March 17, 2013

Guinness Brownies

I caved. I had to make them.

I really wasn't planning to cook or blog, or in fact do anything St. Patrick's Day-related today because I am in thesis-land. And I intend to remain firmly there. For the most part.

But my sister has been under the weather, and I asked her what she was craving yesterday and she replied, surprise surprise... chocolate. I was prepared to make her some chicken soup or honey lemon tea or something equally healing. But, I am not one to ever say no to the possibility of chocolate. Normally, I wouldn't even think to make brownies for my sister because she herself happens to make THE best brownies in the universe. But seeing as she hasn't been feeling well, and lately I've been drooling over all the photos floating around online of guinness & chocolate based desserts... I succumbed to trying my hand at the ol' beer & chocolate combo. Didn't take much. Anyway, these brownies took about 30 minutes to make from beginning to end. I only ate oh, about a dozen of them before my sister got home. It helps with the thesis. I swear.

Luna got in on the action when she thought I wasn't looking, then later pretended there was something more interesting going on outside (as if anything could be more interesting than chocolate). Silly monkey-cat.

Because my sister is avoiding gluten these days, I made these with sorghum and almond flours, although technically, the beer has gluten. But she's not quite that hard-line about it. I also used coconut sugar which supposedly doesn't make your blood sugar climb a mountain. Though it tastes so damn good I can't imagine how it wouldn't. Mainly though, its rich flavour is a perfect marriage with the bitterness of guinness. Mmmm.

These are dark and moody brownies, deeply flavorful, not too sweet, and deliciously unctuous. I recommend making them. Immediately. St Paddy's Day is not over til you've had these. (Oh and my sister, aka the brownie expert, immediately popped five in her mouth when she got home and made some muffled moaning noises, while giving me the thumbs up sign).

*If you want to use all-purpose flour, simply omit the sorghum and almond flours and use 1/2 cup flour of choice instead

 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup and 1 tbsp guinness
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter
1 cup coconut sugar (or any other sugar)
2 eggs
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1/3 cup almond flour (ground almonds)
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350F.

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Cream the butter and sugar together. Add cocoa powder and eggs and beat well. Mix in the guinness. In a small bowl, combine the sorghum flour, ground almonds, and salt. Incorporate melted chocolate with flours and egg mixture, and mix until thick uniform batter is obtained. Drop batter by the tablespoonful into a mini muffin tin. The batter should come almost to the top edge, but not quite. (They will rise a bit).

Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes. Be careful not to overbake. They should still be moist on top when they come out. Cool in the pan for about 45 minutes. Remove from pan and continue cooling on  rack if necessary. Devour. (Whipped cream or sour cream with a little sugar and fresh mint mixed in is delightful with these).


And just because ever since I saw this video, I start cracking up whenever I bake desserts with gluten-free flours, here is a little treat for you. Many people can probably relate to this... (although to be honest, even though I am not gluten-intolerent myself, I often prefer the taste and texture of gluten-free desserts... )

March 14, 2013

Sauerkraut Borscht

You may remember my love of sauerkraut and my somewhat unorthodox (and dead easy) way of making it. Here's a little replay of my sauerkraut-making video from last summer, to warm you up to sauerkraut borscht. And also to remember summer. Remember summer?! Before you watch this though, I must warn you, this was shot a very hot summer day. So there is a sexy shirtless farmer alert. Proceed with caution.

Well, first of all I confess I did not use her Royal Majesty the Ruby Kraut in this recipe, I simply used a white kraut, although I am certain Ruby would have added lovely hues to this borscht.

BORSCHT! Don't you love the way it sounds when you say it? That word has oomph and attitude. Traditionally, borscht is made with a kind of fermented beet juice or kvass, typical in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe. I've been wanting to make beet kvass for a while but it takes a week before it's ready and I had a craving for borscht yesterday that required immediate action, so I made it with a bit of sauerkraut added in instead, which gave it a beautiful tangy flavour. In case you're wondering, you can easily make the beet kvass by peeling and slicing beets, covering them lukewarm water, dropping a slice of rye bread on top, and leaving the whole thing in a quiet place for a week.

And by the way, if you're really into borscht and want to read about it further or consider other recipes, The Guardian did a great feature on it that is well worth the read.

Here's my version, it's pretty simple and pared down but packed with flavour. You can add potatoes or carrots if you like, there are so many versions of this recipe but for me borscht is all about celebrating beets and cabbage so I just stick to those two. And of course, sour cream and fresh dill are a MUST.


1 medium-large onion, chopped

2 tbsp olive oil or butter
Half of a medium-small cabbage, shredded
5 or 6 medium-sized beets, peeled and finely cubed except for one which should be grated
Between 1/2 to 1 cup chopped sauerkraut, depending on how zesty you want your borscht
2 litres of good (preferably homemade) beef or vegetable broth
2 medium cubed potatoes (optional)
4 cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper
Sour cream
Fresh dill
* Many people put a tablespoon of sugar in their borscht. I don't, but you may wish to try it

Sauté the chopped onion in the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot, until golden. Add the shredded cabbage and chopped garlic and give a good stir, cooking for a minute or two more. Add all the remaining ingredients: beets, sauerkraut, potatoes if using, broth. You may need to add some water or broth depending on how thick you like your soup. Simmer on medium heat for about 30 minutes or until beets and cabbage are soft and soup is flavourful. Season with salt and pepper to taste, keeping in mind it will already be a bit salty from the sauerkraut so taste it before seasoning. Serve with a generous dollop of sour cream and fresh chopped dill. As with most soups, this one tastes even better the next day when the flavours have really matured, so be sure to make a large pot so you have leftovers.

March 06, 2013

Sesame Tofu Dessert

I started the day placing the names of all of you wonderful people who entered the hat giveaway into my own beloved Julie Sinden hat and... drawing a lucky winner! So congratulations are in order to Liz Neale! May you enjoy your hat as much as I love mine :-) Thank you everyone for taking part! And because I'm terrible at keeping secrets, here are some clues as to who is generously sponsoring my April monthly giveaway...  they are French, their products weigh a ton, they're available in all the beautiful colours of the rainbow. And I make my No Knead bread in one. Oooh yeah baby.

Now. The Sesame Tofu recipe I'm going to share with you (which does not actually contain any tofu by the way) is a very, very special one to me. Because my mom used to make it all the time. I hadn't had it since she passed away and the flavours brought back a flood of memories. The recipe hails from the Ultimate hippy cookbook: The Tassajara Bread Book, which was published in 1970 and has been around our house for as long as I can remember. Our copy has stained and grimey pages, a great sign of love and history when it comes to cookbooks. 

I have to tell you, the first time my mom made sesame tofu, when I was a kid, I thought it was the weirdest dessert I had ever tasted and instantly dismissed it, referring to it as 'that weird sesame jello'. But over the years, my mom persisted and made it often, and I grew to positively adore it, craving the creamy consistency and sesame-honey flavour, begging her to make 'weird sesame jello' whenever I was home visiting. She would often insist on bringing it to potlucks and public gatherings, which somewhat horrified me. I used to wonder "why can't she just make banana bread or oatmeal cookies", you know, "normal deserts"! But normalcy was not one of my mom's aspirations in life and I think she got a kick out of surprising people with something new and unusual (not to mention healthy!) for them to try. And because that's just how these things work, I am the exact same way now. This is definitely one extra-out-of-the-ordinary dessert. And it has the memory of my mom and her adventurous cooking written all over it, which I am so grateful for today.

Something to love about this recipe is that it has only 3 ingredients: tahini, honey, and cornstarch (plus water). My mom would usually add a splash of rose water and a pinch of cardamom, which gives this dessert an exquisite middle eastern aroma. I followed her example and also sprinkled mine with black and white sesame seeds as a garnish since the squares are otherwise pretty nondescript and bland-looking (though not bland-tasting!)

Before we go on to the recipe, here is a delightful excerpt from The Tassajara Bread Book:
A recipe doesn't belong to anyone. Given to me, I give it to you. Only a guide, only a skeletal framework. You must fill in the flesh according to your nature and desire. Your life, your love will bring these words into full creation. This cannot be taught. You already know. So please cook, love, feel, create.

Adapted from The Tassajara Bread Book

1 part sesame tahini
1 part honey
1 part arrowroot flour or cornstarch (be sure to use organic cornstarch otherwise it will likely be GMO)
5 parts water
Optional: 1/2 tsp each rose water and cardamom (or a spice of your choice)

Using 1/2 cup of each ingredient and 2 1/2 cups water will serve about 6 to 8 people.

Dissolve the cornstarch or arrowroot in a bit of the water. Mix the remaining ingredients in a thick-bottomed saucepan. Heat on medium-high until all ingredients have dissolved. Bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch / arrowroot mixture while stirring constantly with a whisk. Once it has started to thicken, lower the heat and cook gently for about 20 minutes, whisking often to maintain a uniform consistency. This is kind of like making a custard. When the mixture is nice and thick, pour into a lightly oiled square 9 x 9 pan (if you used the 1/2 cup measurement). Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds if desired for garnish. Let it cool for a few hours, chill if desired. 

Carefully and slowly slice into squares with a sharp knife. (Wetting the knife with a little water can help get a nice clean cut). Bon appétit!

March 01, 2013

Roasted Parsnip and Celery Root Soup and a Special Giveaway!

Hurray we made it through the dreary month of February! Although here on the East Coast, it doesn't look like winter is going anywhere anytime soon. I'm a terrible Canadian. I love winter for oh, about the first 2 weeks, and then I just long for spring to come. Still, there are a few redeeming things about winter: the silence after a fresh snowfall, the wood stove crackling on a winter's eve, hot soups on the stovetop, and handmade woolies to keep us snug. Today, I have two of these wintery comforts to share with you. The first is a warm and wooly giveaway and the second is a recipe for a creamy roasted parsnip and celery root soup.

Let's start with the giveaway! I'm so excited to tell you that starting today, I will have a monthly giveaway sponsor which will be announced on the 1st of each month. And to start us off in pure elegance and style, Julie Sinden Handmade has generously offered a gorgeous 100% merino boiled wool hat to a lucky Kitchen Vignettes reader!

Julie is an award-winning textile artist based in Toronto. She is also a dear friend whose work I have admired ever since I met her. I have seen her whip up the most exquisite creations in the blink of an eye, from natural dyeing to felting to sewing and everything in between. Her beautiful hats are made using a boiled wool technique whereby you knit the item loose and large and then shrink it down to size. She describes it on her website as kind of like when you accidentally shrink your wool sweater in the wash, except that here, it's done on purpose.

Getting to wear one of Julie's elegant handmade hats is one of my favourite things about winter. In fact, my hat fits so cozily on my head that I often don't even take it off when I come in from outside. Actually, HA! I'm even wearing it as I write this and didn't realize it til now!

To be entered into the draw, it's very easy, you can choose one of 2 ways: 
1. Simply 'like' my brand new Kitchen Vignettes Facebook page as well as Julie Sinden Handmade's Facebook page and then leave me a comment below to let me know that you did.
2. Or instead, you can subscribe to this blog by e-mail (see the link to do so on the right sidebar).

The lucky winner will get to pick a hat of their choice (view the full winter 2013 collection by clicking here, there are both women and men's styles). Because we want to get your hat out to you before winter is over, I'll be drawing a winner in exactly 5 days so stay tuned! The giveaway is eligible to everyone, we will ship your hat wherever in the world you are.

Now let's talk soup! It's a snowy day here and I was browsing my newly received copy of The Farm, rustic recipes for a year of incredible food (by Ian Knauer) for warming recipes. This farm-to-table cookbook is packed with the most mouth-watering recipes including Sorrel-Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Shiitake-Stuffed Cornish Hens, and Swiss Chard & Fresh Ricotta Pizza. Mmmmmm.

Since we have a big bag of parsnips that need using up, I decided to make Ian's Parsnip and Celery Root Puree which I initially mistook for a soup recipe. Well, that was easily solved. I simply added some organic chicken broth to his recipe, put it through the blender and voila: a silky snow-white soup emerged, so simple to make, delightfully sweet and deeply flavourful, and perfect for this frosty day. I lapped it up like a kitty with a bowl of milk.

Adapted / Inspired from The Farm by Ian Knauer

Serves about 6 people

1 medium-sized celery root (aka celeriac) equivalent to about 1 pound, cubed
2 medium-large parsnips equivalent to about 1 pound, cubed
1 tbsp olive oil
2/3 cup heavy cream (or milk)
Around 5 to 6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (more or less depending on how thick you like your soup)
Salt and pepper to taste

PARSLEY OIL (Optional garnish)
1 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
1 chopped clove of garlic

Put your cubed veggies on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil. Bake in a 400 F oven for about 25 minutes, until golden. In a medium-large saucepan, mix the roasted veggies with your stock and simmer for about 10 minutes on medium heat. Remove and allow to cool slightly. Pour into a blender or use a hand blender to puree until smooth. Returning the soup to the saucepan and add the cream (or milk). Heat until hot but don't allow to boil. Add salt and pepper to taste and a few drops of parsley oil to garnish if desired. To make the parsley oil simply put all the ingredients in the blender and puree. Strain through a cheesecloth or fine mesh.

For another inspiring recipe from The Farm, take a look at this video recipe for Ian Knauer's Potato Nachos, yum.