Sunday, July 27, 2014

Product Review - Nairn's Oat Crackers and Cookies


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Nairn's oat crackers with cream cheese and a variety of toppings:
cucumber, green olives and chives, smoked chili pepper jelly,
Kalamata olives and basil, cranberries.


When Nairn's offered me a chance to review a variety of their line of Scottish oat crackers and cookies I immediately signed up!

I received a big box of seven of Nairn's products:
  • Roughly milled oat crackers
  • Cheese oat crackers
  • Organic oat crackers
  • Sunflower seed oat crackers
  • Stem ginger oat cookies
  • Dark chocolate chip oat cookies
  • Mixed berries biscuits oat cookies

What's in a name?

Don't go in thinking these are North American crackers. If you do, you'll be disappointed as they aren't  as crispy and snappy as a typical cracker. They are really somewhere between a cracker and a biscuit. My son noticed that on their website the crackers are called oatcakes. Now that made more sense. I wonder why they changed the name for the North America market? I wish they had kept the original name as it describes the product better but I'm sure their focus groups didn't agree with me!

Oatcakes are usually associated with Scotland and since I'm part Scottish (my grandmother and great-grandmother came from Dumfries, Scotland) I just had to give them another shot.

Pile it on!

They taste like....wait for it...oats! My favorites are the rough milled and the sunflower seed varieties - love the texture of each. If you want to eat them out of the box then I would recommend the cheese variety as otherwise they may be rather plain tasting. But that also makes them perfect for savory toppings and because these are nice and thick they can handle layers - think strong cheese, tuna, olives, chives, peanut butter, apples, hummus, cream cheese, smoked salmon, pepper jellies etc.

Kids will love them!

Once school starts up again I will be using them in my kids' lunch boxes. They get so tired of sandwiches but love it when I give them separate containers of crackers, spreads, cheeses, veggies, fruit, etc. that they can put together on their own. Nairn's oatcakes will be a perfect and healthier substitute for regular crackers. I think they will fill the kids up a bit more and give them a bit more energy compared to regular saltines.

Don't forget the cookies!

I loved the cookies! Perfect for dunking in tea or coffee. The chocolate cookies were my favorite - the little bits of dark chocolate were perfect little bites to satisfy my sweet tooth without being too sweet. I'm saving the stem ginger ones  to make a crust for a pumpkin cheesecake - I think it will make a great substitute for the graham crackers I normally use.

Overall

Pros:
  • wheat free (NOT gluten free though)
  • easy to grab and go for lunches/snacks  as there are 4 packs of 6 crackers in each box
  • vegetarian friendly
  • low GI
  • stand up to heavier toppings and flavors
  • contain fibre
  • no artificial colors, preservatives or flavors

Cons:
  • wish the packs had only 4 per pack as sometimes 6 is a bit too

I will definitely be buying more of these when my stash runs out!

For more info check out Nairn's sites:
Note: Nairn supplied me with product but all opinions are my own.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mashed Purple Potato Salad

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My 8 year old loves being in the kitchen. Last weekend he decided he wanted potato salad. We went to a farmer's market and he picked out some purple and yellow potatoes for his "creation". I usually prefer a vinaigrette type dressing on my potato salad but he was adamant that he wanted a creamy dressing. He also insisted on mashing them up vs chopped. Can't say he doesn't know what he wants! He added celery and some green onions. The dressing was a combo of reduced calorie miracle whip (you could use mayo), mustard, relish and some extra vinegar for some "zip". I gotta be honest - I wasn't convinced I was going to like it - instead I LOVED it! Not only did it taste amazing, the purple potatoes added a fantastic blast of colour. I made some one eyed purple people eater comment but obviously that song is lost on the 8 yr old set!


You can peel the potatoes ahead of time if you want but I usually just peel them after they are cooked - it's easier as long as your fingers aren't too sensitive to the heat or you have patience to wait till they cool. About 2 lbs of potatoes in total is about what you need. Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

Ingredients

6 purple potatoes, large dice
4 yellow potatoes, large dice
1/2 c miracle whip
1/4 c honey dijon mustard
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 heaping tbsp green relish
1/2 tsp garlic powder
3 stalks celery, diced
3 green onions, chopped
pepper and salt to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, add potatoes (and salt if desired) and cover with cold water. 
  2. Bring to a boil and cook until tender - about 10-15 after reaching a boil.
  3. Drain potatoes, peel if not already done.
  4. Add to large bowl.
  5. Add onions and celery.
  6. In a small bowl, combine miracle whip, mustard, vinegar, relish, and garlic powder.
  7. Add to potatoes and mash together.
  8. You can mash as much or as little as you  want. We left some good size chunks for texture. 
  9. Cool in fridge.
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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Oh the Irony Smoothie

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My 8 year old has low iron so in addition to iron supplements, we've been trying to increase iron rich foods in his diet. He's not a big meat eater so it's not exactly an easy task!

I had to laugh last night when he bounded down the stairs to tell me that I just had to buy him Fruit Loops! Now he knows that type of cereal is usually only allowed on his birthday but he insisted I should buy a box to improve his iron levels! Turns out a serving of Fruit Loops contains 50% of a person's daily iron need....seriously.

I'm still not convinced that everything else in it outweighs it's iron profile...but I have to give props to my son for reading the labels at the store!

This smoothie not only offers a couple servings of fruit for him, it has extra iron. Did you know pumpkin seeds are a good source of iron? Neither did I until a friend told me so as she dropped off a jar of pumpkin seed butter on my desk! One 2 tbsp serving gives you 30% of your daily recommended iron intake (this varies depending on brand). Prune juice also has quite a bit of iron so this smoothie has a double hit. I added orange juice as Vitamin C increases the body's ability to absorb iron (btw calcium decreases it).

I would love to hear from any parents or bloggers in similar circumstances and what iron rich food recipes you're using!

Makes 1 large or 2 small smoothies

Ingredients

1/2 c prune juice
3/4 c orange juice
1/2 banana (preferably frozen)
1 tbsp honey
2/3 c frozen blueberries
1 heaping tbsp pumpkin seed butter

Instructions

Blend everything together for 1 minute.
If too thick add a bit more juice until desired consistency is reached.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Refrigerator Raisin Bran Muffins



Versions of this recipe have been around for decades. The great thing about it is you can keep the batter in your fridge and bake up a fresh batch in the mornings for breakfast or after school for snacks. I've read you can keep it for up to 6 weeks! 

While I haven't tested that, I doubt they'd last that long just because they are sooo delicious and moist! To be honest, I usually bake up the whole batch and throw them in the freezer so we can grab these muffins anytime we're running out the door. They don't take long to thaw and are much healthier than a store bought muffin or processed snack.

This recipe is also pretty forgiving in terms of ingredients...if you don't have bran flakes, use bran buds or fibre cereal. If you don't have whole wheat pastry flour you can substitute all purpose (though you'll lose some fibre content). The batter will also thicken as it stands so if you do keep it in the fridge expect it to go from almost liquid to very thick. Finally, sometimes I make these in mini muffin tins - they take about 12-15 minutes to bake. 

This recipe will make about 4 dozen muffins! If you use dark colored muffin tins you might want to reduce your oven temperature to 350 degrees or watch carefully as they may brown a bit faster than a normal tin.

Ingredients

2 c boiling water
2 c wheat bran
2 c raisins
3 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 tbsp cinnamon
3 tbsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1-1/2 c all purpose flour
1/2 c wheat germ
4 eggs
1-1/2 c brown sugar
1 c vegetable oil
1/4 c molasses
4 c buttermilk
4 c bran flakes

Instructions


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray muffins tins with baking spray.
  2. In medium bowl, add bran and raisins. Carefully add boiling water over them.
  3. In a very big bowl whisk the eggs.
  4. Whisk in the brown sugar.
  5. Add the oil, molasses, and buttermilk. Whisk until well combined.
  6. In another large bowl, whisk flours, wheat germ, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
  7. Add the flour mixture to the buttermilk bowl. Gently whisk together. It will look lumpy but will come together. It will be very liquidy!
  8. Stir in the bran mixture.
  9. Add the bran flakes and combine. It will look very wet.
  10. Fill muffins tins 2/3 full.
  11. Bake for 20-25 minutes.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Chickpea Ramen Noodle Salad




When I first moved out on my own, I was, like so many other students, broke...all the time. I remember having money to pay my rent but only enough left over to eat rice cakes and yogourt...for a month! When I had a bit more money I added instant ramen noodles to my grocery list! lol My roommates and I became masters of 101 ways to eat them - raw, as per the package,  with frozen peas, with ketchup (don't judge!) and sometimes with hamburger and tomato sauce (gourmet!). 

Fast forward a couple of decades and you'll still see the occasional package of these noodles in my pantry. My 8 yr old son loves them! When we ran out of croutons the other night, he suggested we add them to our salad...they were actually pretty good! 

To make the dressing mix together 1/2 cup sherry vinegar, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 heaping tablespoon of mustard along with a dash of salt and pepper. Store in the fridge.

Ingredients

1/3 cup salted roasted almonds
1 package instant ramen noodles
1 cup chickpeas
1 handful basil
1/2 small red onions, diced
6 cups arugula or spinach, washed and dried
1 red pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced

Dressing
2-3 tbsp maple vinaigrette - just enough to lightly coat salad

Instructions

Toss everything except dressing in a large bowl.
Add dressing and toss again.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lemon Curd Shortbread Tartlets

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Lemons. Funny that something so mouth puckering is also the thing that holds smiles and memories. Childhood lemonade stands. Adult lemonade and vodkas. Summertime lemon meringue pie. Late night lemon chicken takeout. Even just the smell of lemons is refreshing. And, seriously, what's better than watching a toddler's first bite of a lemon!



These little bites of happiness won't make you pucker quite like those adorable toddlers but they will satisfy your intense desire for a zingy-tangy-sweet dessert. The shortbread base brings it all together in a finger food style dessert. And really, any sweet treat that you can eat with your hands is already on its way to being a winner in my book!

Lemon Curd Shortbread Tartlets


Lemon Curd (adapted from Fine Cooking)


Ingredients

3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest

Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, beat the butter for a minute.
  2. Add the white sugar and beat for another two minutes until smooth.
  3. Slowly add the eggs and yolks. Beat for one minute more.
  4. Add the lemon juice and mix. Note: The mixture will look ridiculously curdled, but as you cook it, it will all come together!
  5. In a medium saucepan, cook the lemon mixture over low heat. As the mixture heats up and the butter melts you’ll see the mixture smooth and lost its curdled appearance.
  6. Turn up the heat to medium.
  7. Stir! Stir! Stir! And stir a bit more until the lemon curd starts to thicken and reaches 170 degrees F. You do not want to bring it to a boil!
  8. Remove the curd from the heat; add in the lemon zest.
  9. Place the curd in a bowl and press plastic wrap on the surface of it. Cool in the fridge. It will continue to thicken as it cools. It should last about a week.

Shortbread Cookie Cups

Ingredients

1 cup  salted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' or icing sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tsp vanilla powder (if available otherwise omit)
2 cups all purpose flour

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Lightly spray or grease 24 mini cupcake pan.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the butter for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the sugar and beat for an additional minute.
  4. Add the vanillas and mix in.
  5. Carefully beat in the flour until it comes together in a smooth ball.
  6. Place a generous tablespoon or so of dough into each mini muffin tin. Using your fingers, mold the dough into a cup ensuring it goes up the side of the tin.
  7. Use a fork to prick the dough all over; this allows any steam to escape, and prevents the shortbread from bubbling as it bakes.
  8. Bake the shortbread until it's a light golden brown across the top surface, and a deeper golden brown around the edges, about 15- 20 minutes.
  9. Remove it from the oven. You’ll notice that the shortbread doesn’t look like a cup! So using a spoon or a mini cookie dough scooper, press into the dough to make a cup shape.
  10. Cool completely.

Assembly

  1. Carefully remove the shortbread cups from the pan and place on flat surface.
  2. Add a heaping tablespoon of lemon curd to each cookie cup.
  3. If desired, use a sieve to sprinkle a little bit of icing sugar over the lemon curd shortbread cup just before serving.
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See how they are all puffed up? We have to make them look more like a cup to hold the curd.


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Use a cookie scoop or spoon to press down on the baked tartlets to make a large indentation.


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Perfect.


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Heat but do not boil. The initial mixture will look a bit curdled
but it all comes together with a little heat.

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Pour into a container and stir in the zest.


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The mixture will thicken like this.


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Remove the cups and place on serving platter.


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Add a tablespoon or so of lemon curd.


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Repeat until all cups are filled.


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Just before serving dust with icing sugar.

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Yum.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Easy Strawberry Vanilla Freezer Jam

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Don't fill your jars this high! Leave about an inch of space at the top of your jars.

Strawberry season is here in British Columbia! I haven't been to a u-pick strawberry field in years but would love to take the kids to one this year...I think it should be a rite of passage for every child :) And then, of course, I'd put them to work making freezer jam! As I've said before I prefer freezer jam over traditional jam making because the boiling, sealing etc etc scares me ... though I have friends that insist it's not that hard. I'm sure they're right but freezer jam is sooooo easy - crush, mix, pour, repeat! And it take less than 45 minutes to finish the whole process.

Last weekend we made this strawberry vanilla freezer jam but I could have just as easily called it strawberry lemon freezer jam. The vanilla isn't really discernible but it does add an almost secret layer of flavour to the strawberries. The lemon zest on the other-hand is absolutely noticeable! The combination of strawberries and citrus is perfect and makes for jam that tastes incredibly fresh, light and flavourful. My son said this is the best jam he's ever had and asked if he could skip the toast and just drink the jam! Yes, it's that good.

Ingredients

4 c strawberries, crushed (pulse in a food processor)
1-1/2 c sugar
1 package (45 g) freezer pectin
zest of 1 large lemon (2-3 tsp)
1 tsp pure vanilla

What to do

  1. Stir sugar, zest and pectin in a large bowl.
  2. Add crushed strawberries and vanilla.
  3. Stir for 3 minutes.
  4. Spoon into 5 250ml preserving jars stopping about an inch from the top of the jar.
  5. Wipe clean and add lid and ring. Close tightly.
  6. Let sit for 30 minutes so it thickens.

Refrigerate - will last up to 3 weeks otherwise freeze for longer storage.


Try these other easy freezer jams!