Local Deliciousness

It’s April. I can’t believe it’s already April. I’m glad it’s April, but my goodness, how time flies.

 
I hate to disappoint or to be unable to follow through on something I’ve committed to. In joining the Canadian Food Experience Project, the task was relatively simple from the start. Every month, tackle a previously established challenge involving a food-related theme, write about it and post a recipe. With a month between challenges, such a task should be very achievable. But, as those who know me can attest to, I often take on too much, which sometimes leaves the simplest tasks to be accomplished at the very last minute. And while I’m pretty adept at multi-tasking and accomplishing said tasks at the last minute, throw a nasty virus my way, and my procrastination-based plan is thoroughly foiled.

 
This month’s challenge was to write about a local producer or grower. Again, I found myself a week before the post was due, wondering who I should write about. I immediately came up with an answer and an inspired idea. However, the local grower I wished to interview wasn’t able to honour such a short notice request to visit, and so I had left myself with nothing to write about. And, being quite ill at present, I’m sorry to say I don’t have the energy or creativity to come up with something new and do the leg work involved.

 
I thought about what could inspire me to write and also lead to a fairly low-effort recipe. I considered two of the most important things in my life: my son, and my friends. Both of those ideas also lead me to think about comfort.

 
It seems a lot of my CFEP posts have ended up being sweet, baked recipes, and this month’s is no different. I swear to my readers that I really can cook too, but I suppose in some ways I get a tad more personal enjoyment out of baking and sharing desserts or sweet treats. I’m aware that it’s a bit of a cop-out to use the same key ingredient this month as I did last month, but it fits the bill for both a seasonal, locally produced ingredient and a comfort food: maple syrup. I am also happy to share the local maple producer whose farm we have visited every year since moving to the Ottawa area, and where we have enjoyed many a pancake breakfast and walk amongst the maple trees: http://www.sandroadsugarcamp.com/

 
I have made some wonderful friends since coming to Ottawa. I don’t have a large group of friends, but I have been blessed with a few, very close and trusted friends in my life. I have always believed in quality over quantity, especially as life gets fuller and one can only share time with a finite number of people. One of the key ingredients in a strong and lasting friendship is comfort; the ability to be oneself, authentic, without judgment, and also knowing our friends are truly there for us.

 
This past Saturday, I spent the evening with a wonderful girlfriend, enjoying intimate conversation over beautiful food and wine, and all with great ease. Then, Sunday morning, I was fortunate to spend the morning with another close friend of mine, having breakfast and walking along the Rideau river, watching the spring ice flows. During our walk, I remarked to him just how nice it was to have such a comfortable friendship. Both of these friends left me with a real feeling of contentedness, and I left them with a jar full of the treat described below.

 
The recipe I am sharing this month is one that I would consider comfort food, for a few reasons. First, it is naturally sweet. Second, it is high in good fats. Third it is high in protein and fibre. Fourth, it smells wonderful when baked and fills your home with a hearty, nutty and spicy aroma. Fifth, it can be eaten plain or accompanied by a number of other comfort foods. Sixth, it can be easily shared with friends. And finally, and most importantly, it tastes delicious!

 

This month, I give you my recipe for homemade granola.

 

Notes:
• This recipe is also vegan and gluten-free.
• This recipe can be easily multiplied to make large batches which store well in air-tight containers.
• You can substitute or add other nuts, seeds and dried fruit as desired, but keep the ratio of oats to additional ingredients relatively the same.

 

Maple-Almond-Cranberry Granola

 
2 cups large-flake oats
½ cup chopped almonds
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8th teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons melted coconut oil (or avocado oil – this worked well in my latest experiment)
½ cup pure maple syrup
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

 

Directions:
-Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
-Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper.
-Mix dry ingredients in large bowl.
-Mix wet ingredients in small bowl and whisk until well combined. Pour into dry ingredients and mix well.
-Spread evenly onto cookie sheet.
-Bake until golden brown, approximately 35 minutes. Check every 10 minutes to prevent burning.
-Remove from oven and allow to cool and harden completely.
-Break up into desired size granola. Store in airtight containers or jars.
-Eat plain by the handful, or with milk, yogourt, ice cream, fruit compote, or any other way your creative mind desires!

granola pic

 

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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project <a href=”http://www.acanadianfoodie.com/the-canadian-food-experience-project/the-candian-food-experience-project/”>here</a&gt;.

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Maple – With a Side of Cin

Go big, or go home. I suggest that most activities in life are not worth participating in if you’re not going to give it your all. Hopefully, all that effort pays off in the form of some pleasure, either through the activity itself, its outcomes, or the sense of accomplishment. There’s not much in my life I engage in ‘half-assed’, and this month’s CFEP post is big in size, flavour and meaning, and also generally scores big on the pleasure-meter.

Maple season in Ontario is soon upon us, though the cold temperatures may stall or lessen production this year. Still, the sugar bushes are starting to advertise their annual activities, and I’m still recalling the lovely taste of maple taffy from Winterlude. Having moved to Eastern Ontario almost 4 years ago, I’ve learned a bit about maple syrup production and have been amazed at the complex extraction systems set up by some of the local producers.

When we moved to this area we bought a 120 year old house, which boasted two massive, centuries-old maple trees on the front lawn. Their lovely canopies provided expansive shade in summertime and were the impressive centerpieces of the surrounding flower beds. A couple of years ago, we actually tapped them and extracted some sap. Of course, the amount we obtained in our inexperience was hardly enough to produce much syrup in the end, but it was nonetheless tasty and a cool experiment. Unfortunately, those beautiful, mature trees had to come down the following summer for significant safety reasons and it was a mournful occasion indeed. We were glad we had gotten the opportunity to taste their exquisite delicacy. (As a side note, those trees provided an enormous quantity of firewood with which to heat our home as well as friends’.)

In honour of all the maple syrup producers of Eastern Ontario and Canada, and our fallen trees, I thought it appropriate to use local maple syrup as one of the ingredients in my recipe for this month.

Cinnamon is a very sensual and passionate spice: fiery and intense, but also sweet and comforting. It’s one of my favourite spices for a number of reasons, but ultimately, the scent and taste (and physical sensation, but I digress…) of cinnamon drives me a little wild. I’d proffer that there are few people that dislike cinnamon-sugar or maple syrup, and this month I combined the two with home-made pastry to make an undeniable crowd pleaser: buttery, delectable, sinful, giant maple-glazed cinnamon rolls.

I have to say that I shamelessly licked every last drop of the glaze from the pans before washing them. It is just too good to waste.

Giant Maple-Glazed Cinnamon Rolls

INGREDIENTS

Pastry
• 1 cup warm milk (110 degrees Fahrenheit)
• 2 eggs, room temperature
• 1/3 cup butter, melted
• 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• ½ cup white sugar
• 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast

Filling
• 1/3 cup butter (I used salted to give a touch of salty taste to the filling)
• 1 cup brown sugar, packed
• 2 ½ tablespoons cinnamon
• ¾ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Glaze
• 1 cup pure maple syrup
• ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
• 1 cup packed brown sugar
• ½ cup chopped, toasted walnuts (optional) for topping (do not add when cooking glaze)

INSTRUCTIONS

Add pastry ingredients in order listed into bread machine pan and set to ‘dough’ setting. Machine will mix and raise your dough for you.

If you do not have a bread machine or wish to make your pastry by hand, follow the next 5 steps:
1. Dissolve yeast in warm milk in a large bowl.
2. Mix in sugar, butter, salt and eggs.
3. Add flour and mix well.
4. With flour-dusted hands, knead the dough on floured countertop, forming into a large ball.
5. Place dough into greased bowl, cover with a towel, and allow it to rise in a warm, draft-free location for about 1.5 hours, or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, make the glaze. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter in maple syrup. Once melted, turn off heat and add sugar, stirring until completely dissolved.
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Pour mixture evenly into two 9×13 cake pans.

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After dough has risen, turn it out onto floured surface and allow to rest a further 10 minutes.
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Roll dough out into a large rectangle, until dough is about 1cm thick.

Combine sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl and brush dough with melted butter. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar liberally over dough. Sprinkle chopped walnuts evenly, if desired

Roll up dough from long side, as tightly as you can. Using a heavy, sharp knife, gently cut into 12-14 rolls, about ¾-1 inch thick. Place rolls in pans, on top of syrup mixture. Allow to rise in a warm, draft-free area for a further 30 minutes.

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Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place pans in oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and syrup is bubbling nicely. Immediately place a cookie sheet upside-down over the top of the pan and using oven mitts, quickly flip the pans over, so the cookie sheet becomes the bottom.

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Place on safe surface for 2 minutes to allow glaze to fall. Remove cake pans, and sprinkle tops of rolls with toasted walnuts if desired.

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Allow to cool only slightly, as these rolls are best eaten fresh and warm. If I were you, I wouldn’t let any of that precious glaze go to waste. It will harden on the pan quickly and become a sticky, gooey mess which, for some of us, makes it even more luscious. If you do choose to allow them to fully cool in order to transport them, the glaze will harden and make it easier to pack. They should be reheated in the oven at your destination for best results.

Enjoy this maple-cinnamon kiss!

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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project <a href=”http://www.acanadianfoodie.com/the-canadian-food-experience-project/the-candian-food-experience-project/”>here</a&gt;.