Friday, September 30, 2011

Spaghetti with Bolognese Sauce

Today I made a fairly easy, but delicious supper. Just a classic bolognese sauce served over spaghetti. I kind of made up the recipe myself just from experience and reading other recipes for bolognese sauce. Bolognese is not something that must be prepared with extreme accuracy or specific ingredients. This is a good recipe to make for a dish that is quick, easy, balanced, and uses mostly ingredients on hand. Bolognese sauce also makes great leftovers ans freezes very well for future convenience. 
Bolognese (besides being a breed of dogs) is basically an Italian meat sauce. It begins with ground meat, such as beef, veal, chuck, or pork, or sometimes pancetta bacon or sausage. Bolognese also contains a blend of finely diced mild vegetables such as carrots, onions, celery, garlic, and sometimes mushrooms. It is simmered with tomatoes, tomato sauce, or tomato puree, and spruced up with herbs and spices. It originated in Bologna, Italy, and is traditionally served with spaghetti or another form of pasta.

For my version of Bolognese Sauce, I used lean ground beef, chopped onion, finely diced carrots, canned tomatoes and juices, a few fresh tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, and a roux sauce made with tomato. I simply scramble-fried the meat first then added the carrots, and onions, followed by the mushrooms and tomatoes. Meanwhile, I made the roux sauce, then added it to the meat. I simmered this all together for a few minutes and served it over spaghetti. This version is quite chunky and hearty. It makes a complete, balanced meal.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What's In The Freezer?

This question used to come to me quite often. You see, I often freeze baked goods for the sake of convenience, leftovers, or long-term storage. I also freeze other food items, such as meat, produce, butter, bread, and whole wheat flour to prevent spoilage. However, if you have a deep freeze, it can be difficult to keep track of what is in it, where the items are, how much, and how old the items are. This can cause spoilage, squished foods, freezer burn, and headaches (not to mention frozen fingers). Many recommend keeping  a list posted to the freezer door to keep track, and to label each item carefully. This method still has loopholes though. Whether you fail to record an item either due to laziness, or the old "I'll remember", these items can easily be forgotten. In my household, I have been trying a new system for the past few months, and it has been working quite well thus far. Here is how it works:

  1. Package - Package items appropriately (well sealed, in a container or bag large enough to contain the food without too much excess space).
  2. Label - Label the items with the name, quantity, date, and any other important information.
  3. Location - Find a spot in the freezer where you will be able to locate the item, and it will not be squished or succumb to freezer burn. For example, you may wish to divide the freezer into separate sections for meat, baked goods, etc. Place delicate items or items you will be using soon near the top of the freezer.
  4. Record - I use a scribbler arranged by category to record every item I put in the freezer, the quantity, the packaging it is in, and the date. When I take the item out of the freezer, I cross it off the list. This way I always know what and how much is in the freezer.
  5. Enjoy - Most items must be thawed in the refrigerator for safety reasons (or under cold running water). Allow plenty of time for thorough thawing. Most cookies, breads, muffins, cakes, squares, etc. can safely be thawed at room temperature and usually only require 30 minutes to 2 hours.
PHOTO CREDIT: "Adjustable Temperature Control: Lift Out Storage Baskets." Frigidaire, n.d. Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lining Baking Pans

Lining baking pans is a convenient, easy, and helpful alternative to greasing pans. When pans are lined, the liner can easily be lifted out and peeled off of the food to easily cut them, cleaning or reusing the pan is easy, and you don’t have to worry about baked items being stuck to the pan. However, sometimes it is hard to decide what to line the pan with.
All pans are lineable, whether it be square, round, or rectangular. Pans may be lined with foil, waxed paper, parchment paper, paper or silicone liners. So how do you decide what to use to line which pans for which recipes, unless the recipe states what to use? Here are some tips to follow.

* Silicone liners can be used for just about everything. They come in many different shapes and sizes, are easy to clean, and are environmentally friendly. However, some people find that silicone leaves an unusual taste on their food.
* Parchment paper is the next best thing. Nothing sticks to it, it can withstand high temperatures, and it can easily be removed.
* Foil is best for brownies and frozen desserts. Some baked items will stick to the foil, and it will be difficult to peel off.
* Waxed paper is best used only when the recipe calls for it, or if you know by experience that it will work for a particular recipe. For example, I always use waxed paper when making a certain banana cake, as I know from experience that it works the best.
* Paper liners are best when baking muffins or cupcakes, as the fit the pan perfectly, and lining every individual cup with parchment paper is just too tedious.
PHOTO CREDIT: "Foil Lined Pan." Recipe Tips, n.d. Wendesday, September 28, 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Canned Food

Canned food is convenient, cheap, nutritional, widely available, non-perishable, easy to store, and available any season of the year. Canned food can be a great option for dinner supplements, baking ingredients, or snack options. However, there are a few things to watch out for. 
Canned food usually contains preservatives, most commonly salt, sugar, or fat. Many canned foods, like most processed foods, are very high in sodium. Canned vegetables are said to be more nutritious than fresh out-of-season vegetables, since they are processed at their peak quality; but if a lot of sodium is added to them, this is not the case. No-salt added canned foods are sometimes available. A second problem is that many cans contain BPA linings. Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical primarily used to make polycarbonate plastic. High levels of BPA exposure can be a potential health hazard, and many individuals choose to avoid this substance. Some can labels specify that they are BPA free, if not, contact the company.

Common Canned Foods Are:
  • Vegetables, Fruit, Beans, Soup, Milk, Fish, Flaked Meat
  • Juice, Sauce, Pie Filling, Purees, Gravy, Chili
Canned foods can be very useful. For example, canned beans are much quicker and easier to prepare then dried. Also, sweetened condensed milk is very useful to have on hand for a variety of quick dessert recipes.
PHOTO CREDIT: "7 Survival Foods." Grab The Apple, n.d. Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pizza on the Grill

Yesterday, we decided to try cooking pizza on the barbecue. There are many different ways and methods of doing this. Toppings: are they put on before, after, or during cooking? Cooking temperature: high, low, blazing hot, or indirect heat? Cooking method: directly on the grill or on a pan, rotated, flipped, or left alone? Recipe: thick crust, rising crust, or thin crust?
Well, here is what we chose: a thin crust pizza, pre-topped, cooked at a high temperature on a pan, rotated at half time. This ended up working quite well for us. The crust was thin and very crispy and the pizza cooked to perfection in a reasonable amount of time. One problem we had was parts of the crust got a little bit burnt, but we figured if we used a double layer of pans next time, this would solve the problem. We cooked two pizzas at once, so the baking pans (just regular cookie sheets, greased and floured) jutted out of the barbecue just a tad. We simply rotated them half way through so both ends of the pizzas would cook evenly, and they did.
I used my regular, trusted pizza dough recipe, but made only half as much as the usual (and by the usual, I mean a double batch) so it could be stretched into a thin crust for a little something different. I really enjoyed the crispiness of the crust and the slightly smokey barbecue flavour. Next, I topped the dough with pizza sauce to within an inch of all the edges, and each family member decorated their own piece with their favourite toppings. The toppings we had on hand were: onion, green pepper, mushrooms, broccoli florets, sliced fresh tomatoes, ham, pepperoni, salami, and of course, grated mozzarella cheese! Then my father, the barbecue master, grilled them for about 20 minutes, at a temperature hovering around 425F. Delicious!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cookbooks Galore!

Today I bought 14 new-to-me cookbooks. They were just a fraction of the many gently used cookbooks that were being sold at a fundraising yardsale. I easily could have bought all of them up, or at least most of them, since there were a few that I already own, but I know I have to try to limit myself. I absolutely love finding yardsales where there is a display of cookbooks I can purchase and add to my ever growing collection! Sometimes I actually prefer to buy used cookbooks over brand new ones. Most used cookbooks are still in very good condition, with the added bonus of comments written in by the previous owner(s). You already have some advice written in right on the pages on which recipes are worth making! Used cookbooks are also more environmentally friendly, economical, and easier on the pocketbook. Today I purchased a cookbook for a mere 50 cents when it was originally $60!!!!! What a steal! Used cookbooks are easy to care for, I just give them a little wipe off, and leave them outside for a few hours to get rid of any musty smell that lingers.
Now, I only have a few problems that come along with these purchases: one is finding room for these new cookbooks on my shelf, two is finding the time to read them, and three is being able to try out all of the new recipes I want to from these books! Here they are pictured airing out on the deck.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Mom's Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies

To my delight, when I walked in the door earlier today, I could smell the enticing aroma of my mother's famous Chocolate Chip Cookies. They are simple oatmeal chocolate chip, but my mom makes them like no one else! The recipe is actually from Company's Coming "Cookies". My mother has generously given the recipe to a few different friends over the years, but none of their cookies ever turned out like my mother's. They just were not the same thing at all. So I am sharing the recipe with you, but I'll bet yours won't be as good as my mom's!
Oatmeal Chip Cookies
1 cup butter or hard margarine, softened
2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Add vanilla.
Add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Drop by spoonfuls onto greased baking sheet. Bake in 350F (180C) oven for about 8 to 10 minutes. Makes 5 dozen.

See, the recipe is quite simple. The original recipe also calls for 3/4 cup medium coconut, but my mother has never added that. It also says you can make an oatmeal chip pizza by pressing 3 cups dough into greased 12 inch (30 cm) pizza pan. Sprinkle with semisweet and butterscotch chips, nuts, coconut, candy coated chocolate (Smarties, M & M's), and any other treat you like. Allow a bit more time to bake. We have never tried the pizza recipe, but it sounds good!
A few more tips: my mother always lines the cookie sheets with foil. which works really well, and usually opts for hard margarine over butter, for a firmer, crispier cookie. These cookies are soft and chewy straight out of the oven, but once cool are very crisp and crunchy and delicious!

Paré, Jean. "Oatmeal Chip Cookies." Recipe. Cookies, Edmonton Alberta: Company's Coming Publishing Limited, 1988. 27.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Chocolate Cookie Bars

Here is today's creation. They are Chocolate Cookie Bars: sweet, rich chocolatey filling atop a base of rich, buttery shortbread. They are smooth, rich, and absolutely divine. They are also quite quick and easy to make. The original recipe, which I found in the back of a murder mystery novel focused on strawberry shortcake (don't ask), yielded a 9x13 inch pan. I halved this to get an 8x8 pan, but made this decision a little too late. Therefore, I had made the regular sized crust, but half of the filling recipe. I am actually quite glad I did this. The crust took a few extra minutes to bake, and was a tad on the higher side, but I think using only half that much would have made for very flat bars with barely any crust. The commentry on the recipe went something like this, "My sister says these bars are so rich, you can only eat one. But I watched her eat three at the party." This statement is very much true; the squares are very rich, but they are so good, it is hard not to go back for seconds (and thirds). The recipe also calls for a dusting of confectioners' sugar on top, but I did not do this, the bars certainly don't need it!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dining Out

Just today I realized that I have never talked about restaurants or eating out on my blog. There is so much I could say about this topic, but I will start off with my opinion on eating out in general.To tell the truth, I have mixed feelings about dining out. I am actually not a huge fan of it. I would prefer to have a hearty, home-cooked meal, whether it is made by me or someone else. This way I know exactly what is in my food, and the meal is almost always more nutritious than restaurant fare. There are also more options and alterations available when dining in. For example, maybe you want to order the baked fish, but don't like the fact that it comes with a side of french fries. Or maybe you are a huge fan of roasted chicken, but will get heartburn from the garlic seasoning. I also am not a fan of restaurant atmosphere. You are always dining with strangers, or acquaintances you would rather choose to avoid, in a crowded, noisy atmosphere with lighting that certainly is not prime, and temperatures that are usually disagreeable. I prefer to eat in the comfort of my own home. Eating out is also more expensive, and usually the portion sizes are much too large anyway.

However, there are some aspects of dining out that I enjoy. I like being able to try new foods, things I normally would not have access to at home. I also like how restaurants can accommodate large crowds of people for gatherings, and many even have private banquet rooms. But, as you can see, this list is a lot shorter than my list of cons.

I can understand why people eat out once in a while, especially when on vacation. Some people dine out for celebrations, some for convenience. I think it is always possible to have home-cooked meals that are more convenient and affordable, by way of make-ahead and freeze, slow-cookers, or prep in advance. However, I know that supper isn't always the first thought on people's minds, and restaurants are a quick and easy way to get that meal in. I think that people also eat out at restaurants because they believe the food is much better than what they could ever make, which isn't always true.

Do not get me wrong, I am not totally against eating out once in a while. In fact, it is a great way to consume some balanced meals while on vacation, and presents a nice opportunity to try new foods. Moderation, healthier choices, and portion size are key!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Apple Oatmeal Muffins

Today I made spicy, hearty Apple Oatmeal Muffins, and they turned out to be quite tasty. The recipe is my own spin on a recipe from a muffin cookbook I have. They include a simple mix of oats, whole wheat flour, cinnamon, ginger, buttermilk, and grated apples.

This is a simple, healthy muffin recipe great for breakfast, snacks, or even a light lunch. They would be fantastic spread with a little all-natural peanut butter. I had no trouble with these mffins, as they were pretty quick to make and followed standard muffin procedure. I would definitely make these muffins again. There isn't much else I can say about these, they are just plain good!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Well, we are getting into the fall weather, and that means the squash are coming out. Summer squash, also known as zucchini are tapering to an end, and winter squash are appearing. There is a wide variety of deifferent winter squashes available, each with its own wide variety of uses. Sqquash is actually quite versatile, and easy to prepare and store, although often squash is not given a second though.

COMMON TYPES OF SQUASH: Acorn, butternut, spaghetti, pepper, hubbard, buttercup, pumpkin, and turban squash. You can also find: banana, carnival, sweet dumpling, and golden nugget squash.

My personal favourite type is pumpkin, for its availability and versatility in many baked goods. I also really like buttercup, and spaghetti as an alternative to the pasta.

USES FOR SQUASH: Most types of squash can be used in a variety of baked goods, such as loaves, mufffins, and pies.
Every squash can also be prepared in almost all of the following ways: baked, broiled, steamed, mashed, microwaved, boiled, pureed, roasted, fried, and grilled.
In particular.........

  • Pumpkin is great for pie, muffins, loaves, breads, and even cookies. It is also good for stews, casseroles, and sauces.
  • Spaghetti squash actually can replace spaghetti in dishes.
  • Acorn squash is best alone with a Thankagiving meal (in my opinion).
  • Buttercup squash is delicious on its own, but a dash of brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup really enhances its sweetness.
Do not fear the squash. I encourage you to try a new kind this season!

- Squash.” Kraft, n.d. Tuesday, September 20, 2011  PHOTO CREDIT: "Big Market Squash." Start Cooking, n.d. Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cake on the Barbecue

To go with our Beer Can Chicken yesterday, I made a cake to cook on the barbecue as well. 

I found this idea to be very intriguing, and I just had to try it. 

The recipe was published in Company's Coming "Barbecues".

White Cake
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk

Cream butter and sugar together well. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Add vanilla. Stir.
Mix flour with baking powder and salt. Add in 3 parts alternately with milk in 2 parts beginning and ending with flour mixture. Pour into greased 9x9 inch (22 x 22 cm) pan.
Place pan on medium grill over indirect heat. Close lid. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until an inserted pick comes out clean. Rotate pan after 15 minutes. Serve hot with ice cream or cool, and frost. May also be baked in 350F (180C) oven for about 25 to 30 minutes.

After the meal was finished cooking on the barbecue, I just popped the cake on to cook while we ate supper. It was done cooing around the time we finished eating, and I decided to serve it warm, but with hot caramel coffee sauce instead of ice cream. It was delicious! This is a good way to save energy if you already have the barbecue on, or if you want to avoid heating up your entire house with the oven. Since this cake is a basic butter cake recipe, it does not have a whole lot of flavour on its own. For this reason, I STRONGLY RECCOMMEND you use real butter (not margarine) and real vanilla extract (not artificial or imitation) to get the best of this cake's flavour. It should also be served with a little something, whether it is sauce, ice cream, or frosting, but not alone. It is a nice, light cake, but I would not use it as a master cake recipe for birthday cakes and such, as it lacks a little something needed for those. I'm sure you could spruce this recipe up a bit though. I also used a disposable 8x8 inch foil pan, as I was a little worried about what our old barbecue might do to my good pan. Surprisingly, the pan came out in reasonably good condition, although the bottom was a little greasy from the chicken juices beforehand. Another interesting idea would be to bake the cake beforehand, let it cool, then cut it into pieces and grill the pieces directly on the barbecue, for a double-barbecued cake! I'll have to try that next time, as I would definitely make this recipe again!

Paré, Jean. "White Cake." Recipe. Barbecues, Edmonton Alberta: Company's Coming Publishing Limited, 1991. 66.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Beer Can Chicken

I'll have to give all of the credit for this creation to my father, as he is the barbecue master. Well, most of the credit anyway; it was I who gave him the cookbook with the recipe in it and bought him the chicken rack. Beer Can Chicken is a simple process of putting a whole chicken on a rack with a half-full beer can in the cavity of the chicken, resting in the pan underneath it. The recipe is started off by brining the chicken in salt water, rinsing it well, and patting it dry. Then rub it with a dry rub (the one we used was a mixture of brown sugar, garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper). Place it on the rack with the beer can and barbecue it! It was originally estimated that the chicken would take at least 2 1/2 hours to cook, but it was done within 1 1/2 hours. The only problem with this was that the rest of our meal was not ready. So we left it on the grill a little while longer, then put it in a roasting pan, covered it, and placed it on the hot stove to keep warm. Even though the chicken was slightly overcooked, it was still incredibly moist, tender, and juicy, even the breast. I'm not one for chicken skin, but the flavour was incredible from the rub, and it was very crispy too! The only regret I have is not buying another roasting rack, specifically designed for beer can chicken. I found it at a local grocery store in the clearout section for less than $3, but it did a surprisingly great job, and even came with a basting brush. I wish I had bought two, that way we could do two chickens at once! This bird turned out absolutely beautiful and delectable, and I hope my father will make it again. It can even be prepared similarly in the oven in the winter!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Shepherd's Pie

This is the Shepherd's Pie recipe that my mother and father developed years ago. It is actually the only Shepherd's Pie I have ever tasted, but I have read recipes for others, and know there are many variations on this one simple dish. This casserole is ages old, and was originally created as a stragetic and delicious way to use up leftovers. A simple combination of any ground meat, leftover mashed potatoes, and any old vegetables in the fridge. Tie this together with a sauce, based on broth, canned soup, or boullion and add some cheese or egg if you wish.

Our Shepherd's pie starts with frying up fresh onion and mushrooms with ground beef. Add in some corn, sometimes peas, condensed cream of mushroom soup, and chopped hard-boiled eggs. Spread it in a casserole dish and top with fluffy mashed potatoes. Then bake it until hot throughout. A new trick we use that I discovered is to top the potatoes with butter and broil them for the last few minutes of baking until golden. This just gives the pie a bit of a richer flavour and nice appearance.

A lovely, warm comforting dish for a slightly chilly fall day!

Friday, September 16, 2011


There are many different versions, variations, and varieties of trifles, but this is our signature. We use a simple combination of pound cake, cherry pie filling, chocolate pudding, and whipped cream, layered in a large, decorative glass bowl. Usually we use store-bought pound cake, instant pudding mix, canned cherry pie filling, and prepared whipped topping (gasp!!!!) just for convenience. But this trifle would be truly delectable with from-scratch pound cake, homemade chocolate pudding, fresh cherries cooked and sweetened by hand, and real cream whipped to stiff peaks. You could also do a mixture of homemade and store-bought ingredients. It is hard to believe how tasty this dish can be with only four ingredients, but these ingredients can be varied endlessly, by changing the type of cake, flavour of pudding, and type of fruit filling. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tasty Traditions

I promise, I will have something baked tomorrow to show you! For today though, I thought I would talk a little bit about traditions - those involving food of course. For starters, in our house we passed through a few different stages where we had the same dish on a certain night. For example, at one point we had Friday night spaghetti. Another time was Wednesday night pizza or pancakes (biweekly), for a quick dish because Wednesdays were busy with activities for us. Yet another time we ate pasta for a quick lunch every Sunday, following 9:30 mass and skating.

We step away from the traditional ham, and always cook a turkey for Easter, with all of the trimmings. We also have a similar turkey dinner at Thanksgiving, prepared by my grandmother at her house. The same at Christmas, except with the company of a lot more relatives. On Christmas we eat the big turikey meal at lunch, stuff ourselves with various desserts throughout the afternoon, then enjoy a "light" supper at another relative's house. I saw "light" because that is the idea, but we all  end up pigging out on lasagna, meatballs, cabbage rolls, and chicken wings anyway. This is followed up by even more desserts. Hey, it is Chrstmas afterall! Since we don't cook a turkey ourselves at Christmas, we always cook one at home for New Year's. It is also a Dutch tradition to make ollie bollen - deep-fried fritter pastries roled in icing sugar - on New Year's Eve, and enjoy the leftovers for breakfast the next day.

We also have regular, everyday traditions, like a birthday cake at every birthday, as well as dining out to celebrate (usually at our favourite pizza restaurant, where the birthday person eats free). My mother always makes her famous chocolate chip cookies when we are invited to someone's house, and if they are lucky, her prized rum cake too. We barbeque as much as possible in the summer, and enjoy homemade soup in the winter. Lasagna is a dish we like to serve to company, as well as enjoy it any other time we get the craving for it. Pasta is our go-to dish when we don't know what else to cook. We've also got a collection of tried and true favourite recipes we make in different rotations. And there is always homemade muffins or loaf waiting on the counter when I go home.

Traditions are about celebrations, family, friends, and of course, food. Enjoy them!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Crunchy Drop Biscuits

Today I am going to share a master recipe for a type of biscuit that may be able to save the day! Crunchy Drop Biscuits are a delicious and versatile accompaniment to any meal. They are fast and easy to make. As the name suggests, these biscuits do not require any kneading, rolling, or cutting; you just drop the dough from a spoon onto a cookie sheet. The recipe makes a good-sized batch that can easily be doubled, and these biscuits also freeze fairly well. They are especially good dipped in homemade soup! The recipe comes from Company's Coming "Muffins & More".

Crunchy Drop Biscuits
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
5 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cold butter or margarine
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk

In large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter until crumbly. Make a well in center.
In small bowl beat egg with spoon. Add milk. Pour into well. Stir lightly to mix. Batter should be sticky. If it isn't, stir in 1 tablespoon of milk at a time until it is. Drop by teaspoonful on ungreased baking sheet. Bake in 450F (235C) oven for 10-12 minutes or until browned. Yield: 15-20 drops.

You can make the biscuits as big or as small as you want, adjust the baking time accordingly. As with most biscuits, space them far apart for crispy edges and close together for softer edges. I find 450F too high, I usually use 425F and also as another precaution, use two baking sheets stacked together so the bottoms do not burn. Bake until the tops are just lightly golden. If you are unsure, be sure to check the bottoms, they should be just light brown.

The recipe also says you can just form the dough into a circle to bake, and break off mounds to eat. I have never tried this, but if I am ever in a real hurry, I sure will!

Paré, Jean. "Crunchy Drop Biscuits." Recipe. Muffins & More, Edmonton Alberta: Company's Coming Publishing Limited, 1987. 86.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Black Forest Cake

I haven't baked in a while, so I am going to tell you about something I made awhile ago. This is a Black Forest Cake that I made last September for my father's birthday. I am quite proud of this cake, as you can see I am featuring it as my profile picture. This was before I got into cake decorating with buttercream, and piping borders, and flowers.

This cake simply starts with my favourite chocolate cake recipe that I always talk about. I poured the cake batter into three round cake pans: two eight inch and one nine inch. I used one slightly larger pan so I could have a bigger base, which showcased the cherry filling. The filling is simply real whipping cream, cherries, sugar, vanilla, etc. I iced the top with my favourite rich chocolate frosting, and finished the cake off with some whipped cream dollops and whole cherries. Simple, classic, old-school and quite a hit!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Benefits of Chocolate

Everybody (or at least the vast majority of us) loves chocolate! Chocolate cake, chocolate bars, chocolate chip cookies, molten chocolate cakes, chocolate fudge brownies, chocolate cappuchinos; chocolate is everywhere! We love chocolate, and its sweet, smooth taste, so heavenly and delectable. Chocolate is so versatile, so indulging, and such as great pick-me-up anytime you need it. However, chocolate is also high in calories, fat, simple sugars, and caffeine; such a guiltful treat. Or is it?

New research shows that chocolate may not be so bad for us after all; in fact, it provides many health benefits. The key is enjoying chocolate in moderation, and the chocolate that reaps the most benefits is dark. This means that the chocolate contains little to no added milk ingredeints, a lower amount of sugar, and is made directly from the cacao bean plant or unsweetened cocoa powder. The first ingredeint should be cocoa, and not sugar. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the better, but it should be at least 65 percent cocoa. My favourite is 85 percent. You can even purchase solid chocolate bars that are 99 percent cocoa (I've tasted them, there are actually quite awful). But remember, the higher the percentage, the higer the bitterness.

Dark chocolate is plant-based, all natural, and full of antioxidants. It helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It contains stimulant and anti-depressant effects and good fats, and it tastes great! So indulge in a little dark chocolate evryday. Experts say about one ounce (about 100 calories worth) is enough to reap the benefits without overdoing it.
Chocolate - Health Benefits.
” Longevity, n.d. 
Monday, September 12, 2011  PHOTO CREDIT: Chocolate - Health Benefits.
” A Dinner Guest, n.d. Monday, September 12, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011


A few months ago, I came across a recipe in a magazine for homemade hashbrowns. 

These hashbrowns are baked, not fried, and the amount of fat and salt could easily be controlled. 

They are also an easy, delicious, and convenient side dish to go with almost any meal, because they can bake in the oven along with the main course. 

After many trials, and a few modifications, here is how I make homemade hashbrowns.
Homemade Hashbrowns
potatoes, peeled, washed, and diced into bite-sized pieces

*Choose the amounts of ingredients based on how many people you want to serve. Generally, allow one large potato per person, and about one tablespoon oil and one teaspoon salt for four servings, depending on your personal taste. You can always adjust the amounts after tasting.

Place the diced potatoes in a large bowl of cold water, and soak them until you are ready to use them, at least one hour and up to three hours. Preheat oven to approprite temperature (see below) and place a rack in the highest position. Drain the potaotes (I use a colander, which works really well) and place in an appropriately-sized pot, cover with fresh cold water, and add some salt. Bring to a roaring boil, covered, over high heat. Immediately turn off heat, and let the potatoes sit on the burner, covered, until the water is still. Drain again very throughly in the colander.

Drizzle some oil on a baking sheet, and spread it around. Place the potatoes on the baking sheet, spreading them evenly with a spatula. Drizzle potatoes with desired amount of oil, gently toss with the spatula to coat. Sprinkle with desired amount of salt, and toss again. Spread evenly.

There are two baking options here:

Use an oven heated to 425F and the top oven rack. Cook potatoes for 30 minutes, turning them with a spatula every ten minutes. Then, broil the hashbrowns on high heat for 2-3 minutes until golden and crispy.

Use an oven temperatue suitable for your main course, anywhere from 325F to 400F, and the top oven rack. Cook potatoes for about 45 minutes (more or less, depending on temperature), turning them with a spatula every ten minutes for the first half hour, then just before broiling. Broil the hashbrowns on high heat for 2-3 minutes until golden and crispy. Sometimes hashbrowns actually cook faster or crispier with another dish in the oven as well.

This may seem like a lenghty explaination, but all of the steps are short, easy, and crucial. Most potato dishes require a similar amount of steps and processes. If you happen to have some hashbrowns leftover (unlikely) they can be refrigerated for a day or so and reheated in the oven for 5-10 minutes (325F - 425F).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Post Number 50!

Wow, it is hard to believe that I have been blogging for fifty days already! In honour of this, I am going to have a little fun and name fifty of my favourite foods (in no particular order).

  • Pizza, Bananas, Chocolate, Yogurt, Granola, Salmon, Chickpeas
  • Whole Wheat Bread, Apples, Hummus, Peanut Butter, Pears
  • Blueberries, Eggs, Juice, Chocolate Fudge, Buttercream Icing
  • Pasta, Peaches, Broccoli, Oatmeal, Canteloupe, Strawberries
  • Spinach, Chicken, Risotto, Muffins, Cherries, Cookies, Peppers
  • Zucchini, Hashbrowns, Shepherd's Pie, Lasagna, Peas, Tomato
  • Squares, Cucumber, Rice, Scallops, Paella, Curry, Pancakes
  • Applesauce, Papaya, Butternut Squash, Haddock, Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms, Tea Biscuits

Wow, that was easier than I thought. I could probably even name another fifty! Well, all of this thinking about food is making me hungry. ¡Adiós!

Friday, September 09, 2011

The Most Important Meal of the Day

We all know that breakfast is by far the most important meal of the day, and a lot of research and studies can back that up, but now that the back to school season is in full swing, it is even more important to start the day off with the proper nutrients to fuel our bodies and minds!

It has been proven that those who start their day off with a balanced breakfast:

  • Are more attentive
  • Are more productive
  • Are more focused
  • Are less fatigued
  • Are less irritable
  • Perform better
  • Have increased metabolism
  • Have better learning and memory functions
  • Have a reduced risk of heart disease
  • Have more energy
  • Prevent overeating during the rest of the day
  • Maintain a healthier weight
  • Obtain the vital amounts of essential vitamins, minerals, and foods from each food group
  • Prevent many health risks, such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure
The list goes on and on with numerous studies and research to prove it. The bottom line is, there are no cons to eating breakfast, there is no reason why you shouldn't!

You can always find the time to eat even just a little something, it is better than nothing. The ideal breakfast consists of one serving from each of the four food groups, or at least three of them. Protein is a very good kickstart to the day, and remember to include some fresh fruit or vegetables.

I have four standard breakfasts that I can always rely on. I also try to rotate these breakfasts and include some other ones too for variety.

  1. A bowl of whole-grain dry cereal with fresh fruit, a piece of whole wheat toast with all-natural peanut butter, and a tall glass of milk.
  2. A piece of whole wheat toast with a hard-boiled egg cut up on top, a piece of fresh fruit, and a tall glass of milk.
  3. A bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit, a piece of whole wheat toast with all-natural peanut butter, and a tall glass of milk.
  4. Two pieces of whole wheat toast, one with all-natural peanut butter and one with unsweetened applesauce, the remainder of the cup of applesauce on the side, and a tall glass of milk.
 As you can see, I include a serving from each of the four food groups. I also switch up which fruits and which cereals I eat often, for variety. I realize that not everyone is able to eat an all-star breakfast like this every morning, but please realize that there are plenty of other options.

The moral of the story is: EAT A HEALTHY, BALANCED BREAKFAST EVERYDAY!!!!!!!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Dad's Birthday Cake

Today was my father's birthday, so naturally, I made him a cake. This was by far the fastest I have ever decorated a cake. I didn't have much time to spare, so I did some simple decorations and stuck a toy motorcycle on top (which represents an inside joke within the family). I completed this cake in just over a half hour, using only one piping tip, and minimal other dishes and ingredients. The result: a delicious, simple cake that made my father smile.
The cake was an eight inch round chocolate with an 8x8 inch square vanilla on top, sandwiched and iced with a yummy chocolate icing. Happy Birthday Dad!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Brown Batter Bread

As I have mentioned before, I am a big fan of whole wheat bread and I am still on the quest for the perfect recipe. This perfect bread must correspond with the following criteria:
  • Ease (Are there too many steps? Is there a lot of kneading involved?)
  • Time (Does it require a third rising or lengthy risings?)
  • Texture (It must be soft enough for breakfast, but firm enough for sandwiches.)
  • Taste (I like my bread moist, sweet, and hearty, but not too wheaty.)
I think this bread is the best I have made yet, and it may just be the perfect recipe. I have only baked one other bread that tasted better than this one, which required no kneading or rising times, but it could not withstand sandwiches at all. Also, this bread is a batter bread and requires no kneading, which is easier and less time consuming. The recipe is from Company's Coming "Breads".

Brown Batter Bread
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 (8g) package active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups milk
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine
2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. butter or hard margarine, softened, for brushing tops (optional)

Stir first amount of sugar in warm water in small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over top. Let stand 10 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast. Meanwhile, scald milk in saucepan. Remove from heat. Add next 4 ingredients. Stir until sugar is dissolved and butter is melted. Cool to lukewarm. Add yeast mixture. Pour into large bowl.

Beat in eggs. Gradually beat in both flours. Cover with greased waxed paper and tea towel. Let stand in oven with light on and door closed for about 1 1/4 hours until doubled in bulk. Stir batter down. Divide dough between 2 greased 9x5x3 inch loaf pans. Cover with greased waxed paper and tea towel. Let stand in oven with light on and door closed for about 1 hour until doubled in size. Bake in 375F oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Turn out onto racks to cool. Brush warm tops with second amount of butter. Makes 2 loaves.

My Notes: I skipped brushing the tops with extra butter, they didn't need it. I used all whole wheat flour, instead of part all-purpose flour, and the bread certainly was not too heavy or wheaty. I halved all of the ingredients, except for the first three, which worked out perfectly to make just one loaf.

Paré, Jean. "Brown Batter Bread." Recipe. Breads, Edmonton Alberta: Company's Coming Publishing Limited, 1996. 14.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Cheese Crackers

These are quick, easy, and conveinent to prepare for a yummy addition to any meal. The majority of the prep work is completed using a food processor, and both the dough and the crackers themselves may be made in advance. These crackers are crisp, very cheesey, and flavourful. The recipe came from a Woman's Day Magazine.

Cheese Crackers
8 ounces (about 1 cup, more or less) finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. granulated (white) sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne, if desired (paprika and ground black peper are also good)
1 Tbsp. water

In a large food processor, combine the cheese and the butter until well blended. Add the flour, sugar, salt, and cayenne, pulse several times until well blended. Add water, pulse just until mixture comes together and forms a dough. Knead breifly, just until smooth. Divide dough in half, form each half into an 8 inch log, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. (Dough must be refrigerated for at least two hours and up to three days.)

Heat oven to 375F. Grease or line baking sheets. With a sharp knife, slice dough logs into 1/4 inch thick slices, arange on baking sheets. Poke a few holes in each cracker using a wooden skewer, to resemble buttons. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until edges are just golden. (Crackers can be baked up to a week in advance, stored in an airtight container, and reheated at 350F for 3-5 minutes to crisp, if desired.)

NOTE: I only have a very small mini-chop food processor, and a five-cup blender, so I had to make a few adaptations to the recipe instructions. I combined the cheese and butter in my blender, to form a kind of smooth paste. Then I dumped it into a large bowl and mixed in the dry ingredients by hand, sprinkled it with water, and mixed in again. Even when using the food processor, the mixture must still be kneaded breifly at this point, so I then continued with the recipe.

Cheese Crackers.” Woman's Day, n.d. Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Monday, September 05, 2011

Carmelized Onion and Potato Flan

Yesterday I made this potato dish to go with our dinner. It was quick to prepare, easy to do, and quite good. We will have the leftovers today with our meal. It is sort of like Scalloped Potatoes, but a little different. I can't remember where the recipe came from because I had copied it into my own writing, and I just found the recipe in my collection.

2 Tbsp. butter (not oil or margarine)
2 large onions, thinly sliced
6-8 medium potatoes, peeled, washed, and thinly sliced
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup grated cheese (I used mozzarella)

In a large frying pan, cook the onions over medium high heat in the butter just until they begin to brown. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook sowly for about 20 minutes, to carmelize and release their juices.

Arrange half of the potato slices shingle-style in the bottom of a greased 9x13 inch metal baking dish. Season, top with half of the onions and half of the cheese. Repeat layers.
Cover with foil, bake at 375F for 50-60 minutes until potatoes are tender.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Baked Alaska

Since we had company coming, some more ice cream to use up, and a hot day, I decided to attempt Baked Alaska. For those who don't know, Baked Alaska is a dessert with a cake or brownie base, piled high with ice cream, covered in meringue, and baked at a high temperature for a few minutes, just until the meringue browns. Baked Alaska can be round, square, rectangular, or individual servings. The base layer holds everything together, the ice cream just begins to melt, and the meringue makes a crisp outer layer. This dessert feeds a large crowd and must be eaten right away, but it is quite light, so you can enjoy it even after a heavy meal. Here is how I made mine:
  1. I had a leftover 8 inch round chocolate cake with only a few pieces out of it. I cut it up and used it to line a foil lined 9x5 inch loaf pan. I froze it briefly.
  2. I took some hoofprints ice cream out of the freezer to soften for 10 minutes, then spread it on top of the frozen cake layer, all the way to the top of the pan. I froze this overnight.
  3. I beat three egg whites and 1/4 tsp. cream of tarter until soft peaks formed, then added 3/4 cup sugar gradually until stiff peaks formed. I took the cake and ice cream out of the pan, put it on foil on a cookie sheet, and spread the meringue evenly over top, covering all of it. I popped this into a freezer while we ate the meal.
  4. I baked it at 450F for about 5 minutes until the meringue browned.
  5. I cut it into thin slices with a sharp knife and served immediately.
Baked Alaska is actually quite simple and quick to make, it just requires some prep work. It is even faster if you happen to have a spare cake layer in the freezer. It is incredibly delicious and unique, and can be very versatile. Possible bases include any flavour of cake, brownie, cookie, or square; ice cream can be any flavour, a combination of complementing flavours, frozen yogurt, or sorbet; and the meringue can be thin, thick, flavoured, or sprinkled with nuts. Don't be afraid to attempt this stunning dessert!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Blueberry & Brown Butter Squares

Blueberry & Brown Butter Squares. If this sounds familiar to you, you are probably remembering the Brown Butter Blueberry Muffins I made on August 24. Well, these recipes are quite similar, as they use the same concept and ingredients. The muffins were so delicious, when I came across this square recipe I just had to try it! I guess blueberries and brown butter are a winning combination!

I found some significant differences in the two recipes. There is less butter used in the squares, but the butter is browned a lot longer than the muffins. The muffins call for 1/2 cup of butter cooked for 2-3 minutes until nutty smelling and browned. The squares call for 1/3 cup of butter cooked for 6-7 minutes until deep, golden brown and fragrant. The squares method is definitely the way to go. I found the brown butter taste in the blueberry muffins quite weak, but in the squares it was highly detectable, yet not overwhelming.

These squares start with a soft, moist base piled high with fresh blueberies, and finished off with a cinnamon-streusel topping. They are absolutely divine!

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Results!

As promised, here are the results from the baking I entered in the fall exhibition home cooking competition.
CHOCOLATE CAKE - 1st + Ribbon

In addition, I earned the place of the 3rd Best Exhibitor overall, which comes with a framed plaque and a large basket full of cooking goodies, in addition to the cash prizes from the winnings listed above. The gift basket contains items such as cookbooks, spices, storage containers, ingredients, produce bags, cooking utensils, etc. I am very much pleased with my winnings :)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Exhibition Baking Competition

It's that time of year again! The annual fall exhibition is in town for the week. The exhibition includes a wide variety of activities for people of all ages to enjoy, including rides, games, horse shows, amusements, food stalls, music, barrell racing, farm animals, and much more. There are also competitions, where people can enter there own home items, such as quilts, cross-stiches, photographs, knitting, crafts, vegetables, flowers, plants, and of course my personal favourite, home cooking!
Naturally, I entered a few things into the home cooking competition. I entered five different things twice; because I qualified for both the junior and the senior categories, I entered each of the five items in both of the categories.

CHOCOLATE CAKE - Classic Chocolate Cake
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES - Jumbo Soft & Chewy Chip Cookies
BAKED SQUARES - Chocolate Smacks
NO-BAKE SQUARES - Peanut Butter Ice Box Squares

I was quite busy on Tuesday, trying to bake as much as possible on the day of judging so it would be at its best quality, then cutting, selecting, bagging, labeling, and unfortunately, cleaning. All of these items have appeared on my blog at some point, three of them in the past few days. Here is a picture of all of my items lined up and ready to go to the competition.

I'll have the results for you tomorrow!