Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Irish Chocolate Fudge

This creamy fudge is kissed with Irish cream flavoured creamer for an alcohol free treat that is SO easy to make!

Irish Chocolate Fudge

As a redhead, a lot of people assume that I'm of mainly Irish stock. True, I love me some Celtic music (especially from home-grown Irish Canadian groups), potatoes, cabbage, Bailey's and Guinness, but based on what we can find out about my ethnic background, there may be a speck or two of Irish blood in my past but not much more. Granted, my entire maternal grandmother's past is a mystery (she was adopted as an infant) and she does have the impish charm and humour of a leprechaun (to say nothing of her height), so there might be something there. My cousin (same side) and I are the only two gingers in the family as well, so maybe we're the Irish luck shining through.

Pureblood Irish or not, I do have a taste for both Bailey's and Guinness, having discovered both at a relatively young age. As a child and teenager, Bailey's was definitely my addition of choice to lackluster hot chocolate mix or instant coffee, and I still love Irish cream flavoured brews today. The combination of the warming, creamy liqueur and chocolate was a match made in Heaven, and while I can't drink alcohol any more, I have no problems cooking it into treats with others.

Not really being "into" the whole St. Patrick's Day thing (it is kind of boring when you can't drink and want to sleep at 10PM) I put off making this fudge for the second time around until later this week. Originally, I whipped up a pan of this candy for the holidays, and it was met with such acclaim I had to make it again. Oddly enough, while there is definitely an Irish cream nuance to the bittersweet chocolate base, there's no actual alcohol in the recipe. My secret lies in Bailey’s Coffee Creamer, which tastes almost as good as it's alcoholic cousin and definitely remains more stable in baking and candy-making, since there's no volatile alcohol to burn off. The subtle sweetness and "pseudo-kick" of the creamer, along with the rich and slight tannic nature of the chocolate offset the super-sweet marshmallow base - it was the first time that I had ever worked with a melted marshmallow base for fudge, and I can say I would only do it again provided I was working with a high-cocoa chocolate - the mixture would be far too saccharine otherwise.

Since I abhor trying to fit parchment properly into a loaf pan, I relied on my tried-and-true silicone model (which I only ever use for candy making). It didn't let me down - the fudge popped out cleanly once set, and with a hot knife clean slices were easy (unlike the photos, which show my previous attempts with room-temperature blades). Wrapped in parchment, then foil, slices last a good long while in the fridge, but I can also vouch for them chopped up into small cubes and frozen for a weeknight ice cream topper.

Irish Chocolate Fudge

Did you celebrate St. Patty's Day? What did you do? 

P.S. I know my posting schedule has been a bit lackluster - to say the least. I'm sorry, schoolwork and "work work" are getting the best of me this semester! Here's to one more month left of this term!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Spicy Popcorn Crisps #Breadbakers

Ground popcorn, hot sauce and just a touch of flour make for crispy, cracker like snacks.

Spicy Popcorn Crisps

I grew up in the heyday of Kernels, where you couldn't get two steps into a mall entrance without smelling the aroma of (fake, but yummy) buttery popcorn mixed with an inexplicable sweetness. Popcorn buckets were a huge thing at birthday parties, especially school ones where popcorn became a "failsafe" option for those with nut allergies. People fought over the "good" kind, depending on their flavour preference, and you knew your friend had your back when she brought out the flavour shakers just for he two of you.

But you want to know a secret?
I hate pre-made popcorn.

Now, this is not to say I hate popcorn entirely, or even that I'm a popcorn snob. I will eat air-, stove-, campfire- and even microwave-popped popcorn without issue (well, unless there's coconut oil involved)... anything, as long as it gets to me hot. Cold popcorn is listless and chewy, definitely not what I want in a supposedly crunchy snack. It's fine for Christmas tree garlands and making crafts, I just can't be bothered eating the stuff.

However, my abhorrence for pre-fab popcorn was outweighed by my cheapness frugality recently, where a party favour containing baggies of cheese-dusted popcorn came home with me. I wasn't about to eat it, certainly, and it didn't look like anyone else in the house was going to either - we had all gone to the same party and thus had multiple portions of the stuff. I knew there had to be some flavour, and most importantly texture benefits left in the popcorn, so I started scouting around. I didn't find any savoury recipes specifically using popcorn, but I did find cornmeal-based cracker recipes and thought "well, they're both corn, and I can grind the popcorn to a meal, so why not?". I had the ingredients anyways, and the result was likely to be edible at the very least because crackers are meant to be dry!

The first round was not as much of a success as I hoped - there was too much milk and not enough flour in the dough, and the best consistency I got was a very loose batter which was nowhere near stiff enough to roll. It made a sort of crisp flatbread in the oven, spread on a baking sheet - come to think of it, I could have made a pretty good pizza on it. While it was crisp on the outside, the inside was moist and chewy - not cracker-like. So with the remaining popcorn (which I had ground in the food processor to bits) I tried again, reducing the milk and adding flour by the tablespoon, finally documenting the amount needed to create a shape-able, if moist, dough. I was able to spread the mixture on the pan with a palette knife and flatten it with a rolling pin over parchment to keep it from sticking, but cutting it right away would have been disaster. Instead I gave it the biscotti treatment - pre-baking it to firmness, slicing it, then baking again until crunchy.

This time, it worked - and how! I love spice in almost everything, and Louisiana style hot sauce is my jam, so of course it went in (and the half teaspoon in the recipe is conservative - I used more). These were the perfect snack to munch on their own, but I hear tell they make a fine base for guacamole too.

This month the #BreadBakers are making crackers, and these now fit the bill! Looking at the array going on this time around, I'd say I'd best get into the kitchen soon and give a few of these a try!

Enjoy the diversity of cracker recipes this month!


#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.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Cheddar Sourdough Biscuits #SundaySupper

These cheesy, flaky biscuits are made tangy with sourdough toss-off and rich with sharp cheddar.

Cheddar Sourdough Biscuits

Even though I have a sourdough starter in my fridge (and have for almost 10 years) I sadly don't bake with it a lot. It's a shame, really - mom loves a good, crusty sourdough loaf as much as I used to (before all that allergy nonsense), and the smell of one baking is definitely bliss. Instead, I feed it every few weeks, keeping it at a low enough hydration that only minimal feedings are required.While I can keep the tossing off and replenishing frequency down, there's no denying that eventually it becomes necessary, and I always feel guilty for throwing away a perfectly good ingredient.

Ironically it was an excess of shredded Cheddar, not sourdough starter, that led me to this recipe. It's been a long time since biscuits were on the menu, especially since we really only like buttermilk varieties. There's something about the tang and richness of buttermilk that sets the scones apart from the regular storebought tea biscuits. My original recipe calls for not only buttermilk, but shortening, which made for a fluffy, tender result, but I actually has neither on hand - buttermilk is not a weekly grocery item for us, and unfortunately the mice inhabiting our walls think that shortening is delicious (seriously - they ate almost entire boxes of the stuff, leaving only the ends of the carboard and parchment behind). Instead, this recipe used sourdough toss-off as the acidic "liquid" - genius if you ask me! Since I was going for a rich, tea-time treat and not a simple accompaniment to soup, I knew I'd have to fill in the creamy dairy component with butter. While I love shortening in plain biscuits, it lacks the richness that I seek in a scone.

Cheddar Sourdough Biscuits

As luck would have it, we not only had a good stash of butter on hand, but a god stash of good butter on hand! I'm pretty used to the grocery store blocks in my cooking, and truly they taste fine, behave well in pastry and cakes and are workhorses in the kitchen. However, for my mom's birthday party a few rich dishes were on the menu, including a browned butter and sage pasta and chicken Marsala, and we splurged on two pounds of high-fat, European-style cultured butter for the occasion. While most of it went into birthday cake batter, frosting and the two aforementioned dishes, we did have leftovers - and I just had to try them in biscuits. After all, if pedestrian butter is good, the higher-quality stuff must be better!

I was not disappointed - between the light tang from the cultured butter, the sourdough with just a little bite and sharp, aged Cheddar cheese, these scones were definitely hitting the mark flavour wise. They were buttery enough to not need an accompaniment, yet not so rich that you couldn't spread jam or honey on them for brunch.

This week for #SundaySupper we are embracing the "cheesiness" of the cooking world. We have a great range of savouries here, from Irish Nachos to risotto and even a souffle (Pies and Plots is brave!). Take a look at our offerings and give them a shoutout!

Cheesy Appetizers and Sides

Cheesy Main Courses

Sunday Supper MovementThe Sunday Supper Movement is committed to bringing our readers delicious recipes that encourage them to gather and eat together around the family table. Search for your favorite ingredients on our Sunday Supper website. Also check out the Sunday Supper Pinterest boards for plenty more ideas and inspiration.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Red Wine Brownies with Icing

While not visually impressive, these red wine brownies made with an easy home-made mix taste ethereal and will delight any chocolate - or red wine - lover!

Red Wine Brownies

If you read yesterday's post, you know my family' love for brownies and my quest for a quick and easy homemade brownie mix to rival the boxes out there. The mix makes dense, chewy and chocolatey plain brownies on it's own, but since we're coming up to the first major birthday circuit of the year I wanted to try something a little more frou-frou with it - and adding red wine to anything is an automatic plus in these parts! Oddly enough, I always seem to have a bottle of red around, even though I don't drink - one of the perks (?) of being a teacher is that at least once a year a decent bottle of wine falls into your possession as a thank you gift! This time, I broke into a nice Chianti (no, not Hannibal style...) for both the brownies themselves as well as the icing, and the flavour, while subtle, added just enough "grown up" flair to earn a position on the dessert table.

Icing, you say? What icing? OK, you got me there - I swear I took photos of these brownies fully iced and decorated, gorgeous in their glossy glory. However, my relationship with technology (in particular, computers) lately has been nothing if not problematic (I spent most of January and half of February on a borrowed laptop after the hard dive, followed by the motherboard, on mine crashed) and the transition between camera and computer seems to have some gremlins in the works. I would say voles, but they're busy chewing up our yard at the moment and don't have time for wires. In any case, all I have is a shot of the corner of these bars, where you can just see a hint of the redness shining through. The icing is dark and rich, as chocolate should be, and carries more of the fruity notes of the wine than the tannins - a major plus.

You may notice the entire recipe is vegan (check your wine if you're not sure, all ours are), which definitely makes it a crowd pleaser! The visual appearance of the brownies unadorned won't make your jaw drop, but that's what icing is for. It worked for Little Debbie, it can work for me! Of course, if the glossy, boil-and-pour icing isn't your thing, a fudge, cream cheese or even peanut butter frosting would be awesome on these. Too much? Dust with a little icing sugar and munch on!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Homemade Brownie MIx

This brownie mix makes rich, chewy brownies and by swapping the liquid you can make a variety of treats.
One of my old school friends was a diehard Brownie and Girl Guide, now her daughters are too!

We are a brownie-loving bunch here - dense, chewy, or fudgy, iced or not, full of chocolate chips or cocoa alone. Now my sister and I are brownie purists, eschewing the "textural" chunks present in most store-bought brownies - I'm talking to you, pecans and walnuts - and since they often find their place in packed lunches frosting simply isn't practical. In terms of overall practicality, brownies are not the most difficult thing in the world to whip up, however I am somewhat ashamed to admit that we have at least ten boxes of mix in the pantry right now (my sister only likes one kind, homemade be darned). 

While I have no problem making a batch of brownies from scratch (melted chocolate included) on a weekend or for a once in a while treat, it is hard to beat the convenience of a boxed mix. However, I'm not necessarily a fan of the quality of the ingredients in mixes - too often have I bitten into a brownie and been greeted with nothing but a crumbly saccharine mess. Making my own, then, was the answer, and since I based the "mix" off one of my favourite vegan brownie recipes making the bars afterwards is even easier than your usual box. I used a mix of flours - all purpose for structure, whole wheat for a delicate nuttiness and fibre, and sweet rice for fudginess - as well as both white and brown sugar for the perfect balance of crispy top and rich, moist crumb. I do implore you to use the best cocoa you have available for this - after all, you want to taste chocolate, not sugar, in a well made brownie.

Stay tuned tomorrow for how I took this basic mix and elevated it for a special occasion!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Chili-Spiked Green Tomato Chutney

A ridiculous amount of chilies go into this green tomato chutney, with just enough sweet and sour to even the playing field.

Chili-Spiked Green Tomato Chutney

I have yet to meet a Canadian homegrower or farmer who can finish the growing season with all ripe produce. At the end of the summer, we're often left with at least a few unripe peppers, cucumbers and squash - but nothing is so prevalent as the green tomato crop. Where I live, we have essentially three and a half months of decent growing weather outdoors, and when you grow from seed as I do even starting in March won't guarantee full production. Luckily, I've become pretty well versed in ways of using up those green tomatoes that will never ripen, no matter how much windowsill love you give them (if they've started to turn red, though, into the window box they go) - mincemeat (times three) and baked goods are definitely great, if surprising, sweet options. But what if you want to embrace the unripe fruit's tart and crunchy side?

Well, if you're like me, you turn to a different kind of preserve - chutney. I love making chutney almost as much as my mom loves eating it, which is no surprise given it's irresistible sweet-sour-savoury flavour. Last year when I canned up this batch, I added a punch of heat with the last of our garden's chilies - serranos and Thai bird peppers. Understandably, straight out of the pot this condiment is hellfire-like in spice (especially if you don't de-rib and seed the peppers), but I (and those I gave jars of this to) are glad to report, after hanging out in the pantry (if you can it) or fridge (without a waterbath) for at least a week, the burn mellows to a pleasant zip in amongst the sour and sweet. It has enough flavour to stand up to hearty creamy curries and meat dishes as well as create works of delicious art when mixed with plain rice or quinoa and a veggie or two. As I've mentioned before on this blog, my mom likes nothing more than mixing chutney into a plain stir fry, but she also dunks pita or naan into it as a side dish.