Sleep issues: Are you getting enough? Should you eat before going to going to sleep?

The latest issue of Roomplanners e-zine is all about sleep. It’s got tips on how to fall asleep faster, create a comfortable bedroom, fight bed bugs, and much more!

This free online magazine also includes an article I wrote on when and what you should eat before sleeping. And there’s a recipe for the Nutri Cookies pictured here.

Nutri Cookies

Check out this issue and subscribe (it’s FREE!) to receive future issues of this fabulous design magazine by visiting Sure, I’m a little biased because Roomplanners is written by my sister, but check it out for yourself and let me know what you think!

Bad Late Night Habits

I’ve developed a bad habit. Well, it’s kind of a good bad habit. Or should that be a bad good habit?

Most week days my husband, a hockey scout for the Kitchener Rangers, doesn’t get home until 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. Often he leaves for the evening before I got home from work, or we have a lightening speed supper together before he dashes off to a hockey arena somewhere to assess the on-ice talent.

Late night tea with Pain Au Chocolat.....and milk bones

But when he walks in the door later that evening, a little ritual ensues. I put the kettle on, ask him what kind of tea he wants, and the two of us sit down with our cups of tea and maybe a cookie or a piece of chocolate, and we talk over the day’s events or anything else on our minds. (Sorry, make that the three of us. Cocoa, our poodle, snuggles in beside us – after he’s enjoyed his own snack!)

While it’s a good thing to take a few minutes each day to spend together, by 11 p.m., the lights in the rest of the houses on our street have long since been turned off and most people have been in their beds and sound asleep for awhile.

Driving home the other day I heard a ‘sleep specialist’ talk about the importance of sleep. You don’t expect to get through the day on only half the food your body needs, she said. So why do people think they can exist on half the amount of sleep their bodies need. Good point, I thought guiltily.

And never mind all the sleep I’m missing out on! How about the effect of snacking at that late hour? Sure, sometimes there’s no snack, or maybe just a digestive cookie, but often it’s something a little more, uh, how to put this…..calorie-laden?

Recently I brought home a box of Caramilk Snack Cakes. Not something I typically buy, but I like Caramilk chocolate bars and I was curious to try these little cakes with my evening tea.

The verdict? Well, I liked the oozing caramel centre but I wasn’t really crazy about the flavour of the chocolate sponge cakes or chocolate coating.

Then there are the chewy chocolate cookies Murray likes – Little Debbie Caramel Rings (cookie rings made with caramel and coconut) and Caramel Treats (cookies made with caramel and crisp rice). I like them too. Probably a little too much.

And how about my own baking? Tonight I made a super easy version of Pain Au Chocolat. (I’ll share the recipe in the next weeks. I’m teaching a Chocolate Class at Thyme to Cook in Guelph on March 24th and I don’t want to post the recipe until after the class.)

Murray should be home soon and then we’ll try them with a cup of tea. Or maybe we’ll just share one. And, just maybe, tonight we’ll drink our tea quickly, keep the conversation brief, and get to bed a little earlier than normal.

One can dream.

One can dream even more comfortably if one is in bed……

Cranberry Cereal Crisps

Cranberry Cereal Crisps

If you didn’t OD on baking or eating sweets over the holidays, or you just like to keep your cookie jar full, here’s a great cookie recipe that can be made easily and is really tasty. And, it’s a good way to use up the last couple servings of crisp rice cereal (i.e. Rice Krispies) languishing in the bottom of the box.

The texture of these cookies is also really pleasing: melt-in-your-mouth tender, yet crisp – all at the same time!

This recipe makes a big batch (about 5 dozen), so to be fair to your waist, hips, thighs, and all those other body parts where excess weight tends to migrate, enjoy a few, then freeze the rest to eat over the next while!

Cranberry Cereal Crisps
(Makes about 60 cookies)

1 cup (250 mL) butter, softened
1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
1 cup (250 mL) brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup (250 mL) vegetable oil
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
3-1/2 cups (875 mL) all-purpose flour
1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1 cup (250 mL) large flake oats
2 cups (500 mL) crisp rice cereal
1 cup (250 mL) dried cranberries (or chopped dried apricots)

Beat butter, sugars and egg on medium speed of electric mixer until light and creamy. Stir in oil and vanilla.

Stir together flour, baking soda and salt. Add to creamed mixture along with oats, mixing on low speed until well blended. Stir in cereal and cranberries or apricots.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls (about 20 mL), about 2 inches (5 cm) apart, onto an ungreased cookie sheet.

I like to use this handy cookie batter scoop. (It's the clear acrylic utensil with blue-bottomed scoop.) It allows you to easily measure out a specific quantity of batter.

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Simple savoury truffles make easy appetizers

Here are a couple easy cheesy savoury truffle appetizer recipes I demonstrated at the Thyme to Cook kitchen store in Guelph a few weeks ago. Serve these at a party and it’s rather like each guest has their own mini cheese balls!

Ham and Cream Cheese Truffles

(Makes about 2 dozen 1-inch/2.5 cm truffles)

1 (250 g) pkg cream cheese, softened
1 cup (250 mL) shredded Cheddar cheese
½ of a 156 g can of Flakes of Ham or 1/3 cup (75 mL) finely chopped ham
1/4 tsp (1 mL) garlic powder
2 green onions, sliced
Finely chopped walnuts or pecans (about 1 cup/250 mL) for coating truffles, if desired

In a medium bowl, stir together cream cheese, Cheddar cheese, ham, garlic powder, and green onions until well blended. Cover and refrigerate mixture for several hours until chilled.

Using mini ice cream scoop, melon baller or teaspoon, shape mixture into 24 (1-inch/2.5 cm) balls. Roll balls in nuts until coated. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

* Cheese truffles can be made any size you wish. You can shape them with your hands if desired but they don’t have to be perfectly round.
* Roll truffles in chopped fresh parsley, shredded cheese, or toasted sesame seeds or fine bread crumbs.
* Poke pretzel sticks into cheese truffles for easy serving.
* Serve with crackers.
* Mixture can be shaped into one large cheese ball, if desired.

Sun-dried Tomato Cream Cheese Truffles

(Makes about 2 dozen 1-inch/2.5 cm truffles)

1 (250 g) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (125 mL) grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup (50 mL)  minced sun-dried tomatoes in oil (well drained)
1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 30 mL) chopped fresh basil
Chopped fresh herbs or grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup/250 mL) for coating truffles, if desired

In a medium bowl, stir together cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and basil until well blended. Cover and refrigerate mixture for several hours until chilled.

Using mini ice cream scoop, melon baller or teaspoon, shape mixture into 24 (1-inch/2.5 cm) balls. Roll the balls in herbs or cheese until coated. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

* Cheese truffles can be made any size you wish. You can shape them with your hands if desired but they don’t have to be perfectly round.
* Use an herb paste instead of fresh basil, if desired.
* Poke pretzel sticks into cheese truffles for easy serving.
* Serve with crackers.
* Mixture can be shaped into one large cheese ball, if desired.

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

Guilty Food Pleasures

Got a guilty food pleasure? Something you like to eat, but are hesitant to admit it for whatever reason.

I have a few GFPs, but the one I’m willing to confess today is my secret love of Cherry Blossoms (a Hershey product).

Cherry Blossom

I say ‘secret’ because anyone who knows me knows I appreciate good quality chocolate.

A Cherry Blossom is chocolate candy. It’s really not supposed to be something a true chocoholic indulges in (or in this case, admits to indulging in!).

But there’s something about the texture and taste of this chocolate, coconut and chopped peanut shell with its maraschino cherry and oozing cherry syrup centre that just works for me. The little yellow box with its foil-wrapped contents rather resembles a little gift. Maybe that’s part of its allure!

Here – see what I mean……

It’s not that I eat a ton of these chunky, flat-bottomed chocolate mounds.

Once in a while I pick one up when I see them at the grocery store checkout. I tend to eat this treat quickly, partly because otherwise its oozing centre makes for sticky fingers, and tell-tale stains on one’s clothing. And, probably also to hide the evidence that my love of chocolate isn’t exclusively for higher-end brands.

By the way, Cherry Blossoms are a Canadian candy. If you don’t live in Canada, you can order this treat and other foods from Canadian Favourites, an online company that sells specialty Canuck foods.

So there. I’ve confessed a guilty food pleasure. What’s yours?

Easiest appetizers ever!

We hosted a couple parties this weekend and served finger food including these two easy, make-in-a-shake apps.

But there’s a qualifier for both recipes. You have to like strong flavours – blue cheese and beer (although they don’t come together in the same recipe!). If you do, entertaining doesn’t get much easier than these two appetizer recipes!

Blue cheese, grapes and mozzarella cheese on baguette slices. Bold flavour from just a few ingredients.

Blue cheese, grapes and mozzarella cheese on baguette slices. Bold flavour from just a few ingredients.

Blue Cheese Toasts

(Makes 20 to 30 depending on length of baguette)

1 loaf baguette bread, cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) slices
Olive oil
About 3/4 cup (175 mL) crumbled blue cheese
Red or green seedless grapes, cut in half (3 halves per slice of bread)
About 1-1/2 cups (375 mL) mozzarella cheese

Arrange baguette slices in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet. Lightly brush tops with oil. Broil on centre rack in oven for 2 to 4 minutes until golden, watching carefully so as not to burn. Remove from oven and turn slices over.

Sprinkle blue cheese on each toast. Arrange 3 grape halves per slice over blue cheese. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over grapes.

Broil for 1 to 2 minutes until cheese is melted. Transfer to a serving plate. Serve.

Recipe Source: Adapted from Company’s Coming – Tonight! by Jean Pare, Company’s Coming Publishing, 2008

Tip: The baguette slices can be toasted ahead of time.

Like beer? You'll appreciate this spread for crackers or toasted pita chips.

Like beer? You'll appreciate this spread for crackers or toasted pita chips.

Beer Cheese Spread

(Makes 12 servings)

2 cups (500 mL) finely shredded Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup (60 mL) beer
3 tablespoons (45 mL) tomato paste
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) garlic powder

Let Cheddar cheese stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine cheese, beer, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic powder. Stir well until combined. Cover and chill for 2 to 24 hours.

Serve with crackers, tortilla chips and/or toasted pita chips.

Recipe Source: Better Homes and Gardens Potluck Favorites magazine, Meredith Corporation, 2004

Mini scones make a perfect little dessert or tea time treat

Watch out! These bite-sized scones are more than a little addictive. And since they’re small, it’s easy to pop one, then another,  and another in your mouth without keeping count!

Scones with jam and whipped cream

Scones with jam and whipped cream

That said, they pair perfectly with tea and are great for a party when you want to serve something a little different as a sweet. Just set out a bowl of jam or fruit spread and a bowl of clotted cream, stiffly whipped sweetened heavy cream (35% M.F.) or Cool Whip, along with a couple of knives and watch the mini mountain of sweet little biscuits disappear.

Cream Tea Scones
(Makes about 20 1-3/4 inch (4 cm) scones)

2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour or 1 cup (250 mL) each all-purpose and cake & pastry flours
2 tablespoons (30 mL) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (15 mL) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, softened
1 egg
2/3 cup (175 mL) milk or light cream

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

In a small bowl, whisk egg; reserve 1 tablespoon (15 mL) to brush on tops of scones before baking. Stir together remaining egg and milk.

Using fork, stir egg mixture into flour mixture to make a light, soft dough. If dough seems too sticky, stir in a bit more flour. (I find I usually need a tablespoon or two (15 to 30 mL) less milk than called for so I hold back a little and only add it if necessary.)

Gather dough into a ball; on a lightly floured surface, lightly knead dough a few times until smooth. Gently flatten with hands or a rolling pin to 3/4″ (2 cm) thickness. Cut into 1-3/4 inch (4 cm) rounds with a cookie cutter. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Brush tops with reserved egg. Sprinkle sugar over tops, if desired.

Bake in a preheated 425F (220C) oven until golden brown, about 9 or 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature if scones begin to brown too quickly.

Recipe Source: Prizewinning Preserves by Yvonne Tremblay, Prentice Hall Canada, 2001. Recipe originates with food writer and author Carol Ferguson.)

* Pronounce it “skawn” (like yawn) or “skown” (like groan), as you wish!
* Don’t twist the cookie cutter when cutting out the scones or the edges will be pressed together and the scones won’t rise as high.
* Instead of mini scones, you can use a 2-1/2 inch (7 cm) round cutter or a glass to make approximately 10 larger scones.

The story behind Dairy Queen’s Blizzard

Just got home from a visit to the Dairy Queen where I indulged in a Turtle Pecan Cluster Blizzard. Mmmmm good!

(Don’t know what a Blizzard is? Check out this video to see how the ice cream treat is made and served.)

I learned something new while I was dipping into my smooth, creamy and thick-enough-to-be-turned-upside-down-without-losing-a-drop treat. (I was reading the Blizzard cup between bites.)

Dairy Queen first trademarked the name Blizzard in 1952, but the Blizzard treat as we know it today wasn’t released until 1985! That’s 33 years later! What took so long?

To find out what was going on with the Blizzard for over three decades, check out the history of the Blizzard on Dairy Queen’s website.

If you a real Blizzard lover, you can join the Blizzard Fan Club for coupons, trivia, and more.

And when you’re enjoying your next Blizzard, don’t forget to practice proper Blizzard eating etiquette.

Enjoy a chili cheese dog in honour of Corner Gas series finale

Chili Cheese Dog

Chili Cheese Dog

A chili cheese dog would have been the appropriate thing to munch on tonight while watching the series finale of Corner Gas and the conclusion of the show’s successful six year run. Instead I sipped on Darjeeling tea and the last slice of lemon meringue pie left over from Easter dinner.

Much of the zany activities of the quirky characters on this beloved Canadian sit com took place at Corner Gas (the gas station in the small fictional town of Dog River in the not so fictional province of Saskatchewan) or at The Ruby Cafe next door. Brent, one of the main characters in the show, ate a whack of chili cheese dogs at The Ruby over the six years. (The Ruby was the kind of place that would also have served lemon meringue pie!)

A chili cheese dog is simply a hot dog doused in chili (from a can or made from your favourite chili recipe) and topped with grated cheese.

We’re not talking gourmet dining here. Just plain good food. Or so Brent would tell you.

If you’ve never had one, it’s pretty simple to make. And, Brent would likely also tell you, a chili cheese dog is no doubt well worth whatever effort you put in to make the chili – whether from scratch or a can.

If you want to make your own chili, you have some options….
* use tomato sauce, canned pureed tomatoes, canned condensed tomato soup or chili sauce instead of ketchup
* omit garlic and/or onions
* add canned or cooked kidney beans
* add cumin or sauteed green peppers

Chili Cheese Dogs

(Makes 4 servings)

2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound (450 g) lean ground beef
1 cup (250 mL) ketchup
1 teaspoon (5 mL) chili powder
2 tablespoons (30 mL) yellow mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 all-beef wieners
8 hot dog buns
1 cup (250 mL) grated Cheddar cheese

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add garlic. Continue cooking until onion is soft and translucent, another 2 or 3 minutes.

Add ground beef, breaking it up with the back of a spoon; cook, stirring frequently, until browned, about 10 minutes.

Stir in ketchup, chili powder and mustard; simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. (Add more ketchup or a little water to thin, if desired.) Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, grill or cook wieners as desired. Grill or toast hot dog buns, if desired.

To serve, place a wiener in each bun. Top with chili and Cheddar cheese. Open mouth wide and enjoy!