A Christmas goodie report, with recipes

I love baking. I love sharing baking. I love receiving baking. I love eating baking. Who doesn’t?!

Christmas is always a time of the year that I excitedly go totally overboard in the baking department, making way too many goodies and loving every minute of it!

This year I was so excited to receive a box full of goodies from my friend Heather. It got demolished so fast by people around here who will remain unnamed that I didn’t even get a chance to take a photo of it. I can show you a photo of the box, however, because it got reused to fill with goodies to take to the Eshelmans’ for a Christmas gift for them. I had bought another box, but this one was bigger, so I went with the bigger one. :-)

What was in it?

Going clockwise from the left, above: port and prune truffles, fudge, peppermint bark, sugar cookies, Christmas biscotti, and peppernuts.

I know I’m always interested in some new recipes, so I thought I’d share these here with you.

Decadent chocolate prune and port truffles (adapted from a Jo Seagar recipe)

375g dark chocolate (1 packet chocolate melts)
125g butter
about 20 – 25 prunes
the juice of 1 orange (1/4-1/2 a cup)
the zest of 1 orange
¼ c port
3-4 cups icing sugar
2-3 extra packets dark melts, to dip truffles

Place chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on medium or high until melted – about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir a couple of times during cooking. Chop up the prunes, checking there are no stones remaining and place in a small microwave-safe bowl with the port. Cook on high for 2 minutes to plump up. Mix the chocolate, butter, prunes, orange juice, zest and port together with the icing sugar until well combined. Chill in the fridge until firm enough to roll into walnut-sized balls. (The mixture is quite runny and soft when you first prepare it, but should take about an hour or two to firm up in the fridge.)

Roll into walnut-sized balls, and place the balls of mixture on a foil-lined tray and freeze until really solid, about 2 hours. Melt the 2 packets of chocolate melts on medium to low power, stirring often. Dip the frozen truffles in the melted chocolate using a chocolate dipping form or 2 teaspoons. Drip off excess chocolate and allow to set on a tinfoil-covered tray. Store them in a cool place. If you have to put them in the fridge, make sure you line the container with paper towels and in between layers of truffles too to absorb the moisture when the truffles ‘sweat’.

Peppermint Bark

Melt one packet of semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips and spread it as evenly as you can over the bottom of a lined 9 x 9 (or thereabouts) dish. Then go ahead and do the same with white chocolate, this time spreading it on top of the dark/milk chocolate. (You can wait unit the bottom layer is set, or if not, it makes nice swirling patterns.) Then go whack about 3 candy canes in a bag with a rolling pin (or if you’re lazy like me chop them in the food processor) and sprinkle it over the still wet chocolate. Let it harden in the fridge, and then break or cut into manageable pieces.

Grandma Tschetter’s Peppernuts

1 c sugar
½ c butter
2 c light-coloured molasses (or golden syrup/honey)
3 eggs
6 c flour
1 t baking soda
1 t cloves
1 t cinnamon
½ t salt
1 t anise seed (optional)
1 c chopped walnuts

Mix sugar, molasses and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let cool, then add eggs well-beaten and the flour sifted with soda, spices and salt. Add flavouring. Roll dough and cover and refrigerate for about a week. When ready to bake, add nuts and additional flour if needed. Cut or roll into small balls and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350°F for 8 – 10 minutes. Do not over-bake as they can get too crunchy. Take off the baking sheets as soon as they get out of the oven. These cookies can be stored indefinitely.

White Chocolate, Strawberry, and Pistachio Biscotti (from Femina)

In a bowl combine: 3 c. flour, 2 t. baking powder, and 1/2 t. salt

In another bowl blend 3 eggs with 1 c. sugar, 2 T. oil, and 2 1/2 t. vanilla

Dump the dry mix in the wet, and mix until combined. With a wooden spoon stir in about 1/2 c. shelled pistachios, 3/4 c. chopped dried strawberries, 1/2 c. or so of white chocolate chips, and a smattering of mini chocolate chips. On a parchment lined baking sheet, pat into a long flat loaf with wet hands (about 5″ wide and 15″ long). Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until lightly brown and not squishy to the touch. Pull out, reduce the temp in the oven to 325, and let cool on the counter for at least 20 minutes. Using a bread knife, cut into one inch slices, and line up on the same sheet with new parchment. Bake for another 20 minutes or so, or until desired state of crunchiness is achieved. These are great with tea or coffee, frozen or not.

If you have left-over melted chocolate from dipping your truffles, you can always dip your biscotti!

Nanaimo Bars

Let me introduce you to a lovely piece of goodness. This little bite of joy is apparently a Canadian treat, and when I saw a recipe for it online some months back, I knew it would be something Ben would enjoy. Chocolate, nuts and coconut in the base, a sweet and smooth middle, and chocolate on top. Oh, it’s as good as it sounds. Actually, it’s better. And it is surprisingly not sickly sweet. Ben said it probably topped his old-time favourite, Country House Butterscotch Brownies, which says a lot. It’s called a Nanaimo Bar, and you should go make some. Soon.

Here’s a link to the recipe I used.

Pizza!

I guess most of you know that there’s nothing much to homemade pizza, except that it can be time consuming. You can put pretty much anything on it, and cover it with cheese and you can call it pizza. A while back I made some yummy pizzas and I remembered to take photos, so in case you need some inspiration, here are the two kinds I made. Remember, your options are limitless!

First you start of with a good crust. I’m currently searching for a better crust than the one I’ve got, but you can search here for a crust recipe that takes your fancy. We don’t like thick crust, like Chicago-style, and absolutely love thin and crispy crusts, like New York-style pizza. I haven’t found the perfect one yet, but I’m working on it!

So, you need the dough, some tomato puree or tomato paste, and a good assortment of meat and/or vegetables like mushrooms, peppers, onions, olives and the like.

I also had some left-over chicken from a roast chicken which I used on a pizza with a cream cheese and apricot jam mixture (just mix together chunky apricot jam with plain cream cheese until you get a good saucy consistency) and red onions, topped with mozzarella cheese.

This is the chicken pizza, cooked.

For my more traditional pizza, I covered it with tomato paste, and topped it with salami, mushrooms, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella and grated mozzarella, along with a good sprinkling of oregano and fresh pepper.

And the cooked result. Nothing quite beats bubbly browned cheese!

Yum. What are your favourite pizza crusts and toppings?


Thanksgiving yumminess

Well, Thanksgiving came and went, and we had a lovely day. It was great to have a bonus day where Ben had the day off, and we enjoyed getting to know a friend from church a bit better.

One of the highlights of a day filled with thankfulness was of course the food! I enjoyed spending two days creating a feast. I love cooking! I love cooking good food! I love cooking good food for people to enjoy around my table, even if my table can’t be as festive or pretty as I might like in our current setting.

I don’t know if it’s because I had one glass of wine (ha!), or if my camera settings were just all wrong, but it was The Day of the Worst Photos Ever. Which is why there are not detailed photos of every single dish. (Thank goodness, I hear you say?) Oh well! Here’s what we had.

Roast TurkeyTurkey Gravy, Cranberry sauce, Strawberry and Spinach SaladStuffing, (yep, the stuff from the box. Though I did dress it up with onions, celery, carrots and mushrooms.), Challah rolls, Pommes DauphinoiseCurried Sweet Potato SaladWhiskey Glazed Carrots, and Green Bean Casserole with bacon.



Our table doesn’t have the room for salad plates, so our plates were wonderfully full!

And for dessert we had Pumpkin Pie and cream.

as well as an amazing Raspberry and Chocolate Mousse cake that our friend Eddie brought.

Brining the turkey was quite an adventure –something I had never done before. I cooked up some brine on Tuesday and let it cool. It looked cool and smelled pretty potent.

On Wednesday evening, it was time to get this turkey into the brine.

There was a little problem, though. I don’t have a container big enough to fit a turkey. Even my biggest pot here would hold about half the turkey. It’s times like that I try not to get frustrated with the fact that I have a fully functional kitchen sitting in storage in my garage back home. But I digress. I looked around at what I had. Option one was the cleaning bucket, but I couldn’t get myself to put food in there. Then I looked at my plastic drawer set… hmmm, this could work! So the contents of the drawer came out

the drawer set looked bereaved

but the turkey fit!

The only problem was that I didn’t have enough brine, so I made some more. Good.

Oh dear, now it was too heavy for the fridge shelf. Rethink this whole thing. Almost give up on the whole silly brining idea. Oh, a bag! Of course! (I didn’t have the foresight to buy a special brining bag). It worked, sort of!

And she turned out pretty good in the end, even if I say so myself.

Later that evening we had some fun with dressing Esther up in her old (too small) monkey costume and there were giggles all around! And look, how strange!– a photo of me! (Honestly, it’s better that way.)

Green and glorious

Hooray for pesto! What a beautiful thing pesto is. Easy to make, and it gives a wonderful flavour to sandwiches, pastas, risotto, pizza, baked potatoes, salads, chocolate cake, wait, what? Just trust me, it’s good stuff.

Want to make some yourself? Okay, follow me.

1. Go pick some fresh basil out of your garden (or buy some, just make sure it’s very fresh), wash it well and then measure 2 cups’ worth. Without the stalks.

2. Squish it down, so it’s firmly packed.

3. Put it in your food processor (I hope yours is bigger than mine) along with 3 cloves of garlic that you have just roasted in a pan for about 10 minutes on medium heat, along with about 4 tablespoons of pine nuts which you roasted after you roasted the garlic. Don’t burn yourself when you peel the garlic. Add about 1/2 a teaspoon of salt and a good amount of freshly ground black pepper. You’ll also want to add about 1/2 a cup of parmesan cheese (not the stuff that comes in the bottles! The real thing, and grate it yourself, please!) Add some olive oil and whizz it all up until you get a consistency you like. It will be somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 a cup of olive oil.

4. Stop, and admire the beauty that is fresh, home-made pesto. But don’t stop too long, because pesto is better tasted than looked at.

If you need concrete examples, here’s one:

Spread some pesto on a slice of good bread. If your bread is straight from the freezer, like mine, it will get a cool frozen pesto spot in the middle too.

Add some mushrooms.

And add some cheese.

Grill in the oven until the cheese is melted and slightly brown. Throw in some carrot sticks and call it healthy.

Blueberry pancakes worth eating

Blueberries are in season now here in the States and they’re plentiful and cheap. They’re also ridiculously good for you, but that’s really beside the point — what matters is that they taste so good! It’s hard to believe that they can taste better in any way other than plain from the punnet, but these pancakes bring out the blueberry flavour very well and they melt in your mouth. I really should whip up a batch of these again. Soon. I got the original recipe here, but I’ve modified a fair bit. But give credit where credit is due, right?

Blueberry Orange Pancakes

Because blue and orange is a good combo.

2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
2 whole large eggs
1 cup orange juice (preferably with pulp)
1 cup plain yoghurt
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup blueberries

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda into a bowl. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, yoghurt, orange juice, and melted butter. Add the blueberries to the wet ingredients, then add the dry ingredients into the wet. Do not over-mix. Cook batter in a skillet over medium heat.

Serve topped with a bit of butter and some syrup (maple is amazing) and fresh blueberries.

Fish Parcels

I have a quick and easy recipe to share with you. We’re not big fans of fish around here. Yes, I know we should be, it’s healthy and all that… omega 3’s and a bunch of other healthy bits and bobs, but fish just doesn’t really feature on our favourites list. So we eat fish because we know we should. This recipes happens to be one of the better ways to eat fish in our opinion, this and the Salmon Couscous Salad I shared a while back. It also happens to be super easy and has the added bonus of being fat free!

Fish Parcels

The amount of ingredients in this recipe depends on how many people you’re making it for. What’s listed will be enough for one parcel, which is a serving for one person.

1 fish fillet (not too thick)
2 handfuls of baby spinach
1 sprig of spring onion, sliced
½ t minced garlic
½ t minced garlic
1 T soy sauce

Preheat oven to 180 C. In the middle of a big rectangle of tin foil, place the spinach. Lay the fish fillet on top and sprinkle with the rest of the ingredients.

Fold the tinfoil closed with the seam on top.

Place in oven on a baking tray and cook for approximately 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Be careful of the steam when you open the parcel. Goes well with rice and salad.

(Excuse the photography, the lighting was pretty poor.)