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Sometimes, when you’ve been baking way too many cookies and you say you’ll do just one more batch late in the evening, and you’re a little bit tired, you make mistakes – you’re missing an ingredient, or you skip a step, or both.

No? Just me?

Sometimes, you do this and it’s a disaster, but other times, it works – which is the case with these mincemeat meringue cookies.

I was all set to make the Almond, Cinnamon and Meringue Biscuits from the beautiful Breakfast Lunch Tea book from Rose Bakery – and one day, I will. But I made so many modifications I can’t say I really tried the original recipe. For one thing, I had picked up hazelnut meal and decided to use it instead of almonds; for another, I discovered too late that the candied peel in my cupboard was dried out and unusable, and substituted some leftover mincemeat I had in the fridge. And, I forgot the cinnamon that the original recipe calls for. (I also added some cacao nibs, which don’t entirely work with the mincemeat, but would work with the hazelnuts and, maybe, some cocoa powder added early on, for a better-than-Nutella flavour?)

The original recipe calls for setting aside 200 g of meringue after adding the lemon juice but before adding the remaining ingredients, to be brushed on top of the cookies before they are dried then baked. I forgot this step and while it probably makes for prettier cookies, it makes the recipe more fussy. Finally, the original recipe notes that “they are a little tricky to cut,” which is shorthand for “they are sticky and impossible to get out of the cookie cutter” – so I gave up and just sliced them into squares with a knife, which also means no scraps to waste or, um, snack on. Not that I would do such a thing.

The final product has the look of a scone rather than a pretty cookie, but I love them all the same, and the gluten-avoiders at my party did, too. They can be frozen (they’re somewhat prone to breaking, but I’ve had a bunch in the freezer in a ziploc bag for a couple of weeks and they’re mostly intact) and are also delicious straight out of the freezer, like most Christmas cookies. They’re chewy and nutty with just enough mincemeat flavour.

(Baked custard is one of my favourite things to make with leftover egg yolks, by the way.)

4 egg whites
450 g (4 1/2 cups) icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
juice of 1/2 lemon and grated zest of 1 lemon
320 g (3 1/3 cups) ground hazelnuts
1/2 cup mincemeat

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then gradually add the sugar. When the mixture is very stiff, beat in the lemon juice. Add the ground hazelnuts, mincemeat and lemon zest. Mix until you have a dough-like paste, then chill in the fridge for 1 hour.

Line a cookie sheet (or more) with parchment paper.

Dust your work surface with sugar and use a well-sugared rolling pin to roll the dough to about 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick. Cut into two- to three-inch squares and place on baking tray (they will spread slightly but not much so they can be fairly close). Leave to dry for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F and bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, until the bases are lightly golden. The tops should remain white and the bases should be soft and moist.

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rhubarb-gin-and-tonic

After a gorgeous morning in Prince Edward County for the Terroir Run, we decided to head back to Toronto via the country roads instead of the soul-sucking 401. One perk to this? Farmstand rhubarb (and asparagus, and eggs), which had me thinking gin and tonic as soon as I got home.

Not one to cook two things when one will do, I decided to forgo a fancy simple syrup and go straight to compote. It’s super easy to make: just wash and chop the rhubarb (1-inch-ish chunks, depending on the thickness), add a bit of water and some sugar to taste, bring to the boil, and simmer until tender.

When you get to the stage where you want your cocktail *now*, just scoop out some of the liquid (don’t worry about chunks of fruit – think of them as a garnish) and mix to taste with ice, tonic water and your favourite gin. (I used Fever-Tree and Vor gin that I picked up in Iceland earlier this week.) The compote that remains tastes great with plain yogurt and pistachios for breakfast or folded with lightly sweetened whipped cream and meringue chunks, for dessert.

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muesliThe hardest thing about travelling for me is often breakfast. At home, I start my day with healthy whole foods: steel-cut oats, or a smoothie, sometimes whole-grain toast for nut butter. It’s not that I’m a health food puritan, but I find a sugary, carb-heavy breakfast makes me sleepy and hungry the rest of the day. On the road, especially at mid- and low-range US hotels (the kind that boast of their make-your-own-waffle stations, as though that means homemade), it can be hard to find anything good at all: the peanut butter has sugar, the yogurt has sugar (and no fat) and the eggs are inedible scrambled-from-a-carton, meaning if I want protein, I have to pack it in.

And then there’s Switzerland. On the one hand, every breakfast buffet features Nutella and white bread, which can be hard to resist. But on the other hand, you’ll usually find cheese, and full-fat yogurt, and – best of all – birchermuesli and toppings. (Breakfast at left from Hotel Dom in St Gallen.) A Swiss classic, birchermuesli is basically oats soaked overnight with grated apple, milk and yogurt, ending up with a super creamy cereal – a cold alternative to oatmeal, really – that can be dressed up to your taste. Also common at Swiss buffets is bowls of raw pumpkin and sunflower seeds, perfect to add crunch, flavour and nutrition to your morning oats. And at Swiss grocery stores (and, important for travellers, the Sprüngli at Zurich airport), you can grab delicious to-go birchermuesli from the yogurt section. The Sprüngli version has raspberries mixed in and possibly red currants, and tastes sweet enough that they must be adding at least a little sugar, but it’s perfect to have on the plane to sub in for whatever your airline likes to call a meal.

There are plenty of recipes online for creative takes on “overnight oats,” but I really wanted to recreate what I’d had in Switzerland. Unfortunately, my first few attempts were mediocre, making me suspect that the secret was fatty Swiss cream or something similar. And then, I found this Jamie Oliver video online and had an epiphany. It’s brilliant: he uses grated banana in his soaking mixture to add sweetness and creaminess. The following is a riff off of that recipe, a slightly tropical take on birchermuesli. Measurements are approximate – play with it!

birchermuesli

1 cup slow-cook rolled oats (gluten-free if you roll that way)
1 apple, grated
1 banana, grated (best to use one that’s still fairly firm – not green, but not mushy)
1 – 2 cups almond milk, or other nut milk of your choice
2 – 3 tablespoons coconut milk (from a can)
1/3 cup leftover pulp from homemade nut milk (optional)
spices (vanilla powder, cinnamon, etc.) – optional (my almond milk has spices so I don’t add any here)

Mix all ingredients in a large Mason jar or other container. (The narrower the better to prevent browning.) Leave in fridge at least 4 – 5 hours or overnight. Serve topped with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, shredded coconut or toppings of your choice. (Thawed frozen raspberries are a nice option – throw some in the fridge the night before at the same time as you’re making the muesli.) Makes 2 – 3 servings, and will keep for a couple of days – if you’re making breakfast ahead, you can separate the mixture out into separate to-go containers for breakfast at or en route to work.

Oh, and here’s a gratuitous Switzerland photo, just to get your mind in vacation mode. I wrote about sledding in Switzerland for enRoute.

sledding-andermatt

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apricots1

My summer pilgrimage to the Okanagan is often oriented around fruit. If I’m there in July, I spend far too much time standing on my parents’ picnic table, eating cherries straight off the tree. If it’s August, then peaches. Lots and lots of fresh peaches, eaten over the sink as the juice drips down my hand and chin.

apricots2

This year, I was lucky enough to also get my hands on a couple of boxes of apricots. While my parents’ small espaliered tree didn’t get pollinated this year, my mother’s coworker had a tree laden with fruit and invited us to come and pick as many as we wanted. How can you turn down an offer like that?

apricots3

The thing about apricots is, they are immeasurably better cooked than raw. And the beauty of them is you don’t even need a knife for processing – you can just tear them apart with your fingers, and the pit comes right out. Easy and fast, though even at that speed, two boxes full is a lot to deal with.

apricot-compote

I wasn’t in the mood for canning, so one bag of apricot halves went in the freezer, and I filled the dehydrator trays with another batch. Home-dried apricots aren’t soft and bright orange like the store-bought ones – you need additives for that – but if you dry them until they’re hard, they keep well, and are a spectacular addition to oatmeal (throw them in to soften while it’s cooking) in winter months.

apricots4

The apricots that had started going mushy – that’s the thing about fresh fruit, it needs to be dealt with so fast – went into a big pot with just a small amount of sugar, to be turned into compote. Halfway between jam and stewed fruit (maybe more on the stewed fruit side), this just-sweetened-enough fruit puree disappeared pretty quickly, mixed in with yogurt, poured onto ice cream, and on the side of a sweet pavlova we had for dessert one night. Many recipes call for the apricot seeds – you can crack the pits open like a nut – to be tossed in with the jam or compote to add an almond-like flavour. I cracked a few open then pinched my hand in the nutcracker and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Almost a month later, there’s still a faint line on my palm.

apricot-cake

A Smitten Kitchen-style apricot crumble – that is, designed for breakfast – was another favourite. Topped with oats and crunchy pecans and served with plain yogurt, it was the perfect start to the hot, sunny days, scooped into a bowl and enjoyed on the front porch. I also threw together an apricot and cherry clafoutis based on the recipe in David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris (Amazon/iTunes/Kobo), and a gorgeous apricot and almond pound-type cake that I didn’t love enough to make again, except for how the apricots are placed on top.

In the end, we had a lot of apricot pits, and a lot of sweets, and a desire to do it all again next year. There are so many more apricot recipes to try.

apricot-pits

And by the way, if you’re a fruit lover, you’ll adore this story about apricots by Montreal writer Adam Leith Gollner, which I originally read in issue 2 of Lucky Peach magazine.

apricots-on-newspaper

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I didn’t change a thing in this refreshing spring salad from new cookbook The Green Kitchen (I think it has a different title in Canada, which is so dumb) via My New Roots. Ontario strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus (as well as frozen edamame) from Karma Co-op, Canadian beluga lentils from my cupboard and basil from my garden, tossed in a maple-lemon vinaigrette. Just what I needed at the end of a long, busy day, as you can see from the fact I took the photo after dark despite it being only a week until solstice.

springsalad

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tumblr_mo5i9bOi5g1qlqemwo1_500I have a friend from Colombia who commented once on how much Canadians love their fresh ground black pepper. Funny – what I see as normal, he sees as a Canadian thing. I guess that’s how it goes. Since that discussion, years ago now, I’ve paid more attention to pepper, and now that I’m conscious of its presence, I find I love it even more. So when I was browsing for a quick recipe to make with the season’s first pint of strawberries and I stumbled upon this gem from Epicurious, I couldn’t help but try it out, served with plain yogurt rather than mascarpone or ice cream.

It’s a perfect recipe, really: simple and easy to adjust, and yet with a flavour twist that many people will find unusual. Balsamic vinegar on strawberries is probably more common – in fact, I’m looking forward to trying out the People’s Pops recipe for popsicles of that flavour. Black pepper, though, is less so. As you can tell from the comments on the site, this flavour combination is a love-hate thing. I’m on the love side of the spectrum.

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Not long ago, I was having one of those days where when a recipe for raw vegan cookie dough shows up in your Google Reader (ahem, yes, still haven’t switched), you get up and go to the kitchen and make it. I used macadamias and pecans instead of cashews and walnuts and added a bit of honey because my banana was slightly underripe, and the result was delicious. It also made a ton, so I decided to freeze some. And then I had a brain wave – cookie dough ice cream.

It’s easy – make the cookie dough, then freeze some into little chunks, about the size you would want them in your ice cream. Then when you make banana soft serve or your favourite other ice cream, toss the chunks in right at the end, so they get chopped in a little – or just stir them in.

banana2

Next up? I’ll have to figure out a new version of dulce de leche ice cream.

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Guys, I just made the best smoothie. It’s a variation on the date-almond smoothie, which is my go-to pre-workout snack-slash-meal. Dates always give me extra energy for exercising, and the almond gives the smoothie staying power.

This time, I tossed in half an avocado, and I’m glad I did – it upped the creaminess factor while adding in some healthy fat and fibre. Here’s the recipe, though forgive me – the amounts are just rough guidelines.

• 1 banana
• 1 cup frozen cranberries
• 1/2 avocado
• 3 dates
• 1-2 tbsp each almond butter, hempseeds, coconut oil, protein powder (I like Vega)
• 1 cup almond milk
• 1 cup water, or as needed

Blend and enjoy!

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Hello, neglected blog!

In need of a chocolate fix (and it’s “feels like minus 10 outside”, as in I don’t want to leave the house anymore today), I was searching for some emergency chocolate recipes, and figured I’m not the only one. But some of the recipes I found that were labelled emergency included chocolate (not cocoa) as an ingredient, which confuses me: if it’s a chocolate emergency, wouldn’t you just eat the chocolate instead of baking with it, if you had any?

chocolate

My usual is banana with quick chocolate sauce. The sauce, easily adaptable, is a blend of coconut oil, cocoa powder and maple syrup in near-equal amounts, with a touch of vanilla and salt if you like. Whisk together and pour over the banana, either freshly sliced or – if you’re feeling fancy – sliced lengthwise and fried in some coconut oil until gooey and delicious. (Use butter if you want.)

But here are a few other options, some of which I’ve made and some I’ve just pinned:

Chocolate Frosting Shots
This genius recipe is super simple and only requires that you have thick coconut milk hanging around. In my more ambitious states, I keep a can or two in the back of the fridge to use for emergency faux whipped cream, too, and those will do just fine. It doesn’t matter in terms of flavour if your coconut milk is a little runny, it’s more a texture thing, and chilled is nice. I jazzed mine up tonight with a touch of espresso powder.

Frozen Peanut Butter Chocolate Banana Bites
Uses chocolate chips, which isn’t something I keep in my house due to eating them, but the peanut butter part is genius, and I bet you could adapt my sauce recipe above for this. If you try it, let me know.

Raw Cacao Pudding
Uses irish moss gel, which means it only counts as an emergency recipe if you happen to have any in your fridge. But I’m dying to try this.

Chocolate Chia Pudding
Delicious. She says to let it sit for one to ten hours but honestly, I’m sure I’ve eaten it after 15 minutes or so.

I’ve never had tons of luck with the cake-in-a-mug recipes I’ve found, and I’m still hunting for a recipe for a single chocolate cookie. Do you have any others to add?

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Black bread with carrots in it, from this recipe from 101 Cookbooks. Delicious. It makes a huge loaf, you could easily split it into two. Good with chili.

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