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Saturday, 19 November 2011

Christmas Skor Bark


Sometimes I have trouble making my baked goods look really perfect and pretty. I certainly am a messy cook in the kitchen, and I'm trying to make more "refined" finished products by taking more time for the finishing touches. As this comes with practice, it's sometimes nice to have a recipe that you're literally going to crack into messy pieces and be totally OK with that! 

This is a recipe that's always looks really great in a Christmas tin - and is so diverse that you can make it so many different ways (see variation note below!).  

If you do try some exciting new combos, please leave me a note - I would love to try some new ideas from you too! :)

Christmas Skor Bark
Adapted from http://homecooking.about.com/

Ingredients:
1 cup of butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 box (about) graham crackers
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup of Skor Chipits

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a cookie sheet with tinfoil. Arrange whole graham crackers to fit the bottom of the pan in a single layer, breaking up the last few to fit the space.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and white sugar. Stir to combine. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and let the mixture gently bubble for 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Carefully pour sugar/butter mixture evenly over the graham cracker layer. Spread to cover. Bake for 10 minutes.

When done, remove from oven and let rest until bubbling subsides. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the top. Wait about 2 minutes for chocolate to melt, and then use a spatula to gently spread chocolate chips into an even layer on top of the toffee graham crackers.

Sprinkle with the Skor Chipits, pressing down gently into the chocolate.

Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for 2 hours. Peel foil from chilled bark. Break into 2-inch irregular pieces.

Refrigerate any leftovers. You can also freeze this but I wouldn’t recommend it be over a couple weeks as it can taste stale.

For variations, ask yourself, “What’s my favorite chocolate and candy or nut?”

Chocolate – use milk, dark, or white chocolate

Toppings – 1 cup of chopped macadamia nuts, honey roasted peanuts, candy, candycane, etc.    

Be creative and have fun! 

Friday, 18 November 2011

Haystacks

Try adding a little extra to your wreath with fresh cinnamon sticks and hydrated fruit! Smells great!
Warning: bite-size cookies that are highly addictive!  

These are a family favorite that we've been making for over 10 years. They are great for a cookie exchange, gifts, or parties. Basically, they are good for any event where you will need a large yield. This batch makes over 100.  They are small, so don't worry about thinking it will take forever - it's pretty easy once you get started.  

Originally they were made with the toffee bars - and the company stopped making them! I was stressed that I would never be able to make my cookies again. However, I checked the website and they do still make the individually wrapped toffee candies.  Christmas has many smells for me - and the smell of cooking toffee is definitely one of them! 

Haystacks
Taken from a family friend, Mrs. Strong.

Ingredients:

2 x 170 g Mack Toffee (Macintosh plaid wrapper) Package (total of 340 g)
1 package of large white marshmallows
1 package of Special K
1 tin of sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup of butter

Directions:

Prior to starting to make the cookies I would place the following in their own bowls to make things easier: 1) all unwrapped toffee 2) cut marshmallows in halves 3) Special K

Prepare a cookie sheet with wax paper and put to one side.
 
In a large saucepan, melt butter and add toffee.
When melted, add condensed milk and heat until bubbling and smooth, reduce to low heat

Using a fondue or regular fork, dip halved marshmallow into toffee mixture until coated

Drop into bowl filled with Special K and turn until completely covered (be careful it’s HOT)

Place on cookie sheet.

Repeat until you’ve made all 100+ cookies – this is a huge yield and it’s meant to be frozen until served. You can place cookies in freezer in cookie sheet until just frozen enough to then stack on one another in an airtight container.

This recipe requires a little of an assembly line mentality to ensure things get done without burning on the toffee or scalding your hands! Once you get the first few done, you'll be flying in no time. 

Before serving, thaw slightly. These are a favorite and I’m glad there are so many to share with friends who keep coming back for more! 

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Gingerbread Men Cookies



It's never too early to start your Christmas baking! Especially if you're like me and you want to do up some fun homemade gifts of your baked goods. These freeze well if you plan to make them ahead. And I highly recommend that you do start baking early and store up your supply as the Christmas season gets hectic. Devote some time early to baking, and then you get to enjoy relaxing AND eating treats later too!

As for these cookies,  I am in love with gingerbread.  You can get as creative as you want with decorating. I kept mine pretty simple this year - but have also enjoyed experimenting with chocolate, chocolate chips, candy pieces, and/or frosting!  Also, depending on your cookie-cutter size, you may have a different yield. 

Enjoy getting into the Christmas spirit. I also won't tell anyone if you start listening to Christmas music - December is only a couple weeks away!

Gingerbread Men Cookies
Adapted from simplyrecipes.com

Makes approximately 16 (5 inch) cookies.
 
Ingredients:

Cookies
3 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter (room temperature, softened)
1/2 cup dark-brown sugar, packed
1 TBSP ground ginger
1 TBSP ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp.  finely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp.  salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses


Royal Icing
1 egg white
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 3/4 cup confectioners sugar (powdered sugar)

Directions:

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.
In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter. Add sugar and beat until fluffy.
Mix in eggs and molasses. Gradually add the flour mixture; combine on low speed.
Divide dough in thirds; wrap each third in plastic.
Chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Before rolling out, let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes.
If after refrigerating the dough feels too soft to roll-out, work in a little more flour.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Place a third of the dough on a large piece of lightly floured parchment paper or wax paper. Using a rolling pin, roll dough 1/8 inch thick. Refrigerate again for 5-10 minutes to make it easier to cut out the cookies.

Use either a cookie cutter or place a stencil over the dough and use a knife to cut into desired shapes. Press raisins, chocolate chips, or candy pieces in the center of each cookie if desired for "buttons".

Transfer to ungreased baking sheets. Bake until crisp but not darkened, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Let sit a few minutes and then use a metal spatula to transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Decorate as desired.

 
Royal Icing

Beat egg whites and lemon juice together, adding the powdered sugar until the mixture holds stiff peaks.  

If the icing is too runny, add more powdered sugar until you get the desired consistency. Fill a piping bag with the icing to pipe out into different shapes. (Or use a plastic sandwich bag, with the tip of one corner of the bag cut off.) Keep the icing covered while you work with it or it will dry out.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Nacho Dip

It's that time of year when you start to get Christmas invitations for house and work parties and you're left to sign up what food you want to bring.  Well, this is an easy and delicious nacho dip that will be a success for that salty craving!


Nacho Dip
Taken from my family recipe book.

Makes 2 pie plates of dip. 


Ingredients:

1 block of cream cheese
1 250 ml tub of sour cream
1 package of taco seasoning mix
Ground beef
Mozza/Cheddar grated cheese
Salsa (heat of choice)
2 tin (or glass) pie plates


Directions:

Preheat oven to 350.
Cook ground beef with taco seasoning as directed on package.
In a large bowl, mix cream cheese and sour cream until smooth.
Divide evenly between two pie plates and spread as a base into each pie plate.
Take salsa and spread over base evenly - about 1 1/2 cups for each pie plate.
Sprinkle cooked ground beef evenly over both plates.
Grate mozza/cheddar mixed cheese over the top.

Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes until cheese is melted.

Serve with your favorite nachos or crackers!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Stuffed Zucchini

 With Christmas sneaking closer, it got me thinking about stuffing. Christmas stocking stuffing, turkey stuffing, and stuffing your face with delicious treats.  However, one thing that I didn't think that could happen was stuffing my own leg into a cast.  But here I am, leg propped up, cast on, and ready for the Christmas season (as you can see!). 

This weekend my husband and I decided to go for a little hike. Nothing crazy, no multi-day backcountry deal, just into the woods, check out some potential places to explore in the spring, and then come home after a boil up with some maple smoked salmon we had packed.  It was a few degrees, sunny, and the trail was rocky and twisty that led to some stunning views. 

Half way back, it began to snow. We had our hiking boots on, and extra clothes packed just in case. No problem.  We had just eaten our lunch and were ready to head back to the parking lot and excited of  when we would return in the spring. Then it happened. My foot slipped on a large angled rock covered in snow, my body when flying, I saw and felt my ankle crack at an unnatural angle, and then heard myself scream as I landed in a heap.

It happened.
I broke my ankle or leg in the woods.
It's snowing.
Something is broken.

My husband runs toward me making sure that I didn't hit my head or hurt anything else. We slowly prop me up to see if I can bare any weight.  I quickly crumble. He fashions two large sticks into crutches to see if I can hop. 

Hop. Wince. Hop. Bones moving. Hop. I can't do this.

We must sacrifice a pack. I throw all of the cooking gear, garbage into my day pack and it's thrown into a tree. We then make sure we have the important things like extra clothes and a cell phone. A search and rescue was not what we wanted - especially with the sky only having a couple more hours of daylight and the astronomical costs of rescue plus the risk of us getting too cold while waiting. We weren't lost - we just needed to get out. 

I'm wearing his pack, bracing my leg, and am slowly lifted up on his back to begin the 2 hour  piggyback rescue until we reach the parking lot.  There were a lot of tears, words of motivation, and breaks to catch our breath.

But we made it. Onto the ER we go. After much welcomed morphine to kill the pain and X-rays, it is clear that I have broken my left fibula right above the left ankle. Thankfully, it's broken clean enough that it looks like surgery will not have to be an option, and I can get a cast.

Here I am casted. Trying to get in the Christmas spirit. And utilizing my crutches in the kitchen slowly getting from one place to the next.  I will have the cast on for at least six weeks - but this will NOT stop me from getting my Christmas cookie exchange and recipes ready - I have had time to look through too many recipes to give up now! Thank you for following along and for my friends who are giving much love and support! 

So, I have one foot stuffed into a cast or "stocking" for Christmas... here's some early supper goodies for you - stuffed zucchini :) Enjoy!

Stuffed Zucchini
Taken from America’s Test Kitchen: Light & Healthy 2010.

Makes 4. They’re great as a side dish or as a meal itself.

Ingredients:
4 zucchini (buy ones that are between 6-8 inches long)
1 shallot, minced (about 3 TBSP)
1 tsp olive oil
salt
2/3 cup couscous
¾ cup low sodium chicken broth
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about ¼ cup)
¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped coarse
2 TBSP chopped fresh basil (preferred but you can use dried spice)
pepper

Directions:
Preheat oven 475 degrees.


Slice off and discard the top third of each zucchini lengthwise and arrange the
bottoms, cut side down, in a microwave safe dish. Microwave on high until the
cut side of the zucchini is slightly translucent and easily pierced – 4-8 minutes.




Combine the shallot, oil, and ¼ tsp salt in a small saucepan.  Cover and cook
over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4-6 minutes. 
Increase the heat to medium, add the couscous, and cook stirring frequently,
until lightly browned and aromatic, about 4 minutes.

Stir in the broth and bring to a brief simmer. Remove the saucepan from the
heat, stir in ½ cup of the feta, olives, and basil, cover and let sit for 5 minutes.
Fluff the couscous with a fork and season with pepper to taste.

Divide the couscous mixture evenly among the zucchini. Sprinkle with the
remaining 1/3 cup feta and bake until the cheese is slightly browned, about 10
minutes. Serve!! f you have leftover "stuffing" it's awesome to eat as is - don't
throw it out. 




Friday, 11 November 2011

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins


Gold Muffin Liners!
Over the last few days, I've been thinking about adding cream cheese as one of my favorite food groups. However, I realized it would be a slippery slope - and would have to add butter, chocolate, and cheese as their own food groups too. . . you understand how things would get complicated.


One thing that remained simple and delicious was this recipe. Plus, I was on the hunt for new baking goodies and found these awesome gold muffin liners! Bonus!


If you haven't already, you should check out the blog Annie's Eats linked below. It's a phenomenal professional blog that I often get some of my cooking inspiration from. With practice I hope to get better with everything with my own blog! I'm so glad that you've been following along and maybe even passing on some recipes to your friends :)
Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
Adapted from http://annies-eats.net/
Makes 24 muffins.
Ingredients:
Filling:
8 oz. softened cream cheese
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Muffins:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
1 TBSP plus 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin puree
1¼ cups vegetable oil
Adding the cream cheese mixture

















Topping:
½ cup sugar
5 TBSP flour
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
4 TBSP cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Directions:
To prepare the filling, combine the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl and mix well until blended and smooth.  Transfer the mixture to a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a log about 1½-inches in diameter.  Smooth the plastic wrap tightly around the log, and reinforce with a piece of foil.  Transfer to the freezer and chill. Make sure you let this chill for 4 or more hours - I would suggest doing it the night before to ensure it is well frozen. When I made mine it was a bit of a mess because I only let it chill for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350.  Line muffin pans with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, pumpkin pie spice, salt and baking soda; whisk to blend.  In a small bowl mix the eggs, sugar, pumpkin puree and oil.  Mix on medium-low speed until blended.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated.
To make the topping, combine the sugar, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl; whisk to blend.  Add in the butter pieces and cut into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender or two forks until the mixture is coarse and crumbly.  Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use.
To assemble the muffins, fill each muffin well with a small amount of batter, just enough to cover the bottom of the liner (about 1/2 TBSP).  Slice the log of cream cheese filling into 24 equal pieces.  Place a slice of the cream cheese mixture into each muffin well.  Divide the remaining batter among the muffin cups, placing on top of the cream cheese to cover completely.  Sprinkle a small amount of the topping mixture over each of the muffins.
Bake for 25 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving. 

AMAZING. If I had to rate the two pumpkin recipes this week - I'd have to say that I think I like this one more... that cream cheese centre is heaven! 
Don't forget your topping!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Thai Grilled Chicken with Spicy, Sweet, & Sour Dipping Sauce

I use my BBQ all year round.  And with this recipe - it's certainly worth a few cold brushes of wind to have a sizzling juicy product of Thai grilled chicken.  You will need some time to brine the chicken - don't skip that part! I served mine with some sticky white rice - but you can substitute for another kind - or even some veggies.

Thai Grilled Chicken with Spicy, Sweet, & Sour Dipping Sauce

Taken from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen 2001-2011.
Makes for two.

Ingredients:

Chicken & Brine:
 ½ cup sugar
½ cup table salt
2 (1 ½ pound) boneless skinless chicken breasts

Sauce:
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup distilled white vinegar
¼ cup squeezed lime juice (1-2 limes)
2 TBSP fish sauce 
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 tsp)
1 tsp red pepper flakes

Rub:
 2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
12 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about ¼ cup)
¼ cup squeezed limejuice
2 TBSP minced or grated fresh ginger
2 TSBP ground black pepper
2 TBSP ground coriander
2 TBSP vegetable (or olive) oil

Directions:
For the Chicken & Brine:
Dissolve the sugar and salt in 2 quarts (8 cups) of cold water in a large bowl.  Submerge the chicken, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 HOUR.
Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels.

For the Sauce:
Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves and set aside.

For the Rub:
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. 
Working with one chicken breast at a time, rub the mixture so it coats the entire surface evenly.
Grill chicken on BBQ.
Transfer chicken to platter and let rest for five minutes. Serve with rice and dipping sauce. This has lots of taste - great with a milder rice to calm your taste buds. Spicy - at a medium-mild range for me.