Monthly Archives: April 2011

British Bakeries: Boon or Bust?

This week, much of the world’s media is focused on Friday’s marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. It is estimated that 600,000 tourists are in London this week to catch a glimpse of the festivities.

All of these travelers need to eat, so the impact that the increase in tourism will have on the London economy, including tea shops and bakeries, should be quite positive. However on the day of the wedding, a number of streets will be closed off for logistical purposes, and some store owners are debating about whether to open at all on that day because business is actually expected to be slow. So the economic impact of the royal wedding on local bakeries will be mixed and dependent somewhat on location.

Of course, enjoying a British baked good is not just limited to one country. British societies all around the world are having festivities to commemorate the nuptials. Some of the events are multi-day affairs involving more than just tea and crumpets – for a listing of events, click here.

One particular food that is getting a lot of attention right now is the McVitie’s brand Rich Tea Biscuits, which is a favorite among the Royal family. In fact, the groom’s cake is expected to be made with these cookies. A recipe for the cake is available online and as long as the chocolate is grain sweetened and tea biscuits are without cane sugar, is a “sensitive” food too!

Couscous with Cherries and Almonds

I really like couscous because it cooks very quickly and is quite versatile, which are two criteria I look for in a weeknight side dish. The third criteria, of course, is that it tastes great. So this couscous is an all-around winner!

The original recipe is from Cooking Light and a slight modification makes it cane sugar free. The trick is to find dried fruit that is sweetened with fruit juice concentrate. Below is the recipe:
Ingredients: 1 cup water; pinch of salt, 1 cup couscous; 1/3 cup dried cherries sweetened with fruit juice concentrate; 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil; 1/4 cup slice almonds
Directions: Bring the water and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in the couscous and cherries. Cover and remove from heat. After five minutes, remove cover, fluff couscous with a fork, and stir in the olive oil and almonds. Serve with your favorite meal!
Note: dried fruit sweetened with juice concentrate can be found at a health foods store – the cherries I buy are “apple juice infused.”
Another note: other fruits and nuts work well in this dish – use pistachios or strawberries as alternatives.

Vegetable Challenge: Brussels Sprouts

When I found out about my food sensitivities a few months ago, my universe of food possibilities shrank substantially. At least I thought that was the case until I decided to host my own vegetable challenge. The premise? Buy one vegetable each week that either I have never tried or did not think I liked, and prepare it as a side dish with dinner. So the first vegetable challenge for our household was Brussels sprouts. My husband and I both thought the veggie was ok, but hadn’t actually sampled them since we were kids. Could we prepare them so that we liked them?

We prepared the Brussels sprouts very simply: we washed the veggies and then cut each one in half. We poured them into a glass baking dish that had a small coating of extra virgin olive oil. Then we tossed them with a bit of kosher salt, ground pepper, parsley and extra virgin olive oil. We roasted them at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

The verdict? The first vegetable challenge was a success! So the next week we prepared them again, this time adding some chopped garlic. That was also a delicious dish! So it goes to show that Brussels sprouts really can be tasty. They are now regularly seen in our household!

Ode to Oatmeal

So what’s a girl to do when she is sensitive to yeast and cane sugar?  I grew up eating toast, bagels and muffins for breakfast – and I had to say goodbye to those tasty store bought treats because of particular ingredients that I avoid.  However, there is an alternative and it is oatmeal!  Oatmeal is delicious and nutritious, and I enjoy starting my day with this delightful breakfast.  My favorite oatmeal toppings are pictured above, which include a mix of fresh strawberries, blueberries and blackberries with a tablespoon of local honey.  This brand of oatmeal, Holly’s, comes with whole grains and dried goji berries.  Even though I love this berry extravaganza, I am willing to try other suggestions – what are your favorite oatmeal toppings?  Thanks for your ideas!

The Japan Tragedy and the Seafood Industry

The 9.0 magnitude earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor issues that occurred in Japan last month were unprecedented and tragic. The loss of life has been overwhelming to comprehend. I hope that the people can rebuild their homes and businesses soon.

In addition to the personal loss, there is uncertainty about the short and mid term futures of some industries. For example, some Japanese warehouses for the seafood industry are full because it is difficult to move the inventory to the customers, so demand for some fish, like Alaskan salmon and crab from Newfoundland, has dropped. The demand for Japanese fish has also declined because consumers want to be certain that the seafood has not been exposed to radiation.

Please keep the Japanese people in your prayers as they recover over the coming months and years.

Sources: NPR, Liam Moriarty, U.S. Seafood Industry Braces For Japan Crisis Impact, March 18, 2011, http://www.npr.org/2011/03/18/134653667/u-s-seafood-industry-braces-for-japan-crisis-impact; CBC News, Japan Disaster Could Hurt Seafood Industry, March 15, 2011, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2011/03/15/japan-disaster-crab-sackton-315.html; KTUU, Rhonda McBride, March 14, 2011, Economic Fallout from Japanese Quake Touches Alaska, http://articles.ktuu.com/2011-03-14/seafood-industry_28689991

MIL and FIL’s Garlic and Shrimp Pasta

Last night, my husband and I whipped up this delicious dish. What a great way to start the weekend! It’s a version of the classic agilo e olio, or garlic and oil, pasta dish. I first had this dinner at my MIL and FIL’s house around the holidays and liked it so much I asked them how to make it. It is quickly becoming a classic in our household! This is a great way to enjoy pasta if you are sensitive to tomato sauce. Instead of the shrimp and peas, you could add chicken and broccoli – or something else! If you have other variation ideas, please share them by commenting below. (And five points goes to whomever can correctly identify what MIL and FIL stands for!)

Ingredients (for two-person meal): 2/3 lb spaghetti; 4 garlic cloves, chopped; 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil; 14 large and frozen shrimp, deveined, peeled and raw; 1 cup organic peas, frozen

Fill the pasta pot with water. As the water reaches a boiling temperature, chop the garlic cloves and mix most of them into the 1/4 cup of oil. Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the package. As the spaghetti cooks, heat a small frying pan with a bit of extra virgin olive oil. Sauté the remaining garlic in the pan, then add the shrimp and heat until cooked (shrimp will turn pink). When there are two minutes left for the pasta to cook, add the peas to the water. Once the pasta is cooked, reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and peas, then add back into the empty pasta pot. Stir in the garlic and oil mixture, then add the garlic and shrimp sauté. Add in the reserved pasta water until it reaches your desired liquid amount. Have a wonderful dinner!

I am also sharing this recipe with Everyday Sisters and Miz Helen’s Country Cottage.

Chocolate Banana Cake

I first tried this recipe on New Year’s Eve because I wanted to enjoy a restaurant-quality dessert. This cake exceeded our expectations as we rang in the new year! I took out all of the cane sugar; the modified cake is sweetened with honey and the frosting has grain sweetened chocolate chips. When you have a spare afternoon, try this recipe and enjoy the results, along with impressing everyone who shares it with you!

Chocolate Banana Cake:

1 1/3 cups honey
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 medium sized bananas)
1 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache Frosting:

8 ounces grain-sweetened chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Chocolate Banana Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place rack in the center of the oven. Butter, or spray with a non stick vegetable spray, a 9 x 13 inch (23 x 33 cm) pan. Set aside. 

In a large bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another large bowl, whisk together honey, eggs, mashed bananas, water, milk, oil, and vanilla extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir, or whisk, until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  

Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. When completely cooled, frost with the Ganache.

Ganache: Place the chocolate chips in a medium sized heatproof bowl. Set aside. Heat the cream and butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil. Immediately pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. When Ganache has completely cooled, beat until soft and fluffy. Then spread the frosting on top of the cake.

Sources: Joy of Baking and Rodmell, Jane. Best Summer Weekends Cookbook. Cottage Life Books. Toronto: 2004.

I am also sharing this recipe with Something Swanky, Joy of Desserts, Sweet as Sugar Cookies and Cybele Pascal Allergen-Free Cuisine.

Price increases at the grocery store

Have you noticed that the prices of many items have increased at the grocery store? I have noticed a slow uptick in our food bill over the past few months. And the prices are not expected to come down for awhile.

In fact, economists are predicting increasing grocery bills for households across the country this year. As a result of strange weather patterns and increased demand from China last year, a number of commodity prices (including wheat, corn, soybeans, oil, and others) have increased, and retailers have started to pass those increased costs along to the consumers. (Source: http://www.courant.com/aan-4b.01-14-11.mid.inflation-20110114,0,7874425.story)

Unfortunately, the cost of making my cane sugar free chocolate chip cookies (see March 31 post for recipe) is more expensive this year relative to last. However, I can argue that the taste of freshly baked cookies holds an infinite value, so I will just have to continue spending more on the flour so I can enjoy them!

For more information about commodity prices, see the New York Federal Reserve’s blog at http://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2011/03/how-much-will-the-rise-in-commodity-prices-reduce-discretionary-income.html

For an overview of commodities, see Investor Weekly at http://www.investorguide.com/igu-article-1139-what-is-a-limited-partnership-lp.html