September 28, 2012

Baked Sweet Potatoes with West African-Style Peanut Sauce

Sweet Potatoes with West African-Style Peanut Sauce

My twin sister Genevieve (from Vanilla & Spice) is in Kenya right now and I'm super jealous, so I thought I'd make myself an African-style meal to pretend that I'm also over there.  It didn't quite work (the pretending I'm in Africa part), but the meal did turn out to be delicious!

This is a simple, filling, and comforting dish made by baking a sweet potato and smothering it in a thick, creamy tomato-peanut sauce.  I know Kenya isn't in West Africa, and honestly I don't even know if this is a true West-African dish anyway, but Cooking Light says it is, so I'm going with it!

Sweet Potatoes with West African-Style Peanut Sauce

You might think it's weird to pair sweet potatoes and peanut butter together, but trust me, it works!  This actually reminded me of a lot of the African sweet potato and peanut stew that I love so much, except that the sweet potato is more the star of this dish.

If you're not convinced, the sauce pairs well with veggies too.  I served some of my extra sauce with steamed broccoli for a light lunch, and really enjoyed it!

Broccoli with West African-Style Peanut Sauce

Cooking Light suggests pairing a sweet potato with chicken, but I was really full from the sweet potato alone.  This may be because I doubled the amount of sauce called for, and the sauce is pretty filling, but I thought it was necessary to double it to make sure there was enough for every  bite of sweet potato.  I think pairing one of these smothered potatoes with a side of salad makes for a satisfying vegetarian meal, but go ahead and add a protein if you like too, I do think the sauce would work well with chicken!

This may or may not be a completely authentic African meal, but it's still something a little different than what I'm used to, and is a great autumn dish!

Sweet Potatoes with West African-Style Peanut Sauce

Baked Sweet Potatoes with West African-Style Peanut Sauce

Adapted from Cooking Light

Serves 2


2 medium sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 a small onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons grated or minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Dash of cayenne
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes (tomato sauce)
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped peanuts (optional)


Preheat oven to 400°F.  Pierce sweet potatoes with a fork all over, and bake directly on the middle oven rack for 45 minutes or until tender.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion, ginger, and garlic, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring often.  Add cumin, coriander, and cayenne, and cook for another minute.  Add water, tomato sauce, peanut butter, lemon juice, sugar, and salt.  Stir or whisk until smooth, bring to a simmer, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until slightly thickened.  Remove from heat.

Split potatoes lengthwise (not cutting all the way through), and squeeze the sides of the potato (with oven mitts on) so the filling fluffs out, if desired.  Spoon sauce over potatoes and sprinkle with peanuts and cilantro.  If you want to make sure sauce covers more of the sweet potato, cut the sweet potato up before adding the sauce.

September 26, 2012

Treats for a Baby Shower

Baby shower

Yesterday we had a baby shower for a coworker, and because everyone put a lot of hard work into it, I wanted to share the results with you guys!  I also had a pretty hard time coming up with food ideas before the shower, so maybe this will help inspire anyone in a similar position!

The picture above is the food table at the shower (which was held in the lounge in our building on campus).  One of my coworkers who organized the shower did a fantastic job setting everything up and making it all look pretty with coordinating colours!  We didn't know the gender of the baby so we went with teals, yellows, and greens, which we thought were pretty gender neutral.  The shower was held in the afternoon at work, so we didn't need a ton of food for everyone.

I was in charge of two desserts.  First up were these mini baby rattle cupcakes (apologies for the photos in this post, most were taken quickly with my phone):

Baby rattle cupcakes

I got the idea for these cupcakes from Betty Crocker, and I think they turned out pretty well!  I have no idea if they actually resemble a rattle because I can't recall ever seeing a rattle in real life (I've had limited experience with babies), but I thought they were still cute!

To make the rattle cupcakes, I used a mini carrot cupcake recipe from Food Network, tinted some of the cream cheese frosting yellow and left some white, and decorated them with a few different types of sprinkles.  It used 4" lollipop sticks for the rattle handles and gummy candies for the end of the rattle, then tied a ribbon around the  middle of the lollipop stick.  It was pretty hard to get the lollipop stick through the cupcake liner, so I had to pull a bit of the liner down, use a sharp toothpick to poke a hole through, then insert the lollipop stick and kinda smoosh the liner back to the cupcake.

I loved that these were just a one or two bite dessert so people could save room for other food, and the cupcakes tasted really good.  I actually had a minor disaster making them because after I'd spooned all my batter into the liners and was about to put them in the oven, I licked some batter off my finger and thought that it tasted really bad.  I started thinking back to what went in them and realized that I completely forgot the sugar!  So then I had to spoon all the batter back out of the liners into a bowl, mix some sugar in (which is totally against every baking rule), and put it all back in the liners.  This was at the very beginning of my 5 hour night of baking, so it didn't set the tone very well!  But they still worked out, so I was thankful!

Moving on to my second dessert which was much more time consuming than the first, here's my attempt at baby cake pops:

baby cake pops

This idea came from the queen of cake pops, Bakerella, so obviously mine didn't turn out nearly as good as hers, but I was still proud of them because this was only my second time making cake pops!

If you want to make these, be prepared to set aside a big chunk of time - they're not too difficult, but very time consuming.  I would have loved making them if I had help from someone, but it can be a bit of a pain to do it all by yourself!  To make these, I followed the general cake pop directions that can be found on lots of other sites, like Bakerella, Love from the Oven, or The Kitchn, for example.  There are some really detailed tutorials out there with lots of tips and tricks, so if you're making cake pops for the first time, I recommend reading advice from at least a few sources first. 

baby cake pops

For these ones, I used a storebought cake mix but mixed in some of the cream cheese frosting from my cupcakes instead of using storebought icing.  I've used it before and in my opinion it makes already sweet cake pops just way too sickly sweet.  After rolling the cake into balls and inserting the lollipop sticks, I dipped them in melted candy coating that was mostly white with a few red wafers mixed in to get a light pink colour.  I used that same coating for the babies' noses, black decorating gel for the eyes, melted chocolate for the hair, mini muffin liners for the bonnets, confetti sprinkles for the cheeks, and candy from a candy necklace for the soothers.  Bakerella also includes a printout for the baby bibs, which I thought added a nice touch.

I think these were worth the effort in the end - everyone really loved the looks of them.  Tastewise, I still found them to be pretty sweet and I definitely wouldn't want to eat more than one, but I think this is a matter of personal preference and how big of a sweet tooth you have!

My favourite part of the baby shower was this watermelon baby carriage:

Watermelon baby carriage

I can't take credit for the idea for this - if you Google 'watermelon baby carriage' you'll see that tons of people have made this before us.  I also can't take credit for making the carriage - it was a joint effort between a few people and all I really had to do was make the baby's head (the best part!) 

When I first suggested that we make this, I thought it would be a ton of work, but it was actually really easy!  We followed this great video for carving the watermelon, then added in a baby using an apple for the head, blueberries for the eyes (inserted with toothpicks), a lettuce leaf for the bonnet, and a soother which I just carved a little hole into the apple for and inserted.  The carriage handle and wheels were also attached with toothpicks, then we just filled the watermelon and plate with a variety of fruit.  We used a watermelon that was on the smaller side, which I think worked out really well because the baby's head didn't look way out of proportion, as I've seen in some other photos on the web.

The carriage was a big hit and also provided a healthier option amongst all the desserts, so I'd highly recommend it!

Lastly, we made a punch that we floated a few rubber duckies in - I thought they added a nice touch!

Baby shower punch

Overall the baby shower was a success and we all had a lot of fun preparing it.  I don't think I'll be making any more cake pops for a while though! 

September 24, 2012

Eating Local and a Metro Gift Basket Giveaway (Ontario only)

tofu lasagna

September is a fantastic time for visiting the farmer’s market in Ontario – not only is there still a wide selection of later summer produce available, but you also start to see a lot of the autumn vegetables and fruit that I look forward to all year!  I can’t always make it to the market on Saturday morning though, which is why I love that local produce is also available at the grocery store.  

Metro is one of Ontario’s leading grocers, and through their Harvest from Home program, which runs May through October, they support growing, purchasing, and eating local food in Ontario.  Metro provides a wide variety of the freshest and best tasting produce that is readily available and grown in Ontario, and by implementing Harvest from Home, they purchase locally grown foods from more than 100 farms across Ontario, directly supporting local farmers and the local economy.  You can learn more about the latest Harvest from Home produce and new arrivals in store and on Metro’s Facebook page.

Metro contacted me to ask if I would be interested in spreading the news about their Harvest from Home program and some tips on eating local, which I definitely support, but they also offered to treat one of my readers to a gift basket worth over $50, so I obviously agreed!

First up, here are Metro’s 5 reasons you should be eating local (which can apply to those outside Ontario too!) 

  • Selection: Ontario has a wealth of locally grown veggies and fruit to choose from – your recipes won’t have to adapt a bit, you can get everything you need from home
  • Fresh: From field to fork – Typically food travels 1,500 miles to grocery stores. By eating local, your “food mile” reduces drastically to 45 miles. That means when you pick up your next Ontario apple, it’s that much fresher, that much more delicious
  • Better for you: Less preserving chemicals and genetic modification measures are used in the growth of local produce
  • Environmentally friendly: The thousands of travel miles our produce takes to get to our plates blasts six per cent of CO2 emissions into our local environments. By eating local, you’re helping future generations breathe easier
  • Invest into your local economy: Purchasing local food means directly supporting local farmers – this way, money stays in Ontario to  be reinvested into our local economy

And now for the fun part!  To give a taste of what they have in store, the nice people at Metro sent me over a gift basket filled with ingredients to make a comforting fall dinner with fresh, local ingredients.  As pictured above, I made the budget-friendly mushroom lasagna from Metro’s website, but it turned out a bit watery – I realized after that I should have drained some of the excess liquid from my sauce, used oven-ready lasagna noodles to absorb some of the liquid as it cooked, and waited at least ten minutes to cut into it before I served it!  


Regardless of my rookie mistakes, lasagna is still a great comforting meal for the beginning of fall, and one lucky Ontario reader is going to win a fabulous gift basket from Metro to make their own favourite lasagna recipe!  The winner will receive a gift basket of the dry ingredients needed to make a lasagna (noodles and seasonings), along with a $50 Metro gift card to go purchase the fresh ingredients!

For your chance to win this great prize worth over $50, just leave a comment below telling me what is your favourite local ingredient to cook with or eat.  And if you have tips on making a great lasagna, I'd welcome those too!  The giveaway will close Sunday, September 30 at midnight EST, at which point I'll randomly select one winner, who will be announced next Monday morning.  Please be sure to leave a valid email address when you enter so that I can contact you if you win.  The commenting system below will prompt you to leave an email address when you enter - it will not be published but you need to leave one so I can contact you.  Good luck!

Please note that because Harvest from Home is only offered at Metro locations in Ontario, this giveaway is open to Ontario residents only.

For those having difficulty leaving a comment, here's how - it's easy!


Disclosure: Metro provided me with the same gift basket that the giveaway winner will receive, along with information about their Harvest from Home program. All other opinions are my own.

September 21, 2012

Greek Quinoa Wraps with Tzatziki

Greek Quinoa Wraps with Tzatziki

A couple of months ago, I made these Southwestern quinoa wraps with chipotle yogurt dressing and absolutely loved them – Even better, Ryan (who is usually skeptical of quinoa) loved them, which made them an even bigger success!   

I knew this was something I’d want to repeat often for a healthy, protein-filled lunch, so I started thinking of other versions that I could make to change things up a little.  Since I loved this Greek quinoa with cucumber, tomatoes, olives, and feta (which I’ve talked about in my summer quinoa recipe roundup), I decided to use it in a wrap combined with an easy tzatziki sauce.

Greek Quinoa

I already knew the quinoa on its own was delicious, but combined with a cool and creamy yogurt sauce, crisp lettuce, and a whole wheat tortilla wrap, it’s even better – plus its more filling this way, making it a great healthy option for lunch or dinner.

Greek Quinoa Wraps with Tzatziki

I don’t recommend making the wraps too far ahead of time because the tzatziki could make the wraps soggy, but I found that making a wrap in the morning and eating it for lunch was still fine – just make sure you lay the lettuce down first before the sauce to protect the tortilla from getting soggy!

Greek Quinoa Wraps with Tzatziki

I hope you all have a great weekend!  I’ll be back on Monday for a great giveaway for my Ontario readers, so be sure to stop back then!  And now that it’s official Fall, I’ll have plenty of fall recipes coming your way soon!

PGreek Quinoa Wraps with Tzatziki

Greek Quinoa Wraps with Tzatziki

Quinoa component adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod

Makes about 6 wraps


For the tzatziki:
1 medium English cucumber
1-1/2 cups nonfat plain yogurt or plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper

For the Quinoa:
2 cups water
1 cup dry quinoa, rinsed
1 cup chopped peeled cucumber
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
1/4 cup pre-sliced kalamata olives
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup crumbled low-fat feta cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
Optional: Add red onions for more crunch (I just don't like red onions), or chickpeas for more bulk

For the Wraps:
6 twelve grain or whole wheat tortillas
Romaine lettuce
Tzatziki (above)
Greek quinoa (above)


Prepare the tzatziki:

Peel the cucumber, cut it in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds.  Grate the flesh into a strainer, sprinkle with salt, and let sit for 20 minutes.  Use your hands or a paper towel to squeeze out as much liquid as you can from the cucumber.

Add the cucumber to the yogurt.  If you have time, you can strain the yogurt through a cheesecloth for a couple of hours first to drain out some of the water and thicken it, but I don’t bother.  Add lemon juice, mix everything together, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Keep in refrigerator until ready to use.

Prepare the quinoa:

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Add quinoa, cover, and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and keep covered for 5 minutes.  Remove lid, fluff with a fork, and transfer to a large bowl to let cool.

Meanwhile, mix the cucumber, tomatoes, olives, parsley, and feta together in a medium bowl.  In a separate small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper for the dressing.

Add the cucumber mixture to the quinoa and toss together.  Drizzle the dressing overtop, and mix to coat.  Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

Prepare wraps:

Lay a lettuce leaf in the center of each wrap.  Top with tzatziki sauce and quinoa, wrap, and serve.

September 18, 2012

Autumn Fruit Ginger Crumble Pie

Autumn Fruit Ginger Crumble Pie

If given the choice between pie and cake, I’d choose pie every time.  Buttery pie dough wrapped around a creamy or fruity filling is just so much more appealing to me than cake and icing (not that I don’t love a good cake!).   Surprisingly though, there are very few pie recipes on my blog - apart from mini pies and a frozen peanut butter pie, both of which aren’t really the type of thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘pie’.  I guess it’s because I usually make cake when there’s a celebration, and if I’m making a dessert just for fun, I usually make cookies or bars because they’re easier to transport and share with others.  Pie just doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere!

But when I saw the autumn fruit pie with ginger crumble topping in this fall’s Food & Drink magazine (a wonderful magazine that’s free at the LCBO, which is where us Ontarians go to buy our alcohol), I knew I had to make it.  I love apple pie, but I also love unusual twists on classic desserts, so I loved that this version added pears and ginger!

Autumn Fruit Ginger Crumble Pie

I also liked that this pie was deep-dish, so I went out and bought a deep dish pie pan just for it.  But then on the day I wanted to make it, I already had a ton of stuff to do so I decided to use a storebought frozen pie crust instead.  I chose one that specifically said ‘deep dish pie crust’ on the box, but when I opened it up at home, it looked the exact same as a regular pie crust.  When I placed it in my deep dish pie pan to compare the size, it only went halfway up the sides of the pan.   Why do they call it deep dish if it’s not deep at all!?

Since at this point it was too late to make my own dough, I ended up cutting apart and piecing together two of the so-called deep dish pie crusts (thankfully there are two in a box) into one true deep-dish crust, and placing it in my pan.  At least the pan I bought came in handy!  So if you’re worried about the same thing happening to you, I’d recommend just making your own pie dough – it’s really not that hard and probably would have taken me less time than it did to piece together the two frozen ones!

Autumn Fruit Ginger Crumble Pie

Despite that little setback, this pie turned out wonderfully.  The pears and ginger add a nice little twist to an apple pie without taking it too far from the classic apple pie flavour we all love.  I was a little worried that the ginger would be overpowering, but it was actually quite subtle.  I almost would have preferred a stronger ginger flavour, but others thought that it was just right. 

Based on how quickly this pie disappeared (and everyone complained about only getting one piece, myself included), I think I need to start making pies more often!

Autumn Fruit Ginger Crumble Pie

Autumn Fruit Ginger Crumble Pie

Slightly adapted from Food & Drink, Autumn 2012 (issue not yet online)

Makes 1 deep dish pie


1 deep dish 9-inch pie crust
3 cups peeled and sliced cooking apples (about 2-3 apples)
3 cups peeled and sliced just-ripe pears (about 3 pears)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

For the Crumble Topping:
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces


Preheat oven to 450°F.  If using a storebought deep dish frozen pie dough, allow to thaw 10-15 minutes before you’re ready to fill and bake the pie.*  Otherwise, you can prepare your favourite pie dough recipe, roll it into a deep-dish pie pan, and chill while preparing the filling.

Place apples, pears, and lemon juice in a large bowl.  Add the brown sugar, flour, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and toss everything together until fruit is well coated.  Transfer filling and any juices to the prepared pie shell, spreading it evenly and packing gently. 

Prepare the crumble by mixing oats, flour, brown sugar, and ginger in medium bowl, and cutting in the butter with a pastry cutter or fork until the mixture clumps together.  Sprinkle crumble over the fruit.

Place pie on a baking pan to catch any drippings and bake in lower third of oven for 15 minutes or until pastry edge looks cooked.  At this point, I wrapped a thin strip of aluminum foil around the edge of my pie to prevent the crust from burning.  Reduce oven heat to 375°F and bake for another 50 minutes or until juices are thick and bubbling and topping is brown.  Remove from oven and let cool completely before slicing.

This pie is great at room temperature, but I preferred it warmed up.

*Note: I bought a Tenderflake deep dish pie crust, but it was not as deep as a standard deep dish pie pan.  I ended up transferring the dough to a deep dish pie pan, then cutting dough from the second crust in the box and pinching it together with the other dough so that I had enough crust to fill the pan.

September 14, 2012

Eggplant & Zucchini Pasta with Chickpeas and Feta

Eggplant & Zucchini Pasta with Chickpeas, Olives and Feta

Because it's Friday, I'm sure you guys would rather hear me talk about something entertaining rather than making this entire post about pasta, right?  If you answered no, then skip down towards the end where I will tell you all about this lovely pasta dish, but if you answered yes, then you are about to hear about my first adventure in celebrity stalking!

Last Saturday, my sisters and I went to the vegetarian food festival in Toronto (which my sister Genevieve wrote all about on her blog Vanilla & Spice, if you're interested).  The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) also happened to be on, which is a pretty big deal and draws lots of celebrities.  Before we left for Toronto in the morning, I quickly researched if any big celebs would be there at the same time as us, and noted the time for a Johnny Depp red carpet!  We ended up heading over there half an hour early, thinking we would have a great spot if he did show up, but little did we know that people show up super early to these things, and it was already packed!  I knew I would never see anything down on the ground, so I found a lovely spot up a bit higher, in the middle of a bush.  Literally, I stood in the middle of a bush, in a pile of mud, with branches in my hair, and a guy blowing cigarette smoke directly in my face from beside me, for half an hour, waiting to catch a glimpse of Johnny Depp.  And guess what?  It paid off!  I got to see him (and Natalie Maines from the Dixie Chicks) from about 15-20 feet away and took lots of pics - it was so exciting being part of a big crazy screaming crowd and being so close to such a big celebrity!

I guess celebrity stalking is addicting, because my sister and I decided to head back to Toronto Monday evening after we heard that Ben Affleck was going to be at a red carpet premiere.  We arranged it so that we would take a Greyhound that would arrive in Toronto at 5:30, we'd walk a block to one premiere where we would arrive in plenty of time to see Bill Murray and Laura Linney before their movie premiering at 6:30, then walk another block to the 7:00 premiere featuring Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams, then head back home.  It involved a lot of bus riding, but we knew it would be worth it!

Eggplant & Zucchini Pasta with Chickpeas, Olives and Feta

Unfortunately, this plan didn't work out so well.  The bus ended up being an hour late arriving in Toronto.  ONE WHOLE HOUR!!  I was fuming!  So when we finally pulled in at 6:30 (after leaving our home over 3 hours earlier), we sprinted past the first theatre, which already had no one left outside, and continued on to Ben's theatre, praying we didn't miss him.  There was still a humongous crowd, which was a good sign!  As I stood balanced against a filthy pole (which I didn't realize was staining my butt until later), we overheard others in the crowd talking about how they had already seen Bill, Laura, and Rachel, but that Ben still hadn't arrived, so we were counting on him to save our night and make this trip worth it.  We waited .. and waited ... and waited .. until we were pretty much the only ones left waiting and realized that Ben had decided not to show up after all. 

Our friend in Toronto ended up saving our night by taking us out for a delicious feast of all-you-can-eat sushi, but we were still pretty disappointed about Ben.  I'm veeeery tempted to go back tonight to see Matthew McConaughey, who is supposed to be making an appearance, but I'm too worried that things won't work out again (especially trying to get to Toronto with Friday rush hour traffic), so I think I'll play it safe and spend the weekend resting and recovering from this cold!

Eggplant & Zucchini Pasta with Chickpeas, Olives and Feta

My story really didn't have a point except to distract you from your work for a while, and it has nothing to do with this pasta either, so I'm not even going to try to connect the two here!

If you just want to hear about this pasta, here's what you need to know: This is a fresh and healthy vegetarian dish that you may think is just an ordinary pasta, but a few unusual ingredients like chickpeas, olives, and feta, make this unique and flavourful.  It might look like a few more steps than a regular pasta, but it's worth it (especially for the amount of leftovers, if you're cooking for one like me!), and it's a great way to use up some of that end-of-summer zucchini and eggplant you might still have in your garden!

Has anyone else been celebrity stalking at TIFF (or elsewhere)?  I'd love to hear your stories!

Eggplant & Zucchini Pasta with Chickpeas, Olives and Feta

Eggplant & Zucchini Pasta with Chickpeas, Olives, and Feta

Adapted from Clean Eating magazine, April/May 2012

Serves 4-6


2 medium zucchinis
1 small eggplant
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt & Pepper
1 pound tri-colour vegetable rotini pasta (or whole wheat rotini)
1 (398mL) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 (340mL) jar roasted red peppers (or 2 roasted red peppers), drained and rinsed, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1 (540mL) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup sliced green olives
4-5 oz low-fat feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup chopped parsley


Preheat oven to Broil.  Quarter zucchinis lengthwise, then cut into 1/4-inch thick slices.  Cut eggplant into ½-inch rounds, then slice into bite-sized pieces.  Toss chopped zucchini and eggplant with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Spread into one layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil in the top-third of the oven for 10-15 minutes, tossing halfway through, until golden brown and soft.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and rinse, reserving a bit of pasta water.

Meanwhile, add diced tomatoes, roasted red peppers, basil, and red pepper flakes to a medium saucepan, bring to a simmer, and cook over medium-low heat while the pasta is cooking, about 10 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Transfer to a blender, remove plastic stopper from lid, cover loosely with a kitchen towel, and puree briefly into a slightly chunky sauce.  Add a bit of the pasta water to thin out the sauce, if necessary.

Combine cooked pasta, roasted vegetables, tomato sauce, chickpeas, and olives in a large saucepan and cook over low heat 1-2 minutes to heat through.  Serve and top each portion with 1 oz crumbled feta and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley.  Season with additional pepper, if desired.

September 12, 2012

Earl Grey Vanilla Tea Cake

Earl Grey Vanilla Tea Cake

On Monday I got hit with a cold at full force ... I don't want to complain too much because I know a cold is to be expected around this germy time of back-to-school, but normally I get a few days of warning signs first.  You know that little tickle in your throat that tells you a cold is on its way and you'd better start taking vitamins like crazy to try to lessen its blow?  This one came with no warning signs, just the whole works right from the start - sore throat, runny nose, sinus congestion, fluctuating body temperature, I'm sure you all know the drill!

It doesn't help that I have a crazy amount of work to get done this week, which is hard when I'm so tired because my stuffy nose just does not want me to get any sleep!  So, in my efforts to rid myself of this cold as quickly as it came on, I have been taking lots of vitamins, eating lots of fruits and veggies, and drinking a TON of tea!

Earl Grey Vanilla Tea Cake

And what goes better with a cup of tea than a delightful tea cake!  

This healthy-ish and not-too-sweet loaf contains the actual contents of three bags of earl grey tea, steeped in a bit of milk, along with some warm spices and vanilla so the smell and taste of the end product really remind you of earl grey tea.  I've been snacking on this with every cup of tea (which is probably not a good thing considering how much tea I've been drinking), and it's especially good warmed up or toasted.  You could probably even change up the tea and spices to any flavour you like - a chai bread would be really nice too!

Even if all my tea drinking doesn't chase away this cold, at least it's given me an excuse to eat lots of tea cake :)

Earl Grey Vanilla Tea Cake

Earl Grey Vanilla Tea Loaf

Makes one 8x4 inch loaf

Note: This loaf has a light and delicate crumb, much more like a cake than more dense and moist banana bread-like loaves.  If you want to add to the subtle citrus notes of the Earl Grey tea, you can add a splash of lemon juice to the loaf.


3 bags earl grey vanilla tea
1/4 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla


Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line the bottom of an 8-1/2 by 4-1/2 inch loaf pan with parchment paper and spray with non-stick cooking spray. 

Add the milk to a small saucepan and empty the contents of the tea bags (snip off the tops first) into the pan.  Heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the milk is warm and tea begins to steep.  Turn off heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, cardamom, nutmeg, and cinnamon.  In a medium bowl, combine the oil, sugar, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla.  Stir the milk and tea mixture into the wet ingredients.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry mixture and fold together with a flexible spatula until just combined (do not overmix). 

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 40-50 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean (mine was just slightly overdone at 45 minutes so you might want to check on it at 40 minutes first, though the exact time will depend on your oven).  Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Ingredient Index

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