Thursday, April 28, 2016

Chocolate Strawberry Goat Cheese Crostini

Disclosure: I am being paid to develop this original recipe content using Green & Black's Organic chocolate. I know, twist my arm to write about chocolate.

I'll be in the garden this Mother's Day. 

It's a family tradition to plant our veggie garden and pot some flowers on Mother's Day each year. My mum usually comes over and we make a trip to our favourite garden centre to pick up some flowers, potting soil, veggie starts and seeds, and by the time we get home Mr. Feedbag has usually tilled the two long raised garden beds in our back yard. He's a sweetheart like that.

Working around the already huge rhubarb plants and flowering strawberry patch, I dig new homes for our summer tomatoes and zucchini plants. With long sweeps of the trowel, I make tiny trenches and drop in rows of carrot and lettuce seeds before covering them with soil and giving them their first sip of water. We put stakes in place and tie up new string lines for the peas to climb up under the summer sun. Beginnings.

Today I'm sharing another Mother's Day recipe made with Green & Black's Organic chocolate. This time I'm using 70% dark chocolate to make a savoury appetizer that's right at home on your Mother's Day menu. These chocolate strawberry goat cheese crostini are as pretty as they are completely tasty. I love strawberries with dark chocolate and I love strawberries with balsamic vinegar. Add in a fresh basil leaf and cool, creamy goat cheese on a crunchy slice of toasted baguette and you have a combination that feels fresh and fancy despite the fact they're actually super easy to make.

Watch my how-to video to make these simple appetizers, or scroll down to get my full recipe...

Chocolate Balsamic Strawberry Goat Cheese Crostini
Makes 24 appetizers

1 baguette, sliced into 24 pieces
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
150 grams goat cheese
24 fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup (175 mL) sliced strawberries
1 bar (100 grams) Green & Black's Organic Dark Chocolate with 70% Cocoa
2 tsp (10 mL) liquid honey
2 tbsp (30 mL) balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

On a baking sheet, drizzle baguette slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat, then spread out on a single layer. Bake until lightly golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Spread each crostini with some goat cheese. Add a basil leaf to each one, then a slice of strawberry. Set aside.

Add 1 inch of water to a small saucepan. Finely chop the chocolate bar, transferring about two thirds to a heat-proof bowl, reserving the remaining chocolate. Set the bowl over the saucepan to create a double boiler. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate is fully melted. Remove bowl from heat. Stir in reserved chocolate until fully melted.

Stir in the honey and balsamic vinegar into the chocolate until smooth. Transfer to a squeeze bottle (or use a spoon) and drizzle over crostini. Serve immediately.

NOTE: The baguette can be sliced and baked a day ahead and kept fresh in a sealed container. The chocolate balsamic glaze can be made ahead and reheated in the microwave, checking every 20 seconds, until melted. Assemble with other ingredients just before serving.

Are you a fan of dark chocolate? Do you use chocolate in savoury recipes? Leave a comment and share your ideas.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

White Chocolate Sprinkle Truffles with Green & Black's

[Disclosure: I am being paid to develop and photograph this original content using Green & Black's Organic chocolate products. Also, chocolate!]

I always knew I wanted to be a mom. 

As a kid, when friends said they wanted to be veterinarians and fire fighters and rocket scientists when they grew up, I would say with my little girl conviction that I wanted to be a blood donor and a mom. Goals achieved, I guess you could say. Sure, there were other fun things along the way. I was a news anchor for a while, ran a half-marathon once, became an author, but in the end it is motherhood that makes me the happiest and feels like a home for my heart.

I know a lot of you can relate, and since Mother's Day is coming up fast I am sharing some chocolatey goodness this week in partnership with Green & Black's Organic. I have two new recipes to share, crafted in my own little kitchen, to make for or with the moms in your life. 

Today I'm sharing some dainty sweet treats that can be boxed up and wrapped with a bow. These white chocolate sprinkle truffles are made with Green & Black's Organic White Chocolate with Madagascan Vanilla (ya, it tastes as good as it sounds). These chocolate-coated truffles have a satisfyingly silky white chocolate ganache centre, and they are fun to make and oh-so-pretty. Use whatever colour sprinkles you have on hand or go with mom's favourite colour.

For all you mamas out there, a very happy almost Mother's Day to you. I'll have another chocolate recipe in a couple days, complete with a fun how-to video. For now, scroll down to get my recipe for white chocolate sprinkle truffles, and be good to your mutha...

White Chocolate Sprinkle Truffles
Makes 2 dozen truffles

4 bars (4 x 100 grams) Green & Black's Organic White Chocolate with Madagascan Vanilla
1/4 cup (60 mL) whipping cream
2 tsp (10 mL) sprinkles (any colour)

Finely chop 2 chocolate bars and transfer to a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, bring cream to a boil over medium-high heat. Pour over chocolate. Allow to sit for 1 minute to begin melting, then gently stir until fully melted. Cover and refrigerate until firm (about 2 hours).

Using a small spoon or melon baller, scoop small amounts of the ganache and roll into 1 inch balls (this is easiest done with cool hands). Transfer balls to a wax paper-line sheet. Chill for 10 minutes.

Finely chop 2 more chocolate bars. Transfer about two-thirds of the chocolate to a medium heat-proof bowl. Add 1 inch of water to a small saucepan and set the bowl over it to create a double boiler. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate is melted. Remove bowl from the heat. Stir in the remaining chocolate until fully melted.

Using a fork, dip the ganache balls into the melted chocolate to coat. Allow excess to drip off, then return to wax paper-lined sheet. Top each truffle with sprinkles as you work before the chocolate hardens.

Truffles can be stored in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

NOTE: If the ganache is left in the refrigerator for longer than 2 hours and is too firm to roll into balls, allow to sit at room temperature for half an hour to soften slightly.

How do you use white chocolate in your kitchen? Cookies? Muffins? Truffles? Leave a comment and let's talk white chocolate.

Monday, March 28, 2016

'Homegrown' the Cookbook: Quebec Style Pea Soup

I'm getting all patriotic on you today and joining with a group of Canadian food bloggers to spread the joy about the new cookbook Homegrown by our pal Mairlyn Smith. This collection of Canadian recipes, published by Whitecap Books, is perfectly summed up by its subtitle - Celebrating the Canadian Foods We Grow, Raise and Produce With 160 Recipes. If you never knew how much of what we eat is grown right here at home, this book will bring you up to speed quickly and on a full stomach.

Mairlyn is a professional home economist, cookbook author, media darling and all around funny gal (she's a Second City Comedy Troupe alumnus). Whatever the room, she is bound to be the most sparkling personality in it as she wishes one and all, "Peace, love and fibre." When she speaks passionately about something, you can't help but care about it too. So it's no surprise she is the one bringing Canadians together in a tasty celebration over the food grown and raised right here at home.

In Homegrown, Mairlyn takes us all across this great land of ours from east to west, north to south, and through four seasons to showcase what it is to eat Canadian. It reminds us of the bounty of our prairies, the wealth of our waterways, the fruitfulness of our soil, and the beauty of sharing all that food with each other. Homegrown connects home cooks to the family farm and puts that bounty in our bowls so we can feel good about eating well and supporting the families that work hard to fill our shopping baskets.

To me, split pea soup is Canada in a bowl. A regular part of our post-Easter family dinners growing up, a bowl of thick pea soup with cubes of leftover ham was pure Canadian comfort food. On page 146 of Homegrown, we are treated to a recipe for Quebec Style Pea Soup (recipe below), which is absolutely everything you want it to be. It starts with bacon and ends with spoonfuls of thick and satisfying pea soup just like mom used to make. Simple, comforting and full of fibre, this is a Canadian tradition I could come back to time and again.

I visited Quebec City this past December for a fun-filled three day shopping trip with two long-time girlfriends, and we had so much fun enjoying the flavours of Quebec while we were there. I seem to have developed a particular affection for Quebec flavours now, wherever I can get them, so my choice of making the Quebec Style Pea Soup was an easy one. Make it, you'll like it. And in the words of Mairlyn, "Peace, love and fibre."

Now for the blog book tour! Visit these other fine food bloggers to see what Homegrown goodness they've cooked up:

Quebec Style Pea Soup
Contributed by Carol Frail, PHEc

From Homegrown: Celebrating the Canadian Foods We Grow, Raise and Produce with 160 Recipes, authored by Mairlyn Smith. Reprinted with permission of Whitecap Books, 2016.

8 slices bacon, diced (low sodium recommended)
1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, scrubbed well and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp (10 mL) dried thyme
1/4 tsp (1 mL) freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) dried split peas, rinsed and drained
1 tsp (5 mL) iodized salt
7 cups (1.75 L) no salt added vegetable broth
1/4 cup (60 mL) finely chopped green onions (optional)

1. In a large soup pot over medium heat, sauté the bacon until crisp, remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel. Set aside.
2. Add onion and carrots and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the minced garlic, thyme, black pepper, bay leaf, cubed potatoes, split peas and salt. Sauté for 1 minute.
3. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for approximately 45 minutes or until the peas and potatoes are very soft.
4. Remove soup from the heat and remove the bay leaf; using a hand held immersion blender, puree the soup or transfer to a blender or food processor and puree in smaller batches, then return soup to saucepan.
5. If needed, add additional water or broth. Reheat if necessary. Sprinkle bacon over soup, stir in and serve. Sprinkle with green onion, if using.

Makes 8 cups (2 L) One serving = 1 cup (250 mL)

To purchase your own copy of Homegrown, you can pick one up at your local book store or purchase one online here!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Understanding Nutrition Labels in 3 Simple Steps

Grocery shopping for a family can be hectic. Between the planning, the price comparing and the physical moving of it all from shelf to cart to checkout to home, it's no wonder home cooks who once enjoyed a leisurely visit to the grocery store start to dread it as their families get bigger. I wish I could say I have some sort of system worked out, but most of the time I'm out there with no game plan and no patience, plowing my cart up and down aisles, kids hanging off the sides, trying to remember what was on the half-written list I forgot by the front door at home.

So, I'm all ears about anything that simplifies the process, especially when it comes to understanding what's in our food quickly and easily. For my own health, I am interested in avoiding hidden sugars in products where you don't expect them, such as pasta sauces (which is why I don't buy them at all anymore), and bonus protein wherever I can find it.

Recently I attended a blogger event in Vancouver with my family where we learned together to 'Focus on the Facts' - that is we learned Health Canada's 3 steps to using the Nutrition Facts table found on most packaged foods. It's pretty simple, really. You start first by looking at the serving size. After all, if you're going to compare products you need to know if you're comparing them fairly. Then you look at the percent daily value for the nutrients you are interested in. Finally, you make an informed choice based on your family's needs. A good rule to follow is 5 per cent is a little, 15 per cent is a lot. Simple, right?

Health Canada's 3-steps to using the Nutrition Facts table (credit: Health Canada).
My kids and I compared a few products we buy a lot, such as tortilla chips. Seriously, my kids would snack on those all day every day if I let them. We compared a multigrain chip and an original chip from the same brand and we were interested to discover that the original chip is in fact the better choice for our family, based on sugars and protein. I had read something online recently about this comparison, and upon personal investigation I'd say that's pretty surprising!

We also compared jarred pasta sauce with a can of plain tomato sauce. Each of them were 1/2 cup serving sizes, yet the jarred pasta sauce had four times as much sugar per serving. Like I said above, I don't buy it anymore. The can of plain sauce becomes something completely lovely once simmered with minced garlic, fresh or dried herbs, spices and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Plus, it costs much less.

Being able to use the Nutrition Facts table means making informed choices quickly, instead of standing around in the grocery store trying to make a choice based on ingredients lists or gut feeling. It's also a great conversation starter for kids. My own boys actually enjoyed comparing products and learning about which nutrients we want more of and which we want less of. It didn't hurt, of course, that they were given nifty Sherlock-style detective hats and magnifying glasses for the task. The experience reminded me that sometimes everyday activities like grocery shopping can be turned into a game rather than a chore.

To find out more about using the Nutrition Facts table to simplify your own grocery shopping, visit the Health Canada Nutrition Facts website. Plus, enter the contest for a chance to win a $300 grocery card at!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. I am being paid to share information about the Nutrition Facts table with my readers/social media followers. Words and opinions are my own.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thoughts From the Grocery Store #3

My Thoughts From the Grocery Store blog series continues with this story from the hair aisle. You can read part one about the self-checkouts here and part two about groping the veg here.

#3 - My Nasal Enema

Like most normal human women, I like my shampoo and conditioner to smell great. It's a comfort thing. In the morning when I'm taking a hot shower, my eyes still barely open, I like a good whiff of calendula or ginseng or whatever other nice-sounding scent they can stuff into a plastic squeeze bottle. Hair companies know this. That's why they put the smelly stuff in there. Sure, it's probably fake natural chemical scent or whatever, but it smells good and I like it.

Because of this desire for a nice-smelling hair product, I have a habit of loitering in the hair aisle at the grocery store, opening the bottles and smelling the contents before deciding which ones to put in my shopping cart. It's just a quick, stealthy sniff. There's that little pocket of air at the top of the bottle between the product and the lid, and if you pop the top and give the bottle just a tiny squeeze you can puff out that air and give it a sniff. Simple. Except for that time when there was no pocket of air.

I was puffing and sniffing this one time with my husband next to me when suddenly I was experiencing a sort of deep conditioning nasal treatment. Creamy white conditioner had shot out of the bottle and up one of my nostrils, filling it completely and leaving another big glob dangling from my upper lip. I looked at my husband in a state of stunned victimization over this unscheduled nasal enema while Joe Cocker sang "You are so beautiful to meee" from the speakers in the ceiling. The look on his face in that moment, a combination of sympathy and adoration, told me he would never leave me.

I wish I could tell you this happened just the once. A normal person would have learned their lesson about puffing and sniffing. But it may have happened again, this time while I was grocery shopping alone. I don't have to confess to anything that may or may not have happened without a witness, but let me just say this, my friends, for what it's worth. Hair conditioner does not make a good facial lotion if you happen to have some dripping from your nose that you need to get rid of quickly. You will end up leaving the grocery store looking like a greasy-faced hot mess. But you will smell great.

I will be sharing more Thoughts from the Grocery Store, so check back soon and be sure to follow Family Feedbag on Facebook for updates.