April 30, 2013

Mango Ginger Black Sesame Larabars and a giveaway winner!

You're probably thinking Larabars aGAIN?! I know I just did a big long post about homemade larabars last week, and I don't mean to be predictable or repetitive, but you see, I am just a little obsessed. I have turned into a Larabar-making and EATING machine as of late, and I can't quite contain my enthusiasm for these deceptively easy-to-make treats that taste so good. I'll keep it short and sweet since we already went through the process last week and I have a special announcement to get to, ahem!

So before we get to the recipe, thank you all so much to everyone who entered my April giveaway. I appreciate the effort you all made in introducing new people to my blog and I only wish I had a prize for every single one of you! And welcome welcome welcome to all the new people who have landed here via a friend or family member. Now without further ado, I'm very pleased to announce the lucky winner of the sunshine yellow Le Creuset French Oven is... Brooke van Mossel-Forrester! Congratulations and enjoy your new pot!! Please use the 'contact me' link on the right sidebar to send me a little note to claim your prize and provide me with your mailing address so that I can pass it on to the fine folks at Le Creuset who will send you your lovely sunshine pot. Thank you Le Creuset for sponsoring this wonderful giveaway! And stay tuned for tomorrow's blogpost announcing my May giveaway, because it's a tasty one!

1 1/2 cup chopped dried unsulfured and unsweetened mango
1/4 cup chopped dried unsulfured and unsweetened apricots
1/4 cup chopped candied ginger
2 cups pecans
Fresh squeezed juice from one lime
1/4 cup black sesame seeds

Dried mango can be a little leathery so to soften it up, cut it into pieces (I used scissors for this) and squeeze the juice of one lime on top. Using your hands, mix the two to ensure all the mango is coated in lime juice. Allow to sit on the counter for about 15 minutes or longer.

Chop the pecans in the food processor until they are roughly ground (should look like breadcrumbs but bigger pieces of pecans are ok too). Do not over-process them or they will turn to nut butter and your bars will be very oily, I made this mistake on my first attempt, though they were still just as delicious!

Put the ground pecans in a separate bowl, leaving about 1/2 cup in the food processor. Add the chopped mango and lime juice, candied ginger, and apricots. Process everything until roughly pureed. The mixture will likely turn into a big ball of thick gooey paste and in that case you can stop the processor, break it up with a spatula and then keep blending. Once you have a relatively consistent paste (small chunks of mango are ok), add it to the bowl of chopped pecans and mix the two with your hands until you have a uniform paste. Press this into a 8 x 8 inch pan with wax paper on the bottom. Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top. (You can toast the sesames lightly on low-medium  heat in a frying pan first to bring out their flavour if you like). Cool down for about an hour or two in the fridge (or 30 minutes in the freezer) and then slice into bars or squares. You can wrap them up individually in wax or parchment paper if you like. They will keep for about a month, especially if they are refrigerated.

April 24, 2013

Homemade Lemon Poppy Seed Lärabars!

Spring is such an emotional rollercoaster. One day you're picking crocuses in the sunshine and the next morning you wake up to a winter wonderland. I think it's safe to say we've finally crossed into the gentler, greener part of spring! Honestly, what got me through it this year is kitties and lemons.  Yup.

Because on those days when we were slammed with yet another snow dump, the kitties were either cozied up by the woodstove, or meditating in the snow, taking it all in stride. And really, isn't that the best way to await spring's arrival? The kitties know.

As for lemons. If you can't have sunshine, I suppose they might be the next best thing. I'm not usually one to obsess over lemons, really. But without planning it that way, April has been the month of lemons. There was the Easter bread with candied lemon peels, and then the lemon polenta cake, and now, these lemon poppy seed bars which are blowing my mind. 

Have you ever had a Lärabar? They're a deliciously nutritious little snack with a very short ingredient list (usually a good thing in the world of packaged foods). I have been a longtime fan. But last year, they let me down big time. You see those seemingly innocent little bars of delight are owned by General Mills which donated a whopping $1.2 million to defeat Proposition 37 in California (the GMO labeling initiative). It makes me mad. Think of all the things $1.2 million could do in this world!! Instead, they wasted it on TV ads to scare Californians into believing they don't have the right to know if their food is genetically modified or not. And now that several other states are also about to vote on GMO labelling initiatives, it would be very nice if these big companies would back-off and realize that people do have a basic right to know what is in their food. So I'm boycotting Lärabar  (along with a bunch of other companies that fought against peoples' right to know in California... including Kellogg's, Coca Cola, see the full list here).

Well it turns out boycotts are pretty fun. Especially when you have to learn how to make your own delicious snacks!


I decided to try my hand at a lemon poppy seed bar. I was expecting deliciousness, to be sure. (How can you go wrong with dried fruit and nuts all mashed up together?) But I wasn't expecting to blow my own socks off! These bars are gooey and oozing with flavor. They are a perfect hiking, traveling, lunching, breakfast, anytime and anything snack. Trust me, and try them out. They take minutes to make. No baking. No fuss. Here's how you do it.

2 cups raw cashews
1 cup golden raisins (these are a pale yellow colour) *
1 cup chopped dried apricots (get the brown, unsulfured kind, they are so much better!) 
 Grated rind from 2 whole organic lemons 
1 to 2 tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice (start with 1 tbsp, add another if the mix is not too wet)
1/3 cup poppy seeds

Put all the ingredients in the food processor, except the poppy seeds and about 1 teaspoon of the grated lemon rind. Put these aside for the topping. Process the other ingredients for a while, until the whole thing has turned into a very thick paste. You may still have small chunks of cashews depending on how strong your food processor is and that's ok, but the raisins and apricots should be well-mashed into each other. If the mix is too dry, add the second tablespoon of lemon juice, a little at a time. 

Transfer to a mixing bowl and with your hands, knead about 1/2 of the poppy seeds into the fruit and cashew paste.  In a little bowl, mix the remaining poppy seeds with the reserved teaspoon of grated lemon rind.

Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with wax paper. Press the fruit paste down into the pan evenly. Sprinkle with the poppy seed and grated lemon rind mixture. Refrigerate for about 2 hours and then slice into bars or squares. You can wrap these individually in a little wax paper if you like. They will keep in the fridge for several weeks.

*After I posted this recipe, a reader kindly informed me in the comments section that golden raisins are just regular raisins treated with sulfur dioxide to prevent them from darkening. I didn't know that and will probably want to avoid them in the future - I'm going to experiment with only apricots and also with unsulfured dried pineapple. I'm trying to stick to light colours to keep a yellowish lemony colour to the bars, although that is purely aesthetic (If anyone has other suggestions about good substitutes, I'd love to hear them, please leave a comment bellow :-)

April 06, 2013

Honey Lemon Polenta Cake

Isn't it the best when you meet someone who isn't afraid to take action when they see a problem in the world? 

And who does it with enthusiasm and optimism? And leaves you feeling inspired and hopeful that we all have the power to make a change if we just put our minds to it? I had the great pleasure of meeting such a person this winter.

Her name is Rachel Parent, she is 13 years old, and she is seriously kicking some GMO butt!! Last year, she founded an organization called Kids Right To Know which is fighting for genetically modified foods (GMOs) to be labelled in Canada. I showed up on her doorstep one snowy morning to interview her for an article I wrote for the spring issue of Edible Toronto Magazine. But before we got down to business, Rachel and I baked a buttery and zesty honey lemon polenta cake. (GMO-free of course!) Here is a video of our delightful morning together.

Canada and the US are the only two industrialized countries in the world that don't label genetically modified foods (GMOs), and if anyone is going to change that, it just might be Rachel Parent. Check out the video of her debate with TV host Kevin O'Leary and you'll see why. And if you're wondering, like many people, what the heck exactly is a GMO and why should you avoid eating them, I highly recommend watching this documentary, produced by award-winning journalist Marie-Monique Robin, it clears up a lot of questions about GMOs.

Now. Let's talk about cake.

I have fallen head over heels in love with this cake. It's a buttery polenta cake that is soaked in honey lemon syrup. So it's moist, almost custardy, and bursting with delicious lemon zesty-ness. It's the perfect cake to herald the arrival of spring. In fact, I have taken to calling it the Sunshine Cake. And I've made it 5 times in the past 2 months alone. Let's just say, my month of March was very grey and very long, and I needed to pump up my world with as much sunshine as possible. 

A little bonus for the gluten-free's out there, this one happens to be made entirely with cornmeal and ground almonds so you're in the clear!

Rachel proudly displays our cake! Photo: © Andrew Norton
Adapted from Nigella Lawson

For a fully GMO-free cake, the polenta cornmeal, butter, and eggs should be certified organic. Cane sugar is a preferred option since most commercial sugar is made from GMO sugar beets. And yes, even baking powder can contain GMOs so certified GMO-free baking powder is advisable (and can be found at most health food stores). As for the lemons, they won't be genetically modified, but may have some lingering pesticides on their skin so organic is best since this recipe calls for zest.

3/4 cup polenta cornmeal (any regular cornmeal will do the trick, but I found a finer grind yielded the best texture)
2 cups ground blanched almonds
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup cane sugar (I actually use 3/4 cup to cut down on sugar content)
1.5 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
Zest of 2 lemons

1/2 cup honey
Juice of 2 lemons

Line the base of a 23 cm/9 inch springform pan with parchment paper and grease it with butter. Preheat oven to 350F.

Whip the butter, sugar, and lemon zest until pale and smooth. In a separate bowl, mix together the ground almonds, polenta, and baking powder. Beat roughly a third of this dry mixture into the creamed butter, followed by an egg. Mix well. Repeat 2 more times until all the ingredients have been incorporated together. Batter will be thick. Pour this into the prepared pan. 

Bake at 350F for about 40 minutes. A cake tester should come out clean and the top of the cake should be golden and the edges pulled back from the pan slightly. Cool the cake right in the pan. 

Make the syrup by simmering the honey and lemon juice together until hot. Prick the top of the cake with a toothpick and pour this syrup slowly and evenly over the top of the cake, while still in the pan. Allow the cake to soak up the syrup (minimum 15 minutes). Remove from the pan and serve. Enjoy!

April 01, 2013

Le Creuset French Oven Giveaway & Easter Bread

Hurrah! It's April and I'm so thrilled to announce my sponsor of the month is, drumroll please.... Le Creuset!! Le Creuset has generously donated one of their gorgeous enamelled cast iron French Ovens in their new seasonal colour: Soleil... and man have we ever needed a little soleil around these parts lately. So if you need a little brightening up in your world too, one lucky Kitchen Vignettes reader is going to receive a very sunny and special delivery at the end of this month, and it could be you! Details on how to enter the draw are below.

I have been drooling over Le Creuset cookware for as long as I can remember. There is just something that makes me feel like all is well in the world when there is a heavy-duty brightly coloured pot of fragrant stew simmering away on my stove. Their outstanding craftsmanship ensures even heat distribution and seals in moisture and flavours. Of course, they aren't cheap, but they are so worth the investment. I was actually lucky enough to get my own two prized Le Creuset wares with my aeroplan points. Forget travel rewards, I'll take Le Creuset over a free flight any day! Their French Ovens are unparalleled for soups and stews and, of course... no-knead bread.

Here is a recap my no-knead bread recipe video, starring a very sunny and well-loved Le Creuset French Oven, and oh, a very fuzzy and well-loved kitty too.

Yesterday, I made a special 'Easter version' of my no-knead bread, with the addition of candied lemon peel, currants, walnuts, and a hint of honey. And I think it just may be the best bread I've ever made. Ever. To get the basic no-knead bread recipe, featured in the video, click here. To get my Easter no-knead bread recipe, scroll below.

Now, to enter the draw to win the lovely 4.3L French Oven (valued at $330), here's what you need to do:

1) Tell a friend or family member about Kitchen Vignettes, and get them to either 'like' my Facebook page, or subscribe to this blog by e-mail (see right-hand sidebar). Both you and your friend will be entered into the draw. 

2) To be eligible for the draw, please leave me a comment below letting me know you and your friend (include their name) have entered the contest. 

3) The more people you introduce, the more ballots you will get. For instance, if you introduce 5 new people, your name will be entered in the draw 5 times.

***This giveaway can only be shipped within Canada or the United States.***

Cut-off time for entering the draw is 5pm Atlantic time, April 30th. I will draw a name at random and announce the winner that evening. Good luck everyone and stay tuned for the May giveaway!

Easter No-Knead Bread

2 cups white unbleached flour
1 cup spelt flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup dried currants
2 tbsp. finely chopped candied lemon peel
1/2 cup walnuts
1 tsp honey
Cornmeal to sprinkle on bottom of French Oven

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast, salt, and add 1 5/8 cup water. Stir together to obtain a sticky dough. Cover the bowl with a lid or plate and allow to sit on your kitchen counter for about 20 hours. 

After more or less 20 hours, your dough should be nice and bubbly. Add in the currants, lemon peel, walnuts, and honey. With your hand (best) or a wooden spoon, mix well for about 2 to 3 minutes. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover. Allow dough to rise for about 2 hours.

Put your lidded French Oven in the oven and preheat to 450 F. Any oven-proof lidded pot will do, but a French Oven will work best. Allow your lidded pot to heat up in the oven for about 15 minutes. Remove and sprinkle cornmeal at the bottom of the piping hot pot. Gently but quickly drop the bread dough down into the pot and immediately place the lid back on. Give the pot a little shake if the dough is unevenly distributed. Return to the hot oven and bake with lid on for 30 minutes. Then turn temperature down to 400, remove the lid, and bake for another 20 minutes or until the loaf is a deep golden brown and has a hard crust. 

Allow your loaf to cool on a rack for at least one FULL hour before slicing into it. Otherwise, the bread may be gummy. After an hour, slice away and enjoy!