Holidays



It’s cookie season.  It’s cookie exchange time. I love seeing what everyone makes.  I love that there are twelve days of cookies on Foodtv.com.  Ironically I don’t even love cookies.  I just love the opportunity to get into the kitchen.  I love trying something new.

My mom and my brother’s girlfriend get together every year around this time to spend a whole day in the kitchen and make winter goodies.  It’s the winter equivalent of “putting up” the harvest by canning in the fall/summer I suppose.   This is one of the recipes they had tried together.  My mom was telling me that I “had to try” to make them.  That they would be so easy and you just couldn’t go wrong with them.  Perhaps she was right…but it took me way longer to make these than it would have taken me to make regular cookies, and in my oh, so humble opinion they were waaaaaaaaay more labour intensive than drop cookies.

That being said, they aren’t really cookies.  They are more of candies.  Almonst a chewy Almond Roca.  I thought my mom had created these, but upon some internet searching, I believe it was Giada De Laurentis’ recipe.  As usual, I reviewed and looked at ways to put my own spin on them.  I opted to roll them in chopped up toasted almonds.  Building on the almondy goodness.

As I munched on my one tester.  I think I would do them differently next time.  I think the idea is right, but the texture needs a little work.  The caramel centre is a little confused.  It is kind of chewy, and kind of brittle.  I feel like it needs to be one or the other…otherwise my jaw might need strengthening if I was to eat these on a more regular basis…come to think about it, perhaps it is a good idea that you can only eat one or two at the most at a time.  IF I was to make these again, I think I would make my own caramel.  I would add the almonds to the silicone liners and then ladle in the almond roca caramel mixture into the cups, cool and set, and then dip in the choclate and roll in the crushed almonds.  Basically creating little Almond Roca bites, rather than the bark I made a few years ago.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (about 3 ounces) toasted slivered almonds
24 individually wrapped caramel candies (about 6 ounces)
1 cup (about 6 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips
4 to 6 tablespoons cream, room temperature, divided
1 cup (about 6 ounces) white chocolate chips

1 cup toasted chopped slivered almonds

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Lightly grease the mini-muffin tins with vegetable oil spray. If you have silicone mini muffin liners or the pan, use that instead and you won’t need the oil.
  3. Place 1 teaspoon of slivered nuts in each of the muffin cups. Unwrap the caramel candies, cut each candy into quarters and place 2 quarters (1/2 candy) in each of the muffin cups, in the bottom, add the nuts and then add the other 2 quarters on top of the nuts in a single layer. Bake in the oven until the caramel is just melted and beginning to spread, about 8 minutes. Be careful not to over melt the caramel or it will bubble, burn, and become too hard. Place the mini muffin tins in the refrigerator for 5 minutes to cool. Remove the nut clusters from the tins and set aside.
  4. Meanwhile, melt the bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler over low heat. Whisk 2 to 3 tablespoons of cream into the chocolate to slightly thin the chocolate for coating the clusters. Dip half of the nut clusters in the bittersweet chocolate , remove exand place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Return the clusters to the refrigerator to harden, about 30 minutes.
  5. Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler over low heat. Wisk 2 to 3 tablespoons of cream into the chocolate to slightly thin the chocolate for coating the clusters. Dip remaining half of the nut clusters in the white chocolate and place on the parchment paper-lined baking sheet with the other chocolate-covered clusters. Return the clusters to the refrigerator to harden, about 30 minutes.

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Cookies, cookies, cookies! A few weeks back, I attended a cookie exchange, hosted by non-other than the lovely Ms. Jackie Connelly. A sunny (albeit, blustery) Sunday afternoon, armed with two dozen cookies, and a bottle of wine, I spent the afternoon with some fantastic foodies.

Cookie exchanges are a fantastic way to expand your horizons. Sometimes we, and by we, I really should really say, I get into ruts in the kitchen. I tend to default to the tried and true. As a kid, my mom made THE best chocolate chip cookies. Undoubtedly there was always cookie dough in the freezer to thaw and have cookies at your finger tips. That tends to be my go-to cookie.

A cookie exchange means you can stay within your comfort zone, if you really want, but sample the wonderful selection brought to the table from all the other participants. You could always make your usual, but why not try something new? There are so many options out there, it can almost become overwhelming. Narrow it down, do you want chocolate? Chewy? Traditional? Maybe you don’t even want a cookie, but perhaps a truffle…be daring!  For a handful of great recipes from this cookie exchange, you can find them on Jackie’s site.

In my adult life, access to cookies was/is not as important. I prefer savoury to sweet. But, it is the holidays, there are guests, and little home-baked packages to be dropped off…and so, into the kitchen we all head.

As usual, I started with a base recipe, tweaked it, and made it my own. I was inspired to put a little wasabi salt on the chocolate as it set to counter the sweetness of the chocolate, and compliment the buttery-ness of the shortbread. It’s all about exploration right? And in this case, I thought it paid off!


Ingredients

3/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp instant coffee
1 Tbsp hot water
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
500 grams bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
Wasabi salt to top, optional

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small bowl, combine the instant coffee and water, combine until all crystals are dissolved. In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt; then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and roll shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a 2-inch snowflake-shaped cutter. Place the snowflakes on an ungreased sheet pan – place in fridge to chill – this will help the cookie retain its crisp edges.. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Melt chopped chocolate over a water bath. Once nice and smooth (achieved with a whisk), dip each cookie into the melted chocolate, place on a cookie rack to set. Once the chocolate has cooled, but not fully set, add a small sprinkle of wasabi salt.

However you choose to celebrate, may you enjoy the beauty, warmth and tradition of this holiday season…hopefully with a little sweetness in hand! ~ bakergirl

Adapted from Ina Garten’s Shortbread Hearts Recipe.


This weekend  Taster Boy and I loaded the car with the bikes and the dog to go on a little biking wine tour with friends in Kelowna.   B and T planned the whole thing: the route, as leisurely and reasonable in terms of hills as possible, packed the lunch and got us all on the same page.   At first discussion, I think three of the six of us were a little apprehensive.  Come on,  Kelowna can hit well into the 40’s, throw in wine and hills to climb, it could have ended badly… I’m not the most avid cyclist you see.  Round trip, a totally reasonable 26 km, three wineries and 11 wines.

Cedar Creek Collage

It was perfect actually.  We left at noon, rode out the 13 km to the furthest winery: Cedar Creek.  There we had our tour with Kevin who educated us on the science of grapes.  Did you know that for one grape vine can produce enough for three or four bottles of wine?  Or that the grapes for ice wine, when squeezed only produce one drop per grape?  That’s crazy to me, no wonder the cost of those ice-wine are higher.  We also learned our share about the oak barrels.  They only get used three times.  To get the most oak-i-ness from the barrels they are charred before the wine is stored in them, or other estates may scrape the barrels to get a similar effect.

We also learned about care for your wines once purchased.  Apparently, most wines are not meant to be purchased from the liquor store and be served right away, that they should for the most part be stored for at least a year.  Also, you should try not to disturb the wine at all when storing; even if they are on a rack in the house where there is a lot of walking traffic, the vibrations can upset the structure and even the taste.  Red’s should actually be served at 16C and whites at 9C (If I recall correctly.

At Cedar Creek you are treated to a beautiful restaurant and nicely tended grounds with lots of flowers.  Testing the wines our favourite was the 2008 Riesling – smooth and crisp…so delish!


Hubertus and SummerhillBack on our bikes, and off to St. Hubertus and lunch.  At this winery tastings are complimentary.  There are seven or eight wines listed on the blackboard, you (and your group) are allowed to choose four you would like to sample.  I really enjoyed the Chassales and Rose.    Once we tasted our four, we picked the Chassales to enjoy with our picnic lunch outside.


One more big hill, one more vineyard and we were at Summerhill Pyramid Winery.  Wow.  Stunning view – the vines, the hills and the lake.  From the road below the estate looks nice, but it doesn’t show it’s true beauty until you are inside (air conditioned!) and look out across the expanse.  There were two weddings happening while we were there – it would certainly be a beautiful location.  At this winery we met Micahel.  Our young taster who shared with us some delightful brews.  Summerhill has a neat philosophy.  You can taste three wines for either $5 or $6 (depending on which list you taste from) and then if you buy a bottle of something you tasted, your tasting fee goes towards the cost of a bottle.  How can you not buy something?

K tasted through the sparkling wines, thinking every girl needed a “go to” sparking wine.  I’m not sure where she landed.  I ended up trying the Pinot Gris, and two Ehrenfelser – one with an apricot undertone and another was a late harvest: Diva’s Delight, featured in the blue violin bottles. After being corked the Diva’s Delight will last for four to five weeks – and it would need to.  With such a high sugar content you need very little…but boy caramel goodness!

With the wineries behind us we cycled home, mainly downhill, changed into our suits and hit the lake for a quick swim.  We were tired, but very contented kids.  A great weekend, definately one to remember 🙂

On our way home...

On our way home...


cheecake-wrappedThe April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Funnily enough, the April 2008 challenge was also Cheesecake…cheesecake pops!  This month we had pretty much free reign to do what we liked with the cake: savoury, sweet, fruity, decadent etc…yum, have I mentioned I love cheesecake? I decided to take it in the sweet and fruity direction, however I still have mini Camembert cheesecakes with frizzled prosciutto as a savoury creation for the next time I need to bring an appy somewhere! (even served warm they sound delish!).

Back to the challenge at hand.  As I mentioned over the Easter weekend, I was charged with a dessert.  What better way to use the Daring Bakers Cheesecake – less in the house for the two of us!  I was trying to think of pastel colours, came up with pink, yellow and green.  Wanting to use my mini cheesecake pan, I thought this would work out wonderfully.   From there I matched up fruit combos.  The colours however didn’t come out as vibrant as I had wanted, but I didn’t want to use food colouring, so alas, they all kind of look the same.  The combinations were:mini-cheesecakes1

  • Pink = cherry
  • Green = lime and vanilla
  • Yellow = coconut and pineapple

The recipe below made 12 mini cheesecakes (2 inches or so), 4 of each flavour and a 6 inch cake, layerd flavours…starting with cherry, then lime, finally pineapple.

I topped the cheesecakes with whipped cream, and the little marshmallow bunnies I posted a few weeks back, a little coloured sugar and little Easter eggs.  Simple.  What it needed though was some sort of sauce, so I whipped up a pineapple/cherry coulis.


layered-cheesecake

Ingredients:

crust:
2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

cheesecake:
3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.
  2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too – baker’s choice. Set crust aside.
  3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.
  4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.
  5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done – this can be hard to judge, but you’re looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don’t want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won’t crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

My changes: I did not add any lemon juice.  I divided the batter into three equal parts.  To one, I added the juice and zest of two limes, and 1 extra Tbsp vanilla pure clear extract.   To a second, 1/3 cup chopped up pineapple, 1/8 cup pineapple juice and 1 Tbsp coconut extract.  To the final, 1/4 cup chopped up canned cherries, and 1/8 cup cherry juice.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil “casserole” shaped pans from the grocery store. They’re 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.

Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!


When I was a little kid, I used to think that hot cross buns were just like fruitcake.  I refused to try them.  I wasn’t much of a picky eater, I seldom put up a fight about food, so my parents pretty much tolerated when I got my nose it a twitch about not wanting to eat/try something.  About 5 or 6 years ago I was visiting with my mom, having a mid-afternoon tea and she brought out some lightly toasted hot cross buns with a little butter spread on them.   I tentatively took a half, and was delighted at the familiar cinnamon and nutmeg flavour.  It reminded me of a little bit spicier version of raisin bread.

This was my first effort at homemade hot cross buns.  The dough comes together in a breeze.  It smells amazing putting it together, kneading it, and then baking in the oven.  And when warm out of the oven, a great treat…and not just something you can get at the local bakery around Easter…I am certain this is a make again type of recipe.  In one sitting TB gobbled up four!

hot-cross-buns1

Ingredients
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1/2 cup lukewarm water
4 1/2 tsp instant yeast
3 cup flour
1  teaspoon salt
two pinches each of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 large egg
1/3 cup raisins, chopped into small bits
1/3 cup mixed cranberries and cherries, chopped into small bits

2 tablespoons honey to glaze
For the cross – 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup water

Directions:

  1. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of sugar in the milk and water, then stir in the yeast and set aside.
  2. In a bowl sift the flour, salt, spices and remaining sugar.
  3. Pour in the yeast mixture, melted butter and lightly beaten egg. Mix with a wooden spoon then knead for 6-8 minutes.
  4. Place dough into a clean oiled bowl and cover. Allow the dough to double in size.
  5. Lightly grease a roasting pan (9″x11″).
  6. After the dough has risen add the raisins, cherries and cranberries and knead till well mixed.
  7. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and shape into buns. Place the buns well apart in the pan.
  8. Cover again and leave in a warm place for 30 -40 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Add a hot water bath to the bottom rack.
  9. To make the cross, mix the flour and water together to form a smooth paste. Spoon into a small sandwich bag, clip the end with scissors. Pipe a cross on each bun.
  10. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Immediately brush with honey and then return to oven and bake for another 3 minutes. Cool completely or serve warm from the oven.

Makes 12 buns.  Adapted from The Knead for Bread.


For Easter Dinner I volunteered to bring a dessert…suprise, suprise!  As part of the dessert topping I wanted to make little pink bunnies as the decoration.  As I had mentioned a few months back, I had stacks and stacks of magazine’s lying around, finally went through them and saw these little cuties.  I think it was originally from Martha Stewart Living.

My piping skills certainly leave something to be desired, and working with marshmallow is not the easiest thing I have ever done, but to a 2 and 5 year old, I think they will be a hit.  Especially with “lil miss V” who loves all things pink!

img_3160

Ingredients:

Marshmallow:
1 envelope unflavoured gelatin
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup cold water
1 cup sugar

Detail Work:
1 cup sugar
1 drop pink food colouring
Brown gel food colouring
Blue gel food colouring

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/3 cup water.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup water with sugar over medium high heat.
  3. Stir until dissolved. Stop stirring and place a candy thermometer into sugar.
  4. Wipe the sides of pan with a wet brush if sugar crystals have splattered up.
  5. Boil sugar until temp reaches the soft-ball stage (238F)
  6. Remove syrup from heat, add to gelatin mixture.
  7. Hand stir the mixture until it cools.
  8. Beet on medium speed with mixer until soft peaks from and marshmallow mixture holds shape: 8-10 minutes.
  9. Transfer marshmallow mixture to pastry bang, fitted with a 1/2 inch tip.
  10. Fill a rimmed cookie sheet with coloured sugar (one drop of food colouring into 1 cup of sugar… mix with your hands and you have coloured sugar)
  11. Pipe 1 and 1/4 inch mound, 1/2 inch tall onto sugar.
  12. Pipe a small mound on one side for tail, and a larger mound on opposite side for head.
  13. Pipe the ears, starting at the head onto the body (this was the hardest part for me)
  14. With a damp finger pat down the spikes formed by piping the various mounds.
  15. Work quickly so the marshmallow surface doesn’t dry out, use a spoon to cover the whole body with sugar.
  16. With a skewer pipe on the faces with the gel (the recipe called for royal icing, I didn’t want to make icing when I needed so little).
  17. Place in a parchment-lined Tupperware container until ready to serve, up to 2 weeks.

With the crazy winter weather Vancouver has experienced in the last few weeks, specifically this past holiday week. Tasterboy (hereafter known as TB) and I thought we should have a back up holiday plan if we were marooned at home, unable to visit family and friends. I opted for a Cornish Game Hen – perfectly sized for a dinner for two.

This was moist, and delicious – though enjoyed in the days after Christmas. I particularly enjoyed the stuffing. Again the photo is brutal, but we haven’t recovered the camera yet from my mom’s house.

cornish-game-hen

Ingredients:

1 Cornish Game Hen
2 Tbsp butter
1/8 cup maple syrup
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

1/3 cup uncooked brown and wild rice
2/3 cup water
1 slice bacon
3 breakfast sausages cooked and diced up
1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1/2 apple cut in half, diced
4 mushrooms diced up
1 slice 12 grain bread diced
1/4 cup chicken or turkey broth
3/4 Tbsp ground mustard
1 Tbsp Maple Syrup

3 large carrots, roughly chopped
1/2 medium squash, cubed
1 leek, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Combine water and rice in a small saucepan, bring to a quick boil over high heat. Cover with lid and reduce to low. Allow to cook for 20 minutes, until rice is tender.
  3. Sautee onion in a pan, with a quick spray of Pam.
  4. Once onions start to sweat, add bacon, mushrooms, garlic and apple.
  5. Allow to cook out and caramelize.
  6. Add ground mustard, maple syrup, 2 Tbsp tap water and reduce.
  7. Remove mixture from heat.
  8. In a bowl combine cooked rice, chopped up bread, diced up sausage, and broth.
  9. Prepare poultry: remove innards, rinse and pat dry. Pull skin from bird, spread butter and season with salt and pepper.
  10. In a small pan, (I used an 8 inch square cake pan), add carrots, squash, leek, 0live oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.
  11. Stuff bird with prepared stuffing – place bird on top of vegetables.
  12. In a small bowl, mix maple syrup and Dijon mustard. Pour over bird.
  13. Cover with tin foil, roast for 1 hour, remove foil after one hour and continue to roast for another 30 minutes or so. Test bird for doneness – 165°F.
  14. Serve with roasted vegetables, stuffing and rice (if making more than recipe called for, I did – two birds, one stone)
  15. Optional step – I made gravy with the drippings from the Hen and vegetables – sweet and savoury!

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