Thursday, February 25, 2010

olympic nanaimo bars

Who would have guessed?

A little Vancouver Island dessert is winning a gold medal at the Olympics. It’s even getting international coverage. (See here and here.)

We Canadians get pretty chuffed when international papers take notice of our humble food culture. You see, we don’t have a unified food culture: we are a country of immigrants and first nations. Our food traditions have roots around the world that sprout into Canadian classics: pierogies, tortière, smoked salmon, poutine and butter tarts to name a few.

But it’s the Nanaimo bar that’s taking the international press by storm!

The Nanaimo bar was created in Nanaimo, a small city on Vancouver Island, in about the 1950s. Apparently, it signified a baking revolution because it called for store-bought cookie crumbs. (Oh, the scandal!)

You might think that would make this recipe extremely simple. Well, it’s not hard, but it does take time for each layer to set.

Traditionally, it has three layers: a coconuty chocolate base, a custard icing, and a soft chocolate top.

But I think the Winter Olympics call for mint. I give you: Olympic Nanaimo bars.

They go well with snowboard cross, curling, ice dancing, hockey . . . whichever Olympic sport you want to watch.

I’ve adapted this recipe from Canadian Living Magazine. If you’d like to see the original, it’s here.

Go, Canada, Go!

Note 1: You can use either regular or gluten-free chocolate cookies. If you use gluten-free cookies, this is a gluten-free recipe. I used these and they worked well.

Note 2: If you’d like to make the bars nut-free, use an extra 1/3 cup of coconut.

olympic nanaimo bars

makes about 20 bars

1/2 c. butter, melted
1 tbsp. white sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp. cocoa
1/3 c. coconut
1/3 c. pecans or walnuts
1 1/2 c. chocolate cookie crumbs

3 tbsp. butter, melted
2 tbsp. milk
1/2 – 1 tsp. peppermint extract (depending on your desire for minty strength)
2 c. icing or powdered sugar
1-2 drops green food colouring (optional)

4 oz. (125 g.) semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 tbsp. butter

preparing the base
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Line an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with parchment paper. Cut 1-2 inch diagonal slits in each of the corners to help it sit more snugly. (Although mine never really sits perfectly.)

In a large bowl, whisk the butter and sugar together. Make sure the mixture isn’t too hot – you don’t want to cook the egg – and beat in the egg. Stir in cocoa and mix well. Stir in the coconut, nuts and chocolate cookie crumbs.

Press into the prepared pan. Bake until firm, about 20 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on rack.

Once it has cooled, pull it off the parchment paper and set the base on a plate or back in the pan.

preparing the filling
Stir the melted butter, milk and peppermint extract together. Beat in the icing sugar till smooth. Add the food colouring one drop at a time – you don’t want to scare people with a super-intense green!

Spread on the cooled base. Refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes.

preparing the topping
Melt the chocolate with the butter in a double-boiler or a metal bowl suspended above simmering water. (You may be tempted to add a drop of peppermint extract here. DON’T DO IT! The alcohol could make the chocolate go funny.)

Spread over the set filling. Let sit for 5 minutes. With a butter knife, score the top to form as many bars as you’d like (about 20). Refrigerate till set. Cut into bars.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

little lemon cakes

I have been eating my Great-Grandma McNair’s lemon loaf as long as I can remember.

When I was a child, my Grandma made it. It would often be in that little wooden drawer along with the other goodies: chocolate cake, at least two kinds of cookies . . . Let’s just say I come by my sweet tooth honestly.

After my Grandma died ten years ago, my dear Great-Aunt Marjorie (her sister) sent me a fat envelope full of photos and family recipes.

I attempted the lemon loaf almost right away and it quickly became a staple. One of those recipes that don’t need exotic ingredients from the store, I could just whip it up whenever I felt like lemon loaf. It always worked and kept well – moist and lemony with a bit of butter spread on top.

But when I entered the strange, leaden world of gluten-free baking, I set the lemon loaf aside – I would conquer it when I had more confidence.

Last week, after three years of gluten-free flops and fanfare, I felt ready to take on my beloved lemon loaf.

I decided to make little cupcakes because gluten-free loaves can be tricky – burnt on the outside, mushy on the inside.

I swapped rice flour, tapioca starch and cornstarch for the wheat flour . . . held my breath while they baked . . . anxiously waited for them to cool . . . and rejoiced!

Lemon loaf is back in my house, just in a different form. These little cakes are chewy and last a few days, if you like to savour them. I brought these ones to Valentine’s parties, so I added icing and candied lemon to make them more festive.

I present to you:

Little lemon cakes for the gluten-free
The original lemon loaf for the gluten eaters

little lemon cakes

1/2 c. butter or margarine
1 c. white sugar
2 eggs
juice and rind from 1 lemon
2/3 c. rice flour
1/2 c. tapioca starch
1/3 c. cornstarch
3/4 tsp. xanthan or guar gum
pinch of salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease or line cupcake tins.

Cream butter and sugar together. Mix in the eggs, lemon juice and lemon rind. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, blend the rice flour, tapioca starch, cornstarch, xanthan gum, salt and baking powder until they are mixed well.

Alternately add the milk and flour mixture to the butter mixture. Stir just until blended.

Fill the cupcake holders until they are almost full.

For mini-cupcakes, bake 12 to 14 minutes.
For regular-sized cupcakes, bake 17 to 19 minutes.

lemon icing for cupcakes

6 tbsp. butter
3 c. icing or powdered sugar
juice and rind from 1 lemon

Cream the butter, icing sugar and lemon rind together.

Add the lemon juice tablespoon by tablespoon until you have the consistency you like.

Spread on cooled cupcakes.

If you’d like to make candied lemon to go on top, as I did, I’d suggest this recipe.

the original lemon loaf

1/2 c. butter or margarine
1 c. white sugar
2 eggs
juice and rind from 1 lemon
1 1/2 c. all purpose wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 c. milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease a loaf pan.

Cream butter and sugar together. Mix in the eggs, lemon juice and lemon rind. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, blend the flour, salt and baking powder.

Alternately add the milk and flour mixture to the butter mixture. Stir just until blended.

Pour into the loaf pan.

Bake for 45 minutes.

lemon loaf glaze

juice of 1 lemon
1/4 c. white sugar

Mix. Pour over loaf when it’s warm from the oven and the glaze will melt into it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I remember the magic of seeing my Mom sitting at the kitchen table, stirring chocolate chips into oats and honey.

I could hardly believe my good fortune. This granola – with chocolate chips – would become my breakfast the next day.

As a healthy little girl who could only dream about Fruit Loops and other cereals that listed sugar as a first or second ingredient, I was astonished.

I don’t remember my Mom making this granola very often, but, boy, did I long for it.

Now that I’m a bit older, my chocolate longings don’t kick in until about 1 o’clock in the afternoon. But my love of oats and honey for breakfast has stuck around and prompted me to create this muesli.

It’s full of goodness – oats and flax and seeds, but the nuts and dried fruit keep it interesting. And the honey gives me a sweeter disposition to face the day. (Or so I tell my husband.)

I call this a muesli because it’s softer than granola. Still with crispy bits, but not baked so crunchy that chewing it jars me awake.

As you’ll see by the number of parentheses in the recipe, almost everything is optional. Look in your cupboard for inspiration. As long as you keep the oats and honey, you’ll have muesli.

A note for gluten-free people:
This recipe will only work for you if you can tolerate oats. Make sure you find oats that were grown in an uncontaminated field and processed in an uncontaminated factory. My favourite oats come from Cream Hill Estates.


makes about 10 to 12 bowls of breakfast

3 c. rolled oats
1/4 c. rice germ (optional)
2/3 c. shredded or flaked coconut
2-3 tbsp. finely ground flax
2 tbsp. sesame seeds (optional)
1/4 tsp. salt
sprinkle of cardamom (or cinnamon)
1/2 c. nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts)
1/4 c. pumpkin seeds (optional)
1/2 c. raisins (or dried blueberries, cranberries, dates or prunes)
2/3 c. dried apple rings, diced (optional)
1/3 to 1/2 c. honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix oats, rice germ, coconut, flax, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, salt, and cardamom together. Pour onto a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

While this is baking, you can also roast the nuts and pumpkin seeds, if you like. Put them on a pie plate and slide them into the oven for 3 to 4 minutes – any longer, and they will burn.

Once the oat mixture and the nuts and pumpkin seeds are ready, mix everything together except the honey.

When it is all jumbled up, drizzle the honey on top. Stir every few drizzles until you get the consistency you like. (I like lots of small clumps with a few stray oats and raisins.)

Keeps in a sealed container for two weeks.

Serve with yogurt or milk.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

ugly vegetables make beautiful soup

Celeriac – which is also called celery root – is not a pretty vegetable.

It is homely and gnarly and hairy.

I’m afraid I had ignored it for years . . . but it kept looking at me reproachfully in the winter, and whispering as I rolled my cart by: “I may be ugly, but I’m in season!”

In season, yes, but what do I do with you?

Then, one day, I had a revelation. Soup. Root vegetables are generally good for roasting and for soup. I must get over my revulsion and just take it home. Maybe, I thought, it’s like the beast in Beauty and the Beast: homely, gnarly, hairy but with a kind and tender heart.

And how kind and tender it is, in my pretty new bowl.

Celeriac cooks into a creamy, velvety soup that belies its humble beginnings.

Once I had peeled and chopped the celeriac, I smelled it . . . and was pleased. It smelled faintly of celery, but was richer and deeper. I decided to caramelize the onions to complement that mellow flavour and not overpower it.

In the end, swirled with a bit of cream and green onion, the soup is a beautiful, pale green colour. It doesn’t have a brash, look-at-me beauty but it’s certainly better than its natural hairy state.

Beautiful, and definitely worth eating. We had it for dinner with Brazilian cheese buns. But I think it would also work well as a little starter soup. You could ladle it into small teacups to begin a fancy dinner party.

creamy celeriac soup

serves 4-5

just over 1 lb. (500 g.) celeriac, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 medium-large baking potato (about 11 oz. or 300 g.)
5 c. chicken stock
3 tbsp. green onion, chopped finely
1/2 c. cream

Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over low to medium heat.

Add onion, sugar, salt and pepper. Lower the heat to prevent sticking and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Eventually, they will become caramelized onions – soft and sweet.

While the onions are cooking, you can prepare the celeriac, potato and green onion.

Once the onions are caramelized, add the stock and celeriac. Bring them to a boil and simmer for 6 minutes.

Add the potatoes and simmer until both vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Take the pot off the heat.

Pull out your immersion blender, or carefully move portions of the soup to a regular blender. (The immersion blender is much easier.)

If you haven’t already got an apron on, put it on now. Blend the soup together, taking care not to let it splatter up to you.

Return the soup to the stovetop and turn the heat on to medium-low. Now, be careful! This soup likes to burp the soup up towards the cook, so stand back and keep the heat down.

Stir in the cream and most of the green onion, and heat just till hot. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Sprinkle a few pieces of green onion on each bowl when serving.