Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Toasted Sesame Pretzel Toffee Bark

I love love love baking, it's my stress relief, and belly filler. I would assume, if you are perusing food blogs, that you love to bake too? Christmas time can add a different type of stress, maybe even panic(?), for those who are kitchen challenged. I'm not going to give you a turkey tutorial, although, that might be a good future post!  But, I can give you an idea on how to fill you're cookies platters!  The ultimate way to get a tonne of cookies, without having to do all the work, it to plan a cookie exchange!

For the past five years, I have coerced my co-workers into joining me in a cookie exchange.  I send out an internal email, and post a sign-up sheet in the staff room where they can add their name, and what they choose to contribute.  We have to bake one dozen per person, and this year we each baked for eight dozen!  Eight dozen different kinds of cookies!  Well, not just cookies, there was fudge, toffee, palmiers, and even Oreo truffles!

This is how library ladies organize cookie exchanges....on a book truck! haha

The best part about a cookie exchange is the variety of treats that you end up with!  I like to package them up for Holiday gifts for the kid's teachers, our neighbours and for friends.  I'm usually still left with enough treats for my own family, and any holiday visitors, to enjoy over the holidays, too!

Kind of ironic, that I like to bake probably the most out of all my colleagues, and I choose the easiest thing to make.  I contributed Toasted Sesame Pretzel Toffee Bark, which you may already be familiar with under the name Christmas Crack, or Saltine Toffee, or something similar.  This recipe is truly addicting, and so so simple.  Get your gift giving on - Toffee Bark style!!

Toasted Sesame Pretzel Toffee Bark

1/4 - 1/2 cup sesame seeds
roughly 50 salted waffle pretzels (enough to cover your cookie sheet)
1 cups butter
1 cups packed brown sugar
pinch of salt (optional)
1 -11/2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips (approximately – I usually just keep adding until it seems like enough!)

Using a small pan, over medium -high heat, toast the sesame seeds, tossing or stirring, taking care not to burn, and set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment, or foil,  this helps with clean-up after (and to make it easier to remove).   Line the prepared sheet with pretzels, placing them right together.
In a medium saucepan, bring the butter and brown sugar, and pinch of salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Let it bubble for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat and pour it evenly over the pretzels. Spread with spatula to fill any gaps.
Bake for about 8-10 minutes, until bubbling and deep golden in colour. Keep an eye on it for the last few minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn.
Remove from the oven, and then scatter chocolate chips over top while the caramel is still hot. Let sit for a few minutes, then spread chocolate out with a spatula or knife until smooth, and finally, scatter the toasted sesame seeds over the top.
Cool completely in the fridge, (or in the garage cold room) then break up into pieces using your hands.  I like there to be barks of all shapes and sizes, and prefer they aren't just squares - don't be a square, man!  Package up for gift giving, or get ready to get your will tested!

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Overnight Gingerbread Spice Cinnamon Buns

I'm already mentally getting ready for January, so it's no shocker that Christmas Day's breakfast is already planned too.  Can I share my exciting news with you?  We are going...on a cruise!!  I know! I know!  We are gonna relax, and read, and relax, and eat, and relax, and take naps, and explore tropical islands, and relax, and shop, and relax some more!! 
It's so super exciting it almost makes me want to skip Christmas, so we could get to vacation time faster. Almost.  

I usually make some kinda cinnamon rolls, whenever my folks come to town.  They are my dad's favourite, and I love experiment on him with new and different kinds, flavours, and techniques each time.  My dad is already preparing his sweet tooth for the Christmas visit.  And it seems rather ho-hum to make something so vanilla as regular ol' cinnamon buns on such a special occasion.  So this year I'm gonna take it up a notch with these festive gingerbread spiced cinnamon buns!

I don't know about you, but I like to enjoy watching the kids open their gifts, and stockings, and quality family time on Christmas morning.  The idea of making a big production of breakfast, then cleaning it up, and starting in on the preparation of the big feast, holds little appeal.  The beauty of this recipe in particular, is you can get it all ready a day or so in advance, and then just pop them into the oven Christmas Morning!  Stay in your jammies for as long as possible, and tuck into this super decadent and delicious Christmas morning treat!

Overnight Gingerbread Spice Cinnamon Buns


2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast 
3/4 cup milk, warmed (I used 2% and nuked it for about 30 seconds)
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Gingerbread Spice Filling

6 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 Tablespoon molasses
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 Tablespoons flour

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon maple extract

Place milk in a microwave safe measuring cup. Heat for 30-45 seconds in the microwave, add yeast and stir, allow the yeast to activate by setting aside for a few minutes.
Cream together the sugar, butter, and egg, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Pour in the milk/yeast mixture and give it a few pulses.  Replace the paddle with the dough hook attachment and add the flour, and salt, mixing on low speed until the dough forms a ball in the center of the bowl.
Using a large stainless steel bowl,  grease with cooking spray or butter, and place the dough ball in it. Cover the bowl kitchen towel or plastic wrap, find a warm spot, and let the dough sit for 2-4 hours, or until it doubles in size.
My house is super cold in the winter, but my oven has a warming spot, I usually turn that on low, or keep it on the oven while I'm doing other baking!
Make your filling by mixing together butter, brown sugar, flour, and spices until it forms a paste, and set aside.  Grease a 9” pan, pie plate or baking dish with butter or spray oil, and set aside.
Once the dough is risen, roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle, about 12” by 9”. Spread the filling as evenly as possible over the rectangle all the way to the edges.
Roll the dough up tightly from the long end, and slice it into 9 equal rounds. Place the rolls into the prepared baking dish.
At this point, you can let them rise for about 30 minutes to 1 hour until they are swelling up in the pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Or!  You can cover with plastic wrap and stick in the refrigerator overnight until ready to bake for a wintery morning treat or Christmas Day!  When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
If the rolls have been in the refrigerator, remove them and let them warm up while the oven is preheating.  Remove the plastic wrap and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until they are golden brown.
While they bake, make your Maple Cream Cheese frosting!
Using a hand held or standup mixer, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and maple syrup.  Add in the cinnamon, vanilla and maple extracts, and finally, the icing sugar.  Mix until smooth with a thick, but spreadable, consistency. 
Remove the rolls from the oven, and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before frosting, and devouring serving!

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Low Fat Chocolate Crackle Cookies

The problem with running a real life kinda blog, is that sometimes things don't always come together in the most attractive and cohesive ways.  Take, for example these Chocolate Crackle cookies I'm sharing with you today.  They are in fact leftovers from a Christmas Craft Fair I was part of last weekend.  I made them the day before the sale, so they'd be nice and fresh, and then packed them up all nice and pretty.
My sales at the craft fair went pretty well, despite the weather being horrible.  The day of the fair the temperature was -25 without the wind, and the roads were ice rinks, making sales a little sluggish.  I'm pretty sure I managed to at least break even(?).  Because the craft fair was in our community, I had the chance to hang with my family, putting my kids to work at the table, and catch up with friends and neighbours as well.  All in all, it was a really great day, and got me in the Christmas spirit.

I still brought home a fair bit of baking, including these Chocolate Crackle cookies, much to my Son's delight...these are his favourite cookies of all time!
But the real life reality is that, most of the sugar has worn off, making them not as photogenic, as they once were, but now I'm also SLAMMED with other real life responsibilities.  I have no time to take pics of anything else.  The voices in my head tell me it's okay though, because these cookies, regardless of their appearance, still taste fantastic, and are a year-round favourite for my family.

There are as many different versions of this recipe, as there are names for the cookie:  Chocolate Crackles, Chocolate Crinkles, etcetera, etcetera.  I prefer the Chocolava recipe from Julie's One Smart Cookie Cookbook.  Not only is her recipe delicious and  reminesent of a fudgy brownie, but it has about one quarter of the fat from any other recipe I've found.  For the sale I chose to rename them, thinking that a crackle was more Christmas-y than Chocolava, but you can call them any name you wish!
I always make them at Christmas time, I like to think the crackled icing-sugar dusted exterior is somewhat festive, or at least reflective of a good dusting of  A fast,easy, and tasty recipe that is almost guilt-free, making them the perfect for a hostess gift or for giving to your neighbours or co-workers, or sharing with your family this Christmas!

Low Fat Chocolate Crackle Cookies
Recipe adapted from: One Smart Cookie Chocolava cookies, Page 65

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 - 1/2 cup icing sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spray a large cookie sheet with oil, or line with parchemnt and set aside.
In a large bowl, add the butter, and both the sugars and mix until creamy. Next add the eggs and vanilla, mix to combine.  Then add the the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, all at once until the dough just comes together.  It may still seem too dry, but it does come together, especially if you use your hands to bring it together - like magic!
Place a few heaping spoonfuls of icing sugar into a shallow dish. Roll dough into balls and roll the balls in icing sugar to coat.
Place them about 2” apart on the prepared cookie sheet, and bake for 12–14 minutes, until just set around the edges but still soft in the middle. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Peanut Butter Nanaimo Bars

It's the most wonderful time of the year...again!  Last year, right around this same  time, I shared a recipe for a Lower-Fat Nanaimo Bar, 'member?  This time around I thought I would switch it up a bit, and make them with a peanut buttery twist!  These however, are mos' def' NOT low-fat...sorry, not sorry.  These Peanut Butter Nanaimo Bars are, so super decadent, and a would make a perfect treat to bring to a party or to give as a homemade Christmas gift.

My veins are running with sugar,  and body is practically vibrating around the kitchen at this point.  I'm in the midst of a baking, packaging, pricing, flurry of activity, as I get ready to sell some of my goodies at local Christmas Craft Sales.  I hope that these Peanut Butter Nanaimo Bars, along with my other treats sell like crazy, 'cuz it's a heck of allot of work!  If they don't?  Well, more for me!  Or maybe placed beside the Christmas tree for Santa...if he's nice.

Peanut Butter Nanaimo Bars

1/2 cup room temperature butter (salted or unsalted)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup coconut
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped

1/2 cup smooth or crunchy peanut butter
2 cups icing sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons butter or coconut oil
2/3 cup semi sweet or dark chocolate chips

4 Tablespoons peanut butter

Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, and set aside.
For the bottom layer: In a large bowl mix together the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and finely chopped peanuts. Set aside.
For the bottom layer:  In a double boiler, stir together the butter, sugar, beaten egg and cocoa. It will be a bit stiff, but it’s important to start with the beaten egg in a cold pan and allow it to warm gently, to avoid scrambled eggs.  Stir constantly for 5 minutes, until smooth and slightly thickened.
Add the graham cracker mixture and stir until well combined.  Press this mixture evenly into the lined 8-inch pan and chill.
For the middle layer: Beat together the peanut butter, butter, icing sugar, vanilla and milk until smooth.  Spread this mixture over the chilled base. Smooth top and chill for 30 minutes or until firm.
For the top layer: Melt the chocolate and butter or coconut oil together in a double-boiler or in the microwave.  Spread melted chocolate over the chilled middle layer, smoothing out as evenly as possible.  If doing swirled top, heat peanut butter in microwave or in the same (clean!) double boiler. Pour warm peanut butter over the still warm chocolate top, in straight lines, and then lightly slide knife or toothpick through in the alternate direction.  Chill again until firm and then bring to room temperature, before cutting into bars.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Chicken Cordon Bleu Meatballs

Doesn't it feel like the bombardment of Christmas is thrown at us earlier each year?!  Even before Halloween arrived, the stores were putting out Christmas stuff!  And then November 1st, was like, BAM!  CHRISTMAS IS COMING!!  Maybe it's just me?  I find it a little bit overwhelming, kinda exciting, and I get all nervous inside.  I have to plan what presents to buy, what kind of goodies I will be baking, and how I will stretch my paychecks to handle the load!  One thing I do to make a little extra money around the holidays, is to sell my baking at community Christmas sales and Craft Fairs.  So, I bake a little more than your average mom;)  I already have a garage (ahem: cold storage) full of goodies, but have yet to take any good pics of them yet.  So before I bombard you with their deliciousness, I thought I should bring you something savoury.

This recipe is from the recently published Skinny Taste Cookbook, which I must return to the library for the next person in line, and I hate to admit, but, *gasp*,  It's overdue!!  Horrible.
I've been hanging onto the book so I could share this fantastic recipe for Chicken Cordon Bleu Meatballs, 'cuz it's so so yummy, and the whole fam gave it the "thumbs up" approval.  This recipe has the potential to be a great new way to use up leftover ham from Thanksgiving, so if you do a ham at Christmas too, keep this recipe in mind. 

This recipe from Skinnytaste, is genius!  It mimics the flavours of the traditional chicken cordon bleu, but in a easy to make and calorie reduced meatball form.  The flavours in the Dijon and white wine sauce deliver that extra sumthin' sumthin', that take a average week night meal, and elevate your leftovers to the next level!

Chicken Cordon Bleu Meatballs
Recipe adapted from: The Skinnytaste Cookbook, page 163
11/2 lbs lean ground chicken
1/4 cup panko or bread crumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 egg
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (roughly) leftover ham, sliced & cubed
3 slices (roughly) Swiss cheese, sliced & cubed

1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon flour
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup milk, I used 2%
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 salt
1/8 freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped as garnish

Preheat the oven to 425F, and spray large baking sheet with oil, and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the ground chicken, bread crumbs, parm, egg, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper, and using your hands, mix together.  Wet your hand to prevent the meat from sticking, and form into meatballs.  Poke the meatball with your finger to make a whole, and insert one piece each of cubed Swiss cheese and ham.  Do your best to close meatball securely, to prevent cheese escape-age (!) you should make approx. 12 meatballs.  Place meatballs on prepared baking sheet, and bake about 20 minutes, or until cooked through, and slightly browned.
While the meatballs are baking, make your sauce!   
Using a large, deep, lidded skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  using a whisk, add the flour to create roux.  Next whisk in the wine, allow to thicken, and add both milk and broth, whisking for 5 minutes or so, allowing to thicken up again.  Reduce the temperature to low, and add the mustard, lemon, and season with salt & pepper, taste, and adjust to your preference.  
Remove the meatballs from the oven, and add them to the sauce.  Cover and simmer, for about 5 - 10 minutes.  Garnish with parsley prior to serving.  The meatballs are excellent served on egg noodles or pasta, alongside some seasonal roasted veggies!


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

African Inspired Peanut Stew

You must forgive my absence, our house was hit hard by an unforgiving stomach flu.  It started with Presley, and then hit both Sloane and I.  Cory has somehow managed to miss out, lucky boy!  Without going into all the gory details, it was gross, and I'm glad to have my energy and appetite back.
I've only seen the movie "The Devil Wears Prada" maybe once or twice, so this is completely random that it sticks out in my memory, but whenever I get the stomach flu, I always think of this quote:

Emily: Andrea, my God! You look so chic.
Andy Sachs: Oh, thanks. You look so thin.
Emily: Really? It's for Paris, I'm on this new diet.  Well, I don't eat anything and when I feel like I'm about to faint I eat a cube of cheese.  I'm just one stomach flu away from my goal weight.

Hilarious, and true, right?!
I've decided to look at having the flu, as getting the opportunity to re-set your body, Mother Nature's cleanse!  Now that you have this blank slate of appetite and even what you may normally crave, you might as well keep eating the smaller portions, and as follow as clean a diet as possible.

One of the first real meals I craved once I was ready to get back in the kitchen was this African Inspired Peanut Stew.  I added chicken, because whiners, and swapped chick peas for lentils, because whiners, but kept the subtle spice, and the sweet potatoes, which pair perfectly with the peanut butter.
It's an interpretation of the vegan "Soul Soothing African Peanut Stew" from the recently published Oh She Glows Cookbook.  Angela Liddon is the author and blogger behind the amazing Oh She Glows website, and now the award winning book!  I find Angela's recipes to be imaginative, yet totally do-able, and always delicious.
Because I can borrow cookbooks for free from the library (you can too, silly!), I rarely purchase cookbooks of my own, but the Oh She Glows cookbook is the exception!  Totally worth the $ and the shelf space.

African Inspired Peanut Stew
Recipe Adapted From: Oh She Glows Cookbook Page 129

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded (optional) and diced
1 medium sweet potato, peeled, and chopped
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed (optional)
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
1/3 - 1/2 cup peanut butter
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup uncooked lentils (I used red), or can of chickpeas drained & rinsed
2 large handfuls spinach, chopped or torn
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 handful cilantro, for garnish
Roasted peanuts, for garnish

Using a large stock/soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and sauté for about 5 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic, red pepper, and jalapeño, sautéing for another 2 minutes. Add the sweet potato, chicken (optional), and tomatoes (with their juice) and a good shake of both salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer.
Meanwhile, using a small saucepan or microwave, heat up 1 cup of broth, and then add the peanut butter, stirring so no clumps remain. Stir the peanut butter mixture to the vegetables, along with the remaining broth. Season with the cumin, chili powder, and cayenne.
Cover the pot, and reduce heat to low, leaving to simmer for about 20-30 minutes or until the sweet potatoes and lentils are tender, and the chicken (if you're using it) is cooked through.
Taste and season if necessary, then stir in the spinach, and cook until just wilted.
Serve stew over rice and/or steamed vegetables, and garnish with the cilantro and roasted peanuts.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Monster Mashmallow Cereal Treats

A series of puppy-dog eyes from a 5 year old, and claims of a childhood favourite from a 40 year old, made me buy this cereal.  I had never tried it until this year.  Sugarmania cereals were not part of my own childhood, unless I was at my Grandma's or maybe a sleepover at a friend's.  
I was informed that Count Chocula is "thee best", and "we have to get it".  Who am I to argue with a good ol' childhood fave?   

This is pricey stuff, man!  I managed to hunt down both the Count Chocula, and Franken Berry limited edition treats for the best price at Target.  Apparently there is also a "Boo Berry"?  I was unable to locate that one much to their dismay.  Maybe some state-side cereal hunting is in order!  

That's where the Scooby-Doo bone shaped cereal came from, on one of our last excursions to Montana.  United States of America, you have all the bestest cereals!  

Count Chocula is the obvious fave around here, I had just barely 2 cups remaining.   That's where the mash up idea was born!  I figured the bones fit the Halloween cereal theme pretty darn well.  As well, the bones helped to spread out the quantity of the "special" cereal we had left on hand, lest someone complain, that "It's all gone!  I didn't even get one bowl!".  Yeesh. 

Concocted out of the mass cereal mash up came these fun and yummy treats. They are basically like a marshmallow-y Rice Krispie Treat, but more chewy, flavourful, and of course, spookier!

Psst!  Here's my handsome kitchen helper, and biggest critic, hard at work!

Monster Mashmallow Cereal Treats

3 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups miniature marshmallows
2 cups Count Chocula cereal
2 cups Franken Berry cereal
2 cups Scooby-doo bones cereal (I was running low on the Count, so I added the Scooby-doo to spread it out - Use 3 cups of each, or 6 cups cereal total)

Prepare a large dish (I used 9 X 13), by lining it with parchment paper and set aside.
In large saucepan melt butter over low - medium heat, add the marshmallows and stir until they are completely melted. Remove the pan from heat, and add vanilla.  Next add all the cereal. Stir until the cereal is evenly coated.
Pour mixture into the prepared dish, use a spatula, wet fingers, or the overhang of the parchment to help press it down.  Allow to Cool, before cutting into squares or shapes.

Happy Halloween!