Chocolatey sweets make special treats

Chocolate Chip Cookies and Mars Bars Squares

Chocolate Chip Cookies and Mars Bars Rice Krispie Squares

A few weeks ago I attended the opening of my artist friend Carol Wiebe’s first art quilt show. (The show is on until the end of October at the Greenwood Quiltery in Guelph if you want to see some unique and visually stunning art pieces.)

Prior to the show, Carol had mentioned the gallery would be providing refreshments at the opening. I enjoy baking so I offered to bring a plate of ‘something’. The days leading up to the opening were particularly busy so my contribution ended up being something fast and easy, NOT an example of fine baking skills!

I had picked up a box of Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate cookie mix from Costco a few weeks earlier, curious to see how a cookie mix branded by a reputable chocolatier stacked up to homemade cookies. A batch of these cookies proved easy to whip up. (My assessment: the cookies tasted fine, but were thin and crisp/somewhat chewy – depending how long you baked them. My personal preference is a thicker, chewier chocolate chip cookie.)

I also brought Mars Bars Squares – a chocolatey version of Rice Krispie Squares. The recipe goes together very quickly and is always well received. An added bonus – it requires few ingredients – crisp rice cereal, margarine, chocolate chips and Mars bars (known as Snickers in the U.S.). I keep a well stocked pantry of baking supplies so I’m usually 3 for 4 on the ingredient list for these squares. I picked up a 4-pack of Mars bars on the way home from work one day, and was able to make these squares in minutes.

Here’s the recipe.

Mars Bars Squares
(Makes 36 squares)

The recipe calls for 50 g Mars bars, but Mars in Canada are 58 g bars. I made the squares without noticing the size difference (Has it changed recently? How unusual that the bar got bigger instead of smaller??) until I was just about to combine the melted bars and margarine mixture with the cereal so I tossed in another 1/2 cup (125 mL) cereal to balance out the ingredients. The squares turned out fine. You could do the same or reserve half of one of the bars for nibbling later – or while you’re baking!

I think the squares are chocolatey enough but for visual effect you could also drizzle white chocolate over top of the layer of melted chocolate chips.

4 (50 g/1-3/4 oz) Mars bars, sliced into 1/2-inch (1 cm) pieces
1/2 cup (125 mL) hard margarine
3 cups (750 mL) crisp rice cereal
1 cup (250 mL) semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup (60 mL) hard margarine

Heat Mars bars and 1/2 cup (125 mL) margarine in a large saucepan on low, stirring constantly, until melted and combined. (Mixture may look greasy initially but keep whisking until it blends together.) Remove from heat.

Add rice cereal. Stir to combine. Pack evenly into a greased or foil-lined 9 x 9-inch (23 x 23 cm) baking pan.

Heat chocolate chips and 1/4 cup (60 mL) margarine in a small saucepan, stirring often, until smooth. Spread over top.

Let bars cool. Cut into squares.

Recipe Source: Adapted from Chocolate everything by Jean Pare, Company’s Coming Publishing Limited, 2000

Mars bar - an energy bar

Mars bar - an energy bar, not a chocolate bar

Did you know…?

Mars bars are called “energy bars”, not chocolate bars as we typically refer to them and other similar snacks in Canada, or candy bars as I hear Americans call them.


Blueberry Freezer Jam: a labour-less project for Labour Day

It’s closing in on the last few hours of a long weekend. Today – the first Monday in September – is Labour Day. For most people the day is simply a holiday. A day off from work. No matter how much one enjoys their job, an extra long weekend is a good thing!

Here in Ontario, school starts tomorrow. So today is also one last chance to get ready for the “new year”, as anyone connected to the school system typically views the beginning of September.

Personally, I tried to do as little as possible this Labour Day, mostly because I’m lazy, but also because the next few months are my busiest time of year at work. Rest while you can, I figure. And so I did.

In between the resting, I did manage to whip up a small batch of blueberry freezer jam. Making freezer jam can not, in any conceivable way, be considered work. It’s way too easy. Check out the recipe below and you’ll see what I mean.

I used sweetener (SPLENDA) to make the jam because I had some in the cupboard and because I’d never made jam using a sweetener before. It worked just fine. After licking the spoon I used to stir the jam, I’d give two thumbs up for the jam’s flavour and consistency. (The real test will come tomorrow morning when I sample the jam on my breakfast bagel!)

If you’re looking for jam and jelly recipes, including freezer recipes and some using sweeteners, try the following web sites:
* Bernardin – look under Recipes, then under “Jams, Jellies & Other Fruit Spreads” or “Reduced Sugar or Salt Recipes”
* Kraft Foods

Blueberry Freezer Jam

Blueberry Freezer Jam
(Makes about 4-1/2 cups/1.125 L)

4 cups (1 L) crushed blueberries (about 4 pints/2 L)
2 teaspoons (10 mL) finely grated orange or lemon rind
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) SPLENDA (No Calorie Sweetener) or granulated sugar
1 pouch (45 g) freezer jam pectin

Wash and rinse five 1 cup (250 mL) mason jars and lids.

Pulse blueberries in a food processor (do not puree until smooth) or crush blueberries by hand. Measure 4 cups (1 L) crushed blueberries into a saucepan. Stir in grated orange or lemon rind.

Heat blueberries on stovetop, stirring frequently just until they come to a boil. (This step is not essential but heating the berries intensifies their colour and flavour and soften the skins so the jam spreads smoothly.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine pectin and SPLENDA or sugar until well blended. Add fruit mixture to pectin and sweetener or sugar mixture; stir for 3 minutes.

Ladle jam into jars, filling to about 1/2-inch (1 cm) from the top of the jars. Wipe rims of jars with a clean cloth, removing any spilled jam. Cover jars securely with lids. Let jars stand until jam has thickened, about 30 minutes.

Refrigerate up to 3 weeks or freeze up to 1 year.


Berry Banana Smoothies

When it’s too hot to cook, a thick, smooth, cold, creamy beverage can fill me up and chill me down – all at the same time!

I’ve always got the basic ingredients to make smoothies (frozen fruit and ice cream, yogurt or sherbet) in my freezer. Fresh fruit can also be used to make these creamy smooth beverages, but for a really frosty, thick drink, I prefer frozen fruit. You can freeze fruits like berries and peaches during the summer and fall when they’re in season so you have them on hand year round. Or, you can purchase bags of prepared frozen fruits.

Since I always seem to buy too many bananas and their yellow skins darken and flesh softens before we get around to eating the bunch, those that have ripened beyond my preference automatically go into the freezer. To make it easier and less messy to use them later in smoothies (or baking), and to keep them from turning brown, before they get added to the large resealable bag of frozen bananas in my freezer, I peel them and wrap each one individually in a small piece of plastic wrap.

Frozen yogurt, sherbet or ice cream will also help add thickness to a smoothie. If you don’t have any of these options on hand, but you have some yogurt in your fridge, place the required amount in a plastic container and put it in the freezer until it’s firm (about 4 hours), stirring occasionally.

You almost can’t go wrong blending ingredients to make a smoothie. And experimenting is half the fun!

Here’s the recipe for a smoothie I enjoyed last week while sitting on our deck – book in one hand, beverage in the other! (I used the last few blueberries from last season to make the smoothies.)

Berry Banana Smoothie
(Makes 2 servings)

2 cups (500 mL) milk
1 cup (250 mL) orange sherbet
1 cup (250 mL) fresh or frozen blueberries, raspberries or strawberries
1 frozen banana, cut into pieces

In a blender, combine milk, sherbet, berries and banana. Process until smooth. Pour into two tall glasses. Serve with a straw.

Variation: Instead of orange sherbet, try another fruit-flavoured sherbet or vanilla or fruit-flavoured frozen yogurt. Vanilla ice cream can be substituted too.)

Personal pan Pizza Frittata – fast and delish!

As a follow up to my April 28th post with the recipe for Pizza Frittata, here’s a picture of a quick-version single-serving Pizza Frittata.

Pizza Frittata for one!
Pizza Frittata for one!

I made this frittata in an 8-inch (20 cm) frying pan with 2 eggs and a couple shakes of seasoning blend. The recipe for the herbed seasoning blend is also in that post. Instead of making your own seasoning blend (which is as complicated as making a trip to a grocery store or bulk food store that sells dried herbs in bulk!), you can use Italian Seasoning to add a pizza-y flavour.

I topped the frittata with pepperoni and cheese, omitting the green pepper, onion and mushrooms called for in the original recipe. You can use whatever pizza toppings you like to personalize your Pizza Frittata.

The frittata will slide right out of the pan onto a plate. It’s best eaten with a fork as it will be hot. If you let it cool a little, then cut it into wedges, it could be served as an appetizer, sans cutlery!

This is such a simple and great-tasting recipe. No flash in the pan, but certainly ready in a flash!

When making presentations about eggs to high school Family Studies classes, I often ask a couple students to help me make a few 6 or 8-egg versions of Pizza Frittata so everyone can have a taste. The recipe always goes over well.

When less is more: limited ingredient cooking

You don’t need an endless list of ingredients to make a great recipe. That said, usually the list of ingredients in a recipe includes more than four or five things.

Not the recipes I’m sharing today! Both recipes have five ingredients or less.

When a recipe can be pared down to just a few components, and the end result tastes darn delicious, it’s usually a keeper – for a couple reasons. First, because of its simplicity, and second, because the ingredient list and preparation method can probably be remembered without having to refer to the recipe. What a bonus when you’re wandering through the grocery store after work, wondering what to make for supper!

My first (or perhaps most memorable) introduction to minimal ingredient cooking was years ago with a recipe for Apricot Glazed Chicken. This easily assembled dish was made by pouring a mixture of Russian dressing, apricot jam and onion soup mix over chicken pieces, then baking the chicken in the oven or a slow cooker. I made this recipe repeatedly, because it was easy and tasty, and the ingredients needed were etched on my brain.

I’ve shared the recipe for the slow cooker version of Apricot Glazed Chicken below, along with a another favourite minimal ingredient go-to recipe – Fusilli with Sautéed Eggplant and Feta Cheese.

Sometimes less is more, and keeping it simple makes delicious sense!

Apricot-Glazed Chicken
(Makes 8 to 12 servings)

I’ve made this recipe in a 5 qt (5 L) slow cooker, making 3 layers of 4 chicken breasts halves.

1 cup (250 mL) apricot jam
3/4 cup (175 mL) Russian (or French) dressing
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
12 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

In a medium bowl, stir together jam, dressing and soup mix until well blended.

In the bottom of a 3 1/2 qt (3.5 L) slow cooker, arrange 3 chicken breast halves. Spoon a quarter of the apricot mixture over top. Repeat with 3 more layers of chicken with apricot mixture between layers.

Cover and cook on High for 1 hour. Reduce to Low and cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until chicken is tender.

Serve sauce over chicken. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice.


Fusilli with Sautéed Eggplant and Feta Cheese
(Makes 4 to 6 servings)

1 lb (about 450 g) uncooked fusilli pasta
1/2 lb (250 g) feta cheese
1 medium eggplant
2 to 3 tablespoons (30 to 45 mL) olive oil
1 jar (700 to 750 mL) chunky pasta sauce

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook fusilli according to package directions.

While fusilli is cooking, cut or crumble feta into approximately 1/2-inch (1 cm) pieces; set aside. Dice eggplant into 3/4-inch (2 cm) pieces. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add eggplant and cook, stirring frequently, until eggplant softens and begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in pasta sauce and feta cheese; heat through.

Drain pasta. Toss gently with sauce and serve.

A St. Patrick’s Day menu – snake free!

Although I like to watch Survivor on TV, I could never participate in the game. There are many reasons, not the least of which is that there are always snakes slithering or swimming about in whatever location the show is filmed.

I’m not a fan of snakes. I figure the game of Survivor could probably use Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick. He is said to have rid Ireland of snakes and is commemorated annually on March 17, the date of his death in 460 A. D.

How he actually performed this feat is the stuff of legends. A popular explanation is that one day St. Patrick created a nice cozy box and invited the chief snake to climb in. The snake took a look at the box and deemed it too small. A heated discussion ensued. To prove he was right, the snake crawled into the box. Quick-thinking St. Paddy slammed the lid shut and threw the box into the sea!

To this day, Ireland is said to be snake-free (lucky Irish!), and some insist that the rough waters of the Irish Sea are caused by the boisterous attempts of the snake still trying to free himself from the box.

On March 17, whether you wish to celebrate a snake-free Ireland or the pleasure of swilling green beer, take the opportunity to indulge in some hearty Irish cuisine. Vegetables such as potatoes, onions, leeks, carrots and rutabagas figure prominently in Irish cooking, as do lamb stews, and braised meat and corned beef dishes. Accompany the main dish with potato bread or soda, and finish the meal with a sweet custard or apple cake, and an Irish coffee.

Irish Stew
(Makes 8 servings)

If lamb shanks are not available, thick shoulder chops can be substituted.

8 lamb shanks
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup (125 mL) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon each (5 mL) dried thyme and rosemary (or 1 tablespoon/15 mL) chopped fresh
2 bottles (341 mL each) stout-based beer
3 cups (750 mL) beef stock or broth
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3 tablespoons (45 mL) packed brown sugar
3 onions, cut in wedges
3 carrots, cut in 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
3 parsnips, peeled and cut in 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
Half a rutabaga, peeled and cut in 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks
1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped fresh parsley

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Making edible snowflakes

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!

Tortilla Snowflakes

Small flour tortillas
Melted butter
Cinnamon sugar (3 tablespoons (45 mL) sugar and 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cinnamon)
Icing sugar

Preheat broiler.

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

4-Ingredient Coleslaw an Easy Fix

This is an easy shredded cabbage salad you can make in less than 5 minutes. I took full advantage of its simplicity a few days before Christmas. Enroute to work one day, I suddenly remembered we were having a staff potluck lunch. What to do? I could stop at a grocery store and pick up a prepared salad, or the ingredients for a green salad or a coleslaw. I opted for the latter. After a hasty stop, I had the necessary ingredients for this creamy, crunchy, quick colelaw.

Buying a package of pre-shredded green and red cabbage and carrots took most of the work out of this salad. Of course, you can shred your own cabbage if you wish. Count on needing about 4 cups (1 L) or a medium head of cabbage.

I chose a green apple because it made for a festive-looking salad with the red cranberries. Of course, you can use whatever type of apple you wish, or have on hand. For flavour, I prefer a Honeycrisp, Crispin or Granny Smith apple.

The store I stopped at didn’t have plain dried cranberries, just orange-flavoured sweetened dried cranberries. The citrus flavour turned out to be a nice complement to the apples and poppyseed dressing.

The amount of each ingredient needed is really up to you and your taste preferences.

If you wish, toss in a handful of toasted walnuts.

Quick Coleslaw with Apple and Cranberries
(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

1 pkg (l lb/454 g) coleslaw mix
1 large apple, cored and diced
Prepared poppyseed dressing, to taste
Handful of dried cranberries

In a medium bowl, combine coleslaw mix, apple, poppyseed dressing and cranberries. Toss to blend ingredients. Adjust amount of dressing, if necessary.

Serve immediately, or better yet, refrigerate for an hour to blend flavours.