posted a recipe for Whipped Shea Butter over a year ago, and we've been using it quite religiously ever since.  I've made a few changes, though, which I find quite effective.  So here's the updated recipe.

  • 10 oz Shea butter (preferably unrefined, cold pressed or however the equivalent works for it)
  • 4 oz carrier oil (I used grapeseed oil or calendula-infused sunflower oil, if I've got it on hand)
  • 1 oz unrefined beeswax
  • 1 oz unrefined cocoa butter
  • essential oils - I use about 20 drops each French Alp lavender, tea tree and grapefruit seed extract to help with K's eczema, but a nice smelling combination is peru balsam & cinnamon oils.
  • 10 capsules of vitamin E - just the oil inside, I discard the capsules

Prepare your mixing bowl (i.e. if you've got a stand mixer, use that bowl, otherwise get a different bowl to whip the ingredients) by placing in the freezer.  Best not to use a glass or ceramic one, so that it doesn't shatter when you pour the hot liquid into it.

Melt the shea butter, beeswax and cocoa butter in a double burner (I use a ceramic bowl over a pot of almost boiling water, careful that the water doesn't touch the bowl).  Let the temperature of the mixture reach 180F, and keep it there for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour the melted mixture into your chilled bowl, add your carrier oil, and place in freezer for about 5-10 minutes, depending on the temperature of your freezer.  Just long enough to start to resolidify the mix, which will make it a little creamy but not solid.

Use stand mixer (if you've got one) or an electric beater to whip the mixture until it forms really thick peaks.  About half way through the process (i.e. it's getting more stiff but still quite creamy and soft), add the essential oils and vitamin E capsule contents, then finish beating.  Scrape the bowl often, because the mixture will solidify at different rates.

When the mixture has reached a nice stiff consistency and holds very strong peaks:

scoop into clean and preferably sterilized containers.  I haven't yet tried, but I bet using a parchment paper icing bag with a big icing nozzle would work really well.  Place the lids on the containers and put away.  Make sure to use up all the extra loveliness stuck to the bowl & mixer parts!

When you go to apply the cream, it will be stiff and hard-ish in the container, but the heat from your hands will melt it really quickly, so as you apply it to your skin, it will soak in beautifully.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 6, 2012

So Much to Tell

We have been very busy in the garden & kitchen during 2011, I just haven't had a chance to share with everyone.  In quick summary:

  • Despite the extremely slow start to the season and depressingly cool summer, we had a surprisingly bountiful harvest from our garden, especially potatoes, dried beans, squash, and tomatoes.  Once again, we figured we would have no tomatillos and ended up with a bumper crop (although they didn't ripen very well, and as a result didn't store very well at all).  Even our peppers did really well this year, and we smoked our Guajillo chillies in our new Bradley Smoker!  They are fabulous in soups, stews and sauces, with just a little bite and a lovely smoky flavour to enhance anything they're tossed into.  We also tried dehydrated tomatoes and had enough of our Red Ruffle bell peppers to dry again this year, which I've been adding to just about all of my savoury recipes.
  • We have our first livestock!  In July, we picked up 9 young Muskovy ducks: 3 drakes and 6 ducks.  They've been enjoying our orchard & field, and keeping the weeds cropped beautifully.  Plus, they really got into slug duty this summer, so we're enthusiastically looking forward to their slugging abilities this coming spring.  They started to lay in late November, and Dave's been collecting about 3-5 eggs every day since then.  We'll be letting them raise their babies in the spring, in the hopes that we can have duck meat to make into confit, casssoulet, ham, sausage, and just duck!
  • We participated in a Community Supported Fishery through the Michelle Rose in Cowichan Bay.  As a result, we had about 11 pounds of king shrimp and spot prawns, and a little less than 10 pounds of sockeye and pink filets.  We christened the Bradley by cold-smoking some sockeye, and I made my first batch of gravlax.  The seafood (including the smoked salmon) has made it into a few chowders with our root veggies (rutabaga, potato, parsnip, leeks & onions), smoked guajillo & dehydrated ruffle peppers, home-made chicken stock, our grilled corn nibblets and coconut milk finish - totally yum.
  • We had our first "feast of the fields" equivalent - we hosted a mid-winter feast with our friends, and dined on the gravlax with home-made butter (sigh, not yet with our own cream) on home-grown home-made rye bread, spicy pumpkin soup, espresso-braised venison, rutabaga potato gratin, and pumpkin pie, accompanied with home-made apple plum wine.  It was fabulous, and we're looking forward to repeating this new tradition annually (maybe even semi-annually with a summer feast, too!). 
  • In dealing with eliminating eggs, wheat & dairy (and now corn & rice for the foreseeable future) due to Kate's eczema, I've been exploring baking with allergy-friendly alternatives.  I purchased's recipe book and have made quite a few of her recipes very successfully.  I recommend trying the cinnamon rolls (they're weird to make but really, really tasty) and the gingerbread cookies (even if it's no longer Christmas).  I used sorghum flour in both to great success.     There are also some great recipes on Bob's Red Mill site.  I'm also now trying to eat a lot more veggies, especially greens (check out the TedX presentation by Terry Wahls), and have discovered that I actually love kale chips (go figure)!  I've also invested in some super food stuff via recipes from Meghan Telpner's Making Love in the Kitchen blog.  After enjoying the Tumeric Tea (actually more like spicy chai tea with tumeric added) and Raw Chocolate Bark yesterday, I am definitely looking forward to some more experimentation in this department.

Since I can't seem to keep up with what I'm doing in the kitchen, you can always have a look at my SpringPad site to see what recipes I'm collecting and trying out.

I'm sure there's been more activity - of course there has, Kate's now 18 months and there's been a year's worth full of development and exploration in that department.  The addition is now mostly complete, certainly Mom has been living there since about May, and really enjoying it.  We're now turning our thoughts towards getting Dave a shop built, so that he can get back into making his beautiful furniture.