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It’s March Break in Ontario and students are out of school for the week.
If you’re running out of things to do with your brood during the Break, consider spending time with them in the kitchen making edible snowflakes!
The kids will enjoy cutting snowflake shapes out of soft tortillas, then broiling them (with an adult’s supervision), and dusting each faux snowflake with icing sugar. They’re crisp, slightly sweet, cinnamon-scented and flavoured, and just plain fun to eat!
And since there’s not much you can do about the mountains of real snow still on the ground outside, helping the edible stuff disappear inside may give everyone at least some satisfaction!
Small flour tortillas
Cinnamon sugar (3 tablespoons (45 mL) sugar and 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cinnamon)
Gently fold the tortilla in half without making a crease, then in half again. Hold the folds together without creasing the folds firmly into the tortilla. With kitchen scissors, cut out shapes and designs from the folded edges of the tortilla. Cut through all the layers, being careful not to tear the tortilla.
Open the tortilla and place it flat on a baking sheet. It should look like a snowflake. If more design is needed, carefully refold the tortilla and add more cuts. Repeat to make as many snowflakes as desired. (The number of snowflakes that can be broiled at one time will depend on the size of the snowflakes and the baking sheet.)
Using a pastry brush or an unused inexpensive artist’s paint brush, brush snowflakes with melted butter. Pick up a pinch of cinnamon sugar between your fingers and sprinkle over the snowflakes. Repeat with more cinnamon sugar until top of each snowflake is lightly covered.
Place the baking sheet with tortilla snowflakes under the broiler just until snowflakes begins to brown. Watch carefully; this only takes a minute or so. Wearing oven mitts, remove the baking sheet from the oven. Let snowflakes cool for a few minutes.
With a turner, remove snowflakes from the baking sheet to a wire rack. Let snowflakes rest for a few minutes to cool and firm. Sprinkle each with icing sugar.
* Cocoa Snowflakes: Stir 1 teaspoon (5 mL) cocoa powder into cinnamon sugar mixture. Continue with recipe as directed.
* Cheese Snowflakes: Sprinkle grated Mozzarella or Swiss cheese on the tortilla snowflake, being careful to keep cheese on the tortilla and not in the holes. Place snowflakes under broiler to brown and crisp a little, 1 to 2 minutes. Let cool and firm on a wire rack.
Recipe Source: Adapted from Cooking Art by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Jean Potter, Gryphon House, 1997
Who doesn’t love brownies?
I suppose if you don’t like chocolate, you might not care for brownies.
Whoa! Back up! Who doesn’t love chocolate?
As hard as it might be for some of us to fathom, there are people in this world who are indifferent to chocolate. They can take it or leave it. Quite easily. Without much care or thought. Some of those people may even prefer to ignore chocolate altogether. Don’t pity them, however. Consider how much more this leaves for the rest of us!
But back to brownies.
Recently I found a recipe for The Ultimate Brownie on the About.com Desserts/Baking website. I’ve never understood the idea of an “ultimate” anything because what might be the best ever version of something (e.g. brownies) to you may very well be a just okay version of that something (e.g. brownies) to me. And vice versa. If you claim something is the “ultimate” or “world’s best” or “greatest ever”, you’ve set up some pretty high expectations as to what that something will look like, taste like, feel like, act like, and so on, depending on exactly what that something is. So many things in life are subject to an individual’s taste preferences, perceptions, biases, and experiences that I’m always hesitant to label anything (and in the context of this blog, a recipe!) with the moniker of “ultimate” unless it’s been highly rated by more people than just me.
That said, I did try The Ultimate Brownie recipe, and it was pretty good! Thick and fudgey (my preference as opposed to cakey), it would rank fairly high on my scale of “best brownies ever eaten”. I’ve posted the recipe below.
Speaking of things “ultimate”, I’m also posting a link to the website of my colleague, cookbook author Mairlyn Smith and her healthy Decadent Brownies recipe. It’s from her and co-author dietitian Liz Pearson’s best-selling book, Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health…and don’t forget the chocolate (Whitecap Books, 2007). Mairlyn’s recipe uses whole wheat flour, canola oil and cocoa powder.
As well, here’s the link to the recipe for Fudgey Special Dark Brownies on Hershey’s website; it’s made with cocoa powder and Chipits. If you make the brownies in a 15 x 10-inch (38 x 25 cm) pan instead of a 13 x 9-inch (33 x 23 cm) pan, you can cut the brownies into heart shapes for Valentine’s Day. On the Hershey’s website you can also find chocolatey recipes for mousse, cookies and truffles. Perfect fare for giving to all your loved ones and sweeties! Assuming they all like chocolate, that is!
The Ultimate Brownie
(Makes a 13 x 9-inch/33 x 23 cm baking pan)
8 squares unsweetened chocolate, chopped into chunks
1 cup (250 mL) butter, cut in chunks
5 large eggs
3 cups (750 mL) sugar
1 tablespoon (15 mL) vanilla
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
2-1/2 cups (625 mL) chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted
In a saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate and butter, stirring frequently; set aside.
In a large bowl, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla with electric mixer on high speed for 10 minutes. (Mixture will be thick and pale yellow in colour.)
Stir in chocolate mixture. Fold in flour and salt until just mixed. Stir in nuts. Pour into a lightly greased 13 x 9-inch (33 x 23 cm) baking pan.
Bake in a preheated 375F (190C) oven for 35 to 40 minutes. The brownies should be moist in the centre.
- Measure all ingredients carefully. Measure flour and sugar in a dry measuring cup. Scoop flour into the cup and level the top with a blade of knife.
- For easy removal of the brownies from the pan, line baking pan with aluminum foil or baking paper. Grease foil or paper, then add batter.
- Brownies can be iced, but it is not necessary as they are sweet and decadent enough on their own. If desired, top with chopped nuts and semisweet chocolate chips before baking, or drizzle with a white chocolate glaze, or sprinkle cooled brownies with icing sugar.
- This recipe is very similar to the Blockbuster Brownies recipe inside the box of Baker’s Unsweetened chocolate squares. That recipe calls for 1-1/2 cups (375 mL) butter, 6 eggs and 1 cup (250 mL) chopped nuts. The batter is baked in two 8-inch (2 L) square pans at 350F (180C) for 35 to 40 minutes.
- Brownies freeze well.
For more brownie recipes, visit Brownie Lover’s Diary.
Another blustery wintery day in southwestern Ontario!
A perfect afternoon to stay indoors, curled up with a book and a steaming mug of spiced hot chocolate. To complement the beverage choice, and in honour of this sweet month of February, I picked out JoAnna Carl’s chocoholic mystery, The Chocolate Cat Caper, from my library of culinary mysteries.
Before filling my mug with hot chocolate, I dipped the rim in a mixture of cocoa powder, sugar and ground cinnamon. Hardly essential, but it made for a pretty presentation – and an extra bit of spice and sweetness with every sip!
Spiced Hot Chocolate
(Makes about 4 cups/1 L)
3 oz (90 g) semisweet chocolate
3 tablespoons (45 mL) water
2 teaspoons (10 mL) sugar
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) ground allspice or nutmeg
4 cups (1 L) milk
In a medium saucepan, combine chocolate, water, sugar, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Place saucepan over low heat and stir until chocolate is melted and ingredients are blended together. Remove from heat. Add milk. Return to stove. Over medium heat, stir frequently until milk is not, but not boiling. Remove from heat. Whisk until frothy or use a frother to froth. Pour into mugs and serve.
Optional: To decorate mug rims, combine about 2 tablespoons each (about 30 mL) sugar and cocoa powder with about 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cinnamon; stir to blend. Pour mixture into a plate; give plate a shake to spread mixture out evenly, about 1/4 inch (5 mm) thick. Dip rims of mugs in water, then into the cocoa powder/sugar mixture. Fill mugs with hot chocolate and serve.
A few co-workers and I prepared a pancake lunch yesterday at work. We used a basic Buttermilk Pancake recipe courtesy of Carolynne Griffith, the chairwoman of the Board of Directors for Egg Farmers of Ontario. The pancakes were tender, light and fluffy, and enjoyed by everyone. For the chocolate lovers in the group, we made one batch of pancakes with chocolate chips. They were exceptionally delish! (The Triple Chocolate Pancakes from my February 4th post would also have gone over well with the chocoholics!)
Here’s the recipe, with the chocolate chip variation. (We omitted the sugar in the recipe.)
(Makes about 16 pancakes)
1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (30 mL) sugar (optional)
2 teaspoons (10 mL) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt
2 large eggs
1 cup (250 mL) buttermilk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) melted butter or cooking oil
Butter and maple syrup
In a medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar (if using), baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk eggs. Add buttermilk and butter; whisk to combine.
Add dry ingredients to liquid ingredients; whisk just until combined (batter should be lumpy).
Heat a small amount of oil on a griddle or frying pan over medium heat. When the surface is hot enough, spoon about 2 tablespoons (30 mL) batter per pancake onto the skillet, spreading batter into a circle. Cook until edges appear set and bubbles form on the surface, about 1-1/2 minutes. Flip and cook second side until browned, about 1-1/2 minutes.
Serve immediately with butter and maple syrup. Or, transfer to a baking sheet or heatproof platter. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and keep pancakes warm in a 200F (95C) oven. Continue cooking remaining batter, brushing griddle with a small amount of oil as necessary to prevent sticking.
Chocolate Chip Pancakes: Prepare dry ingredients, adding 1/2 cup (125 mL) chocolate chips. Proceed as directed above.
- This recipe can be doubled or tripled.
- If batter is too thick, thin with a small amount of additional buttermilk.
- Freeze any leftover pancakes up to 3 months. Reheat on a baking sheet in a preheated 350F (190C) oven. Pancakes can be also be reheated in the toaster or microwave. If using the microwave, be careful not to overheat as they will become rubbery.
This was on the menu for dinner last night. Sweet…and simple!
Pork Tenderloin with Brandied Cranberry and Thyme Reduction
(Makes 4 servings)
If you wish, oven roast unsliced tenderloin at 400F (200C) until meat reaches an internal temperature of 155 to 160F (58 to 60C), about 20 to 25 minutes. Prepare sauce as directed. Slice tenderloin and serve sauce alongside.
1 cup (250 mL) chicken broth or stock
1/3 cup (75 mL) brandy (or additional chicken broth)
1/2 cup (125 mL) dried cranberries
1 lb (500 g) pork tenderloin
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter
1 tablespoon (15 mL) cooking oil
2 teaspoons (10 mL) chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) dried thyme
In a medium saucepan, combine broth, brandy (if using) and cranberries. Cover and simmer until cranberries are plumped, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, cut pork into 3/4-inch (2 cm) slices. Cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper; with a meat mallet, flat side of a cleaver or bottom of a small frying pan, pound slices to flatten to about 1/2-inch (1 cm) thickness. Season pork with salt and pepper.
Heat butter and oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add pork to frying pan; cook for about 3 minutes per side. Remove pork from pan; cover to keep warm.
Add cranberry mixture to frying pan, stirring to loosen any browned bits on bottom of pan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until sauce has reduced slightly and thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in thyme. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Return pork to pan; cook until pork is heated through and glazed with sauce.
According to Welsh researcher Dr. Cliff Arnall, this week was supposed to be the most depressing week of the year. (I guess we should all be glad it’s just about over!) Monday, January 21 was actually the saddest day of the year. Arnall devised a formula to calculate this which took into consideration things like the weather, debt loads carried by many of us post-Christmas, failure to keep our New Year’s resolutions, and motivational levels in January.
What made my week particularly depressing was that I spent an inordinate amount of time in my vehicle commuting to work in Missauga and to meetings in Toronto. Snow and cold weather, at times less-than-optimal road conditions, and traffic accidents that created chaos on the highways resulted in me wasting too much time behind the wheel of my car this week.
On the bright side, if this is as depressing a week as I’m going to have this year, other than some long commutes, the week really wasn’t that bad. And at least it’s almost over and done with!
Thankfully the commutes were made bearable by having something to listen to on my car’s radio. In the morning, I generally tune into CHYM FM for the music, traffic reports and entertaining banter between the hosts. For the drive home I like to find out what’s gone on in the world around me while I’ve spent the day concentrating on the world of eggs, so I dial up CBC’s Here and Now and As It Happens for news, interviews with interesting people doing interesting things, and current events.
During what stretched from an anticipated 1-1/2 hour drive to an over 3 hour commute from Kitchener to a meeting in downtown Toronto on Thursday morning, CHYM’s morning show hosts George and Tara talked about the development of a prototype for a transparent toaster. The toaster was applauded for its potential to end the trauma of toasting. The toaster’s transparency would allow you to see your bread while it was toasting. The toast could then be removed when it was done to your liking – eliminating burnt or under-done toast.
Before you rush out to look for the toaster, be advised that it is still in the concept stage. The idea for it was developed by the Innovations Concept Studio.
Here’s how the toaster would work.
Sorting through some Creative Cooking columns I wrote for The Record and Guelph Mercury, I happened across one from March ’06 which made me smile as Murray and I had just enjoyed a few meals of homemade Hamburger Soup (see post from Jan. 19) and made-from-scratch biscuits. (The biscuits in the photo are actually small cheese biscuits I made in a mini muffin/tart baking pan. They took about 9 minutes to bake.)
When the column was initially published, apparently Murray endured a little teasing from a few friends and colleagues who read it.
Read on to learn why. And for a good basic recipe (with variations) for biscuits.
I will admit it may have been a less than stellar supper that appeared on our kitchen table a few nights ago. But at that point in what had been a busy week and a particularly long day, I figured I had done well to produce something edible at all.
When my hungry husband sat down to a supper of hot biscuits and soup, and then spied the empty soup can on the kitchen counter (I had neglected to recycle it immediately after opening it), his response to that night’s menu was “at least we’re having biscuits.”
To be fair to canned soups everywhere, there are many good varieties that come in a can. This was a thick, stew-like soup to which I had added some frozen vegetables. But my husband is just not a big canned soup fan. Fair enough. That’s why I lovingly prepared some biscuits to serve with the soup. From a box of Bisquick, mind you.
Thick, rib-sticking, hearty, beefy soup to warm you from the inside out! On a cold day like today in Kitchener, a bowl of homemade Hamburger Soup is a welcomed comfort food in our house.
You could probably complete this soup in about 50 minutes, adding uncooked pasta, barley or rice in the last 15 to 20 minutes. I prefer to leave the soup lazily simmering on the stovetop for a couple hours to allow the flavours of the simple ingredients (ground beef, canned tomatoes, broth, carrots, celery, onions and seasonings) to meld and turn into a thick and delicious melange.
One might question whether the end result is really a stew masquerading as a soup, and meant to be eaten with a fork rather than a soup spoon. And if you make the soup with crushed tomatoes instead of diced tomatoes as I have on occasion, you will end up with an even thicker soup! Call it Hamburger Stewp and dig in with a fork, or add broth to thin the mixture a little.
Instead of thyme, Italian seasoning can be used to flavour the soup. Once fully cooked, check the soup for overall seasoning, adding salt and pepper if you find it necessary.
Serve Hamburger Soup with bread, buns or biscuits, and add a salad, if you wish. It’s a simple meal perfect for a cold January day.
This soup freezes well, and as with many soups, it tastes even better the next day!
(Makes 8 servings)
1 lb (500 g) extra lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, thinly sliced (about 1-1/2 cups/375 mL)
3 ribs celery, thinly sliced (about 1-1/2 cups/375 mL)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (1 to 2 mL) dried thyme
1 can (28 oz/796 mL) diced tomatoes
1 cup (250 mL) tomato sauce or 1 can (10 oz/284 mL) condensed tomato soup
4 cups (1 L) beef broth or bouillon
1/2 cup (125 mL) uncooked barley or broken spaghetti
Chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Cook beef, onion, garlic, carrots and celery in a large frying pan or soup pot over medium-high heat until meat is thoroughly cooked, stirring frequently; drain off any fat.
Stir in thyme, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes to 1-1/2 hours.
Stir in pasta; simmer until pasta is tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
Serve garnished with parsley, if desired.
Since putting up the last post, I’ve been craving fondue!
Here’s a favourite cheese fondue recipe which I demonstrated on the cooking stage at the Total Woman Show in Kitchener last February. (This year’s show takes place at Bingemans on February 9th and 10th.)
Cheese fondues are typically cooked on the stove top, then poured into a fondue pot for serving. Make sure you regulate the flame below the fondue pot so it doesn’t overheat the bottom of the pot – and burn the fondue! (You want the smokey flavour to come from the bacon in this recipe, not burnt cheese.) If you occasionally give the mixture a stir with your fondue fork as you dip you should be able to prevent it from badly sticking or burning on to the bottom of the pot. (Some consider the cheesey bit that inevitably sticks to the bottom of the fondue pot as a tasty treat.)
If you wish to leave out the bacon, go ahead, but it does add a crunchy texture and a smokey, salty flavour.
Although bread is always a winning dipper for cheese fondues (and there is likely a tempting selection of bread available at your local bakery!), for variety, reach for some of these great dipping options as well: chopped celery and apples; cooked mini potatoes, sausages, tortellini or perogies; and/or button mushrooms.
Cheese and Bacon Fondue
(Makes 4 servings)
1 cup (250 mL) sour cream
1/4 cup (60 mL) milk
250 g (8 ounces) Gruyere cheese, grated
125 g (4 ounces) old Cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon (.5 mL) ground nutmeg
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
Dippers: cubed bread; cherry tomatoes; chopped celery; cooked mini potatoes, tortellini, and mini sausages; and/or chopped apples
Heat sour cream and milk in a medium saucepan over low heat until smooth and warmed through, stirring frequently.
Meanwhile, combine Gruyere and Cheddar cheeses in a bowl until well mixed. Add cheese a handful at a time to sour cream mixture, whisking or stirring well after each addition, until all the cheese is melted.
Add Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard and nutmeg; mix well. Transfer mixture to a fondue pot. Sprinkle bacon over top. Serve with dippers.
* If fondue mixture is too thick, whisk in additional milk, a tablespoon (15 mL) at a time.
The following two appetizer recipes are courtesy of my friend, food consultant and food stylist Yvonne Tremblay. Either (or both!) would be a flavourful addition to your New Year’s Eve menu.
In the weeks before Christmas, Yvonne was busy doing TV interviews/cooking demonstrations as a media spokesperson for Mushrooms Canada. One of the recipes she was demonstrating was Bacon, Walnut and Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms. I was the lucky recipient of some of the leftover filling one day and promptly went home to stuff a few mushrooms.
Bacon, Walnut and Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms
(Makes 32 appetizers)
3 strips of cooked crisp bacon
1/2 container (250 g) spreadable herbed cream cheese
1/2 cup (125 mL) coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
32 fresh medium mushroom caps
Crumble bacon (about 2 tbsp /25 mL) into a small bowl; mix in cheese and walnuts until well blended. Stuff each mushroom with about 1-½ tsp (7 mL) of mixture. Place on baking sheet; sprinkle with paprika. Broil just until the tops are browned slightly and filling is warm, about 2 to 3 minutes.
* To toast walnuts, heat in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly until browned slightly, about 3 to 5 minutes. Cool.
Nutritional Information: Per Stuffed Mushroom: 29 Calories, 0.9 g Carbohydrate, 1 g Protein, 2.5 g Fat, 0.4 g Fibre
Recipe Source: mushrooms. ca
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