Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Ollie Bollen

I know I featured these last year as well, but the occasion for Ollie Bollen only comes around once a year, so I figured I would share them again! Besides, this is only our third year making them, and every year we are improving more and more and discovering different techniques that work better. Just as a brief recap, Ollie Bollen are deep fried Dutch fritters, literally translated as "oil balls", but commonly referred to as Dutch doughnuts. They are traditionally made and enjoyed once a year on New Year's Eve, and any leftovers (which doesn't always happen) are enjoyed for breakfast the next morning with a steaming cup of coffee. Ollie Bollen are best eaten fresh of course, but they do reheat fairly well the next day in the toaster oven. And of course, you cannot have Ollie Bollen that have not been sprinkled (or more commonly, drowned) in a layer of icing sugar.
My father is always the master of the Ollie Bollen dough and deep fryer at our house. This is likely because he grew up in the Dutch household and was already familiar with the process. I believe he uses a recipe that is a combination of a modern recipe we found in one of our breads cookbooks, and his mother's old recipe. Ollie Bollen are okay plain, but they taste better with some chopped apples or raisins and the best with both. We also tried chopped, mixed glazed fruit (leftover from Christmas), which was good but a tad sticky and messy in the deep-fryer. We have even tried adding miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips, but be advised that this turns the oil a little messy, so if you really want chocolate Ollie Bollen, wait until the end of the batch. They are quite tasty though!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best of 2012

Being the second last day of the year, I suppose I should comment on some of my baking accomplishments of 2012. I guess I will divide them into a few different categories (though it is extremely hard to single out a few items from an entire year's worth of baking).
The items I am most proud of are: Minecraft Cake (January 18th), Valentine's Brownie Dessert (February 14th), Flower Cupcakes (March 1st), Pizza Roll Ups (April 26th), Easter Chick Cake (April 8th), Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (October 6th), Haunted House Cake (October 27th), Owl Cupcakes (November 21st), and X Congratulations Cake (December 3rd).
The items I thought were the most delicious are: Caramel Pie (March 14th), Double Chocolate Brownie Bars (March 23rd), Black Bottom Slice (May 27th), Chocolate Chip Meringue Bars (August 2nd), Date Squares (November 3rd), and Double Chip Brownies (November 9th).
The most difficult items are: Chocolate Overload Cake (July 24th), Cocoa Cola Cake (September 8th), Whole Wheat Bread (November 5th)
It is no coincidence that most of the items I am most proud of are cakes, and most of the items I found the tastiest are chocolate. I must say though, my overall favorite features of the year are not things that I made myself (though I did help with one of them. These things are my two birthday cakes, first the Jungle Birthday Cake I had expected (June 4th), and the Surprise Birthday Cake my parents made for me (June 9th). 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chocolate Toffee Bark

Here is a homemade Christmas gift someone gave us. It is a type of chocolate bark, but none like I had ever had before. This bark is not a particularly solid bark, like the usual melted chocolate  with maybe a few nuts, fruit, or candies thrown in. This bark is a bit softer, but equally, if not more so, delicious! It is a marbelled mixture of semi-sweet chocolate and white chocolate (with more semi-sweet chocolate, just the way I like it). There are toffee bits stirred into the chocolate, adding a new, yummy butterscotch flavor and a little crunch. The bark is then sprinkled with a few festive red and green sprinkles for a decorative look. When I first smelled this bark, I could not figure out what the extra flavor was. At first I thought it was peanut butter, but then I narrowed it down to butterscotch. It turned out to be toffee bits, which work really well with the chocolate. Homemade gifts such as these are tasty and easy gift ideas. Bark is a particularly good one, because it is very quick and easy to make, and you can make a big batch of it as once. It also keeps for quite a while, and it is rare that you can go wrong with a chocolate gift! 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Baked Goods From Christmas

Here is the collection of baked goods we have from Christmas this year. I was quite behind in my Christmas baking this year, and only got around to a few things, such as Panettone, Sticky Toffee Puddings, and Christmas Gift Brownies. However, I have no problem making more Christmas treats now, even if Christmas day has come and gone, the holiday season still lingers. As well, I certainly don't mind eating Christmas baked goods in the off-season, even in the summertime, they still taste good. And I guess I am going to have to continue eating them for awhile, as we still have quite the stash of Christmas cookies in the freezer. Pictured in this display are the following. Top plate: Chocolate Chip Surprise Kiss Cookies and Chocolate Fruit Cake. Bottom plate: Shortbread Cookies, Chocolate Shortbread Cookies, and Smartie Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies. Red plate: Gingerbread Cookies.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Toffee Rum Sauce

Toffee Rum Sauce
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 Tablespoons rum

In a medium pot over medium heat, melt the butter and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and cook for two minutes. Add cream in a slow, steady stream, as it may sputter. Add rum, and bring to a boil, cooking for five more minutes. Do not let it boil over. Serve warm and refrigerate any leftovers. 

This is a toffee rum sauce to make with the sticky toffee pudding from yesterday. The pudding should be served warm as well, but if not, the sauce will warm it. The rum could be left out, or replaced with milk if it is too thick, for a non alcoholic version, but the alcohol is boiled off anyway, and really adds to the flavor without being too strong. 

The best way to serve these sticky toffee puddings is to unwrap an individual pudding and place it upside down on a plate. Reheat it in the microwave if necessary. Spoon a drizzle of toffee rum sauce over the pudding, allowing some to drizzle on the plate. 
This sauce becomes quite hard as it cools, so try to use it immediately or warm it over low heat to thin it again if necessary. If you are serving leftovers, place a spoonful of sauce in the middle of a pudding and heat it all together in the microwave to warm the pudding and thin out the sauce. They certainly don't call it sticky toffee pudding for nothing!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Well, last year I made some figgy pudding for Christmas, so this year I wanted to try a different Christmas pudding recipe. I was thinking of plum pudding, but I couldn't find any canned plums, plus I came across this recipe for sticky toffee pudding published in the newspaper the other day. 

Sticky Toffee Pudding
250 grams (approximately one cup) pitted dates, chopped
1 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3 Tablespoons molasses
2 Tablespoons corn syrup
1 2/3 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line muffin cups with paper liners.
In a small saucepan, bring the dates and water to a boil, cook on high until thickened while preparing the rest of the batter.
In a large bowl ,cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the vanilla, then the eggs. Stir in the molasses and corn syrup. Stir in the flour and baking powder, mix well.
Using a handheld immersion blender, puree the date mixture until smooth. Stir in the baking soda. Add to batter, mix well. Divide among muffin cups, do not overfill. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not over bake. Serve warm or reheated with rum toffee sauce (see tomorrow's post). 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Warm Christmas Wishes

Merry Christmas everyone! Or Happy Holidays to those of you who participate in other celebrations. Because today is a holiday, I will keep today's blog post short and simple, although there is certainly no lack of food around, especially homemade baked goods and cooked dishes and turkey dinners, that I could post about. But today is a time to spend with family and friends, enjoying good company. I will even admit that I did not write or prepare this post on Christmas, but I set it to post automatically today. Not that I really expect many people to read this on Christmas day, or even at all. So I would just like to take this time to wish everyone a very merry Christmas, and safe, healthy, and happy holidays. Enjoy some good foods, as Christmas only comes once a year and it is certainly a time to indulge; just don't overdo it!
PHOTO CREDIT:"merry-christmas-banner.jpg"  http://hhdwallpapes.com/festival-celebration/merry-christmas-wishes-greetings-hd-wallpapers-pictures/.html?pid=1016. HHD Wallpapers, n.d. Monday, December 24, 2012.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Fruitcake Cookies

These are the fruitcake cookies my grandmother makes every year around Christmas time. I think she began making them because no one was really a big fan of fruitcake, but put the same ingredients into cookie form and they are gobbled up! These fruitcake cookies are soft, moist, and spicy. 
These cookies contain a nice blend of fruit, like you would usually find in a fruitcake. I know there are red and green cherries and dates in the cookies, along with some chopped pecans. There may be some other fruit in there as well, but I'm not completely sure. All I know is that these cookies are delicious, and certainly remind you of fruitcake - but all the good qualities of fruitcake. I am not meaning to give fruitcake a bad rap, but it usually does have one anyway. I would enjoy these anytime of the year, not just Christmas. In fact, this is probably a good recipe to make to use up leftover fruit from making fruitcakes and fruitbreads and squares at Christmastime. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Homemade Panettone Gifts

These are the panettones I made from the recipe yesterday. I have them all packaged up and ready to give. I made four smaller loaves, as then one batch goes further than if I had just made it into two loaves, and I can give it to more people. And of course, I keep one for me and my family to taste. Panettone tastes best if it is allowed to age for a little while before tasting, just like a fruit cake. That is why I wrap them so well and package them up as a gift that doesn't really need to be opened. I wrapped each loaf in plastic wrap, then foil, then placed it in a sealed plastic bag, then wrapped it in Christmas paper and tied a ribbon on it. Then I placed a tag on each specifying the day the bread was baked, how long it should ripen, how long it would be good after that, and how to enjoy. The message went something like this: "Should be allowed to age for a week or two before tasting for best flavor. Should be good for at least another week after that. Can be wrapped well and frozen for prolonged storage." I also found some adorable Christmas stickers that say "Baked by....For" or "Goodies by" or "Baked especially for....By" so I stuck one of those on each package too. Panettone is good with a little butter and/or honey, either toasted or not. We tend to eat it for breakfast, but it is good as a snack or a not too sweet dessert as well. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Italian Christmas Fruit Bread

This is the recipe for The Italian Christmas Fruit Bread, called Panettone, that I have been making the past few years and giving as gifts. Panettone is also available in stores, and those commercial varieties are actually quite good as well, but of course I had to try making my own, and it turned out very well! I am writing this recipe from memory, so I hope everything in it is correct. I will double check the recipe as soon as I can. 
Panettone
1/3 cup boiling water
1/3 cup white rum
1/2 cup warm milk
1/3 cup butter (salted or not, adjust salt amount accordingly), melted
3 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
2 packages active dry yeast (I used instant)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon anise extract (don't leave this out, it is a key flavor in the bread. It can be found with the vanilla and other extracts)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 1/2 cups additional all-purpose (plain) flour
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup mixed red and green glace cherries (I used slightly more red and green), halved
1/4 cup chopped mixed peel
a little additional flour for coating the fruit
additional butter for brushing the warm loaves

In a large bowl, stir together the water, rum, and milk. Add the butter, then beat in the eggs. Stir in the sugar. Beat in the next six ingredients until smooth. Gradually stir in the remaining flour, until a soft dough forms and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Knead in the fruit. Knead the bread for 6-8 minutes until smooth and elastic. 
Form dough into a ball. Place the dough in a bowl greased with a little oil, and turn once to grease top. Cover tightly with a piece of oiled plastic wrap, then with a damp tea towel. Let rise 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in bulk.
Punch dough down. Divide into either two or four equal pieces. Shape into round loaves and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise for another hour, or until doubled in bulk.
Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes for small loaves or 35-40 minutes for large loaves.  Immediately brush warm loaves with a little butter. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

King K

Here is another one of my alphabet posts, where I list as many different foods as I can think of that start with a certain letter. Today I will do the letter K. Again, these are coming strictly from my head, I won't include any brand names, and I won't list every individual type. For example, a cookie is a cookie, I will not then proceed to list chocolate chip cookie, coconut cookie, cream-filled cookie, etc.  Well, actually I'm pretty strict on those rules for common letters that have a lot of foods beginning with them, I'm a little less strict on the less often used letters, such as e, f, and g. K seems like another tough one.


  • Kiwi
  • Kingfish
  • Kipper
  • Kumquat
  • Kale
  • Kaiser
  • Krispy Creams
  • Kefir
  • Kuchen
  • Kidney Beans
  • Kebab
  • Kielbasa
  • Kalamata olives
  • Kahlua
  • Key lime
  • Ketchup
  • King crab 
  • Kelp
PHOTO CREDIT:"Greek Puff Letter K.En-gk http://itallstarted.wordpress.com/2008/04/27/brought-to-you-by-the-letter-k/. It All Started With Carbon Monoxide, n.d. Tuesday, November 20, 2012.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Vegetables In Baked Goods

In most baked goods, such as these chocolate zucchini loaves, carrot cake, pumpkin muffins, and potato bread, the vegetables cannot really be tasted. They add moistness and maybe a little flavor and texture to the baked good, but by no means do you start to think your baked good is being taken over by vegetables. This is true for most vegetables used in baked goods, though some are stronger than others. Vegetables such as spinach, beets, cauliflower, and broccoli can be pureed and added to baked goods, but only remain unnoticeable when used in very small amounts. Other vegetables such as carrot, zucchini, and pumpkin can be used in larger quantities without the vegetable taste coming through. It is always good to use vegetables in baked goods, they add many nutrients and keep baked goods moist. There are quite a few cookbooks and recipe websites out there dedicated to concealing vegetables in baked goods. This is for a variety of different reasons: trying to make baked goods healthier, trying to get kids to eat their vegetables, saving money, adding moistness, using up foods, eating locally, etc. Most of the vegetables are added to the baked goods in pureed form, usually they are briefly par-boiled or steamed, and then pureed in a blended or with a hand-held immersion blender, maybe adding a little water to thin or lemon juice to prevent browning. Vegetable purees will keep in the refrigerator for a few days, they also freeze well in airtight containers or sealed plastic bags. For small amounts, freeze them in ice cub trays. They only need a few hours or overnight to thaw out in the refrigerator, but often they can be successfully microwaved to thaw if you need to use them immediately. Vegetables can also be grated, chopped, or shredded, but they are usually more noticeable this way, depending on the vegetable. Purees can be added to just about anything - pancakes, muffins, cookies, hamburgers, cakes, brownies, macaroni and cheese, even grilled cheese sandwiches. The trick is to use them sparingly at first, and gradually add more as you go along, to ensure it stays unnoticeable. Also, try to match the vegetable you use with the food by color and taste, choose mild tasting vegetables for light foods with not a lot of flavor, and the stronger vegetables can be used in rich foods. For example, I have seen many chocolate cake recipes with beets in them - the strong taste of chocolate masks the strong flavor of beets. You wouldn't want to add beets to pancakes though, unless you would like to make your pancakes a lovely shade of pink. Butternut squash is a good choice for stirring into macaroni and cheese, it blends in nicely with the color of the cheese. And although this does not sound like a likely combination, spinach brownies can be successful too. Don't forget about fruits, they work well in baked goods too, and still add nutrients and moistness. They are also often sweeter than vegetables, so you can use less sugar. They also tend to taste better with sweet things, so you can use them in greater quantities. We all love banana bread, and and apple cookies, and have you ever tried pineapple brownies? Often times fruits and vegetables can help cut back on the amounts of sugar and fat normally used in the recipe. Applesauce is an excellent example, as it is often used to reduce or completely replace oil in baked goods. The key to using vegetables and fruits in your baked goods is just to experiment. Don't be afraid to try something strange, you may end up with a new favorite like cauliflower cookies or spinach squares!
PHOTO CREDIT:"vegetables-581" http://free-extras.com/images/vegetables-581.htm  .Free Extras, n.d. Friday, August 10, 2012.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is used in many baked items. So most of us don’t take a second thought when reaching for that bottle in the cupboard. But, do you use artificial or imitation vanilla extract, or pure vanilla extract (or better yet, but highly expensive, vanilla beans)? There is a huge difference in what you are using.

As I may have mentioned before, I personally don’t think anything labeled “artificial” is fit for human consumption. However, many people don’t see anything wrong with artificial flavorings and food colourings in their food. Pure vanilla extract, is, well, pure, and provides a bolder, more natural taste.

The pros and cons of artificial and pure vanilla extract:

Artificial Vanilla Extract
Pros
Cons
Cheaper
Artificial
More readily available
Not “pure” vanilla flavour
Easier to buy in bulk

Provides a subtle vanilla flavour



Pure Vanilla Extract
Pros
Cons
Natural
More expensive
Pure vanilla flavour
Harder to find

Hard to buy in bulk

PHOTO CREDIT:"PFO9025"   http://www.worldofstock.com/stock-photos/vanilla-still-life-with-vanilla-pods-vanilla/PFO9025  .World Of Stock, n.d. Sunday, March 18, 2012.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

WW Buttermilk Quick Bread

WW Buttermilk Quick Bread
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup natural wheat bran
1/2 cup ground flax seed
2 Tablespoons granulated (white) sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups milk + 1 Tablespoon vinegar
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons butter or hard margarine, melted

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Stir in the wet ingredients, spread in prepared pan. Bake for 35 minutes until bread is done.

This is the bread I asked my brother to make for me. I changed the recipe a bit from what I found online. The bread tastes better then it looks, I blame it on my poor slicing skills. quick breads are more difficult to slice evenly than yeast breads are.

Monday, December 17, 2012

No Time For Bread

Lately I have been neglecting my blog a bit. I have not been baking much lately, as it is a busy time of year with Christmas preparations and many other things going on. I haven't even really began my Christmas baking yet, although my mother certainly has, and is probably practically finished. I have not even been making much of the things I normally make on a regular basis, such as squares, biscuits, and cereal. I did not even have time to make bread this week, and had already used up my emergency stash of homemade bread I try to keep on hand in the freezer. Now, I will eat store bought bread upon occasion, I just really prefer the taste, texture, and heartiness of homemade bread, plus I love to bake myself. I also like how I can make every loaf different, and change recipes to suit my tastes. The past few weeks I have been making quick loaf breads to tie me over, as I didn't really have time for kneading and rising and proofing and such. These loaves just use baking powder and/or baking soda, and no yeast. This week though, I couldn't even find enough time for that, so I enlisted help. I asked my brother if he wouldn't mind making me a quick loaf of bread, the kind where the dry ingredients are stirred together, the liquid are added, and the batter is poured in a pan and baked. He did a great job, and I really appreciate it. Although it is not bread I made myself, it is still homemade bread from a recipe I chose, and is the next best alternative. I will feature the loaf tomorrow and comment on how it turned out!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pre-dance Sweets

Here is a plate of sweets that was arranged at the house of a friend of mine. These sweets were put together for some pre-dance treats, after a light supper of pizza. We also had a fruit tray to go along with these treats. Featured here are a few chips, chocolate and white checkerboard sugar cookies (pretty impressive-looking, no matter how easy they are), peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and the brownies I brought. Certainly a nice chocolate fix here. It was a simple tray put together, but it looks quite nice and it was pretty tasty. You can' never go wrong with chocolate and fruit, and people of all ages will agree.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chocolate Chip Brownies

Chocolate Chip Brownies
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated (white) sugar
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9x13 inch rectangular baking pan with parchment paper. 
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Gradually add sugar. Blend in butter and vanilla. Stir in flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Stir in chips.  Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake for about 25 minutes.

This is the brownie recipe from yesterday. It is another quick, easy, delicious, and very chocolaty brownie recipe that never fails!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Brownie Gifts

This is another quick batch of delicious, chocolaty brownies I made. I decided to decorate them in the Christmas theme since it is close to Christmas time and everyone seems to be in the holiday mood. I was also in the midst of decorating my Christmas tree at the time, so it made sense. I just made a 9x13 inch pan of brownies, let them cool, then cut them into large squares (what's the point in small brownies, you'll just end up eating five of them). Then I made small amounts of red and green icing using icing sugar, water, and food coloring. I didn't even bother to use my piping bags, but rather just used plastic sandwich bags with a small hole in the corner snipped off. I piped some bows on the squares to make them look like presents. Sweet, simple, and pretty cute.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mini Banana Chip Muffins

This is a really easy and quick muffin recipe for miniature muffins. It could be used for larger muffins too, but it would make a smaller batch. They are moist and feature a classic flavor combination of bananas and chocolate chips.

Mini Banana Chip Muffins
2 large overripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup melted butter or hard margarine
1 large egg
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a mini muffin pan with paper liners.
In a large bowl, mix the first four ingredients  Stir in the rest, scoop batter into prepared cups. Bake for 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Muffin yield and baking time can differ according to pan size. I used a medium muffin pan size and got 20 muffins that baked for exactly 20 minutes. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chowder (Restaurant Food)

This is another tasty dish I enjoyed at a restaurant while on vacation. It is a simple seafood chowder, a common dish you can find as an appetizer in many restaurants. No two chowders are ever the same, and whether a chowder is good or not can only be defined by your personal tastes. Of course there are also many different kinds of chowder - such as seafood chowder and corn chowder, not to be confused with cream soups, such as cream of mushroom, chicken, tomato, etc. Cream soups and chowders are similar, but not the same. Cream soups are usually fairly smooth and thinner than chowders, and are often just one simple flavor pureed with cream added. Chowders are typically thicker and chunkier, with a nice medley of different ingredients. Chowders vary in thickness and creaminess, depending on how much cream, milk, water, and stock are used. Some chowders are very chunky, while others aren't quite as hearty. Some chowders are very spicy, others are mildly flavored. Some chowders focus on just a few ingredients, while others contain many different additions. I have not actually tasted that many different chowders, but the reason this one stood out to me from the menu was the variety of generously portioned seafood the chowder contains. This chowder had cod, lobster, mussels, and shrimp, possibly even other seafood I have forgotten as well. It contained quite a bit of celery in large slices, slightly too much and too large of a cut for my liking. The carrot in the chowder was much better - finely copped, and not too much of it. I like a few vegetables in my seafood chowder, but I prefer the focus to remain on the seafood. This chowder was nicely spiced, and the right thickness, but a little too rich. The richness didn't bother me for a small cup of chowder, but I would never be able to eat a whole bowlful of this. Overall, not a bad chowder, it certainly had plenty of seafood, so I can't complain!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Chocolate Shortbread

Every year my mother makes shortbread cookies around Christmastime, from a delicious recipe used by my great-grandmother. They are rich, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth, and absolutely delicious! I love their buttery texture and delicate taste, This year, my mother decided to get creative, and she replaced some of the flour with a little bit of cocoa to make chocolate shortbread cookies. Although I prefer the traditional shortbread, the chocolate shortbread were good too. They were certainly interesting, and something a little different for a change. Instead of sprinkles, she also put some candy-coated chocolates on the chocolate shortbread. Not bad for a spur-of-the-moment decision!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Squash Fries

We had a few different winter squashes on our hands, and decided yesterday was a good day to cook one of them. I have roasted and microwaved squash before, both of which work. However squash must be roasted for a long time in order to become tender, and then the texture usually turns out too hard or too mushy. Microwaving also takes a bit of time and patience, and isn't exactly the cleanest method. Boiling works, it just isn't very interesting. So yesterday night to go with our supper, my father decided to try making squash fries. He peeled and seeded the squash, and cut it into french-fry like strips. Then he baked them. I thought they turned out pretty tasty. I think it was an acorn squash, but I don't know for sure. It definitely was not butternut, buttercup, or spaghetti. A few were too hard, and a few were too soft, but the ones that were just right reminded me of regular french fries. They could have used a bit of salt and a little oil, as my father just left them plain, but other than that they were good. Next time we make them, we will know how to make them better. I think a slower oven temperature at first and a higher one or  broiling at the end would have made the fries nice and crispy as well! This is probably my new favorite was to eat squash.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Glass Pans In Hot Ovens


I have always heard that you should not put glass pans in the oven at a temperature that is above 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, I have seen many people do it, and some cookbooks even tell you to do it. Now I am confused as to what to do.

I have heard that glass pans can easily crack, shatter, or break at temperatures above 325F. If this happens, often shards and pieces of glass will break off, and can often end up in the food, leaving the entire recipe unsafe to eat. Cracked pans also have ragged edges and can be very dangerous if not handled properly. Glass pans are said to conduct heat more easily, so they should go at a temperature twenty-five degrees lower than usual. I have only put a glass pan in the oven at a high temperature once, before I knew that it should not be done. This was only at 350F for a short amount of time though, and nothing happened. However, my mother once forgot and put a glass pan in the oven at a high temperature, and it cracked, leaving her dinner inedible. It is very frustrating when this happens, as your food is ruined, and you have to spend the time, effort, and money to prepare and bake the dish over again. I say it’s not worth the risk.

However, I have watched cooking shows where the chefs put glass pans at high temperatures in ovens, without showing any concern whatsoever. I also came across a recipe I wanted to make, where it specifically said, “Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a 9x13 inch glass baking dish.” Is there special, heavy-duty glassware that is able to withstand these high oven temperatures? I did some research, and discovered that many companies do manufacture such products nowadays. Most Pyrex products, for example, are now manufactured as oven safe. However, there are reports of incidents occurring here, too. The glass baking dishes I normally use are a few years old now, so they are definitely not ovenproof.

When we bake lasagna at our house, we always use glass pans, but we always have the oven at 325F. I know many people bake their lasagnas at 350F, but baked at 325F, our lasagnas only take five minutes longer, if that. In fact, most items that are required to bake at 350F, can very effectively be baked in a glass pan at 325F. The baking time is the same, or may take two to five minutes longer, but it will bake just as evenly. But when temperatures go higher than that, things can get confusing. When a recipe calls for a glass pan and a temperature of 375F, should I use a glass pan at 325F, or a metal pan at 375F? This is the dilemma I had. I was making a fruit cobbler, and fruits are supposed to be baked in glass dishes so the metal doesn’t react with the fruits’ juices. So I used a glass pan at 325F, and baked the cobbler for five minutes longer. It turned out perfect. Usually when a recipe calls for the use of a glass pan, there is a specific reason why a glass pan should be chosen. Glass pans are best for things such ass fruit cobblers, crisps, and pies. But if the material of the pan doesn’t matter, opt for a metal pan and the high temperature called for. Actually, the best solution of all is to buy ovenproof glass baking dishes, and you will never have this problem!
 PHOTO CREDIT:"images" http://chickensintheroad.com/cooking/raisin-bread/ .Chickens In The Road, n.d. Wednesday, August 22, 2012. 

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Buttermilk Whole Wheat Quickbread

Buttermilk Quickbread
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup natural wheat bran
1/2 cup ground flax seed
2 teaspoons cream of tarter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg, beaten
2 Tablespoons oil

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center. Add remaining ingredients, mix well. Spread in prepared pan. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes. 
This is a really quick and easy bread to make when all you have time to do is mix and pour. It is hearty and nutritious. The grains can be varied, and seeds and nuts may be added.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Saucepan Brownies

I have been wanting to make these brownies for a while now, and I finally had all of the ingredients to do it! The recipe states this is a good recipe for those days when it is just too hot to even think about turning on the oven. That wasn't the case here, but it did make this brownie recipe really quick and easy. I am certainly glad I finally made these brownies as they are delicious  I think I might even like them better than my master brownie recipe. They are extremely rich and chocolatey, almost more like chocolate fudge. They contain marshmallows, and although I am not  a huge marshmallow fan, the marshmallows kind of just melt into the brownie and add to the richness. These are a must try!
Saucepan Brownies
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup evaporated milk
2 1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs 
2 cups miniature marshmallows
1 cup icing (confectioner's) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Grease an 8x8 inch (I used 9x9 inch) pan or line with waxed paper or parchment paper.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the chips and milk. Set aside 1/2 cup of mixture. Stir in remaining ingredients. Spread in prepared pan. Top with reserved chocolate mixture. Chill until set.

The measurements of all of these ingredients need not be exact, it won't make much of a difference. Also, if you forget or don't want to bother setting aside some chocolate for the topping, it really doesn't matter too much. These squares are forgiving, and tasty nonetheless!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Feast of Saint Nicholas

Today is the Feast of Saint Nicholas! This is a holiday mostly celebrated in some European countries, however our family also celebrates it because of our Dutch origins. December sixth is the feast day of the patron Saint Nicholas, which is how this tradition all started. The tradition has evolved, and now children leave out their shoes (traditionally wooden shoes in Dutch origin), and Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas comes during the night, similar to Santa Claus, and fills the shoes with candies, cookies, small toys, and oranges. This tradition may also be where the legend of Santa came from. I am sure there are many other celebrations and traditions related to this feast day, but all I can remember from when I was younger was leaving out my shoes the night before and finding them filled with treats the next morning. I always thought it was like Santa visited twice, although this was a different Santa and it always made my friends jealous, as they did not celebrate this tradition and I got two visits from Santa. 
One treat I can remember always getting in our shoes were Speculaas. These are almond spice cookies served on this feast day. The cookies we got were usually cut into shapes affiliated with Dutch culture, such as windmills and tulips. I always really liked these cookies, and we only got them at this one time of the year. One year I tried making them for myself. They were pretty good, but the ones Sinterklaas sent always seemed a bit more special. Here is a picture of what our family woke up to.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Family Gingerbread House

As I mentioned last year as well, our family decorates a gingerbread house together every year in late November or early December, and we display it in our house until close to springtime. We always buy a kit from the store, we have tried to get a different kit each year, but there are only so many variations out there, and we have ended up with the same kit the past few years. That's okay though, because every year we decorate it, it looks different. We actually considered maybe doing something a little different this year and getting a gingerbread train, tree, or family to decorate, but we decided to stick with tradition in the end. We always buy a kit rather than go through all of the trouble of making one, because we never eat the house. The house is simply for display purposes and not eating. With a kit, we don't end up wasting a lot of ingredients and effort, and this way we also get a nice variety of candies we would not normally buy, without having to deal with leftovers. The icing is also the perfect consistency to use, which can be difficult to achieve at home! I was slightly disappointed with the candies this year though  as they were definitely lacking in red and green, the primary colors we wanted to use for Christmas. We also supplement the kit with a few of our own candies, particularly sprinkles. 
Every family member chooses a different part of the house to decorate, and we switch from year to year. We all input our overall ideas, and my father assembles the house, which can be quite the task. Sometimes it requires the support of a few soup cans or other random containers, but our house has never fallen apart! This year, I chose to decorate the front of the house and the gingerbread man. I decided to make the door resemble a candy cane using red sprinkles and icing, and I added a wreath at the top using a peppermint and all of the green candies we had. I cut a yellow gumdrop in pieces to put candles in the windows. For the gingerbread man, I covered his head, feet, and hands in white icing and sprinkled them with Christmas colored sprinkles for a matching hat, mittens, and boots set. My oldest brother decorated the roof and the tree, my mother did the back and the walkway, and my dad did the sides and the assemble. A wonderful group effort, and the house looks beautiful, just as it does every year!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Half Birthday Cake

Today is my half birthday. Our family usually does not make a big deal of half birthdays, although my brother always seems to ask for a cake. (Really, he will just use any excuse he can find to have some cake). It just so happens that this year we actually have half a cake (or some fraction of a cake anyway) for my half birthday. This is because there are leftovers of the cake I made yesterday for my brother. I was so proud of that cake, I almost hated to see it cut, but it was meant for eating. So I decided to try to leave the ring part of the cake in tact, since that part was the prettiest and most significant. So I did the honors of cutting it first, and insisted that everyone try to cut around the blue border and eat the parts of the cake with the white icing. This also leaves a big square of cake without icing, but luckily I had some leftover icing from decorating, as I always seem to make way too much! I realize that we are going to cut into the middle of the cake soon (maybe in celebration of my half birthday), but at least the ring lasted another day! As you can see, there is a little white left, someone took the top blue border, and the cake is slightly cracked in the middle. Oh well, it will do for a half birthday cake.

Monday, December 03, 2012

X Congratulations Cake

Today my brother received his X-Ring for university! This ring is recognized around the world, and consists of a golden square with a big black X in the middle. Of course I had to make a cake to celebrate, and I wanted to make a cake to represent the X ring. The main issue was, that gold and black are difficult icing colors to achieve. It was my father who came up with the idea of not icing the part of the cake that would be the ring, since the cake was already a nice golden color. I used blue for the outline of the ring and the X because blue is one of the university's colors. It should technically be more of a darker blue, but again I did not want to use too much food dye, and this blue looks quite nice I think. To make this cake, I began with a 9x13 inch rectangular golden cake. I cut out a square and two triangles from pieces of foil, and laid them out on the cake to resemble a ring. Then I iced around the foil and down the sides of the cake in white buttercream. Since the cake was so moist, it would have been easier to flip the cake and ice the bottom, however the bottom did not have the same nice golden color as the top. So I had to do a crumb coat, and then a final coat of white icing. Once the white was done, I carefully peeled off the foil, only to discover that some of the top moist layer of the cake peeled off along with it. It looked pretty bad speckled like that, so I grabbed some more foil and peeled off the rest of the layer. This exposed a nice yellow cake, that actually worked a bit better than the top layer. I then outlined the ring in blue buttercream using a basketweave tip turned upside down. I piped a thick X in the middle. I wrote 2013 on either side of the ring band. Then I wrote a congratulations on the top in blue, and of course a smiley face. 
The design itself was quite easy to do, and didn't take me very long at all. The most difficult part was cutting out the templates for the ring and getting just the right sizes. Icing around the foil actually was not tricky at all, and the foil kept the golden ring completely bare.
A big congratulations to my brother on his great achievement!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Gingerbread People

Every year my mother bakes some gingerbread people around Christmastime. She usually bakes them around the same time our family decorates our gingerbread house, which I will feature soon! Everyone in the family gets to decorate their own gingerbread person, loading it with as much or as little candy as they would like. I love Mom's gingerbread, and I love this family tradition. Mom also decorates a few specially to give away to people we know, and the rest of the gingerbread she usually cuts into shapes. She usually uses stars, bells, and trees. We normally decorate the gingerbread cookies with red and green candy coated chocolates  and Christmas colored sprinkles. I used to put candies on most of the cookies when I was little, after Mom would cut the dough into shapes for me, and then she would put them in the oven. I love then smell of gingerbread warming up the house. Gingerbread is one of my favorite types of Christmas cookies, and it always seems so special because it only seems to appear around Christmastime. A lot of these cookies will be frozen for later occasions, and if there are any still left then, I might get to enjoy some in January as well!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Salmon Strips

The other night for supper we had some salmon strips. we got these little packages of salmon strips free when we bought so many fresh salmon portions. We put these packages in the freezer for another time, and finally decided to try them. They are more like gourmet salmon strips used for appetizers, but they are also good in sandwiches, pasta dishes, and salads. We ate them cold with stir-fry and rice. we had two different flavors: maple and cracked black pepper. I thought I would prefer the maple, as I like sweets and I love the flavor of maple, and I am used to having brown sugar on my salmon. The maple was good, however I actually preferred the cracked black pepper. Neither flavor was overwhelmingly strong, but I liked both the flavor and the texture of the cracked black pepper better, as it was a bit firmer. I always find packaged salmon strips too salty, and these were no exception. I think the flavor would still be very good without so much salt. Other than that, they were quite tasty, although I do prefer fresh salmon portions that you can cook yourself and add any flavor you like to it! 
PHOTO CREDIT:"sh1b05_teriyaki_salmon_lg (1)"  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/sandra-lee/teriyaki-salmon-strips-recipe/index.html. Food Network, n.d. Thursday, November 29, 2012.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Evaporated Milk In A Pinch

The other day when I went to make my Pain Patate, I ran into a little problem. I realized I did not have any evaporated milk to use in the recipe that was not expired. I made sure to check that we had evaporated milk on hand before the errands were run, but I did not check the expiration date on it. Well, obviously I could not use that, and I really did not want to make a last minute trip to the store. I had already began preparing the pudding, so what to do next? The internet saves the day. I knew evaporated milk is used in recipes for creaminess, and that usually using fresh milk instead will result in a poor texture. I knew sweetened condensed milk is not the same thing at all, and is much too sweet, especially since I had already added the sugar in the recipe. I also knew cream, half-and-half, and powdered milk are reasonable substitutes, but I did not have any of those on hand either. I managed to find a short recipe that can be used in place of evaporated milk. Basically, you heat some milk with a little sugar and some cornstarch until it thickens and reduces by half. It is easy to scorch the milk this way, but it does make a great substitute. It can be used right away if the temperature of the milk does not matter. In my case, there were other hot ingredients in the dish already, so this made no difference. Otherwise, it can be prepared ahead and refrigerated. 

For every one cup of fresh milk, add one teaspoon of sugar and one and a half teaspoons of corn starch.  Heat in a saucepan over low heat until thickened and reduced by half. I thought since the mixture reduced, I would need to double the amount of milk to end up with the right amount. I ended up with a little extra, but this can keep in the fridge for a few days. 

Bottom line: check to make sure you have all ingredients you need before you go out, and again before you begin assembling the dish. I know we don't always have time to do this, and usually we have everything anyway, but some ingredients just do not have quick substitutes like this one.