Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dutch Doughnuts

Here are the Dutch Ollie Bollen our Dutch family traditionally makes every New Year's Eve. We have been making them for the past four years - ever since we got a deep-fryer. A better explanation of Ollie Bollen can be found in my past two posts: {2011} and {2012}.
We have tried plain Ollie Bollen, apple, raisin, raisin and apple, candied fruit, and chocolate chip. The conclusion? Plain are a bit too plain, apple adds a little moistness and flavor but still lacks a little, raisin are good, apple and raisin are better, candied fruit are good but very sticky, and chocolate chip are delicious but not ideal for doing large batches, as it is also messy. How do you like your Ollie Bollen?

Ollie Bollen 
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 Tablespoons granulated (white) sugar
1 package yeast
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
raisins and/or diced, peeled apple (1-2 cups total) 
oil for deep-frying
icing sugar for dusting 

In a large bowl, stir together the water and sugar. Sprinkle yeast over top, let stand for ten minutes until frothy. Stir to dissolve. 
Beat in next seven ingredients. Allow dough to rise for an hour and a half until doubled in bulk. 
Heat oil to 375F. Drop dough by tablespoon into the oil. Cook until crispy, a few minutes per side. Drain on paper towels then coat in icing sugar. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Best of 2013

It is the end of another year, which is a time when I like to reflect upon all of my accomplishments of the year. Below I have provided a list of my top five posts from each month. These are posts I feel were either the tastiest, the most difficult yet successful, the most popular, or the most presentable. It is no coincidence that yet again, many of them are cakes and cupcakes, which are my most impressive showpieces. Also the majority of them are desserts, mostly chocolate. I guess that is what I like to make the most!

January 2013: Chocolate Éclairs, Chocolate Cheese Coconut Pie, Link Cake, Chocolate Coffee Squares, Mini Multigrain Pitas.
February 2013: Striped Nutella Cheesecake Squares, Tomato Heart Appetizers, Big Bang Birthday Cake, Heart Shaped Auction Cake, Hot Chocolate Brownies. 
March 2013: Nutella Kissed Brownies, Chocolate Caramel Miniature Pies, Truck Flower & Heart Cupcakes, Catan Cupcakes, Easter Celebration Cake. 
April 2013: Another Big Bang Cake, Applesauce Cereal Chip Muffins, Mini Broccoli &Mushroom Quiches, Cinnamon Roll Swirl Cake, S'more Bars with Caramel Drizzle.
May 2013: Christopher's Graduation Cake, Brownie Graduation Hats, Crustless Mixed Vegetable Quiche, Zebra Cake, Blueberry Pie Bars.
June 2013: Cake #3 - Made By Me, Multigrain Crêpes with Yogurt & Fruit, Lovely Lemon Bar Cookies, Mock Apple Pie, Oreo Peanut Butter Brownie Cups.
July 2013: I was away for the entire month of July. Therefore, all my my posts are not aboutmy baking, but about food, and they are all in French. (Touts mes message sont en français!) 
August 2013: Chocolate Revel Bars, Purple Wedding Congratulations Cake, Mocha Choco Oat No-Bake Cookies, Mom's Tulip Cake, Awards 2012.
September 2013: Mini Doughnut Cupcakes, One Hour Cinnamon Rolls, Original Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, Chocolate Carrot Mini Cupcakes, Blueberry Pancakes For One.
October 2013: Education Cake, Mini Black Forest Cake - German, Mini Black Forest Cake - American, Caramel Apple Coffee Bars, Heavenly Hash Brownies, Cranberry Ribbon Loaf.
November 2013: Prinzregenten Torte, Marshmallow Reese Blondies, Falafel, Nerd Cupcakes, High Protein Bar Cookies.
December 2013: Deceptive Deep Dish Cookie Pie, Espresso Mocha Swirl Loaf, Triple Chocolate Protein Bars, Kite Cake, Plum Pudding.

My most popular posts of the year were: Big Bang Birthday Cake {February 21st}, Brownie Graduation Hats {May 7th}, Purple Wedding Congratulations Cake {August 12th}, Zebra Cake {May 19th}, and Awards 2013 {August 29th}. 
To follow these links click on the date listed after each!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gingerbread Family

Every year when my mother makes up her gingerbread cookie dough for Christmas, she makes some trees and stars and bells, but she also makes some people. Each member of the family gets a person to decorate themselves - loading it up as much or as little as pleases them! This year my brothers were not around at the time to decorate their cookies, so I dd for them, trying to match their cookie-decorating habits. Since they weren't around, they both got extra big gingerbread men. The top left and middle are my brothers' cookies - one decorated more than the other (with chocolate), the one next to it is my father's, the bottom left is my mother's, the bottom middle is mine (all chocolate) and the bottom right is an extra, yet to be decorated. We usually use candy-coated chocolates, chocolate pieces, and sprinkles to decorate our gingerbread and decorate them before baking. This is just another little example of Christmas tradition and baking. How do you like your gingerbread? 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Machine Cinnamon Swirl Bread

My father actually made this bread to test out my bread machine. He bought it for me after all, so of course he may use it as he pleases. He began with a white bread, a cinnamon swirl bread similar to a recipe he has made before by hand. He left out the raisins this time, since he doesn't use them in the usual cinnamon swirl bread he makes. This recipe takes a little extra effort than a typical bread machine recipe, because the dough must be rolled and shaped by hand after kneading and before baking. However, it is certainly much easier than the traditional cinnamon swirl bread recipe.
Machine Cinnamon Swirl Bread
3/4 cup low-fat milk
1 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups white flour
1 3/4 teaspoons bread yeast
3 Tablespoons granulated (white) sugar
1/2 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/4 cups raisins (optional)

Place first seven ingredients in bread pan on order given, or according to manufacturer's instructions for white bread, small loaf. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, cinnamon, and raisins, if desired, set aside. 
After final kneading cycle, pause the machine and transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Roll to a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly over top, then roll the dough into a tight cylinder starting with a shorter side. Seal ends. Put dough back in bread pan and continue cycle. 

The result? We all agreed it wasn't quite as good as the one done completely by hand. It was a bit more uniformly shaped, and definitely very tasty and fresh, so it is a very reasonable substitute. The recipe came with the bread machine manual, so of course it worked very well. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Machine 100% Whole Wheat Bread

This is the first bread recipe I made in my new bread machine. As you can see, the instructions are much, much shorter than any traditional bread recipe (although it is necessary to read through the entire instruction booklet of the bread maker before using). This bread turned out fabulous - it is light and fluffy and tasty - just like a sandwich bread except bigger slices and definitely the taste of homemade. It is definitely a good recipe to begin with. 

Machine 100% Whole Wheat Bread
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons molasses
1 1/2 Tablespoons butter or hard margarine
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
Place all ingredients in bread machine pan in order given, or according to manufacturer's instructions for whole wheat cycle. This makes one large loaf, although size setting will depend on machine. 

I chose the light crust setting to obtain a nice soft sandwich bread. Believe it or not, this bread was actually better the next day! The recipe comes from the Company's Coming "Breads" book, which also includes a few bread machine recipes. 

Paré, Jean. "Machine 100% Wheat Bread." Recipe. Breads, Edmonton Alberta: Company's Coming Publishing Limited, 1996. 24.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Breadmaker

I finally cracked - and asked for a breadmaker. By now, it's probably pretty evident that I make a lot of homemade bread; actually I make pretty much all of the bread I eat, and rarely revert to storebought bread anymore. I am not trying to sound like a snob, but I am a baker, so I bake a lot anyways, and I much prefer the taste and texture of fresh, crisp, more nutritious homemade bread. Homemade bread is more economical, and you can choose exactly what kind you would like - no more searching store shelves for a certain blend of grains. It is also healthier, as you can control the amount of added fat, sugar, and salt, and choose which excellent whole grains you would like to use. Homemade bread is also so much better with white breads and sweet breads as well.

In the past, I hadn't liked the idea of a bread maker. I believed if you are going to do it homemade, you might as well do it by hand from scratch. No sense in letting a machine do all the work for you. I used to think this about food processors, but then realized food processors are used for so much more than simply mixing doughs - they are used for things that cannot be done by hand, such as chopping nuts, making peanut butter, making ice cream, etc., and they make many other tasks much easier and faster. I am still a bit in doubt about kitchen stand mixers though, and despite the fact many people seem convinced I wanted one, I still don't own one. I usually don't even use a handheld electric mixer unless absolutely necessary, as I prefer to mix by hand. 

The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe a breadmaker would be a good idea. It is beginning to become more difficult for my bread baking to keep up with my bread eating, especially as my life becomes busier. I am still measuring ingredients and shaping the dough myself, but it is kneaded, risen, and baked in a convenient little machine. The way I figure, this is still homemade bread, and a much better alternative than storebought bread. It this machine makes bread making quicker and easier for me, than why not?

Another reason is that I am definitely not the best bread-maker. I often have trouble with yeast doughs, which do not rise properly and give a disappointing final product. I also surprisingly do not enjoy kneading all that much, while some people find it relaxing, this is one of the aspects of baking I could go without.

So I asked for, and received, a breadmaker for Christmas. I am quite happy with it, and although it can only make one small loaf at a time, it will still save me time and provide me with plenty of fresh, perfect bread. I'll be sure to feature some of my breadmaker creations soon!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays

I just wanted to take this time to say Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year to everyone. Looking back, Christmas seems to be the only day of the year where I do not publish an actual blog post. I figure it's Christmas - a time to celebrate and a time better spent with family and friends. It's a day where everyone deserves a break. So I hope everyone has a relaxing, enjoyable day spent with loved ones. And while you're at it, be sure to enjoy some holiday treats and great food (especially if it's grandma's). Turkey dinner with all the trimmings, eggnog, fruitcake, pudding, cookies, drinks, bread, hors d'ouevres, just to name a few. I'm sure you have been enjoying my Christmas recipes and food posts, whether they are from this year, last year or two years ago.
Happy Holidays to all!!!
PHOTO CREDIT:"images" http://www.thefoodmentalist.com/2011/12/christmas-vanilla-bean-shortbread.html. 123RF, n.d. Monday, December 23, 2013.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Creamy Brandy Sauce

Here is the sauce recipe I served on my plum pudding from yesterday. Of course a good, hearty Christmas pudding calls for a hard sauce. Normally for this I tend to stick with rum, since that it what I know best and I know the flavor is good, but this time I decided to experiment a little and try a brandy sauce. 
Creamy Brandy Sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons all-purpose (plain) flour
pinch salt
3/4 cup 2% milk
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/4 cup brandy (rum would work too)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or nutmeg

In a tall, microwave-safe bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt. Slowly whisk in the milk. Microwave on HIGH (100%) power for one minute. Whisk, then add the butter and microwave for another minute, or until sauce is creamy and thickened. Whisk and microwave one more minute. Whisk in the brandy, then the cinnamon. Serve warm.
As I mentioned, the past two years I also made Christmas pudding recipes; Figgy Pudding in 2011 and Sticky Toffee Pudding in 2012.
To check out my Christmas puddings from past years, look here: {Figgy Pudding}, {Sticky Toffee Pudding}.

Here are two additional sauce recipes that could also be served on the plum puddings. My {Rum Butter Sauce} from my Figgy Pudding and my {Toffee Rum Sauce} from my Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Plum Pudding

The past two years I have made a Christmas pudding recipe around Christmastime. Keeping with tradition, I decided to do this again, and this year I chose plum pudding. Traditionally, plum pudding does not actually contain any plums at all - in the seventeenth century, plums referred to raisins or dates or other dried fruits, or the definition of a plum was that of any dried fruit. However, nowadays I have seen two different types of plum pudding recipes - the traditional with dried fruit, or the modern with real canned plums and white bread. Both seem to have in common spices, fruit, molasses, and a warm sauce to serve.

As I often do, I decided to take the best of both worlds. I took a traditional plum pudding recipe, but I wanted to add plums to it. This proved to be a difficult task, as plums are not easy to find this year. I didn't find the canned I was looking for, nor fresh or frozen. The solution I came up with - dried plums. Which, yes, are actually prunes. Therefore, they are more like dates, keeping with the traditional recipe. I also decided to bake the pudding, instead of the traditional method of steaming. 

Plum Pudding
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 1/2 cups chopped prunes
1 1/3 cups cut mixed peel
Preheat oven 350F. Grease an 8x8 inch square pan (an 8 inch round pan would also work).
In a large bowl, beat together the butter, eggs, molasses, and juice. Beat in the sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Stir in all but 1/4 cup of the flour.
Toss the fruit with the remaining 1/4 cup flour to prevent it from sticking. Mix it in.
Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Best served warm with a warm sauce. Can be reheated.

Tomorrow I will feature the sauce recipe I served with my plum pudding. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gingerbread Snowman

Here is another Christmas gingerbread creation that was inspired by a lack of resources, a lack of time, and a lack of patience. You see, we were supposed to be creating full, free-standing gingerbread houses. The gingerbread dough was already done, but needed to be cut and baked. Then quickly cooled, assembled, and decorated with icing that was yet to be made. All of this was to be completed within a period of about an hour and a half. That would be no easy feat. We could not decide what type of house to make, or how to cut the dough, or what template to use, but knew it had to be quickly baked so it could be quickly cooled. So we rolled the dough out to fit a cookie sheet and baked it that way. Because we had a lot of dough, but not enough to make a big house, and the dough was still fairly warm, we weren't confident in assembling a house. We also wanted to try something a little different than the typical gingerbread house; in stores these days you'll see trains, carousals, and more. So the idea to cut the gingerbread rectangle into a snowman was formed, giving us the leftover corners to munch on. A gingerbread snowman was much quicker and easier to decorate, and there were no worries of stability issues.
As you can see, this is not a very elaborately decorated gingersnowman, but it could be. It could be completely frosted to make it white if desired. Candies, chocolates, jelly beans, sprinkles, coconut, and more could be used for decoration. Licorice makes great arms. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Overnight Kefir Oatmeal

This is yet another overnight oatmeal. I completely made this one myself, and I basically took everything (well, not everything, but the best things) from the last three overnight oatmeal recipes and put it into this one to make one big, hearty, flavorful, and delicious bowl of cereal. It also has kefir - which I mentioned the benefits of in my kefir smoothie post from two days ago. This is the first time I tried heating up the cereal as well, usually I just eat it cold. But I wasn't going for that with fresh snow on the ground. Since it is coming from a cold fridge, it does take awhile to heat, about three minutes. This could be sped up a little if you transfer the cereal to another bowl, so it won't be cold from the fridge. 

Overnight Kefir Oatmeal
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 Tablespoon oat bran
1 Tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 Tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut
1 Tablespoon chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup frozen blueberries
1 Tablespoon raisins
1 Tablespoon almond butter
1/4 cup kefir milk
1/2 cup water

In a medium jar or a bowl with a lid, place the first eight dry ingredients and shake to mix. Add in the almond butter, kefir, and water, and stir in. Place in the refrigerator overnight and enjoy in the morning cold or heated. 
The other three overnight oatmeal recipes can be found here:  {Overnight Almond Oatmeal}, {Overnight Apple Spice Oatmeal}, {Overnight Blueberry Oatmeal}.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Kite Cake

This is a cake I made meant to be shaped like a kite. I know it isn't exactly a kite replica, but that's fine. Kites do come in all shapes and sizes. I made this cake after reading the novel The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, which is why that is written on the kite. This cake is my signature chocolate cake recipe baked into a 9x13 inch rectangle. I then cut four triangles off each corner to make somewhat of a kite shape. I frosted the top with my signature white buttercream. I didn't bother attempting to frost the sides - sides are difficult enough as it is, especially with a moist cake. However, I cut pieces off, so instead of frosting the edges I would really be frosting the inside of the cake - not a eeat feat. So I saved some icing, cake, time, effort, and a major headache by not frosting the sides. This wouldn't work with every cake design, but it looks fine with this cake, and is less messy as well. Then I used red and green (why not make it Christmas colors) to make a rope border on the top of the cake. I made a simple shell border on the bottom, alternating red and green with each side. I added the "sticks" in the middle of the kite along with the lettering, and added a few stars for decoration. If I had used a bigger platter and wanted to go more elaborate and realistic, I could have used the extra cake triangles to make some bows, and attached them to the kite with licorice for the ribbon. Overall though, this design was pretty simple and was very fast to make.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Kefir Smoothie

Recently I tried kefir for the first time. Kefir is a fermented milk drink that is very rich in probiotics - even more so than yogurt, so it is a useful aid in digestion. I tired plain kefir, and would describe it as some sort of cross between buttermilk and plain Greek yogurt. It is certainly tangy, and very thick - drinkable, but almost a yogurt consistency. It can be consumed as is, though it lacks a little in the flavor compartment, but flavored varieties are available. It can also be used in most baked goods in place of yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, and sometimes regular milk. However, where it really shines is in smoothies. It can take the place of milk, yogurt, ice cream, or all of the above, and produces a cold, creamy, and very thick smoothie. Also when blended into a smoothie, you can add any flavors you like and make the kefir taste much better! Here is a simple recipe I came up with myself, that I enjoyed since it contains a few of my favorite foods and gives a good boost of protein. It is also my favorite color! Try some kefir in your next smoothie!
Purple Keifr Smoothie
3/4 cup kefir
1/3 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 Tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 Tablespoon almond butter
1 Tablespoon honey or maple syrup
*Optional: For a "green" smoothie, that is actually purple, throw in a handful of leafy greens for an added nutritional bonus.

Blend all together until smooth. Makes about one serving, but measurements are approximate and can be played with.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Iced Sugar Cookies

These are some Christmas sugar cookies a friend of mine made to share with her friends. They are in some cute Christmas shapes and intricately decorated - that would have taken some time and effort, especially considering the number of colors she used. You can see a teddy bear, some hearts, a reindeer, and a tree here. The teddy bear was made especially for me apparently - white icing and chocolate chips because my friend knows I prefer to avoid artificial coloring whenever possible. When we asked her what kind of cookies they were, she wasn't really sure. She had just searched for a Christmas cookie recipe. They are likely a simple sugar cookie recipe, but we concluded we would call them "Jocelyn" cookies, after her, since she put her own little spin on them and decorated them so beautifully. Did I mention they were very tasty? 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Another Gingerbread House

Here is another quick little gingerbread house I made with a few others. This gingerbread dough is actually from scratch and cut-out by hand. To do this, we whipped up a batch if gingerbread cookie dough, then rolled it out to fit on a cookie sheet. We decided it would be easier to cut out the shapes after baking rather than before. This proved to be true, the only problem with this is there may be more waste or not enough dough for all the pieces, as scraps cannot be re-rolled. Oh well, that just means more little pieces to eat and taste! This house is pretty simplistic, and just uses a can of frosting and some bagged candy. So the walls are just long pentagon shapes, decorated with licorice trip, jelly beans, colored sprinkles, and chocolate squares for doors and windows. We kept it pretty simple since it was demolished and eaten pretty quickly, but I though I would share since Christmas is fast approaching. Every gingerbread house is different!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Choco Marshmallow Cereal Trees

This chocolate marshmallow treat could not be simpler and faster to make! Only four ingredients that all get mixed together and formed. No baking or pans required. It is not exactly a Christmas recipe, but was turned into one sort of by mistake. As with many icebox cookie doughs as well, which are chilled in a log then sliced to bake, when you roll it into a log, it doesn't always stay perfectly round, especially while resting on a refrigerator shelf. Sometimes this can be overcome by placing the dough in a paper tube, such as an empty paper towel roll, but some doughs are thicker than that. So in this case, when my mother took the log out of the fridge after chilling, it was not a perfectly round log. It was a bit trickier to form this into a round log since it is cereal treats and not a dough, so it turned out to be sort of triangular shaped. No problem here, now the slices simply look like Christmas trees! Especially since the marshmallows seem to end up one the inside of the log, so they look like little ornaments. See, sometimes mistakes are awesome! 
Choco Marshmallow Cereal Trees
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips, melted
2 cups miniature marshmallows
2 cups crisp rice cereal

Mix all ingredients together. Turn mixture onto waxed paper and shape into a log, approximately eighteen inches long. Wrap tightly and chill for at least one hour, until firm, before slicing. 

The types of chocolate may be varied, additional chocolate chips or chopped nuts may be mixed in with the cereal, and the form may be varied - try putting it in a pan like squares, rolling into balls, eating as is, or making trees!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cozy Christmas Cookies

Here is an array of lovely Christmas cookies given to me by my boyfriend's mother. There are four different types and she baked them all. The snowman on the right and the bell in the middle are almond cookies, the circular ones on the left and right are thumbprint cookies with jam in the middle, the sandwich cookies with the heart and star filled with jam in the middle are linzer cookies, or at least something similar, and the squares are chocolate two-layer squares with jam in the middle and a simple icing. I believe at least one of these cookies is a German type of cookie, and all of these cookies are definitely delicious. Coincidentally (or not) the ornament pictured with the plate of cookies was a gift from Germany
Anyway, plates of sweets, especially decorative cookies, around this time of year seem to be popular gifts, and one I certainly appreciate. Especially when the sweets are as tasty as these! :)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mock Royal Icing

This is an icing recipe that is similar to royal icing, but much quicker and easier to make. Royal icing is a thick, stiff icing that hardens quickly, making it ideal for piping, decorating, and constructing, especially when cookies are involved. Royal icing can vary in stiffness, and can even be rock solid once dried. It is the icing that comes in those gingerbread house kits, because it is ideal in holding the walls of the house up. However, royal icing can be a bit tricky and time consuming to make. There is a lot of beating involved, and it requires either meringue powder or egg whites. If using egg whites, this would cause the icing to contain raw eggs, which can be a food safety hazard. Meringue power won't pose a hazard, however it isn't as readily available as eggs.

That is why I choose to use a mock royal icing. It has the same consistency and dries the same, but doesn't use any egg product and only takes a minute to whip up. More or less can easily be made, and it can be tinted any color you wish. It only uses a few ingredients and if you would like a bit thinner royal icing, you can easily add a little extra water.

Mock Royal Icing
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon water

Mix all together, and adjust the consistency as needed by adding a little extra sugar or water. If you tint it using liquid food coloring, keep in mind this will thin it out a bit.

I used this icing recipe for my cookies from yesterday. It hardens in seconds, and the cookies were even able to be stacked without fear of messing up the lettering. 

TIP (thanks dad): If the icing becomes difficult to pipe or your wrist is really sore, warm the decorating tip under warm water for a few seconds, then continue piping to help loosen the icing. This will not affect the consistency of the final icing. Just be careful, as the first bit that comes out may be very liquidy. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Alice In Wonderland Cookies

I was recently asked to make some cookies for an Alice In Wonderland themed semi formal school dance. The only criteria I was given was to make them either sugar or shortbread cookies with pink or purple icing that say "Eat Me". I toyed with the shape I would want to make them. I debated some Christmas shapes, but decided against it since the dance is not a Christmas theme, although it is close to the Christmas season. Then I though of Alice In Wonderland shapes. A cat would be difficult to make it look like the Cheshire cat, same with the white rabbit. So I settled on some simpler shapes - hearts and diamonds. This represents the playing cards in the story. I didn't have any club or spade cookie cutters, and they do not have as seemingly big a part in the story anyway. I chose my basic, go-to sugar cookie recipe, which can be found here {Sugar Cookies }. And I used both purple and pink icing. The only problem I had was my wrist kept becoming very sore, as I made the icing fairly stiff so it would not run and would pipe well and harden well for easy storage and transportation. It's times like this I wish I could pipe lettering well with both hands. 
I made five dozen of them.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Chocolate Truffles

These are some truffles I made and decorated with a Christmas theme, since it is getting close to Christmastime. I call them double trouble chocolate truffles because they contain two additions of chocolate - chocolate chips and cocoa. They are certainly very rich and a chocoholic's dream, especially if coated with a chocolate coating. The chocolate chips could be altered - milk chocolate chips for a milder truffle and dark chocolate chips for a dark chocolate truffle. 

Double Trouble Chocolate Truffles
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 can (300mL) sweetened condensed milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
coating

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and chips, stirring until smooth. Stir in the cocoa. Turn heat to low and stir in the milk. Beat for about four minutes, until mixture is thick, shiny, and glossy. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Transfer mixture to a shallow bowl and refrigerate for at least two hours. Roll into balls, then roll into desired coating.

Coating options: sprinkles, sugar, icing sugar, colored sugar, coconut, cocoa, chopped nuts, chocolate chips, cookie crumbs, cracker/wafer crumbs, pretzel pieces, crushed candy canes, no coating.

For Christmas truffles: Use red and green colored sugar, or colored Christmas sprinkles, as well as coconut or icing sugar for snowballs, and crushed candy canes if desired. A drop of mint extract along with the vanilla may also be nice. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Apple Pie Granola

Here is my latest granola creation. I call it apple pie granola because it has the flavor of apples due to the applesauce, pecans, and the spices typically used in apple pie. The applesauce makes the granola moister and healthier, and also replaces some of the oil. If you like your granola to be full of clusters instead of loose, you may want to add a little extra oil and sweetener. Of course the nuts, seeds, spices, and fruits can be varied or replaced as you like. This makes a hearty, crunchy bowl of breakfast! 

Apple Pie Granola
4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (or a mix)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4-1/2 cup sweetener (honey, molasses, sugar, brown sugar)
2-3 Tablespoons oil (optional)
1 cup raisins
In a shallow pan, mix together the dry ingredients. Drizzle the applesauce, sweetener, and oil over top and toss to combine. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes, stirring every ten minutes, until golden. Stir in the raisins then cool before storing. It will keep for a few days, in the refrigerator for a week or two, or much longer in the freezer, and doesn't require any thawing time. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

M&M Ultimate Chocolate Cookies

This is a new cookie recipe my mother decided to try making for Christmas this year. Though they aren't particularly Christmas-themed cookies, they are a colorful addition to a Christmas cookie tray. They could be made more festive if only red and green candies are used (packages of those are available to buy - you don't need to sort through the colors yourself!). This cookies are very chocolaty, rich and soft and delicious. I myself am not a huge candy fan, but the candies soften in these cookies and don't make them crunchy. My mom made the cookies fairly small and got about four dozen of them, but they can be made larger and flatter if you wish. They can also be baked shorter or longer for chewier or crisper cookies, and chopped nuts may be added if you wish. The recipe comes from a magazine clipping.
M&M Ultimate Chocolate Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or hard margarine, softened
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup miniature candy coated chocolates 

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line cookie sheets.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.
In a separate medium bowl, stir together the next four dry ingredients. Gradually add to the butter mixture. Stir in candies.
Drop dough by rounded half tablespoons two inches apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just set - cookies will be soft. 

Monday, December 09, 2013

Triple Chocolate Protein Bars

This is actually the first protein bar recipe I tried, and the one that received the best reviews. It was also probably the easiest, though they are all fairly similar, and definitely the most chocolaty. I am not going to give away the recipe for this one - it is just too yummy and deceptive, and if I reveal the ingredients, I may not have so many willing tasters anymore, and my baking may not be trusted again. (Hint, the ingredients are high protein, see High Protein Ingredients at the link here).

I will go through the procedure of this recipe, but I won't give away the details of the actual recipe. Basically it is a recipe I created myself where I combined some high protein ingredients, some healthy grains, some healthy sweeteners, and a good dose of cocoa powder and chocolate chips. To give them a little extra presentation and flavor, I drizzled a little melted chocolate over them after baking as well.

The result? A fudgey, dense, and oh-so chocolaty brownie-like bar. Yes, the texture is not as light and fluffy as a brownie, but it basically seems like a healthy brownie. I was told it tasted just like a Vector bar, but I've never had one so I cannot confirm that, nor am I sure if that is a good thing or not. The bars were gobbled up while still warm - so they were a little messy, but finger-licking good. And I assure you, they are indeed a healthy, high-protein bar that id great on the go (though perhaps a tad rich for breakfast). 

To check out other high protein recipe ideas, follow these links: High Protein Bar Cookies  and Deceptive Deep Dish Cookie Pie.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Grainy Flatbread

This is an incredibly easy and versatile bread recipe. Make it any shape you like! It contains a variety of great grains, but if you do not have one of them on hand, simply add in ore of another or substitute something different - even seeds or ground nuts would work. It doesn't rise a lot, which is why it is a flatbread. 

Grainy Flatbread
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup each ground flaxseed, wheat germ natural wheat bran, oat bran, old-fashioned oats
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon oil

Preheat oven to 350F. 
In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center and add the milk and oil. Stir well, dough will be dry. Dough can be shaped any way you like - in pans or simply on a baking sheet. Make it as thick or thin as you like, I made mine fairly thick flatbread. Baking times will vary accordingly. 

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Skillet Gnocchi with Chard and White Beans

This is a delicious, one pan vegetarian meal that is quick and easy. It is nutritious as well - it provides a good dose of protein, calcium, and fiber, and is low in fat and sodium. Gnocchi is a fresh Italian dumpling pasta with the dough being made from mashed potatoes and flour and egg. It is fun to make from scratch, but can be a bit tedious, so it is a time saver to buy a shelf stable version. Fresh refrigerated versions are also available. It is a soft, yummy pasta that easily absorbs flavors. A friend of mine prepared this dish for me and I loved it. I would definitely make this for myself sometime. 
Skillet Gnocchi with Chard and White Beans
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 package (16 ounces) shelf stable gnocchi (potato dumpling pasta)
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or chopped
1/2 cup water
6 cups Swiss chard (or spinach or kale) leaves, chopped
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes (with or without seasonings)
1 can (15 ounces) white beans
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 

In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat 3 teaspoons oil. Add the gnocchi, and cook, stirring often, for 5-7 minutes until it begins to soften and brown. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm.
Add the remaining teaspoon of oil to the pan, cook the onion for two minutes until softened. Add the garlic and water and cook for 4-6 minutes until soft. Add the greens and cook for 1-2 minutes until wilted. Stir in tomatoes, beans, and pepper and bring to a simmer. Add in the gnocchi and sprinkle with cheese. Let stand until the cheese begins to melt. 

Friday, December 06, 2013

Overnight Blueberry Oatmeal

Overnight Blueberry Oatmeal
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 Tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut
1 Tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 Tablespoon chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup milk of choice

Mix all together in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight. In the morning it will be thickened - enjoy as is or heat it up.
This is another easy, quick, and wholesome individual breakfast. It is just like the {Overnight Almond Oatmeal},or the {Overnight Apple Spice Oatmeal} simply another flavor variation. These breakfasts are convenient because they are prepared the night before and a re quick to throw together. Then they are ready in the morning as is, or they can be warmed if you wish. The recipes are also versatile, so in a pinch you can substitute another ingredient, and the flavors can be played with - use almond, soy, or cow milk, different fruits, nuts, etc. It is great even for those who are not oatmeal fans. 

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Espresso Mocha Swirl Loaf

Espresso Mocha Swirl Loaf
1 Tablespoon instant coffee powder
3 Tablespoons boiling water
1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine, softened
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 Tablespoons milk
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
2 cups + 2 Tablespoons all-purpose (plain) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir together the coffee and water, set aside to cool, then stir in the cocoa.
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter, yogurt, and milk. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla. Beat in the sugar. Beat in the remaining ingredients, beat well for one minute. 
Divide batter in half. Add the coffee mixture to one half. 
Place three spoonfuls of each batter into the bottom of the pan, alternating flavors. Repeat this for two more layers, ensuring chocolate batter is on top of vanilla and vice versa. Gently swirl the batters together with a knife.
Bake for about an hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 

This is a fairly easy snack loaf to make. It has a nice coffee flavor, but not too much of a chocolate flavor. The swirled flavors make it look pretty. It is light and fluffy and can be served in a variety of ways, or simply as well with a steaming mug of espresso. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Scallops with Apple Cider Reduction

The other day my father cooked some scallops. He pan-fried them and made a quick and simple reduction. He wanted to make another reduction using a wine or something similar, like he had done previously (see Baby Scallops with White Wine Reduction here), but we didn't really have any ideal spirits on hand to use. So I looked for some recipes and found one that incorporated a reduction of apple cider vinegar. I love apple cider vinegar, so we decided to go with that. Balsamic vinegar would also work and would provide a different flavor. This recipe can certainly be altered, increased, or vamped up. The addition of shallots or caramelized onions or fresh herbs or spices would be nice. Other flavors that could be incorporated include lemon and sesame. 
To prepare the reduction, basically some vinegar and a little water is heated over high heat until it is thickened and reduced. This concentrates the liquid and make it much more flavorful and sweet, and will also burn off any alcohol if wine or spirits are used. This makes a really simple and quick sauce made right in the pan that adds a little flavor and moistness to your meal, and also making the reduction in the same pan the fish is cooked in gives it more flavor and will loosen any bits stuck to the pan and infuse them into the sauce. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Deceptive Deep Dish Cookie Pie

This is not exactly another protein bar recipe, but I am sure it could modified into one. However, this is a high-protein, chocolaty and delicious version of a deep dish chocolate chip cookie pie, thanks to the addition of beans and oats. I know right, a healthy deep dish chocolate chip cookie pie? Isn't that an oxymoron? Not in this case; not only is this pie healthy and delicious, it also happens to be vegan and gluten free. 

Deceptive Deep Dish Cookie Pie 
1 can white beans
1 cup quick oats (gluten free if needed)
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 Tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch round springform pan.
Blend all ingredients except for the chocolate chips in a food processor until really smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until just set. You may want to cover the top with foil if it becomes too brown. Delicious hot or cooled - just try to let it sit ten minutes so it cuts neater (I so did not do this - hypocrite, I know). 
I made this recipe exactly according to the original for my first trial, as I was a little nervous as to how it would turn out or how others would perceive it. In other words, I didn't want it to taste 'healthy'. My mother wasn't a huge fan - she didn't care for the texture, but she saw what I put in it. I think I should have processed it a bit longer, but I didn't want to liquefy it (been there, done that) so I held off. Next time I may process just the beans alone for a bit first. My father enjoyed it and didn't know what was in it, but agreed the texture was slightly off, you can't really taste the beans and the yummy amount of chocolate chips helped mask it. 

Now that I know it works well, next time if I was making this recipe for myself or turning it into a protein bar I would make some changes to make it even healthier. The original recipes is from my favorite healthy dessert blog: http://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/.
- I would use old-fashioned oats instead of instant since they are ground in the recipe anyway.
- I would decrease the amount of sugar, and use dates instead. Some have had success with using stevia, but I don't have experience with that ingredient, and the effects of it are not well known.
- I would increase the applesauce and decrease the oil.
- I would use dark chocolate chips or chunks. 
- I may add some flax or wheat germ for more flavor and nutrition.
- I think I may have overbaked it a tad - it did still remain gooey and yummy, which isn't a concern considering there is no egg in it. But it was a little dark - covering it with foil may help. 

Monday, December 02, 2013

Gingerbread Train

Every year, our family decorates a gingerbread house. We buy a simple, inexpensive kit from the grocery store, divide up the decorating equally, then put it together. We have tried to get a slightly different kit each year, but it is difficult to find many more different variations on the standard house. So this year we did something a little different and decided to go with a gingerbread train that we found with the houses. They are beginning to put some new, different kits out there, not simply houses and people, but also trains, carousals, sleighs, and trees. I think the carousal is pretty cute, almost like a Christmas merry-go-round, so maybe we'll try that one next year. 

As I have said in previous years, we never eat any of the gingerbread house, we simply decorate it and put it on display for Christmas, and well, sometimes it doesn't come down until nearly Easter time. It doesn't go bad since it is all sugar and preservatives, and that is another reason we do not eat it. My mother makes her own gingerbread cookies that we usually munch on while decorating. I have considered making the gingerbread dough for the kit myself, but it would be a lot of effort and ingredients wasted since we don't eat it anyway, plus we would need to purchase candies and make royal icing as well. 

The train seemed a bit more tedious to put together than a house, and initially had some stability issues as usual. The plastic tray provided to use as the base wasn't ideal, since it didn't really allow room for the wheels, so instead we just used a white piece of cardboard. The train stays up now, and looks quite nice on its platform.
I decorated the roof and the sides of the main train. I decorated the gingerbread man, which was not included in the kit but it was my idea to use one of my mother's gingerbread cookies. I wanted to prop him up a bit in the coal car, and thought it might be cool to add some coal. Chocolate chips were ideal, but that's a waste of good chocolate chips, so my father came up with the idea of using crumpled up balls of black construction paper. It's always funny how the kit contains candies of a variety of different colors, but always seems to be short on red and green candies. 

If you would like to check out the houses from the past two years, just follow these links:  2011 and 2012.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Christmas Baking Begins

It is now December, which means my mother began her Christmas baking the other day. She always begins way before me, and we enjoy some cookies hot from the oven, then she packages and freezes the rest. We use them to send to neighbors, to serve to company, and to enjoy the leftovers ourselves into the new year. I do most of my baking closer to Christmas and tend to serve the baked goods fresh. This is because my mother makes mostly different types of Christmas cookies, and of course I cannot forget her delicious chocolate fruitcake. I tend to make other items such as Panettone, my Christmas fruit bread, and pudding - figgy, sticky toffee, etc., and sometimes a Christmas cake. 

My mother has her classic, tried-and-true recipes she stands by and makes each yea. She also likes to try one or two new recipes each year, which sometimes become new family favorites and replace old ones. I have provided the links to the different goodies below, some have a recipe included, but some are family stand-bys and do not. Sorry!

Each year we have:  Gingerbread People, Gingerbread Cookies, Kiss Cookies, Button Cookies, Shortbread Cookies, Chocolate Shortbread Cookies, Sugar Cookies (though these aren't the Christmas version here, they are pictured below and are the same recipe) Chocolate Fruitcake, Shreddies Mix.

Other Christmas cookies I have made throughout the years include:  Iced Ginger Cookies, Chrismtas Checkerboard Cookies, Ginger Crinklesand Candy Cane Biscotti.

Other Christmas treats that have been made by me or others include:  Eggnog Muffins, Hot Cocoa, Fruitcake Cookies, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Panettone Gifts, Panettone, Brownie Gifts, Merrfy Fruit Squares, Figgy Puddingand Candy Cane Brownies.
This picture was taken a few days ago, so the count down until Christmas now reads 24 days!