Simply Minty Brownies!

You can turn plain brownies into minted brownies really easily.

Earlier this spring, Heather Albrecht shared her super simple brownie recipe with me. I posted the recipe on my blog on May 31. Yesterday she suggested a great way to “mint” the brownies. (And it adds another hit of chocolate!)

Heather said her mom puts half the brownie batter in the pan, covers it with a single layer of After Eight mints, then adds the remaining batter. The brownies are baked as usual.

The result?

“Mmmmmmmmm!” says Heather.

Decadent, minted fudgey brownies! What’s not to like? I may have to make this brownie variation this weekend.

Thanks, Heather!

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


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.)

Grilled pizzas with pita bread crust

Grilled Pita Pizzas

Grilled pizza on the barbecue is one of our favourite ways to prepare pizza.

Although you can grill a pizza made with a homemade pizza dough, store-bought frozen pizza dough (thawed to room temperature, of course), flatbread or even tortillas, our preference is to use whole wheat pita bread for the crust.

For a variety of good reasons. Or so we like to think.

* A pita pizza cooks quickly.

* Depending on how hungry you are, one or two pita pizzas (or more if you’re a lumberjack!) make a perfect lunch – or served with a green salad, a filling supper.

* A pita pizza is a convenient size to cut into small wedges to serve as an appetizer.

* It’s also a perfect size for making individual pizzas to suit personal tastes. In fact, we often have grilled pizza on the menu when we’re entertaining during the summer. We put out the toppings and have our guests make their own pizzas. Sure, we might be shirking our hosting responsibilities by making our company prepare their own meal. But this way, no one can complain that they don’t like their pizza. Or if they do, no one can blame the irresponsible hosts!

To make a grilled pizza, start by heating the barbecue on High. Brush one side of the pita bread with olive oil. This will help crisp and flavour the crust. Then spread on the sauce of your choice – pizza sauce, pasta sauce, sun-dried tomato pesto, a flavoured olive oil, roasted red pepper dip, a combo of hoisin and barbecue sauce (very nice when you’re putting chicken on your pizza), or vegetable-flavoured cream cheese (goes well with a veggie pizza). Think outside the pizza box a little, and use whatever “sauce” you like!

Then add the toppings of your choice. Keep in mind that the cooking time for this pizza will be short, so it’s best to slightly pre-cook hard vegetables (e.g broccoli, asparagus, sweet peppers), or at least cut them into small pieces. Unless you want a crunchy pizza, that is. Hey, you’re the pizza chef! You can make this pizza however you prefer!

Once the pizza is loaded with ingredients and the barbecue has been preheated on High, turn the heat down to medium-low. Slip the pizza on to the grill, close the barbecue and heat until the toppings are warmed through and the cheese has melted, about 5 or 6 minutes.

Pizza is served!

My favourite new outdoor “cooking appliance”

What’s my favourite new piece of equipment for cooking outdoors?

Why, an “outdoor fire bowl”, as it’s so labelled on the box in which it was packaged. (There are pictures further down this post.)

When I was growing up, my family did lots of camping. I’ve roasted many a wiener and toasted many a marshmallow around many a camp fire in my day. But the fun came to a crashing halt when Murray and I made a trip to western Canada a few years after we were married. On our return, we stayed in a municipal campground in Edmonton for a night. As I recall, there were no other campgrounds in the area to choose from.

Campers were crammed onto the grounds like sardines. Our tent was pitched mere inches (okay, perhaps a couple feet) from the neighbouring campers’ fire. We could hear every word our neighbours said, and every breath they took, all night long.

This was not camping to Murray. He called it “alternative accommodations”. That night, he made a solemn vow never to camp again unless he was in a remote location, with none of the commercial accoutrements (like flush toilets, showers and other campers within too close proximity) that come with traditional camping. As I scanned his face that night (clearly visible from the glow of the flames licking at our tent), hoping he was just making a rash decision in the heat (!) of the moment, I knew he was serious. Although I was also not amused at spending the night wedged between a bonfire and another tent, I figured that never camping again was a rather drastic decision. Surely there had to be a happy medium somewhere in the camping world.

It’s been over 20 years since that fateful night. Although Murray has since done some “true camping” on fishing trips in northern Manitoba when we lived in Norway House and Cranberry Portage, Manitoba, the two of us haven’t camped together since.

One of the joys of camping I’ve really missed is the smell and sound of a campfire, and being able to roast and toast things over an open fire. Barbecues, fondues and flambes have their place, but they don’t quite provide the same ambiance or end result!

We’ve been talking about building an outdoor fire pit in our back yard for a few years now, but we’ve held off doing so for a couple reasons. For starters, we fancy ourselves to be law-abiding citizens and city bylaws haven’t allowed open fires until recently. Secondly, we want to extend our deck and figured we’d wait to put in the fire pit until that was done. Other home reno projects have somehow taken priority each summer.

This weekend we finally got tired of waiting for the deck to be redesigned. We decided to invest in an inexpensive outdoor fire bowl. Yippee! Find some matches and get out the wieners!! At long last!!!

We plunked the fire bowl in the middle of the yard on four sidewalk blocks we happened to have around. Aesthetically, the set up has left a bit to be desired. But the thought of sitting around a crackling fire quickly erased nearly all concerns about how things looked.

As luck would have it, the night the fire bowl was unveiled, we found wieners, cheese sausages and hot dog buns in the freezer, and chocolate in the cupboard. A quick trip to the store netted some graham wafers and marshmallows. We had plenty of fire wood as neighbour Dave had bequeathed a stash of it to us a while back since, sadly, he’ll be moving in a couple weeks. Neighbours Bryn and Judy were willing to help initiate the fire bowl.

Being a true camper(!), Murray knew how to make a fire. Once we had flames, the pressure was on to see if we remembered how to roast wieners and marshmallows so they actually were edible. Like riding a bike, apparently it’s a useful skill you learn for life (although admittedly, I will need a little more practice and a few more test samples before I can turn out a perfectly roasted wiener and marshmallow).

And so that night, with the sometimes ear-splitting, always rapid-fire sound of firecrackers being detonated by neighbours celebrating Canada Day ringing in my ears, I enjoyed a perfect fire and the best hot dog I’ve ever eaten (or at least in about 20 years!), followed by more than my share of gooey, sticky s’mores. (For non-campers or those without fireplaces or outdoor fire bowls – a s’more is a roasted marshmallow stuffed with a piece of chocolate and sandwiched between two graham wafers.)

We’ll be doing this again very soon!

Murray builds a fire.

Murray builds a roaring fire. (OK, it became a roaring fire soon after this picture was taken!)

Grilling cheese sausages with the rotisserie attachment for our barbecue. Note to self: buy or whittle a few more sticks for roasting wieners. This gadget more closely resembles a dangerous weapon than a cooking utensil!

There's nothing like an ooey, gooey, sticky, chocolatey s'more

Photography by Bryn Donaldson.

Celebrating with red and white foods on Canada Day

Tomorrow is Canada Day, a celebration of the nation’s 141st birthday. There will be much flag-waving and expressions of patriotic sentiments. The colours de jour will be red and white.

If you want to inject some patriotic zeal into your July 1st menu, consider the colour palate of the foods you plan to serve. It’s not too difficult to include some red and white foods. If you’re a little more adventurous, try creating an entire meal of just red and white foods. Think tomatoes, red peppers, watermelon, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, spaghetti and meat sauce, bruschetta, barbecued ribs, strawberry shortcake, whipped cream, sour cream, cream cheese, red potatoes, mozzarella cheese, angel food cake, and on and on.

A simple red and white appetizer or snack can be made quickly by creating tiny kabobs of pesto-marinated mini-mini bocconcini and grape or cherry tomatoes. Mini-mini bocconcini are small balls of buffalo mozzarella. They can be found in tubs in the deli area of most major grocery stores. If you can’t find the mini-mini variety, purchase mini bocconcini and slice them into quarters or cut large balls of bocconcini into small pieces.

To make the kebabs, marinate the bocconcini in a couple spoonfuls of homemade or prepared pesto for at least 15 minutes, then poke a toothpick into a bocconcini and a grape or cherry tomato. If you use halved grape or cherry tomatoes, the kabobs will be able to stand and you can arrange them upright on a plate. These little mouthfuls are colourful, flavourful and make up very quickly, leaving you lots of time to enjoy Canada Day festivities and fireworks.

Ontario strawberries!

I was finally able to get my hands on some good-looking, sweet-smelling, fresh-tasting Ontario strawberries, so they’ll be on the menu in our house tomorrow. We’ll enjoy some berries fresh, then maybe in the strawberry-rhubarb sauce that follows, served over cake or ice cream. I’ve also bought ingredients to make strawberry ice cream, which would be served, of course, with fresh sliced strawberries.

Hmmmm…..since strawberry season is so short, we just might have to have both desserts!

Angel Food Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce
(Makes 12 servings)

Twelve individual mini angel food cake rounds, sponge cake flans or shortcakes can be used instead of the angel food cake slices.

3 cups (750 mL) sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb (cut in 1/2-inch/1 cm slices)
3/4 cup (175 mL) sugar
1/4 cup (50 mL) water
2 cups (500 mL) strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 angel food cake (cut into 12 slices)
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream

In a medium saucepan, combine rhubarb, sugar and water. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture just comes to a boil (about 7 or 8 minutes). Reduce heat to low; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is tender (6 to 8 minutes). Let cool.

Just before serving, stir in strawberries. Top each slice of cake with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream and about 1/4 cup (50 mL) strawberry rhubarb sauce.

Pucker up, biscuit lovers!

Biscuit Lips
Biscuit Lips

No lip liner, botox injections or other enhancements needed to make these puffed and pouty babies! These hot lips are meant to be devoured as a fun, if not somewhat unusual, accompaniment (in appearance, that is!) to soups, stews or salads. Given a sensual slathering of strawberry or raspberry jam (or whatever flavour you prefer – red just seemed appropriate!), you could also serve them for dessert or tea.

These biscuits are slightly on the sweet side. I’d knock back the sugar to 1 tablespoon (15 mL) or eliminate it altogether if you don’t plan to serve the biscuits alongside a savoury dish.

To create the lip look, roll out the biscuit dough and cut out rounds. Score (cut a line across the diameter) each circle without cutting all the way through. Butter the surface (the next time I make this recipe, I’m going to spread the circle with a generous amount of jam), then fold one half over to form a half circle. As they bake, the lip shape will form.

Biscuit Lips
(Makes about 20)

2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons (20 mL) baking powder
2 tablespoons (30 mL) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
1/3 cup (75 mL) cold butter or margarine
3/4 cup (225 mL) milk
Butter or margarine, for spreading (optional)

Mix flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in or work in butter with a pastry blender or a couple knives until mixture is crumbly. Add milk; stir with a fork until mixture begins to adhere together. Gather into a ball and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead gently 10 times.

With a rolling pin, roll out until 1/4-inch (1.5 cm) thick. Cut into approximately 2-3/4-inch (7 cm) circles. Cut through centre of each circle with a sharp knife just to barely score the surface. Spread with butter, if desired. Fold over, butter side in, and press edges together gently. Arrange on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Bake in a preheated 425F (220C) oven until biscuits are risen and lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Recipe Source: Soups and Sandwiches by Jean Pare, Company’s Coming Publishing Limited, 1987

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)

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

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.)

The Lazy Way to Slice an Apple

Apple Wedger/Corer

I used to silently wonder about people who meticulously cut their apples into wedges or slices with a knife before eating them.

What was wrong with just biting your way around the fruit until you’d found the inedible core? I suppose by slicing to the core, then cutting it away before eating each slice, you never risked not knowing you’d hit the centre of the apple! Duh!

Was cutting an apple into even sections a neat freak’s way to eat this favourite fruit? It did eliminate messy juices dripping down your chin when you chomped into an especially juicy apple. And, it did allow one to pay equal attention to each evenly cut apple wedge, if that was important to you. And I suppose it might be to someone anal about how they eat apples.

Maybe the apple somehow tasted better cut into pieces?

Then my sister tucked an apple wedger and corer into my Christmas gift bag (okay, so my family uses gift bags, not stockings!) and the light bulb went off.

Pre-cutting the apple is a neat, civilized way to eat an apple. You get rid of the core in one deft maneuvre and are left with evenly sized apple wedges that can be easily held by big or little fingers. What’s so wrong with that?

An apple may not taste better this way (although some may argue this point), but it is a simple, fast and fun way to make apple wedges to enjoy however you like (especially dipped in chocolate or caramel sauce ,which I seldom do but it’s fun to think about enjoying them this way!).

You may have to look a little to find an apple wedger/corer. Try a kitchen store, or wherever kitchen tools are sold. My sister picked up apple wedgers at a dollar store.