Survival guide: Making it through your first winter [back in Canada].

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We dare not say that winter is drawing to a close, but we can say that we have (mostly) successfully made it through nearly 5 months of winterous conditions.

Our first winter back has been both better and worse than anticipated- worse because of how extreme the weather has been.  The number of extremely cold days has been more than the yearly average, and along with this, Red Deer has also experienced a record snowfall this year.

According to Environment Canada, 1924 held the record November-December snowfall with 104.9 cm — until this year.  This record was broken in December 2013 when 109.9 cm of snow fell upon Red Deer soil. FYI, the average November-December snow is about 36 cm, which says something about how extreme this year was!

Overall, though, we have found that if you keep yourself busy and distracted, and surrounded by good people, the winter is bearable.

So here you have it: Breno and Mel’s guide to surviving your first Canadian winter (or the first one in a little while).

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Top of the list: Enjoy tasty food with friends.  Often.  We highly recommend the Cuban Pulled Beef.

Footwear

Invest in a few good pairs of Eastern-European footwear.  Some Albanian boots for outdoors, and some Lithuanian felt slippers for the indoors will do nicely.  The winter season is long and harsh, so treat your lower extremities right.

The Flying Canoe Festival YEG

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Take in a winter festival.  Or two.  The city of Edmonton celebrates its wintriness with a multitude of festivals throughout the winter months.  Skating, tobogganing, outdoor patios, snow and ice sculptures, warm beverages and live music are just a few of the wintery delights you are likely to encounter at such events.  This year, we made it out to The Flying Canoe Festival, which we highly recommend for the blending of the outdoor/indoor venue, excellent music, and spirited ambience.

CJMBA.Nov2013

Find some lovely adventuring companions, and head off to explore some new territory!  The Rockies make an enchanting setting to pay a visit to in the winter months.

Snowshoes

A pair of snow shoes will make the explorations that much more fun.

Winter tires are an absolute must and will save you (probably multiple times) from getting stuck in the snow or ending up in the ditch on the side of the highway.  Don’t even think about it.  Just do it.

A remote car starter lessens the sting of the frigidness when jumping into your car on those -30 degree mornings.  Another excellent (and recommended) investment!  Keeping a blanket in the car to spread across your lap is an alternative option.

Sisters.skiing

Dawn a pair of cross-country skis and traverse a local park, river valley, or golf course!

Winter Survival

When it’s a “warm” day of at least -10 degrees, grab a child and take to the slopes via a crazy carpet, saucer, or sliding device of your choice!  The GT snow-racer gets our vote for ultimate control and performance.

WinteryDelights

A cozy pair of mittens (and some Paleo Chocolate Cake topped with pomegranates) have the ability to make the winter months much more enjoyable too.

Moisturize.  Alberta winters are harsh on the skin.  There are some lovely local products that can help out with this.

Winterbeverage

Choose a ‘winter beverage,’ whatever it may be, and enjoy it frequently.  By the fire is best.  Or by candle-light.

Seek out opportunities to enjoy some live music.  This activity needs not require one to bundle in multiple layers.

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Try not to get too hopeful when you experience a warm day.  Uttering the word “spring” prematurely could result in major devastation, so it’s best not to say this word aloud until at least April or May.  And try not to get too discouraged when the snow piles tower over you.  Take it all in stride.  Remind yourself that winter is a season (though a long one.)

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Take time to look closely and admire winter’s beauty. Don’t spend too much time fantasizing or reminiscing about beaches, but DO call to mind the days of NZ winter when it was sometimes warmer outside the house than inside.  Be thankful for central heating.

By following these suggestions and guidelines, you can take the sting out of winter and thrive amidst the brisk temperatures.

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The sweetness of friends and beetroot chocolate cake [paleo].

Canadian Fam

Our fourth (and final) Easter in NZ was celebrated in the company of our dear Canadian comrades.  After celebrating many a holiday, birthday, and festival together, and journeying quite closely with each other over these past three years, it’s hard imagine not being here for special gatherings like this.

Dale & Amber

A photoshoot on Eastern Beach with Amber & Dale (to capture Amber’s glorious baby bump before Baby Hart makes his/her appearance in just a few weeks’ time!) was followed by a lovely Easter dinner on the Hart’s patio.

Easter Dinner

As the night cooled off (just slightly), we moved indoors to enjoy some home brewed coffee and this beetroot chocolate cake.

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Although it contains three whole cups of grated beetroot, the flavour of beetroot is actually difficult to detect on the palate.  Grain free and sweetened with a bit of honey, this decadent cake has a deep, satisfying chocolate flavour, high moisture and nutrient content, and luscious texture that led some of us to go back for seconds.

Thanks so much to Debra from The Saffron Girl for sharing her great modifications to Elana’s Purple Velvet Torte.

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Paleo Beetroot Chocolate Cake (from The Saffron Girl)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups of grated, cooked beetroots
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup raw honey
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup raw 100% cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour

cooked beetroot

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 170C (350F).
  2. Beat the beetroots, eggs and olive oil together in a large bowl.
  3. Add the honey, vanilla extract, baking soda, sea salt and spices. Blend well.
  4. Add the cocoa powder and coconut flour and mix until well incorporated.
  5. Pour into a greased cake pan of choice. I used a 9-inch round cake pan.
  6. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Cool completely before cutting and serving. Garnish as desired.

To be completely paleo, cake can be enjoyed plain or with some whipped coconut cream.

Paleo Chocolate Beetroot Cake

For a more indulgent, non-paleo frosting, this whipped cream cheese frosting is divine.  

Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1 pkg (80z) cream cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 75g butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups icing sugar

Method:

Cream butter and cream cheese together with a wooden spoon.  Add in vanilla.  Beat on medium speed with an electric mixture, and slowly add in icing sugar until extremely smooth and slightly fluffy.

Wishing our family and friends in Canada and the USA a joyous Easter celebration today!

Parsnip and walnut cake.

Paleo Parsnip Cake

What do you do with a 1 kg bag of parsnips that you picked up for the amazing deal of $1.00 at Nola’s Orchard?  Make parsnip cake, of course!

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We don’t often cook with these deliciously sweet root vegetables, so it was a real treat stumble upon!  After making parsnip fries (twice), topping a salad with roast parsnip, and tossing a bunch in a soup, there were still lots left over… Parsnip cake seemed to be beckoning!

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With the texture of coffee cake, this parsnip and walnut cake holds just the right amount of sweetness, and a delightful amount of spice.  The sweet spices of cinnamon and nutmeg pair perfectly with the natural flavour of the parsnip, creating a comforting yet enticing cake that is moist, gluten free, and oh so delicious.  And very suitable for the autumnal days that are on our doorstep.  The walnuts add a scrumptious taste and texture to this Paleo-friendly treat.

Thanks so much to Cat from Things My Belly Likes for sharing this fabulous recipe!

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Parsnip and Walnut Cake (from Things My Belly Likes)

1 1/3 cups finely grated parsnip
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, melted (can substitute coconut oil for Paleo or dairy free diet)
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Method:

  1. Whisk together the eggs, butter, vanilla and honey in a medium sized bowl. Stir in the grated parsnip.
  2. Sieve the coconut flour, spices and baking powder into a large mixing bowl.
  3. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring gently after each addition (ie. stir until it gets ‘sticky’ then add more wet stuff). You should end up with a semi-runny batter.
  4. Fold in the walnuts then spoon everything into a greased or lined 9×11 in loaf tin. (I made 50% more of the recipe, and baked in a square cake tin, as I got rid of my loaf tins already… the joy of moving continents!)
  5. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.  Let cool before removing from tin.

Enjoy warm or chilled… either way, it’s delish!

Parsnip Walnut Cake

*Yes, this appears to be an Air New Zealand plate!  The East Wing kitchen is full of all sorts of wonderful treasures…

Seedy chocolate truffles.

Seedy Chocolate Truffles

I have found that one of the key components in making sustainable changes to one’s diet is redefining what a ‘treat’ is.  Who says a treat has to be unhealthy?  A very sweet teaching colleague of mine introduced me to these delightful little morsels and then kindly lent me the source of this wholesome recipe.  Thanks, Kimberly!  Dr. Libby’s Real Food Chef cookbook is an excellent resource filled with page after page of awesome recipes, many of which are Paleo friendly, but all which are gluten-free and based around whole/real foods.

paleo chocolate truffles

I found myself lacking the tools (a food processor) to get this mixture ground nice and smooth (as Kimberly’s were).  But even a tad on the chewy side, these truffles were delicious.  With a rich chocolate flavour and JUST enough sweetness, these treats seem indulgent even though they are pretty good for you.  Dairy free, gluten free, nut free, and nutrient rich, there aren’t many excuses NOT to enjoy one of these wonderful and satisfying bites for a snack.

Seedy choc truffles

Simple Chocolate Truffles (from Dr. Libby’s Real Food Chef)

Ingredients:

1/3 cup cacao powder (I used cocoa)

1/2 dessicated coconut

8 fresh dates, pitted and coarsely chopped

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup water

pinch of salt

Method:

1.  Combine cocoa with the seeds in a food processor and pulse until combined.  Add coconut and salt, pulsing again.

2.  Add the chopped dates to the mixture in the processor and pulse until the ingredients begin to form a dough.  Add the water to smooth the mixture and pulse for a few more seconds.

3.  Roll a portion of the mixture between your palms to form medium sized balls.  If the mixture is crumbling, add amore water.  Lay them on baking paper, and chill truffles until ready to use.

Serving suggestion:

Truffles can be rolled in cacao nibs or finely chopped pistachio nuts.  (I didn’t have either on hand, so I rolled mine in finely chopped pumpkin seeds.  They were delish!)

paleo chocolate truffles

Zucchini “noodles” topped with pesto vege & chorizo “sauce”.

Communal kitchen.

Ah, the communal kitchen…

To be honest, sharing the East Wing kitchen hasn’t been that bad so far.  The other tenents are pretty respectful, and other than a bit of crowding around the peak dinner hour, there hasn’t been too much need to fight over pots, pans, or the functional burner on the stove.  The kitchen is generally left in a very tidy state, so that’s one huge thing to be thankful for.

On more than one occasion since our return to East Wing have we enjoyed a delicious dinner of yellow zucchini “noodles” topped with a pesto vege & chorizo “sauce.”

One of my FAVORITE dishes that Brendon makes involves fennel, chorizo, and my all-time favorite condiment- pesto. We used to have this dish with a stuffed pasta, such as spinach ricotta ravioli, but since I’m avoiding grains, Brendon suggested we substitute the pasta with sliced zucchini. BRILLIANT idea, Brendon.

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This nutrient-packed (and paleo) dish holds wide array of delicious flavours and textures. To be completely honest, I didn’t miss the pasta one bit!  As a note, the sauce is not very saucy, and is more of a “topping” really, hence the word “sauce” in quotation marks.

Zucchini noodles

Pesto Vege & Chorizo “Sauce” (serves 4)

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium sized fennel bulbs, diced
1 red bell pepper/capsicum
2 portabello mushrooms, sliced
1/2 bunch (approx. 3 cups) of silverbeet, chopped
1 stick chorizo sausage, thinly sliced
100ml pesto
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Saute onion in olive oil over medium heat until onions begin to brown.
2. Add garlic, fennel, capsicums, and mushrooms. Continue cooking over medium heat 5 minutes more.                                                                                                           3. Add in chorizo and silverbeet. Cook 5 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to season.
4. Add approximately 2/3 of the pesto. Toss lightly.

Zucchini pasta

Yellow Zucchini “Noodles”

Ingredients:

Zucchini/courgettes, cut in half and then sliced in thin strips- approx. 3mm thick. (*one medium sized zucchini per person should do it!)  (**We used yellow zucchini, as it was available, but green is just as good!)
1/2 tsp salt

Directions:

1. Salt water and bring to a boil. When the “sauce” is nearly done, toss zucchini strips into boiling water and cook just until tender- 3-5 minutes. Try not to over-cook. Drain water and spoon onto plates. Top with Pesto Vege & Chorizo “sauce”.  A few more small dallops of pesto upon plating will intensify the pesto flavour.  Enjoy!

Share the [zucchini] love.

Coconut Buttercream Frosting

Bake something tasty. Share it with your neighbours. It’s a sure way to make friends and win over enemies. We have deemed this to be crucial in communal living situations.

These incredibly moist and flavourful zucchini cupcakes were a big hit around the halls of East Wing.

Yellow Zucchini Cupcakes

I used yellow zucchinis this time, though usually I make them with the regular green variety. The cinnamon adds a lovely subtle twist, and the generous amount of cocoa adds a deep, chocolaty flavor without being overly sweet.  They are absolutely delightful topped with a swirl of cream cheese or buttercream frosting, or for a lower fat alternative, serve with a dallop of plain yoghurt. An ingenious (and delicious) way to sneak some extra vegetables into your (or someone else’s) diet.

Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

Moist Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes (from Spark Recipes)

Ingredients:

1/3 cup boiling water

2 cups shredded zucchini/courgette

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup cocoa

3/4 cup sugar (I substituted 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup honey)

1 1/4 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup plain yoghurt

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, pour boiling water over zucchini. Add all other ingredients and stir just until well combined. Line muffin pans with paper muffin cups, and use a 1/4 cup measure to pour batter into cups. Bake for 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Yields 18 cupcakes.

Coconut Buttercream Frosting + chocolate zucchini cupcakes

Coconut Buttercream Frosting (adapted from The Kitchen Magpie)

Ingredients:

125g butter

2 cups icing sugar

1.5 tsp vanilla

1-2 Tbsp coconut cream/milk

Directions:

Cream butter, icing sugar, and vanilla together in a bowl.  Add coconut milk, starting with 1 Tbsp and adding more until the right consistency is reached.  Beat with electric beaters until icing is impeccably smooth and creamy.  Frosts 12-18 cupcakes, depending on the size of your swirl.

Primarily paleo.

Kumara Mash with roast vege and rocket

Reflecting back on our time in NZ, I realize that one thing that has changed immensely over our time here is my diet. While I have been into healthy eating for a long time, I started becoming aware that some food choices were not necessarily helping me achieve some of my health and fitness goals.

A combination of digestive and skin problems over the past years led me into some experimentation and research in regards to diet. It was in early June that I came across the concept of Paleo. It was only a short time later that I discovered the theory of Metabolic Effect and my eyes were opened to new philosophies regarding food and exercise, which made a lot of sense to me.

The change in eating started off slowly. I started by choosing foods that were more in line with eating “whole foods,” and gradually progressed to become almost completely paleo as I learned to like this new way of eating.

Frozen berries topped with coconut milk and a drizzle of honey

Looking back to just 8 months ago, I realize that we hardly eat any of the meals that we used to eat. One of the major impacts of this has been cutting out all grains and legumes, and most dairy. Refined sugar is avoided if at all possible. Honey, agave, and maple syrup are used as sweeteners when needed. Meals that used to be my favorites (including sweet potato quesadillas, barley risotto and fennel pesto ravioli) are no longer on my list of options, though I may indulge on a rare occasion just for a special treat.

I’ve been feeling really good- great, actually. I’ve been able to pinpoint some foods that cause digestive distress, and others that cause skin irritations.

An amazing meal made by Breno

When people ask, “Are you still on that diet?” I realize they don’t really understand. I am not on some short term kick to lose weight; the changes I have made are meant to be sustainable so that they can be maintained for the long run.

From time to time, especially when sharing at a meal at someone else’s house, I may “cheat” and eat something outside of my normal eating regime. Sometimes those effects are noticed later, sometimes not. I am still working out how I will balance sticking to my preferred way of eating, while not wanting to create an awkward situation, be an inconvenience, or offend anyone while sharing a meal together in their home. For any of you who have gone through making similar adjustments in your diet, I welcome your suggestions here.

Fennel, Grapefruit, and Avacado salad, Grilled salmon with pesto, and roasted fennel & tomato

With all this being said, a change in diet has led us to discover some fantastic heathy and delicious recipes over the past little while, which I would like to share with you. Here’s a few of our recent favorites…

Mini Feta & Vege Frittatas

Mini Fritatta

Perfect for lunch, breakfast, or dinner. An excellent option to take along to a picnic. Quick to whip up. Versatile. Can easily substitute any of the veggies with what you’ve got on hand. A delicious recipe I would highly recommend.

Ingredients:

5 free range eggs
1 bunch asparagus (cut into 1 inch pieces), or 1 med zucchini, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper
1 med tomato, chopped
3/4 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup feta cheese, cubed
1 Tbsp coconut milk
Salt, pepper, smoked paprika to season

Method:

1. Saute chopped vege in a pan with a small amount of butter or olive oil, untle tender-crisp. Season lightly with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika or your favorite seasoning.
2. Distribute vegetables evenly between 12 greased muffin cups.

Vege Fritatas

3. Top roast vege with chopped tomato and cubed feta.
4. In a separate bowl, beat eggs and coconut milk. Add salt, pepper, and smoked paprika to season.
5. Pour egg mixture over top of vege into muffin tins. Divide evenly.
6. Bake at 350 degrees F / 180 degrees C for 10-15 min, until egg has solidified and tops are lightly browned. .
7. Serve atop a bed of spinach. Makes 12 mini frittatas.

Cauliflower Fritters

Cauliflower Fritters

I came across this recipe by The Healthy Foodie and modified it slightly. I have made it twice now, and have really enjoyed these tasty morsels of goodness.

These little fritters are also great the next day, and make a fantastic item to bring along to a picnic.

Ingredients:

Half a large head of cauliflour, chopped into fine pieces or processed in a food processor
1 carrot, grated
1 zucchini/courgette, grated
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup raw, unsalted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup ground almonds or hazelnuts
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
pinch cayenne pepper
5 large eggs

Directions:

1. Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl.
2. Heat a splash of olive oil on a non-stick frying pan on medium heat.
2. Using a 1/4 cup measure, scoop dallops of mixture onto hot frying pan. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side, until sides are golden and crispy.
3. Serve warm or cold. Awesome accompanied by a side of fresh vegetables or on a bed of greens.

If you would like a dressing or dipping sauce to go along, a mixture of 1/4 cup greek yoghurt, 1 tsp lime juice, and 1/2 tsp Moroccan seasoning (or a combo of smoked paprika, salt & pepper) makes a divine accompaniment to this dish.

Choc-beet Mo-Cakes.

Moustaches.

Whether you like them or hate them, it’s hard to argue that Brendon’s Chocolate Beetroot Mo-Cakes are probably the nicest version of the moustache you will ever find.  He can’t totally own the idea himself, though, as the inspiration came from Chad Moss’ version of the Mo-Cake a couple of years ago.

In lieu of Movember, Brendon made these Choc-beet Mo-Cakes to help raise funds and awareness for the cause of men’s health.

The Mo-Cakes were very popular among the staff at Laidlaw College, and the Mini Mo-Cakes were a real hit with the students.

Want to make your own Mo-cakes?  Here’s Brendon’s recipe.

Chocolate Beetroot Cupcakes (from Huffpost Taste, as seen in At the Farmers Market with Kids)

Ingredients

2 large red beetroots (to make 1 cup pureed beet)

2 ounces dark chocolate

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

1.  Cut beats in half and place in a saucepan.  Cover with boiling water and heat to a boil.  Simmer and cook the beets until tender, about 35 minutes. Drain out water, then let cool.

2.  Puree beats until they are smooth, either in a food processor or with a stick blender.  You should have a total of 1 cup pureed beet.

3.  Over a double boiler, melt chocolate.  Stir the melted chocolate until it is smooth, then let it cool slightly.

4.  Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 12 standard muffin cups with paper liners.

5.  Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.

6.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a handheld mixer until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs and vanilla, and beat to combine.

7.  Add the puree beets and beat until the mixture is smooth and evenly bright magenta. Beat in the melted chocolate. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat until fully combined.

8.  Fill each lined muffin cup about two-thirds full with batter.

9.  Bake until the tops spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer pan of cupcakes to a wired rack to cool.  Top the cupcakes with cream cheese icing once they have cooled completely.  Store in an airtight container 3 to 5 days.

Cream Cheese Mo-Cake Frosting

Ingredients

1 pkg (80z) cream cheese, softened at room temperature

75g butter, softened at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups icing sugar

Directions:

Cream butter and cream cheese together with a wooden spoon.  Add in vanilla.  Beat on medium speed with an electric mixture, and slowly add in icing sugar until extremely smooth and slightly fluffy.

Pipe on to cupcakes using a large round tip, or even just the opening of the piping bag.

Chocolate Moustaches

A mo-cake’s just not a mo-cake without the chocolate moustache, of course.  To make the chocolate moustaches, melt 1 oz of chocolate over a double boiler, and then pour the liquid chocolate into a plastic ziploc bag.

Cut just a TINY piece off the corner of the bag, and pipe the melted chocolate onto waxed/baking paper in the shape of your favorite moustaches.

For moustache design ideas, click here.

Let harden completely before peeling off to transform your cream-cheese frosting topped choc-beetroot cupcake into a Mo-Cake.

Pumpkin pie cheesecake.

For those of you who have faced the dilemma of choosing between cheesecake and pumpkin pie, you need not be torn apart any longer.  As a cheesecake lover who also savors the comfort of pumpkin pie with all of its delicious warm spices, I think this dessert is the perfect melding of the two.   Gluten free, low in carbohydrates, and full of nutrients from the pumpkin, this recipe really is more healthful than many other desserts out there.  The crust is thin, but just enough.  In celebration of Thanksgiving, we enjoyed this pumpkin pie cheesecake and gave thanks for many, many blessings and people in our lives- both here and afar.

Gluten Free Cheesecake Crust

Ingredients:

1 cup almond meal

2 Tablespoons butter, melted

2 Tablespoons honey or agave nectar

Directions:

1.  Line the bottom of a springform pan with baking paper.

2. Combine ingredients for crust, and press into the bottom of a springform pan- may need to use your hand.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until fragrant and beginning to brown.

Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake (Adapted from Christine Cooks, and 500 Low Carb Recipes)

Ingredients:

2 – 8 ounce packages cream cheese brought to almost room temperature

3/4 cup honey

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/2 cups canned or pureed pumpkin

1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream 

4 eggs

2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F with the oven rack set in the middle, and a second rack underneath with a pan of water on it to provide a moist and consistent baking environment. Grease the sides of your springform pan with prepared crust. Set aside for time being. With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, honey and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. On medium speed, add the pumpkin and yogurt and mix until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Add the spices and salt and mix to blend. Pour cheesecake batter over prepared crust.  For a nice aesthetic touch, sprinkle some cinnamon on top of the liquid batter, and swirl around with a knife a few times before popping in the oven.  Bake for 1 hour plus 10 minutes, or more, until a knife placed in the center of the cheesecake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and place on a cake rack. To prevent cracking, run a knife around the perimeter of the cheesecake.  Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before removing the ring from the pan. This cake will need to chill in the fridge for a least a couple of hours before serving.

Enjoy.

When sweet meets salty: Salted Caramel Cupcakes.

I guess you could say I have definitely been inspired by my little sister, Morgan, and her passion for cupcakes.

Her cupcake fetish began after I had left Canada, so it was not until our recent trip home that I got to sample some of Morgan’s incredibly pretty and tasty creations.  And let me tell you- they did not disappoint.  Morgan is developing quite the reputation in St. Albert and amongst my circle of friends for being able to whip up some to-die-for cupcakes.  At age 13, she has dreams of opening her own cupcakery one day… I certainly hope that comes true for her.

Since returning back to NZ with a new icing bag and M1 tip, I have been having fun experimenting with some new cupcake recipes.  With some special guests coming over, the idea of a salted caramel cupcakes sounded perfect for this occasion.

Smooth.  Indulgent.  Tantilizing.

Not too many more words are needed to describe these Salted Caramel Cupcakes.  These cupcakes are the epitome of a union between sweet and salty.  Atop a soft, chocolately base sits a swirl of rich caramel icing, possessing that perfect hint of saltiness.  Over the ripples of piped icing, a delectable caramel sauce is drizzled.  For the finishing touch, each of these beauties is garnished with a pretzel.

Perfect Chocolate Cupcakes

For a chocolate cupcake recipe, this one is pretty great.  The cupcakes rose to have a solid structure, creating the perfect base for a swirl of heavier butter icing to perch. Because they are not overly sweet, they really let a sweet icing (such as the salted caramel) shine.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

2 ounces chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup cocoa

3/4 cup flour (I used whole wheat)

1/2 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup yoghurt

Directions:

1.  Melt butter, chocolate, and cocoa using a double boiler.  Set aside to cool slightly.

2.  Combine flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium sized bowl.

3.  Combine eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a arge bowl.

4.  Add chocolate mixture to wet ingredients.  Mix.

5.  Sift 1/3 of flour over chocolate mixture, and whisk.

6.  Whisk in yoghurt.

7.  Whisk in rest of the flour.

8.  Bake at for 18-20 minutes at 350 degrees F until a toothpick comes out clean.

Salted Caramel Frosting (from Sally’s Baking Addiction)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

1/3 cup heavy cream

1/4 tsp salt

2-3 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Directions:

Melt butter in a small saucepan.  Once melted, add brown sugar and heavy cream. Stir constantly over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.  Add salt.  Allow to bubble for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Beat in powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, until you reach desired consistency.  Pipe or frost cupcakes as desired.

(*Note: I saved a bit of salted caramel to drizzle over cupcakes)

Alternatively, if you are trying to mainain a low carb, sugar free, or gluten free diet, or are interested in experimenting with something new and different, I highly recommend trying out this tasty and delicious recipe for Avacado Brownies.  My cousin Rebecca was kind enough to share this recipe, and I am so glad she did!  I increased the recipe by 50%, and came out with a square tin of brownies, plus with 4 cupcakes.   Jam-packed with moisture and flavour, these brownies truly need no icing to feel indulgent.  They froze really well, and have an pleasant, chewy texture straight out of the freezer.  I think I liked them best this way!  As cupcakes, they held their shape nicely and were richer and more moist than any other cupcake I’ve tasted.  I really enjoyed this recipe in cupcake form, although next time I think I’ll go easier on the icing.  Talk about indulgent!

Avocado Brownies (from TGIPaleo)

Ingredients:

4 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted in 1 T coconut oil

3 small avocados (or 2 Large)

1/2 c honey (I added 2 Tbsp more)

3 eggs

1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder

1 Tbsp vanilla

1 Tbsp coconut flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

Directions:

1.  Puree the avocado flesh in a food processor.  Be sure that there are NO lumps left.

2.  Using an electric mixer, beat all remaining ingredients together with the avocado until really smooth and fluffy.

3.  Spoon batter into a greased 8×8 baking dish (can grease with coconut oil).

4.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out smooth.