Sunday

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins


I make these muffins about 5 times every year... in rapid succession, every October. They're so good! Delicately spiced, pillowy and moist on the inside, with a crisp top, and loaded with pure pumpkin... everything I want in an autumn muffin.

Here's a copy of my recipe (let me know if you can't read it, and I'll get around to actually typing it out)...







Super simple, crazy delicious three-ingredient Nutella brownies


The title of this post really does say it all....

These little brownies take a whole of about 5 minutes to whip up, and they are SO GOOD! 
Not too sweet, with crisp crinkly edges and a rich fudgey interior. 
And the best part of all is that they're really not all that bad for you. They're made of whole eggs, nutella and ground almonds. That's it! 
They're flourless and gluten-free as well, though you would never know it.


Ingredients:
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup Nutella 
  • 1/2 cup ground whole almonds (almond meal) *see note below

Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line the bottom of an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper.
  2. Using an electric mixer (or by hand with a whisk), beat the eggs until they are pale and frothy and have approximately doubled in volume (about 5 minutes, on med-high speed)
  3. Meanwhile, measure out 1 cup of nutella in a glass measuring cup and microwave on high power for 1 minute.
  4. With the mixer running on medium speed, slowly drizzle in the warm nutella until just combined. Then mix in the ground almonds.
  5. Poor the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-22 minutes (the centre should be set).
  6. Allow the brownies to cool completely in their pan before slicing into squares.

Enjoy! These won't last long at all!



* These can actually be made as Two-ingredient brownies, with just the eggs and nutella. However, I find that the texture is a million times better with the ground almonds. I haven't tried it, but I imagine that ground hazelnuts would be especially good as a substitute for the almonds.

Monday

Modern Day Spiced Shortbread Cookies (that melt in your mouth and put a spark in your step)

Spiced shortbread cookies

Shortbread is my thing. It has always been my thing.
Hand me a platter of Christmas cookies, and I'll always choose the plain old shortbread. It's just the best.

Shortbread's perfection lies in its simplicity. Well, that's not entirely true... who are we kidding? It's perfection lies in it's butter content.

Every year around this time, I start baking shortbread. I revisit favourite old recipes (like this one and this one), and I always try a few new ones too... just to make sure I'm not missing out on anything spectacular.

There are literally millions of shortbread recipes out there... some make a crispier, snappier cookie (typically made with rice flour), others have more of a sandy texture (the French sablés), while others are softer, more melt-in-your-mouth kind of thing (typically made with cornstarch). And you know what? I love them all. I truly do. Give me a coffee and a shortbread cookie and some lightly falling snow, and I will have had a good day.


Modern day spiced shortbread cookies

This year I decided to shake things up a bit. I wanted to make a spiced shortbread, but not with your traditional holiday spices... because that's old and boring and overdone at Christmas. I wanted to modernize things.

So I used a reliable (and fantastic) shortbread recipe as a base (from San Francisco's Tartine bakery), and I threw at it a bold mix of new holiday spices (cardamom, lots of freshly ground black pepper, ginger & cinnamon)... and the results were otherworldly!

How to describe them?
Imagine a traditional Scottish shortbread lass marrying a classic gingerbread man, and them having a rebellious lovechild who refused to conform, and who always challenged the status quo. That's this cookie. It's dramatic like that ;)

These shortbread cookies are delicately soft and melt in your mouth. They are spiced just enough.... enough to excite your palate and spark your brain to try and decipher the unique blend of flavours, but not overly spiced so as to drown out that fundamental buttery goodness that makes shortbread, well shortbread.

Modern day spiced shortbread cookies

So yes, you need to make these. Come on, there's one week left until Christmas. You got this!

And if you already have a favourite shortbread recipe that you are loyal to and don't feel like betraying, then I'd encourage you to try adding this spice blend to them. It'll blow your mind :)

Read on for the details....


Friday

A few of my favourite online recipes


There are billions of free recipes available online, literally at the tips of our fingers, whenever and wherever we want. And that is simply extraordinary.
But it is also incredibly overwhelming.

How do you know if you can trust an online recipe? How do you know if it's actually been tested? If it will actually be as good as it claims?

Well, obviously, start by using trusted websites (Smitten Kitchen is my all-time favourite because she really tests her recipes before posting them). And when you use larger sites like Epicuious, Food.com, or Allrecipes, take the time to read some of the readers comments; they can be so helpful. And finally, be weary of huge mega-sites that mass-produce recipes just for the sake of turning out new content 5 times a day. It's quality not quantity.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share a few of my favourite go-to recipes from around the web. The ones I keep going back to and making over and over again because they are so good, or so easy and so good.
I would love to hear yours as well, so leave a link to them in the comments section if you feel like sharing :)

  • Perfect Cornmeal Muffins from Smitten Kitchen - these are just outrageously good. I've probably made them 10-12 times already. I'll never look for another cornbread recipe again.
  • Avocado Kale Salad from Design for Mankind. This incredibly healthy kale salad is made utterly delicious by massaging chopped avocado and mustard into raw kale leaves.... which completely transforms them. The trick is to chop the kale really small and make sure to remove all the thick stems and veins first.
  • Ottolenghi's basic Hummus - you can buy great hummus everywhere, but if you're going to make your own, this is the one to make. Surprisingly, it doesn't contain any oil at all, and it is still the creamiest hummus out there.
  • Coconut Red Lentil Soup by 101 Cookbooks - this is my all-time favourite soup, in the history of the entire world! Dramatic? Perhaps. But it's a really good soup :)
  • Dijon Rosemary Glazed Racks of Lamb - I don't cook a lot of meat, but this is one of the dishes I do cook on the rare occasion, and it is amazing.
  • Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread - the original recipe that propelled me (and much of the world)  into a frenzy of bread-making, that persists to this day.
  • The Best Chocolate Cake by Add a Pinch (whenever I need to bake a birthday cake for someone), equally rivalled by Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Sheet Cake (for when I need to feed a crowd).
  • Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies - there are a lot of cookie recipes out there claiming to be the best. Rest assured, these ones are the ones! Make the dough, form them into balls and then freeze them. Store the unbaked balls in a ziplock bag in your freezer and bake a few up fresh - straight from the freezer - whenever you have company (or for yourself) for the most amazing dessert ever!

virtual reality check


Hello there world, it has been a really, really long time.

I can't quite seem to get around to blogging anymore, and I'm not entirely sure why....
Yes I'm busy... as a mother of two, preparing for my return to a career as a family physician. Life is very, very full.
But I've always been busy. I've always managed to (over)fill my time one way or another, regardless of how many babies I have around me. So I don't think that's the real reason.
No. The blogging world has changed a lot over the years. And I'm not sure it's really for me anymore. I wish I had more time to blog, as I truly did (and do) love it. But I can't seem to make it a priority these days. Truth be told, maybe I've just outgrown it.
Or maybe it's the ease and immediacy of sharing on other forms of social media (I'm looking at you, Instagram), that makes blogging seem like so much more effort. It is infinitely faster to share a quick photo than to craft and edit an entire blog post.

But I can't say goodbye-forever just yet. I've been doing this long enough to suspect I might get another wave of blogging enthusiasm in the future, or come across a recipe that is simply too good not to share.
So until then....

Lots of love,
Vanessa.
(and ya, I'm still very active on instagram, so please follow along and stay in touch!)

Wednesday

Make your own Pho - it's easy, pho real!!


Pho, if you don't know, is a delicious Vietnamese noodle soup (also known as Tonkinese soup). I don't know if it's popular in every big city, but it's pretty huge here in Montreal.
It's served in wonderfully oversized bowls and topped with generous handfuls of fresh herbs and lime.  We lived off the stuff during our medical training - it is deeply satisfying.


And it turns out, really good Pho is actually really easy to make at home.
You'll need to buy some cinnamon sticks, star anise & fish sauce to make that authentic tasting complex flavoured broth. But it is so worth it!

Read on for the recipe...

Monday

On taking care of yourself, and the six-month wake-up call.


Noah hit the 6 month mark the other week. And that's HUGE for a mother. I did it! I survived the hardest part. Hooray, hoorah.
He can sit, he can eat, he can sleep, he can be entertained by his brother. It's great. Honestly, it's great.

and how cute, right?!

But, on the other hand, this 6 month mark came as a slap to the face.

I have no more excuses.

I've been on maternity leave for six whole months now. Six months!
I should probably be taking better care of myself by now.
I still spend most of the day in my pyjamas. Most days I shower, but not all.

And my body. Ugh! my poor, exhausted body - how I've neglected you. Two pregnancies and two deliveries later, things aren't the way they used to be.
It's funny how you can slim down to your pre-pregnancy clothes size, but nothing's the same at all. It's all loose skin and stretched out muscles. It's permanently hunched shoulders from midnight breastfeeding, and odd-looking gigantic arm muscles from carrying oversized babies all day long. It's skipped meals and too much late night snacking.
And why oh why can't I get my shit together and finally do some real exercise?!

And my brain. My poor, depreciated brain! I was a doctor once, right? Wasn't I?
I can't go back to work! Not like this. I don't remember anything!
And why oh why can't I get my shit together and finally pick up a medical journal from that mile-high dusty pile at my bedside?!

It's not like I don't have any free time.
I waste plenty of time zoned out on the computer. And I bake pies, for crying out loud! I definitely do not need to be baking pies. Or cakes, or cookies... ok I admit it, I'm a compulsive baking procrastinator.

But being a mother of two is insanely hard. And utterly exhausting. It is. It's true.
And it's the excuse I tell myself every day for not picking up that medical journal and for not exercising.

But the reality is that this is the life I chose for myself (I didn't exactly have two kids by accident). And so, this is the life I have to continue living.
And if I'm not taking care of myself now, when is that supposed to change?
I mean, it's not really going to get all that easier any time soon (maybe it gets easier when your kids are school-aged, but that's still years away. And then there will be new challenges, and new excuses).
I know deep down that I just need to get my priorities straight.

I'm not berating myself here. I've accomplished a lot in these past 6 months. I have a wonderfully chubby adorable baby to show for it, and a sharply intelligent, well-adjusted two-and-a-half year old. I still manage to cook great meals for my family on most days. I bake pies and fresh bread! I find time to play individually with both of my boys and to teach them all about this world and this life.
These are all very important things, and as a mother, I am proud of my accomplishments.

But I also know that there are other parts of me, parts of me that pre-dated motherhood. Parts that are being severely ignored. And it's time I started taking better care of myself, the individual, again.
Because if not now, then when?

So this is my 6-month wake up call.

I am halfway done my luxurious year-long maternity leave. This leaves me the next 6 months to whip my brain back into shape before I have to function as a doctor again. And it's high time I  got physically back in shape again too. I'm not talking about being skinny (because apparently you can be skinny and still be terribly out of shape). It's about being fit and leading an active lifestyle. Because being active every day is the single most important thing you can do for your health.
And while I realize this is thinking way in the future, but I have two incredibly beautiful boys now, and I want to be a witness to their evolving lives for as long as I possibly can!


Tuesday

My favourite way to eat leftover rice is for breakfast!


Being home alone all day with a baby does not make for the most inspiring cooking circumstances.

For one, cooking a meal for yourself takes significant motivation (because, let's face it, snacking directly from the fridge all day long is just so much easier!). And two, who has the time?!

But when I do take the time to prepare myself a decent meal (i.e., put something on an actual plate and eat it at the table like a respectable person), well I am always so happy that I did.

And this meal (the one I'm about to encourage you to try) is one of my favourites to make when I'm flying solo. Because it's simple, it's quick (like 3 minutes quick), and it's downright delicious.
All you really need is some leftover rice, which you press into the bottom of a frying pan until it sticks together and turns magnificently crispy, and an egg. Oh and sriracha! The Sriracha is essential. You could use any leftover grain really. I've done it with farro and quinoa too, and it was wonderful.


I'm not really sure what to call it, and I'm not quite sure if it should be classified as breakfast or lunch (probably brunch).... but let's call it Crispy rice pancake & eggs, and here's how you do it....

Crispy Rice Pancake & Eggs for One
  1. In a small frying pan, heat up a little olive oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Scoop a generous 1/2 cup leftover rice into the pan (pictured above is a blend of short grain brown & wild rice), and press it down and out into a thin even layer (using the back of a spoon or spatula). Keep gently pressing down all over (but don't stir it) for a few minutes until you hear it crackling and the bottom is turning golden.
  3. Gently crack one or two eggs on top, cover, and turn down the heat to med-low. Leave it like this until all the egg white has turned opaque. But don't overcook it, as you want to keep the yolk runny!
  4. Gently slide/push it onto a plate using a spatula (it should come off essentially intact - but don't try to lift it as it will likely fall apart). 
  5. Season with salt & pepper and Sriracha (or other hot sauce). If you have it, it tastes wonderful with fresh cilantro leaves and a tiny squeeze of fresh lime juice. Enjoy!

Friday

Recent Favourite things (family edition)....


Here's a little list of what we are currently loving these days, according to each member of the family...

Noah (6 months): So while Noah is still a bit young, he does have a few favourite things...
  • this teething necklace (even though he's not actively teething yet)
  • Eating sweet potato out of one of those mesh feeder bags
  • Being carried around in my new Didymos baby wrap (see below)
  • This Oball rattle is probably his favourite toy
  • watching his big brother run around and be his crazy self

Zachary (32 months):
  • Favourite books: Room on the Broom & The Snail and the Whale (anything Julia Donaldson writes is gold)
  • Homemade green smoothie pops (we use these adorable round mini pop molds). And going out for ice cream.
  • Riding his bike (with training wheels) around our basement, and riding his mini four-wheeler around our backyard. 
  • Doing anything his little brother is doing, like wanting to be worn in the baby carrier, wanting to sit in Noah's high chair, or to lie in his crib (Regression? We're definitely going through another phase of jealousy now that Noah is more interactive and playing with Zac's old baby toys). 
  • Barilla Plus pasta - I bought these accidentally the first time, and when I got home I was delighted to discover that these standard looking noodles are made from a blend of grain & legume flours (lentil, chickpea, oat & wheat) so they are high in protein and fibre. And they taste pretty close to regular pasta too. Zachary can't tell the difference anyway! I feel so much better about serving him pasta for dinner now! 


Adrien: So my wonderful husband is probably the most un-materialistic person I know. In fact, he hates "stuff"! But I did manage to think of a few of his current favourites...
  • Marrakesh Mint Tea - one sip of this delicious tea instantly transports us back to our time in Morocco... when we didn't have kids and life was so simple!
  • Apple Music -  we signed up for that 3 month free trial and we have been really enjoying it, especially Adrien. I love the curated playlists.
  • screen-printed T-shirts from this local Montreal artist
  • Charcoal grilling! We bought our fist ever barbecue this summer and Adrien has been channelling his inner Bobby Flay every weekend. He's becoming quite the grill-master.

Vanessa:
  • My woven baby wrap is definitely my new favourite item. After I attended a baby-wearing workshop, I was sold on purchasing a beautiful & ethically made woven wrap. I still love my sakura bloom ring sling and my ergo carrier, but there is something magical about these woven wraps - I have no clue what it is - but I LOVE using it. 
  • Green Kitchen Travels Cookbook - I have been cooking from this cookbook all summer and it is so good!
  • High rise jeans + a slightly cropped top = my go-to summer outfit
  • Guilty pleasure: a handful of frozen milk chocolate Chippits straight from the freezer (why are they so much better frozen?!)
  • doyogawithme.com - this website offers FREE yoga classes for all levels (Also, that 7-minute workout app?!! I hate-love it!).

What are your recent favourites?

Saturday

Healthy (Black Bean!) Chocolate Cake... Oh and it's gluten-free too

Healthy Chocolate Bean Cake

"This cake would be amazing even if I didn't know it was made out of beans", says my husband, after his second slice.

Meaning, it is truly delicious (and not just delicious for a "healthy dessert"). It tastes as decadent and as indulgent as any "normal" chocolate cake... only it isn't much of an indulgence at all. This cake is mainly made out of highly nutritious black beans - as odd as that sounds. The beans give the cake a wonderfully moist and fudge-y texture.

I was inspired to make this cake for my sweet-toothed toddler - as a way to sneak in some extra protein via the beans. I wasn't expecting to like it very much myself - but I LOVED it!
This cake is gluten-free too, as it contains no flour at all. It's sweetened with pure maple syrup and semi-sweet chocolate. And it's fantastic!

Healthy Chocolate Bean Cake



Read on for the recipe....

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