August 27, 2015

Blackberry Swirl Cheesecake (with a new video!)

I don't know about where you live, but over here the blackberries are insane this year! 

I've talked about my love of blackberries before, and how they always remind me of my stepdad because he is the most dedicated blackberry picker I've ever met. Whenever I go visit him, no matter the time of year, I know I can always count on an amazing blackberry smoothie for breakfast. All I have to do is open up the freezer to find mountains of blackberries in there, memories of late August afternoons spent foraging. 

I'm a bit lazier about picking and I just gobble them all right away for the most part, but this year I did manage to whip up this cheesecake.

In all honesty, there aren't that many blackberries in the cake. It's really all just about making the swirl. Let's talk about the swirl. I've been making a lot of swirls in my desserts this summer and let me tell you, there's something weirdly meditative, calming, mesmerizing, and totally addictive about swirling colors and textures around. 

I was thinking they should make kids (and grown-ups) who struggle with ADD do swirls. It takes all your attention and concentrates it into one glorious action until your brain is nothing but one liquid color melding into another. Totally gnarly. Totally groovy. Have I lost my mind with swirls? Yes, quite probably. You'll just have to try it to see if I'm exaggerating or not. Happy swirling!

Oh yeah, the recipe. Click right here my dear friends. xox

August 05, 2015

Butterflied Grilled Cornish hen (or chicken)

Many moons ago, I went through a painful break-up and found myself very alone with a sore tender heart on Valentine's Day. I decided I would make myself the fanciest meal I could conjure up and enjoy my own company over candlelight. So I bought a Cornish hen and a great bottle of wine. I stuffed that little bird, roasted it up with some veggies, got out some nice linens, and proceeded to wine and dine myself. It was empowering, delicious, memorable. When I think of it now, it makes me think of this video by the marvellous Andrea Dorfman and Tanya Davis:

That was one of the few times I'd ever eaten Cornish hen, mainly because it's hard to find a source of good local, organic ones. But this summer, I've rekindled my romance with the sweet hen. As it turns out, Cornish hen are not so fancy after all (or even necessarily a hen for that matter), they're actually just a younger version of the regular broiler chicken. I learned that from our friends at the farmer's market who have got me hooked on their organically-raised Cornish hen. They also told me about butterflying the bird (also called spatchcocking, though that sounds kind of naughty doesn't it?) to get quick, even cooking and the most tender meat possible. (And that's saying a lot since Cornish hen is already incredibly moist and tender). 

As a teenager, I always had a song that embodied the feeling of each summer, usually whatever song was being played on the radio the most. I still do that. (In case you're wondering, this is my summer 2015 song). In the same vein, there's sometimes one dish that embodies a particular summer. And this summer's is most definitely this butterflied Cornish hen grilled on wood coals.

I feel like I'm only just now emerging from a somber couple of weeks. First, there was the recent passing of the DARK Act in Congress which was like a punch in the stomach. In case you missed my last post, the DARK Act would kill GMO labelling in America, making it illegal for individual states to have mandatory GMO labelling. So if it gets through the Senate, then Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut's GMO labelling laws would be overturned. The bill was heavily sponsored by big food companies (Kraft, Kellogg's, Coca-Cola, etc) and of course, the folks at Monsanto who seem willing to put any amount of money down to make sure the public won't know which foods contain their GMOs. The only hope now is to convince Senators to vote against this un-democratic bill so it doesn't go into law.

Then, the week after the DARK Act passed, our piglets got attacked by what we think was a coyote. One of them was badly injured and we spent several days trying to nurse him back to health. After three long days performing gruesome wound cleanings of the kind I would have never thought myself capable of, and three long nights sleeping in the tent close to their pen to make sure coyotes didn't come back for them, we made the heartbreaking decision to put the little guy down. I spent the whole day in tears, wondering if we were doing the right thing, if we should keep trying to nurse him back to health, or if we should have put him out of his misery much sooner. During those days of tending to his wounds, I got very attached to him and to the hope that he would make a comeback. He was our favorite from the start: the runt of the pack, small, freckled, with ears so floppy we called him Eeyore. I hope he is in a better place now.

It was my first experience with injured farm animals and making such a difficult decision. It made me question how I feel about eating meat since even if little Eeyore had gotten better, he would have eventually been slaughtered for meat. I've always believed that if a person chooses to be a carnivore, they should be aware of where their meat comes from and what kind of life the animal had. Getting to know a living being whose life you are one day going to take raises all kinds of questions about meat-eating that I've long struggled with, even more so now. My rationale for choosing to eat meat boils down to three main things. The first is that animals kill each other for food in the wild, and we are (albeit more and more distantly) part of that natural world. The second is that many vegetarians I know have experienced severe vitamin B12 deficiencies, having to take supplements in order to get better and I'd rather not cut anything out of my diet that could make me deficient in key nutrients. And finally, purely selfishly, because it tastes so damn good. But not all meat is created equal and eating meat should come with a responsibility. The responsibility to source it carefully, from animals that have lived a happy, healthy life outdoors, with access to fresh air and pasture and who have been slaughtered quickly, painlessly, and humanely. Any day, I would choose a vegetarian diet over eating generic factory-farmed meat, especially given this alarming recent development.

During the three difficult days of nursing our piglet, I spoke to a very kind vet on the phone, a guardian angel who talked us through our options. As he said, choosing to end an animal's life is not an easy thing to do, but an instant death is likely preferable to slow prolonged suffering. And when I think about it, that's probably what I would choose for myself if I were so badly injured. What's for sure is that the bacon we'll be eating this winter will be even more appreciated than ever before.

And while we wait for that tasty bacon, you'll find me grilling the world's most juicy tender Cornish hen, thanks to our friends at Common Wealth Farm.

Click here for my recipe.

Make a tiny wish! Cornish hen wishbone...
Three plump Cornish hen!

July 15, 2015

Healthier Homemade "Oreo" Cookies

I grew up in a junk food-free household but as a kid, I would secretly go across the street to get my sugar fix. My friend and I had an unspoken agreement that whenever I would come over, she would raid the cupboards and bust out whatever boxed sugary treats she could find. Oreo cookies were the prize find. At the risk of having you un-follow this blog, I'm going to tell you that we had this thing we did where we would scrape off all the Oreo cream filling and collect as much of it as we could, roll it into a giant ball and stick it in the freezer to gnaw away at later. Yup. Like the strange sugar-obsessed demented squirrels that we were. It's a miracle her parents never banned me from their house.

I was scrolling through my Instagram feed the other day and a blogger I follow had posted a photo of the new Oreo thins. The photo description encouraged her followers to enter an Oreo contest. Her photo was hashtagged #sponsored and #oreothins so I clicked on the hashtag and saw that oodles of popular Instagrammers were being sponsored to post photos of the new Oreo thins. 

What irked me about this is that, as some of you know, I'm working on a documentary about GMO labelling and I've been doing a lot of research to find out who is preventing GMO labelling from happening here in Canada and the United States. It turns out that among many other junk food companies, the company that owns Oreos is paying big bucks to lobbyists in Washington to sweet talk politicians into voting in favor of the DARK Act (HR1599) which would overturn Vermont, Maine and Connecticut's democratic GMO labelling laws. 

In fact, this bill would make it illegal for any state to pass a GMO labelling law ever. Instead, it proposes national "voluntary" GMO labelling. What does this mean? It means if a company feels like it, they can tell us their food contains GMOs and if they don't feel like it, you're shit out of luck. And guess what? We've already had a "voluntary" GMO labelling system in place for the past 20 years and do you know how many companies have chosen to label the GMO ingredients on their products? Zero. Not one single company. If this bill passes we can all kiss bye bye to GMO-labelling in America. Years of hard work by activists, farmers, chefs, politicians, moms and dads? GONE. Hasta la vista. If you want to know what's in your food, better move to Europe.

The sad thing is, all that lobbying paid off because just yesterday, the House Agriculture Committee voted to pass the bill which now goes directly to the House floor for a vote as early as next week. But here's the encouraging thing, good politicians DO listen to what their constituents want, and here's the proof:

So we need to rally the troops, get all hands on deck, and call, tweet, visit, email our elected reps to tell them to vote NO on HR1599 because we have a right to know what's in the food we eat. It seems like such a no-brainer, it's mind-boggling that we're having to fight so hard for this. I've heard people say "it's not a big deal, just buy organic". Aside from the fact that this bill threatens the future of organic and non-GMO agriculture, it's important to realize that not everyone can afford or even access organic or non-GMO certified foods. It shouldn't matter where you live or what your budget is, every person deserves the right to informed decision making, especially when it comes to what we put into our bodies.

It never ceases to astound me that, despite the fact that 90% of Americans want GMOs labeled, our elected officials would ignore their constituents and vote for what junk food companies with deep pockets have convinced them to do instead.  64 countries around the world already have GMO labeling, so why do we have to be fighting such a gigantic battle to get that basic right here? GMO labelling is scheduled to go into effect in Vermont in 2016. If this bill passes, Vermont's democratically passed law will be overturned. It begs the questions, who gets to write our laws, people or corporations? 

On the paid lobbying list for HR1599, alongside Oreo's parent company, you see the usual suspects: Monsanto ($1.2 million), Kellogg ($700,000), Coca-Cola ($3 million), Kraft Foods ($350,000)... to name just a few. It makes my brain explode when I think of how much money these companies are willing to invest into making sure no one knows which foods contain GMOs. And that's not counting the millions of dollars they've shelled out to fight individual state GMO labelling bills such as the ones in California and Washington.

So I wrote a friendly note on my fellow blogger's sponsored photo, telling her about what Oreo is doing. I said no thank-you to the Oreo thins contest but that if she did a homemade Oreo recipe post, I'd be all over it. She deleted my comment. Actually she deleted all the comments by all of her followers who don't like Oreos or who questioned why she was promoting Oreos. I wondered if Oreos made her delete the comments as part of their sponsorship agreement. At any rate, I gathered she was not going to be doing a homemade Oreos post anytime soon. So I decided I would.

The recipe took a bit of testing, it was finicky because I was trying to avoid refined sugar and white flour, etc. (My mom would have approved). In fact, I was trying to avoid just about every single ingredient normally found in Oreos, except for the cocoa and the baking soda:


In the end, I arrived at 2 recipes. Both are made with buckwheat flour which I've always found goes well with chocolate. One version has organic butter, egg, and coconut sugar, and you can find that one on my latest PBS Food post. The other version which I'm sharing below is dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, and only sweetened with honey. And despite being "everything-free", it's surprisingly full of flavour and goodness!

As a final note, please sign and share the petition against HR1599 because we all have the right to know what's in our food. Also, check here to see if your elected rep is on the committees that will be looking at this bill before it goes to a vote. Or if they're a cosponsor of the bill. Please call their office, write to them, let them know how you feel! I've started working my way through the list of undecided cosponsors and tweeting to every one of them. Let's sway them in favor of democracy. Because as it's been said, "democracy is like a muscle, either you use it or you lose it".

Homemade Healthier "Oreo" Cookies

(This version is dairy-free, egg-free, and gluten-free. For a butter and egg-based version of these, check out my post on PBS Food.)

Cookie dough:

1 cup buckwheat
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup softened coconut oil
5 Tbsp white or creamed honey
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 level teaspoon baking soda

Cream Filling:

3/4 cup raw cashews
2 Tbsp white or creamed honey
3 Tbsp coconut oil, at room temperature (use refined, expeller-pressed if you want to avoid the coconut taste)
1/4 tsp vanilla or peppermint extract (I highly recommend the peppermint!)

To make the cream filling, place the cashews in a small bowl and cover with water. Soak them for at least an hour, or overnight. Drain the water and pat the cashews dry with a clean towel. To make the cream filling, you can either use a high-powered blender or an immersion stick blender. Place all the ingredients together and blend on highest setting for several minutes to obtain a smooth thick paste. Place this in the fridge while you work on the dough.

To make the cookies, preheat your oven to 325 F. Whisk all the dry ingredients together. If you have a food processor, simply pulse the coconut oil and honey together until creamy, then add the dry ingredients and pulse until they come together into a ball. If mixing by hand, cream the coconut oil and honey together. Add the dry ingredients mixture and mixing with a wooden spoon until the dough begins to come together. Use your hands to shape the dough into a ball.  Flatten it into a disk. Sprinkle a little buckwheat flour on a rolling pin and on a clean surface and begin to roll out the dough to about 1/8th or even 1/16th of an inch thick. (The thinner the dough, the crispier the cookie). Continue to sprinkle a little buckwheat flour under the dough as you roll it, it will help you lift off the cookies to transfer them to the pan. This dough is delicate and does not flip over well, but with flour sprinkled on top and bottom, it will roll out nicely.  If your dough is simply too sticky to roll out, you can knead in a bit more buckwheat flour (not more than 1 Tbsp at a time) or chill the dough in the fridge for about 10 minutes. 

Once your dough is rolled thin, use a round cookie cutter or the top of a small drinking glass, about 2 inches in diameter, to cut the cookies into circles. Using a thin spatula, carefully transfer them to a parchment paper-lined or greased cookie sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes in a 325F oven, but check them often as they can burn very quickly, and burnt buckwheat does not taste very nice. (If your dough is rolled very thin, they may bake even more quickly). Cool the cookies on a rack, they will crisp a bit as they cool. 

To assemble, make sure the cookies are completely cooled (or the filling will melt). Coconut oil hardens significantly when chilled. If your cream filling is cold and hardened, you can roll it into little balls, about 3/4 inch in size and gently squeeze it between 2 cookies, making sure to press on the centre of the cookie so it doesn’t crack along the edges. Alternately, if your filling is not too cold and still spreadable, you can simply butter it on the bottom of one cookie and press another cookie on top. If the filling is left at room temperature too long, the oil may begin to separate, if this happens, simply chill it again and whisk it back into a cream. The filling amount should be fairly thin, about 1/8th inch thick. The cookies will keep for about 1 week. Enjoy!