Thursday, January 31, 2013

Basic Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies: a classic, favorite, well-known recipe with so many variations. This is yet another chocolate chip cookie recipe we have tried in this house. My mother's typical chocolate chip cookie recipe is her recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that she has been using for years. My standard, go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe is the secret recipe I created myself, and I usually make them jumbo, soft and chewy cookies, but I have made regular-sized ones using the same recipe as well. I have tried a few other basic chocolate chip cookie recipes, some with good results, some just okay, but they were never quite as good as my version. The same goes for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, my mom's take the cake (or cookie). I must admit, my grandmother's version is also good, with a little cinnamon added for flavor, but I like them both for different reasons. If I stray from my typical chocolate chip cookie recipe, it is usually just to make double chocolate chip cookies, or a different type of chocolate chip cookie. Double chocolate chip cookies are even better than just chocolate chip cookies, in my opinion, as I live by the motto, "The more chocolate the better." There are many really good double chocolate chip cookie recipe out there (or triple chocolate  or quadruple chocolate), that I have not chosen a favorite yet.
Anyways, the other day my mother was searching for another, easy, basic chocolate cookie recipe. I had a few suggestions in mind, but she settled on one she found. They turned out good, certainly not my favorite, but definitely nothing wrong with them. They simply tasted like a basic chocolate chip cookie, nothing special  just sweet, chocolaty, and tasty. The recipe said it was an easy cookie that didn't flatten too much, although both my mother and I agreed they did turn out a bit flat. These are also definitely a crispy cookie version rather than a soft and chewy one. I do prefer the latter usually, but nevertheless, this just goes to show how much variation there is out there in one simple baked good of chocolate chip cookies, and how everyone has different preferences. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dark Chocolate Brownies

Dark Chocolate Brownies 
1/2 cup hard margarine, cut into pieces
200 grams dark chocolate (85% cocoa)
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups granulated (white) sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 300F. Line an 8x8 inch square pan with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate  Stir in cocoa. Remove from heat and mix in the sugar, then the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour and salt, do not overmix. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes. Frost as desired. I used Glossy Chocolate Frosting (January 12, 2013), although I waited until the brownies had cooled a little before frosting them.

This is a bit different from my standard brownie recipe. These are dark chocolate brownies, and actually use a good-quality chocolate bar as opposed to just cocoa as I usually use. These brownies are also quite quick and simple to make. One thing I found interesting was that these brownies are baked at a lower oven temperature for a longer time, instead of higher for a short time. The result is very fudgey and decadent brownies. The dark chocolate flavor definitely sets them aside from regular brownies, but if you are a fan of dark chocolate, you will enjoy them.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mini Multigrain Pitas

Take a basic recipe for pita bread, change the ingredients so that it is whole wheat and contains other healthy grains, then make it the sizes you would like, and bake it! What do you get? Delicious homemade pita bread that is catered to your tastes. Pita bread is always good, a nice change to normal sandwich bread. It is soft and chewy, and creates those cute little pockets that can be stuffed with all kinds of different delicious filings. Storebought pita bread is good, but homemade pita bread is incredibly easy to make and so much better.

Multigrain Pita Bread
2 cups warm water (110F)
1 teaspoon granulated (white) sugar
1 package instant yeast
1/4 cup oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup natural wheat bran
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
4 cups whole wheat flour
In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in the water. Sprinkle the yeast over top and let stand for ten minutes until frothy. Stir to dissolve. Add the oil, salt, bran, oats, and 1 cup flour. Using a handheld electric mixer, beat for about three minutes or until smooth. With a wooden spoon, gradually stir in the remaining flour until a stiff dough forms  Knead for about ten minutes until smooth and elastic.
Allow to rise for ninety minutes, until doubled in bulk. Punch dough down. 
If making large pitas, simply divide the dough into sixteen (for 7 inch/ 18 cm pitas) or into 32 (for 4 inch/ 10 cm pitas). Then roll out each piece into a circle, matching the size given.
If making mini pitas, divide dough in two pieces. Roll out each piece to a little less than 1/4 inch/ 0.5 cm thick. Use a round cookie or biscuit cutter to cut dough into rounds. I used a four inch and a two inch, both work well. I got 18 four inch pitas, and 12 mini ones. Dough scraps can be rerolled and cut (I thought this would make them tough, but the extra kneading seems to do them good!)
Place the pita breads on pieces of parchment paper. Cover and let rise for 20 minutes, until slightly risen.

Meanwhile, set the rack to the bottom position in the oven, and place a baking sheet inside to heat up. Preheat oven to 500F.** Once pita has rested, remove baking sheet from oven and carefully slide one sheet of parchment onto it. Do not crowd the pitas, bake them in batches. Bake small pitas for about four minutes, and large pitas for about five to six minutes. Watch them closely. They should be just golden on the bottom. Pitas are meant to be soft and chewy. If you would prefer a crisp pita, they can be baked a minute or two longer, but they will not have as nice pockets. Let cool on a rack.

**500F seems like a really high oven temperature. It is the highest I have ever used, and I was a little leery about it the first time. However, the key to good pita bread and nice pockets is the high oven temperature and short baking time. Just be really careful when opening the oven, as it will be really hot! Also, use thick oven mitts. I discovered the hard way that my thin pot holders were not quite enough to withstand the heat of a baking sheet placed in an oven that hot.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hovis Bread

It's probably quite obvious by now that I am always searching for new whole wheat sandwich bread recipes to try. This recipe is quite different from others I have tried before, and welcome to a change, I decided to try it. Also, the fact that it is a "no-knead" bread appeals to me, it generally makes the process faster and less labor intensive. That isn't to say I mind kneading bread, it can be quite therapeutic at times, but it does get a bit tedious at times. This recipe still contains yeast though, and is a slow rise bread. The first rising takes ninety minutes, and the second forty minutes. I found this recipe in Company's Coming "Breads". This is my go-to bread book. In fact, I have pretty much worked my way through the majority of recipes for whole wheat breads that do not require the use of a bread machine. I have also made some white breads in here (some using whole wheat flour), and some sweet breads, such as Panettone, Ollie Bollen, and Challah. I have made pita bread, English muffins, and Bannock from this book too. I like to try new recipes a lot, but I don't know what I will do when I complete all the recipes I would like to try in this book. I may be compelled to make some of the breads again.
This no-knead hovis bread is a dark, solid loaf. The book states it is reminiscent of a European bread. I am not sure about that, as the only European bread I have ever tried was white, but this certainly is a hearty and nutritious bread. It contains all whole wheat flour, natural bran, and wheat germ or ground flax seed. It also contains a small amount of cocoa, a touch of ground ginger, and half a teaspoon of gravy browner. I figured since they amount of gravy browner was so small, it wouldn't matter much if I left it out, since I didn't have any on hand. Not sure what the purpose of this is, but it likely adds more flavor, just like the ginger. And the cocoa, there is one quarter cup, but it certainly seemed quite prevalent when I was mixing up the dough. They say a little bit of dark chocolate is good for you, so why not? I like chocolate, even in bread I suppose. The more chocolate, the better. This bread also contains a large proportion of molasses, I suppose to add some sweetness to counter the bitter cocoa, but it is by no means a sweetbread. This bread is heavy, dense, and nutritious. It is good for breakfast or sandwiches, but slice it quite thinly! It does not rise a lot, but that is just the type of bread it is. It may also have something to do with the fact the yeast is added with the dry ingredients and not proofed first, which often works fine, but proofing it initially is generally more successful. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins

My mother was searching for a different muffin recipe to make. She often makes banana muffins, but we actually did not have any ripe bananas on hand for once. I suggested the oatmeal muffins she often used to make, but we did not have all of the ingredients, so I suggested another type of oatmeal muffin. We did some searching, and came up with this, which is a bit of a play on a muffin recipe we found in the Muffins cookbook. They smell delicious cooking, and are quite tasty warm from the oven. Although upon cooling they do seem a little dry, as many muffins can be. However, they remind me of my grandmother's oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, which contain a touch of cinnamon, just like these muffins. This simple ingredient really adds a nice touch!
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 1/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
2 Tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400F. Grease or line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
In a large bowl, mix the first six dry ingredients. 
In a separate small bowl, mix the next five liquid ingredients.
Add the liquid to the dry and mix to moisten. Stir in the chocolate chips. Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. These are best served warm.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Butterscotch Bonanza Bars

Butterscotch Bonanza Bars
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine, melted
2 cups light brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup chopped nuts*
2 cups butterscotch chips*

*Both of these ingredients are optional, but the bars are pretty plain without at least one of them. Instead of butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, miniature chocolate chips, or white chocolate chips can be used, alone or in combination. Feel free to experiment  In this case, my mother used no nuts and chocolate chips when she made them.
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line a 9x13 inch baking pan. 
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Stir in the baking powder and salt, then the vanilla, the eggs, then the flour in half cup increments. Mix in the nuts and/or chips. Spread batter into prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Fluke, Joanne. "Butterscotch Bonanza Bars." Recipe. Devil's Food Cake Murder, New York: Kensington, 2011. 29-32.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Carrot Raisin Muffins

Carrot Raisin Muffins
1 1/3 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 finely shredded carrots
1/2 cup raisins
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup butter or hard margarine, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease 12 muffin cups or line with paper liners.
In a large bowl, mix the first six dry ingredients. Stir in the carrots and raisins.
In a separate medium bowl, mix the remaining ingredients. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until just blended. Divide among muffin cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

These are some truly delicious and nutritious muffins. They are quite hearty, and would be good for breakfast, as well as a snack. My mother made these from the recipe in one of our mystery novels. She recommends adding a little extra carrots, raisins, and milk. These will make the muffins slightly moister, sweeter, and more delicious! They would also be good with semi-sweet chocolate chips in place of raisins, or with a few chopped nuts added in. The cinnamon really adds a special touch to them.

Fluke, Joanne. "Carrot-Oatmeal Muffins." Recipe. Devil's Food Cake Murder, New York: Kensington, 2011. 54-56.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cocoa Coffee Icing

This is the icing recipe to go with the brownie recipe from yesterday. They are both chocolate and coffee, and pair perfectly together. This icing just melts in your mouth and is so delicious! However, it can be a bit finicky, but is definitely completely worth it. Use it right away for best results. Don't be tempted to add more butter, as it already contains quite a high proportion of it. You may however, add more coffee to make it easier to spread. If you want a caffeine-free version, you can use milk, but coffee really helps bring out the chocolate flavor. This icing is a bit difficult to get smooth, even with a hot knife, so just don't bother trying to perfect it. It will look fine, and the taste will make up for that anyway. 

Cocoa Coffee Icing
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine, melted
2 heaping Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups icing (confectioners') sugar
3 Tablespoons hot, strong coffee

In a medium bowl, mix the butter and cocoa until smooth. Gradually add the sugar, alternately with the coffee, mixing until smooth. Add a little extra sugar or milk as needed in order to achieve desired spreading consistency. 
To finish the chocolate coffee squares: Prepare a very small batch of dark chocolate icing and white icing. This can simply just be icing sugar, milk, and a little cocoa powder. Once brownie base is completely cooled, frost evenly with cocoa coffee icing. It won't be perfectly smooth, but that's fine. Next drizzle the icing with either the dark or white drizzle, going from one corner to the diagonal corner with swift back and forth motions of the hand. The easiest way to do this is with a plastic sandwich bag, just be sure to cut the hole fairly small. I even find this easier than a piping bag in this case. Repeat with the other drizzle, this time going from one of the other corners to the diagonal, to reverse the direction of the drizzle. 
For my squares, I did a little dark chocolate drizzle, followed by white, followed by another layer of white. This way both layers are clearly visible. This is a quick and easy decorating technique that makes squares and cakes look really nice. Cut the squares before the icing hardens for best results. I got 32 squares, plus the ends, but they could easily be cut smaller, as they are quite rich. I always cut the ends off for presentation purposes, and to have some pieces to taste myself. Store these squares in the fridge.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Chocolate Coffee Squares

These are rich, chocolaty, decadent chocolate coffee squares. They are quite heavenly and delicious! Here is the recipe for the fudgey brownie base, and tomorrow I will share the icing recipe and decoration directions.

Rich Coffee Brownies
1 cup hard margarine, melted
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups granulated (white) sugar
1 Tablespoon instant coffee granules
1 Tablespoon boiling water
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9x13 inch rectangular baking pan with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, mix the butter and cocoa until smooth. Cream in the sugar until well blended. Dissolve the coffee in the water and stir it in. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla  Stir in the flour and salt, do not overmix. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for about 25 minutes, until just set.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Potato Pork Casserole

The other day we decided to try something a little different for supper. Since pork chops were on sale, we decided to try a pork dish. We don't typically eat pork all that often. I am not a huge pork fan myself, but if pork chops are cooked tender enough so that they aren't tough and dry, I enjoy them. My mother remembered a simple pork casserole recipe she used to make years ago, which my father found and decided to make. The recipe is simple, just lay out pork chops in a casserole dish, layer them with sliced potatoes, cheese, and pour one can of cream of mushroom soup over top. My father did do a few things differently though. He pre-browned the pork chops, just fr a bit of extra flavor and to ensure they cooked, just five minutes per side. He also used a block of fresh cheese cut up, instead pf just slices. The original recipe serves four and calls for four pork chops, but he cooked six. The recipe turned out quite well, except for the potatoes. I guess they should have been sliced thinner, because after being in the oven for an hour at 325F immersed in bubbling sauce with the pork chops, they were still very hard. The pork was cooked perfectly at this point, but not the potatoes. Fifteen more minutes of cooking was only drying out the pork, and doing nothing for the potatoes, so they had to be microwaved separately. However, once together, the dish was quite tasty, and the pork chops were certainly tender and moist. The dish would have been even better with some fried onions and mushrooms added to the sauce. So next time, we will either make the potatoes really thin, or parboil them beforehand. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Chocolate Nutella Frosting

This Chocolate Nutella Frosting recipe pairs perfectly with the Nutella Chocolate Cake. The Nutella flavor in it is prevalent, but not overwhelmingly strong. If you want a sweeter, less greasy frosting, use less butter and more icing sugar. If you would like a smoother frosting, add a little more milk (chocolate milk works great!) If you would like a darker, more Nutella-y frosting, simply add more Nutella. If you want it to be a little chocolatier and dark, you can also add a little cocoa powder. Anyway, this is a delicious frosting that would work well on a variety of different cake types! Pictured below is the dark chocolate version, made with a spoonful of extra Nutella, a spoonful of cocoa, and a splash of chocolate milk. It is delicious by the spoonful, like it is eaten here, and not just on cake!

Chocolate Nutella Frosting
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup Nutella
3 cups icing (confectioners') sugar
2 Tablespoons milk

In a medium bowl, mix the butter and Nutella together until well blended. Gradually stir in the icing sugar, adding the milk as needed. Add enough milk to achieve the desired spreading consistency.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

8-Bit Pixel Designs

This is a follow-up post to the cake from yesterday. It is a bit more commentary on the type of design. As I said yesterday, the design for the Link cake, as well as the Minecraft Creeper cake, came from a sprite, which refers to a computer pixel image of blocks. These pictures can easily be searched online and are available fro a wide range of different video game, television show, movie, book, and other characters. You can create your own sprite as well, but this is a bit more difficult than using one already made. Once you have found the sprite you would like to use, you might just want to do a little more preparation work. You may want to count the number of rows and columns, and number or letter them, or perhaps number each individual square. Decide on the size each square will be. The squares in my Minecraft cake ere 2cm x 2cm, but I had to make the squares on my Link cake smaller, 1.5cm x 1.5cm because there are more squares in this design, and 2cm x 2cm squares would not have fit. This is why planning ahead is important. This also gave me an extra row of squares on the right, but it isn't too noticeable, and I was able to write Happy Birthday at the bottom. You may want to count how many of each color square there are, in order to prepare enough icing. Printing out the sprite is the best bet for reference, you don't need it to be the actual size, just big enough to pick out the details. 
These designs works very well on rectangular cakes, but they also work nicely with cookies. Just use a basic sugar cookie dough, and tint the dough different colors as needed (and/or make a chocolate dough as well). Baking the dough as a rectangular and cutting into squares after baking will yield more uniform squares. Though I have learned from my Sudoku Cookie Puzzle (July 13th, 2012) that perfect squares in cookies are still difficult to achieve  Be sure to use a cookie dough that isn't too crumbly. Then assemble the cookies on a tray according to the sprite. This is a slightly easier and less messy technique than icing a cake, and still looks really good!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Link Cake

The Nutella cake recipe I featured yesterday? This is what I transformed it into. This is a cake decorated to look like the character Link from the famous Zelda video games. I am not much of a video-gamer myself, and I have never actually played a Zelda game (*GASP*), but I relied on internet images to make this cake look as accurate as possible.  It is based on a sprite, which refers to a computer pixel image. By using a sprite, it is easy to divide the character into different squares to easily ice the cake. It was also a bonus that this particular design only required three different colors: brown, green, and white, which made things a lot easier. I used tinted buttercream and a chocolate Nutella frosting to match the chocolate Nutella cake. The method of this design is very similar to the method I used to make the Minecraft cake last year (see January 18th, 2012). 

To make this cake, I began with a rectangular chocolate Nutella cake. I started by dirty-icing the entire cake in chocolate Nutella icing. I marked out a pattern of squares, each 1.5cm x 1.5cm in the icing, using a ruler. I used a basketweave tip turned upside down, so that the lines (or basket weave) would not show to pipe the different colors into the pattern of squares. Essentially, this made just a flat tip. I piped straight lines to fill in all of the squares. I did one color at a time, as I only have one basketweave tip, and needed to clean it between different colors. This was a fairly simple cake to make. The piping was not difficult, as it consisted simply of lines and squares. It was a very fun cake to make though, and although it may seem a bit tedious, I didn't find that at all. I finished off with a simple zigged border around the bottom edge and a reversed shell border around the top edge. I had just enough room under the Link character to write Happy Birthday.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Nutella Chocolate Cake

I recently received a inquiry with regards to a chocolate cake made with Nutella, or chocolate hazelnut spread. Why not? Nutella is delicious  and chocolaty and why not use it in a cake? There must be some good Nutella chocolate cake recipe somewhere! So I searched online, and of course just like anything you search online, I found several results. Many were rich, souffle-like cakes or tortes. Most of them also incorporated more hazelnuts to complement the Nutella. I am planning on decorating this cake, so I just wanted a plan cake I could ice. Here is the recipe I used for my Nutella chocolate cake. 

Nutella Chocolate Cake
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
2 cups granulated (white) sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup Nutella
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350◦F. Grease and flour or line with parchment paper two nine inch round pans or one rectangular 9x13 inch pan.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix the first four dry ingredients. 
In a separate large bowl, beat the butter. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the dry ingredients, adding a little of the milk with them. Add remaining ingredients and beat well until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake for 30-40 minutes or so, depending on the pan, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Baking Soda & Baking Powder

Baking soda and baking powder are both chemical leavening agents, they make baked goods that rise in a short amount of time in the oven. Unlike yeast, which is a fungi and needs time to ferment in order for baked goods to rise, chemical leaveners do not need time to ferment, they simply enlarge air bubbles present in the batter due to the creaming of ingredients. Both baking soda and baking powder are composed primarily of sodium bicarbonate, but baking powder also contains added cream of tartar. You can even make your own homemade baking powder from baking soda, by mixing two parts of cream of tartar to one part of baking soda. Sometimes an equal amount of cornstarch to baking soda is added to absorb any unnecessary moisture in the batter so no reactions take place before a liquid is added.

Baking soda is used alone when an acidic ingredient is present in the batter. These ingredients include vinegar, citrus juice, cocoa, buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt. The sodium bicarbonate and the acid react when mixed, producing many bubbles (think of baking soda dissolved in water). Baking soda is generally used in batter that is to be baked immediately and at lower temperatures for shorter baking times, such as pancakes and cookies. Too much baking soda leaves a soapy taste and coarse texture in baked goods. It also turns batters with cocoa slightly red, which is where Devil’s Food Cake came from. Baking soda can be stored indefinitely, and is also useful for many other household needs, such as cleaning and deodorizing.

Most baking powders are double-acting, meaning reactions take place in two stages. The first stage occurs when the baking powder is moistened with liquid in the batter. The second stage occurs in the heat of the oven when the gas bubbles begin to expand. Baking powder can be used at higher temperatures for longer amounts of time, such as muffins and biscuits. Too much baking powder in a batter can result in a bitter taste and tough texture, as well as a quick rise and collapse. Baking powder loses its effectiveness after a year or so.

You can sometimes use baking powder in place of baking soda, but not vice versa. A combination of baking powder and baking soda (usually the majority being powder) is often used in baked goods that are baked at a high heat or for a long time, but also contain an acidic ingredient, such as cakes and loaves. Always measure baking powder and baking soda precisely, and use the one called for in the recipe, otherwise the results may be disappointing.
PHOTO CREDIT:"DSC_9787" http://bakingbites.com/2012/06/what-is-the-difference-between-baking-powder-and-baking-soda/ .Baking Bites, n.d. Wednesday, August 22, 2012. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Pursuit of Pleasure

Food brings pleasure to a lot of people. Especially when it's really good food. And even if the pleasure is only temporary. I recently read a true story about a woman who traveled to Italy for four months in a pursuit of pleasure. Food was not the only thing that brought her pleasure during her vacation, as she also found great pleasure in learning Italian, however food was the main thing. It is true that something really delicious, whether it is a chocolate dessert, a fancy turkey dinner, or a really well-made sandwich, or something as simple as a scoop of ice cream, will bring us pleasure to eat. These foods are aesthetically pleasing, they have an enticing aroma, and they taste just oh so good. We would all love to be able to eat whatever we want, as much as we want, but that just is not reality. Sure, some of us seem to be able to consume copious amounts of junk food without experiencing any negative effects, but for the most part, we must eat a nutritious and balanced diet. That being said, there is no reason as to why we cannot take pleasure in eating healthy goods as well. Healthy foods can be delicious too! Some of my favorite foods are quite healthy, I really take pleasure in eating (or drinking) bananas, pineapple, strawberries (okay, just about any fruit), corn on the cob, chocolate milk, Greek yogurt, smoked salmon, peanut butter, and whole grain bread. There are also many foods considered as junk food that can actually be pretty healthy, and definitely pleasurable, such as pizza, dark chocolate, lasagna, and burgers. And of course, any food is fine enjoyed in moderation. We can (and definitely must) enjoy a treat every once in a while, or even a treat everyday if it is kept small, such as cake, pie, burgers and fries, fondue, whatever you take pleasure in eating! It is fine to celebrate and eat! 
What I found quite amusing in the story I read, was that the woman was on a self-proclaimed "No Carb Left Behind" tour. It is true that in Italy they seem to eat a lot of pizza, pasta, and bread. But Italian obesity and health rates aren't particularly bad, because they know how to balance pleasure with nutrition and health! This woman simply ate everything she wanted on this vacation, as much as he wanted, stopping at every bakery or gelato stand or pizzeria that looked good, stuffing herself beyond full. Did she gain weight? For sure, but for her it was worth it. Now, I am not encouraging this type of behavior, and I believe we can find pleasure in food without consuming such gross excess such as this. But traveling is a good excuse to expand your horizons, try new foods, and find pleasure in them. And maybe eat a little more than you normally would, because hey, you may only get to visit (insert place name here) once in your lifetime, and you want to really get a cultural feel for the place  which can be achieved very well through samples of the local cuisine. Plus, you often do a lot of walking or other activity on vacation, so you'll probably work it of anyway. Finding pleasure in food and balance in nutrition is what it is all about. I myself actually find a lot of pleasure in preparing food for other people (and myself) to enjoy, and watching the pleasure they experience when they try a piece of my baking!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dad's Cinnamon Raisin Bread

On the weekend, I cam home from work to find the enticing aroma of freshly made cinnamon raisin bread. My father decided to do some baking, and try his hand at bread again. My father does not do much baking, although he does do a bit of cooking, but he is very good at it when he does bake! He was talking about how he was disappointed that all of our Panettone from Christmas was gone, so I guess he was craving some fruit bread. It isn't really the season for Panettone anymore, and we didn't have all of the ingredients, plus that is my specialty, so my mother suggested he try his hand at cinnamon raisin bread again. My father has tried to make bread before. Some of his white breads have turned out a little heavy, or dense, or salty, but not all bad. He grew up watching his other make bread on a regular basis, and he had tried to make raisin bread like her recipe before too. That one did not turn out as good as hers, or course. So he decided to try a simple, modern recipe. I am happy to report that this one turned out very well! It yielded too large, beautifully risen loaves of white bread flavored with cinnamon and speckled with soft raisins. The bread was delicious, soft and fluffy with a nice crust. It is really good warm from the oven, but excellent toasted with a little butter, and perhaps some cheddar cheese if you have it. It makes good sandwiches, breakfast, or snack. I am really happy this bread worked out so well this time, and that I can enjoy eating it. Hopefully Dad will make some again. I love to bake myself, but when time is short and I am busy, I certainly don't mind others baking for me. It is nice to taste other peoples creations for a change, and see their techniques and recipes. And who can resist warm bread from the oven?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Kaisers

These are the kaiser rolls we used to eat our pulled pork. I didn't make them myself (I would have if I had had the time), but we bought them freshly baked. They come in white, whole wheat, and multigrain, and we tried both the white and the whole wheat. Both types were very light and fluffy, nice big rolls that can hold a lot of pork and absorb the sauce well. They are especially good if you toast them first. Actually, these rolls are good for much more than just pulled pork, they also make really good sandwich buns, rolls to eat with soup, and are especially nice as pizza buns. Just out a little sauce, meat cheese, and vegetables if you wish, and pop them in the oven or toaster oven for a few minutes to toast them and melt the cheese. This is what we did with some if the leftover buns. These buns are especially suited to hold meat, such as beef, pork, chicken, turkey, ham, and cold cuts. They are soft and tasty.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Pork On A Bun

Here is a supper we recently enjoyed. It is slow cooked pulled pork roast in an apple butter sauce. I am usually not a huge fan of pork, but if it is done right I really enjoy it. And this time, my father certainly did it right. He used the pulled pork recipe our friends gave us after we ate some at their house this summer, and could not stop raving about it. It was so delicious! I believe I featured it a few months ago, when my father tried it the first time in the oven. However, he did not use the same sauce our friends recommended and I did not care all that much for the flavor of the sauce he used. This time my father cooked it long and slow in the slow cooker and used the same sauce as our friends. This time, the pulled pork was much better! It was even more tender and juicy, and the flavor was definitely much better. Here is a picture of it served on a fluffy bun with some sweet potato fries on the side. This is a good dish to make that is not too time consuming or difficult or requires too much prep work, especially when done in the slow cooker. It also just requires a few simple side dishes, like a salad, or vegetables, or potatoes, and a good quality bun. In addition, it is a warming winter dish that fills the house with delicious aromas while it is cooking. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Glossy Chocolate Frosting

This is the frosting recipe I used for yesterday's Candy Cane Brownies. It is very quick and simply, but chocolaty m fudgey, and delicious. It is also not too sweet and not too buttery, but just right. This makes a good amount for an 8x8 or 9x9 inch pan of squares  especially brownies, with a good layer of frosting. It can be doubled for a 9x13 inch pan or a small cake (square or 8-9 inch round). It will also work for cookies and other sweets. For brownies, I whip up this icing while they are baking, and spread it on as soon as they come out of the oven. This typically is not a good idea, but works in this case, giving the brownies a nice, glossy shine, and adding another fudgey layer. Just be careful to spread the icing evenly without lifting up pieces of the brownie. And do not try to cut them until they are at least nearly cooled, tempting as it may be. However, frosting warm cakes and some other squares with this frosting is not advisable. 

Glossy Chocolate Frosting
3 Tablespoons butter or hard margarine
1/3 cup cocoa
1 1/3 cups icing (powdered) sugar
2 Tablespoons water, or hot coffee

Put all ingredients in a small bowl, and mix until smooth. Add a little more water or sugar as necessary for desired spreading consistency. 
This frosting does not need to be kept refrigerated if made with margarine. For a richer frosting, milk may be used as the liquid, but this will need to be refrigerated. A little vanilla, mint, or other extract may be added for more flavor. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Candy Cane Brownies

Here is my first attempt at getting rid of leftover candy canes: candy cane brownies. I figured a chocolate brownie with chocolate chips and a chocolaty frosting would help mask a few candy canes. I did not want to put the candy canes in the actual brownie batter, as this may make the brownies unpleasantly crunchy and sticky, but rather just use them as a garnish on top. That way the candy canes may be picked off as well, if they are really unwanted (although that kind of defeats the purpose of the recipe and not wasting candy canes). I could have added a little mint extract to the brownie batter to make mint chocolate brownies to match the peppermint flavor on top, but I did not have any mint extract on hand. I think the brownies are tasty just as s though. And the candy canes do make them look nice, if not add to their flavor. 
Candy Cane Brownies
1/3 cup butter or hard margarine, softened
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
frosting
crushed candy canes

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8x8 inch square pan or line with with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. add the eggs separately, beating well after each addition. Add the flour, cocoa, and salt, stir well.  Stir in chocolate chips. Spread batter into prepared pan, as evenly as possible. Bake for exactly twenty minutes. 
Frost with chocolate frosting. I frosted them right after they came out of the oven, for a glossy look, but this does not work well with all frostings. You can also use a vanilla frosting, or cream cheese, or peppermint, or whatever you would like. Before the icing dries, sprinkle the brownies with chopped up or crushed candy canes (make the pieces fairly small, or crush completely). Use as much or as little candy cane as you like. 

This recipe looked and sounded good, but during the process I became a little skeptical. After adding the dry ingredients, the batter became very stiff. I mean, I have made cookies from dough that was less stiff than this. I thought the amount of butter was a little low, but I rolled with it, hoping the brownies would not turn out dry. Luckily, they didn't at all. The key is not to overbake them. The chocolate chips also softened into the batter,m rather than becoming hard as in some brownies, and added to the chocolatyness. These are especially good and fudgey when still slightly warm.  They may not be as good as other brownie recipes I have made, but still good nonetheless. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Leftover Candy Canes

Well Christmas is over, many of the decorations have been taken down, and life is returning back to normal. Except for the candy canes. There is still an overabundance of candy canes around the house. Somehow, we always end up with extra candy canes after Christmas time. Sure, during the holiday season, they look nice as decorations on the tree, or additions to the gingerbread house, or a choice in the candy dish, but by the end of Christmas, I am sick of them. It's not like I go through trouble to find them, or buy them, or request them, or even accept free ones, they just find me. They show up anyway somehow, no matter how much you try to avoid them. They are an inevitable part of the season. See, nobody really likes candy canes. Sure, the bring a bit of festive spirit, and you may eat one or two over the holidays, but nobody really devours them, or enjoys eating them in large quantities (no one I know anyway. If you know someone, I will gladly send them all of my candy canes next January). Candy companies have tried making them more appealing by coming out with outrageous flavors and colors; florescent pink, neon orange, gingerbread, chocolate cappuccino, buttered popcorn??? This is even worse because these candy canes certainly are not Christmasy and cannot be used in recipes either! So what to do with all of the leftovers? As annoying as they can be, it is sure a shame to let all of these candy canes go to waste, even if they are only sticks of sugar with a bit of mint flavoring.
There just aren't many recipes out there that use candy canes. I have looked. And most of them use candy canes simply as a garnish. Last year, I managed to track down a recipe for candy cane biscotti cookies, that I finally got around to making in February (see February 6th). They weren't bad, and did use up 2/3 cup of candy canes (though still not all of them). However, they were a little on the sticky side, and again, tasted like candy canes. People ate my cookies because they were cookies, not because they had candy canes. Last year, these cookies were something new and interesting, but I doubt I could pull off the same recipe this year and still get willing tasters. I need to come up with something new.
I have found a few more recipes using candy canes, all of them also using chocolate  and if you smother something with enough chocolate  it's got to be good, right? I will feature my first candy cane recipe tomorrow. I have two more up my sleeve, but I'm hoping only to have to resort to one to get rid of the rest of the candy canes. At least I got to it a bit earlier than last year. The worst part of it all is unwrapping the candy canes. They are wrapped so tight and hard to open, and break and crush so easily, and are soo sticky, and the plastic sticks to your hands and clothes and table and couch in a staticy mess. Last year, I almost cried. This year, my mother was kind enough to unwrap the majority of them for me. I think she may have been close to tears too. I don't know who i will be able to enlist next year, as I am sure there will be candy cane leftovers yet again. Oh well, I'll worry about that when the time comes. 
PHOTO CREDIT:"Candy-Canes" http://candycane.ws/history/. Candycane.ws, n.d. Wednesday, January 9, 2013.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Nutty Cereal Flakes

Nutty Cereal Flakes
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup natural bran
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 Tablespoons ground flaxseed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon molasses
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 300F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a bowl, stir together the first six dry ingredients. Add the liquid and mix well, use your hands. Add a little extra water, a teaspoon at a time, if needed, to form a crumbly dough (like shortbread). Press onto the prepared baking sheet, as thin as possible. Bake for about 30 minutes, until dry. Break into flakes.

This is another tasty and easy cereal recipe to do at home. It is hearty, nutty, and delicious.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Four Grain Bread

Four grain bread isn't a typical name for a bread. Five grain, seven grain, twelve grain, or just multigrain are all common, but four grain is a bit unusual. Oh well, I like this bread because it uses four of my favorite grains that I always have on hand: whole wheat flour, oats, bran, and flax. It is a hearty bread recipe that is fairly easy to do. 

Four Grain Bread
3/4 cup warm water
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 package instant yeast
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup natural wheat bran
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup oil
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons molasses
3 cups whole wheat flour

In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar and the water. Sprinkle the yeast over top and let stand for ten minutes until frothy. Stir to dissolve yeast.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together the next five dry ingredients. 
In a separate medium bowl, heat the milk and water until very warm. Add the oil, honey, and molasses. Stir in the yeast mixture. Add this to the dry ingredients, mix until smooth.
Gradually add the remaining flour until a soft dough forms. Knead for 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic.
Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 75 minutes.
Punch dough down. Divided in two. Place in two greased 9x5 inch loaf pans. 
Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Bake at 375F for 25 minutes. This bread slices and freezes really well, hence the photo! 

Monday, January 07, 2013

Chocolate Cheese Coconut Pie

Since I had some extra cream and some extra cream cheese around, I found a recipe that incorporates just the right amount of both. And it is a chocolate pie, and who doesn't like chocolate pie? This recipe is very simple and quick to make as well. It is quite rich, so cut pieces small. 
Chocolate Cheese Coconut Pie
9 inch pie shell
1 cup whipping cream
1 package (8 ounces/20 grams) cream cheese, cut into cubes
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the cream and cream cheese until mixture is melted and almost completely smooth. Add the chocolate and vanilla, continue heating until melted and smooth. Stir in the coconut. Pour into prepared pie shell. Bake for about 35 minutes. Pie will set upon cooling. Cool, then chill in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. 

For this recipe, I used a homemade shortbread pie crust. I patted enough of the mixture into the pan to make a pie shell, then I sprinkled a bit of the extra on top of the chocolate filling around the edge before baking for a little extra shortbread crumble. 

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Multigrain Triangle Breads

Multigrain Triangle Breads
2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons granulated (white) sugar
1 package instant yeast
1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup natural wheat bran
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
3 cups whole wheat flour

In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in the water. Sprinkle the yeast over top and let stand for ten minutes until frothy. Whisk in oil and salt. Stir in bran, flax, and 2 1/2 cups flour. Knead for 8-10 minutes, adding remaining flour as necessary. Let rise for 45 minutes until doubled in bulk OR refrigerate dough for up to one day in a greased plastic bag, bring to room temperature, then allow to rise (dough may expand slightly in the fridge).
Punch dough down, knead into a ball, then flatten into a circle approximately 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 16 triangles  stretching them as necessary to thin them to uniform shape. Place on parchment lined baking sheets, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes. Bake in batches at 425F for about 12 minutes, until golden.
This is my own take on a middle eastern flatbread recipe. I think these beads are very tasty and pretty simple to make compared to many other flatbread recipes. The are a nice mixture of grains and are tasty for breakfast, a small lunch, or as a side for supper. My father describes these as "parsnip-shaped" rather than triangular, but what can you do?

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Potato Grain Bread

I found this recipe in my Company's Coming "The Potato Book". I am always looking for new whole wheat bread recipes to try, and I was cooking some potato anyway, so I figured this would be an interesting recipe to try. The list of ingredients may be a bit long, but the process is rather easy.It makes two beautiful, hearty loaves of bread that slice really well and are great for sandwiches The bread is a little on the dense side, probably because of the potatoes, as it certainly was not due to a lack of rising. Other than that, it is great Of course I used all whole wheat flour and no all-purpose (white) flour. It is surprising that I did not add some ground flaxseed too. 

Potato Grain Bread
1 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-bran cereal
1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant)
2 Tablespoons granulated (white) sugar
1 package instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups very warm water
1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup molasses
1/4 cup butter or hard margarine
1 cup mashed potatoes
4 1/2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour, approximately 
In a large bowl, stir together the first seven dry ingredients. Make a well in the center. 
Meanwhile in a medium saucepan, heat the next five ingredients until very warm and margarine is melted. Add to well, beat for two minutes. Work in enough remaining flour and knead for 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Allow to ruse for 75 minutes, until doubled in bulk. 
Punch dough down, divide in half. Shape into two loaves. Place each in a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan. Let rise for 45 minutes until doubled in bulk.
Bake at 375F for 35 to 40 minutes, covering the tops with foil for the last ten minutes if needed to avoid over-browning. 

Paré, Jean. "Brown Grain Bread." Recipe. The Potato Book, Edmonton Alberta: Company's Coming Publishing Limited, 2004. 24.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Heart Drag Design

I thought I would share the little secret of how I made the design on the plates for my éclairs yesterday. Actually, it's not really much of a secret, it has been featured in many cookbooks. This design will work with any type of liquid sauce base; chocolate, caramel, raspberry, rum, etc. as long as you have another contrasting liquid for the hearts. Dark and white chocolate work well together, as do raspberry coulis and white chocolate. Here I used a simple chocolate sauce (from yesterday) and a little bit of extra whipping cream I had. 
To make this design, a flat plate with a bit of a rim works best. Spoon the bottom sauce n to the plate in a layer thin enough to just cover. Spread it out in a neat circle. Now place drops of the other sauce a little bit in from the edge of the plate at even intervals. It does not to be exact, and depends on the size of the plate of course. Two really good tools to do this are eye-droppers, which dispense a tiny bit of liquid and are very accurate, and a squeeze bottle. Squeeze bottles are often used for candy making and dessert presentation. They are plastic bottles with small opens that are used to dispense sauces and candy melts.  I used the latter. Once you have both sauces on the plate  the e\next part is easy and fun. Take a toothpick and place it in the bottom sauce between two dots. Then drag the toothpick through the middle of each dot, and don't left the toothpick up until you have gone all the way around the plates. This will turn the dots into hearts. This is pretty simple, but looks quite professional. I used a sauce that stayed liquid in the fridge, so I was able to prepare my plates a few hours in advance. Although the sauce may have been easier to eat if it had hardened a bit! Don't prepare them too early though, because the hearts could melt into the bottom sauce. And be careful carrying them to the table, if you tip the plate a little the hearts could run. This design works well with small desserts that can be placed in the center of the circle of hearts.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Chocolate Éclairs

Here are the finished chocolate éclairs! What a great way to start off the new year. Well, maybe not if you made a resolution to diet, but I certainly did not! They are based with the choux pastry from yesterday. Here is how I assembled them. Since I made the éclairs fairly thin, instead of cutting them in half for the top and the bottom, I just used two to form each éclair. I matched up two that were relatively the same size. Then I dipped one from each pair in chocolate sauce, and piped chocolate whipped cream on the other. After the tops had set a bit, I placed the top on the bottom, and voila! Of course I set the éclairs on a decorative plate for more presentation. Desserts like these are best if assembled shortly before serving. I baked the dough the night before, then filled them and put them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving and they were fine. Leftovers will last for the next day but can turn a little soggy. Often it is best just to eat them all right away or fill them as needed.

Chocolate Whipped Cream
1/2 cup whipping cream 
1/4 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whip the cream in a bowl, gradually adding the sugar as eating. Once stiff, fold in the vanilla and cocoa.

Chocolate Sauce 
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 Tablespoon cornstarch
pinch salt
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, stir the first four dry ingredients. Stir in the water and vanilla. Heat until boiling, stirring often, then boil for three minutes. Remove from heat. Let cool slightly before using. Good warm or cold. Store leftovers in the refrigerator. 

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Chocolate Choux Pastry

Choux pastry (or pâte à choux) is a French pastry dough used to make cream puffs, éclairs, profiteroles and other pastries. I used it to make éclairs, and chocolate éclairs at that! Here is the recipe, and I will feature the completed éclairs tomorrow.

Chocolate Choux Pastry
1 cup water
1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon hard margarine
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan, heat the water, margarine, and cocoa, stirring often, until boiling.
Add the flour and salt all at once and stir vigorously until the dough forms a ball in the middle of the pan. Remove from heat.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. Pipe or spoon dough into mounds or log shapes (this dough can be used for cream puffs or eclairs). This recipe will make 24 small or 12 large.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until dough looks dry. The recipe also states to poke a small hole or slit in the side with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape, but I forgot to do this and they still turned out fine. Cool on a rack. 
These are best when eaten fresh and filled just before eating, to remain crisp.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy 2013!

Well it is already 2013!!! It is hard to believe 2012 has come and gone already! I probably said the same thing about 2011, and 2010, and 2009, etc. but it really seems like the years are flying by faster and faster. The world did not come to an end on December 21st afterall, and 2013 is now here. I must say that 2012 was a very good year for me, and I am incredibly thankful for that. I had a healthy, happy, and successful year, and I hope 2013 brings much of the same. 2012 Was also a successful year for me again in terms of this blog. I have a post published on every single day in the year of 2012! That's quite an accomplishment, or maybe just a sign that society depends and relies on technology too much these days. Either way, I have 366 posts (leap year!) for this year, the majority of them about baked goods I have made myself. I hope to continue this blog all through 2013 as well, and have a post for every single day. I also had a post for every single day in 2011 since I began my blog, but as I only began in July, I only have 162 posts for this year. However, I do foresee some roadblocks coming up this year that may prevent me from posting every single day in 2013, but I will certainly try my best, and I do hope to be blogging for the vast majority of the year.

PHOTO CREDIT:"1354465380_horoscope-2013.jpg" http://www.futuresobright.com/article/195-aries-horoscope-2013-astrology-predictions/. Future So Bright, n.d. Monday, December 24, 2012.