Best of Baking

IMG_0803The holiday break has afforded many opportunities to rev up the new Kitchenaid mixer. I look at it daily and think “what can we make today?” And then I tell my mixer that treats cannot be an everyday occurrence. Although they should be.

For a New Year’s get together I jumped on the chance to bring dessert so that I would have an excuse to make a chocolate cake. I made my favourite Nigella version, posted here. It was more-ish as always and was promptly demolished, as chocolate cakes should be. You should make it. And fill your face with it-but don’t blame me for your derailed resolutions. Blame Nigella.IMG_0793

If you want something a little lighter and less guilt-inducing, I made holiday gingerbread in December and didn’t get around to posting it. I shared the cookies around at a few holiday shindigs and people are still talking to me about it. It’s just a McCormick recipe, but I think the magic is in the technique. Roll the dough as thin as you can and bake them until firm, and you’ll end up with light, crispy, refreshing ginger bombs. They are so good and so delightfully spiced that I am thinking about making another batch just to have for after-dinner treats. They keep really well in the freezer, just waiting for when you need a ginger pick-me-up. You can also tell yourself that ginger is good for digestion and therefore this cookie is good for you. Plus they have molasses and that’s better than white sugar, right?Blueberry Muffins

So finally, in a moment of holiday boredom, I whipped up some blueberry muffins to pass the time. I used my favourite recipe from Smitten Kitchen (see my previous post here) and they were perfect to have on hand for post-Christmas snacking and lounging about.

So here are 3 ideas for homemade treats to start 2013 with a bang and give the finger to any thoughts of healthier living and self-denial. Plus, some self-righteous food guy once said (something to the effect of) “it’s ok to eat treats as long as you make them yourself.” And that’s the mantra I live by. Although it’s also ok in my books if Pan Chancho or Bread & Butter Bakery make them too.

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Holiday Baking Round 2

IMG_0791This weekend, I spent an afternoon in the kitchen, adding 3 new treats to the baking stockpile. My Kitchenaid mixer got another workout, this time with Whipped Shortbread (dipped in chocolate), and I followed that up with 2 simple but delicious no-bake cookies: Chocolate Haystacks and Butterscotch Confetti squares.

The shortbread and squares are both classics, throwbacks from childhood, just as delightful and addictive as ever. Just today I shared the Butterscotch Confetti with a friend and we discussed what vintage gold they are. As a rule, I’m not a huge square fan as sometimes they are best left in the 1980s, but these are just the right mix of peanut butter and butterscotch, and if you eat them super cold, the texture of the marshmallows is irresistible.

And the beauty of these 3 treats is that they each have so few ingredients, chances are you have them already in your pantry.

Whipped Shortbread
(From Best of Bridge)

Ingredients
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup icing sugar
3 squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 325F.
2. Whip the first 3 ingredients together in a stand mixer for 10 minutes, until very smooth and fluffy.
3. Drop by the teaspoon onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 13 minutes at 325F.
4. Cool the cookies while melting the chocolate. Dip the cookies half in the chocolate and cool in the fridge.

Butterscotch Confetti
(From Company’s Coming)

Ingredients
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 bag mini marshmallows

Directions
1. Melt the first 3 ingredients together in a saucepan or the microwave.
2. Stir in the marshmallows and pat into a 9×9 pan.
3. Refrigerate until firm. Cut into squares. These freeze well for later use.

Chocolate Haystacks

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup milk
6 tbsps cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flaked coconut
3 cups quick oats

Directions
1. Boil the first 4 ingredients together in a saucepan for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
2. Stir in the final 3 ingredients quickly.
3. Drop by the teaspoon onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate until firm. These freeze well for later use.

And finally….Kevin is asking for gingerbread…so perhaps we’ll have adventure #3 in Christmas baking someday soon.

The holidays are here…

December is upon us and I find myself in the mood to stockpile delicious baked treats in my freezer. It may have something to do with my new friend. We met last weekend in America, while doing some browsing of the holiday sales, I came upon a Kitchenaid mixer in need of a good home. This amazing piece of kitchen equipment had never really been on my radar because of the steep pricetag, but I found a deal too good to pass up, and now I have a glossy black Kitchenaid Professional 5 Plus standmixer staring me in the face every time I walk into the kitchen.

I used it earlier this week to whip cream in record time, but have been thinking all week about holiday cookies. I decided to make a favourite, Bird’s Nests with Raspberry Jam, these are always such a nice mix of crispy cookie and sweet-tart jam (pictured in the foreground). Those didn’t seem enough, so I let Kevin pick from Chatelaine’s holiday cookie list, and he wanted Birthday Cake Icebox Cookies (pictured on the left). To be honest, I laughed and assumed they would not be great, but I have to say they are quite tasty. It’s basically a sugar cookie with a bit of crunch from the sprinkles and an extra sweet kick from the icing sugar glaze- a vanilla sugar bomb of a cookie.

To round out the weekend I decided to make some buttertarts. These didn’t need the help of the mixer, but I’ve been missing these in my holiday life for years. There are so many buttertart variations out there, pecan, walnut, raisin, no raisin, corn syrup-based, maple syrup-based, egg-based, etc., etc. All I really want is the kind my mom made when I was a kid: egg-based, with raisins and pecans. The recipe comes from a well-worn Best of Bridge cookbook and is simply buttertart perfection (pictured on the right).

The Best Buttertarts

Makes 12 buttertarts.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 4 tbsp. cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup seedless raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 12 tart shells (recipe for 1 pie crust will be enough)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375F.

2. Beat eggs in a saucepan, then combine the next 5 ingredients in the saucepan. Boil on medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes.

3. Sprinkle a few pecan pieces in the bottom of each tart shell, then spoon 1/4 cup of tart filling into each shell.

4. Bake for 15 minutes at 375F. The tarts will be done when the filling is set and the crust is flaky and golden.

Pastry tip: Make 1 pie crust using the Crisco recipe (3/8 cup shortening, 1 cup flour, 1/2 tsp. salt and 4 tbsp. cold water), shape into a ball and chill 30 minutes. Roll out to 1/4″ thickness, cut into 12 circles with a cookie cutter or water glass, and shape into a 12-muffin tin. Chill the tart shells another 30 minutes, then fill with hot filling and bake immediately. The cold crust will turn out extra puffy and flaky.

So, holiday treats to come…perhaps some Butterscotch Confetti, Chocolate Haystacks, Whipped Shortbreads? Stay tuned.

Baked Brie with Carmelized Pears

Fresh out of the oven and ready for some crackers.

I was grocery shopping this week, just before a snow storm was scheduled to start, and disaster happened. I needed some raspberries for my go-to baked brie recipe, and they were nowhere to be found. And my pre-snow shopping window was rapidly shrinking! Rather than stress out trying another store, I pulled out my trusty iPhone and googled baked brie. One of the first hits I came upon that didn’t require a crazy amount of ingredients was from Canadian Living. It called for pears, which are nice this time of year, and much easier to find than raspberries. The fate of my girl’s night menu was sealed.

Simple ingredient perfection.

The recipe is so easy- just saute a shallot and a pear in butter, then simmer the mixture in apple juice with a drop of maple syrup and a sprinkle of thyme and S & P. Let that cool at least 10 min, then pile it on top of a round of brie, bake it at 350F for 10-15 min and top with toasted almond slivers.

The sweet/savoury combo of the topping is really nice with the creamy richness of the brie. I love that the ingredients are easy to come by. I think this will be my new fancy cheese recipe for the winter, and I’ll switch back to the raspberry version in the summer.

Marvelous Mediterranean Dips

From left: Baba Ganoush, Tzatziki and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus.

Last week, we hosted a fantastic wine party, some final festivities of the holiday season. We host 2 or 3 of these a year, and each time I knock myself out planning a feast of a spread, and overheat the guests and the kitchen by making fresh baked munchies. So this time around, with about 15 people RSVP’d, I thought I’d better come up with a no-bake solution. Less stress for me, better temperature for all!

I try to keep things home made, fresh, and somewhat healthy, so some dips that could go with veggies and pita sprang to mind. We had been eating store bought Baba Ganoush over the holidays, which is full of mayo and sour cream, and is nothing like the real thing. So I thought I would try making it myself- how hard could something with about 6 ingredients be, anyways? And, once you’ve got the Baba ingredients going, you might as well swap the eggplant for chickpeas and make Hummus, or swap those two out for some greek yogurt and cucumber and make Tzatziki!

These dips are a dream- easy, healthy, pretty cheap, and people will be wowed that you made them yourself. You just need a blender and a little patience. The guests devoured them, especially the Baba, that was the first to go. The pita disappeared pretty quickly, so make sure you’ve gots lots on hand. Next time I think I might toast some and make pita chips too. I think these will be a staple in my entertaining repertoire, because I actually got to relax and enjoy the party this time around. Nothing to keep an eye on, just put out your spread, uncork some wine, and let the party happen!

Baba Ganoush

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2-4 cloves garlic (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Directions

  1. Roast the eggplant at 400F for 30 minutes. You can fire roast it first if you have a gas stove, just place it on the burner and turn occasionally for 5 minutes. Make sure to poke some holes in your eggplant before you roast it. You can also roast your garlic at the same time, if you would like it be more mellow and sweet.
  2. Place the cooked eggplant in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. This will soften the skin, and it will peel off very easily. Remove the stem, give the eggplant innards a rough chop and place in a blender.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.
  4. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil overtop and a pinch of paprika for garnish.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas, water half drained
  • 1 red pepper, roasted
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Directions

  1. Fire roast the red pepper if you have a gas stove, just place it on the burner and turn occasionally for 5 minutes. Place the blackened pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. This will soften the skin, and it will peel off very easily, remove the stem and seeds and give it a rough chop. You can also use store bought roasted red peppers.
  2. Start by blending the chickpeas a little at a time, the liquid from the can and the lemon juice will help. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth, scraping the sides down and stirring as needed to get everything blended.
  3. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil overtop and a pinch of red pepper flakes for garnish.

Tzatziki

Ingredients

  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. fresh chopped mint
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of black pepper or mint.

The 3 dips joined a mountain of crackers, cheese, chocolate, fruit and other treats. Thanks to everyone who brought something to add to the deliciousness. We’ll have to outdo ourselves next time, which could be hard. But I’m willing to try if you are!

The full spread- wish I could eat like this all the time!

Happy Days are Here Again

A favourite childhood treat.

After a 2 month blogging hiatus, I am back! May and June hit me with a double take out- my food allergy diagnoses, and a work overload. I was so busy, I didn’t really have the energy to try out new allergy free treats and report back.

But 3 weeks off in Calgary, complete with trips to the mountains, the Stampede, and plenty of time with lovely family and friends, have left me refreshed. And with a suitcase weighed down by my favourite wines! The selection out here is so much better than the LCBO, I can’t help myself when I enter a wine store. I also found a vegan baking cookbook recently, and will have lots of new things to test out in the kitchen.

However, that will have to wait until I return home next week. Until then, I will share a very exciting recent discovery: the fact that Dutch honey cake does not typically contain eggs or dairy! My mom is Dutch, and I have always enjoyed typical comfort foods like honey cake, speculaas (spice cookies), meat croquettes and red cabbage. Today we saw a sign in the neighbourhood that advertised “dutch treats,” so of course we had a check out this new store. I gravitated toward the honey cake section, as that is my absolute favourite, especially the kind with candy on top, and was delighted to discover that Hille brand is largely allergy free, and is even made of rye flour. That’s good for you, right? We’ll just overlook the fact that sugar is the first ingredient.

I’m off to cut a few slices and savour them with a cup of tea….with the aid of a tea towel with windmills on it, naturally.

Pizza Sandwiches

Checking the toastiness level. We're almost there.

Attention: everyone who has a George Foreman grill (or a knock off of said famous appliance) languishing in a cupboard somewhere, go dust it off. I have news. You actually own a very useful pressed sandwich (or panini) maker. Just as I was contemplating sending Kevin’s gigantic and useless grill, which I’m sure got a lot of use in his university days, to the good will bin, he reminded me of this appliance’s one virtue: it makes pizza sandwiches. I have since allowed it to continue to hog 1/3 of the space in one of my cupboards, because these sandwiches are amazing.

It’s not rocket science, you just need a crusty Italian roll of some sort, tomato sauce, mozzarella, spicy salami and a sprinkle of pizza seasoning (Italian seasoning will also do). Spread the tomato sauce generously on both sides of the bun, add a layer of salami, a layer of sliced mozzarella, a sprinkle of seasoning, another layer of salami and you’re ready to grill. About 10 minutes on a pre-heated grill is good, but keep an eye on things and when the bread is toasty and the cheese is melted, you’re done. You could try different filling combos, but I really love the simplicity of these. Kevin gets all the credit for coming up with these beauties many years ago. I imagine him inhaling these with his university roommate, also named Kevin, and probably watching some Star Wars.

These make a great weekend treat. This time we paired them with chips in order to make sure we ingested the least amount of fiber and most amount of fat possible, obviously. That’s what weekend lunches are for, right?

You realise this blog is about la gourmandise, and not healthy eating, of course.

Morning Glory Muffins

I’ve been in a baking mood this month, so far churning out several batches of muffins and last week’s chocolate cake, but am starting to feel a bit guilty at the thought of making one more sweet treat. So today’s mission was to make something that had some amount of nutrition hidden amongst its tastiness.

There is a chain of cafes that started in Calgary called the Good Earth, which I miss regularly. I see that they have expanded into BC and Saskatchewan, and can only hope that one day they will make their way to Ontario. Kingston’s closest equivalent would be the Sleepless Goat, but I almost don’t want to insult the Good Earth with the comparison. The Good Earth is always clean and comfy, while still maintaining a bit of a hippy vibe and serving healthy, earth friendly food. While the Goat is undoubtedly earth friendly, their lack of cleanliness seriously limits my visits there.  One of my favourite things from the Good Earth is a Morning Glory muffin, with one of their fabulous lattes made with fair trade espresso. The best breakfast!

With these muffins in mind, I trolled the internet for recipes, and came up with my own version of the muffin. I’m happy to report that they do the Good Earth proud, and came out beautifully domed and dense with healthy goodness. A perfect breakfast treat.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (or whole wheat)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 apple – peeled and shredded
  • 1/2 cup sultana raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 tbsp. ground flax seed mixed with 1 tbsp. water
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 12 muffin cups.
  2. Mix ground flax seed with water, let sit for a minute. Then add eggs and beat mixture. Stir in oil and vanilla, then add grated carrot and apple.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  Gently stir in the wet ingredients.
  4. Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

Appetizers for Dinner

Sometimes,  I come home from a long day and think “cooking feels like too much.” And so, 1 of 3 things usually happens: 1. Kevin gets stuck with the job, 2. we pay someone else to feed us, or 3. we rummage through the fridge and have appetizers for dinner. Option number 3 provides the chance to use our funky pottery appetizer dishes, which is a bonus. We got them at a little pottery workshop outside Winnipeg during our summer travels. The smaller plates fit perfectly in the palm of your hand- made for snacking.

The appetizers for dinner plan is obviously best when you have some good wine already on hand, and the fridge is well stocked with tasty treats. Lucky for us, we had a decent selection of meat and cheese, a small baguette, and some of our favourite Dunes chilled in the fridge. You’ll notice a sad absence of olives in this spread (Pasta Genova was closed), but some home made pickles tried their best to substitute. The only item above that probably needs some explaining is the lower right dish, that’s goat cheese with olive oil and balsamic vinegar drizzled on top. It’s the world’s easiest bread dip, sprinkle some fresh basil on top and people will rave.

And so, we carried this feast upstairs and watched a movie in bed. Is there a more luxurious and gourmand way to spend an evening at home?

Broccoli Bisque

It’s officially that time of year: soup time.  You can make a pot of soup any day of the week and be guaranteed that your partner will walk in the door of their warm and cozy house and exclaim “that smells good!”  Kevin really likes this soup specifically, and the night I made it he exclaimed with glee: “I smell leeks!”

Although broccoli is the most obvious ingredient in this soup, I think leeks are actually the show stealer. They lend a mild oniony zip, without being overpowering. They’re a great base for the soup. Leeks are always a bit finicky to get washed and chopped, so I use a technique I learned from watching Jacques Pepin on PBS one lazy Sunday long ago. You cut the leaks into 4 lengthwise, but keep the root intact, that way you can easily wash them, and you don’t end up with strings of leek all over the place.

This soup recipe is my take on one that appeared a few years ago in the LCBO’s Food & Drink magazine. I really love reading Food & Drink, their photography is so lovely and the food so tempting. And I always find a wine or two that I want to try. My one beef with the magazine is that I find their food a bit inaccessible to the average person. Everything has too many ingredients, or obscure ingredients that you’ll buy for their recipe and never use again. I hate that, and generally cook nothing that I see in the magazine. One issue this year had tips for unusual drinks, and correct me if I am wrong, but I believe there was a bacon-infused vodka recipe. For a magazine that is free to the Ontario public, they might want to try to be a little bit more relatable.

However, one autumn issue had several easy-to-make soups, and this broccoli bisque was one of them. It has 8 ingredients, most of which you will probably already have in your fridge or cupboard.

Ingredients

  • 3 leeks, white and light green part only, chopped
  • 1 head broccoli, stems included, roughly chopped
  • 2 small Yukon Gold potatoes (or 1 large), peeled and cubed
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup light cream or milk
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Saute leeks in oil until softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add in broccoli and potato, saute another few minutes. Cover vegetables with chicken stock, bring pot to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
  3. Using an immersion blender (or ordinary blender), puree the ingredients until velvety smooth.
  4. Add in cream, bring soup back to boil and simmer 5 minutes.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This soup is simple, but perfect. Which I think is the mark of culinary genius. I’m always happiest with meals I slaved the least over. This soup is great as a main, add some bread and cheese on the side and you’re set. It’s also a good first course, and because it is so unfussy, I think it would be a lovely start to a dinner party.

It keeps well, never forming that annoying skin that a lot of cream soups are prone to, and is thick enough to travel in your lunch bag without leaking. Make a pot for dinner one night, and you’ll have some lunches set to go as well.