Balsamic Strawberries and Goat Cheese

Sweet Almond and Rosemary Goat Cheese Spread is one of my go-to appetizer recipes during the colder months. I think there’s a warmth I associate with the flavour of cinnamon that makes me use it only during months that end in “ber” or “ary” and I usually forget about this recipe over the summer. Until this year. We had a particularly hot summer and for most of June and July, I did everything I could not to turn on my oven. Dinner for us was usually some sort of salad or grilled veggies with grilled meat or fish.  One weekend, I found myself with a bit of goat cheese, a baguette, some strawberries and decided to create a summery version of our favourite appetizer spread. We had this for dinner with some salad greens and a leftover grilled sausage and it was delicious.

Summery Goat Cheese Spread with Balsamic Stawberries
Adapted from All Recipes and yours truly
yield: ~1 cup of spread

6-8 large strawberries
balsamic vinegar
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
1 tablespoon almonds, toasted and finely chopped
2 teaspoons honey
finely grated peel of 1/4 of a lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley or basil

Slice strawberries, toss with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar (~ 1 teaspoon) and set aside. Crumble the goat cheese into a small mixing bowl. Mix in almonds, honey, lemon peel, cinnamon and parsley or basil, saving a little of the herb to garnish. Mix well and spread on bread. Top with balsamic strawberries and a sprinkle of reserved parsley or basil.


A Cheesy Post

Our life is dairy free. Jeff is quite allergic to cow’s milk, so we steer clear of the stuff. Through trial and error (and google), I have come up with non dairy alternatives to most things, and Jeff now enjoys butter chicken, mac ‘n cheese, nachos, pizza and ice cream as a regular part of life. Finding a non-dairy alternative for soft ricotta or paneer, however, was a challenge… until I started making cheese from scratch. It took multiple attempts to finally get it right but my perseverance paid off because this stuff is just delicious.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
from… my own trial and error

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (1 lemon)
2 litres (8 cups) full fat goat milk

Juice the lemon (I usually zest it first and put the zest into bread or some other baking because I just can’t bear to see it go to waste!) and set aside. Pour all of the goat milk into a heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat. It should build a slow simmer so stir it gently to keep the bottom from scorching.

The second before the milk is about to froth over the side of the pot, remove it from the heat and immediately stir in the lemon juice. Set it aside to curdle quietly by itself. Leave it completely alone for 25 minutes minutes before you disturb it.

After 25 minutes of peace and solitude, pour the separated curds,whey and water into a strainer lined with cheese cloth or a loosely woven clean dish towel. Leave it alone to drain for about two hours. Once drained, the curds will have formed a lovely lump of soft ricotta. If you want your ricotta soft (i.e. on pasta, in lasagna, or as a dip), it’s now ready.

If you want a firmer ricotta (for ravioli filling, on pizza, in pancakes, on salad or sandwiches), continue draining. At this point, I replace the draining cloth with a dry one, and weigh down the cheese with a heavy object to help draw out the water. Leave for 1-2 more hours, depending on how firm you want your ricotta to be.
Ricotta, wrapped in a dry towel, and weighted down with  by a full container of margarine
There are two tricks to making perfect ricotta. The first is using fresh lemon juice. For some reason, bottled juice just doesn’t curdle milk as well, so go with the real stuff. The second is leaving the milk to curdle on it’s own, before straining it. Many recipes I have read suggest straining the milk immediately after pouring in the lemon juice, but it just does not work. If you leave the milk completely undisturbed to curdle, your cheese curds will be twice the size and you will have triple the amount!

For Paneer: 

Follow all the steps as above. Extend the second draining process overnight (I just throw the cheese along with whatever is weighing it down in the fridge overnight). The next day, you will have beautiful and firm paneer.

Coconut Goodness

We share a simple soup and bread supper once a week with the other families in our care group. It’s one of my favourite points of the week, and many really great conversations (with 2 year olds and 30-something year olds) have been shared around the table. It’s so good to have a place to belong, contribute and grow.

When there is a birthday, we venture away from our group value of simplicity and have cake. We really like cake. A few weeks ago I made pineapple chick cupcakes to celebrate the birthday of one of our youngest members and they were very excitedly received by the birthday boy. When another young member’s birthday was ready for celebration just after Easter, I decided to try out a recipe sent to me by my dear friend P (the same P I wrote about yesterday). Armed with this recipe, I  went to Google images for inspiration and came up with these.

They were a great hit, not just with the 2 year old birthday boy, but with everyone in our group. My search for dairy-free frosting options (that do not involve copious amounts of Cool Whip) has been a challenge and this is just delicious.

Dairy-Free Coconut Cupcakes
adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moscowitz
yield: 2 dozen cupcakes

1 can full fat coconut milk
soy or almond milk
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 F. Shake the can of coconut milk well; open and remove 1/4 cup. Set this aside for the frosting. Pour the remaining coconut milk into a 4 cup glass measure and add soy or almond milk to measure 2 cups. Mix in the oil and vanilla and stir well to combine.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until smooth. Fold in the unsweetened coconut. Fill muffin cups about two-thirds full and bake for 20 to 30 mins; the cupcakes should be slightly browned around the edges and spring back when touched. Cool completely before frosting. At this point, cupcakes can be frozen (and they freeze very well).

Coconut Frosting

1/4 cup nonhydrogenated margarine at room temperature
1/4 cup reserved coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1 cup unsweetened coconut (optional)

Cream the margarine until light and fluffy. Add the coconut milk and vanilla and mix well. Add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth. Add unsweetened coconut if you wish (I usually do not because we prefer smooth frosting) and refrigerate until ready to use.

Indian Food Part 2

Two weeks ago, I shared my recipe for non-dairy Butter Chicken. When I make Indian food, I usually make a curried meat, a curried vegetable and Basmati rice with peas. Our favourite curried vegetable dish is Aloo Gobi which is basically, curried cauliflower and potatoes with tomatoes and ginger. It’s a very common dish in India and Pakistan (with thousands of variations) and we love it.

Aloo Gobi (Curried Cauliflower and Potatoes)
adapted from All Recipes
serves 6

To cut down on cooking chaos, I usually pre-measure spices

 2 teaspoons oil (vegetable, grapeseed or olive)
½ onion, finely chopped
¼  teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon garam masalla
¼ teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon turmeric
Pinch dried red pepper flakes (optional)
3 roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
1 potato, diced into small cubes
1 head cauliflower, broken into small florets
½ teaspoon white sugar
salt to taste
½ cup of water
chopped cilantro

Heat oil over a medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until brown and slightly crisp. Toss in the mustard seeds; when they start to pop, add the garam masalla, coriander, cumin, turmeric and red pepper flakes.  Stir well to incorporate the spices into the oil. Add the chopped tomatoes and ginger, stirring well. Cook for about a minute, until tomatoes begin to soften. Add the potato, cauliflower, sugar and salt; stir well. Add the water and cover, cooking until the potatoes are cooked and the cauliflower tender yet crunchy, about 10 minutes. Stir well and serve garnished with chopped cilantro. 

Adding cauliflower to the spiced tomatoes
The completed meal: Aloo Gobi with Butter Chicken, Basmati rice with peas and naan bread



Indian Food Part 1

Indian food is tough for those who can’t have milk as it is laced with ghee (clarified butter) and cream. After some experimentation and recipe try-outs, I have come up with a dairy free version of Butter Chicken that’s just as good. My secret is coconut milk but don’t worry- you really can’t taste the coconut with everything else. While I want to remain humble, I have to say that it’s just delicious.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Chicken
adapted from my own trial and error  UPDATED December 2017
serves 6-8

2 Tablespoons oil (vegetable, grapeseed, olive or a mix)
1 onion, very thinly sliced into long slices
2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (or 7-8 boneless chicken thighs) chopped into small cubes

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 1/2 Tablespoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon garam masala

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 (14 oz) can coconut milk

1 (28 oz) can stewed, crushed tomatoes and 1 cup tomato sauce  (OR 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce, 2 Tablespoons tomato paste and 3/4 cup chicken broth)

3 tablespoons sugar

1 can of chick peas, drained and rinsed (optional)

chopped cilantro


Heat 1 Tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add onions, stir well and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook onions until they become brown and slightly crisp (~20 minutes). Remove from pan and set aside. Heat second Tablespoon of oil in the same pan. Add curry powder and garlic- cook 30 seconds over medium heat, stirring constantly. Add chicken, salt and pepper, tossing lightly to coat with curry oil. Cook for ~6 minutes or until chicken is lightly browned. Add whatever combination of tomato sauce/paste you are using along with the sugar, chick peas and coconut milk and stir well to combine. Bring to a boil then reduce to lowest heat, partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.  Add onions and cook for 10-20 minutes more. Serve garnished with chopped cilantro over steamed Basmati rice with naan bread and Aloo Gobi on the side. 

Chef Jeff sautéing chicken
Butter chicken served along with Aloo Gobi, Basmati rice with peas and naan bread


Breakfast of Champions

With a very busy December behind us and both of us fighting colds these days, it was clear Jeff and I needed a quiet weekend. I love quiet weekend mornings- ones without an agenda or schedule of things that need to be done- when we share a pot of tea and a stack of apple or blueberry pancakes.  Some of our best conversations happen over these quiet weekend breakfasts and after eating thousands of breakfasts all by myself, it’s nice to have company and conversation. Jeff says that the world simply looks better over pancakes.

Because most pancake mixes contain milk powder (along with a variety of other mystery ingredients), I make mine from scratch. The recipe is so simple I was not intending to share it here but for anyone looking for a non-dairy pancake, here’s our favourite.

Dairy-Free Pancakes
serves 2-3

Blueberry pancakes


1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 Tablespoons white sugar

1 cup soy or almond milk

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 apple, cored and finely grated OR

1 cup frozen blueberries

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl, mix the vanilla soy milk, egg, oil, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Pour the soy milk mixture into the bowl with the flour mixture, and whisk together until smooth. If making apple pancakes, fold in grated apple.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pour ¼ cupfuls of batter into the skillet.  If making blueberry pancakes, sprinkle berries over each pancake. Cook until bubbles form and burst on the surface. Flip and cook until golden brown on the second side.

Serve warm with your pancake topping of choice. I love them with Waterloo County maple syrup and fresh fruit.

Cherry Chocolate Cake

Jeff and I are so grateful to be part of a really vibrant small group. We meet with four other families every Thursday night for a simple supper, visit and bible study. When there is a birthday among us, we stretch our group value of simplicity to include cake.  Last week, I tried a new recipe from the Mennonite Girls Can Cook website that was a huge hit. It tasted amazing and with just three ingredients, was more simple than just about every other cake I’ve ever made. The cherries add something really delicious to the chocolate cake.

Cherry Chocolate Cake
recipes adapted from Mennonite Girls Can Cook  and All Recipes
serves 10+

1 chocolate cake mix
1 can cherry pie filling
2 eggs

Mix above ingredients (ignore what the cake mix box says to add) until they are well combined. The cherries will make the batter a little lumpy but don’t worry! Transfer to a 9 X 13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the cake tests done. Cook and frost with the following icing:

2 cups of whipping cream
1/4 cup icing sugar
1 cup cold milk
1 package chocolate instant pudding

Whip cream until thick and sift in icing sugar. In a separate bowl, mix pudding powder and milk until well combined (again, ignoring what the pudding box directions tell you to do!). Gently fold the whipped cream into the pudding and stir well to combine. Spread over cake and refrigerate until ready to serve.

** To make this dairy free, I substitute a container of cool whip for the whipping cream and omit the icing sugar.