Birthday blowout

birthday1

Lurker!

This past weekend was Darcy’s birthday, and we really went all out with three days of food-indulgence. It started with the cake you see above, and was nicely complemented with homemade pasta, homebread bread, french toast, and then dinner and drinks with friends. I had never made a layer cake before, so I was pretty pleased with how this one turned out – my only gripes were that I should have let the butter that went into the icing sit out longer (this misstep resulted in lumpy icing), and I should have made more icing to fill out the inner layers a bit more (the icing in between was a bit sparse). However, the cake was enjoyed by all and if you want to make it for yourself, you can check out the recipe here: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake from Jen’s Favorite Cookies.

birthday2

I also tried making homemade pasta for the first time (using my Kitchenaid pasta roller and cutter that Darcy gave me for Christmas!), and I am seriously impressed with how it turned out. I made the dough the night before, and at first I was horrified at how dry it was, but after adding water bit by bit, and kneading, kneading, kneading, it finally came together into something I thought looked pasta-dough-like (i.e. it was similar to what the dough looked like on the YouTube videos I had been watching all week). The next day at suppertime, Darcy and I cut the dough into six pieces and fed it through the pasta roller until it was at the desired thinness for fettucine, and then cut it using the fettucine cutter, the after-effects of which you see in the picture above. Yes, I made that! I was pretty astonished at how “real” the pasta turned out. Obviously. Ha! If you have a pasta roller at home, I used Chef Michael Smith’s dough recipe here, and for the actual dish, I made Pasta with Tomato and Bacon Sauce, also a recipe of Chef Michael Smith’s. (Note: the pasta-dough recipe made enough for two very well-sized meals, so we used half for Friday night’s dinner and I froze the other half for future enjoyment.)

birthday3

Chef Michael Smith strikes again! I made this French toast with his Country Bread recipe that I use over and over again, and the actual French toast itself is made from my mom’s recipe:

2 eggs, 1 Tbsp sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 cup milk, 2 Tbsp butter; mix all ingredients together and melt butter on griddle/pan before dousing slices of bread in egg mixture; cook until nicely browned. (I double this recipe for two people – I eat a lot of French toast in one sitting; it’s my absolute favourite breakfast meal).

birthday4

On Saturday night, we went out to East Side Mario’s for dinner and drinks with friends, and I discovered $5 blueberry-pomegranate sangria. Winos rejoice! This drink was so good. My meal was just OK – I think I was seriously still full from breakfast, so I favoured the refreshing drinks over the heavy pasta (and, to be honest, I was spoiled with my own creation from the night before).

All in all, it was a great weekend, and if you follow me on Instagram (@defactoredhead), you can keep up with my shenanigans there as well. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must run a million miles to compensate for being a carbohydrate balloon all weekend. :)

Chocolate zucchini loaf via PaleOMG

July 23, 20131

These ingredients transform into an amazing chocolate zucchini loaf!

Darcy and I have been trying to reduce the amount of carbohydrates and sweets we keep in the house, and because he is much better at avoiding these things than I am, I immediately started looking for healthier dessert and “treat” alternatives. I came across this recipe for chocolate zucchini bread at paleomg.com and have baked it four times in the past three weeks. It’s that good, and I have at least one other person, independent of Darcy and myself, who agrees (right, Susie?!).

July 23, 20132

As you will read in the recipe below, you have to suck as much moisture as you can out of the grated zucchini. I had no idea how much water is retained in this vegetable!

July 23, 20133

Delicious batter that I licked from the spoon.

July 23, 2013

It doesn’t look like much, but believe me, it’s chocolatey, moist, and best served warm with butter!

Moist Chocolate Zucchini Bread via PaleOMG
Ingredients
  • 1 medium zucchini, shredded (equal to 1.5 cups shredded zucchini)
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • ¾ cup sunbutter (I used almond butter)
  • ⅓ cup raw honey
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons coconut flour (This was much cheaper at Bulk Barn than at the grocery store!)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
 Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Shred your zucchini. Use the shredding attachment on your food processor or take the long and boring route using a cheese grater. Whichever works.
  3. Once your zucchini is shredded, you need to remove the excess liquid. And zucchinis have a lot of it. Place a couple paper towels down on the counter, throw the zucchini on top, then place another paper towel on top of the zucchini, then squeeze. The more you squeeze, the more liquid will come out. Genius.
  4. Use more paper towels as needed, but be sure to squeeze until the zucchini feels waterless. (I found achieving waterless-ness next to impossible, so I just went for “fairly dry compared to what it was when I started.”)
  5. Place zucchini in a bowl with the rest of your ingredients. Use a large spoon to mix well until all the ingredients are combined and you have a deep chocolate colour.
  6. Pour your ingredients into a loaf pan.
  7. Place in oven to bake for 25-35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean when you poke it. (My loaf took the full 35 minutes to bake through.)
  8. Let cool, cut, and serve!

Soup’s on!

April 13, 20134

Darcy and I really like soup, so when we came across a book called The Soup Bible, we bought it (the price was also right – we were at Value Village when we found it). I have made a handful of recipes from The Soup Bible and – wink wink – every single one has been divine.

We have a guest for the weekend, so while the three of us lingered over waffles this morning, it was decided that soup was going to be the supper we would look forward to for the rest of the day. I looked through a few other cookbooks, as well as my Food Network magazine archives, but, as always, I came back to The Soup Bible. I settled on Vegetable Soup with Coconut, and it was a hit!

April 13, 20135

Yes, I make notes in my cookbooks!

April 13, 20131

Veggie prep: red chili pepper, green onions, red onion, sweet potato, turnip, and butternut squash.

April 13, 20133

Delicious!

April 13, 20132

I also made this tried and true recipe for Irish soda bread.

April 13, 2013

And, of course, I also made dessert. These squares are another standby, and I first mentioned them on the blog way back in 2009!

If you’re interested in making the Vegetable Soup with Coconut, here is the recipe:

Ingredients (serves 3 as meal-size portions)

2 Tbsp butter or margarine

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

175 g each of turnip, sweet potato, and pumpkin (I substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin and used my kitchen scale to weigh 175 g, which is about 0.3-0.4 kg on the grocery store scales.)

1 tsp dried marjoram

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 Tbsp chopped green onion

4 cups vegetable stock

2 Tbsp flaked almonds

1 chili pepper, seeded and chopped

1 tsp sugar

25 g creamed coconut (this is usually with the international foods in the grocery store; it comes in a box. Click here to see the brand I used.)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

chopped fresh coriander, to garnish (optional) (I couldn’t find this, so I didn’t use it or a substitute. No one at the table demanded to know where the fresh coriander was.)

Directions

1. Melt the butter or margarine in a large, non-stick soup pot. Fry the onion for 4-5 minutes. Add the diced vegetables and fry for 3-4 minutes.

2. Add the marjoram, ginger, cinnamon, green onion, and salt and pepper to taste. Fry over a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Add the vegetable stock, flaked almonds, chili, and sugar and stir well to mix. Cover and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes until the vegetables are just tender.

4. Grate the creamed coconut into the soup and stir to mix. Spoon into warmed bowls, sprinkle with chopped coriander, if liked, and serve immediately. (I did not have to grate my creamed coconut – it was soft enough to just kind of pick apart. I also did not warm my bowls – I couldn’t be bothered.)

Let me know if you give this recipe a try!

Mathematical madness

I blew back onto the blog a couple weeks ago…and then my dosage calculations class began at school. Eek. I have been dreading this course since I started school in May – flashbacks from my Grade 12 math exam, which I failed, have been causing night sweats. Wednesday, however, is the last day of this self-imposed trial of (many) errors, and I foresee wine at approximately 1800h.

As you wait with bated breath to find out if I passed my final exam (Mr. Houle, are you out there, laughing at me right now?), here is a bit of what I have been up to lately:

About two weeks ago, I hit the first milestone toward total school completion, and that was the end of my weekly Monday drug quizzes, which consistently ruined my Sundays for 24 consecutive weeks. This picture is a glimpse of many, many pages of study notes.

Last week was Customer Appreciation Day at the pharmacy, and these chocolate chip cookies were my contribution to the smorgasbord of food we cooked and baked for our customers.

Here is what I wore on Customer Appreciation Day – it was nice to see everyone dressed up and without their Pharmasave smocks on!

I wear these boots all the time on the blog, but they never show up very well in pictures, so this picture actually shows a bit more of their shape and length.

Last Friday, Darcy and I went to a Sudbury Wolves hockey game, and, as usual, I spent a lot of time people-watching.

Last weekend, Darcy and I also went to our first of five Christmas parties, and just how pale my skin is becomes glaringly apparent in shots like this.

On Saturday, I participated in the annual Santa Shuffle 5K run, but this year I did it in Sudbury with my co-workers. So far, I have taken part in this race in Toronto, Edmonton, Hamilton, and Sudbury, and I definitely consider the Santa Shuffle a holiday tradition! 

The Paleo Diet

This week in kitchen adventures brings about the debut of the Paleo diet. Have you heard of this way of eating before? Darcy and I have decided to try it out for 30 days to gauge how healthy we feel afterward, to see if there is any difference on the scale, and to find out how we can incorporate healthier options into our regular diet. The basic premise of the Paleo diet is to eat like…well…Paleolithic man. What that means is no dairy, no wheat or grains, and no added sugars or salt – just plain ol’ huntin’ n’ gatherin’ sorts of foods. As you can imagine, this cuts out a large portion of what I like to eat – CARBS – but 30 days isn’t a long time, and with a little cheating with my friends on weekends, I will be able to see this thing through to the end. (I have actually discovered in the last week and a half that fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, and nuts can be mixed into some interesting and tasty combinations.) Darcy, however, is the truly devoted one in this venture, and even though he went away last weekend, he stuck to his diet the entire time! I, on the other hand, went to up to Caroline’s farm and ate chocolate chip cookies, bread, chocolate banana bread, and nachos, and drank juice, lemonade, vodka, gin, and wine. Binge alert!

Caroline and I, and solid proof of my wicked ways.

So, this week marks Week 1 of me forcing the Paleolithic diet on Ami, and our first selection from the official Paleo Diet Cookbook is the So Cal Omelet, that serves two people:

INGREDIENTS
  • 4 omega-3 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped spinach
  • 1 tsp finely chopped fresh basil
  • Freshly ground back pepper
  • 1 small avocado, thinly sliced
DIRECTIONS
In a small mixing bowl, whisk eggs until frothy. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium flame. Add eggs. Using a rubber spatula, gently lift the edges of the omelet and allow uncooked egg to run off to the sides of the pan. When eggs are almost set, layer the spinach over half of the omelet, sprinkle with basil and pepper on the other half, and fold one half over the other. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer for one minute. Cut in half, slide onto two plates, and garnish with sliced avocado.
My ingredients. Which one these eggs is not like the other…?





Ami’s ingredients. Of course her avocado looks like that! (And of course mine was hacked up and chunky!)



My omelet, mid-cooking. The spinach looks overwhelming, but it’s not! I swear!


Ami’s eggs, looking lovely!


Half of my omelet, garnished my hacked-up and chunky avocado.


Ami’s omelet, garnished with the perfectly sliced avocado AND salsa! Honestly, is she trying to show me up? (Just kidding, Ami! Please don’t stop returning my e-mails.)

Since Darcy and I started the Paleo diet, we have been consuming eggs like crazy. We have gone through two cartons each week! But, since the diet is egg-friendly, this recipe was a perfect choice (and since it came from the Paleo cookbook, we really couldn’t go wrong). Let’s start with a rundown of the ingredients.
  • Ami used six eggs instead of four, and adjusted the other ingredients accordingly, since her and Chris ate their omelet for supper (I used the recommended four eggs because Darcy and I ate our omelet for breakfast).
  • I used one-half an avocado (I thought a whole one seemed like too much!)

And, well, there isn’t much else to say about the ingredients because they were pretty straightforward. Onto the directions:

  • Ami told me she was nervous about this recipe because she usually has “a strict ‘I don’t cook eggs’ policy.” Her reason for this is that she always undercooks or overcooks her eggs, and has had bad luck with omelets, in particular. But, after trying out the So Cal Omelet, Ami is a convert! Here is her reason why: “I think my mistake was always trying to flip the omelet…the trick was covering it with a lid at the end to help it cook through!! Who knew?! I also usually add some milk of some sort to my eggs during the whisking process, and I think that has hindered it staying together well or something!!”
  • My omelet ended up turning out all right in the end, but I had my doubts at the beginning because I didn’t let my pan heat up for long enough, and when I put the eggs in, there was no sizzle, and they just sat there, looking gross and defiantly refusing to cook. So, in other words, make sure your pan would scorch the skin off your palm before you add your eggs!

Now, for the end result. Ami and Chris found the omelet a little plain, and Darcy and I couldn’t agree more. To us, it just seemed dry, like it needed the salsa (or SOMETHING) that Ami decided to add. Ami’s final rating of the recipe was a three out of five (I concur), and while that’s because of the plain factor, she said adding more vegetables (like tomatoes or peppers), or goat cheese would definitely kick this omelet up into the “delicious!!” range. I completely agree with the cheese comment – it was one of the first things I said to Darcy: “This would be SO MUCH BETTER with cheese!!!”

Next week, I’ll be posting about the Paleo Diet Cookbook‘s Shrimp Skewers. In the meantime, think of me and my life without pasta, and then cry rivers of tears.

Back to our old tricks

So, I went away to PEI, and while I meant to post about this recipe (and a few other things!) in the past couple weeks, I just completely checked out of the blogging world. Sorry! Ami and I are still baking and cooking, though, and the last recipe we tried out before I took off was the simply titled Baked Oatmeal, from wholeliving.com.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus more for coating baking dish
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or almonds, toasted and chopped
  • 1/3 cup fine-grain natural cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 ripe bananas, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 1/2 cups huckleberries, blueberries, or mixed berries
  • Maple syrup, for drizzling
  • DIRECTIONS

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish.
  • Combine the oats, half the nuts, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk the milk, egg, half the butter, and the vanilla.
  • Arrange bananas in a single layer on the bottom of the coated baking dish. Sprinkle with two-thirds of the berries, then cover with the oat mixture. Slowly drizzle milk mixture over the oats. Gently tap dish on a work surface to distribute liquid. Scatter remaining berries and nuts across the top.
  • Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is nicely golden and the oat mixture has set. Let cool slightly. Drizzle with remaining melted butter and maple syrup.
  • My ingredients, with my trusty laptop (i.e. “cookbook”) on the counter in the background.

    Ami’s ingredients. I want her maple syrup!

    I completely forgot to take a picture mid-baking, so this blurry oven-window photo had to make the cut!

    Ami’s prepared oatmeal, ready for the oven!

    As you can see, after the baked oatmeal came out of the oven, it was quite popular, but…

    Ami’s baked oatmeal looks great, and the added brown sugar looks delicious!

    Before I get going into our actual opinions about this recipe, I have to admit that because I baked it almost a month ago, this won’t be a long and involved review – my memory is fuzzy, man! But, as always, I’ll address the ingredients first:

    • Ami used hemp milk, and I used soy milk in place of regular milk.
    • I went with dried cranberries, but Ami tried out a mix of blackberries and strawberries, since that’s what her market had available that week.
    • I stuck with almonds only, but Ami went wild and used walnuts AND almonds. She mixed in the walnuts, and put her sliced almonds on top.
    • As I mentioned in Ami’s last photo, she sprinkled brown sugar over her oatmeal, which is something I wished I would have done too!

    As for the directions, in addition to the multi-nut mixture Ami used, she went completely crazy and didn’t measure either her nuts OR her berries, and just went with her instinct. Flouting measurement! Gasp! Another note:

    • Ami baked her oatmeal for an extra 5-10 minutes (45-50 minutes total) to ensure that it was set. She thought it was a bit more watery because she used hemp milk, but I also baked mine for about 40-45 minutes because it was hard to tell if the oatmeal was set. Turns out, it was, but the extra time didn’t hurt.

    When the oatmeal came out of the oven, it smelled SO GOOD, and Darcy and I had some almost right away. It tasted great! Ami and Chris also loved the oatmeal, but the difference is that they continued to love it. Mine and Darcy’s interest dwindled as the days went by. Sure, I heated it up in the microwave, but it just wasn’t the same as fresh from the oven. Plus, Darcy grew to despise the sliced bananas on the bottom of the baking dish – they turned too “slimy” for him. Chris, however, said it was one of his favourite recipes yet! Ami said she would definitely make it again, and is looking forward to experimenting with blueberries, raspberries, etc. She also mentioned this could be a good recipe for Holden (he’s nine months old), so there’s a perk for all you mothers out there! Her final rating was 4.5 out of 5, and mine is 2.5 out of 5, for the obvious reason that I ran so hot and cold on its taste: “I love it!” “I guess I’ll eat it because I don’t want to waste it.” “Uhhhh, maybe Darcy will eat the rest of this when I’m gone to PEI.” (He didn’t, and ended up throwing it out.)

    What will YOU think of the baked oatmeal?

    Elvis lives…in Burlington

    To be more exact, Elvis lives in Burlington, in a Tupperware container, in my refrigerator. He’s also deliciously flavoured with cinnamon, maple syrup, dark chocolate, and peanut butter. Elvis, thou art sweet and savoury.

    Now, why this week’s recipe has the official name of “Elvis Granola,” I don’t know. Is there a joke out there in the pop-culture world that I’m just not getting? Does the author of Eat, Live, Run know something I don’t? (I’m sure she knows many things I don’t.) I just realized I should have been listening to Elvis while making my granola – an Elvis opportunity, wasted! Swoon and collapse and fetch me my smelling salts.

    ANYWAY, enough talk. As you’ve heard by now (it was on the news, right?), this week, Ami and I made our own granola. Here are Ami’s initial thoughts on the idea:

    “I actually have been wanting to try my hand at making my own granola for a while…and this recipe looks too delish to pass up. It seems like making your own granola is so easy; I always feel like a fool buying it at the store. Same with hummus. People make it sound like it is so easy to make both. Why pay for it?! So, if this recipe works out, I may just start testing out other granola recipes, and, who knows, maybe I will stop ever buying granola again!”

    Did Ami’s prophecy come true? Read on…

    INGREDIENTS

    • 1/4 cup canola oil
    • 1/3 cup maple syrup
    • 1/4 cup chunky peanut butter
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp cinnamon
    • 4 cups old-fashioned oats
    • 1/4 cup ground flax seeds
    • 1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts
    • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
    • 2/3 cup chopped dark chocolate (or miniature chocolate chips)

    DIRECTIONS

    Preheat oven to 275.

    Bring the canola oil, maple syrup, peanut butter, salt, and cinnamon to a simmer on the stove. Cook for three to five minutes.

    While that’s cooking, mix together the oats, ground flax, peanuts, and sunflower seeds. Pour hot syrup mixture over the oats and toss well to coat. Spread out granola onto two lined baking trays and bake for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally and turning trays midway through.

    Let granola cool completely before adding the chopped chocolate.

    *This granola will stay fresh for about a month sealed in Tupperware and kept in the fridge.

    My ingredients. Like my new syrup dispenser that I bought for $2 at the Reuse Centre?

    Ami’s ingredients. I want her fresh maple syrup!

    My granola, all mixed up and ready to be put in the oven.

    Ami’s granola. Those oats are about to be baked good. Real good.

    My finished granola, looking much like it did before it went into the oven.

    Ami’s granola (pictured here, complete with a poised spoon) already being consumed by someone.

    All right – as usual, I’ll start with the ingredients, and how we handled them.

    • Ami used coconut oil instead of canola oil (she wanted the extra health kick, and she likes the flavour more).
    • I have no idea if my use of Quaker Quick Oats versus the use of actual old-fashioned oats affected my granola, but the quickies were what I had on hand, so too bad!
    • I also don’t know if non-salted peanuts bought from the bulk bin are the same as dry-roasted peanuts (I don’t think they are), but I used them anyway, and if you can believe it, the world didn’t explode.
    • I chopped up the chocolate myself, and even though only one bar is pictured above, I had another on reserve in case I “needed” it. I needed it.

    The directions for this recipe are mostly straightforward, but I admit that I was completely flustered at one point. In my ingredients picture above, you can see that my peanut butter is not PC Blue Menu Just Peanuts Peanut Butter. I did, however, have a bit of this left in the fridge, so I used the rest of it, plus the Compliments brand, to make up my 1/4-cup of peanut butter. I had misgivings because, for some reason, the PC Blue Menu stuff never really “oiled up” (i.e. separated) in the fridge like natural peanut butter usually does. It still tasted good, but it was dry and clumpy, and didn’t spread well (and yes, I checked, it wasn’t expired). What the heck, I used it anyway. Bad idea. My syrup mixture was clumpy, too! I thought I had created the first official disaster of our cooking/baking series. But, when I poured the clumpy mixture over the oats, and broke the clumps up with my fingers, smaller pieces were left that, when tasted, were like little balls of oaty (oatie?) peanut butter (you can see them in my “finished product” picture above). I quickly mixed up another pot of the syrup mixture with the Compliments brand peanut butter, and since it looked much more like the picture on Eat, Live, Run’s blog, I figured I was good to go. Crisis averted!

    After doing all the heating, boiling, and mixing, the only other thing that was a bit odd for both Ami and I was the fact that we had to use two baking sheets. I was also confused by what was meant by “lined.” Did that mean rimmed? Or lined with parchment paper? I used two un-rimmed cookie sheets, covered in parchment paper, and I placed them on the two most “middle” racks of my oven. Ami used rimmed baking sheets, but her positioning was the same, since it was obvious there was no way the sheets we had were going to fit side by side in our ovens.

    Everything turned out fine, and while both of us only stirred the granola once (after 20 minutes), I forgot to turn the trays. This didn’t appear to affect the outcome, either. Success!

    Ami rated her granola-making experience a whopping 5 out of 5, and while I almost agree based on taste alone, I just can’t quite get there because of my syrup fiasco, and because of what I thought was ambiguity surrounding the baking sheets and their positioning. Therefore, my royal decree delcares…4.5 out of 5. The granola is dang good, y’all!

    And now for Ami’s prophecy.

    • Her initial statement: “So, if this recipe works out, I may just start testing out other granola recipes, and, who knows, maybe I will stop ever buying granola again!”
    • Her final consensus: “I am completely converted to making my own granola from here on out.”

    Ooohhhhh, eerie! To be honest, though, I don’t think I see a reason to buy granola again, either. Carla’s kitchen is a-rockin’!

    One more granola note from Ami and I – make sure you have a large Tupperware container to store the granola in because it ain’t no joke – this recipe makes granola for dayz.

    Crazy for coconut

    Last week, Ami and I had our fun with a recipe that contained coconut, and when it came time for me to send Ami a list of choices for Week 9, I had coconut on the brain, and included a recipe for coconut shrimp. Ami mentioned that our readers (Hello? Please say you’re out there?) might be getting sick of vegan recipes, and because of that, perhaps we should try the shrimp. Our motives weren’t entirely altruistic, though – she loves the coconut shrimp at Red Lobster, and my eyes glaze over and my mouth gets slack when coconut anything is mentioned. Everyone, please extend a warm welcome to Paula Deen’s Coconut Shrimp with Orange Marmalade.

    Ingredients

    • 2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
    • 2 cups bread crumbs
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (as usual, Kosher salt is not necessary)
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 4 large eggs, beaten
    • 24 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
    • Vegetable oil, for frying

    Dipping Sauce:

    • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
    • 1 to 2 tablespoons dark rum

    Directions

    In a large bowl, combine coconut and bread crumbs and season with salt and pepper. Place flour, eggs, and bread crumb mixture into 3 separate bowls. Dredge the shrimp in flour and shake off excess. Next, dip the shrimp thoroughly in the egg and rub against the side of the bowl to lightly remove excess. Finally, coat the shrimp thoroughly with the bread-crumb mixture. Lay out the shrimp so they do not touch on a parchment-lined baking sheet or platter until ready to fry. In a large Dutch oven (not needed – you can use a pan like this, which is what Ami and I did), heat several inches of oil to 350 degrees F. Fry the shrimp in batches until golden brown and cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes per batch. Be careful not to overcrowd shrimp in the oil while frying. Drain on paper towels.

    For the Dipping Sauce: heat the marmalade in a small saucepan over low heat. Thin with rum as desired.

    My ingredients, including orange marmalade, an item I have never bought before.

    Ami’s ingredients (Ami, what did you use the rice vinegar and crushed red-pepper flakes for? I just noticed them!)

    My shrimp, after they were coated as directed.

    Ami’s shrimp, after the flouring, egging, and breading was complete. Her coconut seems to have stuck more heavily than mine, but why that is, I have no idea…

    My shrimp, whose souls died a little more each second as they were boiled away in hot vegetable oil.

    My shrimp side dish is ready to EAT (said in the deep voice that you would imagine coming from someone named Thor.)

    Ami’s shrimp, plus the reviled orange-marmalade dip. Hiss!

    All right – let’s start with a rundown of the ingredients and substitutions before we get into the discussion of the hated dipping sauce. To begin with, I cut the recipe in half because 24 shrimp as a side dish seemed like a lot for two people. It turns out that cutting the recipe in half still produces too much excess (for a small side dish), because my package of shrimp had about 18 in it, and I was left with tons of both the coconut-bread-crumb mixture and the flour. Two eggs was OK, because one would have been too little. Ami, however, did make 24 shrimp, and she also halved the recipe and had exactly enough (with the exception of the egg, in which case three would have been perfect). So, the roundabout lesson here is to halve the recipe if you’re making 24 shrimp (but use three eggs), and use even less coconut, bread crumbs, and flour if you’re cooking fewer than two dozen shrimp, like I was. No one likes to waste, after all!

    As far as substitutions went, Ami and I did the following:

    • I used whole-wheat bread crumbs for the shrimp, and golden rum for the dipping sauce.
    • Ami used unsweetened coconut instead of sweetened, and said it still tasted pretty good. She also used coconut oil in place of vegetable oil, because while coconut oil is a “healthy” oil, it also has a higher smoking point than olive oil, which meant it was appropriate for the fry-down we had while cooking our shrimp. We both used less oil than what the recipe suggests – several inches?!?!

    The actual cooking of the shrimp was easy and straightforward. What also made it simple for me was my purchase of a candy/oil thermometer, which helped me with the 350-degree temperature of the oil (the thermometer was only $7.99 at Stokes). This purchase isn’t necessary, though, because Ami didn’t use a thermometer, and her shrimp turned out perfectly fine. One thing to watch out for, though, is how sticky your fingers can get when you’re coating the shrimp, dipping it in the egg, and then coating it again. The author of our onion-rings recipe cautioned against this when it came to coating, and the phenomenon was referred to as “club hand.” Beware – it’s the truth, and it can happen to you.

    Now…the dipping sauce. PUKE. Ami told me her and Chris hated it, but I still wanted to try it anyway. I should have listened to her, because after Darcy and I tried it and went into violent coughing fits, it was time for the orange marmalade to say hello to the garbage bin. Ami actually made two versions of it (there is a suggestion for a “similar” recipe at the bottom of the Food Network page), and both were rejected. She used about two teaspoons of rum extract, and I used actual rum (Bacardi Gold), and while she thought the orange flavour was too strong, Darcy and I thought the rum flavour was enough to burn through our tracheas. I used the suggested 1/2 cup of marmalade, and scaled the rum back to one teaspoon, and it was still too much. Everyone’s reaction to the orange marmalade dip was the strongest yet, and what Ami, Chris, Darcy, and I are trying to say is…DON”T EAT IT!!! As an alternative, though, Ami used spicy chili sauce, and Darcy dipped his shrimp in plum sauce.

    Ami’s final rating of the recipe was a 4 out of 5 because while the shrimp were “pretty tasty” and she was “very impressed,” a point was lost because of the excessive ingredients and the failure of the dipping sauce. I agree with her rating because my main criticisms stem from the same problems. And as for the men, they had their usual verbose reviews:

    Chris: “Hey, this tastes like that fish you sometimes make. Mmmmmm, this is tasty. (That’s my) official review of the recipe.”

    Darcy: “It’s as good as any shrimp I’ve had.”

    Thanks, men!

    The cookie that’s a square

    Last week, Ami and I had a bit of a miss, but this week, we’re back on track with a total hit! Our recipe in Week 8 (beach “cookies” that are actually more like squares) comes from Chef Chloe, and it’s also the last cooking adventure of March, which also means the end of Ami’s month of being 100% vegan. She didn’t miss much in her four weeks of animal-free eating, but is glad to be able to use butter and eggs again. Hear, hear!

    I didn’t join Ami in vegan solidarity this week, and that is simply because I just used what I had at home. I didn’t feel like going to the grocery store. Me lazy.

    INGREDIENTS

    ½ cup vegan margarine (Earth Balance soy-free non-hydrogenated buttery spread)
    2 cups graham cracker crumbs (Chef Chloe suggests Health Valley Graham Crackers, which you can pulse into fine crumbs in the food processor. Feel free to do this with any vegan graham cracker or wafer cookie.)
    1 cup canned coconut milk
    ¼ cup agave or maple syrup
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1/8 teaspoon sea salt
    2 tablespoons arrowroot
    1  1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
    1/2  cup chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)
    2 cups non-dairy chocolate chips

    DIRECTIONS

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
    2. Melt margarine in microwave or over stove, and pour into a 9″x13″ baking pan. Swirl around until the bottom of the pan is completely coated.
    3. Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs evenly into pan until bottom of the pan is completely coated in crumbs. Pat down lightly with your hands.
    4. In a small bowl, whisk together coconut milk, agave, vanilla, salt, and arrowroot. Drizzle this mixture evenly over the graham cracker layer.
    5. Sprinkle the shredded coconut into the pan, then layer the optional nuts, then the chocolate chips. With the palm of your hand, gently pat the top of the cookie pan so that the chocolate chips get cemented into the rest of the cookie.
    6. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until centre looks thick and slightly bubbly with very lightly browned edges.
    7. Let cool, then refrigerate for a couple hours or overnight. Cut into even bars. The textures and flavours of this cookie really work best after refrigeration.
    8. If you’re feeling festive, platter the cookies on a tray or dish of organic brown sugar (mock sand) and stick some cocktail umbrellas in the sugar for a “beach scene.”

    My ingredients. (I had to use plain old Aunt Jemima syrup because I was out of pure maple syrup. I felt guilty about it, and the fact that I used regular chocolate chips. Am I vegan-chip convert? Maybe. Time will tell…)

    Ami’s ingredients. She’s so wholesome and organized with her labelled mason jars!

    Left: The top view of my squares, before they faced the heat of the oven. Right: The side view.

    My finished product, laid out all lovely-like on a Pyrex plate.

    Ami’s version of the beach cookie. Mmmmmmm!

    This recipe is really easy to bake, and, vegan or not, finding the ingredients is simple. The combination of chocolate, coconut, graham crackers, and walnuts is pretty unbeatable, and the firm square that’s created after the pan hardens in the fridge is delicious! First, though, let’s start with a discussion of the ingredients:

    • Ami didn’t substitute or change anything this week.
    • As for me, I manually crushed my graham crackers into crumbs (like I did with the peanut-butter cups), and it takes a lot of crackers and a lot of crushing to get two cups’ worth of crumbs! I think I used about a sleeve and a half of crackers, and my arms were getting sore. Who knew the act of pummelling with a rolling pin was so arduous? I dare you to try it and not complain!
    • I used corn starch in place of arrowroot, and I have Ami to thank for the tip that substituting one for the other is A-OK.
    • I didn’t toast my walnuts, and, as I mentioned, I used regular chocolate chips and Aunt Jemima syrup.

    As for the directions, instead of melting her margarine in a separate bowl, Ami just melted it in the pan, inside the pre-heated oven. She made a good point when she told me that it saved a dish, and this note was particularly poignant after I put my pan in the oven, and my kitchen counters looked like about five children under the age of six had been helping me bake.

    There’s really nothing else to say about the directions, other than the fact that Ami and I both recommend eating these squares COLD. She left hers in the fridge for three to four hours before eating them, and I had mine in there for about five hours. (Well, that’s a bit of a lie – I took them out after three hours and ate one, and then put the pan back in the fridge until suppertime.) And, I think they tasted even better the next day, when the squares really had a chance to harden overnight.

    Now, for the rave reviews. Ami made these for friends, and they loved them. Two people asked her for the recipe, and one commented that they were similar to “magic bars,” and that she would likely be abandoning her magic-bar recipe for the almighty beach cookie. Go, beach cookie, go!

    Here is Ami’s first paragraph in her “review” e-mail to me, sent the day after her get-together: “Man, oh, man, were they tasty. I had to send Chris to work with five of them on Monday to get rid of the rest, after devouring like four on Sunday afternoon. I actually think this might be my FAVOURITE recipe so far…OK, well, tied with the PB cups (I can’t choose between the two).” Is it any surprise that she rated this recipe a five out of five (“I couldn’t find anything wrong with the recipe or that I didn’t like!! A definite remaker!”)? I am pretty addicted to them, too, and I am rating them a 4.75 out of five because I also like them just as much as the PB cups, and that’s the score I bestowed on that recipe. Oh, the power I wield!

    Attention peanut-butter lovers

    As I mentioned last week, Ami has gone vegan for the month of March, and her ambitions, combined with my new interest in cooking, led me to the cookbook section at Chapters on Friday. I was in Toronto for a meeting, it was a sunny, warm day, and I thought a leisurely browse seemed like a good idea. First, I looked at the cooking magazines. Too much in price, and too much in selection! Next, I gravitated toward the healthy-eating, vegetarian, et al. section, and it took me about two minutes to feel overwhelmed – again – with all the choices. Annoyance was next, so I settled on buying the newest Toronto Life, and then left and went to my meeting, after which I came home, had a nap (Toronto and transit is tiring!), and made the easy decision to conquer this week’s recipe, which I also went vegan for. Hello, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups!

    INGREDIENTS
    1⁄2 cup Earth Balance butter
    3⁄4 cup crunchy peanut butter (preferably unsweetened and unsalted)
    3⁄4 cup graham cracker crumbs or 10 graham cracker squares, crushed
    1⁄4 cup maple sugar or other granulated sweetener
    1 cup grain-sweetened, non-dairy chocolate or carob chips
    1⁄4 cup soy, rice, or nut milk
    1⁄4 cup chopped pecans, almonds, or peanuts

    DIRECTIONS
    Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
    Set aside.
    Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
    Stir in the peanut butter, graham cracker crumbs, and maple sugar, and mix well. Remove the mixture from the heat.
    Evenly divide the mixture, approximately 2 tablespoons per cup, among the muffin cups.
    Combine the chocolate and milk in another pan.
    Stir over medium heat until the chocolate has melted.
    Spoon the chocolate evenly over the peanut butter mixture.
    Top with chopped nuts.
    Place in the refrigerator to set for at least 2 hours before serving.

    My ingredients – all vegan! (Well, at least I HOPE they’re all vegan; I couldn’t find any graham crackers/crumbs that fit the bill, so to speak, and these HoneyMaid ones seemed acceptable, judging from the ingredient list…)

    Ami’s ingredients, and a peek into Alicia Silverstone’s cookbook, The Kind Diet, where our recipe came from.

    The bottom peanut-butter layer of my cups. Greatness awaits.

    Ami’s cups, also steps away from greatness.

    My cups, all finished, and screaming at me to get chilled, y’all.

    One of Ami’s peanut-butter cups, sprung from the confines of the muffin tin.

    As far as the directions for this recipe go, there isn’t much to criticize because they’re so straightforward. I put a bit too much of the peanut-butter mixture in the first half of the cups, so the back six ended up a bit smaller in size, but that obviously didn’t end up affecting the taste…I’ll talk further about taste in a minute. Other thoughts: Ami made her cups before me, and she warned me that they would seem REALLY runny – she was right, but since I knew what was up, I still felt confident, and now you can, too, thanks to our dual test-run! The chocolate mixture also ran a bit thin (meaning there wasn’t quite enough), and Ami’s completely ran out, so she had to quickly make a second batch, but you can decide what to do based on your love of chocolate.

    Once ready to set/chill, Ami and I agree that skipping the fridge and heading straight for the freezer is the way to go. The cups are bit on the soft side if kept in the fridge, and but stay firm and DELICIOUS if set and kept in the freezer. They also don’t melt, once you take them out, versus the more rapid softening that occurs if coming from the fridge.

    There were no substitutions this week because we chose a vegan recipe that we both used vegan ingredients for, and while I did buy graham crackers instead of crumbs, they were easily crushable by way of a solid beating with the rolling pin.

    Now, the score. Ami rated this recipe a 4.75 out of 5, and the reason for the docked 0.25 points was because of her scramble to melt extra chocolate to cover the rest of her cups. I would rate it the same because while I ate five in 24 hours, I also had the minor issue with the uneven peanut-butter layering of the cups. But really, we’re nit-picking. Ami’s batch of 12 cups was gone the next day, and Chris was begging her to make another dozen within 24 hours. And for me, my foray into vegan eating was well-received. The use of Earth Balance butter, soy milk, cane sugar, and vegan chocolate chips produced no discernible difference in taste, and while I joked to Ami about my worry that the vegan chocolate chips might taste like dust, I can now eat some humble pie and admit the success of my vegan peanut butter cups. Make them and love them!