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Peanut Butter Cookie Cavalcade

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Peanut Butter Cookies on Parade

Peanut Butter Cookies on Parade

Twitter told me today that March 1st is Peanut Butter Lovers’ Day, not to be confused with Peanut Butter Day on January 24th. I was planning on making Peanut Butter Cookies anyway, but I decided to include my social networks in the process. I instagrammed, tweeted and facebooked and probably made some people drool in the process. Here are the Instagram photos with the accompanying tweets followed by the normal recipe.

Baking Peanut Butter Cookies for #PeanutButterLoversDay preheating oven to 375 as I tweet

Baking Peanut Butter Cookies for #PeanutButterLoversDay preheating oven to 375 as I tweet

Mixing 1/2 cup each of soft butter, light brown sugar & creamed honey for #PeanutButterLoversDay cookies

Mixing 1/2 cup each of soft butter, light brown sugar & creamed honey for #PeanutButterLoversDay cookies

1 egg, 1 cub pb, 1/2 tsp each bkng soda, vanilla & salt to butter, sugar & honey for #PeanutButterLoversDay

1 egg, 1 cub pb, 1/2 tsp each bkng soda, vanilla & salt to butter, sugar & honey for #PeanutButterLoversDay

Adding 1 cup of ap flour means the #PeanutButterLoversDay cookie dough is almost ready to roll!

Adding 1 cup of ap flour means the #PeanutButterLoversDay cookie dough is almost ready to roll!

Use wet hands to form 1TBS of #PeanutButterLoversDay cookie dough into rough ball shapes

Use wet hands to form 1TBS of #PeanutButterLoversDay cookie dough into rough ball shapes

Press wet fork in a # pattern on the balls of #PeanutButterLoversDay cookie dough. Bake @ 375 for 10-12 minutes

Press wet fork in a # pattern on the balls of #PeanutButterLoversDay cookie dough. Bake @ 375 for 10-12 minutes

#PeanutButterLoversDay cookies cooling. Help yourself to a virtual cookie to celebrate!

#PeanutButterLoversDay cookies cooling. Help yourself to a virtual cookie to celebrate!

Recipe for Peanut Butter Cookies

makes about 3 dozen

Ingredients:

1/2 cup soft butter

1/2 cup brown sugar – packed (I prefer light brown)

1/2 cup honey (the written recipe says 1/2 cup white sugar, but I always use honey)

1 egg

1 cup peanut butter

1/2 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp vanilla (or to taste)

1 cup all-purpose flour

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2.Cream butter with sugar (and honey if using instead of 1/2 cup sugar).

3. Beat in egg, peanut butter, salt, baking soda and vanilla.

4. Add flour.

5. Roll about 1 Tablespoon of dough into balls with wet hands and place with lots of space between on a cookie sheet.

6. Press a wet fork gently in a cross pattern on the balls of dough.

7. Sprinkle with kosher salt (optional)

8. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown.

What’s your favourite way to use peanut butter?

Olive Greek Salad Dressing

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Cooks always start by mastering the Garde Manger station, our home kitchen is no exception. I started my son, Young Fresh Chef, on salads and appetizers. My mother, Momette, has always made salad dressings from scratch and I’ve continued the tradition. Years ago, when I was making a vinaigrette with my son, he couldn’t have been any older than 6, he asked why I didn’t add some of the olive juice from the bottle of Kalamata olives that I was using from the salad. I’d never considered adding the brine as an acidic element, so I splashed some into the dressing and it was fantastic!

Olive Salad Dressing Ingredients

Later, when we told his dad, Exec Chef about our latest creation there was a glint in his eye that a new menu item was about to appear at his restaurant. It was the first time that our son had inspired a dish and he was as proud as physically possible to be a part of the creative process.

Lately, I’ve been trying to healthify (this is now a word) our food at home and one way is by cooking with fats from whole foods (nuts, seeds, avocados, etc) rather than using extracted fats (butter, oil, shortening, etc). When trying to make a new type of salad dressing, I thought back to the flavours that I loved to put together and, of course, I thought of the olive juice salad dressing. Why not use whole olives instead of olive oil?

I decided to go with a Greek flavour profile, based around Kalamata olives. So, I threw together some fresh squeezed lemon juice, Dijon mustard, a bit of feta cheese, some Kalamata olives, salt and pepper in a little jar and blended it together with my immersion blender.

Blended Olive Salad DressingI topped a salad of romaine lettuce, purple cabbage, shredded carrot and celery with some of the dressing and I couldn’t believe the amazing olive and feta flavour that was delivered with every bite. Usually, when I add whole olives to a salad I try to space them out to get maximum enjoyment. With the blended olive dressing, I felt like every forkful was filled with salty tang of Greece.

Enjoying Olive Greek Dressing

Cranberry Craze

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When the leaves twist and turn and fall into colourful piles, waiting for boots to crunch their way through, it’s time to prepare for comfort food simmering on the stove. Years ago we started a tradition for Thanksgiving and Christmas that Young Fresh Chef and I make a batch of homemade cranberry sauce. Mostly I do the prepping and cooking and he just lets me know when it is sweet enough. I had always been a fan of the canned variety, piling it on turkey sandwiches and maybe even eating a spoonful on the sly. 

But when you look at the ingredient list on the can it is short and sweet: CRANBERRIES, GLUCOSE-FRUCTOSE, GLUCOSE, WATER. I knew I could do better. I researched recipes years ago and I took the bits and pieces that appealed to me and created my ultimate cranberry sauce! The least daunting of the traditional turkey accompaniments, it’s a great take along if you are invited to a holiday feast.

Living in the heart of B.C.’s cranberry country, I can usually buy cranberries in the Fall, fresh from the bog, at the local Farmers’ Market. They are also easy to find in the produce section in your grocery store this time of year. I usually pick up some extra to fill a vase or pile around a pillar candle for a centre-piece.

Once you have the cranberries, next come the seasonings, and while it is necessary to add some sweetener to balance out the pucker inducing tartness of the berries, you can also add some holiday spice to add layers of flavour. The key to keeping it on the savoury side instead of being jelly is bay leaf and white peppercorns. By placing the smaller spices in a tea ball (or a cheese cloth pouch) you don’t have to fish them out individually, or wonder where that last clove is hiding.

While cranberry sauce completes the holiday table and elevates turkey to a special occasion, it’s also great mixed in with yogurt and granola, slathered on a peanut butter sandwich or maybe just a straight spoonful or two!

Recipe for Spiced Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:

1 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries

1 3/4 cups apple cider or juice

3/4 cup honey (or other sweetener to taste)

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half

zest of 1 unsprayed/organic orange

3 whole cloves

4 white or black whole peppercorns

2 bay leaves

1 piece of nutmeg seed (optional)

1 thread of mace (optional)

1 allspice berry (optional)

1 star anise pod (optional)

3 cardamom pods (optional)

1 piece crystallized ginger (optional)

salt to taste

Method:

1. Place small spices in a tea ball or make a cheesecloth pouch tied with string.

2. Place all ingredients in heavy large saucepan.

3. Bring to a boil over medium heat.

4. Simmer until berries burst and sauce thickens, stirring occasionally (about 20-25 minutes).

5. Remove cinnamon stick, bay leaves and spices.

6. Allow to cool, the sauce will thicken up even more.

7. Refrigerate sauce until cold.

8. Serve with turkey, or yogurt or swirl into muffin batter!

The sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.

Share your favourite homemade holiday tradition in the comments.

Black Bean Brownie Bandwagon

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I’ve noticed lots of recipes for Black Bean Brownies all over the internet. Some are just regular old butter and sugar brownie recipes while others are vegan, gluten-free, carob recipes. I was looking for something in between. Now, I’m not a big fan of sneaking healthy stuff into treats. I’m more of an eat yer veggies and then enjoy a homemade dessert kind of gal. But, I was going to a barbeque where there was one child with diabetes and another on a gluten free diet. I really wanted to take a dessert that they could both dig into and that maybe even some of the grown ups might enjoy.

I couldn’t find the perfect recipe online, so I concocted my own cobbled together version. They were pretty easy to make, but I did a test run to make sure they’d be good enough to share. When my son, the Young Fresh Chef, tried his first one I asked him what he thought the secret ingredient was. He chewed and thought, then guessed, “Plums?” (We had just bought some gorgeous purple plums) When I told him it was black beans, he shrugged, nodded and ate another one.

All the kids at the barbeque were intrigued by the concept of beans in brownies.After dinner, the bars disappeared rather quickly and there were lots of dimpled chocolate dusted cheeks and whispered requests for the recipe. I even got my husband, the Executive Chef, to try a bite and his, “Not as bad as I thought it would be.” was higher praise than I had ever hoped. Though he totally objects to them being called brownies, he will tolerate the term “bars”.

Black Bean Brownies

I used dried beans that I cooked in my slow cooker with no pre-soak and it took about 6 hours. While the beans were cooling I added a vanilla bean so they would suck up the flavour.

The sweetener can be tweaked to your own taste or what’s available in your pantry. I try to use small amounts of different sweeteners so that there isn’t a predominant taste of any one.

These could also be veganized by using an egg substitute.

Ingredients:

3 eggs

1/2 cup cocoa powder or cacao powder

1/2 cup walnuts

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 Tablespoons coconut oil

4 Medjool dates (approximately 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1/4 cup agave syrup

1/4 cup xylitol

2 cups black beans (rinsed, if canned)

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon maple syrup extract

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 325.

2. Line a 11X13 baking pan with parchment paper.

3. Place all of the ingredients in a high-powered blender or food processor and blend until fully combined and the beans and walnuts are indistinguishable.

4. Scrape the mixture into the lined pan. Bake until the middle has set, about 30-45 minutes. Let cool COMPLETELY before cutting.

I cut them up into 24 rectangles and froze the extra ones in snack size bags inside one large freezer bag for school lunches.

These taste even better with a smear of peanut butter, you know, if you’re into that kind of thing!

Virtual Chocolate Chip Cookies for Father’s Day

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Happy Father’s Day to all the dads! I hope you get something sweet to thank you for all the parenting you do. If you need to drop a hint, here’s a link for a fantastic chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Just remember to share a few with your kids!

Earth Angel Food Cake

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There is the family you are born into (or adopted into) that you make the best of and there is the family you create that you try to make the best. I was luckily born into a family that accepts me for who I am and loves me for all I am. Each passing year I grow to appreciate them more and more. Luck is less a part of the family I’ve made with my friends and my husband and more about learning and growing. I’ve surrounded myself with people who are worth the effort and never stop trying to show them how much I care.

Once in a while a moment comes when I’m forced to consider what my days would be like without certain people in my life. I’m a contingency planner and I usually have plans B through Z ready to go. But trying to picture picking up the pieces and putting them back together without the corner pieces means it will never be complete again.

So, how do I show the people I love with every beat of my little heart the depth of what they mean to me? I bake. I measure and mix and blend and fold and frost and fret. You are what you eat and I want them to taste the love I attempt to infuse in every morsel. Loving someone with all your heart is to risk breaking it while attempting a new recipe is a risk baking it.

I never liked angel food cake. Mostly, I’d sampled grocery store versions or ones that tasted like the box they came in. I liked the name and the look, but had never enjoyed the taste. I found it dry and spongy with a fake almond-ish aroma with no real flavour to savour. I’d never thought of trying to make one, because I didn’t see the point. Then I had a request for one from a lovely someone celebrating an extra extraordinary birthday. Now, as much as I like to cook and bake for friends, loved ones and random strangers, I rarely take requests. It’s more about a recipe that I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to try, or an ingredient that I need to use up.

When venturing into new recipe territory I call on my trusted baking reference Baking Illustrated: The Practical Kitchen Companion for the Home Baker which I love for its breakdown and explanation of how they tested and re-tested their version of the classics and the thought process behind the evolution. With their recipe for a blueprint, I then searched the Internet for sure-fire tips and tricks to make it as fool-proof as possible. The most useful answers I found were on the America’s Test Kitchen Feed website. Not surprising, since America’s Test Kitchen is the crew behind Baking Illustrated!

Technique and tasks down, I just needed the tools. Thankfully my thoughtful and hopeful husband had given me my first food processor for Christmas and my Mother’s Day Kitchen Aid Mixer without which I probably would not have dared to take on the Angel Food Cake challenge. The last key item was an Angel Food Cake pan that had belonged to my Mother-In-Law, so I was confident it was imbued with baking magic as she was the most gifted home baker I’ve ever seen.

I baked the cake the night before the momentous birthday and let it cool overnight. In the morning I tossed together a citrus salad with tangerines, oranges, Meyer lemons, sweet limes, pink grapefruit and pomelo. A touch of honey and a pinch of kosher salt balanced the flavours. The Kitchen Aid mixer was put to use again to quickly whip some organic heavy cream with powdered sugar, homemade vanilla extract and a smidgen of kosher salt.

I admit that I was a bit nervous when I gently cut into the cake with a serrated knife. Would it be mushy in the middle? Overly dry? No. It was heavenly. I finally understood that Angel Food Cake is just a moist meringue given structure by the flour. The vanilla, lemon and almond came together in a celestial harmony that had me savouring every bite. The slightly sweetened whipped cream and the brightly flavoured citrus salad made each forkful an enjoyable combination of texture and tastes. The cake was a hit! Watching some of my favourite people on this planet enjoying my very first Angel Food Cake made my heart soar high above the clouds.

Ingredients:

1 cup (3 ounces) plain cake flour

1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar

12 LARGE egg whites (1 3/4 cups plus 2 Tablespoons) at room temperature

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 325 once oven rack is in the lower-middle position. Have an UNgreased tube pan (9 inch diameter, 16 cup capacity) at the ready. Removable bottom pans are best, but if not an option then line with parchment paper.

2. Process granulated sugar in a food processor until powdery. Remove about half of the sugar and reserve in a small bowl.

3. Add the flour to the food processor and aerate them until mixed and fluffy.

4. Beat the egg whites at low-speed until just broken up and beginning to froth. Add the cream of tartar and salt and continue to beat at medium speed until soft, billowy mounds form. Still at medium speed, beat in the reserved sugar, 1 Tablespoon at a time and mix until soft shiny peaks form. Add the vanilla, lemon juice and almond extract, beat until blended.

5. Sift the flour-sugar mixture oven the beaten egg whites in three additions  gently folding the flour-sugar mixture in after each addition with rubber spatula.

6. Scrape the cake batter into the pan gently and smooth the top with the spatula then give the pan a couple of raps on the counter to release any large air bubbles.

7. Bake until the cake is golden brown and the top springs back when firmly pressed (50-60 minutes).

8. If the cake pan has feet around the rim, invert the pan so it rests on them. If there are no feet invert the pan onto the neck of a bottle. Let the cake cool completely, 2 to 3 hours.

9. Once cool, run a knife around the edge of the pan. Slide the cake out and cut around the removable bottom or peel off the parchment. Use a serrated knife to cut, serve the same day.

Video: Guacamole Giddiness

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I have not always been an avocado fan, in fact I would have to describe myself as anti-avocado in the past. My family would enjoy “alligator pears” with just a spoon and a smile while I gagged in the background. It was mostly a texture thing, I refused to eat salads that were slimed with ripe avocado or swampy looking guacamole. I started to tolerate small touches of avocado in sushi rolls, but only after scraping off any brown bits. After that slippery slope, I began sliding my tortilla chips into seven layer dip, trying to keep the green goo to a minimum. I finally leapt in and became an avocado convert after my talented husband, Exec Chef, made a chunky tomato heavy guacamole at home. I’d always known guacamole as greenish sludge that sat there limply until it turned brown and crusty. When I changed my perception and saw it more as a relative of salsa, which I eat by the sombrero full, it became a lot more appealing. Once that first batch ran out, I dared to make my own. I tweaked and seasoned until it tantalized my taste buds and then proceeded to demolish the entire bowl on my own. Since then I have hoarded avocados, impatiently waiting for them to ripen and then concocting bright fresh gloriously green guacamole!

Recipe: Chunky Guacamole

Serves: me

Ingredients:

3 ripe avocados

1/2 small red onion

2 small tomatoes

2 limes (more if they are dry)

1 medium jalapeño

1/2 bunch of cilantro

salt & pepper to taste

Method:

Cut the limes in half and squeeze the juice into a bowl.

Cut the avocados in half and remove the pit. You can scoop out the flesh, but I like to peel them.

Chop up the avocado and add it to the lime juice.

Dice the tomatoes and mix with the avocados and lime juice.

Using a rubber glove (or a latex glove) on your non-knife holding hand, dice the jalapeño and add it to the bowl. Most of the heat is in the seeds, so leave some in if you like it spicy.

Finely dice the onion and toss it in the bowl.

Chop the cilantro roughly and add it to the bowl.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with tortilla chips.

Happy Cinco De Mayo!

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