Maple Marinated Beets and a recipe for Cranberry Vinaigrette

Maple Marinated Beets
Did you all survive Christmas? Cooking up a storm, then cleaning up a storm? You should have seen the bottom of my roaster from the pomegranate molasses glaze I tried to put on the ham. It honestly looked volcanic. I let it soak, then I scrubbed. Soaked some more, scrubbed some more. I did the baking soda and vinegar thing at least 3 times to try to lift off the hardened lava. There are still a few black flecks at the bottom but I think I did pretty well short of just throwing it in the garbage.
Ok so that was the one direction I was not planning on going in. Story of my life. Get it? I make myself laugh. Sometimes I’m the only one but that’s the fun of it. Clearly I need more sleep after going to bed past midnight and waking up at the crack of dawn to take my sister Boxing Day shopping (that was yesterday, I’ve gotten some more sleep now). Thanks bud, thanks.
Anyways what were we talking about? Christmas cooking, my burned pan, One Direction, ahh yes now for some post Christmas recipes. To be truthful, I made both of these dishes for Christmas dinner. But they are healthy. I compensate for the amount of dessert I know is coming by making sides that are actually good for you. I think ahead, I know.
First we’ve got some maple marinated beets. Super simple, super quick. Other than the fact that beets take forever to cook but that time is almost entirely unattended so we’re good. In my family, we are all beet-aholics. We eat them raw, pickled, cooked, it really doesn’t matter when it comes to beets. I love to bring out their inherent sweetness by pairing them with honey or in this case, good old Canadian maple syrup. Like I said, simple, simple, simple.
Next up, cranberry vinaigrette. Why I cooked 2 full bags of cranberries to make sauce for this, I have no frickin’ idea. All I know now is that I have to find a way to use up about 15 hundred cups of cranberry sauce. Well probably only 3 cups but that’s virtually the same thing. My recipe for the vinaigrette really morphed into the entire salad recipe I made, although I never keep track of measurements so I have given you the rough estimates. It’s all about the techniques really. That being said, feel free to add whatever fruits/vegetables/garnishes your little heart desires. Actually the beets would be really good tossed in the vinaigrette too.
Did I mention my mom got us all an ice cream maker for Christmas? Oh by the way, I have also clearly developed ADHD. No but seriously, there will be ice cream coming. How soon, I don’t know. But it is in the works! And before we go back to eating more sugar, let’s indulge in some salads, shall we?
Winter Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette
Maple Marinated Beets
Maple Marinated Beets
Serves 6-8 as a side dish
Ingredients
5-7 medium to large beets
2 tbsp. dijon mustard
3 tbsp. maple syrup
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
pumpkin seeds, to garnish

Instructions:

1. Start by roasting off your beets. Depending on how big they are, slice them in half or in quarters (leave the skin on). Wrap them in tin foil, put them on a sheet and stick them in the oven at 350-400F for at least an hour. They are done when you can easily insert a knife into them with little resistance. Allow them to cool slightly before peeling and cutting the beets into bite-sized chunks.
2. Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the mustard and maple syrup in the bottom of a large bowl. Whisk in the balsamic vinegar, followed by the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Toss the cooked beets in the vinaigrette, allowing them to marinate for at least an hour or two, but preferably overnight. Garnish with pumpkin seeds before serving chilled or at room temperature.

Winter Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette
Cranberry Vinaigrette
Makes about 3/4 cup
Ingredients
1/4 cup cooked and cooled homemade cranberry sauce
2 tbsp. grainy mustard
1 tbsp. dijon mustard
1 tbsp. honey (if your cranberry sauce is really sweet, feel free to omit this)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp. canola oil (or other neutral flavoured oil)
salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
1. Using an immersion blender (or normal blender/food processor), puree the cranberry sauce, grainy mustard, dijon mustard and honey.
2. Once it is relatively smooth, blend in the vinegar and then the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Because the dressing is thicker, I suggest serving it with a heartier green like romaine. Arugula or spring mix would be too delicate. I garnished the salad with pomegranate seeds, goat cheese (which I flavoured with some poppy seeds and good balsamic vinegar) and cashew brittle.
The brittle isn’t as much a recipe as it is a technique. All you have to do is caramelize about 1 cup of sugar (I start it with a splash of water to help the sugar dissolve), swirling occasionally to promote even browning. Once it is golden, add roughly 1 teaspoon of baking soda. Do this off the heat as it will foam up and make sure you stir so that it gets evenly incorporated. Then throw in a couple handfuls of cashews or whatever nuts you like. Pour it onto a parchment lined pan and garnish with finishing salt (I used a Hawaiian black lava salt). Let it cool before chopping. There you have it, a gorgeous winter salad.

 

Chocolate Cherry Icebox Cookies

This is the last Christmas cookie recipe I have to share with you guys. I am not sure how I feel about it. Actually it’s pretty analogous of Christmas in general. So anti-climatic really. All of the preparation and effort and then it is over, just like that. Done. Finito. On to New Years, then Valentines, Easter, Thanksgiving and next thing you know it is Christmas again. I’m not trying to be a downer here – I love Christmas – but it is interesting how as a society, we have created these markers of time that come and go like a roller coaster ride. It’s positive in that it gives people something to look forward to but what happens when you can’t handle the sudden decline in joy and celebration? As a kid, I actually used to cry when everything was over, all of the extended family had gone home and life returned to normal, as if nothing special had ever happened. Despite my parents reminding me that there were plenty of good times to come, it made me so sad that everything was over.
See what I am getting at? I think holidays are really important because they give us reason to actually set aside time to celebrate. At the same time, what is it we are really focusing on? Being appreciative for all that we are fortunate enough to have or buying the most elaborate presents and decorating the perfect tree? Since when was “stuff” a marker of happiness?
I think we should treat life kind of like these icebox cookies. What if we took the time to look introspectively, not just at the holidays, but every day of the year? Think of all the surprise nuggets of joy and thankfulness we would find, just like the chunks of chocolate and cherry in these cookies. Ok, maybe that is pushing it a bit. But I had to find some way to bring all of my reflection back to cookies. I don’t know. I will be the first to admit that although I have so much to be thankful for, far too often I take it all for granted. When we fixate on the high points like Christmas, I think we lose sight of all of the opportunities we have the remaining 364 days of the year. That being said, it is all about balance. Life is not all or nothing, black or white. Sometimes grey does not get the recognition it deserves.

Chocolate Cherry Icebox Cookies
Make 14-16 cookies

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup candied cherries, chopped
1 bar Wild Ophelia Sweet Cherry Pecan Chocolate, chopped (or 57g chopped chocolate of your choice)

Instructions

1. Heat your oven to 325F and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar.
3. Add the eggs and beat until smooth.
4. Stir in the flour, salt, candied cherries and chocolate. Once the dough has come together, shape it into a log and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to bake the cookies, at least 30 minutes.
5. Once the dough has chilled, cut it into 1 cm thick slices. Bake at 325F for about 12-14 minutes or until golden and the cookies have lost their sheen.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Chocolate crinkle cookies
I’m serious 2013, where did you go? I was talking with my family today and a year ago we were just arriving in Rome for Christmas vacation. There is no way that feels like a year ago. How is it that time continues to go faster and faster? Each year I find myself saying “that was the fastest year ever”, yet the next year manages to blow it out of the water.
I know we still have a few more days left but I am in the mood for a year in review, 2013. So much has happened and yet it feels like so little has happened. Other than coming back from Italy, I wouldn’t say that anything substantial occurred until about midway through the year. But I could be forgetting something. In April I wrapped up my first official year as a psychology major at the University of Calgary. Then I proceeded straight into full-time spring and summer classes, polishing off year 2 as well. So in 3 semesters I will be finished my degree. Wasn’t I just in culinary school?
June brought the most wicked floods Calgary has ever seen. As devastating as it was, it was amazing to see the city pull together during such a trying period. Luckily we were not impacted but my heart goes out to everyone who is still trying to rebuild their homes and their lives.
2013 was also the year of discovering barre classes. I was super skeptical at first but now I am hooked on workouts at Barre Body Studio. They are a mix of yoga, pilates and of course, ballet. Having no dance background whatsoever, I wasn’t sure if it would be a fit but they make it so that virtually anyone can become addicted. Feel the burn baby! Free chocolate after doesn’t hurt either.
At the end of the summer we travelled to Alaska. I think people generally view an Alaskan cruise as a vacation for old people. Although partially true, there is so much of nature to explore off the ship that it really fits a younger demographic. I also really enjoyed exploring Seattle’s food scene. Brownies for breakfast at Dahlia Bakery just made me happy.
School started back up in September and around that time I also switched my blog over to “Because I Like Chocolate.” I also started as a research assistant at school and helped to plan an office warming for my work at the psychology clinic.
November marked my parents 25th wedding anniversary so they flew off to Hawaii for a childless vacation. No big, I prefer -30C over +30C weather anyways. On a more serious note, they totally deserved it. I have been super fortunate to have virtually always accompanied my family on vacation so I cannot complain. Case in point, I visited Italy and Alaska within a year.
Last but not least, in 2013 I also became a contributor to two different publications (outside of this blog), Eat North and MumRx. On Eat North I apply different aspects of psychology while analyzing food from whatever angle fits best. Does that make sense? For example, I just did a piece on how memory influences our dining experiences. MumRx on the other hand offers totally different content. No, I am not a mother, but I share restaurant reviews, recipes and more “how-to” type pieces. Like this one on how to procure a local, sustainable holiday meal.
Oh there is one more thing actually. Quite notable I would say. I developed a taste for sangria. In fact I just drank a glass in the hot-tub after skiing today. The key is some sort of carbonation. Ginger ale or some sort of citrusy pop is a must.
But if there is one flavour I always have a taste for, it’s chocolate. And so on a final note, how about chocolate crinkle cookies for the holidays? I hope 2013 was a great year for everyone, if not there’s still a few more days to make it right! With cookies perhaps?
Chocolate crinkle cookies
Chocolate crinkle cookies

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Makes about 30 cookies
Ingredients
1 cup cocoa powder
1 ¼ cup white sugar
¼ cup oil
¼ cup applesauce
4 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ cup powdered sugar
Instructions
1. Beat together the cocoa powder, white sugar, oil and applesauce until it forms a smooth, dark paste.
2. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth.
3. Finally, stir in the flour, baking powder and salt. Once the dough comes together, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.4. When you are ready to bake, heat the oven to 350F and line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper. Scoop the dough into balls and roll in the powdered sugar. Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes. Cool and enjoy.

Canada Cornstarch Shortbread

Canada cornstarch shortbread
I have a really hard time making something more than once. My mentality is more, been there, done that and on to the next thing. If I do make something again, I generally have to tweak at least one aspect (which then leads to over-hauling everything).
When people are expecting certain traditional foods (especially during the holidays), this usually does not go over too well. Even if the end product is better than the original, it does not matter because it is NOT the original. There is something about the nostalgia of childhood memories that trumps the here-and-now flavour of a new and improved version.
I have definitely learned this the hard way. What can I say, I’m stubborn. The thing is, holiday baking, really the holidays in general, are about doing things that make other people happy. Sometimes creativity and experimentation have to be set aside in the name of tradition. There is nothing creative or innovative about shortbread cookies. But there does not have to be. Seeing my mom’s reaction to these Canada cornstarch cookies, I know that they took her back to a moment in her childhood, sitting in my grammie’s kitchen eating shortbread during the holidays. To me, that is more important, more satisfying than boosting my own ego by inventing something new any day. That is what it is all about, making people happy through the food and memories that mean most to them. That is validating.
Canada cornstarch shortbread
Canada cornstarch shortbread

Canada Cornstarch Shortbread

Makes 35-40 cookies

Ingredients
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup icing sugar
2 cups flour
1 ½ cup butter
Instructions
1. Sift together the cornstarch, icing sugar and flour. With a wooden spoon (or your hands) blend in the butter until it forms a smooth dough.
2. Portion the dough into balls. Place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet and flatten each with a fork. You can also top them with candied cherries or nuts if you like.
3. Bake at 300F for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges.

Cool and enjoy.
Canada cornstarch shortbread

 

Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo bars
Until a couple of days ago, I could not tell you when the last time I had a Nanaimo bar was. In all honesty, it was probably a store-bought one at a piano recital at least 7 years ago. It was the one thing I looked forward to after listening to kids hack away at the ivories for a solid 2 hours, the snacks! It was the same deal with soccer. I would not have gone if it weren’t for the orange slices and Rice Krispie squares. Even as a child my love for food was immense.
What were we talking about again? Oh yes, Nanaimo bars. I am curious, can anyone tell me, can you get these/does anyone make these in the States? I have never really paid attention to whether or not I have ever seen them there. I know that they got their name because they originated in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island but I would be interested to know how far they have spread. As a Canadian, they scream holidays or any get-together where inevitably a grandmother will be baking something.
Ok so here is the Nanaimo bar low-down for those of you who are out of the loop.
1. Crust made primarily of coconut, graham cracker crumbs and cocoa (chopped nuts are optional). Some people bake it, some people don’t. I find that any melted butter/graham crust holds together better when baked so that’s the route I take.
2. Butter icing filling, flavoured with custard powder. Personally, I don’t see what the custard powder adds flavour-wise. I tasted it by itself and it was exactly like cornstarch, blah. However, it does contribute to the eggy, yellow colour. This surprised me as it is bleach white when dry but the minute you add moisture to it, it turns bright yellow. Natural? Perhaps not, but Nanaimo bars would not be Nanaimo bars without a yellow middle layer.
3. Chocolate ganache-like topping. Just melted chocolate with a tablespoon or two of butter, that’s it, that’s all. Unless you are me and then you use Green & Black’s Burnt Toffee chocolate (it was just released in Canada and they sent me a couple of bars to try) to add some crunchy texture and caramel-y flavour. But I guess that is still just melted chocolate and butter. Fancy chocolate, but still chocolate.
Layer it up, let it chill and voila, you’ve got yourself some Nanaimo bars. Eaten right away or frozen for later, they are a nostalgic treat that brings out the kid in any full grown adult. Next thing you know, you will be leaving some out for Santa. Who does that though? You are supposed to give Santa the crappy stuff that you don’t want to eat. The Nanaimo bars, well you keep those all to yourself. It’s worth the risk of getting coal in your stocking.
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars

Nanaimo Bars

Makes 25 squares

Ingredients
Base
½ cup butter
¼ cup white sugar
6 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 egg
1 tbsp. milk
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup coconut
Middle Layer
¼ butter, softened
3 tbsp. milk
2 tbsp. custard powder
3 cups icing sugar
Top Layer
2 bars Green & Black’s Burnt Toffee chocolate (or 200g semisweet or dark chocolate of your choice)
2 tbsp. butter
Instructions
1.     To make the base, combine the butter, sugar, cocoa and milk in a large saucepan. Heat to melt the butter, stirring until smooth.
2.     Remove and add in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and egg. Stir until well incorporated and pack into a parchment lined 9×9” pan. Bake at 325F for about 10 minutes. Once it is out of the oven, put it in the freezer to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
3.     To make the middle layer, beat together the butter, milk, custard powder and icing sugar until smooth. Spread this on top of the base and chill.
4.     Melt together the chocolate and butter in the microwave for the top layer. Allow it to cool slightly. Pour this over the first 2 layers, spreading it evenly across the top.

5.     Refrigerate until everything is set, 30-60 minutes. Slice and serve.
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars