Tangled Christmas Lights and After Eight Cookies for the Holidays

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I spend time looking at words. I spend time underlining certain words. I spend time remembering sets of words. I do this because I love when words come together to speak a complex truth in a simple way. I love words that stay with you. And if these words can also make you laugh while shaking  your head in agreement, this is an outstanding collection of words. For all the time I spend looking for words such as these, sometimes the best ones just tumble into my line of sight.

They have been scribbled on the back of a bathroom door, painted on a bridge, scrawled on the back of an old box, and this time, typed on a friend’s Facebook page:

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles four things:
a rainy day, the elderly, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

I read this on my friend Sara’s page. I copied it immediately to this very page. I had to share it.

She is so right. For my own purposes, I might sub in ‘blizzard days’ for ‘rainy days’ since we have more cold and snow to deal with than rain… She lives just north of London.

I mean, who hasn’t seen some well put together woman lose her shit at the lost luggage counter? Blizzard days seem to make some people feel the need to celebrate only the negative. An elderly man with a hearing aid and wheelchair (and wisdom and experience) being spoken to in a condescending voice as though he were a petulant child. And unruly Christmas lights? Well, they can be the calmest of men’s unravelling.

And, there are also those people whose bags are misplaced on the eve of their destination wedding and they respond with kind questions and thanks for whatever can be done. Some people greet you on the mornings of blizzards with words of thanks for the beauty the snow brings. Some care-giving people absolutely shine when holding the hand and talking patiently to an elderly person. There are those people who can untangle lights with a level-headed approach that seems almost serene. And then there are those, like my Dad, who would ensure with a methodical approach the year prior, that they would never be subjected to said entanglement in the first place.

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That said, I hope none of you lose your luggage this holiday season; I hope you have cozy snow-covered days; I hope you have an elderly person who you love dearly to hug; and I hope your Christmas lights behave.

I posted this recipe last year, but it really is a winner. It is simple and tasty and a little different: After Eight Sandwich Cookies.

Enjoy xo

PS Sara, if you read this… looking forward to seeing you in January xx

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Conjuring Up… Spider Webs on Cupcakes

A darling pink bug with a lolli-pop. She came a-calling. A sweet police officer with a badge, a bucket and his grandparents. He came too. There was also a dragon, a panda, the entire cast of Star Wars and little Miss Snow White, who was just busting out of her dress thanks to her snow suit. Despite the snow, despite the cold… they all trudge on in the name of: CANDY.  Trick or treating in a costume that is still recognizable despite the boots, the snow pants, the touque and the mittens is a bit of a feat. It is truly where art meets practicality. Any furry sort of suit is perfect, especially if it’s big enough for all your gear to go under it. But then, you probably can’t wear that same costume to school or you’ll be a sweaty little mess of a pink bunny come recess. So, girls bundle layers under princess dresses, elves tape ears to hats and pixies pin wings to parkas, all in the name of trick or treat.

In tribute to the ingenuity that creates both warm and identifiable costumes: a superman complete with blue long underwear, a bunny in a child’s 80s vest and a baby in a leopard suit showed up at our Halloween party… looking an awful lot like our party’s hostess and her siblings when they had struck out some 20 years before on the trick or treating circuit.

However, as our party was inside, and the name of the treat in question comes in a glass rather than a candy wrapper, that’s where the weather appropriate costumes ended and the rest came in…

Minnie waved at Gumbi… Gumbi chased the hound… The hound accompanied Sherlock…. Sherlock had his non-hair brushed with a dinglehopper by Ariel… Ariel sang to Princess Peach… Princess Peach tried to kiss Mike Holmes… Mike Holmes played pool with Ted… Ted thrusted his way into the kitchen where tequila shots were poured by Superman 2… Superman 2 tried to fly with Wonder Woman… Wonder woman stole a moment with Clark Kent… Clark Kent punched in a hello with a tipsy bumble bee… The bumble bee buzzed by the dragon-fly… The dragon-fly found Waldo… And on it goes, as these Halloween events tend to do.

Since the walls were covered in bats and the chair in cobwebs and the cauldrons were bubbling with witch fingers, I wanted my baking contribution to be appropriate. So, I conjured up Spider Web Cupcakes, Chocolate Mice and Ghost Meringues.

These are my favorite simple yellow cupcakes. I love them with chocolate ganache, but picky Princess Peach picks the frosting off and just eats the cake.

Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache and White Chocolate Spider Webs
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1 egg plus 2 yolks
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350F and place the rack in the middle position. Line muffin tins for 32 mini muffins or 12 large with paper liners.

In a large bowl whisk together all the dry ingredients. Add all wet ingredients and beat together  on medium until smooth. This should take about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula and stir by hand to ensure no flour pockets remain.

Divide batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups. Bake for 18-20 minutes for mini cupcakes and 20-24 for large cupcakes. When a toothpick inserted into the centre of one comes out clean, they are ready. Transfer each cupcake from the tin to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting with ganache.

Chocolate Ganache

1 cup heavy cream
8 oz semi sweet chocolate, chopped

Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until just boiling. Pour the cream over the chocolate, cover and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Use a whisk and stir chocolate mixture until smooth. Place in the fridge for 45 minutes, until it is slightly firm. Use a whisk attachment to whisk until fluffy. Place in a pastry bag and pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

Spider Webs

4 oz white chocolate, melted

Print out these helpful spiderweb templates from Country Living. Place the print out on a baking sheet and cover with parchment. Place the melted chocolate in a small Ziploc bag and cut off a very small corner. Trace the spider webs. I didn’t trace the outer ring so mine were small enough for mini cupcakes. It is a finicky job, but I made plenty of mistakes and they still came out looking like webs. Once you have all your webs, place baking sheet in the fridge to harden. Transfer to cupcakes before serving.

Enjoy xo

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I believe in… Peanut Butter Pie Cups

I collect clever insights, witty musings and sweet ideas on a pinterest board. I search for words that ring true to me. I am a little picky on words of advice, I shy away from many of the frequently quoted quotes and lean a little closer to ones I feel impact me the moment I read them…

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” Mother Theresa

“Be pretty if you can, be witty if you must, but be gracious if it kills you.” Elsie de Wolfe

“Never love anyone who treats you like you are ordinary”

I also love words that whisper an idea that is a little open to interpretation…

“There once was a little girl
Who was a queen
Well she wasn’t really
But she believed it
And so she was”

“She left pieces of her life behind her everywhere she went.
It’s easier to feel the sun without them, she said”

And I really like some manifestos, like the one on the side of the lululemon bags, and especially the one Audrey starts with…

“I believe in pink…”

It was hers that got me thinking about what  my life policy is. I appreciate that if I had written this 10 years ago it would be different, if I write it again in 10 years it will be new, but for today, this is what I have come up with. I used hers as a template.

I believe in confections.
I believe that sweating
is the best calorie burner.
I believe the truest measure of character
is by those who work for you
I believe in sharing
sharing a lot, with people who can never pay you back.
I believe that sleep and kindness
can heal most wounds and
I believe in grace.

I am adding a bit of a footnote here as I also believe in naps, slippers, giggles, cuddling, dog walks, sharing meals, sweet nothing text messages, red wine, girl nights, pancakes for breakfast, having a great hairdresser and tailor, brushing and flossing, thank-you cards, and travelling to lands far far away.

Now, the recipe I have to share in this post doesn’t directly relate to what I have written here but it does fall rather nicely into the ‘sharing of meals’ belief-category. I made these for a potluck my husband had at the office with his co-workers. I made 22 of these (very last minute) along with a plate of sweet marie bars for him to share.

Peanut Butter Pie Cups
Adapted from My Baking Addiction
 Makes 22 dixie cups or 6 ramekins

16 Oreos
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 cup creamy natural peanut butter
8 oz 2% greek yogurt
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Pulse the Oreos in a food processor until they are reduced to crumbs. Divide these evenly into each of your serving dishes. Set aside.
Whip the cream on high-speed until stiff peaks form, place in refrigerator.
In a large bowl beat the peanut butter and yogurt together on medium until smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce the speed and add the sugar and beat until combined. Stop for a moment to add the condensed milk and vanilla. Return to beating on medium speed for about 1 minute or until smooth. Add most of the whipped cream (reserving enough to garnish each cup) and using a rubber spatula fold into the peanut butter mixture until fully combined. Divide the mixture evenly into each dish and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour to set (overnight is ideal). Garnish with the reserved cream and mini chocolate chips. You could also garnish with chopped peanuts, cookie crumbs, chocolate sauce or whatever else your heart desires.

Enjoy xo

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The little things… like chocolate mice

Not all the things that make life feel alive are the big things. Often they are the in between bits, the extras that rarely star in our life-tales, but I think can be the pixie dust that sparks the flights that do.

There are the little things that make little moments a little sweeter…

 the beauty of ballerina feet on pointe
the abandon of Mila chasing butterfly shadows
the feel of clean sheets
the sheen of tempered chocolate
the spray painted ‘listen’ bird
the heart swirled into the foam of a latte
the water-proof part of mascara
the crispy top of macaroni and cheese
the first bite
the red heart on the sidewalk
the white of whipped egg whites
the smell of turkey dinner
the bubbles in champagne
the word ‘Paris’

And there are the things that make the day shine a little brighter …

the cool dive into open water
the sweat from hard work
the macarons that come out of the oven with feet
the unexpected kindness from a stranger
the afternoon nap in the rays of sunshine
the morning with pancakes,
the ride with the windows down
the triple pirouette
the first sprout of green
the word “grace”
the wave into traffic in a jam
the songs Ben sings
the perfect outfit
the night circus

The Night Circus is about taking these types of things and conjuring them into reality in tents amidst a much bigger and beautiful story. I loved this book for all of its delights and flights. I chose it for my book club.

And since I am a bit nerdy, ok, really nerdy, I created food from the circus for my club. The requisite popcorn was there. The caramel apple made an appearance (but was inside-out). And the chocolate mice came out to star in the show.

Chocolate Cherry Mice

14 cherries (I got the last of the BC cherries, but now maraschino are probably the only option)
14 Hershey kisses – frozen
6 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
2 tsp shortening
sliced almonds
1 oz. white chocolate, chopped

Go through the almonds to find 14 pairs of ‘ears’ – pick almonds that are similar in size. Set aside.
Melt the chocolate and the shortening over a water bath. Once melted allow to cool 2 minutes.
Hold each cherry by the stem (the tail) and dip to cover completely in chocolate. Set on a parchment lined baking sheet. Using a spoon, dip each kiss in chocolate and set on same baking sheet. Once all 14 ‘bodies’ and ‘heads’ are covered in chocolate, place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
The remaining chocolate should still be malleable. On the flat side of the Hershey kiss, place a drop of chocolate, secure the ears to this and then press against a cherry to join. Place in the fridge for another 30 minutes to harden.
Melt the white chocolate in a little bowl in the microwave in 15 second intervals, stirring after each time, until smooth. Allow to cool for about a minute. Dip each mouse nose just slightly into the chocolate and place back in the fridge.
Take out of the fridge 15 minutes before serving.

Enjoy xo

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Indulging in a grown-up ice cream cake

Guilty pleasures: the things you love but do not like to admit you love, feel too refined to love, feel too informed to love. This is for you… ladies who read People magazine in the check out aisle because “you’re bored,” but may just have picked the longer line on purpose… girls who cook gourmet everything, but may just have a giant container of Kraft faux-parmesan cheese hiding at the back of their fridge because Caesar salad just isn’t the same with the real stuff… devotees who set the PVR to catch every last-minute of Nick and Sharon on YnR for a sister-in-law who’s coming to town, but may just ‘preview’ it before she gets there. These are guilty pleasures: the things we indulge in because they make us smile, but would prefer they stay secret because of what they might say about our nature if we said them out loud.

Here are mine, judge me as you see fit…  I religiously watch The Vampire Diaries – Elena is now a vampire, people, I am dying for season 4 to start; I have seen all the Step Up movies – I am perfectly aware that there is no plot, but let’s be honest, I am not watching them for their compelling storylines; I am a sucker for hashbrown casserole – the real kind with frozen faux-potatoes and cream of sodium soup, none of those imposters with real potatoes encased in homemade sauce; I sing along to Justin Bieber’s “Baby” when I am in the car alone – I may seat-dance too; and Dairy Queen ice cream cake – all that creamy cold preserved goodness infused with artificial colors, that is for me.

An ice cream loving friend of mine loves dessert just as dearly as I do, so I love to bust out a heavy-duty dessert for him on his birthday because I know he will really and truly appreciate it. So, this year, I took my inspiration from the DQ cake that I secretly hold above almost all other confections, save perhaps this macaron and the passion fruit tart at Duchess.

If you have ever had a DQ cake, you know that the most important part is the middle layer – the fudge with crunchy chocolate bits. The ice cream is really a venue in which to show case this part.  I mean, the ice cream is good, but it isn’t the star of the show.

So, I had to imitate the crunchy bits encased in fudge. And since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I had to make sure I mastered this bit. Once I had figured out that part, the rest fell in to place. I needed a cake base (which the masters at DQ do not need with their fancy soft serve machines) but I needed a chocolate-place to build from. Then I needed ice cream, but I wanted something that was sort of a ‘grown-up’ take on the original, so I went for a coffee-cardamom mix which I think is deadly with chocolate. And so the other ice cream was easy, chocolate. I also wanted to make it look pretty but without the traditional piping around the edge that every one picks off and doesn’t eat because it tastes gross. So, I wrapped chocolate around it and covered the top in meringues because Canelle et Vanille did it and everything she does is beautiful.

And so, the cake came to be… and my friend, the dessert lover? He loved it. Yay, mission accomplished.

Here are the layers (top to bottom) and the recipes they are adapted from:

Meringues – Canelle et Vanille – but I piped them into tiny kisses rather than lines
Chocolate Wrap – Miri Leigh – this is the best description of how to do this that I found, and once I did it – I may have done a little victory dance around the kitchen
Chocolate Ice Cream – My Baking Addiction – This recipe used up the egg yolks from the meringues… I did not add the chocolate chunks
Chocolate Crunchy Bits – Canelle et Vanille – this chocolate streusel method is pure genius
Chocolate Fudge – My Father’s Daughter – easy to do and the consistency once frozen is perfect
Coffee Cardamom Ice Cream – Canelle Et Vanille rather than add a vanilla bean, I heated the milk with 5 crushed green cardamom pods and then allowed to steep in the fridge for 3 hours and then added two tsp espresso powder to the milk when heating it up prior to tempering the eggs
Chocolate Buttermilk Cake – Canelle et Vanille

These recipes allowed me to build 1 x 8″ cake and 3 x 3″ cakes in their respective rings so I had enough for the birthday man and for my dad… who, when I told about the cake, candidly demanded he be included in the tasting process.

When assembling the cake, make sure to freeze for at least 20 minutes after adding each layer. When you add the streusel, press it lightly into the fudge layer. Before serving, place in the fridge for about 10 minutes to soften slightly.

Enjoy xo

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The Peach Raspberry Crumble Cake Confessionals

“I ate a timbit.”

This is a copy of the email, the entire email, I received from my sister on a Tuesday afternoon. We had started a month-long health challenge that Monday. The rules are different for each of us, but basically we each committed to a healthy month… lots of exercise, no chipits, no extra sweets. The goal was that if we both did it, we would keep one another accountable, thus the timbit email. I laughed so hard, I almost peed, when I opened it, but she had adhered to the rules of engagement and had confessed. We have since sent a few confessional texts that look like:

“I ate some chocolate chips”

“I ate a twix”

“I did not reach my cardio goal”

But, overall three weeks in, we have done really well.

This challenge began to take shape on a night when our dear friends, who are also sisters, were devising their month-long challenge. The one would give up the cigarettes and the other would give up the vino, the cerveza, the vodka, etc… Failure was not optional, but if someone lit up or someone poured up, they would have to admit it to the other. Since this noble plan was born to an evening in which both vices were present, I am not sure it came to fruition, but it got us thinking.

We wanted to cut back, trim up, be better, but were flailing about in a pile of cookie crumbs, struggling against a plate sticky with maple syrup and melting to fingers marred by chocolate smudges… So we needed some rules. For some reason, as soon as you have to fess up to what you did, it becomes easier to didn’t.

This is sort of the reason I have not been around much these days on my blog. Super healthy eating does not lend itself to a tonne of baking. But when a certain fruit-smuggling friend of mine came back from the orchards of Kelowna with a booty of peaches, something had to give. And it gave to this cake…

Which, thank goodness, is pretty healthy so no confessional text required.

Peach Raspberry Crumble Cake
adapted from Grazing

Cake
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup (minus 1 Tbsp) sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp ground flax-seed
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup yogurt
1 cup raspberries
2 peaches, cut up

Crumble
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp honey

Preheat the oven to 400F. Spray an 8×8 pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Beat the butter and sugar together until well blended. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
In a separate, small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, flax and salt. Add half of it to the butter mixture, then add the yogurt and beat until just combined. Add the remaining flour and mix until just combined.
Spread the batter into your prepared pan and cover with the fruit, overlapping to fit it all in.
In a small food processor, buzz all the crumble ingredients together until it comes together into a crumble. Sprinkle over the fruit.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden and springy to the touch. Allow it to cool in the pan.

Enjoy xo

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Introducing the Potato Chip Cookie with Caramel

For me, a handful of chocolate chips headed for my mouth is a happy happy thought (I actually have to keep the bag high up, so I need a stool to reach them). A slice off a lemon cloud tart is like heaven. Home made twix bars barely make it into bar form before I dig in. And rhubarb cake is snack time perfected.

Salty foods just don’t do it for me in the same way. I have a friend who has never met a bag of salt n’ vinegar chips she didn’t want to devour. Pretzels are another one that the salties of the world can’t refuse. But me? A bag of chips can sit open in the cupboard for weeks and I won’t give it a second thought. Where as I know a certain saltie who throws the bag of chips in the trash before she can eat the entire thing… and perhaps employ the finger ‘lick and press’ to get include all the tiny pieces at the bottom in the feast.

That said though. I love my salt. I shake it on anything. I drag my fries through the excess salt on the plate so they pick up any stray granules. I think salted caramel is better than plain caramel. And the other day I had a salted hazelnut torte and was scraping the plate with the side of my fork to ensure I didn’t miss any of the salty sweet treasure.

So when I was flipping through a magazine and my eyes settled on this gem of a cookie recipe, I was in. It would appeal to both the sweets and the salties of the world, well, to the sweets and the salties of my world. I tweaked the recipe to reduce the butter by half and it did not suffer. It was a hit. A sweet n’ salty hit.

Potato Chip Cookies with Caramel
adapted from Martha Stewart

Cookies
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp brown rice syrup
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp kosher salt
2 1/2 cups salted potato chips, coarsely crushed* (I used kettle brand, one bag comes to this amount perfectly)
1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375F.
Beat together the butter and sugars until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla, eggs, and syrup and beat on medium until just combined. In a seperate bowl mix together flour, baking soda and salt. Add the flour mixture and beat on low until just combined. Add the chips and pecans and stir by hand until incorporated.
Roll dough into 1 1/2″ balls and place on parchment lined cookie sheet about 2″ apart. Press your thumb deeply into each cookie to create an indent.
Bake until golden, about 18-20 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool completely on the baking sheet.

Caramel
30 caramels, unwrapped
2 Tbsp whole milk
Maldon sea salt

Melt the caramels and the milk in a sauce pan over low heat, stirring frequently, until smooth. Allow to cool slightly before spooning caramel onto each cookie. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and allow to cool.

Enjoy xo

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