Thursday, November 28, 2013

Eggnog Sugar Cookies

I found this recipe via one of my fave blogs, Dinner With Julie a few years back, and have made it annually since.  Julie is a well known blogger/food writer who is also located in Calgary, so I can trust that her recipes will turn out perfectly every time.  When I go to her blog I know I won't have to adapt for climate or elevation, all which make a difference in how your baking turns out.  It's something we don't really think about as we share our recipes globally, but it really does make a huge difference! 
I also adore Julie's recipes for being low in fat!  Check out her book One Smart Cookie for lower fat alternatives to many traditional cookie recipes.  You can also find this Eggnog Sugar Cookie recipe in that book.  If you're a local, I know CPL has copies for sure, or check out your local library or bookstore!  I tried searching her website for the recipe to link directly to her version, but I can't find the recipe on her website!   
I have a well used, dog-eared printed copy of this recipe in my binder, so I can still share this with you! 

I find this cookie dough is very forgiving and easy to work with, and is the perfect compromise for those of us (uh, me) who don't enjoy short bread.   Or those who find may gingerbread too much.   This Eggnog Sugar Cookie recipes meets in the middle, so we can still provide something simply spiced, and not too overly sweet for our holiday platters. 
Please note - This recipe requires a bit of forethought, as the dough needs to be refrigerated before cutting.  I usually make it in the evening after the kids go to bed, and then bring it out as a fun afternoon activity the next day.  We can break out our cookie cutters, and get crazy!
Eggnog Sugar Cookies

1/4 cup butter, softened
2 Tablespoons Canola oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla or rum
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

Using a medium bowl stir flour with baking powder, spices and salt, and set aside.
Beat butter with sugar in a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high, until fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Then gradually beat in flour mixture, just until combined, you can use your hands to bring the dough together, it may be crumbly, but that's okay!  Gather dough into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheet with parchment, or spray with oil.  Dust a rolling pin with flour.  Roll out dough in between the plastic, or in between parchment (saves on clean up!), or on a lightly floured surface until 1/4-1/8 " thick.  Cut into shapes using cookie cutters or the rim of a small drinking glass.  Arrange cookies approximately 2" apart on prepared sheets and bake in centre of oven until cookies just start to brown at the edges, 10-12 minutes. 
Allow cookies to cool completely on a rack. Gather any dough scraps and form into a disc, then chill until firm enough to re-roll and cut.  Decorate with icing, if desired...I like to sprinkle mine with sugar before baking! 


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mandarin Orange & Vanilla Bean Jam

'Tis the season for boxes of mandarin oranges to be seen languishing away.  I know I always have a box in my pantry at this time of year, and as much as I swear "this time, I won't let them go bad", I just lose track!
Last week I was given a box for free at the Superstore, you know... those "spend this much get that", incentives.  Normally, to avoid a whole box of oranges from going bad, I try to buy them closer to Christmas, when the house if full of family to help eat them all.  The box I received was already set to turn, some already mushy, and some even moldy(!), there's no way the fruit will last until Christmas, let alone next week, but I wasn't about to turn down "free" food!
You know this of me now, I cannot stand to see food go to waste!  The worst, Jerry.  The worst!
This being the season of giving, how about making a delicious and beautiful batch (check out all those vanilla beans!) of jam to give as Christmas or hostess gifts, or to feed oncoming Christmas company! 

Apples, crab apples, quinces, plums, currants, gooseberries, cranberries, oranges and other citrus fruits, contain high levels of the type of pectin perfect for jelly making.  Soft fruits, like cherries, raspberries, and strawberries, have relatively low pectin levels, and will require a commercial pectin package. 
When using a commercial pectin your jelly mixture will always set, but when relying on the natural pectin in the fruit, it is important to test for the jelly stage.

3 ways to test for the jelly stage are:

1.  The Thermometer test:  The jelling point for jelly is 220F.  Using a candy thermometer would be the most accurate way to test.

2.  The Sheet test:  Using a cold metal spoon (keep it in the freezer), scoop out some of the boiling jelly.  If the mixture has not reached the jelly stage, it will drip drop off the spoon.  If it has successfully reached the jelly stage, it will come off the spoon in a sheet or clump.

3.  The plate test:  drop a Tablespoon or so of the mixture onto a cold plate (keep it in the freezer), return the plate to the freezer for about 1 minute.  Push the spot of jelly with a fork or spoon, if the mixture wrinkles, it's done! 

If the jelly stage is not reached, add a packet of pectin.  No big.

Mandarin Orange & Vanilla Bean Jam

2 lbs mandarin oranges mandarins, well-washed
2 1/2-3 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
juice of 2 lemons
package of pectin (optional - if fruit won't jelly)

Finely grate about a tablespoon of zest from your mandarins, then peel all of them, removing as much of the white pith as possible. Cut each mandarin in half around its middle and pick out any seeds. Place into food processor with the zest and remaining ingredients and pulse until well blended and fairly smooth.
Transfer to a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 30 minutes, until it sets. Meanwhile, have clean mason jars, and lids in a hot water bath.  Remove vanilla bean, and pour into hot jars, place jars, back in water bath and allow to seal.  Then carefully remove hot sealed jars from pot, and allow to cool.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Chocolate - Caramel Popcorn!

This sweet popcorn is an absolutely, over the top, decadent indulgence!  It is definitely meant to share. If you eat a whole bowl to yourself, you won't feel well...take my word for it!
Since we are entering the season of gift making and giving, this popcorn would be perfect for packaging up to gift away.
Just make sure you double the recipe, so you have a little for yourself as well!

Chocolate Caramel Popcorn

1/2 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or 8 ounces of chocolate squares
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 225ºF. Spray a baking pan with oil, and set aside.
I use a air-popper for my popcorn, and then do my best to remove any unpopped kernels.  
My technique is to use two bowls, shake the the first bowl so the seeds fall to the bottom, and then transfer popcorn to the second bowl by hand, leaving all the kernels behind.
Heat chocolate chips, brown sugar, corn syrup and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until boiling, and keep at a boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and immediately stir in vanilla, and baking soda.
Pour chocolate-caramel mixture carefully over popcorn and nuts.
Use tongs or a wooden spoon to incorporate the popcorn and chocolate-caramel mixture as best you're able.  Bake popcorn for 60 minutes stirring popcorn about every 15 minutes.  Try to let popcorn cool before serving, about 15 minutes.
Break cooled popcorn into bite-sized pieces and store in an airtight container, or pack in a seasonal container for gift giving!


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

1 Ratatouille = 3 different meals!

I love, love, love, this versatile Ratatouille recipe.  If you haven't had this dish before, or don't know what it tastes like, it's basically a savory stew of eggplants, zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes.  A perfect harvest meal, and perfect for a chilly winter's night.  But if  your kids are like mine, put a dish where they can actually see the vegetables, and you'd have a mutiny on your hands!  So I end up playing short order chef, and making it two different ways for one meal.  In the end every body's happy, and not complaining - to me that's worth the extra effort.  This Ratatouille also freezes well, so maybe try first making it and serving it the traditional way, and then defrosting and turning it into the spaghetti sauce! 

If you enjoy the large savory chunks of eggplant, peppers, and zucchini, stay with the traditional format.  Give a delicious twist, by serving on top of this amazing buttery pumpkin sage polenta. 

Alternately, blend up the ratatouille, and add some cooked ground beef, or ground turkey, and extra tomato sauce.  Serve it on top of spaghetti pasta. Kind of like a Bolognese-Ratatouille recipe!
Also a great way to sneak some extra vegetables into your family's diet, totally unbeknownst to them! 

Or, if you still have leftovers, try this hearty whole egg bake up! 
My amateur attempt at the spicy tomato-y dish, with baked eggs, inspired by the Shakshuka from the absolutely beautiful cookbook, Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi
You really need to view this cookbook in person.  So. So. Gorgeous.

1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes
6 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 eggplants, peeled & cut into 
large pieces
sea salt and ground pepper
2 onions, chopped
1 head garlic cloves, chopped
2 bell peppers (any color), seeded and diced large
2 large zucchini, diced large
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon marjoram or oregano leaves
2 to 3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
Place tomatoes and juices on a rimmed baking sheet, using your hands to break tomatoes into 3/4-inch pieces.  Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and bake about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a colander, toss eggplant with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.  Let sit 20 minutes, then squeeze out excess liquid (I do this using a clean tea towel, and wringing out the juices).  In a large pot, heat the remaining 4 Tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Next add peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, bay leaf, marjoram, salt & pepper to pot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a simmer.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook at a gentle simmer until vegetables are tender but not mushy, approximately 15 minutes.  Season to taste with vinegar, salt & pepper.  Remove bay leaf before serving.

Pumpkin Sage Polenta
Recipe Adapted from: Kitchen Confidante

3 cups water
1 cup corn meal or polenta
3 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon sage
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 Tablespoons butter

In a medium pot over medium-high heat, whisk together the water, corn meal, and salt.  Bring to a boil, and continue to stir, allowing the corn meal to thicken.  Turn the heat to low, and add the pumpkin, and sage, stir and allow to cook for about 15-20 minutes.  Finally, stir in the butter, and Parmesan cheese, and serve topped with the Ratatouille.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Eggnog Ice cream

Well, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, And since we've no place to go, Let it snow, let it snow, Let it snow!
I don't know why that song came into my head when thinking of Eggnog Ice Cream??  
Maybe because this ice cream, although, not the first thing you'd think of on a cold winter's night; is really such a comforting holiday treat...with a twist!  It is absolutely rich, thick and deelicious!  I've been experimenting with crushed up gingersnaps, the really crunchy store bought ones, that are my husband's fave.  He always begs me to buys them (because I don't really buy cookies), promising to eat them all, but he just hoards them!  Is this normal?  How do you forget about food?!!  Especially treats??!  I have an ongoing catalogue in my brain!  Maybe it's a mom thing, that way I can find everything too!

So anywhoo, I don't want the gingersnaps to go to waste, and I end up eating them!  I've also made Eggnog ice cream sandwiches with leftover Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookies...I still need to share that recipe!  And over top of warm Apple Crisp...I still need to share that recipe too!  Jeez!  
Enjoy this frosty festive treat by the fireside, in your cozy jammies, or under blankies, the best!  

Eggnog Ice Cream

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup milk
4 whole cloves
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Pinch salt
2/3 cup white, granulated sugar
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tbsp rum, bourbon, or brandy (optional - I left
it out)

Using a medium pot, over medium-high heat add 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of the cream.  Add the cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla bean, salt and heat until steamy, but not boiling.  Turn off the heat, cover, and let spices steep for at least a half hour.  Add the sugar and stir until it's dissolved.

Put remaining 1 cup cream in a metal bowl, resting in a larger bowl of ice water, and set aside.

Whisk the egg yolks in a medium sized bowl.  
Slowly pour about half of the heated cream milk through the strainer, into the egg yolks, whisking constantly so that the egg yolks are tempered by the warm mixture, but not cooked by it.   

Return the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan on medium heat, stirring the mixture constantly with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spoon.  You should be able to run your finger across the coating and have the coating not run. This can take about 10 minutes. The second this happens the mixture should be removed from heat immediately, and poured through the strainer over the ice bath to stop the cooking.
Pour the custard through the strainer and stir into the cold cream you set aside, to stop the cooking. Once initially chilled in the ice bath, chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator (at least a couple of hours).
When it comes time to churn the ice cream, stir in the vanilla extract and the alcohol if you're using it, and process the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Remove ice cream from the ice cream maker and transfer it to an airtight container; store in your freezer for several hours before eating.

When stored for more than a day, you may need to let it sit for a few minutes to soften before attempting to scoop it.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

40 Cloves of Garlic Chicken!

Yes!  40 cloves of garlic!  Garlic is one of the most valuable foods on this planet!  Garlic is well known for being great for your heart, and for boosting your immune system, or even for being a natural antibiotic.  I've shared with you before my solution to my daughters chronic ear infections, using homemade garlic oil ear drops.  

This summer, I also revealed to you that I've been recently diagnosed with a genetic mutation called Factor V Leiden, which basically makes you more prone to developing blood clots.  I'm now on daily meds to help my blood to thin, but did you know that garlic is also a natural blood thinner?  It contains the component Methyl Allyl Trisulfide, which dilates blood vessel walls, and thins the blood by inhibiting platelet aggression, which in turn, reduces the risk of blood clots and aids in the prevention of heart attacks and strokes!

So in addition to being a richly delicious and comforting; this classic French inspired dish, could truly cure what ails you!  The most intensive part of this dish is peeling the garlic!   Make it easier by separating the garlic cloves from the head, and pressing down on them with the flat edge of a large chef's knife!

40 Cloves of Garlic Chicken

1 Tablespoon canola oil
8 Chicken thighs, skin on
40 cloves of garlic (about 4 heads)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 Tablespoon flour
1 cup chicken broth
approx. 2 Tablespoons fresh minced parley to garnish

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; brown the chicken all over (not completely cook), transfer to a plate.
Drain excess fat from pan (keep stuck on skin, it'll add flavour!), keep the temperature at medium, and add garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage, salt & pepper.  cook for about 5 minutes, or until garlic is golden.  Sprinkle flour over top of garlic and herbs, and cook, stirring, for about another minute.
Add chicken broth, and bring to a boil, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
Reduce heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Return Chicken (and any juices) to the pan, cover and simmer, until the juices run clear when chicken is pierced, and the garlic is softened, about 25-30 minutes.
Garnish with fresh parsley, and serve with smashed or boiled potatoes, and the garlic would be so yum smushed onto a fresh french baguette!


Friday, November 8, 2013

DIY Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend & Pumpkin Pie Spice Popcorn!

I have a tonne of pumpkin recipes to share with you, and in most of them I use a blend of fragrant fall inspired spices.  I would consider Allspice, Ginger, Nutmeg, and Cinnamon to be pantry staples, it just simplifies things to keep a jar of this mix on hand!  If you dig it, double the amounts, so you have a good stash on the ready, to use in your favourite recipes, or in your coffee, or on top of ice cream! Yum!

Why don't you make a small amount of that Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend right try out of this deeeelicious crunchy caramely popcorn treat!  The white chocolate on top takes it to the next level, just try and stop eating it, I dare you!

Pumpkin Pie Spice Popcorn with White Chocolate Drizzle
Recipe adapted from: Cooking Classy

1/2 cup, unpopped popcorn kernels 
1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 F degrees. Pop your popcorn into large bowl, remove any unpopped kernels.
Using a medium pan, over medium-high heat, melt the butter.  Stir in the brown sugar, corn syrup, pumpkin pie spice, and salt.  Bring mixture to a boil, and allow to boil for approximately 4 minutes without stirring.  Remove from heat and add vanilla and baking soda, and give it another stir.
Pour half of the pumpkin pie spice caramel over the popcorn, and toss/stir using a wooden spoon , it's super hot!  Be careful!  Add remaining caramel, until popcorn is evenly coated.
Using a x-large baking sheet, and spread out popcorn, bake for 1 hour stopping every 15 minutes to give it a stir.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  While you are waiting, make your drizzle!
In a small bowl using the microwave, melt your white chocolate chips.  For the drizzle you can use a spoon, and let it fall  down onto the onto the popcorn from above.  Or, for more precise drizzle, use a Ziploc bag, place the melted chocolate in the bag, and cut off the corner.  Squeeze the melted chocolate over the popcorn, and allow to harden.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Halloween Candy Cookie Bars

Is your house full of those friggin' delicious mini chocolate bars, just begging to be eaten?  I have managed not to eat any of those little buggers up to this point, Hallelujah (cue angels singing from above)!!  But my kids, are a totally different story.  This past weekend I even tried the tactic that maybe if I let them eat as much as they wanted, they would make themselves sick of all their candy, and allow me to donate it or something?  Didn't work.  Hahaha, but they had the worst tummy aches!  Bad idea = lesson learned! 

My other idea was that they each give 15 chocolate bars to me, to create this monstrous Halloween Candy Cookie Bar!   The idea is that we take that many chocolate bars out of our house, and I give all the cookie bars away!   Hooray! 
Ummm...they haven't quite made it out of the house yet...maybe I'll bring them to work tomorrow?  Ya...tomorrow, for sure.

Halloween Candy Cookie Bars

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla 
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 cups assorted Halloween candy, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Line a medium baking dish with parchment paper (I used 11x7 & they were huge!). Coat the paper with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl cream together the butter with the sugars.  Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until light and fluffy.  Add dry ingredients to bowl, and stir until just incorporated. 
Spoon about half the batter to the prepared dish, & try to smooth out - fingertips or parchment paper work better than the spoon.   Add about half of the Halloween candy, and push into the batter.  Spoon remaining batter over top, and spread as evenly as possible.  Add the remaining Halloween candy and gently push into the batter.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Let the dish cool completely then remove the cookies using the parchment paper overhang, cut into squares and serve with a big ol' glass of milk!


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Funday = DIY Cherry Dipped Tips!

My sweet daughter Sloane, has been rockin' dipped do's for the last few months, and suggested that we do it for a Sunday Funday!  She's so smart!

This is totally on trend for tween's in our town, maybe in your area too?  I make it totally simple and fairly risk free, and dye her hair using Kool-aide!  She's a blond, so it shows up really well on her(obvs), it usually lasts a week or two, and you get a cool ombre going on as is fades.

 1.  Bring about 3 cups water to a boil, and add two packs Kool-aide.  Give a quick stir.

2.  Divide water evenly between two bowls, and find a comfy spot to sit.  We use the dinner table, then she can sit, and place her head between the bowls, and have the table hold her head up.

3.  This stuff stains!  Wear a shirt you don't care about getting dye on (reuse the same shirt over & over).
Have your hair all brushed out, and put into pig tails, with the elastics at the same height - they also act as markers for dye height.

4.  Get comfy!  You're gonna sit for 10-15 minutes.  Grab your ipod and play a game, or text your friends!

5.  This stuff will stain everything including your hands!  We use a couple sheets of paper towel to pick up the hair, and soak up any drips.

6.  You can see the colour already!
So bright and pretty!  No rinsing or washing, but if it dries in this state, it clumps together and is very tangly and ouchy - head straight to your blow dryer!  Brush as you blow dry!

 All Done!  Beautiful Cherry Dipped locks!