Evaporated and sweetened condensed milk

What’s the difference between evaporated and condensed milk?

Evaporated milk can also be called unsweetened condensed milk. It is made by removing 60% of the water from skim, low-fat or whole milk. The milk is then sterilized; this gives it a caramel colour and a slightly cooked taste. Evaporated milk can be mixed with an equal amount of water and substituted for milk in a recipe. Leftover evaporated milk should be covered, refrigerated and used within 3 days.

Sweetened condensed milk is thick, sweet, and sticky. It is made in the same way as evaporated milk but before being heated to remove about 60% of the water, whole milk is sweetened with sugar. Leftover sweetened condensed milk should be covered, refrigerated and used within 4 days.

These milks can not be used interchangeably.

What Cupid brought for Valentine’s Day

Flowers…..ah, carnations!

Flowers from my sweetie

Flowers from my sweetie

A bouquet of flowers sweetly arranged in a vase was waiting for me when I arrived home from work on Thursday night.

My sweetheart wasn’t going to be able to spend Valentine’s Day at home with me as duty called and he needed to hang out in a few hockey arenas for the day and evening, scouting for players for the rebuilding Kitchener Rangers.

Being the thoughtful guy he is, he picked up flowers (including carnations, my favourite flower – I just love the look and smell of them!) and a mushy card ahead of time.

What a good guy! I think I’ll hold on to him. He’s a sweetheart the other 364 days of the year too!

Cards that included a sweet reminder of the joy of cupcakes…..

Valentine's Day card

1 puppy + 1 cupcake = 1 sweet Valentine's Day card

A few valentines arrived in the mail including this cute card from my brother’s family (full credit to my sister-in-law who no doubt picked out the card!).

Inside the card (made by Carlton Cards) it reads – “It’s my Valentine smile – I’m supposed to have little frosting smudges around the edges. Hope your day is sweet!”

Aaaahhhh……a puppy and a cupcake! How cute!

Cupcakes are so popular these days. These mini desserts can be baked in many flavours and the decorating possibilities are endless. If you’re a cupcake fan, here are a few blogs you’ll want to visit:

Chocolate…..both sweet and salty

Murray and I don’t usually make too much fuss about Valentine’s Day. I did pick up some chocolate to share with him when he gets home tonight.

Lindt Fleur De Sel chocolate

Lindt Fleur De Sel chocolate

Lindt Milk Chocolate pieces

Lindt Milk Chocolate pieces

I saw a couple new (or at least new to me) chocolates at the grocery store this week. First I found a bar of Lindt Excellence Fleur de Sel – dark chocolate with a touch of hand-harvested fleur de sel, or sea salt. (Chocolate and a hint of salt go very well together.)

I also found Lindt Lindor milk chocolate in  a chocolate bar form, or so I thought.

Had I examined the picture on the box a little more closely, I may have clued in that the box contained chocolate pieces, not a solid bar.

Nonetheless, if you like Lindt’s Lindor chocolates (those foil wrapped round balls of chocolate with smooth and creamy centres), you’ll love this box of Lindor pieces.

I’ll confess I’ve sampled both chocolates already, and pronounced them good. Let’s hope there’s still some left by the time Murray gets home.

Lindt chocolates

Lindt chocolates - Fleur de Sel bar (left) and Lindor milk chocolate pieces (right).

Muffins pack a triple apricot flavour punch

Dried apricot, apricot nectar and apricot jam make these apricot muffins flavour-full!

These muffins are full of apricot flavour and a surprise centre!

It may not be the season for fresh apricots in wintry southern Ontario, but you can make muffins that are ripe with the sunny flavour of apricots by using dried apricots and apricot nectar in the muffin batter, and apricot jam as the sweet surprise centre!


Apricot Flavour-Full Muffins

(Makes 12)

1 cup (250 mL) boiling water
3/4 cup (175 mL) finely chopped dried apricots
2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped walnuts or pecans
1 tablespoon (15 mL) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) baking soda
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter or hard margarine, softened
2/3 cup (150 mL) sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup (125 mL) apricot nectar
1/4 cup (60 mL) milk
1 teaspoon (5 mL) lemon juice
1/2 cup (125 mL) apricot jam

Spray 12 muffin cups with cooking spray or lightly grease with cooking oil.

Pour boiling water over apricots in small heatproof bowl. Let stand 10 minutes until softened.

Meanwhile, measure flour, nuts, baking powder, salt and baking soda into a large bowl; stir. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients.

With electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in a medium bowl until well blended. Add egg; beat well. Add apricot nectar, milk and lemon juice; stir to combine. Pour mixture into well in dry ingredients.

Drain apricots; add to well. Stir just until all ingredients are moistened.

Fill muffin cups half full with batter. Make a small dent in the batter in each cup with the back of a spoon. Spoon 2 teaspoons (10 mL) jam into each dent. Spoon remaining batter over top.

Bake in a preheated 375F (190C) oven until muffins are firm to the touch, about 18 to 20 minutes. Let stand in pan for 5 minutes before removing muffins to cool on a wire rack.

* Use peach or raspberry jam, or marmalade instead of apricot jam.

Recipe Source: Mostly Muffins by Jean Pare, Company’s Coming Publishing Limited, 2006

Got a “knead” for bread?


Chocolate Banana Crunch Bread - photo from http://www.thekneadforbread.com

I enjoy The Knead for Bread blog for its great bread recipes and scrumptious-looking photography.

A couple recipes on the site caught my attention when I visited the blog today. Yes, both recipes contain chocolate. I’ve been rather focused on chocolate in my last few posts. I’ll try to diversify my taste preferences very soon!

* Chocolate Banana Crunch Bread – There’s no doubt that chocolate and banana pair well. Adding toffee bits makes this bread a sure winner!

* Triple Chocolate Scones – If one kind of chocolate is good, three kinds will be very, very, very good!

Hmmmm….I think I know what my weekend baking projects will be!

Chocolate Almond Toffee Bars. Good!

Chocolate Almond Toffee Bars

Chocolate Almond Toffee Bars

Here’s the recipe for Chocolate Almond Toffee Bars which I mentioned in my last post. It’s from Anna Olson, Food Network TV chef and cookbook author.

No doubt Anna’s original recipe is great, and I’ll have to try the recipe as written some time. When I wanted to make it recently, I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand and didn’t have time to go to the store to get what I was missing. Thankfully, my modifications worked out just fine.

Here are my substitutions:

  • quick oats instead of rolled oats
  • salted butter instead of salt and unsalted butter
  • 4 well-crushed Skor bars instead of Skor toffee bits
  • chopped walnuts instead of almonds
  • aluminum foil instead of parchment paper

These CAT Bars are good. No, very good! And, they make a great gift. If you’re giving them away, don’t forget to keep back a few pieces to enjoy yourself!

Chocolate Almond Toffee Bars
(Makes 25 to 36 squares – depending how big you cut them!)

1-1/2 cups (375 mL) rolled oats
1/2 cup (125 mL) graham cracker crumbs
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) salt
1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup (250 mL) Skor toffee bits
1 cup (250 mL) chocolate chips
1 cup (250 mL) sliced almonds
1 can (300 mL) sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Grease and line an 8-inch (2 L) square pan with parchment paper so the paper hangs over the sides of the pan.

Stir oats, graham cracker crumbs and salt in a bowl to combine, then stir in melted butter. Press crumbly oat mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle Skor bits evenly on top, followed by chocolate chips and sliced almonds. Pour condensed milk evenly over top (it will sink as it bakes).

Bake until top is golden brown and the edges are bubbling, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Cool to room temperature in the pan, then chill for at least 4 hours before slicing into squares.

Christmas Countdown: Pumpkin Pound Cake and a tale of three – no, four sauces

Pumpkin Pound Cake with Dulce de Leche Sauce

Pumpkin Pound Cake with Dulce de Leche Sauce

Whether you like to bake or not, at Christmas there are lots of reasons to do so. Sometimes it’s because you’ve been asked – or you’ve volunteered – to bring dessert to a party. Last Friday I did just that – offer to bring dessert for a dinner with friends.

I’ve been making pound cakes lately, and thought that would make a nice dessert.

I had tried a recipe for an eggnog pound cake made with a cake mix. The end result was okay, but the recipe really wasn’t special enough to share.

Then I made a pumpkin pound cake from Company’s Coming new cookbook, Tonight! (Magical Meals on Short Notice). This pound cake was definitely better, but the accompanying sauce was nothing to write home about, or write about at all. Well, I’ll write a little about it.

Strike one…..

The first time I made the sauce, the consistency was great, but I burnt it. In the recipe (see below), the brown sugar and butter are to boil gently together until thickened (about 5 minutes). The key words in this concept are gently and about. Obviously neither word registered with me the first time around. I should have kept a closer watch on the sauce as it thickened – then blackened! – before I checked in on it. Sadly, I was too busy trying to multi-task: clean up the kitchen, pay some bills, feed the dog….while a sauce was boiling out of control, then burning on my stovetop!

Strike two…..

I made the sauce again, but this time the butter and brown sugar never quite melded together. I probably over compensated for the first disaster and didn’t boil the mixture long enough. I added the brandy anyway, hoping for a miracle. (What was I thinking??) When I tasted the concoction, I decided 2 tablespoons (30 mL) was either way too much brandy or, maybe I really didn’t care for brandy all that much! The sauce had a strong, harsh and unpleasant taste.

With the second attempt nearly as disastrous as the first, I looked around for another recipe. Lesser, perhaps more intelligent(?!) cooks would have given up and just drizzled a commercial caramel or even chocolate sauce over the cake, but not being one to give up easily I forged on, scouring some of my cookbooks for another recipe.

Strike three…..

I found one that called for cornstarch as a thickener. This should give me the right consistency, I reasoned, and then I’d just add less brandy than called for to minimize and mellow the brandy flavour. Of course, smarter cooks would have opted to try flavouring the sauce with some thing they liked, like rum or amaretto. But I seemed determined to make myself like the taste of brandy.

And so a third round of sauce-making began. Sadly, it too was unsuccessful. The sauce, although nicely thickened, was thin in flavour and very pale, almost sickly looking. Surveying the mounds of pots and wasted ingredients, I felt like a sauce-moron.

Home run??

Since I was bringing the cake to a friend’s place for supper, I needed a solution – immediately! A raid of the fridge produced a jar of dulce de leche (a caramel creme spread – pronounced dool-say de lech-ay). I spooned some of it into a small bowl and warmed it briefly in the microwave – just enough to thin it slightly and make it easy to stir. Into the sauce I stirred a little half and half. (Milk would have worked as would whipping cream -35%M.F.) In mere seconds, I had a smooth, creamy, not too sweet sauce. I sliced off a piece of cake and spooned a little sauce over top for a test run. Mmmm. Home run! At last!

There was enough cake to enjoy for supper at my friend’s home that night, and to serve to guests at home the next day. A set of small gravy boats doubled beautifully as mini pitchers for the sauce so each person could serve themselves as much or as little sauce as they wanted.

Dulce de leche is basically cooked sweetend milk. You can make it yourself or buy it commercially. The brand I used was President’s Choice. You can use it as a spread for toast or as a topping for cakes, waffles, crepes, etc. Here are some additional recipes using it.

Pumpkin Pecan Pound Cake with Brandy Sauce
(Makes 12 slices)

When making the sauce, the brown sugar and butter should boil gently for 3 to 5 minutes without stirring, but keep watch over it. Instead of the Brandy Sauce, serve with warmed butterscotch or caramel sauce or maple syrup, or warmed dulce le leche spread thinned with a little milk or cream. A spoonful of sweetened whipped cream (add a little ground cinnamon if desired) or vanilla or butterscotch ice cream would also be a nice accompaniment.

1 cup (250 mL) butter or hard margarine
2 cups (500 mL) sugar
4 large eggs
1 can (14 oz/398 mL) pure pumpkin
2 teaspoons (10 mL) vanilla extract
3 cups (750 mL) all-purpose flour
2 teaspooons (10 mL) baking powder
1 teaspoon (5 mL) baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) salt
1 cup (250 mL) chopped pecans, toasted

Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add pumpkin and vanilla in two additions, beating well after each addition. (Mixture may look a little curdled.)

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Slowly add to pumpkin mixture, beating on low until combined. Fold in pecans.

Spread evenly in a greased and floured 12 cup (3 L) bundt pan.

Bake in a preheated 350F (175C) oven until wooden pick or cake tester inserted in centre of cake comes out clean, about 60 minutes. Let stand in pan for 10 minutes. Invert onto wire rack to cool slightly.

Brandy Sauce: Combine 1/2 cup (125 mL) packed brown sugar with 1/3 cup (75 mL) butter in a small saucepan. Heat and stir over medium heat until boiling. Boil gently, uncovered and without stirring, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup (125 mL) half and half  and 2 tablespoons (30 mL) brandy. Drizzle over individual slices of cake.

Recipe Source: Company’s Coming Tonight! (Magical Meals on Short Notice), Company’s Coming Publishing Limited, 2008

Hallowe’en Fun with Food

Happy Hallowe'en!

Happy Hallowe'en

Hallowe’en is the perfect holiday to go over the top with decorations and party food. It’s probably the only time of year when poor taste and “grossness” are preferred, or at least tolerated.

If you’re planning a Hallowe’en menu, you can go all out and spend lots of time, money and energy on creating a “terrorific” atmosphere at the dinner table. Or you can unleash your imagination and stir up little home-brewed ambiance by simply renaming favorite foods.

Need some inspiration?

Why not serve worms and eyeballs and dried bones (spaghetti and meatballs and biscuits) for supper? Or how about witch’s fingers and slime sauce (chicken strips and ranch dressing or plum sauce dyed green) or barbequed bat wings (chicken wings) or witches’ brew and dracula diggers (chili and tortilla chips)?

Wild and whacky side dishes might include grass and weeds with sliced toadstools and witch’s teeth (salad greens with mushrooms and sunflower seeds), maggots (rice), rotting teeth (corn) or lizard tongues (sautéed red pepper strips or carrot sticks).

Pond scum (jello with gummi worms) or bones (meringue cookies) make delicious desserts, and swamp water (frozen lemonade concentrate, lemon-lime pop and lime sherbet) will wash the meal down.

Sounds tasty, doesn’t it?

Here are a couple recipes for dried bones. Bon Appetit!

Breadstick Bones
(Makes 6 breadsticks)

1 can refrigerated breadsticks
Melted butter or margarine
Italian seasoning, Tex Mex seasoning or grated Parmesan cheese

Open can and unroll dough; separate into 6 strips. Carefully stretch each strip until about 12 inches (30 cm) long. Loosely tie a knot in both ends of each breadstick. Place breadsticks on an ungreased baking sheet.

Brush melted butter over breadsticks. Sprinkle seasoning or cheese over top.

Bake in a preheated 375F (190C) oven until golden brown, about 13 to 15 minutes. Serve warm.


Meringue Bones
(Makes about 2 dozen cookies)

5 egg whites
1/4 tsp (1 mL) cream of tartar
1-1/4 cups (300 mL) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla, orange or lemon extract

Line 1 or 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Prepare a piping bag with a round tip (about 3/8 inch/1 cm diameter).

With an electric mixer, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, a couple tablespoons (about 30 mL) at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat until stiff peaks form and meringue is shiny and smooth. Add extract and beat just until combined.

Fill piping bag with meringue. Pipe a log about 3 inches (8 cm) long. Pipe two balls on both sides of the ends of the log. Repeat with remaining meringue. You can smooth any peaks that occur with a wet finger.

Bake in a preheated 220F (105C) oven for 30 minutes. Turn off heat. Leave cookies in oven for 8 hours or overnight. Store in an airtight container.

* Let egg whites stand at room temperature for 20 minutes after separating; they will beat to a greater volume if they aren’t cold.

* Stirring a drop or two of yellow food colouring into the meringue mixture before baking will give the bones an aged look.

* If you don’t have a piping bag, use a sturdy ziplock bag. Cut off the tip once you have filled the bag with meringue mixture.

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.


Pumpkin pie…with a dollop and a drizzle!

Pumpkin pie with whipped cream and maple syrup

Pumpkin pie with whipped cream and maple syrup

Sure, Thanksgiving is over, but I’m still thinking pumpkin.

Pumpkin pie, actually.

Pumpkin pie ranks as one of my favourite kinds of pie. I like to dress it up with a dollop of whipped cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Maple syrup adds an extra touch of sweetness and flavour and makes for a pretty plate presentation. (Whatever you do, please don’t substitute table syrup or pancake syrup. It’s just not the same!)

In the pumpkin fields of dreams

Enroute to London from Kitchener a few weeks ago, I drove the back roads to escape the crush of traffic on the busy Hwy 401, and also (and most truthfully!), to enjoy the fall beauty of Ontario’s rural landscape.

My journey took me past a couple fields of pumpkins. A pumpkin patch is one of my favourite autumnal scenes. All those orange globes of varying shapes and sizes dotting the landscape seem like a vast field of creative dreams and artistic possibilities.

The pumpkins in the fields I saw that day were most probably destined to become Hallowe’en decorations, hollowed out and carved into smiling or scary faces.

Pumpkins best suited for cooking are small to medium pie pumpkins. They should feel heavy for their size and not be bruised or cracked.

Pumpkin can be cooked in a variety of ways.

* To bake, cut pumpkin into large chunks. Remove the seeds and fibre. Place the pieces in a baking dish with a little water, cover and bake at 325°F (160°C) until tender, about 50 minutes. Scoop the pulp from the rind; mash or purée.

* To boil or steam, cut pumpkin into large pieces. Remove the seeds and fibre. Cut pumpkin into cubes. Boil in lightly salted water or steam until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove cubes from the water and let cool slightly. Scoop pulp from rind.

* To microwave, cut pumpkin in half. Remove the seeds and fibre; peel. Cut the flesh into 1-1/2 inch (4 cm) chunks. Place in an 8-cup (2 L) casserole. Cover and microwave on High (100 % power) until tender, about 15 to 18 minutes, stirring several times during cooking.

Once cooked, puree the pumpkin pulp in a food processor, blender or food mill or mash it in a potato masher until smooth. Let the pulp drain in a strainer for 15 minutes; discard the liquid or reserve it to use in soups and stews. Season the pulp to taste with salt and pepper or pack it in airtight containers and either refrigerate for up to three days or freeze for up to six months.

One cup of cooked pumpkin (250 mL) will yield about the same amount of mashed pumpkin.

Cooked pumpkin can be used to make pies, muffins, breads, cakes, cookies, soups and stews or served as a side dish. Of course if you want convenience, canned pumpkin is readily available on grocery store shelves. Just remember to look for pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling.

Don’t forget about the seeds! An average-sized pumpkin will contain about one cup (250 mL) of seeds. The seeds are edible and contain protein and iron. To prepare them for roasting, first wash them, removing any clinging fibres. Then spread them on a clean baking sheet. Let them dry overnight at room temperature. Toss with 1-1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) vegetable oil. Bake at 250°F (120°C), stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown and crunchy, about 1-1/2 hours.

If you haven’t had your fill of pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving celebrations this past weekend, here’s an easy pumpkin pie recipe worth trying!

Butter Pecan Pumpkin Pie
(Makes one 9-inch/23 cm pie)

1 9-inch (23 cm) graham wafer pie crust (purchased or recipe of your choice)
2 cups (500 mL) slightly softened butter pecan ice cream
1/2 cup (125 mL) brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) ground ginger
1 cup (250 mL) canned or cooked pumpkin
1 cup (250 mL) whipping cream

In pie crust, carefully spread ice cream.

In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Stir in pumpkin until blended.

With an electric mixer, whip cream until stiff; fold into pumpkin mixture. Spread over ice cream.

Cover and freeze pie until firm, at least a couple hours.