baking, cooking, craftmas

On the second day of Craftmas…

…my true love gave to me: a really easy recipe!

Who couldn’t use one of those in his or her repertoire, especially at this time of year?  There’s so much to get done, and anything that doesn’t involve preheating, rolling, cutting, frosting, etc. can’t be all bad.

And so I present to you my recipe for Cuban Lunch.  They’re based on a defunct chocolate bar (which was apparently resurrected earlier this year, but I haven’t seen it anywhere), and are a crowd-pleaser if ever I saw one.  You can make a lot quickly, and they’re perfect for gift-giving or cookie trays.  A few years ago, I gave little care packages to the management team at work, and within half an hour everyone had IM-ed me to say thank you – except for the men in the group, who IM-ed me to say thank you, and also that they had eaten all six in one shot.

What you need:

  • 2 cups each of semi-sweet chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, and butterscotch chips.  If you buy these things in bulk and actually want to measure, great; I find that your standard 300g bags found in the baking aisle give you what you need
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed ripple potato chips
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped peanuts
  • Optional, but nice: a kind person to help you set out your mini cupcake liners, and to set out more when your hands are occupied by chocolate-coated utensils and you realize you’re getting way more of these from the recipe than you anticipated

Set out your mini cupcake liners.  The recipe I found has a yield of 75, but whoever wrote it must have filled their liners fuller than I do.  This may take some experimentation on your part, so keep a few extra nearby.  Also, the tinfoil is not strictly necessary, but prevents you having to wash your cookie sheet when you drop chocolate on it – and you will drop chocolate on it.

Chop your peanuts and crush your ripple chips.  I like to use a mini food processor for the chips, but if you have some holiday rage to work through, a sturdy Ziploc bag and a rolling pin make a wonderful substitute.  Set them aside for now.

Put your 6 cups of baking chips in a microwave-safe bowl.  I like to fold them all together to prevent weird pockets of one kind or another in the finished product, because I’m like that.  Once you’re satisfied that your mixture is as homogeneous as it’s going to get, microwave it on high for 30-second bursts.  After each round, take it out and stir it before putting it back in for another 30 seconds.  Yes, this is a giant drag, but chocolate likes to hold its shape even when it’s at a melting point, so check and stir, every single time, until everything is completely melted.  No one likes scorched chocolate.

Once the baking chips are completely melted, fold in your potato chips and peanuts.  It can seem like a lot to integrate, but keep at ‘er.  Your mixture should look something like this.

Spoon the mixture into those mini cupcake liners you so painstakingly peeled apart and placed on your cookie sheets.  Once they’re all filled, they’ll need to set.  They will set up at room temperature, but some time in the fridge or freezer helps immensely.  If you live somewhere cold, use nature’s freezer!  (Just make sure you don’t have any neighbourhood wildlife creeping around.)

These can be stored in a sealed container at room temperature or in the fridge, and look so cute in a little cellophane treat bag tied up with a bow.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking, cooking

Strawberries, cherries, and an angel’s kiss in spring…

…my summer jam is really made from all these things.  (And a lot less likely to leave you hung over and robbed of your silver spurs!)

The very first year the cherry tree in the front yard yielded fruit – honestly edible fruit, and not the kind you leave for the birds to peck at – I was thrilled.  This isn’t exactly the Okanagan, so this was a novelty to me, one that elicited fantasies of making jam and…well, I didn’t make it much past jam.  And when I first tried it using a Jell-o jam recipe a couple of years ago, the results weren’t great.  (What did I expect?  Jell-o is not and will never be a proper substitute for pectin.)

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It’s not a huge tree, but it’s got spirit and bursts forth with cherries like it’s going through some sort of weird tree puberty.

Last year yielded another large crop.  Since the idea of “real” canning terrifies me and has me convinced I’ll give someone botulism, I looked for a recipe for freezer jam, and found this.  Even though the recipe specifically calls for sweet cherries, it works wonderfully with my tart little harvest, too.  It’s remarkably similar to the one found inside the Certo package, with the small addition of microwaving the fruit-and-sugar mixture for a few minutes to increase the saturation point and help the sugar dissolve for non-grainy jam.  (There’s something a little disturbing about a recipe using so much sugar that the fruit can’t absorb it all on its own, but even the Certo box calls for the same amount.  In any case, that brief heating works like a charm.)

And, sure, the cherry jam was good, but I sighed that I wished I had my late grandmother’s recipe for strawberry jam.  Hers was the best, bar none, and I had spent the entirety of this millennium to date without tasting it.

“She just used the recipe from the Certo box,” my dad pointed out.  Wait.  The same recipe that I had just more-or-less used with great success?  “The very same.”  Suddenly, memories of her retrieving a new jar from the freezer, not the pantry/basement flitted past my mind’s eye.  I could have been enjoying this stuff for the past 15-plus years.

It was past strawberry season when I had that epiphany, but this year, there was no way I was going to miss out again.  Farmers’ markets may or may not be a giant rip-off (case in point: the cherries that proliferate unbidden in the front yard cost $5.49/lb at the market, and they’re tiny and mostly pit, and tart to boot), but there’s no denying that fresh, local strawberries taste only about a million times better than their pale, flavourless California cousins.  It was a challenge to not eat them all before I could puree and mix and jar them.

But I managed it, and was rewarded with this:

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Keepin’ it real with mismatched and repurposed jars, there – yet another perk to freezer jam.  Even tasting the mixture as I went along to make sure the sugar was dissolved was like a trip down memory lane.

Of course, it’s hard to justify spending $7.49/pint and not use the fruit you can get for free, right?

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The freezer is full of unlabelled reddish jars now.  But don’t worry; I can tell them apart.

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(Editor’s note: I could have sworn the line, “I can’t see the difference.  Can you see the difference?” was from some sort of margarine ad, but a quick Google search confirms it’s ABC laundry detergent.  The more you know!)

I still had half a bucket full of cherries after the jam, so I baked the Bourbon Cherry Crisp from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

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Warm from the oven, it was a bit like a cherryish hot and sour soup.  But ah, at room temperature – heaven on Earth!  The topping is crisp and lovely, and the sliced almonds complement the fruit perfectly.  I’ve still got some cherries in the freezer, pitted and ready to go, so a second batch may be in order.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

cooking

It’s like Violet Beauregarde in a jar

Quick confession time: I tackled cherry jam again this year.  After last year’s attempt, I tried making proper freezer jam using the basic instructions from the Certo box, and wow.  Wowee wow.  This stuff is good.  Not nearly as sweet as last year’s, and actually (ta-daaa!) a proper, jam-like consistency.  No more holding my toast perfectly level!  I did not, however, document the process in photographs, since the hour and a half leading up to jam-making found the two of us with red, juicy hands and increasingly cranky temperaments as pits kept shooting onto the floor.  (There must be a market somewhere for pre-cleaned fruit.)  Ah, well.  Suffice it to say it was worth the struggle.  And now on to today’s adventure.

I had fully expected the cherry jam to be my swan song for the summer.  How much jam does one need in one’s freezer, anyway?  But then this happened:

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A big ol’ box of blueberries for $8.99 seemed too good to pass up.  And with the holiday weekend, well – that could have meant blueberry waffles, blueberry-oatmeal bar…did I mention waffles?  Unfortunately, the bathroom was being redone that weekend, and the neighbour’s cats were being baby-sat, and so it wasn’t quite the lazy weekend I had in mind.  By the time I rescued them from the basement fridge the following Saturday, they were still holding up really well, but I wanted to get them dealt with while that was still true.  Did you know they make pectin especially for freezer jam?

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Well, they do!  And look at how simple it is:

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So, I got to a-washin’, a-crushin’, and a-measurin’.  Note my extremely sophisticated berry-crushing station.  I bet Smuckers hasn’t got a set-up like I have.

After adding my crushed fruit to the sugar-and-pectin mix, and stirring for three minutes, I got this:

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I left the fruit fairly chunky on purpose, figuring that if the pectin didn’t gel up the way it was supposed to, the fruit would give it some body.  I just noticed now that there’s a lot of vintage Tupperware gracing my pictures here – this is what happens when you have two former dealers in the family.  (Dealers?  Representatives?  Oh, holy spirit of Brownie Wise, what do you call those ladies?!)

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My jars are Dollarama specials – at $3 for a pack of three-250 ml jars, they’re slightly more expensive than the flats you can find in all the grocery stores at this time of year – but darn it, check out those adorable gingham lids!

I wasn’t sure how non-Certo pectin would work, but this turned out really well!  Because the recipe uses less sugar, it tastes pretty much exactly like fresh blueberries – like summer (or Violet Beauregarde) in a jar.

As always, thanks for looking! 🙂

baking, cooking

“M” is for “May” and “Mother” and “Meringue”…

Note: This post was originally written and meant to be posted on Sunday; however, because of some technical issues with WordPress first obscuring my photos and then abruptly deleting my entire text, there has been a slight delay.

My neighbours, who are DINKs (to clarify: very nice people, who happen to be Dual Income, No Kids), made the rookie mistake of going out for breakfast this morning.  The restaurant, they reported later, was absolutely packed.  You people have no children!  That’s a free pass from having to do the Mother’s Day brunch mob!  That’s one big advantage to not having kids!  Of course, the advantage to having children who are old enough to use the stove without summoning the local fire department is that you also get to avoid the crowds, and enjoy a home-cooked breakfast, possibly still in your pajamas.

I had mulled over a few ideas for what to make for breakfast, but decided to go with an old standby: giant(ish) baked apple pancakes, which I’ve posted on here before.  They come together really quickly, and yet look so impressive – because whoa, that thing’s the size of my plate!

Just after coming out of the oven, all puffed-up and golden at the edges.

The butter and brown sugar create a built-in syrup of sorts as it bakes, no maple required.  Fun fact: I once forgot to add the brown sugar to the pie pans before baking, and although they released super-easily, they were a little dry and not…quite…right.

I also wanted to make something for dessert, but not the same-old.  Cupcakes are nice, and all, but it’s been done.  While flipping through my collection of cookbooks, I found a recipe for flapper pie in the Kitchen Magpie’s book.  (Hardly surprising, since said book is titled Flapper Pie and a Blue Prairie Sky.)  The recipe took me a little bit out of my comfort zone, but seemed fairly simple, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Did I say “a little bit out of my comfort zone”?  This thing had me tense.  It was only the second time I’ve had to make a thick, pudding-like filling using cornstarch and heat as my catalysts (the first time was the pudding for my Brooklyn Blackout Cake), and I thought it was never going to thicken.  When it did, though, did it ever.  One minute, I was stirring what was in essence a pot of liquid, and the next it was producing a diabolical plopping sound as it came to a boil, and I’m pretty sure I could have gotten my spoon to stand up in the middle of it.  Also, I had never had occasion to make meringue before, and was convinced I would never get stiff peaks out of what seemed like fairly benign ingredients.  But lo (and behold!), the Kitchen Magpie did not fail me, and before long I was topping my pie and popping it into the oven to brown up.

It didn’t come out of the pan quite as neatly as I would have liked, but it did stay more-or-less intact, and tastes like it’s supposed to.  Certainly the Woman of the Hour was impressed – and that’s what matters, right?

Thanks for reading – Happy Mother’s Day! 🙂

baking, cooking

What rhymes with “glass”?

“Glass…glass, hmm…I’ve got it: ‘alas’!” – Linus Larrabee, Sabrina

With Easter approaching (or, ahem, upon us), I wanted to make something light and springy – in taste and appearance, not texture.  No one likes rubbery cake.  Years ago, my grandmother used to make a dessert we called “Broken Glass”.  A quick Google search reveals that yes, this is still something that people know about, and recipes abound.  I used this one, but I think I’ll re-write it for myself to better order the steps.

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If you decide to make this, you really ought to consider making your gelatin first.  The recipe calls for strawberry, lime, and orange, but I opted for a cherry-lemon-berry blue combination.  You’re limited only by your imagination, your personal preferences, and what’s readily available in your local grocery stores.  (There, that’s not very limiting, is it?!)

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Although the crust is the first step in the recipe – and the second, if you count “chill” as a step – I held off on making it until my gelatin was nice and firm.  The crust really doesn’t need to chill for that long, and you want to make sure you’ll have sufficient fridge space for everything.  If you’ve got a gloriously large and/or empty fridge, good for you; feel free to shove everything in there at once to chill and/or firm up.

A word about the dreadfully ambiguous eighth step “Set aside until slightly thickened”: I have no idea what “slightly thickened” means, especially since at no time are we told to put it in the fridge to start the thickening/setting process.  At last, something that doesn’t go in the fridge!  When I made this, I let it cool to room temperature so that it wouldn’t completely dissolve my formerly-frozen, now-thawed whipped topping.

And a quick word about pineapple juice: make sure it’s pure pineapple juice, unsweetened, and untainted by other “filler” juices.  My friend made this recipe using a pineapple/apple/pear blend, and it left a funny taste to the filling.

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You should wind up with something that looks like this.

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Isn’t it pretty when it’s cut?

This makes a light, fruity dessert that goes down easily.  It’s also a great recipe for summer because there’s no oven involved – and no stovetop, either, if you boil your water and pineapple juice in the microwave.

Thanks for looking – and Happy Easter! 🙂

baking, cooking

Hey! You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!

I try very hard to adhere to my Birthday Cake Rule (longtime readers, you know what I’m talking about!), but every so often, a wrench gets thrown into the works.  Take my dad’s July birthday; the first thought that popped into my head was, “Ugh, it’s too darned hot to bake!”

(In all fairness, I had that same thought last year and took what I thought was an easy out by ordering an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen.  Their regular decorator was on vacation – though no one told us this when we special-ordered it a week in advance – and the resulting dessert fell firmly into the “can’t-sleep-clown-will-eat-me” nightmare category.  But hey, all cats are grey in the dark, right?)

To my credit, I had a plan this year.  I had made the Peanut Butter Cup Icebox Cake from the Brown Eyed Baker for Father’s Day, and it was a resounding success.  Chocolate and peanut butter appear to be the way to his heart – so why not make it again?

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I’ve started to think of this as my “cardio cake” (which is really stretching to make something sound far healthier than it really is): because the instructions indicate that each layer needs to chill in the fridge while the next one is prepared, and because there’s never a 9 x 13″ chunk of spare real estate in the upstairs fridge, I had to keep running it down to the basement fridge for its solitary confinement and then back down to retrieve it when I was ready to proceed.

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But was it worth it?  Just look at those layers of chocolate-peanut butter-y goodness!

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It does generate a lot of dishes – and necessitates the dirtying of that clunky monster, the food processor – but for a cool and creamy finish to your meal, you could do a lot worse!

As always, thanks for looking! 🙂

cooking

Homemade preserves? That’s totally my jam!

For oh, years and years, I had ignored the random cherry-producing plant (logic would suggest it’s a tree, but it really doesn’t look tree-like) in the front yard.  It never really seemed to yield that much fruit, just a smattering that would be left for the birds.  Somehow, it decided to make up for lost time this year, and its branches became so loaded with cherries that it became impossible to weed-whack underneath as the sheer weight made the lower branches sag right to ground level.

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And that’s not all of them!  That front pail was full, and you can’t see the extra-large mop bucket likewise full on the bottom shelf of the fridge.  While they’re certainly edible, they’re tart as all get-out, which rather curbed the urge to try to snack on them unadorned (imagine trying to eat a cranberry straight up: not vile, but not something anybody ever does).

I had tossed around the idea of making Cherry Mountain Cake, a recipe given to me by one of the underwriters that makes for a spectacular and show-stopping dessert.  The logistical headache or storing the finished product, however, quickly struck that from my list.  Maybe I could preserve them somehow…

Full confession: I was a Jam Virgin.  I’ve always loved the idea of turning summer-fresh fruit into a lovely homemade spread to be enjoyed year-round, but it was an intimidating prospect.  Canners!  Water baths!  Making sure a tight seal is formed so you don’t inadvertently poison your lucky test subjects with botulism!  No, I needed something simple; maybe a freezer jam of sorts.  And so I happened upon this recipe.

What I Liked

  1. It was really, really simple.  If you have a pot and a spoon, you can make this.
  2. It’s a cheap recipe.  Granted, I got the cherries for free, and all I had to buy was the jelly powder in place of pectin.  Risk vs. reward ratio is excellent on this one.

What I Didn’t Like

  1. It’s so simple that it leaves out some really important information.  Cook for 15 minutes?  Okay, but at what heat?  Also, if your fruit is exceptionally juicy, do you have to adjust/eliminate the water, or increase the jelly powder?  Or do you drain the fruit?
  2. It’s sweeeeeet.  Crazy sweet.  I started out with tart fruit, and I find it sweet – I can’t imagine what a version made with a naturally sweeter base would taste like.

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Partway through the fifteen minutes of unspecific cooking.

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“Jarred”, and ready to eat-or-freeze.  Since the motto of simplistic jams the world over appears to be “use whatever containers you want, just leave me alone”, I opted for the sturdy yet versatile number seen above.  I had no idea if it was going to turn out, and I figured if it didn’t, I could at least wash these babies out and use them for something else; the last thing I wanted was to be stuck with a bunch of breakable Mason jars I’d never wind up using again.

It didn’t firm up quite the way I had hoped (and naturally, the recipe didn’t indicate what sort of consistency it should have or how long it should take to set).  But…it’s not completely liquid, either, which I consider a half-victory.

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It spreads nicely and pairs excellently with peanut butter.  Spills are best prevented by holding one’s bagel completely level.  And hey, it’s tasty!

Has anyone ever tried a recipe like this?

Thanks for looking! 🙂