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Entries in snack (26)


Brilliantly new

Images of a long weekend. Signs of spring; candy-coloured chocolate eggs and blooming red shoes.

I have my own little ritual to start the day.

Most mornings we get up just before the sun rises; we make our way downstairs in the dim predawn, drawn like moths to the glowing red eye of the coffee maker. My husband and I will chat quietly with pajamaed little boys cheerfully groggy, (relatively) quietly content to keep Mummy and Daddy company around the kitchen table.

But the day is not started yet.

My day truly begins about two hours after I get up. After coffee and orange juice and breakfast, we make our way back upstairs. This is when the day begins, as I move from room to room, pulling back the blinds which have hidden the sun from view. The windows, now unencumbered, welcome the light as it streams in.

Why, hello there World.

This is the most energetic light of the day, clear and true. Even in the winter, I anticipate this moment of revelation, this ceremony of bringing the day into our home. Now that spring has thankfully arrived on our doorstep, the morning light is even more radiant, growing increasingly-golden as the days go by.

It is a light that renders everything new, every day full of possibility.

There is a newness to childhood that I had forgotten. So many things that we grow to take for granted is bran-spankin-brilliantly new to a little one. William is in the thick of it, crawling and standing and exploring the boundaries of this new world of discoveries. There is glee in the discovery of the ability to clap, wonder at the skill of rolling a ball, unabashed joy at knocking down a block tower.

While our Benjamin has been through first teeth, first steps, first words already, he's not done yet discovering, not by a long shot. He's just getting started.

At three years of age, he has entered the world of reason. He asks questions. A lot of questions.

"Why do I need that?" (on wearing a coat)
"Who is that guy?" (in the grocery store)
"How does that work?" (too popular to pick one example)
"Where does this go?" (completing a puzzle)
"What is this?" (on oh-so-many things)

It is amazing to observe him as he considers his world. When Ben was very small, we were more concerned with the big picture, with labels like boy and dog and cat and apple. Now we also can consider the details, how he is a boy and a brother and a son and a Benjamin. And a bird can be brown and red and fat and a robin, too.

The same sort of diversity is explored in food. As much as we rely on our established recipes, variation is welcomed. Eggs can be fried and scrambled and poached and omelets and boiled; they need not be only one way.

Now and again I make it a particular point to seek out discoveries, just so I can see our boys process the new. I pretend to be casual, while slyly watching their expressions transform from curious to interested, then ponderous, and then finally wonder lights up their eyes - with this new thing, their world is forever changed. And it is marvelous.

Often, their grins match my own.

Lately we have been eating a lot of popcorn, since Benjamin declared it his favourite snack. We have always made it in relatively the same manner, with butter and salt, but sometimes with herbs and garlic or a grating of Parmesan. Curious to see his reaction, I thought I would try my hand at making caramel popcorn, one of my guilty pleasures and something he had never had before.

Pressing my luck, I chose a recipe outside the realm of the usual caramel corn - one that was salty sweet, with a hit of spice to add some interest. Last Halloween we roasted pumpkin seeds then tossed them in a heady mix of cumin, cinnamon and ground ginger. They were addicting, and Benjamin was a particular fan.

The result was more than I could have hoped for. At first the taste is sugary-sweet, then as the caramel dissolves the spices become evident. Each bite builds upon the savoury, but is never overpowering. My only trouble is, now that we've come upon this popcorn, I am not at all inclined to try another.

I might have to abandon my good intentions, at least as far as popcorn is concerned.

The publication in the photos is the ridiculously-brilliant Uppercase magazine, from the exceptional minds behind the Calgary-based gallery of the same name. It is, in a word, gorgeous. This is their inaugural issue, and I highly recommend picking up a copy. You can thank me later.

Speaking of magazines, have you entered your name in the giveaway yet?

Spicy sweet caramel corn
What you get when you mash up two recipes from Martha Stewart with a healthy dose of inspiration from David Lebovitz. Baking the popcorn makes for a thinner, crisper coating.

This recipe is technically a half batch; I find it an easy amount to handle, especially as there is only a modest amount of bubbling, scorchingly-hot sugar syrup to worry about. However, if you are making this for a crowd, or for any more than say two greedy adults and a toddler, I'd go ahead and double the quantities.

6 cups of popped popcorn (plain, without seasoning)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon red chili powder, or to taste
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon Demerara sugar (optional)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon water
sprinkling of fine salt (optional)

Preheat an oven to 250°F (120°C). Line a half sheet pan or baking pan with a nonstick baking mat (Silpat) and set aside. Have your popcorn standing by in a large, wide bowl.

In a small bowl, stir together the salt, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda and chili powder. Set aside.

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the butter, sugars, corn syrup and water over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Without stirring, bring to a boil. If necessary, use a pastry brush dipped in water to wash down the sides of the pan and remove any crystallized sugar. Swirling the pot gently now and again, allow the sugar to cook until golden in colour, around 5 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and, working quickly, use a heatproof spatula to stir in the prepared spice mixture. Note that the sugar will bubble up due to the baking soda. Allow the foaming to subside slightly, it will only take a few seconds, before proceeding.

Quickly (and carefully) pour the caramel over the popcorn, stirring and tossing to coat. Spread the popcorn as evenly as possible over the prepared baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. While baking, stir the popcorn occasionally, gently breaking up any large clumps and keeping the popcorn in an even layer. The last time you stir the popcorn, maybe about 5 minutes before taking the tray out of the oven, sprinkle with some fine-grained sea salt, if using.

Allow the popcorn to cool completely on the tray, then break up any remaining large clusters. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Makes around 6 cups.


• If I had not been out of light brown sugar earlier this week, I would have followed David Lebovitz's suggestion of using it instead of granulated.
• I use Kashmiri chili powder.
• While I like my caramel corn unadorned, nuts would most likely be welcomed in this recipe.
• See the link above to the Martha Stewart recipe for notes on popping popcorn on a stovetop.


An unending chorus

Lightly toasted; an adapted Irish soda bread slathered with butter and black raspberry preserves, served on my Grandmother's china.

When I married my husband, I adopted his surname. Lucky for me, attached to that marvelous man was a name that suited my own and came with an added bonus - an apostrophe as its crown. And so, on our wedding day, my Indian self became an Irish girl.

At birth each of our sons were claimed by their history, given names which carry meaning in our respective families. As the boys grow, I am time and again amazed by the echoes of their heritage as they become evident. William's smile is the replica of his father's at the same age. Benjamin's eyes carry my expressions. Family members tell stories of relatives we have never known, and how they are mirrored now in our children.

I am struck by the wonder of it, the way that traits find their way through bloodlines, inextricably weaving generations together in repeating pattern. It is an unending chorus, sung in round, sung back.

Our sense of identity is in constant evolution; carrying on and adding on, as we move forward in lives and relationships. Despite this change, we often remember back as we move ahead - gesture a nod of acknowledgement to the clans, countries and cultures from which we came.

Although I cannot pretend to be an expert Indian cook, I do attempt to speak that language of spice in our kitchen. My chicken curry might not exactly be my father's, but it is the one my children will know as "theirs". I have made a refrain of my commitment to maintaining that vocabulary of food, so that it will remain familiar.

With the day for St. Patrick approaching next week, my thoughts took a Gaelic turn. Irish might make up only a fraction of our family, but its brand upon us is indisputable - therefore it seemed proper to herald the feast of the patron saint of Ireland. Ever-present on the Irish table, hearty, satisfying soda bread made its way to our plates, with its unassuming stature and nubbled crumb. Although its rough-hewn crust seems substantial, its cheeks are tender. Soda bread is heavier textured than a scone, and with a flavour more subtly-complex than the all-out buttery-ness of a biscuit.

The romantic side of me wants to say that the reason my sons and husband enjoyed this bread so much was because of some genetic predisposition - a subconscious recognition of an ancient root in their geneology. That may be the case, or it might have just been some good bread. Either way, the intent was there; a meal to celebrate not one day, but all those that had passed before.

Irish-ish soda bread
Traditional Irish soda bread only contains flour, buttermilk, baking soda and salt. This version uses a mix of flours, along with oats for texture, and an egg for richness. Since I more often than not have yogurt in the fridge, I have used it as my liquid. A quick bake in high heat allows you to have bread on the table, from start to finish, in about an hour.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (large flake, not instant)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons golden (light) brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups yogurt (I use non-fat)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup, 1/2 stick) cold, unsalted butter, diced

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). Line a standard baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, oats, salt, sugar, baking powder and baking soda.

In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and egg. Set aside.

Using a pastry cutter, two knives or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour cutting and work the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the yogurt, mixing until you have a rough dough. Use your hands to turn and lightly knead the bread in the bowl, incorporating all the dry ingredients.

Working quickly, turn the dough onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead gently for about 30 seconds; the dough should be soft and elastic. Form the dough into a boule, about 8-inches across with a gentle dome and slightly-flattened top. Dust the surface of the bread with a sprinkling of flour, then use a sharp knife to slash a shallow cross from edge to edge of the loaf. Transfer bread to prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. If the crust gets too dark during baking, tent loosely with foil. Cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes, then enjoy.

Makes 1 loaf.


• The dough make take a few turns in the bowl to fully come together. If only absolutely necessary, add a bit more yogurt, a teaspoon at a time, to incorporate all the dry ingredients. Work the dough as gently as possible.


The best thing: sliced bread

Quick to make, pretty tasty to boot - but not the loaf for me; Ina Garten's Honey White Bread.

What can I say that has not already been said in the adoration of bread?

To many, good bread is the cornerstone of their idea of good food. It is a basic staple of life, one that manages to not only nourish the body, but also inspires passion in the soul. The process, the crust, the crumb, the aroma, the texture, the colour, the taste ... each and every aspect of bread, its ingredients, its making, and its consumption, has been examined and often exalted.

I will not presume to think that I could add any more eloquence to its chorused praise; instead, I can only speak of how bread and its baking has become a part of the rhythm of our days.

As we are a family of bread lovers, I bake bread. To be specific, I bake bread often. Every few days, I am dusted pale with flour as I set about putting up some dough. I have made naan, I have made yeasted crescents laminated with butter, I have made soft and open-crumbled breads meant for sopping up soups and stews. I have made hearty, nubbly-textured seeded rolls. I have made foccaccia, both savoury and sweet. I have explored the personalities of rye, whole wheat and flax, of oat bran and wheat germ.

But most often, I make this. That is what my husband and I consider our bread, my variation on Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread. Yes, that bread, the one that seemed to set the entire food community a-baking in late 2006. Our version has bit of extra flour to suit the size of our cocotte, and a bit of extra salt to best suit our tastes. We have tried different flours to perfect our brand and blend. I make it without a specific measurement of water, as through our long and loving relationship I have learned the quirks of the dough's texture well enough to determine by eye how much is needed. It is not very difficult to make, but it is very rewarding.

Oh, and despite its name, I do knead it, just a bit, so that it springs back ever-so-slightly before its last rise. Every time I make it I still have a slight swell of pride at the thought that something so satisfying could come from my oven.

It is a staple, a without-thought routine of our day-to-day. This bread has often made command performances at extended family events, in its original form and multiple grain variations.

Which brings me to my dilemma. While I am more than happy to munch on a (generous) slice of this crusty boule, there does come an occasion where only sandwich-style bread will do. Pleasantly squidgy, the grocery-store classic is the stuff of many a childhood peanut butter and jelly lunch, of open-faced, gravy-soused hot turkey sandwiches made with Thanksgiving's leftovers, and the basis of a perfect grilled cheese. (Nigella Lawson specifically encourages its use for her Mozzarella in Carrozza.) There is a familiar comfort to its blandness, a charm in its yielding texture.

My trouble is, as much as this sort of bread is a standard in my memory, it is not one in my home. I just cannot seem to find a recipe that I adore. I like the Soft Sandwich Bread, American Style from Homebaking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World (Random House, 2003) by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I have made it rather often, with our eldest son Benjamin taking delight in the loaves as they rise on a sunny windowsill. It a pre-fermented starter called a biga, which adds a deeper complexity to the final product. But, as delicious as this bread is, it did not stop me from trying my hand at other versions.

My most recent attempt was Ina Garten's Honey White Bread, from Barefoot Contessa at Home (Random House, 2006). My affection for Garten's recipes is nothing new; and this one looked a treat. Garten's recipe left most of the work to a stand mixer, with minimal hands-on effort required. And although I do enjoy a bit of kneading, it seemed novel to allow the machine to do the heavy labour. After a whirl around the mixer, it took only a few turns for the dough turn silken under hand. Into the buttered bowl it went, rising up enthusiastically after an hours rest. I punched it down, formed two generous loaves and waited again. I was convinced that Garten's assurance of "foolproof good bread" would deliver me to sandwich nirvana. But alas, I was left unsatisfied.

Now that is not to say that this is not a good bread. In fact, I am sure that many people would hazard to say that it is great. After baking, the loaves emerged bronzed and beautiful, with a proud, Dromedarian hump. When sliced, they were soft, pleasantly dense, with an even-textured and tight crumb.

Where I was disappointed was the taste. Maybe it is just me, but while I appreciate the relative brevity of its preparation (just under three hours from start to finish), the amount of leavener and honey used to achieve that speed were all-too-evident in its sweet, yeasty flavour. This, coupled with the richness of egg yolks and butter, resulted in a bread that would surely be perfect as a substitute for challah or brioche for pain perdu or summer pudding, but seemed distractingly-sweet when eaten alone. It just was not what I was looking for.

And so, it was back to my boule for us and back to the recipe books for me. And although there is a half a loaf in our breadbox just now, I am still thinking of the perfect sandwich loaf. I am more than open to suggestion, and any guidance would be appreciated and welcomed.

Honey White Bread
From the book Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten.

The recipe can be found online.


Happenstance: day two

Thursday early morning hours: a rainy day breakfast, in progress.

Thursday mid afternoon: a freshly-washed handful, in a rather large bowl.

Another exemplary variation on this theme; John Huck. I especially appreciate the human element in these compositions, matching the faces to the meals.


Mum in motion

Whew. I know it is just Monday, but I already feel as though I have had a marathon week. These last few weekends have flown by, more hectic than relaxed, and I am feeling the effect.

The busyness of it all is mostly with happy tasks, thank goodness; the sort of work that is wholly gratifying, but not always easy. Renovations, projects, an almost-four-month-old delight who believes that he is grown up enough to debut his first two teeth, a most wonderfully-mischievous toddler, friends, baking, cooking, planning, organizing, birthdays ... I'll say it again. Whew.

Tomorrow a dear, dear loved one will jet off for a faraway land for an extended trip. As exciting as that is, the last few days have been abuzz with expectant, frenetic energy as we all aid in preparations for departure and simultaneously prepare ourselves for three weeks of missing someone terribly.

I am looking ahead though; this weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, and there is cooking to be done. Although this year we are not hosting the festivities, we are contributing to the celebration. I am thinking of doing David Lebovitz's showstopping Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake with Caramel Bourbon Sauce. Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread has been requested, and I might pack a tin of Pecorino Crackers from Giada De Laurentiis (these are featured in De Laurentiis' new book; look out for my review next week). My only decision left is to settle on a cranberry sauce to make.

With all of this going on, I want something quick I can nibble while doing any number of other things through my day. And so, with a bit of time to throw together something, I turned to my favourite snack for these sort of days - granola bars.

Far from the overly-cloying packaged versions that verge on candy bar status, these little offer a bit of salty and sweet; as well-suited for breakfast with coffee as they are as a mid-afternoon bite all on their own. Delicious and portable, a balance of nutrition with a bit of treat, multitasking has never been as appealing than this.

Endnote: I feel compelled to mention that Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday; in fact, this time of year is my absolute, preferred season. All of this is a wonderful sort of busy, and though I might wish for more hours in the day sometimes, I would not wish away a second of it.

Apple Cranberry Granola Bars
My version of a base recipe from Alton Brown. By adding the cashews at the end their salt does not get fully mixed into the bars, resulting in little pockets of salty goodness.


8 ounces old-fashioned rolled oats
2 ounces wheat germ
1 1/2 ounce flax seed
2 ounces raw pumpkin seeds
3 ounces sliced almonds
1 1/2 ounces shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
4 ounces honey
2 ounces golden syrup
1 3/4 ounces light brown sugar (sometimes called yellow or golden)
1 ounce unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces dried apples, chopped
2 1/2 ounces dried cranberries, chopped
1 1/2 ounces salted cashews, roughly chopped


Butter a 9 by 9-inch baking dish and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Spread the oats, wheat germ, flax seed, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and coconut onto a baking sheet. Place in the oven and toast for 15 minutes, tossing to toast evenly.

Meanwhile, combine the honey, golden syrup, brown sugar, and butter in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Heat, on a low setting, stirring occasionally. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, stir in the salt and vanilla extract.

When the oat mixture is lightly toasted, remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 300°F (150°C). Quickly add the oat mixture to the sugars, then the dried fruit and nuts, stirring to fully combine and coat. Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Using the back of a greased spatula, press and flatten the mixture until evenly distributed. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, rotating once during baking. Remove from the oven to a rack and allow to cool completely. Turn out onto a cutting board and slice into desired squares or bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Makes one 9x9 inch pan.


• I put a second baking dish of the same size on top of the bars as they come out of the oven, weighted down with cans. This extra compression makes for bars that will cut easily and hold their shape. For a crisp bar, allow the pan to completely cool before removing the weights. If you prefer a softer bar, you can do this for only part of the cooling time, or skip the step entirely.
• In my mind, the perfect portion of these is achieved by cutting the pan into 2 1/4" squares. This yields 16 small bars.
• It hardly needs saying, but this is a recipe that can easily be tailored to suit personal preferences; as long as the general ratio of liquids to solids remains, sensible substitutions are easily made.