Upsidedown Mini Rhubarb-Ginger Cheesecakes

I don’t know about you, but one of my favourite parts of eating cheesecake is the crust.  Crunchy, sweet and packed with flavour … why, it just makes sense to put it on top instead of hiding it at the bottom! These single serving mini cheesecakes are speedy to prepare and even easier to serve – no more worrying about whether that delicious crust will hold together from pan to plate. Best of all, they take just twenty minutes from start to finish and can be baked up a day or two before serving. Note that you can swap in any fruit for the rhubarb or even use jam instead. Use your favourite homemade ginger (or oatmeal) cookie recipe or make it even easier with tasty store-bought ones; gluten-free cookies work well too!

Cookie-crumb topped mini rhubarb ginger cheesecakes are easy to make and serve

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups (280 mL) fresh or frozen chopped rhubarb
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) finely grated fresh gingerroot
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoons (10 mL) water
  • 4 oz (1/2 cup or 125 mL) block cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) white sugar
  • 4 ginger cookies, crumbled

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Combine rhubarb, sugar and ginger in a small saucepan. Cook mixture over medium heat, stirring often, until rhubarb has softened (about 3 minutes).
  • Combine cornstarch and water and add to rhubarb mixture, stirring constantly. Let cook over low heat 2 minutes until thickened and glossy looking.
  • Divide the rhubarb mixture among four 4 ounce (1/2 cup or 125 mL)) ramekins placed on a baking sheet.

Rhubarb_upsidedown_cheesecake1_watermarked

  • Combine cream cheese, egg and sugar in a small bowl. Whip together with a whisk or electric mixer until fairly smooth (about 90 seconds).
  • Pour the cream cheese mixture over the rhubarb, dividing evenly.

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  • Bake for 15 minutes.
  • When cooled, top with cookie crumbs.

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  • Store at room temperature for up to 4 hours or refrigerate for up to 48 hours before serving.

Makes 4 mini cheesecakes; recipe can easily be doubled.

Rhubarb_upsidedown_cheesecake_pinnable

 

 

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Spruce up your Cider to make a uniquely refreshing summer drink!

Are you a fan of hard cider? I’ve tried many different varieties, including some excellent ones produced in my home province of Ontario.  I got to thinking about making cocktails with cider, and fortunately there was a great, natural ingredient close at hand to work with. Spruce tips are the tiny little bits of new growth that appear each spring on many varieties of spruce trees (see photo below) and they are delicately flavoured but offer a nice citrusy, earthy tone to food and drink. As a bonus, they’re also packed with Vitamin C! They’ve become popular with chefs who pickle them and use as garnishes; they’re equally delicious steeped in hot water and sugar to form a sprucey simple syrup to flavour cocktails and mocktails. I’m pretty confident the flavours of the syrup would add an amazing boost to gin and tonic, which I plan to try with my next batch of freshly-harvested spruce tips. If you head out to forage, be sure to pick tips from a tree that is not too close to a roadway and also only pick a tip or two from each branch.

Spruce_Cider_final_watermarked

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups spruce tips, papery husks removed
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 can hard cider (or soda water)

Spruce_Cider_Tips_watermarked

Method

  • Make the spruce tip syrup by combining the spruce tips, water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.

Spruce_Cider_Tips_Plated_watermarked

  • As soon as the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat. Cover pot and let sit 30 minutes.
  • Using cheesecloth or a small strainer, filter syrup into a clean jar, discarding spruce tips. Refrigerate until chilled. Note that spruce tip syrup can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for longer storage.
  • To make one cocktail, put 3 tablespoons (45 mL) of spruce syrup in a glass. Add 4 – 6 ice cubes and top with 1 cup (250 mL) of cider. Stir and start sipping!

Spruce_Cider_Pinnable

 

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Rhubarb Crumble Pie

The cheery sight of rhubarb peeking its way out of my garden’s still-cool soil in springtime is always one of the delights of the season. I love using rhubarb is many different ways, including salads and cocktails. This old-fashioned pie offers a wonderful flavour, with just enough sugar to balance the tartness of the rhubarb.

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Ingredients

  • One 9 inch (22.5 cm) pastry shell

Crumble topping:

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) softened butter
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup (185 mL) quick cooking (not instant) oats
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) chopped toasted pecans (optional)

Filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) white sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) white flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) ground ginger
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 – 3 cups (625 – 750 mL) chopped fresh rhubarb

Method

  • Prepare crumble topping by creaming together butter and sugar in a bowl. Sprinkle flour and oats over top then blend in evenly. Add nuts, if using, and blend. Set aside.
  • Make filling by combining sugar, flour and ginger in a large bowl. Add eggs and beat well to blend. Add 2 1/2 cups of rhubarb and stir to blend well.
  • Pour rhubarb mixture into the pie shell, adding additional rhubarb as needed to fill shell.

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  • Sprinkle crumble topping over the pie.

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  • Bake for 45 minutes at 375F. Pie should be bubbling and golden brown.

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  • Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 1 irresistible pie.

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Quick Kouign Amann – the Queen of Pastries

Parisiens sure know how to live. Many start each day with a stroll to the nearest patisserie to grab a fresh baguette or a few breakfast pastries, exchanging pleasantries with the boulanger and their neighbours. I loved this ritual on my last visit and would race home to enjoy my purchases with my morning tea, although I was truly tempted to devour them on the sidewalk as soon as I exited the bakery. While I’ve always been partial to starting the day with a pain au chocolat, discovering the heavenly delight that is Kouign Amann, a delicacy that hails from Brittany, made me rethink my breakfast pastry choices. Authentic bakeries take up to two days to prepare these flaky, sugary treats, but the process can be greatly streamlined thanks to buttery store-bought puff pastry. Don’t be daunted by the number of steps – these are ridiculously simple to prepare. Traditionally the Queen of Pastries does not have a filling, but you could easily tuck a spoonful of your favourite jam, chopped fruit or even Nutella into these for a change of pace. Best of all, you can assemble these Kouign Amman the night before and bake them the next morning for the freshest breakfast treat ever.

kouign_amann_watermarked

Ingredients
• 2 sheets frozen store-bought puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator
• 1/2 cup (125 mL) white sugar, plus 4 teaspoons (20 mL)
• approximately 2 tablespoons (30 mL) butter for greasing pans
• 1 teaspoon (5 mL) good salt (Maldon or fleur de sel)
Method
1. Unroll the puff pastry sheets, placing them on pieces of fresh parchment paper. Cover each one with a a second piece of parchment and roll each pastry sheet out to a square shape, approximately 8 x 8 inches (20 x 20 cm).
2. Lift up the top parchment papers and sprinkle the surface of both pastries with 2 tablespoons (30 mL) each of white sugar. Place the parchment back on top and roll lightly to press sugar into the dough.
3. Remove top parchment papers again and fold the bottom third of the dough up towards the centre, then fold the top third down towards the centre (as though folding a letter to prepare it for an envelope).
4. Rotate the dough on your work surface 90 degrees then replace the top parchment sheets and roll each sheet of puff pastry out to an 8 x 8 square once again.
5. Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4 to add a second helping of sugar to each pastry sheet. Lay the parchment-enclosed pastry sheets on a baking tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
6. While dough is resting, generously grease 8 compartments of a muffin tin with the butter.
7. To assemble the pastries, remove dough from the fridge and lift it off the bottom parchment sheets. Sprinkle a little bit more sugar (about 1 teaspoon / 5 mL) on the bottom parchment, then replace the dough. Remove the top parchment and sprinkle the tops of the dough with 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of sugar. If the dough has shrunk a little, replace the top parchment and roll back out to a square slightly larger than 8 x 8 inches (20 x 20 cm).
8. With a very sharp knife or a pizza cutter, square up the sheets of dough by trimming edges then cut each one in half lengthwise to create two strips approximately 4″ x 8″. Cut each strip into two 4″ x 4″ squares, making 8 squares in total.
9. Life up each pastry square and fold the four corners toward the center to create the distinctive crown shape of the kouign amann then gently nestle the pastries into the greased muffin tin compartments.

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10. Cover the muffin pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight if desired. When ready to bake, leave the muffin tin on the counter while the oven preheats to 400F. Just before baking, sprinkle the tops of the pastries with the salt, if using.
11. Put the pastries in the centre of the preheated oven and reduce heat to 375F. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking, until pastries are golden brown and sugary edges are nice and caramelized.
12. Remove tray from oven and immediately transfer pastries to a serving plate (they’ll stick to the tin like crazy if you don’t do this). Let cool 2 minutes or longer before devouring. Leftovers can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
Makes 8 flaky, delicious pastries.

kouign_amann_pinnable

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Tropical Green Smoothie

This smoothie is kind of sneaky. It’s fresh and light tasting yet packed with nutrition and surprisingly satisfying. I try to have smoothies for breakfast a couple of times a week, just to break up the cereal, oatmeal, granola routine in which I seem to have become happily stuck. I devised this recipe for the Ford Sustainability Breakfast at last month’s BConnected Conference in Ottawa and it was a big hit among those who sampled it. Since then, it’s become a regular in my smoothie rotation at home. Don’t tell any fussy eaters under your roof what’s in it, and they’ll be asking for it again!

Pineapple, banana, avocado and spinach leaves make this smoothie both delicious and nutritious!

Pineapple, banana, avocado and spinach leaves make this smoothie both delicious and nutritious!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh or frozen pineapple chunks
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • 1 cup (2 handfuls) fresh spinach leaves, washed
  • 1 ¼ cups regular or almond milk
  • 1 banana
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chlorella algae powder (optional but super nutritious)
  • 4 ice cubes
  • fresh pineapple wedges, for garnish (optional)
It was exciting to see my smoothie recipe as part of the Ford Sustainability Breakfast at Ottawa's BConnected Conference last month.

It was exciting to see my smoothie recipe as part of the Ford Sustainability Breakfast at Ottawa’s BConnected Conference last month.

 Method

  • In a high-powered blender, process all ingredients until smooth. Add extra milk as needed to achieve the desired consistency.
  • Note that if you don’t have a high-powered blender like a Blendtec or Vitamix, you may wish to crush the ice before blending your smoothie.
  • Serve cold.

Makes approximately 24 ounces, which serves 3 – 4 people.

Tropical_Green_Smoothie_Pinnable

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That time I ate a car …

To be honest, I didn’t exactly eat a car, but I did eat many delicious things that were made of the same biomaterials that Ford is using in automotive research and production.fordfarmtocarpicture

As food editor of Ottawa At Home magazine and an eager recipe developer, I was engaged to curate a menu for a Sustainability Breakfast that Ford of Canada was presenting as part of the BConnected Digital Influencers conference in Ottawa. The challenge I was given was to come up with recipes for dishes that used the foods and food by-products that Ford is working with and it’s been one of the neatest food projects I’ve ever worked on. I have to confess I was both surprised and impressed to learn of all the biomaterials Ford is using, per the infographic below:

FordFarmToCarInfographic 001

I had a lot of fun thinking about the theme of sustainability as I sketched out menu ideas and it got me thinking about my approach to food in general terms. To me, one of the most important aspects of sustainability is about making use of what you have around you, sometimes in creative ways. For example, clean-out-the-fridge omelettes are one of my favourite things to make. As an extension of this, rather than letting by-products go to waste, perhaps they can be re-purposed? With food, this might be something as simple as making a dish with beet or turnip greens in addition to preparing and serving the more commonly consumed root portion of the vegetable. The same concept is at the heart of the myriad efforts Ford is making towards incorporating sustainability into its production; the company is working hard with both farmers and scientists to find ways to use non-consumable biomaterials like rice hulls and tomato skins, to name just two.

As I was creating the menu for the breakfast, I also spent time thinking about how I didn’t want to simply include ingredients to tick them off a list. Rather, I wanted to apply some of the same principles as Ford, which is to look at creative ways to incorporate items you might not expect to find on your breakfast menu (or in your car) and present them in effective and appealing ways. I also included primarily gluten-free and dairy-free dishes as well a few locally-sourced foods (despite it being April), because I believe ecological protection and safeguarding human health – things Ford does with the safety and emissions aspects of its vehicles – are also key elements of sustainability. Here’s the menu card from the conference breakfast:

fordfarmtocarmenu 001

 

 

Curious to know more about the ways Ford is using biomaterials? Here’s a quick recap:

Currently used in production:

  • Soy-based foam is used for all seat cushions and back plus 85% of headrests
  • Coconut coir made from the fruit’s husks is used in the trunk mats of some vehicles
  • A new composite plastic material reinforced with rice hulls (by-product of rice grains) is used in the wire harness of the Ford F-150
  • Wheat straw-reinforced plastic is used in the storage bins of the Ford Flex – the world’s first application of this material
  • Cellulose-reinforced plastic is being used to replace fibreglass reinforcement in the centre console of the Lincoln MKX. The cellulose fibres in this composite come from sustainably grown and harvested trees and related by-products.

In development:

  • Inedible tomato fibre (a by-product of ketchup production) is being used to develop bio-plastic material which is being durability-tested for potential use in vehicle wiring brackets and storage bins.
  • Algae is yet another promising biomaterial that Ford hopes to repurpose as seat foam. It grows quickly, replicating up to four times per hour, and has a high per acre yield compared to other crops.
  • Sugar cane–based plastic has been made into interior fabrics and is being tested for durability and performance.
  • Agricultural corn by-product can be processed into plastic parts, fabrics, fibres or films. Ford is currently testing the product for potential uses in carpeting, upholstery and interior trim.
  • Fast-growing bamboo is being researched for potential uses in veneers and as filler material.

And here’s how the menu items made use of the biomaterials, in food form:

fordbreakfastcollage

Tropical Smoothies – these contain cellulose, which is found in leaves such as the spinach in this morning’s beverage as well as algae, in the form of Chlorella powder; it’s a nutrient-dense superfood touted for its detoxification properties.

Breakfast Polenta – this is a twist on traditional oatmeal porridge or the now-popular steel cut oats. I’ve added in maple syrup to the cooked cornmeal for a local element, but you should also know that locally-grown cornmeal and corn flour is available from Barkley’s Apple Orchard which sells its many products at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market. I couldn’t stop at one dish with corn because it’s such a versatile ingredient, so I used corn flour and canned creamed corn (really!!) it in the muffins, with local blueberries in the cream cheese centres. This dish also uses wheat, one of Ford’s biomaterials; it’s the only item on the menu that is not gluten-free.

Fruit Summer Rolls – I thought of many different ways to incorporate rice and realized that rice paper might be fun and unexpected. Since most breakfast buffets include fruit salad, I decided to stuff it in rice paper wrappers for a delicious twist.

Yogurt Parfaits – featuring a coconut muesli from an initiative founded at Ottawa’s most innovative food bank, the Parkdale Food Centre. The project has allowed 15 youth to launch a food-based social enterprise called The Muesli Project. It’s a one-year opportunity for these kids to start, run and grow their business with the help of expert mentors. At the end of the venture, any profits will be distributed among the youth for further education and/or to start their own business. That’s my kind of sustainability!

Egg Frittata – when I looked at ways to incorporate tomatoes, I thought of frittatas and then realized that adding an Asian flavour profile could be fun because you don’t typically see that; it made a natural tie in for the pickled bamboo shoots.

Pork Belly – I’m a big fan of pork belly and we have beautiful Heritage pork produced throughout Eastern Ontario. When I saw soy and sugar cane on the list of Ford biomaterials, I knew right away these two ingredients would be glazing some slow-roasted pork belly; it’s a nice change from regular bacon.

Here’s a recipe roundup in case you want to taste some of the items (more links to follow as the recipes get posted).

Fruit Salad Summer Rolls

Breakfast Polenta with Spiced Apple Compote

Corn Muffins with Blueberry Cream Cheese Filling

Tropical Green Smoothie

When Matt Drennan-Scace, Ford of Canada’s communications manager, and I presented at the BConnected breakfast, it was great to hear many in the audience express their surprise at these unexpected innovations in research and development. I was grateful for the opportunity to talk briefly about the recipes I developed and have to confess it was kind of a thrill to see the food spread out on the buffet table and then watch a room full of people eating my menu! Check out the hashtag #fordfarmtocar on twitter to learn more.

Fordsustainability breakfastbuffet

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Breakfast Polenta with spiced apple compote

I love oatmeal for breakfast as it’s so hearty and satisfying, but sometimes it just seems a little boring, especially when you eat it often. Swapping in cornmeal for oats is a great way to shake up your morning routine. As a matter of fact, porridge can be made with many different grains beyond oats and corn – I’ve enjoyed barley, semolina, rice and quinoa prepared this way. One of the reasons it’s such a popular dish around the world is that it’s highly digestible and can be a great source of both fibre and nutrition. You can skip the apple topping included in this corn porridge recipe in favour of a touch of your favourite sweetener if you prefer, though the apples (and nuts, if you like) add a delicious hit of flavour and texture to the polenta.

Using cornmeal instead of oats makes a delicious new kind of breakfast porridge.

Using cornmeal instead of oats makes a delicious new kind of breakfast porridge.

Ingredients

For the polenta

  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup coarse (polenta) cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the compote

  • 3 large apples, peeled and diced small
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup

To serve

  • few splashes light cream
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

 Instructions

  • To make the polenta, put the milk, water and salt in a medium saucepan. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a low simmer. Slowly pour in the polenta, whisking constantly the entire time.
  • Turn the heat down to low and partially cover with a lid. Cook for about 25 to 30 minutes, whisking every few minutes to get out any lumps (be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the pan). You want the polenta to thicken and have a creamy consistency. If it starts getting too thick, you can add in a little more milk (a tablespoon or so at a time).
  • While polenta is cooking, combine diced apples, water, cinnamon and maple syrup in a medium saucepan and cover with a lid.
  • Bring apple mixture to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring often, over low heat until apples have softened. Remove from heat, cover and let stand until polenta is cooked. Note that apple mixture can be made ahead of time and served at room temperature over the hot polenta.
  • Remove polenta from the heat and add vanilla extract. Whisk to combine.
  • Ladle the polenta into bowls. Top with the diced apples, a splash of cream and a tablespoon or so of chopped walnuts, if desired. Serve immediately.

Yield: about 6 servings

Breakfast_Polenta_with_apple_compote_pinnable

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