New York City is Cupcake Crazy!

The cupcake craze has been in full swing for a few years but I still did a double take when I saw a mobile cupcake shop on a New York City street recently.

I didn’t stop to check out the confections at the Cupcake Stop as I’d just come from a day of classes at the French Culinary Institute and couldn’t possibly have eaten another bite. And besides, it was cool, windy and raining, although that didn’t seem to deter others from choosing from an assortment of cupcake flavours. (View the full menu of cupcake flavours online).

The Cupcake Stop has been roaming the streets of the Big Apple since June of this year. You can find out where the truck will be by checking the CupcakeStop web site and Twitter.

If you’re a cupcake lover and plan to visit NYC, check out this list of where to get cupcakes in New York City from the Carroll County Times.

Or you can hop across the river into New Jersey and visit Carlo’s Bakery (of TLC’s Cake Boss fame) for cupcakes, as we did on a trip to NYC this summer.

Cupcakes from Carlo's Bakery in New Jersey

Hard-cook eggs and bake muffins at the same time with Egg in a Nest muffins

Eggs in a Nest Muffins - the eggs hard-cook as the muffins bake!

Egg in a Nest Muffins (image from Egg Farmers of Ontario, circa 1990)

This “recipe” for Egg in a Nest Muffins has been around for awhile. Perhaps you can tell by the dated look of the picture. I scanned it from a photograph found in the archives of the Egg Farmers of Ontario; it was probably taken about 20 years ago. But the idea is still a good one and a fun festive way to say “Happy Easter” at breakfast tomorrow.

With this easy multi-tasking recipe, you hard-cook eggs and bake muffins at the same time. If you want to make things super-easy, use a muffin mix instead of your favourite muffin recipe.

Fruit, yogurt and juice would complement these protein-packed muffins nicely and make for a simple but delicious breakfast that will allow plenty of time to hunt for treats left by the Easter Bunny.

Egg in a Nest Muffins

Ingredients for your favourite muffins
Medium or large eggs, in their shells (1 per muffin)

Prepare muffin batter. Rub eggs lightly with vegetable oil. Fill lightly greased or paper-lined muffin cups with batter. Gently place one uncooked egg, in its shell, partially into each “muffin”.

Bake in a preheated 400F (200C) oven for 18 to 20 minutes.

Let cool 15 to 20 minutes before serving as eggs will be hot.

To eat, remove the egg from the muffin, peel off the shell and enjoy with the muffin.

Tips:
* For a pretty Easter look, use paper liners with an Easter design and coloured eggs. A little of the color may bleed into the muffins, but it won’t affect the taste.
* Serve warm or cold but refrigerate if not eaten within a couple hours.

The Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe from Harrowsmith magazine

The Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies from my neighbours Jim and Karen, and Harrowsmith magazine (Feb. '09 issue)

The Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies from Harrowsmith magazine (Feb. '09 issue)

Last week our neighbour Jim brought over some chocolate chip cookies his wife Karen had baked. She had tried a recipe from the current issue of Harrowsmith magazine.

These cookies are chock full of yummy ingredients including oats, nuts, coconut, and three kinds of chocolate (milk, semisweet and white).

As for the “best ever” moniker, the cookies were very good (a little chewy, which is how I like them) and every bite had great flavour. But I wouldn’t give them a “hands down, can’t be topped, to die for” rating.

That shouldn’t stop you from trying this recipe. The cookies are really good, especially if served warm with a glass of milk!

The Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Makes 28 large cookies)

2 cups large-flake rolled oats
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 oz milk chocolate, grated (113 g)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans, lightly tosated

Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Lightly oil two baking sheets, or line with baking parchment.

Place oats in the bowl of a food processor and whirl until very fine.

In a large bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in coconut. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Beat in brown sugar, white sugar and corn syrup until well mixed and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture and grated chocolate. Add chocolate chips and pecans; stir until well combined.

Roll dough into 28 balls; place each on a baking sheet, then flatten to 1 inch thick, leaving lots of space between each cookie.

Bake until just golden brown around on the edges, 9 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on racks.

Recipe Source: Harrowsmith magazine, February 2009

Got a “knead” for bread?

https://i1.wp.com/www.thekneadforbread.com/wp-content/uploads/banana_choc_crunch_top.jpg

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: Whet your appetite with these tree ornaments

I collect food-themed Christmas ornaments like this mini tree with ceramic S’mores. (Edible S’mores are a combo of melted marshmallow and chocolate atop a graham wafer or sandwiched between two wafers.)

smores-tree

Twelve inches high, this Christmas tree is adorned with tiny S'mores. It sits on my desk at work.

close-up-of-smores

A close up of the ceramic S'mores (marshmallow snowmen atop a piece of chocolate and graham cracker).

My friends Yvonne and Pat are also food ornament collectors. Yvonne is a food consultant, food stylist, and author of two cookbooks (Prizewinning Preserves and Thyme in the Kitchen). Pat is a baker extraordinaire and a food consultant for Kraft Kitchens. They are both excellent cooks, and two of the most organized women I know!

Since the three of us work in food-related jobs  – and we love to cook and eat – for years we have enjoyed the tradition of giving each other food-themed ornaments at Christmas. Every year the hunt is on to find something special to exchange…..something we haven’t already given each other! We’ve been doing this for long enough to amassed quite a collection of food-related ornaments.

Next Friday night we’re getting together for our annual Christmas dinner and gift exchange. I’ll post images of the new food ornaments we exchange but in the meantime, here’s a small “taste” of what’s in my collection. (Photos are courtesy of Yvonne.)

xmas-ornament-from-pat-07-2

xmas-ornament-from-yvonne-07-02

xmas-apron-ornament

Christmas Countdown: Party’s in the kitchen, but what if you don’t want it there?

How often do you invite guests over and everyone ends up hanging out in the kitchen?

To be honest, it doesn’t happen too often at our house because our kitchen is soooo small. There’s just not much room for much partying if guests are wedged in between the fridge and the stove!

If your kitchen is a lovely large space, perhaps even open to the family room or great room, kitchen parties may be quite the norm when you’re entertaining, and you may be perfectly fine with this. But, occasionally you might secretly wish the guests would make themselves comfortable in other rooms of the house (logically, the living room or dining room!) – say, when you’re putting the finishing touches on dinner or if the kitchen is a mess from putting the finishing touches on dinner! Interior designer Loreen Epp has posted a few suggestions for getting the party out of the kitchen on her hot new blog – What’s New At Home (www.whatsnewathome.wordpress.com).

If you will be doing some entertaining this Christmas and would prefer that guests gather around the Christmas tree in the living room or the pool table in the family room, or in places beyond just the kitchen, check out Loreen’s suggestions.

Roasted Almonds

Roasted Almonds

One of them is to spread party nibbles throughout the house, or at least in the rooms you want the guests to be in! People tend to congregate where there is food, hence the natural inclination to gather in the kitchen.

Speaking of party nibbles, here’s a great one to serve at your next holiday soiree! Making it shouldn’t create too much mess in your kitchen – just in case you find a few guests still hanging out between the fridge and the stove!

Roasted Almonds

(Makes about 3-1/2 cups (875 mL)

3-1/2 cups (875 mL) blanched or unblanched almonds
1 tbsp (15 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp (10 mL) coarse sea salt
1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) smoked milk or hot paprika

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment (baking) paper or foil; set aside.

In a large bowl, toss almonds with oil, salt and paprika. Spread evenly on the prepared baking sheet.

Roast in a preheated 325 F (160 C) oven until fragrant and lightly toasted and unblanched almond skins have just begun to split, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

Tips:
* Sweet or hot paprika, ground cumin or curry powder can be substituted for the smoked paprika.
* Roasted Almonds can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

Recipe Source: Canadian Living magazine, December 2005

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.

Interesting!

Another winning Brownie recipe

Fudge-Iced Brownies

This Fudge-Iced Brownie recipe is courtesy of Heather Albrecht who works for the Kitchener Rangers hockey club. The recipe originated with Mary Moore, former food columnist for the Kitchener Record (now known as the Waterloo Region Record).

Heather says (and I’d concur) that this recipe is a winner – delicious and very easy to make. The brownies mix up in one bowl with no melting of chocolate required, and they taste very rich and fudgey. One bite and you’ll know why they’re called Fudge-Iced Brownies. Consider them a special treat!

Heather starts checking the brownies for doneness after about 20 minutes of baking because she doesn’t want them to dry out. She finds that the baking time varies with the outdoor temperature and humidity.

I baked these brownies in a Pyrex baking pan so I found the brownies took 40 minutes to bake to my liking. (Brownies will cook faster in a metal baking pan than in a glass pan.) They turned out very fudgey and moist.

Determining when brownies are done can be a challenge. Of course if they are overbaked, you run the risk of drying them out. But if really underbaked, they will be soft, sticky (almost gooey), and they won’t hold their shape well.

Often you can tell visually how close to done brownies are because the centre section of brownies in the pan may look wet and glossy. Start testing for doneness early as oven temperatures vary, and brownies can go from perfectly baked to overbaked in mere minutes. It’s best to underbake brownies rather than the opposite.

The easiest ways to test if brownies are done are the touch and toothpick tests. Gently touching the surface of the brownies with your fingertip will give you an indication of how set the brownies are. If the brownies feel set, insert a toothpick or cake tester into the centre. If the toothpick comes out wet, with batter clinging to it, the brownies are not ready. If the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it, the brownies are done. For optimal flavour and texture, let them cool completely before icing and indulging!

Fudge-Iced Brownies
(Makes a 9 x 13-inch/3 L baking pan)

Brownies:
2 cups (500 mL) brown sugar
1 cup (250 mL) butter, softened
1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 mL) chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 cup (125 mL) cocoa
4 eggs
2 teaspoons (10 mL) vanilla

Icing:
½ cup (125 mL) butter
5 tablespoons (75 mL) cocoa
1/8 teaspoon (.5 mL) salt
2 teaspoons (10 mL) vanilla
2 cups (500 mL) icing sugar
Hot water

To make Brownies: Combine brown sugar, butter, flour, walnuts (if using), cocoa, eggs and vanilla in a bowl. With electric mixer, beat at medium speed until smooth and creamy. Spread evenly into a buttered 9 x 13 (3 L) baking pan. Bake at 300F (150C) until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the brownies comes out with a few crumbs clinging to it, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

To make Icing: Melt butter in a saucepan; stir in cocoa, salt and vanilla. Heat mixture, stirring frequently, until boiling. Remove from heat and stir in icing sugar. (Mixture will be thick.) Add small amounts (1 to 2 teaspoons/5 to 10 mL) of hot water at a time and beat with a whisk until mixture is just thin enough to spread over brownies.

(For more brownie recipes, visit Brownie Lover’s Diary.)

Chew Over These Birthday Cards!

Yesterday was Murray’s birthday. Although no longer the handsome young man I met 28 years ago, like fine wine or cheese, he has aged well and is now the handsome somewhat older man I am proud to call my husband! With him around, life is certainly never dull!

A few days ago, a cool birthday card came in the mail for him from my sister-in-law, brother and niece.

cat-birthday-card.jpg
Inside the card: So on your birthday, Eat, Drink and BE MURRAY
(Created by DCI Studios)

The card elicited an extra smile from both of us since Murray is not a cat lover, although he does seem to have a special bond with Sam, the black Burmese-ish cat who lives next door and occasionally stays with us when his family is away.

Murray’s birthday was a low-key celebration, as our birthdays tend to be. Just him and me, out for supper as is our usual birthday tradition. He picked Charbries restaurant in Waterloo as his destination of choice. I reserved the table by the fish tank. Again, his choice.

“If our conversation becomes dull or we run out of things to talk about, we can always look at the fish,” he reasoned.

As it turned out, we were able to find something to talk about all the way from pre-dinner drinks through dessert! We also watched the marine life swimming in the wall tank beside us. It included tiny fish with flourescent blue stripes on their sides and a little shark that stayed motionless on the bottom of the tank nearly all through dinner. Our server told us she once saw the shark lying on his back with his mouth open and presumed the worst, but the next day he was swimming around again!

Dinner started with a four cheese soup for Murray and curried cauliflower soup for me. A Jonagold apple and cardamom sorbet cleansed our palates before the entrees were served – chicken in a wine sauce and roasted vegetables for him, and portabello-wrapped pork with chunky applesauce and roasted vegetables for me. We shared dessert – apple bread pudding with caramel sauce and whipped cream.

Yes, we managed to eat, drink and be “merry”…..in Murray’s honour!

Speaking of honour, I was also able to find an appropriate card for Murray.

chocolate-birthday-card.jpg
Inside the card: Actually, I honored you more than once.
(Created by Carlton Cards)