Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mini Cupcakes

Here are some mini cupcakes I made. Cupcakes have become increasingly popular in the past few years, largely due to their "cuteness" factor, and the popular concept of everyone getting their own individual serving. They are easy to portion out and serve, are much easier to eat (no plate and fork required), and can be a lot quicker to decorate than one big cake. They are bite-sized and fit perfectly in the palm of your hand. I even went a step further and made miniature cupcakes. These cupcakes are probably two-bite cupcakes, or they may even be small enough to just eat all at once. They are quite cute, and are remarkably quick and easy to decorate.
When it comes to muffins and cupcakes, it is always nice to have some variety. Size is one way to achieve this. Muffin tins tend to come in three different sizes: regular, giant/jumbo, and miniature. Of course, the capacity of each of these tin sizes will vary depending on the manufacturer, but generally you will be able to find paper liners that will work for your pan. Paper liners come in more than just three sizes; they have tiny ones, miniature ones, regular, medium, large, and giant. They also come in a wide variety of colors and patterns, including holiday-themes. You can even get heavy-duty cups that don't need to be placed in a muffin tin for baking - they will hold up on a cookie sheet on their own. I like to use paper liners for baking all of my muffins and cupcakes because it is a lot faster than greasing each individual cup, makes them easier and neater to eat, and provides a little bit of decoration to the baked product. They are also inexpensive and readily available.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

C Is For Cookie

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. It's hard to believe I am only on the third letter by now. 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.

  • Cookie, Cereal, Coconut, Cashew, Cream, Carrot, Cantaloupe, Caramel, Cake
  • Corn, Cornmeal, Cheese, Chicken, Cannoli, Cannelloni, Chickpeas, Chili, Crab
  • Codfish, Crepes, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumber, Cherry, Cranberry, Cupcake
  • Cinnamon, Chili Powder, Cardamom, Chocolate, Cocoa, Cibatta, Casserole
  • Croissant, Cream Puff, Chips, Candy, Croustolli, Croutons, Crackers, Corn Syrup
  • Coffee, Crumpet, Creme Brulee, Chives, Corriander, Custard, Chestnuts
PHOTO CREDIT:"c_is_for_cookie.jpg" . Totally Turquoise Telford, n.d. Tuesday, February 28, 2012.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Hershey's Kiss Triple Chocolate Cookies

Hershey's Kiss Triple Chocolate Cookies
48 Hershey's Kisses Milk Chocolates
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or hard margarine, softened
3/4 cup granulated (white) sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 Tablespoon milk
2 1/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used miniature)

Remove the wrappers from the Hershey's kisses, set aside. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare baking sheets (no need to grease).
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, egg, and milk, beat well. Add the dry ingredients, mix well. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are just set. They should still be soft. Immediately press a kiss into the center of each cookie gently. Remove from cookie sheet after 5 minutes, cool completely. Makes 4 dozen (48) cookies.

These cookies are very sweet, chocolatey, and delicious! They are also very simple and don't take long to make. I halved the recipe to make a smaller batch, which worked out very well. 

 "Hershey's Triple Chocolate Cookies.” . Hershey's Kitchens, n.d. Saturday, February 25, 2011.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Breaded Chicken Breasts

Breaded Chicken Breasts: A simple, quick, easy, and relatively safe option for supper. They go well with a variety of different side dishes, almost anything goes. Serve them with any kind of vegetables, and pasta, rice, potatoes, or simply bread. Breaded chicken breasts can be baked, pan-fried, deep-fried, sauteed, or broiled. Simply choose the cooking techniques that suits the amount of time you have and the other dishes you are preparing. For a dish this simple, there are actually a surprisingly high number of different recipes for the coating. How many layers should it have? What is the best type of breadcrumbs to use? What else should I add? The way we do our chicken breasts is fairly simple: dip them in a little beaten egg, and roll them in seasoned, dry breadcrumbs. Place them in a casserole dish and bake. That's it! No extra spices, coatings, or preparation techniques.

Common Dredges (the "glue" for the coating) are: egg, water, milk, buttermilk, ketchup, mustard, sauces.
Common Coatings: flour, breadcrumbs, Panko, cracker crumbs, cereal crumbs, chip crumbs.
Common Seasonings (to add to the dredge or the coating): salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, chili powder, basil, chives, mustard, vinegar.Common Toppings: tomato sauce, cheese, ratatouille, salsa.

Some people swear by the three-coating technique ;flour, then egg, the breadcrumbs. We have tried this and found that yes, it does produce a crispier coating, but the coating does not stick to the chicken as well. Some people say to spray the chicken with cooking spray or drizzle with melted butter for a crispier coating, but this does not improve the crispness significantly and increases the fat content in a relatively nutritious dish.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Here is a really quick and easy recipe to make that combines two of the best flavors: chocolate and peanut butter. My mother made these squares, and they are really good! The bars start with a basic peanut butter base: just peanut butter, sugar, and egg. I'm sure you can recognize this recipe as the basic recipe for simple peanut butter cookies. Well, press this into a pan and top with some chocolate, and you're set!
Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 granulated (white) sugar
1 large egg
2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or
4 squares (1 ounce each) semi-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces
(using chips saves from having to chop)

In a mixing bowl, blend the peanut butter, sugar, and egg.
Press into an ungreased 7x11 or 8x11 inch pan, or into a 7x11 or 7x10 inch rectangle on an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake at 325F for 20 minutes.
Immediately sprinkle chocolate evenly over top, cover loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil. Let stand 3 minutes. 
Using a butter knife, spread the chocolate evenly over the bars.

The recipe says to cut the bars immediately, but the base crumbled and fell apart, so I would suggest cooling them at least slightly before cutting. Just don't refrigerate them before cutting, or the chocolate topping will become much too hard and crack.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sweetened Condensed Milk

Sweetened condensed milk is the great base to a variety of delectable squares. It can also be the foundation of many cookies, cakes, cheesecakes, and beverages. Although they share many similar characteristics, do not confuse sweetened condensed milk with evaporated milk. Evaporated milk is made by evaporating sixty percent of the water from fresh milk, processing, and canning, so that it becomes shelf-stable. Sweetened condensed milk is also derived from fresh cows milk with water taken out, but a great amount of sugar is added to it, yielding a thick, sticky, sweet product. These two milks can never be substituted for one another, as they have very different consistencies and sweetness. Another big difference, is that evaporated milk is quite cheap, while sweetened condensed milk can be quite pricey. Good news: it is possible to make your own sweetened condensed milk at home; it is quick, easy, and cost-efficient. Give it a try!

1 cup skim milk powder
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
¼ cup butter or hard margarine

Process in a blender until smooth. Makes the equivalent of one (300 mL) can.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Different Types Of Fats

Which fat is the best to use? Well, this question depends entirely on what the fat is being used for, what outcome is planned to be achieved, cost, storage, nutrition, and a wide variety of other factors. The four main fats I am talking about here are lard, shortening, butter, and margarine. All of these fats contain their own unique characteristics, appearances, and tastes; yet they can all be used for many of the same things.

Lard: Lard is animal fat, usually pig, that has gone through an extensive hydrogenation process. Hydrogenation basically transforms fats into a more solid and shelf-stable state product, and increases the amount of saturated fat and adds high levels of trans fat. This means that lard is quite unhealthy, contains a high amount of fat, including high amounts of saturated and trans fats, is high in calories, and contains little nutritional value. Due to recent increases in health research, lard is not as commonly used anymore due to its unhealthy reputation. Lard is most commonly used in pie crusts, cookies, pastries, basting meats, and deep-frying.

Vegetable Shortening: The word vegetable in this product’s name makes it sound healthy, but that’s actually not true at all. Vegetable shortening is made from plant-derived oils such as palm or soybean, and is hydrogenated just like lard. Again, this causes shortening to be quite unhealthy, but since it is made from plant sources and not animal, it is a slightly better choice than lard. Shortening is commonly used to produce flaky pie crusts, cookies, biscuits, pastries, and cakes.

Butter: Simply put, butter is made by beating or churning cream, the fattiest part of cow’s milk. Butter is completely natural and contains no trans fat, however it does contain a significant amount of saturated fat and is also high in calories. Butter is more nutritious than lard and shortening, as it is a natural product, lower in fat, trans fat free, and provides some nutrition. But butter is by no means a healthy choice. Butter is delicious spread on bread, in buttercream, used to cook vegetables and meats, and in almost every baked good.

Margarine: Margarine is made from plant-based oils such as palm or soybean, just like shortening. However, most margarines are not hydrogenated, leaving them significantly lower in calories, fat, saturated fat, and trans fat free. Because margarine is made from plant-based oils, it often contains healthy unsaturated fats as well as other nutrients. Soft margarine is used as spreads for breads and other baked goods, while hard margarine can be used like butter almost interchangeably.

What I Use: I never, ever, use lard or shortening, as I find they are too unhealthy and processed, and I don’t think they produce results as good as other options anyway. My first choice is butter, because it is a completely natural, simple product that produces very tasty, high-quality baked goods, and it can be used for just about anything. I will, and do, use hard margarine for baking as well. Although not quite as tasty and rich as butter, margarine provides a relatively good flavour and is sometimes the only option for certain recipes where butter browns too quickly. Margarine also keeps some baked goods, especially cookies, from spreading to much, and keeps cakes and loaves together and less crumbly.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, a religious observance that marks the beginning of Lent - a forty day period of fasting leading up to the Easter season. On this day, people of the Catholic faith abstain from eating meat, as they do on some other religious days such as Good Friday. Years ago, it was very common for Catholics to refrain from eating meat every Friday. Fish was a very popular food on Fridays. However, this practice of giving up meat on Friday is not as common anymore. Hundreds of years ago, when our population consisted of a high proportion of Catholics, there were 153 days a year when Catholics had to restrain from eating meat. That's over 1/3 of the entire year, and this created a high demand for fish. Fish was the preferred protein of choice on these days.
Lent is a period of fasting, and during Lent, many Catholics choose to make a small sacrifice. These sacrifices often involve giving up a certain food, such as sweets or junk food. Popular choices to give up are chocolate, candy, cake, chips, pop, and fast food. This is all in preparation of the upcoming Easter season, where there is sure to be a great feast!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

21st Birthday Cake

Here is a birthday cake I made to celebrate a family member's twenty-first birthday. He turned 21 on the 21st, which is a very special birthday indeed! Some people call these birthdays your "champagne birthdays" which is unfortunate for many people who have this special birthday under the drinking age (such as turning one on the first).

For our first birthdays, my parents made my siblings and I a cake in the shape of a "1". To do this, they simply baked a cake in a 9x13 inch pan, and cut some pieces out of it to resemble the shape of the number one (note: chocolate cake on the first birthday makes a real mess, as my parents discovered with my oldest sibling). I considered the possibility of making cakes in the shape of a two and a one. To accomplish this, either the 21 would end up being quite small, or we would end up with a whole lot of cake to eat. Also, making a large one is much easier than making a large two. The number one is a long, thin shape, while the number two is wide, and would be difficult to make tall and wide enough. So I decided to settle on a cake decorated with the number twenty-one using icing. Still looks nice, but is a lot easier to frost then a two and a one would be.

I baked my trusty chocolate cake recipe in a 9x13 inch rectangular pan, frosted it with vanilla buttercream, and then outlined a two and a one in the icing. I piped the outline of the numbers in baby blue buttercream using an open star tip, and filled the numbers in using pastel green buttercream and a slightly smaller open star tip. I added a border and the lettering, and that was it! 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Breakfast Quick Breads

I love to have homemade, whole grain bread on hand to have with my breakfast every morning. Since I didn't have time to make the traditional, wait-for-it-to-rise homemade bread, and I didn't want to have the oven on for an hour while making a quick loaf, I came up with this idea. I modified a standard muffin recipe to make muffins that would have a taste and texture similar to bread. Therefore, these muffins contain very little fat and sugar, although they are a bit richer than a normal bread recipe would be, as they contain eggs and buttermilk. They don't contain banana, blueberry, chocolate chips, or even raisins like many muffin recipes would. They use baking powder and baking soda instead of yeast, so they rise quickly, and they only require a short baking time of 20 minutes. These muffins are enriched with whole wheat flour, oats, ground flax, and pumpkin seeds.

Breakfast Quick Breads
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
scant 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup ground flax seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
Preheat oven to 400F. Grease or line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.In a large bowl, stir together all of the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center.
In a separate smaller bowl, beat the eggs, milk, and oil. Add to well, stir until just moistened.
Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

These muffins turned out very nicely. They aren't as moist and sweet as your typical muffin, but much moister and sweeter than bread. They are excellent spread with a bit of all-natural peanut butter.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Different Types Of Nuts

Here is a list of several different types of nuts, their benefits, uses and nutritional impact. All nuts are sources of the "good fats" and contain high amounts of proteins. They are excellent meat replacements, good for adding flavor, make excellent high-protein snacks, and are tasty in muffin, cookies, and cakes. Most nuts also make excellent nut butter spreads. When choosing nuts, look for those with little or no added salt, fat, oil, or sugar. Also, roasting can sometimes ruin the nuts' good fats, so look for raw or dry roasted nuts.

  • Almonds - Contain high amounts of calcium, magnesium, zinc, Vitamin E, and fiber. Excellent as butter, and in cakes, cookies, and bars. Also good as a snack alone, and as a garnish for savory dishes.
  • Brazil Nuts - Just one Brazil nut provides you with more than 100% of your daily requirement of selenium. They also contain a good amount of magnesium. These nuts aren't as common as others, and are usually just eaten out of hand.
  • Cashews - The iron content in cashews is comparable to that of steaks! Cashews are also lower in fat and higher in protein and carbohydrates than most nuts. They are very common for snacking on.
  • Chestnuts - These nuts are very low in calories and fat compared to other nuts, but are also lower in nutrients. They are often used in appetizers (or roasting over an open fire).
  • Coconuts - These are high in fat, but contain electrolytes said to promote weight loss. Coconut comes in the form of whole, shredded, flaked, sweetened, coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut water, and coconut paste. The less added sugar and fat, the better. Coconut is a popular flavor for many desserts and savory dishes alike, the pieces are often added to sweets and the milks and creams often to curries and stews.
  • Hazelnuts - Rich in Vitamins B and E, hazelnuts make excellent butter (especially with chocolate), and are delicious in sweets.
  • Macadamia Nuts - These are the fattiest nuts, but contain a very high amount of Vitamin E. They are excellent in baked goods.
  • Peanuts - These are high in protein and good fats. Peanut butter is a very popular product, and either the nuts, the butter, or both, are common additions to many different baked goods.
  • Pecans - Contain Vitamin E and good fats, and are excellent in desserts.
  • Pine Nuts - Higher in fat and calories, but also higher in many nutrients. These are common in breads, cookies, soups, and salads, especially Italian cuisine.
  • Pistachios - An excellent source of protein, fiber, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Popular in trail mix and desserts, especially Baklava.
  • Walnuts - Very high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Great as butter or oil. Goes very well with apples and other fruits, and are good in brownies and other desserts.
PHOTO CREDIT:"nuts.jpg"  . EveryJoe, n.d. Sunday, February 19, 2012.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Coconut Chip Squares

These are tasty, chocolatey, and relatively simple squares to make. Although they consist of two layers, the first layer does not require any pre-cooking, and both layers are quite fast to whip up. The base is very firm and holds the squares together. The topping is a bit gooey, but not too messy, and is very nice and chocolatey.
The recipe comes from Company's Coming "Jean Paré's Favorites, Volume One", which is a collection of the author's favorite recipes from her many different cookbooks. I can definitely see why these made the favorites list.
Coconut Chip Squares
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine, softened

2 large eggs
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/4 cup butter or hard margarine, melted

Preheat oven to 350F. 
BOTTOM LAYER: In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients except for the butter. Add the butter, mix until crumbly. Press into an ungreased 9x9 inch pan.
TOP LAYER: In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Add the sugar and flour, stir. Add remaining ingredients, mix well. Pour over bottom layer, spread evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes until edges are set. Middle may still jiggle, but will firm up upon cooling. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Instead of using nuts, I added a little more coconut to the topping. I also added some miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips along with the big for a little variety. I lined my pan with parchment paper, which really helped avoid mess. I also used an 8x8 inch pan, which is usually interchangeable with a 9x9 inch.

Paré, Jean. "Nutty Chip Squares." Recipe. Jean Paré's Favorites, Volume One, Edmonton Alberta: Company's Coming Publishing Limited, 1988. 208.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lovely Cheesecake

Here is a simple but delicious cheesecake. It is a simple, baked cheesecake recipe on a graham crumb crust. My mother made it using the same basic recipe she always uses for cheesecake. This makes an excellent cheesecake that has a smooth, creamy texture, and isn't too rich or overwhelming. The cheesecake is perfectly delicious on its own, but there are also many ways it can be jazzed up. Some of our favorite ways to serve it are with fresh, sweetened strawberries, blueberry sauce or chocolate sauce. Any fresh fruit or sweet dessert sauce would be excellent with it. In this case, my mother placed some Valentine's chocolates on top once the cake had been baked and cooled: some milk chocolate hearts and some chocolate kisses. The cheesecake recipe could also be varied by using a different types of crust, perhaps pastry, shortbread, or chocolate crumb. I'm sure you could also add to the batter, perhaps a hint of orange zest, coffee grounds, or a spoonful of cocoa. Chopped chocolate, fruit, or nuts could also be added. It is easy and usually relatively safe to experiment with cheesecake, and the results can be quite rewarding!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Heart Pizzas

This is another dish I made for Valentine's Day: heart-shaped pizzas. I just made a batch of regular pizza dough, rolled it out, and cut it into hearts with a cookie cutter. Then I did some fine-tuned trimming with a sharp knife. You have to be careful not to stretch the dough too much, or it will just spring back and not look like a heart at all. Also, after the pizzas are baked, the dough rises a bit, and the hearts aren't quite as uniform in shape, but they are still pretty. I spread some sauce on to within approximately 2 cm of the edge, to show the heart-shaped crust, and put on some toppings. I kept the sauce to a minimum to avoid the dough becoming soggy and overladen, and I also went light on the toppings. The pizza turned out crisp on the outside, and nice and fluffy on the inside.
You could also use heart shaped pans, if you have them, or make one big heart pizza. I opted to make miniature pizzas, which are more like pizza slices.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentine's Bruschetta

This is a little side dish I made for Valentine's Day. I just made a quick batch of bruschetta and some heart-shaped biscuits out of a yeast bread dough. I placed a heart-shaped cookie cutter on a plate and spooned in some bruschetta. Then I carefully lifted the cookie cutter up so that the bruschetta would stay in the shape of a heart. The umbrella term bruschetta actually refers to the entire dish - not just the tomato topping, which is normally served atop the bread. Actually, bruschetta can also refer to bread that has been rubbed with just a little olive oil and some spices and grilled, it doesn't necessarily have to contain tomatoes, although most North American takes on the dish do. For the sake of Valentine's Day presentation, I served the bruschetta on a plate to make it in the shape of a heart, and just served the heart-shaped bread alongside it.
The bruschtta I made was fairly basic, and I didn't really follow a recipe, I just eyeballed the amounts. I used chopped tomatoes, finely diced onion, salt, ground black pepper, granulated sugar, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and garlic powder.
Contrary to popular belief (or Americanized pronunciation), bruschetta is not pronounced with the "sh" sound but with the "sk" sound. The dish is of Italian origin, and in Italian "ch" is always pronounced "k" and therefore "sch" is pronounced as "sk".

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Brownie Dessert

Here is the dessert I made for Valentine's Day. I started by baking a pan of simple brownies. I like to make these brownies, because you can frost them while they are still warm. This saves time and gives them a glossy appearance. I used a chocolate fudge icing. I allowed the brownies to cool, then I cut out some big hearts and some little hearts. I placed a large heart on a plate, topped with a few sliced strawberries, and topped with a small heart. Then I placed a chocolate-covered strawberry next to the brownie for garnish, and drizzled the plate with chocolate ganache. This dessert was actually relatively simple to prepare, and very tasty. I love the flavor combination of chocolate and strawberries. Any chocolate lover would love this dessert!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

I prepared some chocolate covered strawberries today to use as a garnish for a dessert for Valentine's Day tomorrow. It can be a bit difficult to get fresh strawberries at this time of year, however these strawberries were easy to find and taste quite fresh and sweet. Strawberries seem to be jumbo-sized now compared to what I remember getting years ago (some of these strawberries are closer in size to an apple!), but that makes them perfect for dipping! Chocolate covered strawberries are very quick and easy to make, but they  give a professional-looking touch. They add a real aspect of elegance to any dessert, and they are also great by themselves.
To prepare these strawberries, I washed them, patted them dry, and trimmed a few of the leaves. Then I dipped them each directly into a pot of melted semi-sweet chocolate and gently swirled them to coat. I placed them on a tray lined with parchment paper, and let them chill in the refrigerator for ten minutes. Then I melted one ounce of white chocolate, put it into a plastic bag, cut a tiny hole in the corner, and drizzled the chocolate over the strawberries. You can also just use a fork to do this, but I find you have more control using a plastic bag. I let them set in the fridge again.
I left the strawberry in the middle uncovered because I figured once it was dipped in chocolate, you wouldn't be able to tell that it is actually heart-shaped. It is a little hard to see at this angle, but I think the store tried to include one heart-shaped strawberry in every package for this week!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chocolate Sauce

Here is a master recipe for chocolate sauce, which may come in handy for a wide variety of things. It is great as decoration, drizzle or garnish; a great topping for ice cream, pancakes, and cake; and may also be used in recipes for squares, cakes, and hot drinks.

Chocolate Sauce
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch salt
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter or hard margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, mix the first three ingredients. Add the water and butter, stir and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil, without stirring, for 2-4 minutes, until the sauce is of desired thickness. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla. Serve warm as a hot fudge sauce, or allow to cool. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week, gently reheat before serving if desired.

The amount of sugar may be adjusted up or down, depending on how sweet you want your sauce to be. It is also good to add in some chopped chocolate (any variety) with the butter for a richer, more chocolatey taste. Using whipping cream (or evaporated milk) in place of water will also result in a richer sauce. This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reverse Nanaimo Bars

Here is a unique twist on a popular classic: Reverse Nanaimo Bars. For those who aren't familiar with Nanaimo Bars, they are a popular Canadian confection named after their place of origin, Nanaimo, British Colombia. These are fairly easy, three-layer, no-bake squares. There are a few different recipe variations around for them, but they all have the same basic idea. They start with a chocolate base chock full of coconut, walnuts, and graham cracker crumbs. That is followed by a buttercream layer flavored with vanilla custard powder, and a smooth topping of melted semi-sweet chocolate. Custard powder was invented by a man who's wife adored custard, but she was allergic to eggs. So he came up with the powder. It can be tricky to find in some areas, but instant vanilla pudding can be used in place of it (I have even omitted it completely, the bars are still delicious!). Nanaimo bars are easy and quite visually appealing, the only drawback is that they must be prepared in three stages, and refrigerated after each one. The only lengthy part of the preparation is the chilling. It is a good recipe to make when you have several small chunks of time on your hands instead of one big one. 
In this variation, instead of the usual white layer between two chocolate, there is a chocolate layer between two white. The base is pretty much the same, except in place of cocoa powder, there is melted white chocolate. The middle still contains custard powder, but also has the addition of cocoa. And the top is simply melted white chocolate, with a semi-sweet chocolate drizzle for a little extra garnish. I really like traditional Nanaimo Bars, but this twist was nice for a change, it was something different and was still very tasty.
These squares turned out nice and sweet, without being too rich. They are easy to cut and store, and surprisingly the chocolate topping did not crack. The flavors of white chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate work very well together.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Valentine Ideas

Valentine's Day is approaching, and there are many, many different recipes out there geared towards the occasion. You can cut pretty much any food into a heart shape, and it will be suitable for Valentine's Day. Any red or pink foods are also appropriate for Valentine's Day, especially raspberries and strawberries, and deeply indulgent chocolate desserts are also very popular at this time of the year.

Popular dinner menus for Valentine's Day include: lobster, pasta, tomato, seafood, steak, and shrimp dishes.
Popular Valentine's Sweets: heart shaped cookies, brownies, cakes.
Popular Valentine's Desserts: chocolate mousse, parfaits, tortes, molten chocolate cakes, flourless chocolate cake, cupcakes, red velvet cake, meringues, cheesecakes.
Popular Valentine's Treats: truffles, chocolate-dipped strawberries, chocolate hearts, chocolate kisses, cinnamon hearts, candy hearts.

Some cute ideas for Valentine's Day:
  • Heart shaped pancakes or waffles with strawberries.
  • Sandwiches cut into hearts.
  • Spaghetti with hearts - meatloaf cut into hearts.
  • Heart shaped pizzas or breads.
  • Cut out sugar cookies or brownies decorated with red sprinkles.
  • A heart shaped cake with buttercream roses.
PHOTO CREDIT:"send-valentine-cards"  . Valentine Greeting CArds, n.d. Friday, February 10, 2012.

Thursday, February 09, 2012


Cheesecake is a fairly easy and delicious dessert to make. They can range in size, can be almost any flavor, from sweet to savoury, and can be bake or no-bake. Cheesecakes can also be made with any type of crust, and any type of garnishes.
The main ingredient in cheesecakes, of course, is cream cheese. Most recipes recommend that you use full-fat cream cheese for the best results, but some recipes use low-fat or even fat-free cheesecake. Sometimes sour cream or yogurt is also added to the cheesecake to further enhance the rich, creamy texture and flavour. Another important ingredient in cheesecakes is eggs, which can be any amount upwards of three. Eggs provide stability and help the cheesecake to rise, since no baking powder or baking soda is used. Sugar provides the sweetness in dessert cheesecakes to make them sweet. And every cheesecake needs a splash of flavouring, whether it be vanilla extract, orange zest, cold coffee, lime juice, or almond extract.

The one problem many of us have with cheesecakes is cracking, which often occurs during baking or shortly after. If your cheesecake does crack, hide it with garnishes. Whipped cream, chocolate glaze, fruit, and chocolate curls are all good at concealing
cracks. However, there are some steps and precautions you can take to prevent your cheesecake from cracking.

* Make sure cream cheese is at room temperature before using, and not softened in the microwave.
* Thoroughly beat the cream cheese with the sugar.
* Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, but being careful not to overbeat.
* Any ingredients added after the eggs should be beat until just blended.
* Cheesecakes should be baked at a lower temperature for a longer amount of time.
* Bake cheesecakes in a water bath.
* Do not open the oven until the minimum amount of baking time is reached.
* Do not over bake cheesecakes. They should still jiggle a bit in the middle.
* Do not test a cheesecake for doneness by inserting anything into it.
* Run a butter knife around the edge of the cheesecake immediately after removing it from the oven to loosen it from the pan.
* Allow cheesecakes to cool completely at room temperature before refrigerating.
* Cheesecakes should be baked in springform pans.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Cooking Shows

I don't watch much television in general, but when I do, I pretty much only watch cooking shows. Which isn't so easy to do, when you don't even get the Food Network. However, there are other channels that show cooking shows, particularly on Saturday afternoons. Some of my favorite cooking shows are: Cook's Country and America's Test Kitchen, Come Dine With Me, Recipes To Riches, Lidia's Italy (which my grandmother started me on), Fabulous Cakes, and my favorites starring Buddy Valastro, Cake Boss, Kitchen Boss, and Next Great Baker. Some of these shows are competitions, some are reality, and some are just straight-forward cooking shows. For the most part, cooking shows are relaxing and educational experiences, especially when you don't have the time, patience, or freezer space to bake yourself. I enjoy watching cooking shows as I always learn something new and get to experience a different way of doing things. However, I do have a few pet peeves with regards to cooking shows.
  1. When the chefs do not wash their hands or decontaminate surfaces after they have come into contact with raw meat or raw eggs. Maybe it is because I have a phobia of cross contamination, but I find this particularly disturbing. 
  2. When the chefs fail to scrape bowls or leave a lot of batter behind. They are wasting!
  3. When the chefs say, "I have one right here already prepared." I know they don't have time to prepare the entire dish on the show, but it just seems like they already have three versions of their dish made in advance, all at different stages in preparation. They could just stick it in the oven and say, "And we'll be right back" and show a clock moving to represent time passing. 
I also find it funny that every ingredient is already measured out for them in small bowls. It is obvious that they have someone else doing the dishes for them!
PHOTO CREDIT:"11949853282019859913television_alexander_d.__01.svg.hi"  ., n.d. Wednesday, February 8, 2012.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Banana Streusel Muffins

This is a muffin recipe I created from several different adapted muffin recipes. It starts out with a basic muffin recipe, flavored and moistened with some mashed banana. Then add a cinnamon streusel topping. These bake into lovely, moist muffins with a crackly sweet topping.

Banana Streusel Muffins
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 3/4 cups all-purpose (white) flour
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (about 3 medium) mashed overripe banana
2 large eggs
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup milk
Preheat oven to 400F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners or grease them.
In a small bowl, mix the sugar and the cinnamon. Set aside.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center.
In a separate medium bowl, mix the banana, eggs, oil, and milk until smooth. Add to the well. Stir until just moistened.
Fill muffin cups 3/4 full with batter. Sprinkle each evenly with cinnamon sugar mixture.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Candy Cane Biscotti

Since it is February, I decided I should finally use up all of the leftover Christmas candy once and for all. There were still some leftover candy canes lying around the house, and although they would probably still be good next year (they are only sugar), I don't want to have them around that long. I recalled stashing away a recipe in my huge binder of cooking things for candy cane biscotti, and sure enough, I found it.
Biscotti are Italian cookies meaning "twice baked". The dough, which is fairly dry compared to most cookie doughs, is formed into long logs and baked. Then after briefly cooling, the logs are cut diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices, arranged cut side up on a baking sheet, and baked again at a slightly lower oven temperature. Biscotti have a characteristic crunch, and their long shape and dry texture make them perfect for dipping in coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or milk.
Candy Cane Biscotti
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
3 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose (white) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup crushed candy canes

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, mix well. Stir in the candy canes.
Divide dough into four equal pieces, shape each piece into a flattened log, about 9x1 inch. Place a few inches apart on prepared baking sheet.

Bake for about 18 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are cracked and the dough is set. Cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325F. Cut each log diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices (you should get about 10-12 slices per log, including the ends). Place ends, cut side up, on the baking sheet (if your parchment paper is full of sticky, melted candy cane mess like mine was, use a new sheet). Bake for another 12 to 15 minutes, until cookies are light golden and crisp. Cool completely on a wire rack.

If you want to dress up these biscotti, they are nice dipped in a little melted white (or semi-sweet) chocolate, and sprinkled with more crushed candy cane. These have a nice crisp exterior and minty flavor. Makes about 4 dozen.

If I had waited another week, these would have made a nice treat for Valentine's Day, as they are speckled with red, white, and pink candy cane pieces. Oh well, I'll be sure to make something else nice for Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon rolls are one of those indulgent comfort foods. You just cannot (and should not) try to make them healthy, otherwise they aren't true cinnamon rolls anymore. Cinnamon rolls must contain large quantities of sugar and butter, they must be enriched with egg and milk, and of course, they must contain a nice dose of cinnamon. Many cinnamon rolls are also iced, although I don't tend to bother with that. Although cinnamon rolls must be indulgent, I think they are sweet and rich enough without a frosting. Plus, I like to enjoy them straight from the oven, so they don't tend to stick around long enough to be frosted anyway. However, if a cinnamon roll just isn't a cinnamon roll to you without the frosting, a cream cheese frosting or a plain vanilla glaze are both excellent choices. A drizzle of melted chocolate is also a welcome addition!

A certain family member has been asking me to make cinnamon rolls for a while now, but I've been pretty busy lately, so I didn't get the chance until today. I must say, I had quite the hankering for cinnamon rolls myself! I used my usual cinnamon roll recipe, one given to me by my grandmother. I am so glad she did, as I have never tasted a cinnamon roll as good as these. They are made from a simple biscuit dough - no yeast, and no waiting for dough to rise. The dough is soft, fluffy, and very easy to work with and roll up. The filling is the usual cinnamon roll filling: butter, sugar, and cinnamon. The only slight problem with this recipe is the baking time. It's a bit too long, because the smell of the cinnamon rolls cooking starts to drive you crazy before they are done!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Potato Puffs

These make a nice little addition to any meal, and are a welcome change from the usual mashed or baked potatoes. They are simple to make, although they do require two steps: boiling and mashing then baking. You simply peel and wash as many potatoes as you need, boil them until tender, and mash them. Season with salt, pepper, and any other spices you would like. Add a little milk, butter, and beaten egg, and mix until smooth. Then drop onto a baking sheet lined with foil. I used an ice cream scoop to do this, which made perfectly sized and shaped potato puffs. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes, until just set. Drizzle each puff with a little melted butter and bake for another 20 minutes until golden. I then broiled mine for a few minutes on high to get a nice crisp exterior. This puffs are crispy and golden on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. 

Friday, February 03, 2012

Sweet and Sour Glazed Pork Chops

There were some extra pork chops from last night's supper, but no leftover sauce, so I whipped up a new little glaze to put on them. I decided on a sweet and sour glaze, which gave the chops a delicious, tangy flavor, and keep them moist in the reheating process. Here is the sauce I made:

In a medium saucepan, put 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1 tablespoon ketchup, and 1/2 tablespoon soya sauce. Heat and stir over high heat until the mixture begins to boil. Boil, stirring constantly, for 5-7 minutes until thickened. 
I cut the pork chops in half to more thoroughly coat them in sauce, placed them in a casserole dish, and poured the hot glaze over them. I covered and baked at 300F for half an hour to reheat. This glaze would work well for other meats too, it would be really nice on chicken or beef. It certainly is finger-licking good!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Creamy Mushroom Smothered Pork Chops

Tonight for supper I cooked up a quick, easy, and quite tasty dish. First, I sauteed some pork chops in a frying pan in a little oil over high heat. The trick to a nice sear and a flavorful crust is to have the pan really hot before adding the chops. I cooked them for about 5 minutes per side, just to get some color on them. I found it best to just leave them plain -  don't dredge them in egg, coat in flour, or season, as there will be enough flavor in the sauce. Then I transferred them to a lightly oiled ovenproof pot, covered it and put it in a 350F oven to finish cooking the pork chops. They took about 30 minutes.
For the sauce, I added a little extra oil to the pan I used to saute the pork chops. Then I added some diced onion, and cooked it, scraping up the brown bits from the pork, until the onions caramelized. I then added some fresh sliced mushrooms, and deglazed the pan. I made it into a sauce by adding some cream of mushroom soup and gently simmering until smooth and thick. This thick, creamy sauce is an excellent accompaniment to the tender, juicy pork. Serve each chop with a generous spoonful of sauce, plus a little extra on the side. Quick, easy, and delicious!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Fast Food Restaurants

Time for another just for fun post. Today I am going to see how many international fast food restaurant chains I can name.
  • McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Harvey's, Subway, A&W, KFC
  • Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Quizno's, Greco, Captain Sub, Sonic
  • Arby's, Domino's
Actually, there aren't as many as I thought. I don't tend to eat out at fast food restaurants very often. Basically only when I am travelling. I prefer to prepare my own, fresh, wholesome food at home. However, keep in mind that there are healthy options available at most fast food restaurants if that is your only option.

PHOTO CREDIT:"Fast%20food%20restaurants%20001" ., n.d. Wednesday, February 1, 2012.