Everyday Gourmet

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about cooking and baking is the ability to transport us, for a moment, back to the time and place when we first tasted a dish, and, more importantly, remember the love of the person who used to make it. It’s such a joy when I pull out the recipe, sometimes written in their own hand, of a dish that someone important to me used to make.

I saw my cousin Leisa recently at the wake for my aunt, and we got to talking about our nan’s baking. Leisa had been craving her “pink and white” fudge and wondered if I had the recipe. I have many of Nan’s recipes from a collection of them in a tattered old notebook she and my great aunt kept, started in 1927, but not the one for fudge. It’s a simple, old-fashioned coconut fudge that she made in two layers, tinting one of them with a little red food colouring she called “cochineal.” As soon as Leisa mentioned it, I could taste it, too. We were both transported back to Nan’s kitchen pantry on Maunder’s Lane, where she kept the fudge in a tin lined with waxed paper. Our hearts would leap whenever she’d take us by the arm to the pantry saying, “Would you like a bit of fudge?”

The day before my aunt’s funeral, I went into my pastry kitchen to see if I could recreate the fudge. The first batch wasn’t quite right, but with a couple of adjustments, I nailed it the second time. I packed it in a tin and brought it to the church with me the next day. I waited until Leisa had thanked the last of the congregation as they left and I gave her the tin. It was such a simple thing, but the meaning for both of us was profound because of the wonderful memories we shared. I knew that little taste of something sweet, just a simple bit of fudge, would be a bright spot in what must have been a difficult time for her. And I had the power, through being able to cook, to give that to her.  I was delighted by her message the next day that it was just as she’d remembered it.

So this Christmas, I share with you some recipes that represent memories of some wonderful women, most of whom never knew each other, but who all have in common the understanding that there is a special ingredient that makes a recipe unique to the cook who makes it: the genuine desire to delight others, and through that experience, share the nostalgia and love that comes from that taste memory.

The fudge recipe isn’t included in this collection. It will be featured in the January issue.

Nan’s Ginger Snaps

My earliest memories of these cookies is that they sometimes had burnt bottoms. It makes me smile thinking about biting into a bit-too-dark cookie because it truly didn’t matter – what I tasted was her love of feeding us. I have added a touch of cayenne pepper to this old-fashioned style gingersnap to enhance the gingery bite, but I think Nan would have approved.

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup molasses (fancy, not black strap)
  • 2 tbsp powdered ginger
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (optional)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350°F. Using electric mixer with paddle attachment or by hand, cream butter, molasses, spices and salt. In a separate bowl, blend flour and baking soda. Blend flour mixture into butter mixture until combined and a smooth, soft dough is formed. Using your hands, roll dough into 2-teaspoon-sized balls, place them 2 inches apart on parchment-lined (or greased) baking sheets, and flatten to 1/4" thick with a fork or with heel of your palm. Try to keep edges smooth. Bake 12-15 minutes until crisped.  They will be very slightly soft, but will crisp completely on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight tin. Makes 32 cookies.

Mincemeat Tarts

This recipe is an homage to a lady I never knew, but she has become significant in my life.  My partner Christopher’s mother Julia was known for many things, but at Christmastime, especially for her mincemeat tarts. One story he tells is that he didn’t realize just how many tarts she made each Christmas to give to friends and family until he noticed his father, one year, making many trips to drop them all off. Julia clearly understood the joy of sharing something she loved.

  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup dried figs
  • 1/2 cup sultana raisins
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried currants
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup candied mixed peel
  • 1/2 cup shredded suet
  • 1 large (or 2 small) lemon (zest and juice)
  • 1 large (or 2 small) orange (zest and juice)
  • 2 large apples (firm such as Cortland or Spartan, not Delicious or McIntosh)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp molasses
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1/3 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup blended whiskey (not peated or smoky)
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 1/2 cup roasted pistachios
  • Unbaked tart shells

It’s nice to make this a week or so ahead of serving to allow the spices to permeate, but it is quite delicious made and used right away. Chop apricots and figs into raisin-sized pieces. Place all dried fruit and suet in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Grate skin of lemon and orange into the pot. Juice citrus fruit into the pot. Peel and core apples and chop into 1/2" dice. Add to the pot and immediately toss to coat with citrus juice. Add sugar, molasses, apple juice, vinegar, spices, bay leaves, salt and whiskey. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until apples have softened, dried fruit has plumped and mincemeat has thickened, about 30-45 minutes. If it gets too dry during cooking, add a little water. Remove from heat and stir in rum. Store in mason jars in fridge until ready to use. (Process in a canner if not using within a few weeks.) Just before using, stir in pistachios.

When ready to use, if mincemeat is not saucy enough, stir in a little rum to moisten. Spoon mincemeat into unbaked tart shells and bake until crust is golden and mincemeat is bubbling, about 15 minutes for 3-inch tarts. (Add or subtract a little time if using smaller or larger pastry shells.)

Fabulous Cheese Crackers and Cheese-Marmalade Turnovers

I couldn’t pick just one recipe to represent Helen, as these both remind me of her. She was the sister of my stepfather, Richard. She had a simple elegance and almost childlike joie-de-vivre that made her a joy to be around. She told stories of dancing with American soldiers stationed in Pleasantville during the war and her face would light up with the pleasure of the memory. She adored sweets, but interestingly took extra special delight in whipping up these savoury treats. While the combination of cheese and marmalade might seem odd, trust me, everyone who has tasted the turnovers is astounded at how delicious they are.

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 (230g) tub MacLaren’s Imperial sharp cold-pack cheddar (made by Kraft, red plastic tub with black lid), blends easiest if left out of fridge for half hour before use
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 tsp hot sauce
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 6 cups rice crisp cereal

Preheat oven to 350°F. This is most easily done with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, but can be done by hand. Cream cheese and butter together with the seasonings. In a separate bowl, whisk baking soda into flour; add it to cheese mixture, and begin to stir it together. When about two-thirds incorporated, stir in the cereal and mix all together until well combined. Form into smooth balls (golf ball size) and flatten into discs, about 1/3" thick, onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes until crisp. Cool a few minutes on the tray before moving to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 36 crackers.

Cheese-Marmalade Turnovers

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
  • 1 (230g) tub MacLaren’s Imperial sharp cold-pack cheddar (made by Kraft, red plastic tub with black lid),
  •    cold from the fridge, crumbled into
  •    1" bits
  • 3-4 tbsp ice water
  • 1 (500 ml or larger) jar of your
  •    favourite orange marmalade
  •  

Preheat oven to 375°F. Using a food processor, or by hand, blend together dry ingredients. Cut in butter and cheese by pulsing in processor, or by hand with pastry blender or fork, until reduced to the size of small oats. Dribble in ice water, a tablespoon at a time, and pulse (or blend with wooden spoon) until mixture comes together in a soft dough. Roll out onto a lightly floured board to about 1/4" thickness. Cut into 3" rounds. (Repeat with cutaway dough formed back into a ball until all is used.) Brush off any excess flour.

Stir marmalade and place about 2/3 teaspoon on one half of a round, but not too close to the edge (it will keep the turnover from sealing). Don’t overfill or jam will ooze out. Very lightly brush the edge of the other half round with water and fold it over the jam half, forming a turnover. Press edges together and crimp them with a fork; trim the excess dough to make a nice, neat edge. Repeat with all dough. Place turnovers on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes until crisped and golden, but still tender (like pie crust). They are delicious hot or cold. Makes about 24 turnovers.

Marshmallow Cookies

My mom, Daphne, is a fantastic cook. I recall her whipping up many delicious treats for my brother and me. Mom made marshmallow squares pretty often, sometimes tinting them pale green, sometimes topping with coconut. Mom thought me a bit funny including them in this column, suggesting I include something fancier, but I just love the simplicity of these cookies.

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • For the marshmallow
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 (7 g) envelopes unflavoured gelatin (or 5 tsp)
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Green food colouring (opt)
  • 1 cup (approx.) toasted long-shred coconut (opt. – if not using coconut, make a mixture of 1/2 cup icing sugar and 3 tbsp cornstarch to dust the cut, sticky edges)

You need a stand or electric mixer for this recipe. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line an 8" x 8" baking pan with parchment paper or grease it well. In a mixing bowl, blend flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter until the size of peas. Dribble in milk while stirring, to make a crumbly mixture. Press smoothly into the bottom of the pan. Bake 10-15 minutes until golden. Place in fridge or freezer to cool.

In a clean mixing bowl, hand whisk gelatin into cold water. Let sit a couple of minutes to bloom. Then hand whisk in boiling water, then sugar, salt and vanilla (and food colouring if using). Using electric mixer, whisk at high speed for 5 minutes until opaque, thickened and fluffy. Smooth over cooled base. Top with coconut if using. Chill in fridge for a couple of hours until set (or quick chill in freezer for an hour). If you used parchment, lift cookies out of the pan and place on a cutting board, crust-side down. If not, loosen edges with a knife  and turn cookies out onto an icing sugar-dusted board, then flip them over crust-side down. With a sharp, hot-water-dampened knife, cut in quarters, and each quarter into quarters, for 16 squares. Roll cut edges in toasted coconut if you like, or dust with icing sugar-cornstarch mixture.

Everyday Gourmet

I remember tasting gulab jamuns for the first time. I was 18ish and it was after a delicious Indian meal at The Curry House in St. John’s (anyone remember that spot?). I was practically intoxicated with all the heady spices and they insisted I try the gulab jamun with a cup of chai tea. I swooned. I had never tasted anything like it.

Gulab jamuns are essentially doughnut-hole-sized milk fritters soaked in a sugary syrup infused with cardamom and rosewater. (Gulab refers to rosewater syrup and jamun refers to a small, black plum-like fruit popular in Southeast Asia. Gulab jamun is a

traditional food served during Diwali, the Hindu  fall festival of lights.) Served warm, they were tender and comforting, and I experienced the added deliciousness of an almost “juicy” burst of floral, fragrant syrup when I bit into it.

I’ve attempted to reproduce that first gulab jamun experience over the years, without a lot of success. Indian cooks will tell you there’s a trick to getting the texture right. These fritters are traditionally made with khoya, which is a nearly dry paste made by reducing whole milk – a long, tricky process. For simplicity, many Indian cooks prefer to use powdered whole milk, called mawa. The only powdered milk I’ve seen in North America is skimmed. Since powdered milk makes up two-thirds of the recipe, and therefore significantly affects the texture, I had to do some recipe development to accommodate for the difference in milk fat content. I have to admit, the results might even be just a little bit better than I remember!

A couple of tips: be sure to roll the balls very smooth and even, with no cracks, or they will split in the fryer. After draining the jamuns of any excess oil on paper towel, place them immediately into the warm syrup. They need to soak in the syrup at least a couple of hours to be completely infused. Indian cooks might be horrified, but I have developed a way to hasten the process: after placing jamuns in syrup, I poke them gently a couple of times with a small skewer. The holes are imperceptible, and I get to enjoy my gulab jamuns a little sooner.

Gulab Jamuns

Jamuns
1 cup instant skim milk powder
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
Pinch salt
2 tbsp barely melted butter
6 tbsp 35% cream
Vegetable oil for deep-frying

Syrup
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
12 whole green cardamom pods, crushed to break open (or 1 tsp ground cardamom)
1/8 tsp rosewater

Either in an electric deep fryer or in a deep pot on the stove, heat oil to 325°F.

This next step is most easily done with a stand or electric mixer (on paddle attachment, not whisk), but can be done by hand as well. In a mixing bowl, combine powdered milk, flour, baking soda and salt. Stir in butter and mix well. Gradually add cream while mixing slowly until a moist dough comes together. Very lightly knead dough until smooth. Let it rest for 20 minutes while you prepare the syrup.

Syrup: In a medium saucepot over high heat, combine sugar, water and cardamom. Stir a few times until syrup is clear, then reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in rosewater. Transfer to a lidded storage container (I prefer glass) to keep syrup warm.

Roll 12 equal-sized balls of dough (about 4 tsp each, the size of doughnut holes). Knead each piece a little, if necessary, before rolling into a ball to be sure it holds together well. Roll each ball very smooth with no cracks.

 

Deep fry balls in oil until deep golden brown and cooked through (2.5-3 minutes). Turn them over while in the oil. Depending on the size of your fryer/pot, you may need to fry a few at a time. Drain on paper towels and place in warm syrup. Poke them with a skewer, if you like, to hasten the uptake of syrup into the jamuns. Soak jamuns for 2-3 hours before serving. Serve warm or cold. (A jamun will reheat in 20-30 seconds in the microwave in a little syrup.) 

Everyday Gourmet

I think cabbage is an under-appreciated vegetable. Besides its central role in Jiggs’ dinner, coleslaw and cabbage rolls, it is delicious braised with a little cider vinegar and caraway seed, or added to beet borscht and many Asian and European soups and stews. When finely sliced and tossed with green onion, lime juice and thinly sliced fresh chillies, cabbage makes a fantastic addition to sandwiches, wraps and even tacos.

Since I love brined and pickled things, I thought I’d try making German sauerkraut. A hot dog or sausage just isn’t the same for me without sauerkraut! There are two types of sauerkraut: pickled in vinegar or fermented the traditional way, which results in a tangy, but not sour flavour with a certain umami quality that is simply delicious.

The fermentation process takes advantage of naturally occurring lacto bacteria (similar to the process of making yogurt) and is surprisingly easy to do at home. You just need cabbage, salt and a clean glass or ceramic container with an airtight seal. The kind of salt you use is important. You cannot replace the pickling or kosher salt with the same amount of fine table salt; a tablespoon will hold a lot more finely milled table salt than coarser or large-flaked salt, so your end product will be much saltier. If table salt is all you have, reduce the quantity by a third. And remember that this is a fermented product, so the jars or vessels and utensils you use must be clean, and any water you add must be fresh and pure.

Depending on the size and freshness of the cabbage head, the quantity of cabbage and liquid you end up with may vary. This recipe will produce 2-3 one-litre jars of sauerkraut. But since you want the jars to be full to the top and cabbage completely submerged, having other sizes of jars to fill is handy.

Salt is used not only for seasoning. It’s part of the fermentation process; it helps draw the water out of the cabbage and keeps it somewhat crisp while also breaking it down. Freshly harvested cabbage will have a high water content and likely release enough water during the preparation to cover the cabbage in the jar. This is important because while we want the lacto bacteria to grow and thrive, we don’t want other kinds of bacteria or contaminants, such as mould. After you’ve packed the cabbage in the jar and added all the liquid released in the preparation, if the cabbage is not completely submerged, you’ll need to make a little water-and-salt brine to top up the jar.

There has been a renewed interest lately in fermented foods, with the recognition that they have many health-giving properties, including promoting good intestinal health, immune function and emotional health and well-being.


Sauerkraut

1 medium head of cabbage (about 2 1/2 lbs), outermost leaves removed, head rinsed of any soil
2 tbsp kosher salt (or pickling salt)
Water, and a little more salt, if necessary, to make brine
1 tbsp caraway seeds (opt)

 

Finely shred cabbage – either by hand with a sharp knife or in the food processor using slicing blade. You will need 10-12 cups. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Using a potato masher, grind the salt into the cabbage, essentially pounding or bashing it; or use your hands to wring the salt into the cabbage. Or do a combination of the two, until the cabbage releases a good amount of water. This will take about 10 minutes. The cabbage will soften and look wet and slightly translucent.

If adding caraway seeds, do it now, tossing them with the cabbage.

Pack sauerkraut fairly tightly into clean jars. Distribute the liquid from the bowl evenly amongst the jars. If you don’t have enough to completely cover the cabbage, make some brine: Boil one cup of water and stir in to dissolve 1 1/2 tbsp kosher or pickling salt, then top up with 3 cups cold water and stir well. Use this to top up the jars. Fit with clean lids.

Place jars in a dishpan or baking tray and store in a dark, room-temperature (15-21°C) cupboard. If the temperature is too cold, fermentation will either not begin or be too slow.  If the room is too hot, it could bubble over and not allow the flavours to develop properly. The “culture” will start to bubble after a couple of days and it will take about two weeks to ferment completely. Check jars every couple of days and shake them by rotating up and down a few times. Don’t worry if it bubbles through the lid – that’s what the dishpan is for. This allows air from the fermentation process to escape.

After a week, check one of the jars and taste the sauerkraut. If it has soured enough for your taste, transfer the jars to the fridge. If not, continue to ferment. If your room is particularly cool, it may take longer – up to three weeks – just check periodically to see if the result is what you like. (If you see mould, throw it out. Either your containers were not completely clean or the lactic fermentation did not start quickly enough to keep out contaminants.) Fermented sauerkraut will keep for months in the fridge, but it’s so delicious it likely won’t last that long! 

Everyday Gourmet

I have a confession. I have never been a morning person. I’m not overly crooked in the morning, but I am no ray of sunshine either. I would rather snuggle under the covers clinging desperately to sleep for those few extra minutes than get up to make, much less sit down to eat, a proper breakfast. But I do understand that I need the right fuel to start my day. And I have noticed a big difference in energy, weight management and my overall well-being when I take the time to start my day with something nutritious. So I’ve turned to breakfast shakes – quick to make and convenient to drink while I start my workday.

I find commercial protein shakes too sweet or artificial tasting, and it’s hard to find one that isn’t full of aspartame, artificial flavourings or sugar. So I use natural whey powder, bought at the bulk food store, to make my own. I can make it quickly in a single-serve blender mug and dash out the door. It’s easy to keep the ingredients on hand, since frozen fruit works best, and the other ingredients are pantry staples.

Since September is such a busy time for all of us, with the end of summer hours at work, back to school and routines, and most of us trying to detox a bit after summer vacations, I thought it would be a great time to share my breakfast shake recipes (which are satisfying any time of the day, really).

I have provided some variations – but you can  freestyle and customize to your taste and nutritional needs. I worked out the nutritional content for the first recipe, but the others will be pretty similar. One thing – start from frozen fruit to get that nice, thick, cold shake. I freeze bananas and purchase frozen fruit for the rest. Any time you see fruit on sale, buy extra to chop and freeze for your shakes. As you can imagine, melon, pear, apple and orange wouldn’t blend too well, so I advise avoiding those. In the photo are Strawberry-Mango, Peanut Butter-Banana and Mixed Berry shakes.

You can buy freeze-dried peanut butter powder now (I found it at the bulk store and Winners) to add that flavour so many people love – along with extra protein and healthy fats. Regular peanut butter doesn’t blend well and produces an unpleasant texture. All the dry ingredients are available at the bulk store,

and most at the supermarket, usually in the natural food section.

Strawberry-Mango Shake

2 tbsp natural whey powder (try Bulk Barn)
4 tbsp 2% Balkan-style yogurt (any yogurt will work; if flavoured, you may choose to add less sweetening)
6-8 tbsp cold water
1 tsp chia seeds
1 tsp ground flax seeds
1 tbsp maple syrup (or honey or agave)
1/2 cup frozen strawberries1/4 cup frozen mangoes

Whiz everything in a blender until smooth, thick and frosty. Taste and adjust sweetness. If too thick, add a little water. If too thin, add a little more frozen fruit. I tend to add an ice cube or two after I have blended everything and give it another whiz in the blender just so it’s nice and refreshing. Yield:

1 serving. Nutritional content: 300 calories, 25 g protein, 7 g fibre, 3 g fat

 

Variations

Peanut Butter-Banana: swap one banana, cut into chunks and frozen, for the other fruit. Add 1 tbsp peanut butter powder. (Real peanut butter makes an unpleasant texture.)

Mixed Berry: swap 3/4 cup mixed frozen berries for the fruit.

Peach-Mango: swap 1/2 cup frozen peaches for the strawberries. Substitute yogurt with unsweetened coconut milk (optional).

Latte: swap 2 ounces of milk for the yogurt and 3/4 cup ice cubes, along with 2 tbsp instant espresso granules, for the fruit.

Cocoa-Avocado: swap 1/2 cup frozen avocado chunks and 1-2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa (to your taste) for the fruit.

 

Pina Colada: swap 1/2 cup frozen pineapple chunks for the fruit, substitute unsweetened coconut milk for the yogurt and add 1/4 cup ice cubes. 

Everyday Gourmet

One of the joys of summer for me is fresh corn on the cob. Nothing rivals its sweet juiciness. When it’s in season here in Newfoundland and Labrador, I am always thinking of a new way to indulge.

If you haven’t heard of Mexican “street corn,” get ready to have a new obsession. Sold in Mexico by street vendors, it’s salty, sweet, tangy, spicy, creamy, cheesy and herbaceous – pressing ALL your flavour buttons! Steamed or grilled corn is slathered with a mixture of sour cream, spices, crumbly-salty Mexican cotija cheese (pronounced co-TEE-ha) and cilantro, and served with lime. Dry crumbly feta is a great substitute for the cotija, which is not available here. I love the added dimension of flavour from grilling the corn on the BBQ before topping with all the delicious seasonings. I steam the corn in the microwave before finishing on the BBQ to shorten cooking time.

A few caveats: If you can, buy corn with the husk still on. My microwave cooking method works best that way – and the husk can then be pulled back to form a handle to eat the corn. If you can find already crumbled dry feta, do. But if all you can get is the feta in brine, remove it from the brine, crumble it and set it to drain in a colander while you prep everything else. Buy full-fat sour cream (at least 14% fat), sometimes labelled “restaurant style.” You want it to be nice and thick to cling to the corn.

Lastly, you will notice I have included sumac in the recipe. It’s a Middle Eastern spice, red-brown in colour and naturally tangy. A Mexican grandma would probably skin me for suggesting it be used in a traditional corn recipe, but I just love the bright, citrusy notes it adds. Simply omit it if you can’t find it. (I have found it at Bulk Barn, Middle Eastern groceries and as a President’s Choice product.)

Mexican Street Corn
4 ears fresh corn, husk still on
1/2 cup full-fat (thick) sour cream
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp dry granulated garlic
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp ground sumac
1/2 tsp lime zest
1/2 cup crumbled dry (or drained) feta
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 lime, quartered, to serve
Extra chopped cilantro to garnish, if desired

 

Heat up the BBQ. Pull off any brown outer leaves of corn husk and discard. Carefully pull back the husk, leaving it intact at the stem, and remove the silk from the ear of corn.  Then, pull the husk back up to cover. Place the ears of corn on a plate and microwave for 8 minutes. Let steam while you prepare the seasoning. Mix together sour cream, all the seasonings and the feta cheese; set aside. Pull back the husks and place the corn directly on the BBQ grill over medium-high heat. Place the corn on the grill so that the husks hang over the edge (so they don’t burn). Grill the corn 5-6 minutes, turning to mark all sides. Remove from heat and slather the corn with the seasoning mixture, coating well (a pastry brush makes this easier). Sprinkle extra cilantro to garnish, if you like, and serve with a lime wedge. Messy – and oh, so delicious. Provecho! (“Bon appétit” in Mexico). Yield: 4 servings

Everyday Gourmet

You could call rillettes (pronounced Ree-YET) the fancy version of potted meat. It is usually some sort of protein, poached or braised low and slow, in some sort of fat, and then allowed to chill and set up in a ramekin or little jar so it’s spreadable, similar to pâté.  The long, slow cook makes it possible to infuse delicious flavours while bringing out the natural juiciness and flavour of the protein. Because it’s preserved in fat, rillettes can keep, refrigerated, for a couple of weeks.

Lobster season in Newfoundland and Labrador got me to thinking about ways to enjoy lobster, which naturally leads to butter, garlic, citrus and herbs. And since it’s so rich (not to mention expensive), making rillettes is a great way to spread the lobster love, serving more people.

My favourite part of the lobster is the tomalley (or liver) – you know, the green stuff that’s in the body. It’s the most intensely lobster-flavoured part. We’ll be adding that to the rillettes – to infuse maximum sweet lobster flavour.

Rillettes is a delightful first course with a toasted baguette and a little green salad, or arranged in a bowl with crackers or toasted bread. It makes wonderful party fare and a fantastic picnic idea with some Rosé or sparkling wine. Mmmm.

The secret is to boil the lobster just long enough to get the meat to retract from the shell – just a few minutes – then cool it quickly. The real cooking needs to take place in butter – allowing a fantastic transfer of flavours from the lobster to the butter and vice versa. Some helpful tips: peel the garlic and crush it, but try to leave it whole so you can pull it out intact. And use a vegetable peeler to peel long ribbons from the skin of the lemon – again so you can infuse flavour and easily remove it.

Lobster Rillettes Serves 8
2 (1 1/2 lb) lobsters (I prefer male because I don’t care for the texture of roe in rillettes)
1 lb unsalted butter
4 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
A pinch of cayenne pepper or few dashes of hot sauce
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed (not chopped)
Zest of one lemon, cut from fruit using a potato peeler, in long bands
Juice of half a lemon
1 oz Pernod
Salt and pepper to taste

 

Melt the butter over medium heat. Remove from heat and allow to stand a few moments to let the milk solids settle to the bottom, then pour the butter into another pot, large enough to hold the butter and the lobster meat. Add all the remaining ingredients except the lobster. Return to the stove and keep warm on low. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, salting generously. Plunge the lobsters into the boiling water, cover and cook 4 minutes. Remove lobsters and place in bowls of ice water a few minutes to stop the cooking. Remove the meat from the shells, including the tail vein. The meat will be soft. Scoop the tomalley from the body of the lobster and stir into the butter. Chop the lobster meat into 1/3" pieces and add to the butter. Cover and gently simmer on low heat for 10 minutes to infuse the flavours. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper, heat and citrus, remembering that when eating something chilled, the flavours are slightly muted. Let cool in the pot for 5 minutes or so. Pull out and discard herbs, garlic cloves and lemon peel. Then transfer to 6 or 8 dessert ramekins, 125 ml mason jars, or another vessel you like, distributing the chunks of meat evenly. Be sure to poke down the meat so it’s completely submerged under the butter. If, by chance, you don’t have enough butter, simply melt a little more and spoon over the top. Cover or wrap and chill until set. Serve chilled with thinly sliced toasted baguette or unflavoured crackers such as rusks or water biscuits. Is your mouth watering yet?

Everyday Gourmet

Have you heard of Báhn Mi (pronounced bahn-MEE)? They are the Vietnamese answer to fast food: delicious sandwiches packed with all sorts of delicious, bright flavours and textures. Báhn mi were created in the late 1800s to early 1900s under the influence of French colonialism in Indo-china, combining ingredients from the French (baguettes, cured meats or pâté and mayonnaise) with native Viet-namese ingredients, such as coriander, cucumber, chiles and pickled vegetables. Today they are made with some sort of meat protein (not limited to cold cuts) and individual-sized softer, lighter French-style bread, which is easier to eat than a very crusty baguette. They push all my flavour buttons – umami, sweet, pickled, spicy, herbaceous.

These sandwiches can be made using what you have on hand or what you love. My recipe this month is the one I used recently for a cocktail party at home, featuring duck and mini sausage buns. And we made a slaw with our favourite vegetables for ease of assembly (rather than having all the veggies added separately). They were a huge hit!

A fun idea for a BBQ would be to grill a variety of meats, prepare several fillings and condiments, and set them out for guests to create their own báhn mi sandwiches, perfectly suiting their taste. Some cold beer and sparkling wine would be perfect accompaniments!

The only unusual ingredient is fish sauce, which adds a profound flavour layer without adding a fishy or overly salty taste. It’s found in the imported section of most grocery stores now (called Nuoc Mam or Nam Pla, depending on where it’s made). If you can’t find it, substitute light soy sauce or Tamari.

Báhn Mi Sandwiches
2 large duck (or chicken) breasts
Salt and pepper to taste

For slaw dressing
1 tbsp ginger marmalade (or 1 tsp
freshly grated ginger + 1 tbsp honey or orange marmalade)
3 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp hot sauce
2 tbsp chopped cilantro (or fresh mint if you prefer)
Slaw vegetables
1 cup finely shredded red cabbage
1 golden beet, finely julienned
1 large carrot, finely julienned
1 sweet onion, finely sliced (or one bunch green onions, finely sliced)
1 cup radishes, finely sliced
1 fresh jalapeno, finely sliced (or more to taste)
4 individual-size soft style French rolls (or a soft baguette cut into 4 lengths, or white sub rolls)
Mayonnaise for assembly
Additional fresh cilantro (or mint) for garnish
Additional fresh jalapenos, thinly
sliced, for garnish (opt)

Season the duck breasts with salt and pepper and sear, skin-side down 3-4 minutes in a hot frypan to render out some of the fat from the skin. Then place in 350°F oven about 10 minutes to cook to medium. (A little pink in the meat is nicest for duck breast, keeping it tender. However, if using chicken, cook completely so no pink remains and internal temperature reaches 165°F.) Remove from oven, transfer to a plate and allow to cool. When cool, slice against the grain into thin slices and set aside.

Meantime, in a mixing bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. Taste and adjust to your liking. More heat, more sweet, more fish sauce/salt/soy? Add slaw vegetables and toss. Set aside in the fridge.

Slice the roll laterally and toast just a little. Spread both sides with mayonnaise and layer one side with slices of duck, top with slaw and an additional sprig or two of cilantro and a few slices of jalapeno, if you like. Replace top of bread and serve.

 

Pâté, cold cuts, thinly sliced roast beef or lacquered pork belly make delicious substitutions. I have made these with lamb and swapped mint for the cilantro. Marinated tofu or omelette are lovely vegetarian options. Why not go outside the box and use some thinly sliced, chilled lobster meat? It’s in season now and I can imagine how delicious that would be! 

Everyday Gourmet

It seems nearly everyone is more carb-conscious these days. Many of us who don’t have medical reasons to avoid gluten are still limiting intake and opting more often for whole grain baked goods. So when we do indulge in white bread, it’s all the more important that it’s mouth-wateringly delicious and satisfies all those cravings we associate with good, fresh bread. Crunchy on the outside, a satisfying “chew” to the texture, complex flavour  – all the better served warm. Well, I have a focaccia recipe for you that is truly swoon-worthy. It has wine and olive oil in it, just the right amount of saltiness and the crust has an unforgettable crunch.

If you’ve never had focaccia before, be prepared for your new addiction. It’s a yeast-raised, flatter-style bread of Italian origin, topped with olive oil before baking. It is so delicious, it really needs nothing else – but you could tuck some herbs into it before baking, or serve it with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping.

You can bake this from start to finish in one day. But, at least once, you should try the overnight proofing process because it really does create the best results. It allows the flavours and textures to dev-elop in a way that is almost alchemy. It’s perfect for dinner parties because you essentially make it ahead, and it just needs to come to room temperature, proof and bake the day of eating. 

Focaccia

For the sponge

1 tbsp sugar
2/3 cup warm water (not hot –it will kill the yeast)
2 1/2 tsp (1 env.) dry yeast
1 cup flour (I prefer unbleached)

To make the dough:
3 tsp flaky sea salt (or flaky kosher salt)
1/2 cup warm water (not hot)
1/3 cup dry white wine (I have used red wine or dry vermouth, whatever was on hand)
1/3 cup good, flavourful olive oil
2 1/2 cups flour 

To shape and bake
Extra flour for dusting, if necessary
Up to 1/3 cup good quality olive oil, for bottom of pan and to drizzle on top
Up to 1 1/2 tsp flaky sea salt (or kosher salt)

Day Before
Make the sponge: Whisk together sugar and warm water. Whisk in yeast and flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let proof (rise) in a warm spot for 30 min. It will be risen, puffy and bubbling.

Make the dough: Dissolve salt in warm water. Add wine and olive oil. Add liquid and flour, and the sponge, to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hook. Mix on medium speed for 5-6 min. until dough comes together into a soft, but not overly sticky, ball. Add extra flour as needed, but not enough to make the dough hard or dry. Remove from bowl and knead a few minutes to make a silky, shiny ball. (By hand, stir together until it comes together and is not overly sticky, then knead on a lightly floured board 10-12 min. to produce a silky, shiny ball.) Place in a large, oiled resealable bag – or a tightly covered, oiled bowl – in the fridge overnight.

(To finish the focaccia today, do not refrigerate dough. Place it in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to proof in a warm, draft-free place for about 45 minutes, until doubled in size. Then pick up from the directions below for second rise in the pan and proceed with baking.)

Bake Day
About four hours before you want fresh-baked bread, remove dough from fridge, keep it in the sealed plastic bag or bowl so that it doesn’t dry or form a skin, and allow to come to room temperature (likely a couple of hours). Preheat oven to 425°F. Dough will be soft, spongy-looking and stretch easily. Don’t knead. 

Prepare baking pan. Pour 2-3 tbsp good olive oil into (roughly) 10"x15" baking pan. Then gently stretch the dough into the shape of the pan and press it in. It will spring back only a little. Be patient and allow the dough to stretch and ooze into the shape of the pan. Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil on top. Press dimples into the dough with your fingertips. Cover and allow to proof in a warm, draft-free place for about 45 min., until doubled in size.

Dimple dough again, drizzle a little more olive oil into the dimples. Sprinkle with salt (crunchy and flaky salt is fantastic for the top). Tuck in herbs if you like (eg. fresh rosemary or thyme before baking, basil after baking). Place focaccia in oven and reduce temperature to 400°F. Bake 25-30 min. until top is crunchy and golden. Serve warm, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping, if you like.

Everyday Gourmet

Have you ever noticed that chefs like to include chorizo sausage in seafood dishes? Chorizo is a Spanish traditional cured pork sausage flavoured with mild or hot smoked paprika. Chorizo and seafood is truly a harmonious pairing. The pork adds a little succulence to lean seafood, and the smoky sweetness from the paprika adds a lovely complexity to the dish. Using hot chorizo adds a spicy tingle I just love. 

The fish soup recipe I have for you this month comes from a need to use up ingredients in the fridge at home after a dinner party. I had bits and pieces of peppers and other vegetables, along with haddock I had thawed too much of, half a link of chorizo, an opened bottle of white wine and a few ounces of whipping cream. We always have canned tomatoes on hand, and the pantry is generally well stocked with herbs and spices. It turned out so deliciously that I immediately noted the recipe in the little Notes app on my phone, thinking it would be great to share with you. For sure, I will be making it again!

Naturally, yours will probably turn out slightly different, depending on what’s in your fridge – but that’s the beauty of soups and stews, isn’t it? You can follow my lead directly or do a little freestyling of your own! If you have shrimp or mussels to use up, they would be a great addition/substitution.

Fish and Chorizo Soup
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 bulb fennel (or celery), diced
3 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
1/2 - 1 tsp cayenne pepper (to taste)
1 tsp fennel seed, ground
1/2 tsp chipotle flakes
1 cup diced chorizo (I used spicy)
1 cup bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tbsp flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup white wine
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes, with liquid
2 cups water (or leftover stock you want to use up)
2-3 tbsp cream
1 lb white fish, cut into 1 1/2" pieces
Chopped fresh parsley to garnish (opt)

In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots and fennel, along with the herbs and spices, and stir a few minutes, allowing the vegetables to begin to soften and the spices to infuse the oil. Add chorizo and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Add bell peppers and garlic; fry a couple of minutes. Add flour and stir a couple more minutes (important to cook the flour to avoid a raw flour taste). Season with salt and pepper and add the wine, stirring a moment or two to let the alcohol evaporate. The flour will thicken the liquid. Add tomatoes and water (or stock) and continue to stir occasionally while the liquid comes to a simmer. Add cream, taste and re-season. Reduce heat to medium-low and slide in the fish. Cover the pot and give it a few minutes to cook the fish. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with a little fresh parsley, if you like, and serve with crusty bread.

Everyday Gourmet

I have been a wine lover since my parents let me have my first sip as a kid at the Sunday dinner table. And when I opened Bacalao a decade ago, and went for a tasting at Quidi Vidi Brewery, it launched the beginning of my appreciation for craft beer. I approached the tasting like wine, loved it and never looked back. But while I had the desire to appreciate whiskies and scotches, and not for the lack of trying, I’m afraid my palate was not a willing participant – until a couple of years ago. My brother, who has always loved all sorts of whiskies, and I were out for a drink and he ordered us each a craft beer with a shot of Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey. I suppose it was my “whisk-epiphany” because I was warmed by the heat, delighted by the sweetness and charmed by the complex fruity, floral and woody nuances. Since then, I have attended and hosted whisky tastings and pairings – and done a fair bit of recreational sampling.

Being of the mindset that there is seldom too much of a good thing (and that we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this month), I thought it appropriate to give you a recipe that sneaks a little whisky into delicious, chewy caramels.

Salted Whisky Caramels
5 tbsp butter
1 cup whipping cream
2 oz of your favourite whisky
1/4 tsp kosher (coarse) salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp coarse sea salt

Line a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper, leaving enough overhang to grip and lift out the caramels later; spray with cooking spray.

In a 1-quart pot, bring to a boil the butter, cream, whisky and salt, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla, set aside. (Don’t be tempted to use too small a pot as it could boil up and over.)

In a large pot (3 quarts or bigger) over medium-high heat, without stirring, bring to a boil the sugar, corn syrup and water. Clip on a candy thermometer, continue to cook until the mixture reaches 310°F. Add cream mixture. Continue to cook, beating with a whisk, until thermometer reads 248°F. Pour caramel into pan; cool 10 minutes to allow top to firm up a bit, then sprinkle with sea salt. Allow it to cool completely, but be careful if you refrigerate, as the caramel might become too brittle to cut. You’ll want to cut it while it’s firm but not brittle. A tiny bit of give when you press on the top is perfect – and you can feel the bottom of the pan to check if it’s completely cool.

Gripping the edges of the parchment, lift the caramel out of the pan and place on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, wiping well between cuts (it will get sticky), make 5 even cuts horizontally and vertically (creating 6 columns each way) and forming 36 squares. Place in mini muffin cups, or wrap with parchment or plastic, and store at cool room temperature in an airtight container.

Everyday Gourmet

I think the closest we get, in Newfoundland cuisine, to serving something sweet in a savoury meal is a boiled duff in our Jiggs’ dinner. Meanwhile, I can think of many sweet dishes in Cantonese, Japanese, East Indian, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. German, Russian and Hungarian cuisines have some sweet-and-sour dishes. The French and Scandinavians traditionally serve fruit and berry sauces with game. Latin American cuisines have chocolaty sauces such as molé.  But I have yet to encounter a savoury dish more overtly dessert-like than Moroccan Bastilla.

This gorgeous meat “pie” has layers of phyllo pastry encasing separate little compartments of saffron-infused chicken, broth-scrambled eggs and cinnamon-sugared almonds. It’s enhanced with exotic Ras el Hanout spice blend and fresh herbs. To gild the lily, the golden crusty top is then dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon while warm from the oven. The aroma is intoxicating and the combination of textures and flavours is a feast for all the senses. Truth is, it’s kinda sexy. Perfect for Valentine’s Day!

Bastilla
1 pkg phyllo pastry (thawed according to package directions)
1/4 tsp saffron threads
2 tbsp hot water
1 med. onion, chopped
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 tsp ground ginger
3-4 tsp Ras el Hanout, to taste (recipe to follow)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs bone-in chicken thighs Salt to taste
1 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
3 large eggs, beaten lightly
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste
3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
3/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup olive oil
Icing sugar and ground cinnamon for sprinkling

Almond Sugar:
1/2 cup whole blanched almonds
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Ras el Hanout (moroccan spice blend):
1/2 tsp aniseed
1 tsp fennel seed
8 whole allspice berries
Seeds from 8 green cardamom pods
8 whole cloves
15 whole black peppercorns
1 (4") stick cinnamon, broken in half
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp coriander seed
1/2 tsp cumin seed
Pinch dried red pepper flakes
Pinch ground mace
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Make Almond Sugar
Toast almonds in a 350°F oven for 8-10 minutes; let cool. Grind cooled almonds (in a spice or coffee mill or small food processor) with sugar and cinnamon.

Make the Ras el Hanout
In a spice or coffee mill, grind all the whole spices together until finely ground. Add mace, ginger and nutmeg; whiz to combine. Store in a sealed jar. Makes about ¼ cup.

Make the Chicken Filling
Steep saffron in hot water for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed pot, sauté onion in olive oil over med-high heat until softened. Add garlic and sauté a couple minutes more. Add ginger, Ras el Hanout and pepper. Cook, stirring, a couple of minutes. Add chicken and sear on both sides, seasoning with salt and pepper. Add broth and saffron mixture, cover pot, reduce heat and simmer 30-40 minutes until chicken is cooked through and tender. Remove chicken from stock (save stock) and let it cool enough to handle, then discard chicken skin and remove meat from the bone. Shred meat and transfer to a small bowl.

Cook the Eggs
Measure the stock the chicken was cooked in and, if necessary, boil it, stirring occasionally, until it’s reduced to 1 3/4 cups. Reduce heat to medium and whisk in the eggs. Cook, stirring, until they are just set, but not dry (2-3 minutes). Pour into a coarse sieve over a bowl to let the eggs drain. Taste and season if necessary. To the bowl of shredded chicken, add some of the stock the eggs were cooked in. Add parsley, lemon juice and coriander. Taste and adjust seasonings. Preheat oven to 375°F.

Assemble the Bastilla
Melt the butter with the olive oil in a microwave. Remove thawed phyllo from the package and cover it with a very slightly dampened tea towel as you work. Brush a pie plate with melted butter/oil. You will be using mostly folded sheets of phyllo. Set it in front of you landscape fashion. As you work, fold the right edge over the left (like turning the pages of a book). Place 1 folded sheet in the centre of the pie plate, brush with butter/oil. Then add 5 more folded sheets, fanning them in a circle so that two-thirds of each sheet hangs over the plate edge. Butter the edges and where they overlap. Smooth out the chicken mixture over phyllo pastry (not past the plate edge). Fan out a layer of 2-3 folded sheets to cover the chicken, buttering in between and on the edges. Spread on the egg mixture, then repeat with another 2-3 folded sheets, buttering between and on the edges, to cover the eggs. Top with cinnamon-almond mixture. Then fold in the overhanging sheets, buttering to get them to stick to each other. Next, place a full, unfolded sheet over the top of the pie and tuck the edges securely under the pie inside the pie plate, lifting the pie a little as you work. Add a few more full sheets overlapping the others, and buttering in between, until you have a smooth surface. Butter the top and bake at 375°F for 20-30 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and let cool just a couple of minutes before you sift icing sugar generously over the top. Using your fingers, sprinkle lines of cinnamon to demarcate wedges in the pie. This makes a stunning presentation and the scent of cinnamon as it hits the hot pastry is heavenly. Cut into wedges to serve.

Everyday Gourmet

It is January in Newfoundland and Labrador, which means we can expect nearly anything with weather. So I think the proper thing to do is take you on a virtual trip to the Southern Hemisphere (where they are in the throes of summer) and tantalize your virtual taste buds with a dish that is, for me, the ultimate in comfort food.

Pastel de Choclo is, to put it best, the Chilean version of shepherd’s pie. Its savoury base is cumin and onion-flavoured stewed meat. It’s topped with a sweet and creamy corn pudding, into which is added chopped fresh basil. Gilding the lily is that the corn topping becomes bruléed with a little bit of crunchy caramelized sugar crust. And if you’re not already swooning, inside the pie is the delightful surprise of briny olives, juicy golden raisins and a quarter of a hard boiled egg. Best of all, chances are you have everything you need to make Pastel de Choclo in your pantry right now.

You can batch this up casserole style or make individual servings. It is traditionally made in a round, low-sided earthenware casserole dish, but will work just fine in any casserole dish you have. It freezes well, which makes it ideal for saving and reheating as lunches or quick dinners.

Pastel de Choclo (loosely translated as corn pie) dates back to 1500s Peru. Today, the dish is popular in several South American countries but perhaps none more than Chile – polling by a Chilean online magazine revealed it to be the most popular comfort food. 

For a truly comforting experience, this dish is best enjoyed with a glass of Chilean wine. A carmenère or merlot would be perfect.

Pastel de Choclo 
serves 6-8

For the topping
6 ears of fresh corn (or a 14 oz can  of niblets, drained, plus a 14 oz can creamed corn)
3/4 cup milk
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup 18% coffee cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

For the filling
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano flakes
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
1/2 tsp paprika
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs lean ground beef (or ground turkey, pork, lamb, moose etc.)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp flour
1/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken or beef stock (or water)
1/2 cup raisins (I prefer golden)

To assemble
12-16 pitted black olives
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, quartered
4 tsp sugar

Slice the kernels from the corn cobs and place in a blender with the milk. (Scrape the knife against the cob to scrape out the milky juice and add that to the blender also; this starch flavours and thickens the topping.) Blend a couple of minutes, until corn appears creamy. Meanwhile, in a small saucepot, melt the butter. Add the blended corn and cream to the pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer over medium-low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes). (Add a little milk or cream if it gets too thick – should be the consistency of pudding.) Set aside to cool, then add chopped basil. (If using canned corn, blend the drained niblets with the milk. Add, along with the can of creamed corn, to the melted butter and proceed as above.)

In a large frypan, over medium-high heat, sauté onions and spices in oil until softened and translucent, 4-5 minutes; add garlic and fry a minute more. Add beef and fry, breaking up clumps, until cooked. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle in flour; stir 2 minutes. Stir in wine, scraping up browned bits on the bottom of the pan, allowing the wine to evaporate. Add stock (or water) and raisins. Reduce to medium heat. Continue to stir until mixture thickens into gravy (3-5 minutes). Taste and reseason if necessary.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Place the meat filling in casserole(s). Nestle the eggs and olives into the filling. Spoon corn mixture over the top, covering the filling completely. Sprinkle with sugar. Place dish(es) on a sheet pan to catch any spills. Bake 30 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the corn topping is golden brown. Pull a cork, make a toast to the southern hemisphere and enjoy!

Bakin Bits

I love everything chocolate! Cake, bars, brownies; the list and possibilities is endless. I was looking for a chocolate cake recipe but yet with a ittle something extra and this cake definitely has it! You get the homemade, from scratch, dense chocolate cake with a white buttercream icing. This gives the similar taste of a whoopie pie cookie with the dark chocolate and the sweet buttercream. Then literally the icing on the cake is the ganache you pour over the finished iced cake. It's delicious. Enjoy!

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups milk

Frosting:

  • 1 1/3 cups butter, softened
  • 6 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup marshmallow fluff

Ganache:

  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. In a large mixing bowl mix butter, sugar and salt. Beat until fluffy. In a separate bowl whisk the flour, cocoa and baking powder. Beat the eggs into the butter mixture one at a time. Mix together the milk with the vanilla.

On low speed add part of the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat until combined then add half the milk, another part of the flour, the remaining milk then the remaining flour. Scrape the bowl. Pour batter into pans. Bake 30 - 35 minutes. Cool 5 minutes then continue cooling on wire racks. Cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat butter on medium speed for two minutes. Add the sugar and beat 6 minutes on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add in vanilla and then marshmallow fluff just until combined. Frost the cake with a nice thick layer of frosting in the middle. Refrigerate for 25 - 30 minutes before pouring the ganache on top. To make the ganache, Iheat the whipping cream over medium heat until it comes to a simmer. Pour over the chocolate, cover for 5 minutes and then stir. Once the chocolate is wrm but not hot, pour over cake, allowing it to drip down over the sides. Top with sprinkles.

Bakin Bits

Well this week I had intended and planned to make this wonderful carrot cake. I had made one before that did not turn out and ended up in the garbage. I only remembered what I did wrong with the initial cake when I made this one. If you do not thoroughly grease the bottom of the pans (which I thought I did) the cakes will stick, and I mean stick!

I took them out of the oven after smelling the wonderful aroma in my kitchen for 40 minutes and was delighted at how they had lightly browned around the edges and seemed to be baked perfectly. They were perfect except they did not want to come out of pans! 

They both cracked severely in the end but the cake flavour and consistency was amazing! Something had to be made out of the cracked crumbs and cake... it was like a light bulb went off in my head and I thought cake balls...carrot cake balls! 

So, in the end I made these wonderful moist gems and they turned out to be a huge success rather than a disaster baking adventure. I am however going to attempt the carrot cake again. They say third time is a charm and I hope to make it someday! Maybe parchment lined pans would do the trick.

Carrot Cake Balls

  • 1 1/4 cup oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup coconut
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup pineapple tidbits (not drained!) 

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 lb icing sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine oil, sugar and eggs in large bowl. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in separate bowl. Then add this to the first mixture. Put carrots, pineapple, coconut and vanilla in a food chopper or blender. Puree until smooth, and then add to the combined mixture. Divide between two 9" pans, (lined on the bottom with parchment paper if making the cake and greased on the sides. Bake for 40 minutes. Let cakes cool for 5 minutes before attempting to place on racks to cool completely.

Once cool, crumble the cake in a large bowl. This cake is so moist, you do not need to add icing to the mixture to create the cake balls. I rolled one cake layer into 36 balls and refrigerated for a 1/2 hour. 

To make the frosting, beat the butter and cream cheese until nice and fluffy. Add in the vanilla and powdered sugar and beat until smooth. I added a dollop of cream cheese frosting to each cake ball and placed in a small cupcake foil liner. I also added some orange sugar to pretty it up! Enjoy!

Bakin Bits

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the PC Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie! To celebrate you can purchase an anniversary tin at a Loblaws store near you. I had the pleasure of receiving one. It contains 2 packs of cookies and a collector tin for putting your homemade goodies in. 

This recipe was inspired by these lovely cookies and submitted to me from President's Choice. It is a rich, scrumptious cheesecake! Try is out, you won't be disappointed. 

 

Crust:

  • 2 cups PC The Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie pieces
  • ¼ cup  unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp sugar

 

Filling:

  • 2 blocks plain cream cheese
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups PC The Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie pieces
  • ¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Grind cookies into fine crumbs using a blender or a food processor. Add butter and blend until smooth, and then add sugar. Press crust into bottom of 9-inch springform pan and refrigerate while preparing the filling. Preheat the oven to 350°F degrees.Beat the cream cheese until smooth in a large bowl using an electric mixer. Blend in sugar and sour cream. Add the eggs and vanilla, and mix until smooth.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in the cookie pieces and ¼ cup of the chocolate chips. Pour filling into crust-lined pan and smooth top with a spatula. Sprinkle remaining ½ cup chocolate chips evenly over the top. Bake 40 minutes. Turn off oven and leave cheesecake in oven for 1 hour to set. Remove from oven and chill in refrigerator until firm, about 3-4 hours. 

And there it is! Enjoy, I know I did!

Bakin Bits

I saw a recipe for these on Pinterest and really wanted to make them. They took an entire Saturday to complete. Initially they were supposed to be covered in fondant but lets just say, that did not work! The idea is to freeze each layer and when you are ready to pour the hot fondant over them it solidifies right away. Yes, it does harden but not that pretty! I do believe they are better without the fondant. 

It may seem like a lot of work but it's mostly just waiting for the freezing and the steps are fairly easy to complete. 

For the Cake:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup flour
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp instant coffee granules
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup hot water

For the Pomegranate Cream:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • ¼ cup flour

For the Chocolate Cream:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 oz dark chocolate, melted and cooled to room temp.

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 9x13 pan with parchment, thoroughly greasing the sides. Whisk dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat the eggs, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Mix in the dry, and whisk for two minutes. Pour in the hot water and mix well. Pour into cake pan and tap the pan on the counter a few times to remove any large bubbles. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes, then flip out on a plastic board. Remove the parchment paper. Trim top if uneven, place in the freezer. 

For the Whipped Pomegranate Cream: Place juice and flour in small saucepan. Whisk until no lumps remain. Heat over medium heat, whisking until mixture comes to a boil. Cook until it thickens into a paste. Remove and place in fridge to cool. Beat the butter and sugar in a clean mixing bowl, until fluffy and glossy. Once cooled, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until light and fluffy 5 minutes. Spread the pomegranate cream evenly over the cake and return to the freezer.

For the Whipped Chocolate Cream: Add the milk, flour, and cocoa powder to a small saucepan. Whisk until there are no lumps. Then heat over medium, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Whisk and cook a few more minutes until it thickens into a paste. Remove from heat and place pan in the fridge to cool. Beat the butter and sugar in a clean mixing bowl, for 5-7 minutes, until fluffy and glossy. Once cooled, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Pour in the vanilla and the cooled melted chocolate and beat until light and fluffy 5 minutes. Spread evenly over the top of the pomegranate cream. Return to the freezer.

Once frozen, trim the edges of the cake until very smooth. The cake will be about 8x12 inches after trimming. Then carefully cut the cake into 1 inch squares, 96 total. You may want to use a clean ruler to mark the top of the chocolate cream to make the pieces even. Store in freezer until ready to serve. Keep refrigerated once removed from the freezer.

The combination of chocolate and pomegranate makes these irresistible! Bet you can't eat just one!

Bakin Bits

A Meyer lemon is a cross between a mandarin orange and a lemon. They are not quite as tart as a lemon but definitely not as sweet as a mandarin! Recommended for baking, I thought I would purchase some while at Costco last weekend. 

I have always wanted to make lemon curd. It's like a lemon jam or pie filling; quite nice. This is what goes inside the cooked cupcake. A few extra steps involved with these but very much worth the effort. 

For the lemon curd:

  • 4 Meyer lemons, zested
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 8 Tbsp butter
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • ½ cup Meyer lemon juice
  • 2 tsp cornstarch

For the cupcakes:

  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1⅔ cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla 
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

For the buttercream:

  • 6 cups icing sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 6 Tbsp milk
  • 2 tsps lemon juice

To make the lemon curd, in a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the lemon zest and sugar. Mix until combined.

Set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar/zest mixture and beat for another minute. Add eggs, lemon juice and salt. Beat for another two minutes. Pour mixture into a saucepan. Heat over low/medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook for 5 minutes, being sure to stir continuously.

Reduce heat to low. Scoop out about two tablespoons of the mixture and mix with cornstarch in a small bowl. Once combined, pour back into pot and turn heat back up to medium-high and continue cooking for another 8-10 minutes. Continue stirring as it heats. When the mixture comes to a simmer and thickens, remove from heat. Pour into a bowl and chill for several hours.

The Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350º. Line cupcake pan with liners. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, milk, vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice. Beat for another two minutes.

Scoop into muffin cups. (I filled mine just over ¾ full). Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

When completely cooled, scoop out part of the centre of the cupcake and set aside. Fill with a tablespoon of curd. Replace with top of cupcake. Frost with buttercream frosting. 

Bakin Bits

Well, Valentine's Day is upon us again. I was quite busy this year, cupcakes for work and cookies for school. I managed to get it all done and in bed by 11 last night, so mission accomplished!

The cookies were just my basic sugar cookies, add red food colouring to the mix, dip in melted chocolate and adorn with sprinkles. 

The cupcakes were quite easy to make. I made a double batch and each batch makes 24 regular size cupcakes. the recipe is a 3 step process, first mixing the dry ingredients, then the wet and thirdly creaming the butter and sugar. You combine all 3 and then you have these amazing sweeties!

I added buttercream frosting and adorned them with Valentine sprinkles, chocolates and coloured sugars. Here's the recipe:

  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
  • 2 tbsp plus 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp red gel-paste food color

Preheat oven to 350°F. Carefully line cupcake pan with cupcake liners. Sift together the dry ingredients-flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl combine the buttermilk, food color, vinegar and vanilla. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the oil and sugar on low speed, then beat on medium for 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well for 2-3 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Add the dry ingredients alternating with the buttermilk mixture in thirds. When everything is blended and smooth, continue mixing on low speed for 2 minutes. Use an ice cream scoop and fill the cupcake liners almost full. Bake for 20-22 minutes. Cupcakes are done when they feel firm to a gentle touch on top-they should spring back. Remove from oven and cool completely on metal racks before frosting. The buttercream icing recipe can be found with the Cocoa Cupcakes recipe. 

Bakin Bits

Okay, as I said before, I don't particularly follow sports. I don't know the different teams and players, not even for hockey; except for a couple of players from my hometown, I could not tell you one player's name in hockey!

I realized on Wednesday that the Super Bowl (which I know is the BIG football game!) is this weekend. Last year I looked up the teams that were playing, printed team logos and put them on cupcakes. This year all I know is that there is a Super Bowl on Sunday, February 3, and that the commercials at half-time are talked about a lot!

The past few months I have been addicted to Pinterest. So, the following creation is a compilation of a few ideas and recipes I came across while pinning. The free downloadable cupcake wrappers can be found on nothingbutcountry.com. Here's the cupcake recipe:

Cocoa Cupcakes

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking sod
  • 1 cup hot water

in a large bowl, add flour, sugar, cocoa powder, oil, eggs, milk, vanilla, baking powder and soda and mix all together. Add the hot water (i microwaved a cup of water for 1 minute) and mix well. The mixture will be very runny! Pour into 24 cupcake liners, filling 3/4 full. Bake at 350°F for 17-20 minutes. Remove from pan to cool on wire racks. 

The icing is absolutely delicious! It's my new favourite and I will be using this one again and again! 

Chocolate Butter Icing

  • 8 oz chocolate, chopped
  • 6 cups icing sugar
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 6 Tbsp milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Melt the chocolate in a heat proof dish over simmering water on the stove. Be sure to not let the bowl touch the water or the chocolate may burn. When melted, remove and let cool. In a large bowl, add the icing sugar, butter, vanilla and milk. Blend well. Remove a 1/2 cup of the icing for the football laces and put aside. Add the melted chocolate to the remaining icing and mix. I used an icing bag fitted with a large open tip to frost the cupcakes.

Start with a small dot and imitate the shape of a football on the cupcake. Add lines with the white frosting in an icing bag fitted with a small open tip. Cut out the cupcake wrappers and wrap around you cupcakes adhering with tape. And there you have it, Super Bowl treats! 

Bakin Bits

An indulgence in miniature version. Mini donuts! Baked in tiny donut pans, not deep fried. Add icing and sprinkles and there it is, pure happiness in the palm of your hand!

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325°F. Blend all the dry ingredients and then add the liquid ingredients, mix well but don't overmix and then fill each pan hole to about 1/2 full. Bake the donuts, checking them at 8 minutes and then again until they are done. They can take up to 15 minutes. 

Allow them to cool for a few minutes or they may fall apart when taking them out of the pan.

Glaze or decorate them if desired.Makes 24 donuts. You can have fun decorating these with different coloured sugars and sprinkles.

Bakin Bits

What beautiful weather this summer is giving us!  With this comes early arrivals of strawberries. This past weekend, my husband, daughter and I went to Lester's strawberry U Pick. We had a lot of fun and picked a lot of berries. With all these berries I decided to make a strawberry shortcake. I have never made one before but it was on my bucket list of things to make! 

Not a hard recipe at all and fairly quick to make. The final product was delicious! If you have some fresh strawberries on hand you may want to give this one a try. 

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour, pre-sifted
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup margarine, room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
  • ½ cup 1 % milk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease bottom and sides of a 8-inch round cake pan. Line bottom with parchment paper; grease the paper and then flour bottom and sides of pan. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl, set aside.

Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla on high speed with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs and yolks, one-at-a-time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low, add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk. Beat until just combined. Spoon batter into prepared cake pan and spread evenly with rubber spatula.

Bake, for approximately 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and return to wire rack to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, make the cream and filling. 

Cream and Filling

  • 1¼ pounds fresh strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup sugar, divided
  • 1½ cups cream, cold
  • 1 tsp unflavoured gelatin

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the strawberries and ¼-cup sugar; set aside.

Place two tablespoons cold water into a small saucepan and sprinkle with gelatin; let soften 5 minutes. Place saucepan over low heat, and stir until the gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the cream and remaining sugar until very soft peaks form. Continue to whisk, and gradually add the gelatin mixture; beat until soft peaks form.

Using a serrated knife, cut cake in half horizontally. Place bottom half, cut side up, on a cake stand or plate. Drizzle the juice from the berries onto the cake.

Evenly arrange half of the strawberries over the bottom cake layer. Refrigerate the remaining berries.

Top the strawberry layer with half of the whipped cream, leaving a 2.5-cm (1-inch) border.

Place the top half of the cake, cut side down, onto the layer of strawberries and cream. Top the cake with the remaining whipped cream, leaving a 2.5-cm (1-inch) border.

Refrigerate the cake at least 1 hour. It's even better the next day!

Just before serving top the cake with the remaining chilled strawberries. Enjoy!

 

 

Bakin Bits

Just in...

President's Choice® is promoting some new Blue Menu® items that offer lower fat, Omega-3, high in fibre and lower salt options. 

Here's just a few of the new items now available in store:

Get sneaky with omega-3

Our bodies are unable to make omega-3 polyunsaturates, so it’s important we find ways to add them to our diets. Rather than chasing the kids around the kitchen with a spoonful of fish oil, spread our new, oh-so creamy PC® Blue Menu™ Omega-3 Peanut Butter on toast so they taste nothing but the glorious flavour of freshly roasted peanuts while getting some omega-3.

Lose the fat, not the flavour

Succulent PC® Blue Menu™ Korean Chicken Breast Chunks are an exciting new option that is extremely flavourful and low in saturated fat. Serve over rice with a side of vegetables or salad for an easy weeknight family meal.

Shake off that salt habit

To help cut down on your sodium consumption look for foods without added salt, such as PC® Blue Menu™ No Salt Added Sockeye Salmon.

Wean yourself off sugar

PC®   Blue Menu™ Pineapple Juice Beverage is made from fresh-pressed juicy Costa Rican pineapples. It contains less sugar than PC® 100% Pure Pineapple Juice (just 16 g per serving) yet offers all that refreshingly sweet pineapple taste you love and 100% of the daily vitamin C you need.

Visit pc.ca for other new and must try products.

For the month of March I will be giving 10 lucky people a jar of PC Blue Menu Smooth Peanut Butter with Omega 3. Leave a comment on this blog post and you'll be entered to win.


Bakin Bits

So, it is Super Bowl weekend. And for those of you who don't know, (as I didn't) the New York Giants and New England Patriots are playing. (I actually had to Google that!) 

Party food is big for the Super Bowl. Wings, nachos, dips, pizza; all centre around this sporting event. I wanted to make some kind of dessert or cookie for the occasion, then I decided on cupcakes. Cupcakes are great because you get a lot of sweetness in a small package! And there's always room for a cupcake.

This particular recipe was for chocolate cupcakes. I liked the denseness and intense chocolate flavour in the finished product. The only chocolate in the recipe is cocoa. They are easy to make and mix up in one bowl. The recipe makes about 20 cupcakes. I used football cupcake liners, iced them with green buttercream icing and added a candy football (purchased at Bulk Barn). For the football picks, I downloaded the free pdf from 9to5mom blogspot. You can then cut out the individual logos, etc and attach to a toothpick with glue or tape before inserting into the cupcake. These would also be great for a boy's birthday party.

Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line muffin tins with the liners. Sift all dry ingredients together. Add eggs, water, buttermilk, oil and vanilla and mix together until smooth. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake for approx. 20 mins. 

Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 cups icing sugar
  • 2 Tbsp milk

Mix all together. If icing appears too dry add a little more milk. Colour with green gel food colouring. I used the Kelly Green colour gel paste from Wilton® to achieve the green colour. I used a tip 233 for the grass. Cover the cupcakes first with a spatula of green icing then add grass. Add football candy and picks. Enjoy!

Bakin Bits

I've always loved this recipe. I first tried it about 10 years ago. It was quite delicious. Between finding and losing the recipe many times, I finally found it and decided to make it this past holiday season. 

The bottom of this dessert always reminded me of a cream puff and I guess that has a lot to do with how it got it's name. It tastes like a cream puff pastry and has the lumps and bumps of how you would picture the crators on the moon!

You can alter the recipe and use low fat options for the milk and pudding. And it is definitely better the next day, after allowing it to set in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The topping can be any type of pie filling you prefer or even chocolate or caramel sauce for a different twist on the taste. 

This makes a great dessert for company or for taking to a potluck as it feeds a lot of people. I made mine on a pizza pan. You could use a sheet pan instead. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 packages instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 3 cups skim milk
  • 1  8 oz pkg cream cheese
  • 2 envelopes of Dream Whip
  • 1 can cherry pie filling

Preheat oven to 400°F and lightly grease a round pizza pan. In a large saucepan, bring water and margarine to a boil. Remove from heat, and mix in flour with a wooden spoon. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Spread evenly in prepared pan .Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

In large bowl, combine pudding mix, milk and cream cheese. Mix with electric mixer until smooth. Spread evenly over cooled crust.

Mix Dream Whip and place on top of pudding layer.

Dab the cherry pie filling over the Dream Whip layer. Swirl with your spatula as you are adding. Chill in refrigerator and serve cold.

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Featured on the cover of the December 2011 Downhome magazine are my saltbox house cookies. Many hours and days of planning, design and decorating went into the 14 houses. Below is the recipe and directions as taken from the December issue so you can make your very own. Enjoy!

SaltBox Gingerbread Cookies

  • 1/2  cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the molasses and the egg. Combine all the dry ingredients and add to the wet. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour. Flour a sheet of wax paper. Roll out dough to 1/8" thick on the wax paper. Flour the rolling pin frequently, as well as the paper, so the dough does not stick to either. Place stencils onto rolled-out cookie dough. Using a sharp knife or cake spreader, cut out cookies by cutting close to the edge of the template. Carefully remove each cookie and place on cookie sheet. This may take a little practice as the cookies are quite large and may become soft when rolled out. (I used a large spatula.) Bake at 350°F for 8-10 minutes or until they start to lightly brown on the edges. Remove promptly to wire racks and let cookies cool at least 24 hours.

Royal Icing

  • 4 cups icing sugar      
  • 3 tbsp meringue powder
  • 5-6 tbsp warm water

Mix all ingredients for icing in a grease-free bowl. If using a stand mixer, set it to medium and let it mix for 10 minutes. Cover the bowl promptly with a wet cloth, as the icing will dry out if left uncovered.

The Decorating

Begin by outlining the entire house with royal icing. The icing can be tinted to match the colour of the house you are making (e.g. I made my houses red, green, yellow and blue, so I tinted my icing in small batches). Trace the windows and doors in white. Allow to dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Next, add water to royal icing to get the consistency of pourable (but not runny) icing, and flood the cookies with the rich colours. Spread to all corners using a small spreader or butter knife, careful not to touch the outlines as they may break. This step needs at least an hour or two to dry completely. (Remember to always keep icing covered between uses.)

Use pourable icing to colour doors, and fill in windows with icing tinted black. (I used an icing bag and a #3 writing tip so icing would flow into the small spaces.) Spread to corners of windows using a toothpick before icing dries. Add black doorknobs to doors.

 

Using a basketweave icing tip, re-outline the edges of the houses to create trim; add trim around windows and doors where space allows.

Now you may add fun, festive adornments to your houses, such as coloured Christmas lights around the house, door and windows. Perhaps add a Christmas tree, wreath or snowman – the possibilities are endless! (When using sprinkles to add that special touch, place quickly, before the icing dries.) 

Finish off your saltbox gingerbread cookies by adding full-strength (not pourable) untinted royal icing to the eaves, the bottoms of the windows and around the doors to look like freshly fallen snow. I added some sparkling white sprinkles to give the “snow” that special, frosty twinkle. Finally, sit back and admire (or eat!) your outport winter scene. 

Bakin Bits

I always thought there was nothing better than a piece of chocolate cake and a cold glass of milk, until now..

These delicious cookies take the wonderful taste of chocolate cake, the addition of PC Decadent chunks..

And then a topping of milk and icing sugar... DELICIOUS!

These are very easy to make. All you need is a cake mix and some basic kitchen staples to create these jems. 

  • 1 box chocolate cake mix
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 bag PC Decadent semi-sweet chunks
  • icing sugar
  • milk

Heat oven to 350°F. Mix cake mix, butter, water, egg and vanilla for one minute on medium speed. Stir in chocolate chunks. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake for 12-14 minutes. Cool for 2 minutes on pans then continue cooling on wire racks. 

Mix icing sugar and milk to create a pouring consistency and drizzle over cookies. Let dry completely before stacking and storing.

Cookies that give the wonderful taste of chocolate cake with a sweet milk- icing topping. What's not to love! 

Bakin Bits

Believe it or not I have never cooked a turkey. I have made many a dish, baked many a dessert but never ever attempted a turkey. I eat turkey. Thanksgiving, Christmas and even Easter has a turkey meal involved at our house but I personally never have cooked one. I thank my husband for taking on this gigantic task and he does it quite well.

So, this is the only turkey that I have ever attempted! Made famous by the blogger, Bakerella®, cake pops have taken over the baking world. While trying to come up with a Thanksgiving sweet treat I remembered seeing these in Bakerella's book, Cake Pops®. They take a little bit of time to make, and a lot of patience but are so worth it!

First off be prepared that they will not come out perfect. There were no two turkeys alike in my flock! But this makes each one unique. You will need to allow yourself a lot of time. From baking the cake, creating the balls, melting the chocolate to the finished turkey cake pop it will probably take a few days or one full day. 

 

To make these little turkeys...

  1. Bake a cake from a cake mix. Use any flavour you like.
  2. Allow cake to cool, crumble, then mix with some purchased container spreadable icing (as much or as little as you like).
  3. Roll into balls, cool in fridge.
  4. Melt chocolate or candy wafers to a smooth consistency.
  5. Dip candy sticks into chocolate, insert half way into cake ball. Dip entire ball on stick into chocolate. 
  6. Insert two pieces of pretzels for legs. Stand cake pop in piece of styrofoam until dry. 
  7. Add "feathers" or candy corn pieces to each turkey with dabs of melted chocolate to attach. 
  8. Attach face (I used a chocolate covered raisin) with melted chocolate.
  9. Attach eyes (I used confetti sprinkles for the eyes and coloured black pupils with an edible marker or use a tiny dab of chocolate on a toothpick).
  10. Attach nose (I used sprinkles from a harvest coloured sprinkle collection).
  11. Add beard. I used an upside down heart sprinkle. 

Now your turkey is complete. These make great gifts for young and old. I wrapped some in plastic and attached a ribbon and tag for Thanksgiving treats. 

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Fall baking...Well, it's not officially Fall yet but it's starting to feel like it. Once the kids go back to school and labour day is over it's Fall for me. With Fall comes the urge to bake. I LOVE to bake. I love it even more when I create something that is both eye-catching and delicious. 

I own a lot of Fall baking pans. Maybe too many! So, this is just one of many creations that I will share. I added to my collection recently with the addition of a Nordicware pumpkin shaped muffin tin. I was waiting for an opportunity to use it and then came across this recipe. The muffins turned out perfect. The aroma emitted in your home as the muffins are baking is breathtaking! The cream cheese glaze is the icing on the muffin, enhancing the spice flavour within. And of course, having pumpkin muffins shaped like little pumpkins is an added bonus. :)

Pumpkin Muffins

  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 (16 oz) can packed pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

Cream Cheese Glaze

  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 cup icing sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • Orange Food Colouring

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease and flour muffin tin. I used my pumpkin shaped muffin tin but you can also use a regular muffin tin. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt; set aside. In medium bowl whisk eggs and brown sugar together until smooth. Mix in pumpkin and butter until blended. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and stir until blended. Spoon batter into prepared tin, dividing evenly. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan before removing and cooling completely on wire rack. 

 

To make the glaze, combine the cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and vanilla in bowl. Mix well until a nice consistency. Add orange food colouring. I used the gel type so it does not thin out the icing too much. Place wax paper under the rack before drizzling the muffins. Makes clean up a whole lot easier later! Drizzle teaspoon full of icing over tops of muffins. 

Once drizzled, I added some pumpkin sprinkles to compliment the pumpkin muffin and also some Fall leaves. Seemed a little early for the sprinkles but they just went together so well! And who says you can't eat or decorate pumpkins all year round!

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Well, it's almost here. Disney World, Orlando, Florida. Only 4 more days and I'll be in the happiest place on earth! I have visited there before but this will be the most magical with my 4 year old daughter. 

I am so excited that I decided to make some cookies to celebrate the occasion and what better than sugar cookies shaped like Mickey Mouse. This recipe is a little different than one I previously used but is now my new favourite. The dough is soft, pliable and easy to roll out. Very easy recipe and takes little time to make.

Sweet Sugar Cookies

  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 375°F. Mix flour, baking powder and baking soda and set aside. In another bowl, mix the butter and sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg. Slowly blend in the dry ingredients. Add milk to make the dough moist. Dust a rolling pin with flour, and roll dough out onto floured wax paper. Roll to about 1/4 inch thick for best results. Add flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and waxed paper. Cut out cookies using a cookie cutter (I used a Mickey Mouse cutter).

Remove carefully from wax paper and place on a cookie sheet. Cook for 7 minutes. Cool on wire racks. 

When cookies are cooled you can add icing to them. I just used my standard, quick recipe for icing sugar cookies: Icing sugar and milk. Add more milk for thinner, pourable icing; less for a more spreadable icing. You can add your colours here as well. I used black, yellow and red for the traditional Mickey colours.

Let the cookies dry overnight. This allows you to get a rock hard finish on them and they will not stick together when stacked. 

These cookies are a fun project for kids. I had a little helper who thoroughly enjoyed making these cookies and eating them when they were done!

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The recipe for these jam jams was submitted anonymously on the Everyday Recipes site. It was in need of a picture so I decided to give them a try. Very simple ingredient list, and little to no work or time to create. You could also experiment with different jams and jellies or even strawberry jam and cream! The possibilities are endless. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • Strawberry jam

Cream together butter and sugar. ( I used margarine, 2 1/2 cup blocks.) Add in the egg and vanilla. Mix flour, baking powder and salt together. Gradually add into wet ingredients. Combine with spoon or use the lowest setting on your mixer. 

Roll tablespoon full of dough into ball. Place on cookie sheet and flatten with your hand. You can use a fork but it will leave marks on your cookies. 

Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on rack.

Match up similar shaped and sized cookies to make your jam jams. Add about a tablespoon or less of jam to flat side of one cookie and stick flat side of the other to it.

And there you go, homemade jam jams! Yummy! Place in a covered container to keep them moist. As you can see from the pic on the right, I could not wait to try these little sweeties!


Bakin Bits

I have always wanted to make and eat Whoopie pies! They always look so delicious and decadent. And whats not to like - two soft, chocolate cookies with cream sandwiched in the middle of them!

So, this was my first attempt. The only thing I would do differently next time is not add so much frosting to stick the two cookies together. It really oozed out! But they were still quite good and well worth the effort to make. 

For the cakes:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg

For filling

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups icing sugar
  • 2 cups marshmallow cream (I used Marshmallow Fluff)
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl until combined. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl. Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a handheld, then add egg, beating until combined well. Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth. Spoon 1/4-cup mounds of batter about 2 inches apart on greased large baking sheets. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack to cool completely.

Beat together butter, icing sugar, marshmallow, and vanilla in a bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Spread a rounded teaspoon filling on flat sides of half of cakes and top with remaining cakes. This should make about a dozen whoopie pies. Try and pace yourself, as these are so good!

 

Bakin Bits

These brownies were appropriately named. Described as... "rich, creamy no-frosting brownie with a chocolatey fudge base", they deliver everything they promise to!

I made this recipe from the Company's Coming book, Sweet Cravings. The picture is what attracted me to them initially and after making them I was not disappointed. A nice bite-size brownie with a sweet topping. No icing is required. The chocolate chips for the top are listed as optional but I would definitely not leave them out! It intensifies the chocolate bottom layer. The brownies are really easy to make taking very little time. The candied, chopped cherries can be chopped beforehand to speed up the baking steps. I was also impressed with how easy these came out of the pan when cooled. Be sure to grease the pan and you can cut and lift them out relatively effortless!

  • 6 Tbsp margarine
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup maraschino cherry syrup
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/4 cup mini-chocolate chips (optional)
  • 1/2 cup maraschino cherries, chopped

Heat margarine and cocoa in medium saucepan on medium-low heat until margarine is melted.

Add sugar and 2 eggs. Stir. Add flour and salt. Stir. Spread into a greased 9 x 9 inch pan. Set aside. 

Beat cream cheese, syrup and icing sugar together in medium bowl until smooth.  (I found there were still a few lumps of cream cheese but tasted fine when completed). Beat in remaining egg. Stir in chocolate chips and cherries. Pour over cocoa mixture.

Bake in 350°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out moist but not wet with batter. Do not overbake. Cool and cut into 36 bars. These are so good!

Bakin Bits

What's the difference between a muffin and a cupcake? I guess one is a dessert and the other is a breakfast item. That's how I look at it anyway! It seems that cupcakes are all the rage now. There's cupcake shows, stores and merchandise popping up everywhere. No matter what you call them, or which you prefer, they are equally delicious!

This recipe is for strawberry muffins. But I think they could also qualify as a cupcake. I have added a strawberry buttercream topping but without the topping they are awesome as well. 

  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cake flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups strawberries, finely chopped 

Preheat over to 350°F. Line muffin tin with liners. Sift together both flours, salt and baking powder. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, blending well after each. Add milk. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the flour until all is mixed in but do not overmix. Fold in strawberries.

Fill muffin cups 3/4 full. When I made these the mix made 30 muffins. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes in the muffin tin and then turn out onto wire racks to complete cooling. 

When cupcakes are cool, mix 4 large egg whites and 1 1/4 cups sugar in the mixing bowl of your electric mixer. Set this bowl over boiling pot of water on the stove. Continue stirring the mixture until all sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and attach to stand mixer. Mix until stiff peaks form.

Continue mixing until mixture is fluffy, about 10 minutes. The mixture will also be cool at this point. You can add extra chopped strawberries to give a more strawberry flavour to the final muffin. Delicious!

Bakin Bits

Cake balls are the ultimate feel good treat! Who doesn't like cake and frosting? Roll it together into a ball, dip in chocolate and voila, a cake ball!

I first came across the idea while perusing many of my favourite bloggers sites. Bakerella has made these famous! But lately it seems like they are everywhere - Betty Crocker is making them, Martha, even Rachel Ray! They are so easy, if you can bake a cake from a cake mix, then you can make cake balls.

For my cake balls, I used a vanilla Betty Crocker cake mix and Betty Crocker vanilla frosting. You bake the cake as per directions on the box, let cool on a rack and then crumble it into many little pieces. The cake was quite moist and I could have created the balls without any frosting at all, but to give that extra sweetness kick, add a few spoonfuls of the frosting to the cake crumbs. Mix well, it's best if you use your hands to get the frosting evenly distributed and mixed throughout. You can add as much frosting as you like. The more you add, the harder it will be to roll the mixture into balls, so judge accordingly. 

Once you roll the mix into balls place them into freezer or fridge to cool. While they are cooling, melt a cup or two of chocolate chips in the microwave stirring after 20 second intervals until melted thoroughly. If the chocolate does not melt easily, add a little bit of butter or shortening and stir into the hot chocolate. Another way, that takes a little longer, is to melt your chocolate in a bowl placed over a saucepan of boiling water on the stove. Just make sure to stir frequently to prevent the chocolate from burning. 

Dip every ball into chocolate and place on a wax paper lined baking sheet to cool. You can adorn with additional decorations at this point - sprinkles, nuts, coconut, etc. Placing in the fridge allows them to set quicker. I like to keep mine in the fridge as the chocolate has that crunch when you bite into them and the cake is not too soft. Yum! Enjoy!

Bakin Bits

Who doesn't love cheesecake? It's such a decadent dessert that you can only eat a small amount and feel guilt-free. With that being said, I created these little bites of goodness!

For the filling I used the lower fat variety of cream cheese. The taste is not affected. Afterall, there is the addition of a full cup of sugar! These are very creamy and well worth the effort. Everyone will love them for sure!

For the Crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham wafer crumbs
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar, packed 
  • 6 tbsp butter, melted

Middle Layer:

  • 3 (8 oz.) pkgs low-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup fat-free sour cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla

Chocolate Ganache:

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 oz. butter
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar

Mix crumbs and sugar together. Add butter and stir until combined. Press into a 13 x 9 pan. 

Preheat oven to 325°F. Cream the sugar, cream cheese, and flour with a mixer on medium until light and fluffy. On medium low, add eggs one at a time, mixing well with each addition. Add sour cream and vanilla and mix until just combined. 

Pour on prepared crust and bake for about 45 minutes. Remove and cool. 

Heat cream and butter on stove until just before boiling. Remove from stove and pour over chocolate chips. Stir until completely combined. Add icing sugar and beat with a wire whisk until combined and smooth. Pour over cooled cheesecake. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Cut into bars and serve. Makes about 30 bars.

These were very hard to cut! You may want to freeze before attempting. I placed each square in a cupcake liner and added a few Spring sprinkles to cover up the flaws. 

Bakin Bits

It just does not feel like Spring yet. It may have officially started on the calendar but we have a long way to go before we see Spring flowers blooming! 

This week I am featuring a recipe for Ganache Cups. These little darlings are so good! The crust is soft, sweet and delightful. The ganache filling is divine and the added mint is like 'icing on the cake!' If you're looking for a new recipe for an upcoming potluck or party then this is it! Don't let the look of them fool you, they're extremely easy to make.

Crust

  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa

Ganache Filling

  • 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • Topping

12 chocolate mints, coarsely chopped

In a medium bowl combine the sugar and margarine and beat until fluffy. Add the egg, blending well. Add flour and cocoa and mix well. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour for easier handling. 

When the dough is easy enough to handle, divide into 24 pieces and place in mini cupcake pan. Press up the sides and in the bottom of each cup. I used a pastry cup stick to flatten into cups. Don't worry too much about the look of the inside of the cup, the ganache will cover up any flaws. Bake at 325°F for 13-16 minutes. 

Cool in pans on wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove from pans. In a medium saucepan heat whipping cream and chocolate chips over a low heat until chips are melted, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool until slightly thickened, around 20 minutes. Fill cups with ganache, adding 1/2 tbsp to each. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Remove and add mints. You may need to press the mint pieces slightly into the ganache. 

Bakin Bits

This time of the year, with Spring in the air, many people are frantically trying to lose weight. Whether that be for an upcoming event, to fit into that perfect swimsuit or to live a healthier lifestyle, healthy eating is a huge part of the big picture. 

This week I am going off track a little. Instead of a sweet, tempting dessert, I am giving you a healthy supper option. We all know there is nothing healthy about fried chicken. And for those of you who don't know me, fried chicken was my weakness! So, of course I am only human and there are times that I still crave fried chicken. Knowing all the bad fats within it and facts about it I created a great recipe for baked chicken. You get the crispyness of fried chicken without the guilt!

Each weekend, usually Sunday mornings, I prepare healthy meals for my family for the entire week. Here is one such recipe I prepared this week.

Baked Chicken & Potaotes

  • 1/3 cup skim milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 2/3 cup corn flake crumbs
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 4-6 large red potatoes, unpeeled, cut into small pieces
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp parmesan flavoured bread crumbs
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp margarine, melted 

Heat oven to 400°F. Spray a 15x10 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. In a shallow bowl or plate combine the milk, salt and chili powder. Mix well. Place cornflake crumbs in another bowl. Dip chicken in milk mixture and then coat with cornflake crumbs. Place in baking dish on one side. 

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes and onion. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and paprika. Toss to evenly coat. Place in other end of baking dish and drizzle melted margarine over them. Bake at 400°F for 40-50 minutes until chicken is cooked and potatoes are tender. Stir the potatoes at the halfway mark.

Note: The bread crumbs I used can be found in the grocery store among soups and rices. The margarine should be the lighter version. I used an olive oil blend with Omega 3. You can use chicken breasts with the bone-in or other types of chicken. Just remember to remove the skin as that is where most of the fat is contained within chicken. White meat is also a healthier option than the dark. Enjoy!

Bakin Bits

While going through my many cookbooks this weekend I found this great recipe for gingersnaps. Light, tasty and just the right blend of molasses, ginger and allspice. It reminded me of Christmas with the lovely smell it emits into your kitchen, but yet is a light tasty treat to welcome Spring!

Gingersnaps have a long shelf life and can keep at room temperature for a week or two. But I doubt they will last that long, not in my house for sure! Stack the cookies to give as a gift, wrap them in a clear cookie bag and tie with a ribbon. Makes a nice, personalized gift!

For the cookies you will need:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup yellow sugar
  • 1/3 cup dark molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Mix butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the molasses and egg and mix until smooth. Mix 1 cup of the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and salt in another bowl. Combine the dry ingredients into the wet and then add the remaining cup of flour. 

Divide the dough into two discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in freezer to harden. I took this time to clean up the many dirty dishes the recipe also creates! 

When you are ready, roll out the dough on wax paper dusted with flour. Roll to about 1/8 inch thickness. You can cut the dough out with cookie cutters or into squares. Prick them with a fork like I did to give them a pretty finished look.Place in preheated 350°F oven and bake for 12 minutes or until the cookies are crispy. Allow to cool completely before placing into a bag or storing in a cookie jar. 

Bakin Bits

These cookies are nice with a tall, cold glass of milk. They have a slight hint of ginger but the cocoa is more overpowering and adds a nice flavour. The sugar mixture that you roll them in adds a crisp outer shell and the inside is moist and delicious!

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 2 cups flour
  • 6 tbsp and 1 1/4 tsp cocoa
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 salt

Beat butter, sugar and egg in bowl until fluffy. Add the corn syrup until well blended. Stir flour, 6 tbsp cocoa, baking soda ginger and salt. Gradually add this to butter mixture, beating until well blended. 

Heat oven to 350°F. Stir together the remaining cocoa and sugar. Shape teaspoons of dough into balls and roll in sugar/coca mixture. Place about 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake for 12 minutes. The original recipe required chilling the dough to allow for easier handling. It is really not required as the dough is already stiff.

Bakin Bits

February 19, 2011

Crinkles or crackles as they are sometimes called are a nice light cookie. Not overly sweet tasting, the icing sugar gives the subtle hint of sweetness to each bite. These are one of the easiest and prettiest cookies to prepare. Very little effort required and the end result is beautiful! Crinkles are always a hit in the office and at any occasion I bring them to.

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 4-1 oz squares of chocolate, chopped, melted & cooled
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup icing sugar

Mix the oil, chocolate and sugar. Blend in eggs, one at a time until well mixed. Add vanilla. Mix flour, baking soda and salt in another bowl.Gradually add to the wet ingredients, a little at a time and stirring after each addition. Refrigerate the dough for at least 4 hours before rolling tablespoons full into balls. I froze mine for faster setting time. You only need it in the freezer for 1/2 hour. When you roll the dough into balls then roll them in icing sugar before placing on baking sheet. Place 2 inches apart as they will crack and spread into a flat cookie.

Bake in a 350°F oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on racks. You can then place them in a covered contained or cookie jar for 3 or 4 days, if they last that long! 

Bakin Bits

February 8, 2011

 

Fondant. A foreign word to many but for those of you who love cake decorating or watching Cake Boss this is a wonderful invention. 

When I first took a stab at cake decorating, everything seemed to be either buttercream frosting to cover a cake or marzipan. Marzipan is created using an almond paste and I could never use it with my nut allergy. Therefore I had to find alternative methods for creating the same effect. About 10 years ago, fondant was introduced. With fondant, you can cover an entire cake in minutes and look like you spent all day doing so. The finish is smooth and flawless. With some creativity and patience you can achieve masterpieces!

Where To Buy Fondant

Pre-made fondant can be bought at craft stores, bulk stores and even Wal-Mart. It's available in 1 or 5 pound packages. You can cover an 8" round cake with a 1 pound package.

Putting Fondant on A Cake

To cover your cake with fondant, cover your cake with buttercream icing first. Allow it to dry/harden in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Knead the fondant until you achieve a smooth, pliable texture. Then roll it out on a shortening greased roll mat with a rolling pin. When you get an even thickness throughout, turn the mat over (with the fondant attached) and place over the cake. Smooth the fondant around the cake with your hands or a fondant smoother and cut off excess. Presto, you have a fondant covered cake!

Adding Character

Cut out shapes using cookie cutters to add to your cake. Treat the fondant like play dough and create almost anything you can think of to enhance your cake. To attach to the cake use a dab of buttercream icing. You could also use water but be careful if you are using a coloured fondant as the colour may run.

Colouring Fondant

To tint white fondant, add paste colour (the Wilton ones in a jar) and knead in until you acheive an even colour throughout. It is wise to wear rubber gloves when doing this step as your hands will be what ever colour the paste is!

Flavouring Fondant

Many people are fans of how fondant looks on a cake but not how it tastes. You can add vanilla, and different flavourings to your fondant to make it tastier. However, the longer your cake sets with the fondant covered buttercream, the more flavour of the buttercream the fondant takes on. So, it is better if you allow your cake to set for a couple of days before serving it. 

Homemade Fondant

You can create your own fondant, using a combination of sugar, water and corn syrup. This is a great recipe for creating fondant flowers and edible characters for your cake.

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp corn syrup

Combine sugar, water and corn syrup in saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then cover the pan and allow the sugar syrup to boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove lid and continue cooking until the syrup reaches 240°F. Pour onto a baking sheet sprinkled with water. Let set for a few minutes. When you can touch it with your finger, and it is just warm, it is ready to be worked. 

Dampen a metal spatula with water, and using the spatula push the syrup into a pile in the middle of the sheet. Using a dampened plastic spatula continually scrape the fondant into the centre, draw a figure-8, then scrape it together again. The clear fondant will gradually become more opaque and creamy. After 5-10 minutes, the fondant will become very stiff, crumbly, and hard to manipulate.

Once the fondant reaches this state, moisten your hands and begin kneading it into a ball. Stop kneading once your fondant is a smooth ball without lumps. At this point your fondant is ready to use. 

Bakin Bits

February 1, 2011

Not these piggies!

I don't know if it's all the fables and nursery rhymes that I have been reading to my daughter lately, but I just felt the urge to make pig cookies! About a year ago I purchased some farm animal cookie cutters and in the mix was a pig. Using my all time favorite sugar cookie recipe  these cute pink piggies arose. Lots of fun to make and eat for sure!

When you roll out your dough try to keep it the same thickness. If not, some cookies will cook quicker or take longer to bake and you run the risk of them browning or being undercooked in the suggested baking time. 

Place the cookies about a 1/2 inch apart on your cookie sheet. The dough does not spread too much,  like other roll out cookies, and therefore you can get more cookies on a sheet, closer together. Using this recipe I made almost 6 dozen pigs!

When the cookies are cooled, outline them using royal icing tinted pink. 

Once you get them all outlined the first ones will be dried enough to "flood" with icing. Basically you fill the entire cookie that has been oulined with more icing. The royal icing you made for outlining will need to be thinned with either milk or water to allow it to flow onto the cookie. Spread with a small spatula and allow to dry. This creates a smooth finish on your cookie.

When you have the cookies covered with icing, add a candy or miniature chocolate chip for the eyes. I added minature heart sprinkles in red, white and pink. 

Another option with these cookies is just outline them and not fill them with icing. Looks equally as cute and much less work and time involved. You could add an eye by putting a dab of icing onto a sprinkle or heart candy to attach to the cookie. 

Bakin Bits

January 24, 2011

Not for the so so chocolate lover, these are for the diehard chocoholic! These made from scratch cupcakes are by far the best cupcake I have ever tried. 

An intense chocolate flavour is achieved with the addition of a full cup of cocoa in the batter. A very moist cupcake with both buttermilk and sour cream included. 

Cupcakes

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Ganache Topping

  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp corn syrup

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place cupcake liners in pans (I used three 12 cup pans). Blend cocoa, flour, baking soda and salt. Mix on medium speed butter and white sugar. Add brown sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Mix in sour cream. Reduce speed of mixer to low and add flour mixture in small batches until incorporated into mix. Blend in buttermilk on low. 

Fill cups about 3/4 full. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Place cupcake pans on wire rack and cool before removing from pans.

To make the frosting, heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan over medium heat. Place chocolate chip in large bowl. Bring cream to a simmer. Remove from heat and pour over chocolate chips. Let stand for a a couple of minutes to melt chocolate then blend together using a spatula until ganache forms and there are no lumps remaining. Spread 1-2 tsp on each cupcake. Adorn with sprinkles or other decorations before ganache sets. I added fondant pink hearts. 

Bakin Bits

A nice light treat! Made from egg whites, these little jems are fat and cholesterol free. The long baking process at a low oven heat allows the meringues to "dry out". A nice tasting cookie with the addition of mint.

If you are not a fan of mint, omit the mint extract and use vanilla, orange or lemon to give them a different taste. Also try tinting all the ingredients to give them all over colour rather than stripes only. Pink would be nice for Valentine's or green for St. Patrick's Day.

So, if you are watching your waistline this time of year, as a lot of people are, have a kiss and don't feel one bit guilty for it! 

Meringue Kisses

  • 2 egg whites
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp peppermint extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Red paste food colouring

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Beat in peppermint extract. Gradually beat in sugar until stiff, glossy peaks form. Fit a pastry bag with 1/4 inch plain tip. Using a small, clean paintbrush, brush inside of bag with 2 stripes of red food colouring opposite each other.

Spoon meringue into bag. Pipe approximately 1” kisses about 1” apart onto parchment paper lined baking sheets. Bake in 200°F oven until dry, for about 1 and 1/2 hours. Turn off oven. Let stand in oven for 30 minutes. Transfer to racks to let cool. Makes about 70 kisses.

Bakin Bits

Let me start off by saying that if you are trying to lose weight or even maintain for that matter, stay away from this cake! It's decadent!

The red food colouring turns the cake red. The reaction of vinegar and buttermilk brings out the red in the cocoa, thus creating an intense red coloured cake. 

I obtained this recipe from my husband's cousin Megan. After enjoying a wonderful homemade lasagne supper she prepared for us, we were presented with this amazing cake. Of course, I had to have the recipe. A dense, made from scratch, moist cake with a scrumptious cream cheese frosting! You can also make 24 muffins rather than the cake and top with the cream cheese frosting. This would be nice for Valentine's or any other special occasion.


Red Velvet Cake Recipe
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp food coloring
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Cream Cheese Icing

  • 2 small pkgs cream cheese, softened
  • 4 cups icing sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa. In a seperate bowl, whisk oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla. Mix dry with wet ingredients until smooth.

Grease pans with a layer of shortening and dust with flour before adding batter. I used 2 square baking pans. Bake at 350°F for 30 mins or until done.

To make the icing, slowly mix cream cheese, sugar, butter and vanilla with mixer. 

Stack the 2 cakes filling the centre with icing. Then cover the entire cake in frosting. 


Bakin Bits

These are the cutest critters I have ever made! It's a twist on your average truffle and looks great on a serving plate. Your visitors are sure to enjoy. You can make them for young or young at heart. They are sure to be a favourite of yours as they are of mine. My 3-year old loved them as well as my co-workers! Enjoy!

  • 2/3 cup chocolate chips

  • 2 cups chocolate wafer crumbs, divided

  • 1/3 cup sour cream

  • 36 red round candy sprinkles

  • 5 peach slices (candy)

  • 18 pieces black shoestring licorice (2 inches each)


Melt chocolate chips in microwave; stir until smooth. Stir in 1 cup crumbs and sour cream. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or until easy to handle.


For each mouse, roll about 1 tablespoon chocolate mixture into a ball, tapering one end to resemble a mouse. Roll in remaining 1 cup of chocolate crumbs to coat. Position red candy sprinkles for eyes. Cut each peach slice into 4 pieces. Then cut each of the four pieces into 2 pieces for each ear. Add licorice pieces for tails. 


Bakin Bits

My husband loves crispy chocolate; whether that be Easter bunnies, santas, or anything that has chocolate and that crispy crunchy sound when you bite into it. I never did go for it myself, then I tried a Nestlé chocolate bar and have been hooked ever since!

A nice, crispy cookie recipe that everyone is sure to enjoy is Fudge Crispies. These are super sweet but very good! They also freeze well and you can eat them right out of the freezer with a cold glass of eggnog. Fudgey chocolate and Rice Crispies, yummy! 

  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 4 cups crisp rice cereal

Heat first 4 ingredients in large saucepan, on lowest heat, stirring often until chocolate chips are almost melted. Do not overheat. Remove from heat and stir. Add icing sugar and stir until smooth. 

Measure cereal into a large bowl. Add chocolate mixture. Stir until coated. I used the festive Rice Crispies to add some colour, but you really don't notice the colour that much in the final cookies. 

Press firmly into greased 9x9 pan. Let stand until firm. Cut into 36 squares. I refrigerated to make them easier to cut into squares. 

Reprinted from Chocolate Squared © Company's Coming Publishing Limited

Bakin Bits

Many Christmas cookie recipes contain some sort of chocolate. Whether that be chocolate chips, melted bars of chocolate, squares or baking disks. The varieties and combinations are endless and what makes the difference between an okay cookie recipe and a great cookie recipe. 

Wanting to get a head start on my Christmas baking I made a batch of these chocolate delights. The original recipe had the cookies much larger. I thought if you made them smaller, you could have more than one! They are a wonderful combination of cocoa and melted chocolate. 

To change it up, you could fill the centre with a white chocolate filling, melted colour chocolate disks, flavoured chocolate chips or drizzle melted chocolate over the final cookie. 

They turned out great and are a new favourite of mine. Both my husband and daughter give them two thumbs up! Needless to say they did not make it to Christmas! 

Mini Chocolate Thumbprints

  • 1 cup plus 2 & 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla 
  • 1/4 tsp salt  

Chocolate Filling

  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 3 tbsp butter, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp peppermint extract (optional)

Sift flour and cocoa in a medium bowl. Cream butter and sugar in mixer. Add vanilla and salt and beat until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix on low until soft dough forms. Refrigerate for an hour. Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll into small 1 teaspoon size balls and place 2 inches apart on baking sheets.

Make an indent in each ball using the end of a wooden spoon. I used a fondue skewer. Bake until top of cookie looks dry, approx. 8 minutes. When you take them out of the oven re-indent the cookies before they cool. 

To make the filling: Place chocolate and butter in a large microwave safe bowl. Heat at 30 second intervals, stirring in between. Allow to cool slightly. Stir in the peppermint extract at this stage if you ar using it. 

When cookies are cool fill with chocolate filling. I used a decorating bag, filled it with the melted chocolate and placed a round tip on the bag. Add sprinkles before the chocolate sets.

These are just the right combination and size of treat. And who doesn’t love chocolate! These also freeze well. Make them now and take them out Christmas Eve. Just be sure to place them in an airtight container with wax paper between the layers. 

Bakin Bits

Christmas is just around the corner. There never seems to be enough hours in the day or days in the week to complete everything on my to-do list. 

A cookie recipe I have been wanting to try is Linzer Cookies. Traditionally these are made with ground almonds. I searched everywhere for a recipe that does not contain nuts, ground or whole. I could not find such a recipe. Having a nut allergy, I do not bake with or have any nut products in my home. So, I improvised and created my own version of these cookies. I started with a roll out cookie recipe, used seedless raspberry jam to stick them together and drizzled melted chocolate over them. Yummy!

Cookies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 cups flour
  • raspberry seedless jam
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla. Mix baking powder and flour, add one cup at a time, mixing and scraping sides of bowl after each addition. The dough will be stiff. This dough does not need to be chilled before rolling. 

Roll out dough on floured wax paper. Using a round cookie cutter cut out cookies. Be sure to cut out an even number of circles. Then take the smaller cutter and cut the centre out of every second cookie. You can bake the small cookies as well. I also used the star cookie cutter to make some different shaped cookies, but they are harder to assemble! 

Bake the cookies for about 6 minutes. Watch carefully! Depending on the thickness of the cookie they will need a shorter or longer baking time. It's also important to try and keep the cookies the same thickness or they will burn or be under baked. 

Once the cookies have cooled, match up tops and bottoms. Keep the browned side in for the bottom and top.

Add 1 teaspoon or less of jam and spread over cookie. I used a jam spreader to spread evenly. Do not put jam too close to edge of inside of cookie or the jam will ooze out when you add the top. 

For the finishing touch, melt the chocolate chips in the microwave for 40 seconds. Stir and microwave for another 20 seconds or until smooth. I used an icing bag to drizzles the chocolate over the cookies but you can use a spoon or resealable plastic bag for the same effect. You could also dust with icing sugar if not using chocolate just before serving. 

Bakin Bits

It all started with a cookie cutter...

On a trip to Florida last year I visited the IKEA store in Orlando. Of course the only area I was interested in was the kitchen section. While there, one of the many things I purchased was a set of cookie cutters containing a moose cookie cutter as well as a fox, whale, porcupine and squirrel. I knew there had to be a cool cookie that needed this cookie cutter and I would regret not buying it! 

A couple of weeks ago while searching for ideas for Christmas baking I stumbled upon a gingerbread recipe and immediately thought of my moose cookie cutter. The gingerbread would be a perfect moosey brown! And here they are.

Loads of fun to bake and decorate and the wonderful smell that it leaves in your house makes it all worth while! Enjoy!

Basic Gingerbread Mix:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2  tsp baking soda
  • 1/2  tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp powdered ginger
  • 1/2 tsp  ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cups molasses
  • 1 egg, beaten

Royal Icing

  • 4 cups icing sugar
  • 4 tbsp meringue powder
  • 6 tbsp water

Preheat oven to 375°F. Mix flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Melt shortening in large saucepan. Cool slightly. Add sugar, molasses and eggs to saucepan; mix well. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Turn mixture onto lightly floured surface. Knead in remaining dry ingredients by hand. Add a little more flour, if necessary, to make the dough firm.

On floured surface, roll out to 1/4 in. thick. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 10 minutes or until browned around edges.

To make the royal icing, mix all ingredients together and blend on medium to high speed for about 7 minutes. Be sure to cover the icing with a wet cloth until ready to use and while using as it dries rather quickly. Below, I outlined each moose using royal icing tinted brown. Then I made a scarf with white royal icing and added sprinkles before the icing dried. The finishing touches were snowflake sprinkles and a red candy for the eye. 

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