Monday, October 20, 2014

Confetti Popcorn Candy

wedding favors, birthday party snacks, baby shower snacks

Just in case anyone thought this was a healthy cooking blog, this post ought to clear things right up. I love a sweet treat, especially one that is as pretty as this confetti popcorn candy. This sweet, crunchy snack is so cute and so delicious, and the best part is it can be made in any colour you like; perfect for birthday parties, baby showers and wedding favors.

Just imagine all the colour combinations for different occasions:

Halloween - Orange popcorn candy with black sprinkles.
Christmas - Green popcorn candy with red and white sprinkles.
Valentine's Day - Pink popcorn candy with red shimmer sprinkles.
St. Patrick's Day - Green popcorn candy with green shimmer sprinkles.
Easter - Blue popcorn candy with pastel sprinkles.
Canada Day - Red popcorn candy with white sprinkles.
Fourth of July - Blue popcorn candy with red and white sprinkles.

So many options! Grab the recipe below and start celebrating...

wedding favor ideas, birthday party snacks, baby shower snacks

Confetti Popcorn Candy
Makes 8-10 servings

10 cups (2.5 L) popped popcorn
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) milk
1 tsp (5 mL) pure vanilla
red food colouring (or desired colour)
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) rainbow sprinkles (or desired colour)

Add the popcorn to a large bowl and set aside. Line a baking sheet with wax paper and set aside.

Pour the sugar into a medium saucepan. Stir in the milk, vanilla and 5 to 10 drops of food colouring (depending on how bright you want the colour). Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Maintain a full boil for 30 seconds, still stirring. Remove from the heat. Pour over the popcorn and toss with two large spoons to evenly coat.

Spread the popcorn out on the wax paper to cool. Sprinkle with the sprinkles. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving (it will become less sticky and more candy-like as it cools).

What colour combination would you make your Confetti Popcorn Candy?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Spice Muffins

For food writers, flavour trends are a double-edged sword. Write about one as it is emerging and you are relevant and intuitive. Write about a trend once it has been around long enough to infiltrate fast food menus, and you are so pedestrian and last year. Take pumpkin spice, for example. This fall flavour trend burst onto the scene and our palates about 10 years ago, mostly thanks to a certain coffee chain and a certain latte. Every September it comes back and crowds line up for a heavy dose of pumpkin spice indulgence while food writers scratch their heads, increasingly questioning the relevance of pumpkin spice while increasingly churning out fresh, new pumpkin spice content.

Well, I'm a real home cook making real food for my real family, and since I don't have to concern myself too much with being trendy on this blog, I have only this to say about pumpkin spice:

I freaking love pumpkin spice. It's delicious.

Relevant or repetitious, I don't care. I'll take pumpkin spice any way I can get it. In fact, I just bought some foam hand soap in pumpkin spice scent, and I'll be open and honest with you, I got more than one bottle. This passion is not fading. I would put money on it that 10 years from now I'll still love pumpkin spice. Not because it's trendy and not because it's cool, but because pumpkin combined with the Big Four - cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves - is just darn delicious.

These moist and flavourful muffins are made with whole wheat flour, canned pumpkin and those Big Four spices I love to love. So, grab the recipe below and get baking them in your own oven, and let's pumpkin spice the heck out of ourselves until spring.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Spice Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

1 can (425 g/15 oz) pure pumpkin
1 egg
3/4 cup (175 mL) brown sugar
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, melted
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) whole wheat flour
1 tsp (5 mL) baking powder
1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground ginger
1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground cloves
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/4 cup (60 mL) raw pumpkin seeds (optional)

Preheat your oven to 375°F/190°C. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin, egg and brown sugar and beat until well blended. Pour in the butter and beat again until blended.

In a separate medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing just until moistened.

Scoop the batter into a well-greased (or lined with parchment cups) muffin pan. Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds evenly on top of the batter, if using. Bake in the centre of the oven for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

What's your favourite way to enjoy pumpkin spice?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Sausage Roast with Potato and Leek

A roast is a lazy cook's best friend. Okay, maybe lazy isn't the right word. Let's go with busy doing other important things. I mean, piling food into a roasting pan and popping it in the oven takes about ten minutes. Then the oven does all the hard work while I go do important things like... well... check Facebook. Okay, maybe lazy IS the right word.

This sausage roast starts with a bed of potatoes and leeks tossed with olive oil and seasoned simply with salt and pepper. Then the sausages and whole grape tomatoes are scattered over the veggie bed and the whole thing goes in the hot oven for an hour. The result is a tasty, one-pan sausage supper with vegetables roasted in sausage juices. My favourite is the tangy burst of roasted tomatoes.

Get the easy recipe below...

Sausage Roast with Potato and Leek
Makes 4 to 5 servings

2 1/2 lb (1.125 kg) waxy potatoes
1 large leek
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
1 tsp (5 mL) coarse salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) black pepper
1 lb (450 g) pork sausages (such as mild or hot Italian)
1 cup (250 mL) grape or cherry tomatoes

Chop the potatoes into 1.5-inch/4 cm pieces, leaving the skins on. Add the potatoes to a 9x13 roasting pan (or lasagna baking dish). Trim off and discard the root end of the leek. Slice the leek into 1/4-inch/5 mm pieces, using the green and the white part of the leek. Rinse the pieces well to remove any grit. Add the leek pieces to the potatoes. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with the salt and pepper. Toss the veggies to coat. Layer the sausages on top of the vegetables and dot the surface with the tomatoes. Roast in a preheated oven set at 400°F/200°C for 1 hour, rotating the sausages once during the roast time.

What's your favourite lazy supper?

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Good Book Club

The London Chef and Bolen Books

Some things just go together. Chocolate and peanut butter. Strawberries and rhubarb. And now good books and great dining. That's the spirit behind a fun new partnership between Victoria's beloved community book store, Bolen Books, and the best cooking school in the world (I teach there so I'm allowed to be a little biased), The London Chef.

The duo have come up with The Good Book Club, which brings good books to life on the plate. Participants get a copy of the book selection when they sign up, then an evening at The London Chef with other readers to discuss the book while dining on a meal inspired by the book itself. At some meetings the author will even be one of the dinner guests! To start, The Good Book Club is meeting every six weeks or so, and organizers hope to host the club once a month as interest picks up. It sounds incredibly fun for readers looking for a new club, or existing book clubs looking to spice things up a bit. Plus, fall is just a lovely time to cozy up with a new book.

The first title chosen was The Dinner by Herman Koch. Readers gathered around the long wooden dining table Thursday night to reflect on the story and share some book-inspired flavours prepared by Chef Dan Hayes. I haven't read it yet, but The Dinner is on my to-read list now, right after I finish Delicious by Ruth Reichl which is currently on my night stand.

Interested in The Good Book Club? Registration is $75 per person which includes the cost of the book. Check The London Chef website for upcoming titles and dates.

Bolen Books and The London Chef

What food-focused novel is your favourite?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Homestyle Applesauce

Few things feel like fall to me as much as apples. Their juicy crispness and bright flavour mirror the crunch of colourful leaves underfoot and the coolness in the air at this time of year. An apple is an uncomplicated thing, just goodness and potential. I like simple, and apples are one of my favourite ingredients to keep on hand in the kitchen for everything from pies and tarts to soups and salads.
Applesauce is a classic and a kid-favourite that works for snacks, packed lunches and even dessert. I like it best with a little brown sugar and cinnamon stirred in. It's like apple pie in a bowl! Serve it cold out of the fridge or warmed up with an extra sprinkling of cinnamon on top. Delish!
Now go get the easy recipe below...

Homestyle Applesauce
Makes 6 cups (1.5 L) of sauce

4 lb (1.8 kg) saucing apples such as McIntosh, Gala or Fuji (about 10 to 12 large apples)
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) water
1/4 cup (60 mL) packed brown sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon

Peel and core the apples, discarding the peels and cores. Chop the flesh into chunks, adding them to a large saucepan. Pour the water over the apple chunks. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking, uncovered and stirring frequently, until all the apples are soft (about 15 to 20 minutes). Remove from the heat. Use a masher to get a smother but still chunky consistency. Stir in the brown sugar and cinnamon. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

What are you making with apples this fall?