Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

i'm still trying to figure out...

Pin It Now!

...why we insist on indulging to the point of utter frivolity during this time of year. Think about it....not only are there more parties and outings than at any other time, but there is a redonkulous amount of shopping to get done (I'm totally not done...a proactive more martha-esque type might have been clicking away and online shopping during November...but I'm just not that smart)...and we compound all the family juggling fun by also insisting on baking a huge quantity of a great variety of things that we really don't need to eat.

And colour me guilty.

I did just that. I'm really not much of a baker...I don't have the time or patience for fancy rolled cookies (plus, I HATE pastry) or really anything that's very finicky or multi stepped. I either want something that is a smooth batch process or a quick dump and pour.

I made four different things this year - 2 varieties of eggless cookies (for no reason in particular, other than the fact that I was right out of eggs on the night I decided to cook) and two different types of candy. None of this is difficult, and it's pretty tasty.

For the cookies, I was first inspired by the fragrant lavender I picked up a couple of weeks ago. I made a very simple butter cookie and scented it with lavender. However, to make life simpler for myself, I actually doubled the cookie DOUGH recipe and then divided it in two. The first half, I made into lavender cookies, and the second half, into white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. It's not too much extra work and you end up with more variety - win-win in my books.

They're both decent ocokies. Not like super-duper amazing rave-worthy cookies, but solid, decent cookies. No complaints.

The next two though, EVERYONE will be clamouring for the recipe (or perhaps I flatter myself in thinking this). I made peanut butter cups (yep, just like Reese's) and everyone is always utterly baffled that they can be homemade and they fit neatly into the batch process idea. They are messy to make (my kitchen was totally covered in chocolate), so I like to quadruple the recipe to make it worth my while. Everyone loves them and they are not tough at all.

Last, I made a maple walnut fudge...I'll admit that the maple flavour is totally artificial...and even though I normally despise all things artificial (ESPECIALLY maple)'s honestly really good. As far as fudge recipes go, I've made this one four times, and I've yet to eff it up. It seems to be foolproof. And the best thing about it is that it's actually a real fudge recipe...I find a lot of people say they are making fudge...but it's totally NOT's usually some heinous marshmallow squishy concoction that bears no resemblance whatsoever to fudge.

This is fudge...when I make it, it's a bit on the drier side, and slightly sugary, so it may not be everyone's allegorical fudge...but then again, one really must allow a bit of leeway anyway when applying form theory to creations of a culinary nature.

So all that said, let's get to the recipes. This is going to be a loooooong post.

Eggless Butter Cookie Dough
this is a double batch that will make about 60 cookies
lavender cookies

1 cup butter (at room temperature!)
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3 cups flour
1/2 t salt (if using unsalted butter)
4 t baking powder

1. Hopefully, you have some sort of electric mixer, or a really strong arm, to help you cream the butter and the sugar together.

2. Beat in the sour cream and the vanilla.

3. Dump in the flour, salt (if using) and baking powder. Purists will tell you that you should sift them all together (blah, blah blah), but trust me, it works just fine (for this recipe, at least) if you just dump and save yourself an extra bowl.

Your dough will be very thick and quite dry (it should stick together, but it won't actually be STICKY).

Now, divide your dough in two. Here, you now have the option to make two (or more) different types of cookies. You could add in things like cinnamon, raisins, chocolate chips, nuts, toffee bits, coconut...whatever you like. I did lavender.

Lavender cookies - add 1.5 t dried lavender that's been lightly pulverized (I used the snazzy new mortar and pestle that my mom passed along to me).
about to be pwned

White chocolate macadamia cookies - add 1 cup white chocolate chips and 1 cup lightly toasted macadamia nuts
white chocolate macadamia cookies

To make cookies:

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Drop by teaspoons onto a greased baking sheet (I use a silpat). I found the lavender cookies spread out fine on their own, but with the white chocolate cookies, I found it worked better when I flattened them out a bit first).
lavender cookies

2. Bake for 11-13 minutes (start checking at about 9 minutes though, as this will depend on your oven). I thought I would try to be smart and use the convection feature on my oven, but I clearly have a little learning to do, as all I managed to accomplish was overly browning one side of my cookies.

I totally hate baking.

So that's why the other stuff I made did NOT involve the oven. Everybody makes cookies at Christmas, so that's why it's nice to change it up with something fun like PB cups or fudge.

Homemade Peanut Butter Cups
I quadrupled this recipe and made 100 small ones.
peanut butter cups

Peanut Butter Mixture:
½ c. peanut butter (natural is best for the most strong peanutty flavour!!)
¼ c. brown sugar (golden is best...I used demerara and do NOT recommend it...too crunchy!)
½ c. icing sugar
1 ½ T. butter (softened)
½ t. vanilla
* if you are using all natural peanut butter and salt-free butter, add a bit of salt too - about 1/4-1/2 t

Chocolate Mixture:
1 300-350g bag of chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet “The Decadent” by PC, but milk
chocolate would work!)
2 T. oil (canola or other flavourless oil)

1. Mix the peanut butter mixture together (this can take a while, it’s quite stiff - if you have a mixer, USE IT). The mixture should stick together, but not be sticky (like a cookie dough). If you find it too dry, add a another scoop of peanut butter.
peanut butter filling

2. Melt the chocolate and oil together. I like to melt chocolate in the microwave, on 50% power. My stove is really bad at low heat (as in, it doesn't really have a LOW setting...everything boils!), so I prefer the control I have with my microwave.
oiled chocolate chips

3. While the chocolate is melting, line muffin tins with the paper muffin cups. (this is only if you'r using large paper cups. I personally prefer this recipe using smaller candy cups - it's a better treat size, and they have more structural strength than a paper cup, so you don't need to put them in a muffin tin).
paper cups, all ready to go

4. Once chocolate is melted, place some chocolate in the bottom of the
cup, using only enough to cover the bottom. I have this snazzy Wilton Icing Gun and I love using it for this - it's so quick and way less messy than using a spoon. You can use a spoon or pour though; hopefully you'll be neater than I am!
bottom layer of chocolate

5. Form the peanut butter mixture into patties using your hands, and place these on top of the chocolate. They don't have to be perfect...just decent.
middle layer of peanut stuff

6. Pour chocolate over the peanut butter, enough to cover.
last layer of chocolate

7. Place in fridge to chill for at least 20 minutes (it’s chilled when the chocolate is no longer shiny).

peanut butter cup

Keep chilled, because the oil in the chocolate lowers the melting point of it by quite a lot. If you are a little more confident in the kitchen, you could forgo the oil, and instead temper the chocolate. I'm way too lazy and this way works just fine. I'm just sayin'
Makes 12-24, depending on how big you like them!

Perfect Maple Walnut Fudge
This recipe is completely stolen from here:
maple walnut fudge

It's so yummy. I could eat it all the time. Every day, even.
I always double it because it's so easy to double and so easy to eat that doubling is practically a necessity. YUM.

2 cups packed brown sugar
half of a 10 oz can evaporated milk - not condensed!
1/2 pound butter (if unsalted, add a pinch of salt)
2 cups powdered (confectioners') sugar
1 cup walnuts
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon maple flavoring (if desired)

1. Butter a 9x13-inch pan and set aside. I have determined lining the pan with foil or paper and buttering that makes cutting and removing much easier.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, butter and milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat very slightly and boil 10 minutes while stirring constantly. No longer!
pound o buttah

Hopefully you are smarter than I am...I used a 3 qt pan for doubling the recipe, forgetting that boiling sugar tends to grow in volume. I had to transfer to my 6qt pan most of the way through the boiling process. That wasn't pretty, and I have the burns to prove it! Learn from me, kids. You can see here, the sugar is already starting to eke its way closer to the edge....(oh, and cleaning burnt sugar off a smooth top stove REALLY sucks...ughhhhhhh)
oops....pan too full

While the sugar is coming to a boil, it's good to put your other ingredients in place so you don't have to fumble or rush later:
mise en place

3. Remove from heat and add icing sugar, vanilla and maple flavoring (if using). Mix thoroughly with hand mixer on medium until thick and glossy - just a couple of minutes.
mixing in the icing sugar

Fold in walnuts and pour in prepared pan.
Refrigerate until set. This keeps perfectly well in the freezer and makes a great gift.

I love giving baking - people are always happy to receive it and the other nice thing about it is that unlike a wrapped gift, it doesn't impart the same sense of "aw-crap-i-didn't-get-you-anything" to its recipient. Golden.

I packaged some up like this:
christmas baking

the gift of food

And some, for a few friends, like this (yeah, tthey are already in the fridge):
packages for friends

Fun, eh?

Next up on my plate...dinner for 27 at my house. Should be good times. I'm not making everything (that would be crazy!!! I have a four month old, people!), but hopefully my contributions will be successful....

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 15, 2008

complete satiety using only the basics

Pin It Now!

I almost hesitate to post this as a recipe. It's so ridiculously simple - I certainly can't lay claim to any sort of originality or great wave of creative genius here.

In a nutshell, I was hungry, low on fresh ingredients and so I just put a few very simple things together and WOAH. It's really freaking good.

The best parts of this are that it's ready in mere minutes (faster than KD and with less stirring) and if you have a well-stocked pantry, you can probably make it right this second.

So go make it already.

Salt and Pepper Pasta
1 pound good quality pasta (I like barilla or de cecco)
extra-virgin olive oil (about 1/4 cup - it's worth using your best stuff for this)
sea salt (ideally fleur de sel)
fresh black pepper
cheese for grating (real parmigiano or grana padano or pecorino romano are best)

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Cook pasta to your preferred doneness (al dente!!! please!!!!). Start tasting it a minute or two before the package says it will be really don't want to overcook the pasta if you can avoid it. I had this really funky pasta in my cupboard and this was a great recipe to use it in because there was no heavy sauce masking the fun colours of the pasta.
funky coloured pasta

This recipe is a good way to use any funky shaped or coloured pastas you might have hanging around. I was a little sad that some of the bright colour came off in the pasta water though:
pasta changed the colour of the water

3. When the pasta is cooked, drain, but don't rinse. Put it back in the pot and toss with olive oil, a good solid pinch of sea salt (again, I highly recommend coarse fleur de sel - because salt doesn't dissolve in oil, you get nice little tangs of salt throughout, rather than a solidly salty dish). Table salt wouldn't be as good because it's really intensely super duper salty. I know it sounds silly to say salt is salty (duh), but sea salt has a number of other minerals in it that tend to broaden the flavour of it and make it less sharply salty. Grind a LOT of pepper over top. Salt and pepper are your flavours here, so use a good amount.

salt and pepper pasta

4. Use a microplane to grate some cheese over the pasta in the pot, and toss to coat everything.

5. Serve the pasta with additional cheese and let people grate LOTS on top of their pasta.

salt and pepper pasta with grana padano

Hubs could not get enough of this, and between the two of us, we scarfed the entire pound of pasta with him inquiring about whether there was more. It really is that good - a super duper simple dish that just allows a few classic flavours to shine. I call it recession gourmet. If you paired it with a green salad and some ice cream, you'd have a three course meal that you could serve to anyone - even your mother-in-law - and you'd have a delicious meal that's very easy on the wallet. Eating cheaply doesn't have to mean eating badly...

Thanks for reading! Oh, and keep voting on the poll - I'm shocked that only one person thinks I'm deluded thus far. I expected the anonymous internets to be out in full force to crush my video star dreams, lol.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

i absolutely cannot believe...

Pin It Now!

...that Christmas is in only two weeks. Less than two weeks, actually. Eleven days.


I'm so not ready.

I do, however, have a question for you all. One of our latest purchases since Lil Z's arrival is a video's not a super snazzy one (no HD for me, lol), but it's kinda fun. I've been mulling over the idea of doing a little 3-minute webisode for the blog....what do you guys think? Ridiculous self-indulgence? Another useless food-network-wannabe? Let me know. I'm going to put up a poll so you can even be totally anonymous if you want to tell me I'm ridiculous.

But hey, at least I'm not hungry.

I actually made this stew a couple of weeks ago (kinda breaks my own rule that I like my posts to be timely), but things have been in such a whirlwind since then that I didn't have the chance to tell you about it until tonight.

One of the nice bonuses of being at home on mat leave is that I can try out those recipes that have to cook for an hour or two...mind you, Lil Z is not especially tolerant of such endeavours, but if I can throw it in the oven and forget about it, it usually works out pretty well all around.

I know most people opt for stews and roasts in this kind of weather (a nice balmy -15C tonight, I believe - totally feel for you poor prairie peeps and your minus 40! YUCK). And while I acknowledge that the generic roast or stew is pretty tasty, this is a little something more. It delves into some of the more exotic flavours, without making have to roam much farther than a well-stocked fridge and pantry. This is definitely stick to your ribs kind of food - very hearty and the peanut sauce gives it a gloriously rich texture in your mouth. It's worth stocking up on natural peanut butter for this recipe...and frankly, it's worth stocking up on natural PB in general...the other stuff is more of a dessert than anything and chock full of hydrogenated gunk.

African-Inspired Peanut Stew with Spiced Couscous
Serves 8
african inspired peanut chicken stew with couscous

2/3 cup "all natural" peanut butter
1.5 cups WARM water
3 large chicken breasts
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 T ginger, finely chopped
1 (14- to 16-oz) can diced tomatoes including juice
1-2 teaspoons sri racha hot sauce
juice and zest of 1 lime
2 lbs carrots, chopped (this is what I had on hand - sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, turnip, etc. - those would all be fabulous in this)
1/3 c chopped cilantro
chopped roasted peanuts (for garnish)

1. In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil. Chop the chicken breasts (or use thighs or chicken pieces) in bite-size pieces (obviously, skip this step if you are using large chicken pieces). Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown the outside in the pan. Don't worry about cooking it through at this point.

2. Remove the browned chicken from the pan (just put it on a plate).

slightly browned chicken (yep, still kinda raw)

3. I like to chop ginger and garlic together in the mini-bowl of my food processor (much quicker!) - you don't have to do this though, hand chopping is just fine.
ginger garlic paste-to-be

Add the ginger and garlic to the pan, along with the onion, bell pepper and carrots.

4. While the veggies are starting to cook, dilute the peanut butter into the water (it will help if you nuke your PB a little bit first to soften it). Once the veggies have softened (about 5 mins), slowly add the peanut butter and the canned tomatoes. Also add a good squirt of sri racha (or other hot pepper paste) at this time.

making the sauce

5. Preheat your oven to 350F, toss the chicken back in the mixture and throw the whole thing into the oven for at least an hour (more is fine).

6. About half an hour before you want to serve, take the chicken out of the oven (and boil some water for the couscous). To the pot, add the juice and zest of one lime, the cilantro and some salt and pepper to taste. Also check to see if it needs more hot sauce (I like lots, but not everyone does). Let it bubble away madly on the stove to help reduce and thicken the sauce.

bubbling away in the oven

Garnish with some chopped peanuts and cilantro for serving! Also, I like to squish my couscous into a little ramekin and then unmould it to make things extra-attractive. Takes two seconds and makes you look like a super star.

african inspired peanut chicken stew with couscous


Spiced Couscous:
2 cups boiling water (add some chicken bouillon powder/cubes for added flavour)
2 cups couscous
1 t each of turmeric, cumin and ground coriander
1/2 t cinnamon
dash of cardamom
1/2 c raisins

1. In a medium pot, combine the boiling water and the couscous. Cover and let sit for five minutes (it can sit longer though, if your dinner isn't ready yet).

2. Add the spices and the raisins and combine it well. Taste it and add some salt if you think it needs it.

spices for couscous

spiced couscous

Serve the stew with the couscous. YUM.

I happened to make this on a night where hubs was playing hockey, so I packed his up nicely in a snazzy two compartment container. He was most grateful when he got home. :)

leftovers for hubs

Thanks for reading - I've got the most ridiculously simple pasta recipe in the world coming up next. YUMMY. Also, please answer the poll (that I"ll hopefully have working by the time you read this, lol. A tech guru, I am NOT.

Related Posts with Thumbnails