Friday, July 3, 2020

Tiny Batch Chocoholic Cookies

Craving chocolate but your diet can't stand a dozen cookies lying around? This recipe makes 3 palm-sized cookies packed with chocolate and studded with Smarties (or M&Ms if you arent fortunate enough to have Smarties). Baked until just set and still soft, it is a sweet pick me up perfect any day.

The women in my family are a collection of chocoholics. Even days like today, where it's 37°C (98.6°F) outside, I can be found sipping a hot chocolate in the evenings. My mom adds spoonfuls of cocoa and a sprinkle of dark chocolate to her yogurt in the morning, while my sister is partial to chocolate baked goods (especially brownies). However, we are picky about the cocoa we use in uncooked form - the milder Dutch processed type, while still bitter, doesn't have the same sour note as the natural kind, making it more palatable.

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men disappeared when the pandemic hit - along with flour, yeast, eggs and - yes - our beloved cocoa powder. Desperate, we bought a small tin of the natural kind, but we lasted a whopping two days before we gave up and bulk purchased our usual kind. The tin was given to me to play with, so I looked up a handful of treats to make with it (including these cookies and these croissants). That said, even my relatively active family isn't immune to the "quarantine 15", so baked goods must be minimal in quantity (well, at least until N or D come by, then anything is fair game).

Enter these beauties. Now, I am not going to classify these as "healthy" in any way, but they are just what the doctor ordered in terms of comfort food. Yes, these are sheer decadence in the palm of your hand, and while the cookies may be large - as in palm-sized - there are only three of them so even if you feel the need to polish off an entire batch, you've still only eaten three! The batch size, coupled with the touch of antioxidants from the cocoa and fibre from the white whole wheat and chia seeds, definitely makes these an "okay for summer" treat in my books. If you really feel the summer heat, I'm not not saying that you could make 6 smaller ones and sandwich ice cream (or frozen yogurt) in between.... nope, not my idea at all!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Vegan Red Beans and Rice

Vegan Red Beans and Rice are spicy (but not hot unless you want it that way), hearty and healthy - a perfect meal in a bowl you can make with hardy vegetables and pantry ingredients that feeds a crowd, or you for a week if you're stuck at home!

I have a soft spot for Cajun-style cuisine. Around here, it's mostly "white bread" country, as my city historically played host to blue collar automotive workers looking for cheap, hearty and simple fare. There is absolutely a place for it on the menu - N and I used to frequent a local "greasy spoon" diner before the virus hit - but given the choice I will almost always go for complex and spicy flavours. Since hitting up a House of Blues (where I have had the best jambalaya of my life so far) is out of the question, as is a trip to NOLA, I am content to make my own version at home - with a vegan twist.

Interestingly enough, this batch of comfort food only really came about because I was doing my quarterly pantry clean out and came across a bag of dried kidney beans from when I made minestrone ages ago. I always have TVP chunks and liquid smoke on hand, as well as some kind of rice, so I started the beans soaking while I looked up a red beans and rice recipe I could adapt. A few Google searches and some cobbling together later and I had a working plan.

In order to infuse the smoky flavour throughout the starchy beans, I both soaked and cooked the dry legumes with water spiked with liquid smoke, which I also added to the water the TVP chunks hydrated in. It is worth noting I am not a fan of the pickled pork flavour in traditional beans and rice so I skipped any vinegar, but if you enjoy it a tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar would suffice. The rest of the spice flavour was layered into the bulk of the stew, balanced by the hearty vegetables and plain rice. The resulting mixture left just enough broth to spoon over each serving, which also soaked in to the leftovers we refrigerated overnight. Yes, like most stews and soups, this is truly a dish that benefits from patience (and a lot of it). On that note, I also beg of you to not use canned beans here - they will turn mushy and not yield the same depth of flavour from the smoke-soaked and cooked ones. If you can find a bag of small red beans at the store, use those instead - they are definitely better than kidneys in my opinion, but again, use what you have!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Cinnamon Spice Cookies with Goldschläger Icing

It's never out of season for gingerbread when it is this perfect! These cookies are packed with spices and laced with Goldschläger for an extra cinnamony kick. Topped with a simple powdered sugar icing and some silver sparkles its enough to make you feel like royalty, even if its just Wednesday night in your PJs!

Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers! Like pretty much every holiday this year, my country's 153rd birthday is passing with relatively little fanfare - even our neighbours who usually go all out with fireworks aren't planning anything. In addition to Canada Day, today also marks my blog's birthday - a whopping 13 years old! I still can't believe I've been documenting my cooking adventures for that long, and this blog has followed me through a whole mess of life journeys - five rounds of schooling, multiple jobs, relationships, losses of family and pets and multiple medical segues.

I want to just take a moment, before diving into my celebratory recipe (from our provincial liquor store) to thank everyone who has supported me over these years, including all the sponsors who gave me a chance, the various publishers who collaborated with me, my family, friends and the blogger community at large. You have all helped me become the cook I am today, and while I may not be the most regular writer, being part of this community of like-minded foodies showed me I could belong somewhere. I plan to keep this bad boy (or girl) going for as long as I can, especially now that my team of taste-testers has grown to include both N and my sister's boyfriend D.

Moving on to why most of you are here - these cookies! While I admit they are not your traditional "summer" fare, around here cookies are always welcome - and with gatherings beginning to open up again, we always have some sort of treat on hand. Keeping in the celebratory theme, I dipped into the (often forgotten) liquor cabinet to make these, based on a Courvoisier gingerbread recipe I had clipped out of the LCBO magazine at Christmastime and never got around to making it. Instead of the brandy, I opted for the opulent, spicy Goldschläger, which infused the cookies with a heady dose of cinnamon and helped the cookies crisp (as the alcohol evaporates faster than water). Mixing the dough brought back memories of both the holidays as well as my whole debacle building that castle three years ago (never again) - though if you wanted to build a structure with this dough you most certainly could.

The cookies smelled fantastic and were a breeze to whip up (hello, no waiting for butter to soften!) but looked a little plain and brown - not bad for an everyday tea or snack break, but not nearly enough for a celebration! So, while the cookies cooled, I set about making a simple icing with one important twist - another dose of Goldschläger. The alcohol served two purposes here - one, it allowed the icing to harden faster, given the evaporation of alcohol, and two, the little gold flakes in the liquid added an extra touch of sparkle to the icing. To gild  the lily, I topped the iced cookies with gold and silver sparkle sprinkles, though it's 100% optional. After the icing set, the cookies could be stacked and stored in an airtight container, although they lasted about three days here due to some hungry ghosts sneaking into the cookie jar!

Happy Canada Day, Happy (almost) 4th of July, and happy end to the first half of 2020. Fingers crossed that everyone stays safe, happy, and well this summer, and thanks again for the support all this time!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Studded Golden Cornbread #BreadBakers

A little comfort food is in order these days! This cornbread uses honey to sweeten and is packed with frozen corn kernels, staying moist (sorry) thanks to yogurt and heavy cream. The result is a perfectly balanced side for any meal!

I have been making cornbread for what seems like forever. As a kid, my Home Economics teacher used to make cornbread muffins with us that were almost crunchy with the amount of oil they had. Trips to the southern States introduced me to johnnycakes and skillet cornbread, which I devoured with honey and butter. But up in Canada where I live, cornbread is essentially cake or muffin like. My mom has had this recipe for decades, hand-written on a card from an old coworker complete with commentary (including strike-outs with notes like "this is BS, do this instead") and it was always a special-occasion bake due to the indulgent ingredients it called for. When I inherited the recipe, I tweaked it a little bit to use what we usually have in the house - whole wheat and Kamut flour (because, let's face it, I have a huge pantry of random flours I need to get baking with), flaxseed to replace the eggs (which I rarely have at home) and vanilla-flavoured Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream and sugar. The bread is still plenty sweet with a heady dose of honey, and it does not lack in tenderness and moisture thanks to a whole cup of heavy cream. While the recipe was originally for a square pan, I have 100% made it into muffins (jumbo sized ones are so good!) and froze them for later.

While it has been a good while since I made this cornbread, writing about it still fills me with a little bit of sadness. You see, I broke out this cornbread recipe not just for #breadbakers, but because it was going to be N's breakfast the day of our vacation. Due to the pandemic, we obviously had to put those plans on hold, but I still decided to boost the sunshine of our lives with a batch of the bright yellow quickbread. Lo and behold, N fell in love with it (and honestly, why wouldn't he - it's delicious) and I've made it several times since then. He has asked me to emphasize that adding the corn kernels is not optional - they add a perfect "pop" to the bread and those on the top get nice and toasty.

While I may not be jetting off to paradise, this bread will be made again. And again. It's an heirloom for a reason, and as with most things it develops and modifies over time with each new baker. Who knows, the next time this happens in the kitchen it may be with my blue cornmeal, since I'm out of yellow and it seems to still be missing on the shelf!

Here are the #BreadBakers of the week, bringing you breads with corn:
#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page.

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies (MoW Cookies)

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies are a perfect mixture of sandy texture and not-too-sweet taste. As a bonus, these cookies don't spread and warp in the oven (especially if you keep the dough cold) and they are perfect vehicles for icing! I made most of these with special-issue Halo cookie cutters that my sister won from Mercy of Whims during a game-streaming tournament (Marbles on Twitch!), but I couldn't resist a cookie just for them!

One of the things I have truly missed during these days of social distancing is the ability to go out and connect with friends. Ironically, I am by no means a "people person" despite working with people every day - I still thrive on my "alone time" which is usually spent in the kitchen, but the reality of quarantine means that any chance to interact with others is severely limited. When my classes moved online in March, I felt even stranger as the children who (often) drive me crazy also gave me a sense of purpose.

However, social media works wonders, and I was so fortunate to have come across a Facebook trivia night hosted by @mercyofwhims shortly before everything shut down completely. One night of general knowledge (which is still my favourite) turned into a weekly ritual, then a multiple-days-a-week gathering which quickly grew into a community spanning across the globe. Trivia grew into a Twitch-based game of Marbles which fills up at least 3 nights with music, laughter and fun. From the fun came the addition of prizes - which is where these cookies began. One of the events had a prize of Halo-themed cookie cutters, which I did not win due to my broken horseshoe luck, but my sister has a way with these things and scored them herself! It was a tacit agreement that not only would I get to use them first (and probably exclusively, given what I do) but that cookies for out host TurkeyBoots would also be made. Since we all grew to know each other over the weeks, I also met a new friend in my area to partake in the cookie fun, and one of my current pals from Zumba (who joined the fray) was always on the list.

Normally, I abhor sugar cookies - they're too sweet, too crunchy, and just lackluster. That's where these beauties come in, because while they are sweet, that sugar is mediated by a dose of cream cheese and salted butter in the dough. The reduction in the cookie's sweetness serves another critical purpose too - making them a vehicle for icing! And ice I did, coming out of the kitchen yesterday with a kaleidoscope of colours on my hands (not least due to a bag of powdered colour bursting on me).

Now, if you're planning on going "whole hog" with these through to the outlining and filling of icing, be prepared for a marathon, not a sprint. Not including the overnight chilling, cooling and 24 hour dry time for the frosting, this batch (1/3 of all the dough I made) took 6 hours of hands-on labour and a lot of awkward, half-bent-over standing. That said, the payoff is 150% worth it, and with a few days of rest I'll tackle the next round, keeping the batches double wrapped in the freezer for freshness.

Find MoW (and join in on Trivia and Marbles nights!):
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