Rustic Olive and Thyme Bread

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After getting a call back about the Great Canadian Baking Show this past week I decided I needed to ramp up my baking “training” in the next few weeks in the small chance that this just might actually happen!  I have an amazing (and intimidating) baking book that John got me 2 Christmas’ ago and after pouring through it on the day I got it, it’s sadly sat almost untouched on the counter since (thanks to my 2 year foray into Ironmans). It’s basically a textbook on every type of baking you can imagine ie. perfect for Baking Show prep! Also, it’s just got so many interesting tips and explanations for all those frustrating baking mishaps.

So after getting home last night at midnight and waking up this morning to an empty fridge (not even any milk to make coffee!) before heading off to the store to pick up groceries I decided to find an enticing bread recipe to try out. I thought I’d start my baking training off with a new and interesting type of bread because although I make bread almost weekly, every time I try to branch out to something new, John insists that his favourite is a plain and simple 50% whole wheat loaf. And while I also really enjoy it, I can’t imagine it would be a show winner… But Rustic Olive and Thyme Bread? This one looked and sounded delicious and all I’d need to buy was some fresh thyme – easy! Plus with all the rising time and a longish baking time, I find that it’s relatively easy to fit in other activities throughout the bread making process (like 2 workouts and a shower!) so despite being a long process it doesn’t actually consume your whole day.. And bonus – I’d been wanting to try a sourdough loaf for a long time and finally looked up a starter recipe this morning, but I’m heading to Vancouver in 5 days for the weekend to guide a triathlon with Christine so I won’t be around to look after it. But this bread has a similar concept- a poolish which is a pre-ferment that is added to the dough to give it a slightly sour taste similar to sourdough. Perfect!

Rustic Olive and Thyme Bread 
Ingredients: 
Poolish:                  Bread: 
1 cup warm water          1/2 cup warm water               1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp yeast             1 tsp sugar                      2 Tbsp olive oil 
1 cup flour               1 1/2 tsp yeast                  1 Tbsp + 1 tsp finely
                          3 cups flour                     chopped fresh thyme
                          1 cup pitted and chopped olives

Steps: 
1. Make the poolish: whisk the yeast into the warm water until dissolved and let 
stand until activated and creamy (about 10 minutes.) Mix in the flour until 
completely mixed and moist. Cover in plastic wrap and let sit for 4 - 6 hours. 
Make sure your bowl is big enough to accommodate it doubling in size. I had to 
switch bowls half way through after realizing this!
2. Mixing the dough: Activate the yeast by mixing the warm water, sugar and yeast 
in the bowl of a stand mixer and let sit for 10 minutes. My bowl is metal and our 
cupboards are always freezing in the winter so I pre-warm my bowl with hot tap water before starting the yeast
mixture. Add the poolish and mix well. Add remaining ingredients and using the dough
hook attachment mix well for a few minutes until dough comes together. 

Drape a damp towel over bowl and let dough rest for 20 minutes to let the dough fully hydrate 
(had never heard of this step before!). After hydrating knead for about 5 minutes 
with mixer until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place dough into lightly oiled 
bowl, cover in plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1.5 - 2 hours.

3. Once dough has doubled in size, place it onto lightly floured surface and pat 
down to remove air bubbles. Divide in two and shape into round loaves, pulling the
dough taut as you round them out. Place on baking tray with silicon mat or parchment
paper, cover loosely in plastic wrap and allow to rise again until doubled in size.
About 45 minutes. Meanwhile pre-heat oven to 450 F (but lower temperature to 425 
after loaves are in the oven). 
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4. Cut a pattern into the loaves before placing them in the oven. Cuts should be 
about 1/4" deep (NOT like the loaf on the left. Circles were really tricky and
completely ineffective!). Place tray on a rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven. At the same time you can spritz some water or add a handful
of ice cubes to the oven to give the loaves some extra moisture during the initial
baking. I opted for the ice cubes thinking they'd be easier. I'm not so sure it did 
anything, but it definitely made me feel like I was a pro! 


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5. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes (or until 200 C internal temperature). Let cool on wire
rack for at least 30 minutes before ENJOYing! This loaf was sooo delicious. Mine 
was a little on the salty side (probably due to the olives) following the original recipe so 
I've adjusted the salt here.  


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Double Coconut Chocolate Cookies

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This winter John got an exciting career opportunity to do some contract work for Tesla’s new Gigafactory which is being built down in Nevada. So since the beginning of January he’s been living down in Reno.  My work has been generous enough to allow me to go down once a month for a week at a time and work remotely which has been great because it turns out Reno is decently far away (ie. no direct flights) so it really doesn’t make sense for John to come back home for the weekend as we’d originally thought. They’re also so busy that he doesn’t really have time to leave for weekends regularly, or even cook for himself on a daily basis for that matter. So I promised when I came for my visit I’d bake and cook enough to leave him some frozen meals to hold him over till my next visit.

So the week before my first visit in January he requested a shopping list of baking ingredients so that the kitchen could be fully stocked upon my arrival – these cocount cookies topped the list of requests and apparently waiting an extra day to buy the ingredients was too much to ask!

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These cookies are delicious, not too sweet, and just different enough from your standard chocolate chip cookie to make them really popular any where they go. I baked quite a few before leaving last month, so John was able to bring them in to work on a few occasions, and when we invited his co-workers over for pizza on Friday night this week, these cookies were requested for dessert! So many cookies were enjoyed on Friday night that I decided to whip up a batch first thing on Saturday morning before we headed out for a trail run to enjoy some last Nevada sun before I had to head home to cold and snowy Calgary that afternoon. These cookies are extremely easy and quick to make, and it also helps that John’s condo is so warm all the time that the coconut oil is always on the verge of melting which makes mixing the dough extremely easy. (Back at home, especially in the winter, our house is always on the chilly side and the cupboards are even colder so the coconut oil is always rock hard and needs to be beaten with a mixer to smooth it out.)

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Double Coconut Chocolate Cookies

Baking time: ~12 minutes at 350F Total time: ~ 30 minutes Yield: 24 cookies
Ingredients:
1/2 cup coconut oil*, warmed if possible
1 scant cup of brown sugar
1.5 Tbsp of vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups of flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 generous cup of flaked, unsweetened coconut
1 cup of chocolate chips

*The type of coconut oil that you use will affect the flavour slightly.
I prefer the virgin (unrefined) oil pictured above because it has a really
nice coconut flavour and smell.

Mix all the wet ingredients and cream thoroughly until smooth. If your oil is
hard you can beat it with an electric mixer or warm in the microwave slightly, just
be careful not to heat it so much that it’s all melted.

Sift dry ingredients into the bowl starting with the flour and then mix together
before stirring into wet (this is the lazy way to save yourself a bowl to wash).

Once dough is thoroughly mixed, fold in coconut and chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded spoonful on to lined baking tray (as you can see there was no
parchment paper in the condo so I used tin foil which actually seemed to work fine).

Bake for about 12 minutes until edges are faintly golden brown. These cookies are
great soft or crisp, but in general I find soft cookies a lot yummier! 🙂

**This recipe has been adapted slightly from here.

As soon as these cookies came out of the oven we headed out to Keystone Canyon for a run! It was a beautiful and sunny day, but the wind was absolutely howling (up to 110 km/h gusts) and the high altitude (5800 ft at the top) meant there was a lot of snow we had to trudge through along the trail. Such an interesting place!

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We’re at the top of a rocky outcrop. It’s hard to see just how windy it was, but my neck was sore by the end of our run from the constant side wind!

The Great Canadian Baking Show and a Mini Photo Journal

I’ve always had this dream of starting my own bakery/coffee shop/ cafe and it feels like it gets larger and more realistic some days and then others it seems completely off in the distance – hardly on the horizon. I’ve baked for a few weddings and plenty of birthdays.  I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a blog but shied away – who would actually read it? Do I even want people to read it? Would it be good enough to read? What would I talk about? We’ll finally this summer after coming back from an amazing summer adventure on the west coast of British Columbia we decided it was time. I was so excited when John suggested it. He was suggesting it for our travel pictures – any easier way to keep our family up to date. But secretly I knew it was also going to be my baking/cooking/crafting blog that I’d always wanted!  Little did I know how much time it takes to keep a blog up to date. Not only do you spend time thinking up fun/new/yummy/appealing recipes, but then you have to make sure you took pictures at just the right time and place (not so good at this yet), then you have to remember all the tweaks you made to the recipe (I’m always bad with this and kicking myself when something turns out perfectly and I can’t quite remember every little adjustment I made) and then you have to write it all down (before you forget and/or delete your pictures…)

So all this to say that I haven’t been the most diligent blogger since starting this fall. However, as I was browsing Facebook last week I saw that a friend had shared a link from CBC advertising a casting call for a new reality show called… The Great Canadian Baking Show!! This was amazing. I couldn’t believe it. Without a second thought I clicked on the link, read the article to see that they were still accepting applicants and immediately started filling out the application. This was so exciting and would be a dream come true! Not to mention a great challenge and soooo fun!! When I got to the end I hummed and hawed over the photo submissions – only one picture of a baked item? What are they looking for?! I don’t even have that many pictures! Why didn’t I have better close ups from the wedding baking or some artsy shots of all the cupcakes I’ve done over the years.. I went with a picture of the bagels I’d made last week thinking that a good bread would show skill and promise. Then after clicking submit I was instantly regretting it thinking they probably wanted cupcakes or pastries or macarons or anything other than bread. I finally managed to convince myself that if it wasn’t meant to be it wasn’t meant to be.

Until today. This afternoon, during lunch, when I got a phone call. From a Toronto number which I almost didn’t answer because I didn’t know who could possibly be calling me. Well The Great Canadian Baking Show it turns out!! For my first round interview! Which was quite similar to the application questions. Here’s to hoping it went well and I receive another phone call in 2 weeks for the second round of interviews!! And in the mean time, a little collage of the photos I managed to scrounge up of some recent baking.

Notice how most of them have candles in them?

Chocolate Coffee cupcake with coffee buttercream icing.
Banana blueberry cheesecake for John’s birthday.
Gingerbread and vanilla sugar Christmas cookies.
Coconut cream cheese mini cupcakes for Sarah’s 30th
A Chocolate Dragon Cake for Soren’s 4th birthday.
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A chocolate T-Rex cake for Dane’s 3rd birthday!
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Red velvet layer cake with cream cheese icing and assorted cupcakes for Elaine and Bertin’s wedding. 

 

Double Spiced Apple Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Icing for a wedding trial


A close friend of mine recently got engaged and although she and her fiancé are currently living in South America, they decided to have their wedding on Salt Spring Island this summer. Not only was this exciting because it’s Salt Spring (beautiful quaint little island off of Vancouver Island that I have fond childhood memories of cycle tripping around stopping for freshly baked gigantic cinnamon buns and also – weeks spent at the best summer camp any kid could imagine – Camp Narnia!) but also because it’s close enough that I could offer to bake for her wedding! I’d been wanting to bake for some more weddings lately but also hesitant to actually advertise my services in case dates and commitments and expectations didn’t work out. But this was perfect! Another 80-100 person low key wedding which was just the right size to be comfortable and manageable and when you’re doing it for friends it’s always more enjoyable. And the fun thing about weddings is the chance to try something new. For Inshan and Madiha’s wedding I got to perfect my coconut cream cheese cupcakes. For Bertin and Elaine’s wedding it was finding the right chocolate coffee cupcakes and branching out my flavour repertoire in general.

Alysia’s flavour requests on the other hand were completely new to me. Both options were flavours I hadn’t even really heard of – Spiced Whisky Chocolate Cake with Whisky Caramel frosting and Salted Caramel Apple Cake. Clearly there was a caramel theme going on here that I would need to get comfortable with! 


I opted to go with the caramel apple combo for my first recipe trial. I thought cupcakes would be a quicker and easier way to test the recipe and tweak it as I always do. And it would also allow me to make a smaller amount that I could bring in to work to pawn off on coworkers. (When I say pawn off it’s not that my coworkers aren’t eager to gobble up free baked goods, it’s that these cupcakes would come with strings attached – anyone who wants to eat one has to fill out my comprehensive Cupcake Evaluation Form – an extensive cupcake rating spreadsheet that John put together for me when I was trying out new flavours and recipes for Elaine and Bertin’s wedding. It’s fun to make people be critical and actually think about something they normally wouldn’t. And when people take it really seriously it makes it a ton of fun to read! Such as this comment from Amy: “kind of plain- could use more spices (DOUBLE spiced? Make it triple!)… perfect balance of sweetness, needs a bit more icing only because I was left wanting MORE..”)

The caramel sauce added some work to the overall cupcake effort, and in my opinion even just the added caramel drizzle made for a very sweet cupcake. I usually try to tone down the sweetness by reducing the sugar since I know the icing will always make up for it in the sweetness department. All in all I think the cupcakes were a success especially if you’re a caramel person!  Stay tuned for more pictures and the recipe!
**note: I like to ice and finish decorating my cupcakes when they’re in their transport containers for their final destination as this lessens the chance of disaster when transferring a (very) top heavy cupcake from dish to container, however I realize this makes it look like I’m just taking pictures of cupcakes I just purchased from Crave and passing them off as my own which I assure is NOT the case! I just like reusing Crave’s transport containers because I can fit a dozen cupcakes in my backpack which is perfect for riding my bike to work 🙂

Homemade Montreal-style Bagels

 

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I’ve always considered bagels to be an elusive baking project. Something that seems like a great idea when you’re having a delicious bagel-wich on a patio at the local bagel shop, but then the minute you’re done your sandwich suddenly seems like a rash and completely unnecessary undertaking. At least this is how my internal bagel roller coaster ride seems to go, round and round but I never quite take the plunge. Until today. Almost completely out of the blue. At about 3 o’clock this afternoon I was ready for a snack or a walk or both. Mostly something to get me away from my desk and the chocolate that had been staring at me for the last 2 hours. So I met Rebecca (coworker, friend and fellow snack-walk enthusiast) downstairs and we meandered over to the food court/ corner shop to see what our options were. As usual they weren’t very good and after debating whether or not chips from the corner shop or a muffin from Tim Hortons was more bang for the buck, we settled on a bagel and cream cheese. And then proceeded to reminisce about where all the bagel shops had gone which lead to reminiscing about Kettleman’s Bagels in Ottawa. An infamous 24 hour bagel shop just down the street from me during my time at Carleton.  The bagels were that good that we’d been known to stock up at 4 in the morning before heading to the airport for adventures, or to send home with our less fortunate friends who didn’t have a 24 hour Montreal-style bagel shop in their neighbourhood!  So why hadn’t I tried this at home yet? I realized I had no good answer. So 4 and a half hours later,  voila, our house smelt of freshly baked Montreal style bagels. Mission accomplished, finally!


Recipe 

Time: 2.5 hours total

Yield: 16 large bagels

 

Ingredients:

1.5 cups warm water

2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast

1 tsp sugar

1.5 tsp salt

1 egg

1 egg yolk

¼ cup oil

½ cup honey

5.5 cups flour (3 cups all purpose/2.5 cups whole wheat)

Sesame seeds, poppy seeds for topping

Directions:

Mix water, yeast, sugar and salt until dissolved.  Whisk in egg, yolk, oil and honey until completely combined. Switch to hook attachment if using stand mixer and slowly add in flour until dough is no longer sticky. Knead for approximately 10 minutes. Remove dough hook, cover with an inverted bowl and let rest for 15 minutes.

Punch down dough and divide into 16 – 20 pieces. Roll each piece to about 10 inches long (long enough to wrap around your hand) and gently roll the overlap back and forth until it is joined (so it doesn’t separate during the boil). Dust the bottom with flour and place on a baking sheet covered in parchment. Cover with a towel and let rise for 30 minutes. Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to boil and set the oven for 450F.

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After bagels have risen, place in boiling water (about 4 at a time) for 30 seconds per side. Remove from pot with slotted spoon and place in plate full of sesame seeds or other topping. Cover with seeds then place on baking tray.

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Bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown.

 

Homemade Sweet Potato Cliff Bars

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With January came cold weather, lots of snow and the start of a new training season. So on top of trying to get back into shape, I’ve been running to and from work every day since the snow has made the roads un-rideable. Or at least it seems like it’s quite unsafe to ride a bicycle on them so I haven’t (also because my pedal fell off the last time I rode in to work… but that’s another story!).  So instead I run to work and home from work since this is often the quickest (and cheapest) way to get to downtown on my schedule, and it can be a convenient way to get an outside run in the winter when it’s constantly dark and cold. However it can also be exhausting with a backpack full of food, clothes and swim gear and the one large hill on the way home every day doesn’t help either! That combined with starting a new training plan, and I’ve suddenly been constantly hungry at work every day. I can never seem to bring enough food and the snack options near my office just never seem to cut it (health or craving wise). So this week I decided to try to find a “healthy” cookie recipe to help me get through the afternoon at work and provide enough energy to make it up the big hill on the run home each night and also get me through my evening workout or ski lesson or whatever I’m up to.  I found a sweet potato based recipe on Pinterest that seemed interesting but also too much on the healthy side for my liking, however I thought I could use the general idea of the recipe and get something enjoyable.  It was a bit of extra work using the sweet potato but after a bit of tweaking, I think they turned out great! Hope you enjoy this healthy-ish snack as well! 🙂

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Sweet Potato Cliff Bars

Bake at 350 ◦F for 12 minutes. Makes 10 “cliff bar” sized cookies.

Ingredients: 

3/4 cup mashed sweet potatoes
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/8 cup of butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
2 Tbsp chia seeds

Directions: 

  1. Peel, chop and boil sweet potato until soft. Puree in food processor with some of the liquid from boiling.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 ◦F.
  3. Add the first 6 ingredients in a bowl and mix until creamy.
  4. Mix remaining dry ingredients separately and add to bowl.
  5. Drop dough on to cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for approximately 12 minutes.
  6. Enjoy!

 

Mushroom, kale and pecan stuffed acorn squash

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Not only was this recipe simple and delicious, but the acorn squash is from our garden – bonus! We didn’t actually plant any acorn squash this year, so were pleasantly surprised and intrigued when we found a rogue squash plant growing this spring. I could tell it wasn’t a zucchini or cucumber which were the only squashes we’d planted, but I didn’t know what it was so I left it, excited to wait and find out. When we got back from our vacation, we discovered it was a hardy acorn squash that was taking over the garden and alley! We cut it back quite a bit to let the other plants have some space (and give the neighbours some room to drive by ) but it had already grown 10 little acorn squashes which was really exciting so of course we let those stay and ripen.  And, ta-da!

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I was looking for an easy and yummy recipe to use up our squashes, and I came across this one on pinterest.  This was one of the only recipes that featured savoury stuffing – most had a sausage, apple and cranberry type combo which just wasn’t particularly appealing to me, so I decided to give it a try! I swapped out the rice for quinoa because I prefer it over rice (plus some extra protein!) and they tend to substitute pretty well.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Mushroom, kale and pecan stuffed acorn squash

Ingredients (serves 4):        Total time: ~ 1 h 

  • 2 acorn squash, cut in half, seeds scraped out
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 6 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bunch of kale, washed and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup of pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of fresh shredded Parmesan

 

Turn oven to 425F.

Place cut squash halves on roasting pan and lightly drizzle with oil. Roast for 30 – 40 minutes till tender.

Cook quinoa in chicken broth. Start this after you put the squash in the oven so it will be done when the squash is ready for stuffing.

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Saute mushrooms, garlic and onion in large frying pan with oil. When onion is clear, about 5 minutes, add in chopped kale and chopped pecans and continue to saute for another 5 minutes or so.

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When kale has wilted slightly, remove from heat and add grated parmesan. When quinoa has cooked, add to pan and mix thoroughly. Remove squash from oven and stuff. Return to oven for 5 – 10 minutes to melt cheese. Serve warm and enjoy!

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