Thursday, February 28, 2013

Soft White Bread

To go with our hearty beef stew for supper yesterday (and tonight), my father made a tasty, homemade white bread. At first, he was going to make a simple no-knead white bread recipe. This would make two loaves, and he was planning on adding some cinnamon and raisins to one of the loaves to make a cinnamon raisin bread again, which we really enjoy. But later he decided instead to take the cinnamon raisin bread recipe he made not too long ago, and only put the cinnamon and raisins in one of the loaves and just leave the other loaf as a white bread After all, cinnamon raisin bread is delicious, but it doesn't really go with beef stew. 
Personally, I do not eat much white bread. I do eat a lot of homemade bread, but mostly my own and it is always whole wheat or multigrain, so I really don't have much experience in tasting white bread. But I thought this bread was pretty good, especially warm from the oven. Despite us wanting to devour the bread as soon as it came out of the oven, so it was still very hot, my father did do a good job in preventing the bread from falling apart and slicing it quite neatly. The bread was soft and warm, with a light and fluffy texture. It didn't even need any butter on it, especially if used to sop up the stew. The crust was light, but crispy and yummy. The bread may have been slightly sweeter than your typical white sandwich bread, but that is probably because it is really a recipe for cinnamon raisin bread. It rose and baked very well, and had a nice even color and texture.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Beef Stew

For supper tonight on a chilly winter day, my mother made her special, hearty beef stew. She made a big batch of it and filled it with plenty of vegetables: onion, carrots, peas, turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and potatoes  along with big chunks of beef and her delicious broth. This stew is thick and hearty and was simmering on the stove for a good part of the afternoon, filling the house with warmth and a delicious smell. It is certainly the right dish for a day like today, as a steaming hot bowl of thick stew certainly warms you up on a winter's day. We heaped our bowls and enjoyed some warm, homemade bread with it to sop up the extra liquid in the bowl. My mother makes this stew in winter, and sometimes uses different varieties of vegetables. She usually just cooks some of the vegetables on the side, so those who want them may add them as they please. This soup stores well in the fridge and reheats well and makes great leftovers!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hot Chocolate Brownies

Hot Chocolate Brownies
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine, melted
1 1/3 cups milk chocolate chips, divided
3/4 cup granulated (white) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cups all-purpose (white) flour
2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch salt
1 cup miniature marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8x8 inch square pan with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, melt the butter and 1/3 cup chocolate chips. Let cool slightly. Stir in sugar, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. Stir in flour, cocoa, salt, and 2/3 cup chocolate chips. Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until brownies begin to show signs of pulling away from edges. 
Sprinkle with marshmallows and remaining 1/3 cup chocolate chips. Bake for 5 more minutes. 

These are absolutely delicious warm but very messy. Though I stress that most squares, especially fudgey brownies, taste best at room temperature you may wish to refrigerate these to firm up so they are a bit less messy, especially in warmer whether. These are named as so because they are very chocolaty, warm, and are topped with marshmallows - just like a cup of hot chocolate! 

 "Hot Chocolate Brownies.” http://www.robinhood.ca/recipedetails.aspx?rid=4654 . RobinHood, n.d. Monday, February 25, 2013.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Peanut Butter Cup Buttons

These miniature treats definitely hit the spot for a chocolate fix (though I bet you can't stop at just one). I'm not sure exactly what to call these, brownies or cupcakes, or what, I suppose that is why they are called "buttons". They are moist and fudgey and delicious. If you are not a fan of peanut butter cups, try using a different chocolate or candy. I have discovered chocolate kisses also work well! i found the recipe in my giant Hershey's recipe binder.
Peanut Butter Cup Buttons
1/3 cup butter or hard margarine, softened
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/2 Tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
3/4 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
approximately 24-30 miniature chocolate-coated peanut butter cups, unwrapped

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the water and vanilla, then the egg. Stir in remaining ingredients except chocolates. Refrigerate dough until firm (it really only needs an hour or so, but longer is fine).
Preheat oven to 350F. Line 24-30 miniature muffin cups with paper liners.
Divide batter among prepared muffin cups (a miniature ice cream scoop makes them nice and uniform). Bake for 11-13 minutes, until just set but still moist, do not overbake. Cool for 3-4 minutes, then gently press a peanut butter cup in the center of each. It will soften and melt, but will harden upon cooling.

Vanilla Variation: You can also make a vanilla version of the batter, though I bet it is not as good! Simply replace the cocoa powder with an equal amount of all-purpose (plain) flour. If you like, you can make half of them vanilla and half chocolate to offer a choice. Simply omit the cocoa powder, then divide the batter in two. Add 2 tablespoons cocoa to one half and 2 tablespoons flour to the other half.
This recipe is easily doubled if you have enough muffin cups!

West Side Publishing. "Peanut Butter Cup Buttons." Recipe. Hershey's Classic Recipes, Lincolnwood Illinois: Publications International, Limited, 2009. 213.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Multigrain Drop Biscuits

Multigrain Drop Biscuits
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup natural bran
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons soft margarine 
1/4 cup honey
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425F. Stack two baking sheets together and line the top one with parchment paper (this prevents the bottoms from becoming too dark).
In a large bowl, mix the first six dry ingredients. Cut in the margarine until crumbly. Stir in the honey and milk, dough will be wet. Drop by spoonfuls (a medium ice cream scoop works really well). Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden.

This is a quick and easy, moist biscuit recipe for breakfast. There is no kneading, rolling, or cutting involved!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Heart-Shaped Auction Cake

Well, here is the cake I was talking about yesterday. I did decide to stick to the heart theme, but not tailor it specifically to Valentine's Day. I began with a chocolate heart-shaped cake, and iced it in vanilla buttercream. Then I piped on the borders using dark pink buttercream. The top outer border is a shell border, and the bottom a ruffle border. I also outlined a smaller heart shape in the middle in stars. Then I used my drop flower tip to pipe small purple flowers around the cake. I used my rose tip to pipe two drop swirl flowers in the center heart. Then I used a plain open tip and green buttercream to pipe the centers of all of the flowers, then switched to a leaf tip to pipe a few leaves on the center flowers. 

I was trying to keep the cake design relatively simple, and went by the less is more approach, in order not to overdo it. Often simple designs sell better than complicated, intricate "busy" cakes, as long as the simple cake is perfect and professional-looking. Of course I could have added more flowers, or used more colors, or tried some intricate lace or filigree designs, but it just is not necessary. Sweet and simple seems to work the best in this case. I also went with simple drop flowers and drop swirl flowers because I have not yet mastered buttercream roses. I can do them, they just aren't as professional-looking as I would like. I continue to practice them on cakes at home, but I did not want to feature them on a cake to be auctioned off, as I wanted this cake to look its best.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Valentine Cake Ideas

Over a month ago, I was asked to make another cake for a charity auction to be held the Friday before Valentine's Day. I was all set and excited to do this. I promptly conducted many internet searches to look for ideas for valentine's themed cakes. I have a heart-shaped cake pan, so I was all set. And you would not believe how many beautiful Valentine's Day cakes you can find out there! All that pink and red; and hearts and flowers and lace; and sprinkles and chocolate. I sifted through them, and chose a few of the ones I thought were the best, but still simple enough for me to do using the tools that I had on hand. Then i took different aspects from each of them and put them together to plan my own heart-shaped, Valentine themed cake. I even got a nice platter for it and everything. Perfect. If only the weather had cooperated. The auction was not yet held, but postponed for two weeks later. Not even just the day after Valentine's Day, but an entire week later. Luckily, I had not started actually making the cake yet, and it was now obvious that my Valentine'themed cake would no longer be fitting. Which meant I had to come up with an entire new cake design. It also meant all my Valentine cake planning would go to waste. Or would it?

When I am making cakes, I find it much easier to facilitate if I have a solid theme in mind and an idea of where I am going. Furthermore, it definitely helps to have the entire cake drawn out and planned, and all of the ingredients and equipment gathered. I had all of that ready. But now I was faced with a problem  The auction would no longer be Valentine themed, and not themed at all. I don't do well without a theme. It is much too open-ended. I end up having way too many options, and attempt to do something probably more complicated than I can handle. And there is no room for error when the cake is for a charity auction; it has to be good. 

What is my final decision? Well, I spent a lot of time on my valentine's cake idea, and I don't want it to go to waste. I also determined that I need a theme, though there are so many simple "everyday" cake ideas out there, I just know I need some direction. And there is no other upcoming theme, it isn't close enough to spring yet, people are too sick of winter, and there are no other upcoming holidays. I am going to stick with the heart-shaped cake and use the majority of the design for that, just not make it Valentine's themed (I won't write "Happy Valentine's Day" on it, like planned). It is only about a week after Valentine's day, so people will still be in the mood for hearts, right? Hopefully it will sell well and generate a lot of money for the charity. 
PHOTO CREDIT:"8742492-valentine-heart-shaped-rose-petals" http://www.123rf.com/photo_8742492_valentine-heart-shaped-rose-petals.html. 123RF, n.d. Monday, February 18, 2013.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Big Bang Birthday Cake

Here is the Big Bang Theory cake I made for my brother's birthday. It features some ideas from the popular television show. I decided to go with blue and yellow as the colors, though I do wish the yellow had come out a bit darker, as it is a bit difficult to see in this photo, but I do think the colors went together well on the cake.
I made my signature chocolate cake and baked it in a 9x13 inch rectangular baking pan. I let it cool and whipped up a batch of my signature buttercream icing. Once cool, I frosted the entire cake in white buttercream. Then I tinted the remainder of the buttercream yellow and blue. I started with a rope border around the bottom of the cake, alternating yellow and blue. Then I put a blue loop border with yellow dots around the top edge. There are many different border styles out there, and a different tip for each of them, but there are also a lot of different, creative borders you can do with just a plain tip, like this one. 
I piped "Happy Birthday Christopher" in blue in the center. I must say, that I think this is some of the best lettering I have ever done on a cake. If the cake is for a really special function, has long words, is a long message, or I want it to look fancy, I will use my letterpress, otherwise, I usually just pipe freehand. Whether I handwrite or print seems to depend on both the type of cake and my mood. This is some of the neatest and best-centered printing I have ever done! In the top left hand corner I wrote "the BiG BANG THEORY" maybe not as neatly, not exactly as the original logo appears, but something similar. In the top right hand corner, I wrote Sheldon's famous line, "Bazinga!" but not as that original logo either, as somewhat of an equation ( I certainly didn't come up with this myself, I found this online as well). Then I added three atoms, that are shown on the tv show to signal scene changes, and are a popular symbol of science.  
This is a fairly simple design, as most rectangular, flat cakes can be, but fun nonetheless, and my brother certainly appreciated it. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Big Bang Theory Cake

My brother's birthday is coming up, so I asked him what kind of cake he would like this year. Often I am left to come up with my own ideas for cakes, but this year my brother actually had a theme in mind. Coincidentally, it was the same theme I had in mind. My brother is a big fan of the television show "The Big Bang Theory". Perfect, a theme to follow, an idea to go by. Not so much. Some themes are easier to generate ideas from than others. There are many tv shows that have great characters that are easy to portray on cake. This show, not so much. The entire show is really focused on the main characters. The problem is, these characters are all real people (not cartoons or animations), and they are not easy to draw on a cake (at least even remotely accurately. I decided I was not going to attempt the characters, no way. I want the cake to look good. So I looked on the internet for more ideas.

I found several Big Bang Theory cakes that had already been made. A few of them featured Sheldon's famous line, "Bazinga!", a few featured his quotations, and a few featured some equations. There were also some cakes featuring cats as a take on the infamous "Soft Kitty" song. And a few cakes even had the characters, most of them either paper cut-outs or impressive modelling chocolate creations. I don't use modelling chocolate often, and don;t have that much on hand, and when I make cakes, I like every part of it to be edible if possible (one could argue that paper is edible, but, I'm not going 
there).

I showed my brother several of these cakes, and asked him which type of design he liked the most. He liked the cake that featured the atom that appears during scene changes the most, and left me to come up with a design based on that and a few other instructions, a rectangular chocolate cake with buttercream icing. I will feature the finished cake tomorrow on his birthday. See this link here: Big Bang Birthday Cake 

PHOTO CREDIT:"6706115-atomic-nuclear-symbol-scientific-illustration-of-orbiting-atom" http://www.123rf.com/photo_6706115_atomic-nuclear-symbol-scientific-illustration-of-orbiting-atom.html. 123RF, n.d. Monday, February 18, 2013.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Nutella Hot Chocolate

Well, like I said, I am not off my Nutella kick yet. World Nutella Day has come and gone, but I am still making treats with Nutella because, 1) It's delicious, 2) I have some left, and 3) There are still a lot of Nutella recipes I want to try. I am taking it a bit easier though, just one Nutella creation for now, and a simple, small one at that. Though this one can be made anytime in a matter of minutes, and is certainly rich (this could be dangerous). It is a simple Nutella hot chocolate, much better than any powdered hot chocolate mix you can buy. I actually use to make something like this often and drink it for breakfast. The recipe is simple and variable. And the result is a rich, sweet chocolaty drink. 

Nutella Hot Chocolate
1-3 Tablespoons Nutella, depending on how sweet and rich you would like it (I used 2)
1 Tablespoon cocoa powder, sweetened or unsweetened, optional 
(this makes the drink a little more chocolate and can help cut the sweetness if you use unsweetened)
milk, to fill the mug

Place the Nutella and cocoa, if using, in a microwaveable mug, and pour in milk to fill. Stir as best as you can. Microwave for a minute, stir, and then another thirty seconds or so until the Nutella is completely melted and the drink is hot.
This can also be heated in a saucepan on the stove. This method is better if you are making several servings, but it does take longer.

As you can see by the picture, the Nutella may melt on the side of the mug a bit, but it is delicious at the end!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tuxedo Strawberries

Tuxedo Strawberries are a nice garnish for a variety of chocolate desserts, and a step up from chocolate covered strawberries. If you have experience with dessert making, presentation, and chocolate  they are not particularly difficult to make, just a little tedious and time-consuming. They require great attention to detail, and just making a few of them will take a significant amount of time. But if you can get them right they are well worth it. It is extremely difficult to get them absolutely perfect looking, even with the use of toothpicks, cotton swabs, and a magnifying glass.
I attempted these for the first time last week. I have done chocolate Covered Strawberries before (see February 13th, 2012), and they turned out quite nice looking. Not completely professional looking, but I have an extra year's experience on me now. There was a slight problem with the chocolate sort of breaking off of them in pieces instead of being smooth and sticking to them, but they still looked nice. So I decided to try tuxedo strawberries. The technique for these is to dip strawberries in melted white chocolate, let set, then dip the sides in melted dark chocolate  and add a bow-tie and some buttons. Simple right? The first problem was, I did not have any white chocolate on hand, as I am not much of a white chocolate fan. I decided to use a quick icing, just icing sugar and water. This was working okay, not as smooth to dip in as chocolate, but not bad. Instead of dipping the strawberries in dark chocolate next, I decided to pipe the chocolate on, figuring it would be easier, which it was. Satisfied, I photographed them and put them in the fridge. Done.

i did not discover the problem until the next day. I had made these strawberries the day before, knowing I would not have time the day of. But in the fridge overnight, the juicy strawberries absorbed the icing, and the only thing left was the chocolate  Well, the tuxedo effect was gone, but I could still have chocolate encased strawberries, right? Well no, that chocolate began to flake off like last year. Hmm, the strawberries themselves were still in tact, and when I tasted one, the otherwise somewhat tasteless (it is off-season) strawberries were extra sweet from the icing. So I had to forgot about garnishing the strawberries and just use a plain strawberry to garnish my dessert on Thursday. A tuxedo strawberry would have looked nice, but I made do. However, I take all of these failed attempts I endure and use them as learning experiences; if you don't make mistakes, you will never learn. I learned that in this case, icing is not a good substitute for white chocolate, at least not in advance preparation. I also learned strawberries absorb icing when stored in the fridge overnight. I'll remember that for next time. I also learned (though I already knew this) that it is best to photograph your food immediately once it is ready, before anything happens to it, so you have photo evidence of your creation!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Red Head Pasta

This easy pasta recipe is the meal I enjoyed on Valentine's Day. It is not specifically catered to Valentine's Day, it could be enjoyed any time of the year. This sauce recipe is very easy to do and quick, and just needs to be tossed with some cooked pasta to make a nice meal, complete with a salad or vegetables and some bread or biscuits. The entire process only takes about twenty minutes to a half hour, but the sauce can simmer for longer if need be. It is also not a high-labor recipe, and does not require undivided attention. This recipe makes two heaping servings, or three to four as a side dish, but the recipe can easily be doubled. The sauce keeps well in the fridge and can be used on other things as well. It is a slightly chunkier sauce, but would be good on pizza. The herbs, spices, seasonings, and vegetables can be adjusted as you like.

Red Head Pasta
boiling water
salt
125 grams (2 1/2 cups) short dry pasta, I used rotini
1 Tablespoon butter or margarine
1 Tablespoon olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup sliced fresh mushrooms
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
7 ounces (200mL) canned tomatoes
3 ounces (128 mL) tomato paste
3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
½ cup chopped plum tomatoes
fresh basil, chopped
ground black pepper

In a large saucepan over high heat, bring water to a boil. Once boiling, add salt and pasta. Cook, stirring often until pasta is tender. Drain. Return to pot. Add butter and stir.

Meanwhile, in a medium frying pan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion, mushrooms, and garlic. Saute for about five minutes, until soft. Add remaining ingredients, simmer slowly for at least fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add sauce to pasta, and stir to coat. Serve with extra cheese, pepper, or herbs.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chocolate Truffle Hearts

Here are the heart-shaped truffles I put alongside my Valentine's Day dessert. This is a yummy truffle recipe I have used before upon occasion, and it is always a hit. The recipe is super quick and simple, and the result is sweet, chocolaty, velvety-smooth truffles. There are no complicated steps to this truffle recipe, and they do not require dipping in chocolate and rolling in another ingredient like some truffles, they are perfectly fine served plain. Another thing I really like about these truffles is that they can be formed in different ways. They can be rolled into balls, formed into a log and sliced, shaped into shapes, as above, pressed into a pan or mold, or simple scooped up with a spoon and eaten if you are a bit impatient. They are not sticky, messy or gooey, but easy to roll and shape, unless they get a little too warm, then they can just be popped in the fridge for a few minutes. And they turn out well every time, even if the ingredient measures are not completely precise. These are more of a light chocolate, soft truffle, but they just melt in your mouth. They are one of my mother's favorites. Here I have them pictured with some chocolate filigree hearts around the plate. These are certainly one way to get your chocolate fix on Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentine Biscuits

Valentine Biscuits
1 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup hard margarine, cut into cubes
½ cup milk

Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the margarine until crumbly. Add milk, stir with a fork. Knead on a lightly floured surface for about thirty seconds.
Roll dough out thinly, about ¼ inch thick. This can vary, but adjust baking time accordingly. Cut out using heart cookie cutter. Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden.
This made a nice side dish to a delicious Valentine's Day dinner last night. I cannot take much credit for making these, I only helped a tad and my amazing Valentine did the rest. However I did provide the recipe. This is one of my favorite biscuit recipes simply because it is so quick and easy and so versatile. Also, these biscuits always turn out nice and light and fluffy and buttery, this really is a never-fail recipe. Here they are cut into a variety of shapes for Valentine's day, hearts and arrows mostly in a variety of sizes. Some of the shapes may be a bit difficult to make out in the photo. It is probably pretty obvious from my lack of props and food styling that I was impatient in enjoying the biscuits hot from the oven. These don't even need any butter!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Strawberry Truffle Tart

Well, here is my great Valentine's Day dessert this year! I seem to have a theme going for Valentine desserts: lots of chocolate, strawberries, and heart-shaped. Well, it makes sense, doesn't it? Here I have a chocolate truffle tart with fresh sliced strawberries, chocolate heart truffles, whole strawberries, and chocolate filigree hearts. Now this may sound tedious and like a lot of work, but it really isn't. This recipe is composed of several simple and quick aspects, but put them together and you get a really special, impressive-looking, chocolaty Valentine dessert. I began with a chocolate crumb crust for the tart, in an 8x8 inch pan. I lined this with sliced strawberries. Then I put the chocolate truffle filling over top and refrigerated it until firm. I then cut the tart out into heart shapes. I choose a few whole strawberries for garnish. I also whipped up a quick batch of my chocolate truffles, and shaped them into hearts to go alongside the tart. With some extra melted chocolate, I made some chocolate filigree hearts to add a little to the design and heart theme. Simple. Put them all together and voila! you've got a stunning sweet dessert.
I can feature some of the other aspects of my dessert later this week, or maybe even next week, or maybe sometime later if I find this Valentine's theme is dragging on a bit too long, as these aren't necessarily Valentine-oriented treats.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tomato Heart Appetizers

This is a very cute Valentine's Day appetizer idea that I recently came across online, and I am sure glad I did. Vegetables are difficult to associate with Valentine's Day, so when I saw this idea I was very appreciative. In addition, this idea is really simple, and you can put it with anything. Basically, take some plum tomatoes and cut a diagonal sliver off each of the long ends. Once you have them all cut, put the small pieces aside for another use. Then take all of the tomatoes you have and make pairs based on size, shape, and tone. Place the two long sides together to form a heart shape. Once you have your matches, stick a toothpick through the two pieces to hold them together. This will form heart shaped tomato pieces with a toothpick "arrow" going through them. So easy, so quick, and so cute! These actually aren't very tedious at all, they don't take long but look very nice and are well worth the effort for your sweetheart. They can be served alone as as, on top of a salad, along with a biscuit, with cheese, or whatever you like! Here I have them pictured on a plate with some fresh basil leaves for presentation. They will make a nice appetizer for Valentine's Dinner tomorrow. Hopefully the recipient will not read my blog again until tomorrow as well, so they can be a sweet surprise.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Valentine Cookie Messages

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and I have started making some Valentine recipes. This post is just the start of what will be, no doubt, at least a few days of valentine foods. I really like Valentine's Day, and it is easy to make Valentine's recipes, especially desserts, since chocolate and Valentine's Day go hand-in-hand, and pretty much any chocolate creation can be formed into a heart shape somehow. Today I made heart shaped chocolate cookies. The cookie recipe is actually the recipe I use for chocolate whoopie pies (see June 22nd, 2012), so the cookies are soft and cake-like. I simply mixed up the dough, then dropped it by ice cream scoops into the center of a heart shaped cookies cutter, and used a spoon to spread it out. This goes much better if the cookie cutter is lightly greased between every few cookie. As you can see, not every cookie turned out to be a perfect heart shape, but that's okay. Then I baked the cookies, let them cool, and whipped up a simple batch of pink icing. Then I piped on some messages or shapes on the cookies. I didn't even use a piping bag, just a plastic sandwich bag with the end snipped off. I basically took the idea of those little candy hearts that always come out around Valentine's Day, and wrote messages like those, such as Be Mine, I Love You, Hug Me, You're Sweet, XOXO, etc. Then I piped some hearts on some and some arrows on the others. This was actually quite quick to do and very fun!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Easy Flax Bread

This bread recipe is quick and easy. The most work is kneading the bread, which I found relaxing and easy, since the dough is soft and smooth. The result is a tasty, healthy bread with a nice crisp crust. It slices well and works well for sandwiches.

Easy Flax Bread
1 3/4 cups warm water
2 Tablespoons granulated (white) sugar, divided
1 package instant yeast
1 Tablespoon oil
1 cup ground flaxseeds
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole wheat flour, divided

In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in the water. Sprinkle the yeast over top, let stand for about ten minutes, until frothy. Stir to dissolve yeast, then stir in oil. Stir in flax, salt, and half of the flour. Gradually stir in the remaining flour, forming a soft dough. Knead for at least ten minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic. The dough will be slightly sticky and moist, but it should not completely stick to your hands. Resist the urge to add extra flour, unless absolutely necessary. 
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. Depending on the temperature, this could take anywhere from one to two hours. Don't judge by time, judge by bulk.
Punch dough down and place in a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan. Let rise again until doubled in bulk.
Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Snake Cupcakes

Happy Chinese New Year! This year is the year of the Snake. So as a dessert for a Chinese New Year celebration, I decided to decorate some cupcakes and place them in the shape of a snake. This idea is quite simple, but it looks pretty cool. There aren't too many other foods, especially desserts, that can be made into the shape of a snake, besides cakes and cookies. The most difficult part here was to find something big enough to display and transport the cupcakes on, but my father came up with the idea of using a plastic under-the-bed storage container. Actually, I have used this before for transporting baked goods. It is large and flat, so you can avid stacking things, it is on wheels, has a snap-on cover, and is easily cleaned. Perfect. he only downside is those strange blue bumps you see, which are the wheels.

For the cupcakes, I baked a batch of twenty-four chocolate cupcakes and let them cool. Then I whipped up a batch of buttercream icing. I tinted the buttercream two different shades of green, just one slightly darker than the other. Technically the black snake is this year's snake, but I don't have black food coloring, and I don't like to eat black icing, it doesn't look all that appealing in my opinion. Then I used the open star icing tip attachment from my cookie press to pipe swirls onto the cupcakes. I loaded one vertical half of the tube with one shade of green and the other with the other shade, so that when the swirls came out, the two different tints of green would swirl together. This is prevalent in several of the cupcakes, but some the two colors ran together and sort of morphed into one. This was fine with me, because a snake would not have an even green skin tone anyway. This is the first time I have tried this swirl technique. It would have been easier to fill using a piping bag, but I wanted big swirls, and I do not have a large enough star tip to fit my piping bag, so I used the cookies press instead, which required frequent refills, as the tube is small. It does make piping easy though. Once I had all of the swirls piped, I arranged the cupcakes in a snake shape in the container. Then I piped round eyes with white buttercream onto the two front cupcakes, and added two chocolate chips for pupils. I was a bit disappointed that I did not have any food that would have worked to make a tongue. I didn't have any red fruit roll strips or anything, so I had to resort to inedible construction paper attached to a toothpick.

I had one extra cupcake left over. Not because it would not have fit in the snake shape, as it probably would have, but I had made just enough green frosting to frost twenty-three cupcakes (and barely at that). This is actually an improvement for me, as usually I make far too much icing. So with the extra cupcake, I wrote "Happy New Year, 2012, The Snake" to set next to the snake. Happy New Year!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Nutella Wrap-Up

I know, I know. It is high time I get off this Nutella kick of mine, and start baking with some other ingredients. I will, I promise, I mean Valentine's Day is coming up soon (although what better way to show someone you love them then feeding them Nutella...), so I will be featuring some other items (plus I am beginning to run out of Nutella here). However, two jars of Nutella later, many searches to many different websites, and a list that keeps growing longer, and Nutella week is over. Done with. I do just want to share with you a few more things about Nutella though. But just to let you know, this certainly does not mean you will not see Nutella creations on here again. It's pretty much guaranteed. And probably even before next year on World Nutella Day.
I found three more (okay, more than three, but three worth mentioning here, since I've said quite enough about Nutella already) interesting websites talking about Nutella. These actually aren't recipe websites. One shows how to say "Happy Nutella Day" in a bunch of different languages. Well, this is a worldwide holiday, so it could be useful to know, if you are talking to others in a different country. Another site shows the top ten signs you are addicted to Nutella. I actually don't display any of those signs, although I can relate to them. No, I do not carry around little packets of Nutella with me wherever I go, and when invited to someone's house, my first question is not, "Will there be Nutella?" In fact, I usually do not ask that at all. I have met foods that do not pair well with Nutella, but i think this one (and all of them) is a slight exaggeration anyway, because I do believe that the vast majority of sweet foods do go with Nutella, and in the past I have put Nutella on some pretty weird things. 

The third site has many true stories recounting people's first experiences in tasting Nutella.  I am sad to report I don't actually remember mine that vividly. I was probably too young. My first encounter wasn't the most magical one anyway. I would have to say my favorite encounter with Nutella was when I was staying in Spain for two weeks and living off camp food that wasn't-the-greatest. Our camp leader secretly took us to a nearby store and told us we could buy some good food that we would actually eat, and specifically recommended protein, since we seemed to be missing out on it. What better form of protein than Nutella? My roommates and I bought to jars to share, and the next day, dunked some cookies in it. Then we just resorted to spoons. Then just our fingers. Oooh, that first mouthful of Nutella after living off of camp food for a week. Yum!
This site also features the top fifty ways to eat Nutella, which do include cookies, spoons, and fingers, as well as in sandwiches, on fruit, and in hot chocolate. It also lists the different types of Nutella eaters, including The Sandwicher, The Dunker, and The Naturalist, among others.  
I believe The Chef is an accurate description for my love of Nutella:
The Chef (aka In Denial). This person has a high degree of self-imposed control and prefers not to eat Nutella in its natural form, but cooked or baked into other dishes. Not because they don’t like the taste of Nutella on its own, but because they like it too much and are afraid of themselves in the Spooner or Naturalist forms.
PHOTO CREDIT:"nutella-sandwich-cookies" http://www.onceuponachef.com/2012/12/nutella-sandwich-cookies-a-k-a-yo-yos.html. Once Upon A Chef, n.d. Saturday, February 2, 2013.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Triple Chocolate Nutella Kiss Cookies

Triple Chocolate Nutella Kiss Cookies
1/2 cup hard margarine, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/4 cup Nutella
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
chocolate kisses (approximately 30)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, then the egg, then the Nutella. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the chocolate chips. 
Drop dough by rounded teaspoons two inches apart onto prepared baking sheets. Gently press a kiss into the center of each cookies, do not flatten the cookie two much.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies are just set but still soft. Leave them on the cookie sheet for one minute or two before removing, as they will firm up quickly.
Yet another Nutella recipe for World Nutella Day. Hey, you need something for breakfast, lunch dessert, and supper dessert, right? The kisses in these cookies are completely optional, but add a nice little extra chocolate touch. If you prefer, make an indent in the center of each cookie with the back of a spoon and fill with Nutella either before or after baking. Sprinkle with chopped, toasted hazelnuts, or roll the cookies is chopped hazelnuts before baking. These are rich and chocolaty, and definitely taste of Nutella.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Nutella Muffins Re-done

This is a little edit on the self-frosted Nutella swirl muffins from yesterday. They are good,  but best warm from the oven. The muffin is a bit plain and a tad dry. This makes them ideal for a not-too-sweet Nutella breakfast on World Nutella Day, but Nutella lovers don't exactly mind a lot on Nutella now, do they? These just need a little extra something something. They have sugar, salt, vanilla, butter, and eggs, so what is missing? Here are several options to vamp them up a little:

1) Add chocolate chips to the batter.
2) Replace some of the flour in the batter with cocoa powder for an extra chocolate hit.
3) Place half of the batter in the cups, add a spoonful of Nutella for a Nutella-filled center, and add remaining batter.
4) Add a buttercream icing (preferably Nutella buttercream).
5) Serve them drizzled with a chocolate sauce (aka more melted Nutella).
6) Combine two of the above ideas.
7) Combine three of the above ideas.
8) Combine four of the above ideas.
9) Combine the first five ideas.
10) Just grab the jar of Nutella and dunk the muffin in it.
I tried a variation on these muffins myself. The irony of it is, I made a version without Nutella. Yeah, that's right, for World Nutella Day I made a few Nutella Swirl Muffins without the Nutella. Why? Because my mother has a slight allergy to hazelnuts, and didn't want to overdose on Nutella, considering I made several other Nutella treats. So I made two muffins especially for her. Instead of swirling Nutella into the top of the muffins, I sprinkled a spoonful on miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips on top. This is a bit like variation number one, but the chocolate chips were only on top and not studded throughout the batter. My mother agreed with the rest of us in that the muffin is a bit plain, and could use a little something more (more chocolate perhaps?) I always try to cater to all my dedicated tasters, as I hate to make treats that not everyone can enjoy, and usually there is a simple solution to ingredient avoidances. 

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Nutella Swirl Muffins

Here is another Nutella recipe that I made to celebrate World Nutella Day. This simple muffin recipe is featured slightly differently on several different sites. Here is my take on it. In my opinion (as well as the opinion of most Nutella fanatics), with this recipe, the more Nutella, the better! The Nutella swirled on top of these muffins bakes up and makes these self-frosted muffins. 
Nutella Swirl Muffins
1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon butter or hard margarine, softened
1/3 cup granulated (white) sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-3 Tablespoons milk
Nutella, as needed

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease or line ten muffin cups with paper liners.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.
Stir in the next three ingredients, followed by the milk. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, trying to make even, round scoops. 
Take a spoonful of Nutella (teaspoon or Tablespoon - as much as you wish) and use another spoon to drop it on top of each muffin. Use a wooden skewer to gently swirl the Nutella through the top of each muffin.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in a part without Nutella comes out clean. These are tastiest served warm!

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Striped Nutella Cheesecake Squares

Well, the countdown is over and the day is finally here! It is World Nutella Day 2013 - the seventh annual World Nutella Day! If you read my past two posts, then you already know this is a day celebrated by bakers around the world, who create delicious Nutella creations! Of course since I love Nutella, I had to take part. Actually, I realized how much I missed Nutella with all this Nutella baking, as I hadn't had it in a while. It is GOOD! Deciding which Nutella recipes to try was by far the most difficult part. There are just too many options. So what did I do? I looked at a few of my favorites (which doesn't narrow it done too much) and took my own spins on some, and made up some other Nutella creations based on others. Just so that I can add to all the Nutella options out there. I know, I'm mean, aren't I? Of course, I will be featuring more Nutella recipes this week, it is more like I am celebrating World Nutella Week here, as I can't stop at just one creation. But here is my Nutella creation for the day. Happy World Nutella Day to everyone! 

Layered Nutella Cheesecake Squares
CHOCOLATE CRUST
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine OR
1/4 cup each butter and Nutella
CHEESECAKE
2 packages (250 grams / 8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated (white sugar)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon whipping cream
1/3 cup Nutella

CRUST: Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8x8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and cocoa. Cut the butter into small cubes and cut it in. If using Nutella, stir it in now. Then get your hands in there and crumble the mixture together. It may seem dry t first, which is why it really needs to be mixed. Press firmly into prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes. Cool before adding cheesecake layer.

CHEESECAKE: Preheat oven to 325F. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add the sugar, beating until combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating after each until just incorporated. Beat in the vanilla, then 1/4 cup of the cream.
Pour 2/3 of the mixture (or closer to 1/2, if you wish) over baked crust, spread evenly. To remaining mixture, beat in the Nutella and 1 Tablespoon cream. Carefully spoon over batter in pan and spread evenly, being careful not to disturb the bottom layer. Bake for 35-40 minutes  until edges are set but center is still a little jiggly. It will set upon cooling. Cool completely on a wire rack, then chill in the refrigerator for at least four hours before serving.
To go further: add a Nutella chocolate glaze, serve with Nutella chocolate sauce, add a dollop of Nutella whipped cream, or simply serve with a spoonful of Nutella on top. No really. This cheesecake can be dressed up any way you like, like most cheesecakes; fruit, chocolate  whipped cream, or more Nutella! Mmmmm, Nutella, Nutella Nutella, Nutella :)
For more information on World Nutella Day, please visit: http://nutelladay.com/, as well as the blogs for Sara and Michelle, who declared this day as World Nutella Day, at
http://msadventuresinitaly.com/blog/ and http://bleedingespresso.com/

Monday, February 04, 2013

World Nutella Day

February 5th is World Nutella Day. This is the seventh annual World Nutella Day! If I had known about this earlier, I definitely would have participated in years past. On this day, avid chefs and bakers from around the world create a masterpiece using one simple, but oh so delicious ingredient: Nutella. Nutella is a decadent chocolate-hazelnut spread. It is marketed like peanut butter or almond butter, as a nut butter that can be part of a healthy breakfast. In addition to roasted hazelnuts, Nutella also contains cocoa, skim milk, and sugar. This makes it very good, but not quite as healthy as an all-natural nut butter, though it still does contain good fats and vitamins from the hazelnuts. There was a huge lawsuit about this actually, where some mothers were trying to sue Nutella for false-advertising the product as healthier than it actually is. Personally, I think this is a little extreme, and I don't really care to know all the details of the incident. Product marketers are gonna due what product marketers are gonna do; check the labels and decide for yourself how healthy it is. It certainly is tasty! I could (and have) eaten it by the spoonful!

Anyways, obviously I am not alone on this matter, or why else would World Nutella Day exist at all? On this day, professional and home bakers alike create a treat out of Nutella. Maybe they created the recipe themselves, maybe they used one of the many recipes that exist online, or maybe they simple just spread some Nutella on a chocolate chip cookie and called it a day. It could be sweet (most likely), or it could be savory. It could be breakfast, lunch, supper, dessert, snack, hors d'oeuvre, drink, or all of the above. It really doesn't matter, as long as some quantity of Nutella is involved. Actually, it doesn't even have to be food, it could also be a piece of art, or a picture of you cuddling with Nutella, or a video expressing your love for Nutella, or what ever, it isn't just limited to recipes. Some people even throw World Nutella Day parties!

Of course you can participate in World Nutella Day as well - just make something with Nutella, spread some Nutella on something you are eating, or simply grab a spoon and dig in! But for those of us who would like to share our Nutella creations with others, that is what the website was created for. The protocol is simple, and is fully outlined on http://www.nutelladay.com/participate/ - just make whatever you are making or do whatever you are doing that involves Nutella. Take a picture, a video, or record the recipe of it, and post it on your blog site. Add the required links (to this website and the original starters of World Nutella Day), and post it on February 5th. Then send them an e-mail with your link, and they'll include it on the website. It's that simple, and you'll be a part of a huge celebration for a spread adored around the world! You may even discover a new favorite recipe, or create an original one. If you don't have a blog, you can also use your Facebook or Twitter account to profess your love of Nutella! I plan on featuring a Nutella recipe tomorrow, and if I go a little overboard, there may be some the rest of the week as well.
PHOTO CREDIT:"nutella" http://lydiakang.blogspot.ca/2012/09/nutella-and-interviews.html. Lydia Kang, n.d. Saturday, February 2, 2013.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Nutella Galore!

Nutella: delicious, decadent  chocolaty-hazelnutty goodness all nicely mixed together and sold in jars in grocery stores around the world! It is good by the spoonful, on toast, on bread, on muffins, on cookies, on cake, and in many dishes as well, for breakfast, for lunch, for supper, for snacks, for dessert, I can't think of a time that isn't a good time for Nutella!

Certainly I knew that recipes using Nutella existed, I had seen them, but it wasn't until was I was asked if I could make a Nutella Chocolate Cake (see January 18th, 2013) that I discovered the vast multitude of Nutella recipes out there! There are many different websites featuring Nutella recipes, but one stood out for me. http://www.nutelladay.com/nutella-recipes/ became the site where I wasted a good chunk of time, clicking every recipe I wanted to try (which did not narrow done the list at all, really). This would bring me to another blog site, and as a blogger myself, I appreciate the effort people put into their blogs. I couldn't just skim the details, and I had to look at some of their other posts too, didn't I? Every link brought me to another decadent-looking, tantalizing baked treat that incorporated Nutella. The photos were large, close-up, and making me drool. Anyways, one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I had bookmarked way too many of these Nutella recipes that I wanted to try, and I didn't have a single jar of Nutella in the house. Nope, not one. This is all a marketing scheme, isn't it? Can I use the generic store-brand equivalent, which is probably cheaper, or would that be scandalous? Well,luckily the real thing was on sale anyway, so I didn't need to make that decision. 

This site contains, literally hundreds of links to sites with recipes that all share one common ingredient: Nutella. There are cakes, muffins, cookies, pies, pancakes, fudge, tarts, cupcakes, truffles, drinks, breads, squares, French toast, brownies, granola, cheesecakes, frostings,  fillings, ice creams, puddings, doughnuts, mousses, marshmallows, and pizzas that all contain Nutella! There are even several recipes for homemade Nutella. This search all started with the request for a Nutella chocolate cake. And this site only had about fifty plus to choose from! I finally did narrow it done to one good one, which turned out excellently, and I made the frosting to go with it as well (see January 18th, 19th, and 21st, 2013). But I also wanted to make many, many, many other items on that website. I only had about half a jar of Nutella left at this point, but I realized that World Nutella Day was coming up soon! Boy, was I glad I stumbled upon this fact at this time. Now I could prepare for it. I decided to hold off on making anything else containing Nutella until that day approached, which would give me a little more time to mull over which one(s) I should make (or simply cause my list to grow even bigger). They all look so good. So many great Nutella recipes, so little time, so little Nutella in the house. Well, I will feature another article tomorrow explaining a little more about World Nutella Day, and on February 5th, I will certainly feature a recipe made with Nutella.
PHOTO CREDIT:"KeepCalm_NutellaOn-240x300" http://www.nutelladay.com/participate/. World Nutella Day, n.d. Saturday, February 2, 2013.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Spicy Dry Cereal Mix

Well, here is a cereal recipe I made the other day. I just kind of made it up as I went along, putting in what I thought would be good and guessing at amounts. It turned out pretty well, for my tastes anyway. This is more of a dry cereal, that is good for sprinkling on yogurt, or over fruit, or enjoying in a bowl with milk. It is not exactly a granola, and it does not stick together in clusters or anything. Of course, this recipe can be varied  and I probably will never make the exact same batch twice.
Spicy Dry Cereal Mix
1 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup natural wheat bran
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup pumpkin (or other) seeds
1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)
2 Tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon melted coconut oil or olive oil
1 Tablespoon melted natural smooth peanut butter
1 Tablespoon liquid honey
1 Tablespoon molasses
1/2 cup dried fruit (raisins, dates, apricots, berries), optional

Preheat oven to 300F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, mix the first ten dry ingredients.
In a separate small bowl, mix the next four wet ingredients.
Drizzle the wet ingredients over the dry and mix, using your hands if necessary. Spread the mixture on prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes, stirring every ten. Let cool, then stir in fruit.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Homemade Cereals

Lately I have been on a homemade cereal kick. The storebought stuff just won't do for me anymore, even my previous favorites (and please, I don't ever want to see cornflakes again!)  Cocoa puffs first thing in the morning? Not my cup of tea. Some may call me a cereal snob, but I just prefer the homemade variety, just like I prefer pretty much any food homemade. I rarely eat storebought bread anymore, would never dream of buying a storebought cake, and why have storebought cookies and lasagna when you can have homemade? Homemade cereal (and most homemade baked goods, for that matter), contain less preservatives and chemicals. They are more natural, and you can put all the good stuff in it that you want. This is especially true with cereal, where you can easily control the amount of sugar, salt, ad fat, and add any whole grains, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits to suit your personal tastes. Moreover, homemade cereal is extremely easy to make. Well, not every kind. I'm not about to go try making homemade Cheerios, or Lucky Charms, or shredded wheat, but granola, bran flakes, and oat squares are all quite simple. I have already featured quite a few cereal recipe on here. I am running out. Not of recipes, but of different types of cereal. I mean there are 60000+ recipes for granola, or muesli, or oatmeal, but I'm looking for a little something different. I have never heard of a cereal cookbook before, and I am tempted to write my own. I have begun creating my own cereal recipes, one I will feature tomorrow.