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For all you Christmas Slackers….;)

December 31, 2010

I admit that this post is way overdue. I mean, seriously. I took these photos and made these treats back in the day when not keeping your Christmas lights plugged in for over 48 hours consecutively meant you were probably related to the distant relatives of Scrooge himself. The fact that ours are still ablaze is clearly a testament to the lazybones that have moped through this household for the past week.

Christmas ended up being the whirlwind that it always seems to be. It creeps up so slowly, it feels. As soon as November 1st hits, the whole world takes on a new frosty glaze. Mysteriously smashed pumpkin bits littering abandoned on the roads twinkle from  the glow of freshly strung Christmas lights, carols take over your standard elevator 98.1 tunes and tinsel seems to be a constant in your peripheral vision. The season almost feels like it lasts a whole year on its own–cookie dough, wrappings, turkeys, wreaths and garlands filter through every aspect of your life until you literally feel like you live perpetually in Santa’s Village. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, it’s the week of Christmas, then you blink and it’s Christmas Eve, sneeze and it’s Christmas Day, throw back a shot of sambuca and it’s all done. Then, after complaining that you are always suffering what you thought would be a never-ending-chocolate-induced tummy ache, you’re whining that it came too fast and was just too short.

Right!? Or am I among the few that suffer an acute form of depression once Christmas is over?

Anyways, as I said, the season always seems to get the best of us. No matter how early we start to prepare, we will always be doomed to partake in the last-minute mall scramble for those feel people who may have slipped our mind (oops). And by we I mean me, in particular. Every. Year.

As it is New Years Eve day, we are all in a preparation mode. My belated Christmas+New Years gift to you this year (my procrastinating tendencies often result in gift combining) is my tip for a great last-minute gift. Really, I’m going to be honest with you. This is nothing at all new. I’m actually positive I read about a hundred posts just like this one in November. But it was a new thing for me, and I enjoyed making and giving it as much as the recipients enjoyed receiving it (and that’s a lot!:))

I’m a thinker more than I’m a do-er. I brainstorm idea upon idea of the next dinner party I’m going to host, the next adventure I’m going to embark, the next craft I’m going to attempt and, most often at this time of year, the next homemade gift I’m going to give to  a person I care about. This year, I had promised myself I would go through with it, at least once–and so, as I was plagued with a last-minute gift dilemma once again (what to get the new bosses?) I decided to finally go through with it.

Well, it wasn’t exactly a last-minute gift. I mean, I was intending on giving a gift of some sort to these people for a while, I had just originally intended on the standard bottle of wine, box of chocolates deal. But after being welcomed so warmly into my new work environment, I knew I needed to show my appreciation in a more obvious and pronounced way.

So I decided to give them these cute little guys:)….

 

Merry Christmas Shari and Mark!!

 

 

Filled with these fun little treats….

 

Martha's Raspberry Jam Thumbprints

Vivian's Almond Crescents

 

 

It’s so simple, yet it can be as creative as you wish. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s from your heart, and when it comes to food, so much of our love for it is connected with our soul, so how much more special can you get?

The first recipe I chose is a family, Flushing Ave, neighbourhood, city, Italian favourite: Vivian’s Almond Cookies. Vivian is a good family friend and former member of the coolest block ever, Flushing Ave. We grew up next door to Vivian and her family–Mel Sac and her daughter Jenny are still best friends to this day, and many of my childhood memories include following them around, and likewise being shunned away from their games. I didn’t mind, it meant I got to hang out with Jenny’s older sister Vanessa, who I admired and who never had a problem entertaining and watching over me, and teaching me what colour my hair was: “lellow”, according to me. Vivian was always the type to make you feel like you were at home in her house–from the endless servings of her famous pasta fagioli that always seemed to fill your plate, to the constant inclusion in her big family and friend get togethers, right down to the screaming fights of terror she was never shy to engage in with Jenny while you patiently waited at the door for them to go to school. If there is one thing that always made me excited to traipse over to Vivian’s house, no matter what time of day, fully dressed or even pajama clad, it was the thought of her food. She has never failed to impress us with her amazingly authentic Southern Italian fare that my central-bred relatives couldn’t truly introduced me to. It didn’t come as a surprise when she decided to open and run her very own catering business. (Those lucky business people!) The almond cookies always made an appearance at every function either she or others hosted, and  at several friend and family weddings and wedding showers. (have you ever seen the sweet table at a typical Italian wedding or baby shower? It is quite a magical site to behold…the best part are the plastic take home containers every guest gets…oh, and the part where all the nonni fight to the death to fill theirs, plus 6 others, up). Typically they are called “Italian Wedding Cookies” (surprise, surprise). After recently acquiring the recipe from the master herself, and running a successful test run, I knew they had to be included.

3/4 cup of ground almonds (plus more for rolling)

1/3 cup sugar

1 stick of butter, softened

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

powdered sugar

Mix all the ingredients, except for the powdered sugar, with a wooden spoon just to get the ball rolling. Continue mixing with your hands until it’s thoroughly combined. Break off chunks of the dough and form crescents by rolling the dough into logs and then shaping them with your hands. Roll in ground almonds. Bake at 350 for about 10-13 minutes, or until lightly browned on the edges. Once cooled, cover with powdered sugar.

The second recipe I chose was slightly more labour intensive from Martha Stewart Living’s Holiday issue. I was craving making thumbprint cookies this year for some reason, despite not being a fan of butter cookies. But they just scream Christmas to me so it was an obvious second choice. The recipe for the dough is similar to the one we always use from my Mociute, with the added twist of the jam centre, and the fact that they are rolled in finely chopped pistachios (such an amazing addition). I thought they came out amazing, but Mom and Mel Sac both agreed that they could’ve baked a bit longer. (what can I say, I’m a sucker for raw cookie dough).

For Martha’s Vanilla Dough

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 sticks unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whisk together flour and salt. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, beat until combined.

At this point, we covered the dough and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.

The recipe also called for apricot jam, but we decided to use raspberry to make it more festive. The magazine suggests you can roll them also in candy, nuts, sugar, or whatever you like. We chose pistachios and needed about 1/3 cup, finely chopped, for our batch.

Once the dough is ready to go, roll it into 1-inch balls, then roll in the finely chopped pistachios. Arrange on a baking sheet, spacing each 1 inch apart. Press a well into the centre of each using your finger. Bake at 350 for 7 minutes. Remove from oven, and press well again with handle end of a wooden spoon. Bake until firm, 7 or 9 minutes more. Let cool completely. Spoon filling into thumbprints.

 

I was so happy with the outcome of the overall package. When it comes to gift giving, I’m always one to be overwhelmed with a sense of anxiety. Being both a perfectionist and a yes-man, I aim to please. But I must say my mind was to put to ease when I got an email from Shari telling me how much she loved the cookies…”I just ate three.” was how it ended….

So worth the work:)

Teta Sylvija’s Monster Cookies (my answer to a cookie potluck crisis)

December 19, 2010

 

Christmas Monster Cookies

 

 

The past few weeks have been nothing short of hectic. Between an onslaught of holiday functions and the responsibilities at work that have steadily racked up, time seems to have flown by in a tangle of days and weekends smeared into a giant blur. My mind is even more exhausted than my body…as I sit here writing this entry on my phone’s memo pad, as my Google Reader unread list silently grows and grows….

‘Tis been quite the holiday season I must say. More so than last year, that’s for sure. I guess I should give credit to the environment I’ve been absorbed in lately. Working in the seemingly endless shopping pit known as the PATH, being appointed 8th floor Christmas decorating chief, participating in two departments’ worth of cookie exchanges, listening to an endless loop of Christmas tunes courtesy of 98.1 and, of course, the perpetual fall of white frosty flakes that drift by my window daily (and just so happen to be the reason why my poor cousin is stranded camping in Heathrow airport…apparently 20cm of flurries makes for a much more devastating situation in London than it does here) And although this snowy Christmas may have brought about a shortage of international flights, it has definitely not been able to put a plug on the surplus of Christmas treats I’ve been experiencing. From neighbours’ desks, to retirement and anniversary cakes, to the Sweet Temptations store just an escalator ride away and the daily sales at Pharma Plus I just seem to be swimming in sugar.

As I mentioned, working on two different floors for two different departments means two things: two sets of emails announcing the  arrival of the daily spread of Christmas goodies…as well as the obligation to participate in contributing to it…twice. It is my first holiday season with the team, and as they have made such a good impression on me, I am determined to do the same. So after perusing through new blog entries in my subscriber, old recipes in our accordion folder, and much brainstorming between Mama and I, I have  made my decision.
In an earlier post, I mentioned my love for my family, and introduced you to my Zia Agnese. Now, I feel it is my duty to bring you over to my Lithuanian side. I’d like to start you off with an introduction to my Teta Sylvija (T.S, we call her for short). Over the years, T.S (like my other Teta’s, Zia and my Mociute) has become like a second mother to me. So many of our traditions and rituals have always been celebrated together–annual trips to Wasaga Beach, Christmas ornament shopping at Reeves, weekly sleep-overs (now re-named weekly drink nights), summers spent together poolside and the like… Like my Zia, T.S  is quite often the life of the party…and, thanks to her always -over- stocked bar, and her firm belief that a glass should never be anything less than half full, quite often the reason why I never seem to make it to the end of the party…. She is also famous for her spectacular hosting skills…always putting out a spread to impress with fun and delicious dishes featuring the seasons’ finest and the trendiest in healthy ingredients. But despite all this, there are two classic T.S creations that will always bring an instant mental picture of her smiling face to my mind—Teta Sylvia Soup and, more importantly, Monster Cookies.

I remember my first Monster Cookies…it was definitely love at first bite. Even GF requests them multiple times a year. The name says it all itself…seriously…what could be better than a cookie so big that it’s put on par with the one creature that instantly brings to mind enormity.

But I’ll tell you this much, there ain’t nothing scary about these bad boys…well, unless we’re talking calorie count…but that doesn’t even matter this time of year, right??

And not only are these cookies jumbo in size and flavour, but they also make quite a generous batch….

What’s that you say?? Perfect for an office cookie exchange?….

Well! My thoughts exactly:)…

 

Monster Cookies a la TS

 

 

Teta Sylvija’s Monster Cookies

1 stick of unsalted butter softened

two eggs

two cups of brown sugar

two teaspoons of vanilla extract

6 tablespoons of mix

In a large bowl, combine the above with a mixture. Then mix the following in a separate bowl and add in to the above mixture.

2 1/2 cups of flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 box of a 750g box of Harvest Crunch cereal

Add a bag of chocolate chips and two generous handfuls of raisins (I used cranberries to make it a bit more festive feeling) and mix until everything is well combined, and you don’t see any more white chunks of flour. Drop by tablespoon onto a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes.

Get ready, you’re going to need some time, and quite a bit of soup to wash and continuously reuse your cookie sheets.

 

You can stop right here if you get tired. The dough is heavenly

 

 

 

That, or a really really big oven….

…and monster size cookie sheets…

 

 

 

Tormenting Egg Nog Truffles and a Punishment from the Big Man Upstairs Himself

December 5, 2010

Egg Nog and Dark Chocolate Truffles Topped with Nutmeg and Crushed pistachios

It’s confession time again. I know what you’re thinking, it’s basically like I’m begging you to dislike me.

But I just like being honest, especially during the holidays, shouldn’t we all try to be better people? (And yes, I am trying to make myself look as good as possible before I leak out  alllllll my dirty little secrets)….

I have two confessions today, actually.

I’ll start with the worst one first…that way I still have time to redeem myself. Here goes…

Confession 1: I’m not too fond of children.

Okay, I know it sounds crazy, especially coming from me, the ultimate 12-year-old at heart. But I think that might be a contributing factor. I don’t know how to relate to kids from an adult-to-child level.

I just know how to be one.

I’m just not a patient person, really. In fact. I’m so impatient that I often have to mentally remind myself to let whomever I’m speaking with finish their sentence before I start up on my own response. It’s a nasty habit I tell you.

I don’t have that teaching, guiding, bone in me, you know? My impatience makes it impossible for me to put up with a child who needs to be taught when it is or isn’t appropriate to talk, yell, scream, cry, be hungry, go to the washroom…I mean, shouldn’t you just know that kind of stuff anyways??

I guess I just really don’t have a high threshold for annoying screeching sounds …or sticky little fingers.

I know, I know, I’m a mean one, Mrs. Grinch.

Confession 2: (Get ready, I’m about to become the world’s biggest hypocrite.) So, as much as I dislike messy kids, I am, myself, the world’s biggest mess in the kitchen.

And I don’t mean dirty mess, no. I wash the dishes as I go, I assure you. What I mean is that I battle with about every recipe I experiment with. When Mama’s around, she gets bombarded with about 6 questions for each step I progress through (is it mixed enough? when do I add in the eggs? is it fluffy enough? is this considered stiff peaks yet?) But, when Mama’s not around to guide me, I’m forced to trust my own un-trustworthy instincts…(see, I wouldn’t be a good kid person, even if I tried!)

…the usual end result?….Cut to me, fingers full of dough or batter, way too many plates, spoons, knives and bowls laying dirty in the sink, a melange of ingredients strewn about the counter tops, flour blown in the front foyer and a deformed looking cookie, an extremely undercooked baking dish of brownie, or a cake that just couldn’t get itself up.

This weekend’s baking experiment was no exception.

I was in the mood to try something different, to make something extra pretty and festive, and to pick a recipe that didn’t look extremely difficult. When I stumbled upon Googled a recipe for Eggnog Truffles, I knew I had hit gold–pretty little white chocolate balls that don’t require me turning on my ever-so temperamental oven?? Perfect! ….Or so it seemed…before I started to get a little too gutsy for my own good.

In all honesty, the recipe was pretty simple. In fact, as I dipped my hardened truffle batter into the melted white chocolate, I was wearing a full-face grin in place of my exasperated scowl that I’m usually sporting by this point in the process. It wasn’t until I melted the last of my chocolate to finish off the final few balls that things started to go a little haywire.

After tasting a bit of the pre-dipped batter, I decided there wasn’t enough rum to create a realistic tasting egg nog treat (especially in a Lithuanian household). So since the batter was already made and done, I added more alcohol to the last place I possibly could–the freshly melted chocolate….

Tip: Good idea: tasting the batter before you let it harden to decide if you should add more rum. Bad idea: adding alcohol to melted chocolate instead, since you neglected to taste the batter early enough, only to have the once silky chocolate turn into a pasty mush. Not so ideal for coating already-somewhat- soft- and -mushy cream cheese based truffles.

After battling with the unruly combination of soft batter and quickly hardening melted chocolate for quite some time, I decided it might be smart to give up on my dream of having a full batch of egg nog flavour, and instead finish the rest of them off with a dark chocolate (Toblerone…it’s all I had on hand) coating. It actually ended up being a wise choice…I preferred the dark chocolate truffles to the white…but GF begged to differ.

All in all, the recipe was a success. Much more so, at least, then the brownies from last week.

I was ready to put the tormenting truffles behind me, to forget about their trickery for good….until God decided to play a sick trick on me….

After I dried my last dish and put it safely away, Mama and I hurried off to Saturday evening mass. Thinking I scored a good seat in a relatively empty area, I smugly settled myself in, ready to mentally relax after a stressful afternoon in the kitchen. Just as the opening hymns began, the once empty pews in front of me were filled with a set of two couples…..and not your regular set of couples, no……two sets of parent couples… each fully equipped with a trio of three noisy energetic little brats kids…greaaaaat.

I spent the whole mass praying for my black soul as the kids bounced in and out of their seats, laughed too loud for me to hear the priest, cried way too many times for my liking and generally irritated me to my wits end. I was about ready to make a mad dash for the chalice.

By the end of the mass my glaring, piercing eyes of anger began to play tricks on me, too..

… I could’ve sworn that I was in fact glaring at the unruly truffles themselves…six life size truffles, bouncing in and out of the pews, laughing at me and my sticky batter-covered fingers.

————————————————————————————————–

Egg Nog and Dark Chocolate Truffles Topped with Nutmeg and Crushed pistachios

I found this recipe here at Sweet Memories Desserts’ blog. I was really in the mood for something with pistachio though, so I added some of those, crushed, to the topping. And, as you know, I substituted some of the white chocolate coating for dark chocolate. (cough, Toblerone…whatever, it’s good chocolate anyways) I also didn’t have rum extract so I used the real (goooodddd) stuff, dark rum. Go on, you know you want to too!

I’ve also submitted this post to Heather from He Cooks She Cooks blog to be a part of her Christmas Advent Calender!

The link is on the badge on the right hand side of my blog…

There’s TONS of goodies there so make sure you check it out!

Makes 2 dozen

INGREDIENTS

1 pound white baking chocolate, divided
4 ounces (1/2 package) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, Ground
1/4 teaspoon Imitation Rum Extract
Nutmeg, Ground (for sprinkling)

DIRECTIONS

1. Melt 8 ounces of the chocolate as directed on package. Beat cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, nutmeg and extract in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed mixer until well blended and smooth. Add melted chocolate; beat until well mixed. Cover. Refrigerate 4 hours or until firm.

2. Shape into 24 (about 3/4-inch) balls. Place on wax paper-lined tray. Refrigerate until ready to dip.

3. Coat only 12 truffles at a time. Melt 4 ounces of the remaining chocolate in small microwavable bowl on MEDIUM (50% power) 1 1/2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute. Using a fork, dip 1 truffle at a time into the melted chocolate. Tap back of fork 2 or 3 times against edge of dish to allow excess chocolate to drip off. Place truffles on wax paper-lined tray. (If there are any “bald” spots on truffle, cover with melted chocolate that remains on the fork.) Sprinkle truffles with nutmeg. Repeat with remaining 4 ounces chocolate and remaining truffles.

4. Refrigerate 1 hour or until chocolate is set. Store truffles between layers of wax paper in airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week.

Tips

Test Kitchen Tip: When dipping the truffles, do so in 2 batches (as directed above in Step 3) as the coldness of the truffles may cause the melted chocolate to harden.

Rum, nutmeg, pistachio, white chocolate and cream cheese...could life get any better?

These little guys made me thankful that I ran out/ruined my white chocolate:)

Help a sista out;)

December 5, 2010

I’d like to thank Gourmet Fury for suggesting that I enter my Flourless Chocolate Snow Mountain cookies into to her competition to win a free copy of the Foodista Cookbook (which Melody has also contributed to! so cool).

Head on over here to Gourmet Fury’s Facebook page, “Like” them and then “Like” my cookies here to help me out! The photo with the most Likes wins!

And don’t forget to check out Melody and her teams awesome blog, GourmetFury.com for an awesome read!!

 

 

You can also check out  my original post, and find the recipe, for my Snow cookies here.

Zia Agnese and why Red, White and Green isn’t only special because of Christmas

November 28, 2010

Okay, I have a confession to make. This one might come as a bit of a shock to you…..Here goes….

…at the risk of sounding culturally chauvinistic….

I am kind of extremely bias to all things Italian.

I had to say it. For my moral sanity. I had to be honest with you. There’s something about the culture, the food, the wine, the people….the country…that just gets me. You know what I mean? When you just feel so in sync with something. Everything Italian just fits me like a glove.

I could sit here forever and list all the reasons why I would wear red, white and green everyday gladly to show my pride, but I think I’ll skip to my main argument…the one that’ll drive my point home I’m sure.

As I’ve mentioned (countless) times before, I grew up in an Italian/Lithuanian household. Although the Lithuanian culture and traditions are still very much alive and thriving in our family functions, the fact that I grew up in a predominantly Italian neighbourhood meant that I had much more exposure to that side of the fence.  My dad was born in Terraccina, and despite growing up most of his life here in Canada, a lot of that culture was entrenched in his, and subsequently, our daily lives. But aside from the unrivaled family meals, the lively traditions, and the homemade wines, it is the people, my relatives, that make me truly proud to announce my Italian heritage.

I am a family girl, to the core. Not only do I strongly advocate that I have the most supportive, loving and thoughtful family ever, but they are indeed the coolest.

Seriously. I am actually way at the bottom of the cool charts in comparison to them. Most of my aunts and uncles can out drink me (classic example: a recent family reunion: cut to me passed out upstairs, not recalling how I got there, while my family continues to knock back shots of Stoli downstairs).

Perfect example of the pinnacle of coolness=my Zia Agnese. Not only does she own a wardrobe that would rival any woman with a shopping addiction, she sports a bleach blonde hairdo, drives a brand new Camaro (that doubles as the true love of her life), is fitter than most people I know, has a wicked sense of humour, promotes body piercings, and, on top of it all,  is 65 years old.

Since she works at the hair salon in The Bay at Yorkdale, I spent my four years of university commuting with her. This could be a good or bad thing depending on your energy level on any given morning. Oh, did I mention that she is more energetic than most of my 23-year-old friends.

All. Day. Long.

And I’m positive I mentioned this too, but I’ll remind you, that I am far from a morning person. Not a healthy match, I tell you.

But I must admit, she will perk you up on those mornings when you might be feeling particularly down.

Especially those mornings when Zio Joe decides to take the wheel….and Zia Agnese spends the duration of the ride telling him to “Cambia Lane-ah” in an attempt to get around the standard traffic back up on the 400 from the 401 east ramp. And Zio Joe spends the duration of the car ride informing Zia just whose driving.

Or those mornings when particularly reckless drivers force words like ‘HEY RIMBOMBI from Zia’s sweet innocent mouth.

Or those mornings, in January and February, when it’s minus 30 degrees outside, but Zia picks you up wearing tapini (flimsy little house slippers), with white socks, and asks you if it’s ok if she opens the windows because she’s “sooo hawt”.

No matter how much of a non-morning person you might claim to be, I promise, in these situations, you really can’t help but laugh.

So when I’m in the mood for a comforting Italian staple, and Zia’s not around to whip one up for me, there’s only one lady I can trust won’t let me down….

 

Hello, heaven

I don’t know what took me so long with this one. Seriously.  It wasn’t until the first time we tried out this recipe that I finally understood GF’s somewhat obscene love obsession with Giada de Laurentiis.

This is exactly the reason why Giada is now my kitchen superhero. (Okay, not the only reason…but one of the main ones) And another argument to add to my list of why Italian’s rock my socks (and tapini…)

Swordfish Panini with Lemon Aioli

Lemon Aioli

For the Lemon Aioli:

  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Swordfish Panini:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 (6-ounce) pieces swordfish, about 1-inch thick
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 loaf focaccia bread
  • 2 ounces (about 2 cups) fresh arugula greens

Directions

For the Lemon Aioli: Mix together all the ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

For the Swordfish Panini: Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. While the pan heats, season the fish with salt and pepper. Rub the herbs de Provence and minced garlic all over the fish. Cook the fish in the skillet until just cooked through and golden, about 2 to 3 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the fish.

Cut the bread into 4 sandwiches that will accommodate the size of the fish fillet. Cut the bread in half to make a top and bottom for the sandwich. Spread the Lemon Aioli on both halves of the sandwich. Top the bottom half with a handful (about 1/2 cup) of arugula greens. Top the arugula greens with the cooked swordfish, and top the sandwich with the remaining bread.

Serve immediately.

We used spinach instead of arugula

La Femme Robin Hood: Princess of Thieves (and brownie recipes!)

November 27, 2010

Brownie? Chocolate Spread? Whatever it is...it worked!

So week one of the new gig has come and gone. I would’ve wrote earlier but it seems the abyss of spare time I once swam in has evaporated from around me without much notice. It’s funny how change comes so quickly. I used to use meal-times as markers and countdown the minutes leading up to them. Dessert and camomile tea was the signature signal that it was nearing bedtime…tomorrow would come, countdown clock would start again. Now I find myself grabbing at every spare moment that I can find, holding tight to its buoyancy, praying silently not to let everything drown me in the new sea of busyness.

Please, please don’t misread my intended tone. I am by no means complaining. In fact, I

couldn’t be happier. I haven’t been happier in months–maybe even since graduation. (Okay, maybe I wish my gym schedule would work out the way I preferred but I guess I’ll just have to adjust). I love my job (so far), the people I work with are so nice, my face hurts by the end of the day from smiling so much, the tasks I’m responsible for are fun (especially for the nerd that I am so proud that I am), I get to be in one my favourite parts of the city daily (that, might I add, grants me access to and from transit without having to battle the unruly Canadian weather), one of my desk neighbours just so happens to be my amazing cousin, Twin, anndddd most importantly, I actually sleep at night now. A feet I have been trying unsuccessfully to conquer for quite some time.

Needless to say, I have been in particularly high spirits all week long.

Good moods seem to always come accompanied with the urge to bake. So bake is what I decided to do this weekend.

I found myself especially busy with other, less meaningful, ventures last year around this time, and since GF was and is always busy with work himself (my much more dedicated and hardworking other half), we would always save our Saturday nights and Sunday days to spend together, cooking in his basement, normally. Me, the ever so festive one, would surprise GF, the one with the ever so big sweet tooth, with  a different box of holiday chocolates every week. Since that was so well received last year, I knew I needed to make it an annual tradition. But this year I wanted to

switch it up….so switch it up I did. In replacement of the boxed goods, I have decided to bring with me a baked treat of my own making…..

A  few weeks of busy social calendars for both us–birthdays, out-of-town hockey games, etc–kept us apart for the past couple weekends, but tonight we will resume our traditional Saturdays. With our date came the need for me to create my first gift of Christmas.

After drooling profusely over an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate on the Food Network, I knew I had to try to recreate the Salty Caramel Brownies from Baked in NYC. I searched high and low and finally, I found and stole the recipe from “She’s Becoming Doughmesstic”‘s blog.

Oh…and I cheated…yup…I decided to steal a little bit of time back, and used a boxed brownie mix. Don’t judge me, okay? I’ve been robbed enough this week…just call me the Princ(ess) of Thieves…stealing back from those wealthy enough to bake the world from scratch…

The result?

Well, that wasn’t so fortunate. Apparently I baked them in too big of a dish, and they came out extremely thin. And extremely moist which means that I couldn’t quite cut them into brownies, but you could spread them on your bread like Nutella, a salty caramel-ly Nutella.

I am sometimes I bit clumsy in the kitchen. I’m still learning. And Mom Sac wasn’t around to help me out:(

But the flavour was still there!! That much I promise you. Slap some vanilla ice cream on the side, and you got yourself one gooey, fudgey, caramelly, salty, dessert.

So here they are, the Sea Salt Caramel Brownies…I still urge you to try them, you might have more luck than I did!

How the Baked Brownies are supposed to look....

MY extra-extra-EXTRA gooey version:)

Sea Salt Caramel Brownies

Sea Salt Caramel – adapted from Baked Cookbook

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sour cream

In a small saucepan, combine the cream and the salt.  Simmer over very low heat until the salt is dissolved. set aside.

In a medium saucepan combine the sugar and corn syrup carefully. They will not combine well until the sugar begins to melt. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350 degrees, 6 to 8 minutes.  Without a thermometer, just pull the sugar off the heat when it is a medium goldish brown – it will continue to cook in the heat of the pan. Better to pull it too early than too late. Remove from the heat and let cool for one minute. Important note: Don’t let it cool for more than one minute. Why? You ask? Well unless you want to work through harden candy until your arm falls off like I did, then I wouldn’t advise it!

Add the cream mixture and the vanilla to the sugar mixture.  Whisk in the sour cream.  Let the caramel cool to room temp, then follow the brownie instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate any leftover caramel. it makes a great ice cream topping or tastes great straight out of the jar.

For the brownies:

Buy Duncan Hines Fudge Brownie mix. Follow instructions on the box. Spread half into your greased baking dish, pour the caramel on top, and cover with the rest of the brownie mix. Bake for about 15-20 minutes (or more, depending on the size of your dish, I used a 9″x11″ so it didn’t take too long) at 350.

 

When I was still hopeful about the results....That's my homemade caramel...mmmm:)

That’s IT!

Easy peasy.

And I promise you will have the rest of your Saturday afternoon to enjoy at your leisure!

Happy weekending:)

Flourless Chocolate Snow Mountains & A Ginger-Snap into my Christmas Past

November 21, 2010

As a young girl with an overactive imagination, I was always living in a magical world. Monsters constantly lurked under my bed, ghost men were stashed away in the shadows of my closet, prince charming was patiently waiting for me to realize that boys didn’t have cooties and come join him in the castle and, most importantly, Santa was always watching…

It’s officially holiday season and I am on a holiday magazine binge. I love looking at the decorations, crafts, and magazines, of course, and brainstorming my potluck contributions would be based on the featured roasts and cookie recipes.

In this December’s Chatelaine, editor Jane Francisco asked her colleagues to recount with their readers their favourite parts of the holiday season. As I read their thoughts on how Christmas ain’t Christmas without baked ham, stuffed stockings, family-filled menorah lighting and tree decorating rituals, the back of mind was taking a sleigh ride to my past in an attempt to place what it was that has always made Christmas the most wonderful time of the year for me. What activity, what story, what memory was it? Except, I couldn’t quite put my finger on one concrete example. I pushed the incomplete mission to the back of mind and I flipped forward to peruse the wine tips, holiday meal ideas and Christmas cookies.

For several days I revisited the thought, but still nothing significant hit me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I have no good Christmas memories, in fact, probably the opposite. I was just struggling to decided which one meant the most–which one would make or break the whole season for me.

Tonight it hit me.

I decided to join my mom and sister to evening mass. An odd venture for me, honestly. However, as soon as I stepped foot into the church, it swept over me like an eggnog tidal wave of realization–a streaming video in my mind of all of my Christmas childhood ghosts of past. Going to Saturday mass every week, singing carols in the choir, the words to all the hymns, the colour of our song-list binder, the annual bake sale, anxiously waiting to give the priest a high-five on the way out, the Advent crafts, uncomfortably doing my homework in the living room, just so I would be as close to the tree as possible, anxiously watching the sun slowly set to dusk, my hand gripping the light plug in anticipation, forcing my dad and uncle to come watch the midnight screening Christmas Eve play, the fish fry I would crave for weeks, the feeling of apprehension that pulsed through me every December 24th as I tried to keep my eyes shut long enough to fall asleep, the heat of the warmth from our wood burning fireplace, the feel of the snow on my padded mittens, the trickle down your face of a neglected runny nose, that spicy smell of cinnamon and ginger and chocolate in the abundance of baked treats…

…but what hit me the hardest, the most vividly, was not a memory at all, but rather a feeling, an emotion. It was that same energy, that magical energy that the holiday bestows upon you, that fills you from the tingle in your frozen toes to the warmth in your heart. That is my favourite part of the holidays. The emotion whose power knows no end, that transports you to the North Pole, that makes every snowflake twinkle, that pulls your mouth into a permanent grin, that most importantly makes you realize just how easy to believe and question why the rest of the year you seem to make it always so hard.

After owning it for almost a year, yesterday I finally got to the end of the Polar Express (one of my favourite Christmas books growing up). I must admit that, as sad as it sounds, in the end I felt a strong pang of jealousy for the main little boy. I won’t spoil the plot for you, but I’ll just say that I wish we lived in a world where we could all still here the ring of the sleigh bells..

Today we also started putting out our Christmas decorations. Treats for our hard work of lugging boxes and bags of ornaments and wreaths were in order.

I decided it would only be fitting to pick a recipe from the same pages of words that were responsible for filling me with this overwhelming sense of holiday spirit. I chose to create a winter wonderland and my oven with the Flourless Chocolate Snow Mountains featured in the Holiday Cookie Collection from this year’s holiday edition of Chatelaine.

I made a few adjustments–a bit of spice here, a bit of cinnamon there–and the instant aroma that filled my kitchen simultaneously cured my nostalgic blues and infused a bit of magic back into my soul.

Flourless Chocolate Snow Mountains

1/2 cup ground almonds

1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder (I put a bit less cocoa in to make room for a bunch of cinnamon and a bit of ground ginger…I didn’t measure how much I added of the latter two, though, just kind of gauged it with my eyes and nose)

1 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1/2 tsp vanilla

112 g dark chocolate, about 4 squares, chopped, melted and cooled

1/4 granulated sugar

1/2 cup icing sugar

Whisk almonds with cocoa, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter with brown sugar in a large bowl, using an electric mixer, until light and fluffy, about 3 min. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in cooled chocolate. Fold in almond mixture until combined. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until dough is firm enough to roll, about 10 min.

Position oven racks in top and bottom thirds of over. Preheat oven to 350Ff. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place granulated and icing sugars in 2 separate small bowls. Scoop dough and roll into tbsp-sized balls. Coat with granulated sugar, then icing sugar. Place on prepared sheets 1 in. apart. Bake in top and bottom thirds of oven, switching and rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies crack, 12 to 14 mind. Remove sheets to a rack and leave for 2 min. Cookies will look undercooked but will continue to bake as they sit. Remove to a rack to cool completely. Store in airtight contained at room temperature up to 1 week or freeze up to 1 month.

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