Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

Blueberries have to be one of my favorite summer fruits to snack on. I have fond memories of them growing up.  A few of them are of my family going out with ice-cream buckets to a field of blueberries, who knows where, and collecting them. One for the bucket, one for me, one for the bucket, two for me. I’m actually surprised any got in the bucket. I can’t even remember what we did with the blueberries after we picked them. I do remember my Mom made a lot of jam when I was growing up, so perhaps it went into blueberry jam.

The most common memory though was of sweat dripping down my forehead while hiking up local mountains on hot summer days, and spotting the bushes along the trail. What better excuse to stop our journey then to snack on luscious blueberries then the berry that looks as though it’s frosted in a light coating of ice and melts like ice in your mouth oozing that wonderful blueberry flavour.

When I moved to the island I discovered that blueberry bushes were not all that common. In fact Victoria was covered in blackberry bushes. I found a new love, but still have a sweet spot for the first berry that was so abundant in Northern BC.

A coworker of mine bought a large box or crate of blueberries from a nearby farm and shared some with me. I love blueberries, but other than throwing them in muffins or pancakes I’m at a bit of loss of what to do with them. Thinking I’d find some sort of blueberry cake pudding to convert into a gluten free recipe, I searched the net and was sold on the first blueberry recipe I came across. Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake bars.

Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars
-Adapted from Readers Digest

2 cups Almond Flour
½ cup shredded unsweetened Coconut
¼ teaspoon Baking Powder
¼ teaspoon Baking Soda
¼ teaspoon Salt
2 tablespoons melted Margarine
2 tablespoons Grape Oil
1/3 cup Sugar
1 large Egg
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1-½ bars of Cream Cheese (375g)
½ cup Sugar
1 tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
2 Eggs
Zest of one Lemon
1 ½ teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3 cups Blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and spray a 9x13 glass-baking dish with Pam (or oil or butter). To make the crust mix all of the liquid ingredients in a blender (margarine, oil, egg, vanilla extract) and sugar until well mixed. Then add in dry ingredients (almond flour, coconut, baking soda, baking powder and salt) until thoroughly combined. Transfer to baking dish with spatula and smooth out to make a base crust for your cheesecake bars. Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes. While the crust is baking blend together cream cheese, sugar, arrowroot powder (mix in a bit of water first and pour in as a liquid so it doesn’t get clumpy), lemon zest and vanilla extract. You can use the left over lemon and make homemade lemonade!

Once the crust is slightly golden and puffed up a bit remove from the oven. Place blueberries on the crust and then pour the cream cheese topping evenly over the blueberries. Return baking dish to the oven for 35-40 minutes until cheesecake has set. Cool completely before cutting and store in the fridge for up to 4 days or in the freezer for one month.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

North Coast Trail

Thinking of hiking the North Coast Trail? Don’t.  Of course now that I’m a few days away from the trail it doesn’t seem all that bad, but I distinctly remember crying on several occasions because I was so tired and frustrated with the trail. It would be far more advantageous to pay for a water taxi to drop you off at one of the many gorgeous beaches and camp there instead of paying a water taxi to drop you off at the trail to the many gorgeous beaches and torture yourself for 8 hours trying to get to one of them.

The idea of the trail is great, but it needs work. Our group started off after it had been dry for 3 weeks straight and it was a mud pit hell hole.  We heard afterwards that it can be far worse and it’s hard to imagine.  Most of my pictures make the place look gorgeous, because it is but also because I didn’t have the energy to take pictures when I was angry at the trail. My boyfriend yelled out “This is not a trail!!” at the top of his longs on one day. On another day I came up with catchy facebook statuses that I never ended up using … such as “If you need arrows to point you in the direction of the trail because you can’t tell the difference between the trail and the rest of the forest, perhaps it’s not a trail?” and “What’s the difference between bushwhacking and the North Coast Trail? Bushwhacking is free!”

The first three or four days of our 7-day trip were hell. The first few days were very technical and always took far longer then the map suggested it should take. The first day suggested it should take 4-5 hours and it took 8. There was a lot of up and down and up and down, ropes and huge logs with steps that were difficult for me to take and I’m a tall person. The fourth day was entirely beach walk, which is not hard at all, but it was all cobble stone beaches that make your ankles roll back and fourth constantly. It’s very hard on your feet, especially for 8 hours straight.

Once we got half way to Laura Creek the trail began to improve greatly and the suggested times were actually accurate and the time spent hiking was much more enjoyable. I’m glad to say that I hiked the trail along with a day trip to the Cape Scott Lighthouse on our last full day (78km all together) but it won’t be on my list of things to repeat unless there are substantial changes to the trail.

Other then the hell days of hiking, the actual destinations each day were amazing. The beaches are white sand and the sunsets were gorgeous. The company of friends and the beauty of our surroundings helped me make it through the trip.

One of the things that I had troubles with was coming up with a Celiac friendly menu for 7 days. That’s a lot of food with no conveniences like microwaves, toasters and fridges. Backpacks are not known for being bread friendly and I’m not big on gluten free bread anyways. So what do you pack for a big trip like this? I packed glutino cereal bars (cherry my new fav flavour) and glutenfreeda oatmeal for breakfasts. Lunches consisted of dried apricots, gluten free pepperoni sticks, aged cheddar cheese, and homemade nuts-online trail mix. Dinners were all dehydrated meals that I had made and then dehydrated myself. We ate well! We had beef stew with quinoa, spaghetti and meat sauce, butter chicken and rice, chili, peanut Thai-chicken and rice, and potato leak salmon soup. The only thing that was missing was dessert but I just ran out of time to prepare it all.  Oh and I had a snack bag of ‘power’ bars … I quote power because gluten free bars don’t seem to pack the same punch as your standard ‘cliff’ bar for hiking, but there are a few out there that come close. I packed Larabars, Elev-8-Me bars, Oskri coconut bars and Kind bars. The only thing I would do differently next time is cut down on the amount of power bars, trail mix and cheese I brought as food tends to be one of the heavies components of a pack. What types of back packing trips have you gone on and what do you bring? 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cake Decorating and Banana Cake

I feel as though I should apologize for my lack of blogging these days. It’s not that I don’t want to blog … I love it. It’s just the unpredictability of life and being super busy this summer combined with the very slow and painful death of my computer. It would take my computer 20 minutes just to turn on, never mind load another webpage. Simple tasks that should take a maximum of 3 minutes, such as checking ones email, took at least half an hour.  Don’t even get me started on how long it took to edit photos and write a blog. I began to loathe that hourglass symbol turning over and over and over again. Endless was its torment.

I would like to say that everything has changed and I will be back to blogging on a more regular basis, but I don’t think that will happen quite yet. I have fixed the computer problem by purchasing a Mac book pro, which is super fast, efficient and just plane amazing. But I still have a busy summer ahead. Last weekend I spent several days on Hornby Island enjoying the beaches, neat rock formations, lavender lemonade and open air rock concerts. This weekend my friends and I are hiking the North Coast Trail for about 7 days.  Next is toobing the Cowichan River followed by Cirque Du Soleil. My evenings have been spent recouping from busy workdays and prepping for camping/hiking trips. It takes time to cook and dehydrate a weeks worth of dinners for large hiking trips.

In amongst hiking trips, biking trips and visiting with friends and family over the past month or so, I have also been fitting in a cake-decorating course during the week. I was inspired by a co-worker on the mainland who does what I do and took a cake-decorating course. When I saw her prepping the icing for her class that evening, I thought …. Hey, I can do that. I’ve always wanted to learn how to decorate a cake and use that kit I have, but have never done it. Then of course, being Celiac I thought that a cake-decorating course might in fact be the last place I should go to have fun, as it would be gluten city. But I did some research and found a course held at Michael’s Craft Stores where you bring your own cake and icing. That meant I could make gluten free cakes and icing and not worry about getting sick.

So every week for four weeks I faithfully made my way to Nanaimo to learn how to ice a cake. My course was basic so that meant starting off with the basics.  We learned how to actually ice the cake and make it look nice. Apparently you start with something called the crumb coat. You thinly coat your cake in a base layer of icing. This base layer catches all of the extra crumbs, so when you go to do your second coat (kind of like painting) you use a thicker layer and there will be no crumbs to catch because they are already stuck in your first layer. If you continue to get lines, reset the icing by cooling it off in the fridge and try to smooth it out after it’s a little cooler. It should work a little better. 

We learned how to make basic dots, shells, leaves and flowers. We learned that you ice the main cake or cupcake with a tasty icing (butter cream is most common and SOOOO good) because it is what you will taste and then use a shortening based icing to make the details as it is stiffer and whiter and will work better for the decorations. 

We also learned that flower nails (metal) help with baking cakes! This I thought was essentially priceless as gluten free baking has a tendency (at least for me) to be totally gooey in the middle and dry and over baked on the outside. The trick, I learned was to place a metal flower nail base down in the middle of your cake (8-9 “ cake, more nails if it’s bigger). The metal in the nail heats the center of the cake and helps to bake the cake more evenly.  WHY had no one told me this before?! Seriously, I’ve thrown out many cakes for this exact reason.

Our teacher also taught us that store bought icing sets you up to fail instantly. Sure it tastes yummy but they make it so thick that it will be disastrous to actually ice a cake with. Add a little water to thin it out and you are good to go. Just make sure the store bought brand is gluten free. Most aren’t so it’s best just to make your own (1/2 cup butter, 0.5kg icing sugar and 8 teaspoons of water should get you close to a good tasty icing).

So as you can see from my pictures I went from basic and horrible to a tiny bit better by the end of the classes. The first cake (butterfly) was obviously a first go at it, the cupcakes would have actually been pretty nice if it wasn’t sooo hot out and I hadn’t made my icing to thin as it melted everywhere and finally the orange cake was my last class … much improved but still needing improvement. It’s a fun task to work on though and I plan on taking a few more classes to work on it and learn new things.

The orange cake in the pictures is actually Banana Cake. My Mom used to make this when I was younger and it is super yummy and highly underestimated as cake goes. Try it and see for yourself!

Banana Cake

2.5 cups of Bob's Redmill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Xanthum Gum
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon of Pure Vanilla Extract
1/2 cup of Margarine
1 cup of Sugar
3/4 cup of Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
3-4 ripened Bananas
2/3 cup of Buttermilk (lactose free milk with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice added)
1-2 batches of Buttercream Icing

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F and grease two 8 inch round pans. In a large mixing bowl blend together butter, sugar, eggs,  and vanilla. Mix in flour, xanthum gum and salt. Once well combined add in bananas and buttermilk. Pour batter evenly between two cake pans and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on wire wracks. Once cooled, layer cakes and ice as desired.