Friday, December 30, 2011

Homemade Cranberry Sauce with Apple and Pear

I would like to share with you two of the Christmas gifts I received this year.  The first, has to go on record as one of the worst Christmas gifts I've ever gotten!  My family drew names this year, and my father got me.  Among the gifts I got from him that I did enjoy, he also gave me his cold.  I haven't been sick in over a year, so I was a little cocky... I thought I'd be fine -- my immune system's usually pretty strong, so I thought I'd brush this one off.  Not so much.  I spent all day yesterday in my pyjamas and only was out of bed maybe an hour or so.  Today I'm feeling as if I'm coming out of the fog, but I'm still nowhere near normal.  On the plus side, it means I didn't have to work this week!

In contrast to that, I was planning on blogging to show you one of the gifts I had received that I did enjoy.  My coworker, Pam, made each of us homemade cranberry sauce in jars with cute little labels on them with the recipe.  Pam has a small business called Little Prints, making labels for chocolates, Christmas gifts, gift tags, things like that.

I love this gift!  Not only am I touched to be thought of, but this cranberry sauce is delicious!  And with the recipe, I can easily repeat it to make more later.  Can you say perfect?!  I was thrilled!  It almost makes up for the lost days with this cold!  Although, in all fairness, Dad did get sick too, so I can't complain too much.

Cranberry Sauce with Apple and Pear
Makes: ?

5 3-inch cinnamon sticks
8 whole allspice berries
8 whole cloves
6 cups fresh cranberries 
2 1/4 cups orange juice
4 Gala apples, peeled and diced
4 Bosc pears, peeled and diced
3 cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar

Place cinnamon, allspice and cloves into a cheesecloth sachet.  Place sachet into a large saucepan with cranberries and orange juice.  Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until berries begin to burst, about 10 minutes.
Stir in apples, pears, and sugars.  Return to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer about 25 minutes until apples and pears are slightly soft. Remove sachet.

Chill in bowl overnight or store in jars.

Serve cold.

 Source: Pam Tripp, Little Prints, Ottawa, Ontario.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hearty Chicken Salad

Happy Boxing Day :)

I had a wonderful Christmas!  And I get to do it all over again tomorrow!  I had a quiet little Christmas yesterday with Mom, Dad, and my youngest sister, and tomorrow we're meeting again for a 'real' Christmas with my other sister and her new guy.  It should be fun -- more traditional for our family -- turkey, lights, drinks, and euchre.  Oh, and the puzzle!  My sis and I stared on a 1000-piece wolf-shaped puzzle last night.  We're nowhere near finished!!

After weeks of parties, treats, and Christmas-focused traditions, I thought I'd take a little break today.  I made a healthy, tasty, very non-Christmas-themed lunch salad.  It's tangy,  sweet, sour, and crunchy.  A great break!

Hearty Chicken Salad
Makes: 4 servings

4 5-oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 tbsp plus 1/4 cup lemon juice, divided
1/2 tsp sea salt, divided
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper, divided
olive oil cooking spray
1/4 cup nonfat plain Greek-yogurt
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
8 oz fresh baby spinach
1/2 red onion, cut into paper-thin wedges
1/2 cup pomegranate arils
1 oz shelled raw unsalted pistachios
1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and diced

In a large, shallow bowl, add chicken and 3 tbsp lemon juice.  Turn to coat.  Sprinkle 1/4 tsp salt, cayenne, and 1/2 tsp black pepper on all sides of chicken, dividing evenly.  Set aside.

Place a ridged grill pan on medium-high heat and mist with cooking spray.  Add chicken and grill, turning once, until cooked through, about five minutes per side.  If necessary, work in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.  Transfer to a cutting board and set aside until cool enough to handle, about five minutes.  Cut each chicken breast crosswise into thin slices.

Meanwhile,  prepare dressing: in a small bowl, whisk remaining 1/4 cup lemon juice, yogurt, oil, remaining 1/4 tsp salt, and 1 tsp black pepper.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss spinach, onion, pomegranate and pistachios and divide among serving plates.  Top with chicken and avocado and drizzle with dressing, dividing evenly.  Serve immediately.

Source: Jan/Feb 2012 Clean Eating magazine, p. 43.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thai Black Rice Salad with Salmon

Tonight I take a little break from all the Christmas baking I've been showing off, to showcase a recipe I've been dying to try ever since my new issue of Clean Eating arrived last week.  This salad was the first thing I tagged as a must-make when I flipped open the magazine.  It's every bit the flavour-packed meal it promises to be... and if I hadn't swapped out the red pepper for the green one, it'd be as much a colourful delight for the eyes.

In all honesty, this meal is a bit slow to prepare, and is a definite mess.  But with fresh spices, mango, onions, and honey, it was all over the map with great flavours that definitely do not say Christmas, it's easy to excuse the mess!  It was a welcome treat and a nice finish to my very busy day. (I love being busy at work, it makes the days until Christmas pass quicker!)

Thai Black Rice Salad with Salmon
Makes: 4 servings

1 cup Black Forbidden rice (I used long grain brown rice)
pinch sea salt, plus additional to taste
1/4 cup natural rice vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
juice from 2 limes
3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp raw honey
2 tsp sesame oil
8 oz boneless, skinless wild salmon, cut into 2-oz fillets
1 mango, peeled, pitted, and sliced
1 red pepper, diced (I used green)
1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh mint, plus whole leaves for garnish
4 green onions
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
olive oil cooking spray
4 Tbsp raw unsalted slivered almonds or chopped peanuts

Combine rice, 2 cups cold water, and pinch of sea salt in a medium pot.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until tender 25 - 30 minutes.  Remove from heat and invert rice onto a baking sheet, using fork to spread out.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil, lime juice, soy sauce, honey, and sesame oil.  In a large resealable bag, add salmon and 1/3 cup dressing.  Seal and gently turn bag to coat; refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine mango, bell pepper, cilantro, mint, and onions.  Add rice and remaining dressing.  Toss to coat and season with salt and pepper.  Cover and refrigerate as needed.

Heat a large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat and coat with cooking spray.  Remove salmon from bag, discarding marinade.  Add salmon to skillet and cook, turning once, until flesh flakes easily when tested with a fork, about 4 minutes.  Remove from pan, transfer to a plate and set aside until completely cooled.  Spoon mango-rice mixture into serving bowls and top with salmon and almonds, dividing evenly.

Source: Clean Eating Magazine, Jan/Feb 2012 p. 64.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Butterscotch Ice Cream

Last week was my mother's birthday.  Mom, being a typical mom, asked for a typically non-selfish gift.  She asked for new flannel bedsheets for their bed.  Not very exciting, but practical, and shared.  I tried to bring her something a little more exciting, despite the fact that she'd be sharing it.  I found a mouthwateringly delicious-sounding recipe from The Perfect Scoop with my brownies-gone-bad from a while ago.  They're not really bad, just not solid enough to be used as cake-base.  Maybe the next time I make them I'll line the pan with parchment and see if that helps?

This recipe I made a couple of weeks ahead of needing it for Mom's birthday, but being ice cream, it stood up quite well.  It survived beautifully in my freezer!  ... I doubt I can say the same for Mom's!  In a little over a week, we'll all be gathered together enjoying Christmas dinner at the farm, with the goodies left over from my at-work Christmas cookie exchange a few weeks ago and all the other Christmas fixings.

Oh! I forgot to tell you: even though I've been saying all year I didn't think I'd get a tree (cats couldn't handle it, I thought) I did get a tree this year and knock on wood it's surviving quite well!  They were curious about it the first day, but since then aside from one ball being banged around a bit in the night, the tree's virtually being ignored.  I'm almost tempted to put my wrapped gifts underneath it... almost!

Butterscotch Ice Cream with Butterscotch Brownie Bits
Makes: about 1 1/4 quarts

5 Tbsp unsalted butter (70g)
3/4 cup Sucanat
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp scotch whiskey

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Once melted, whisk in the Sucanat and sea salt.
Stir in 1 cup of the heavy cream, and the whole milk.
Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream in a mixing bowl with a fine mesh sieve set over the top.

Place the egg yolks in a separate medium mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks.
Whisking constantly, slowly add the warm sugar-cream mixture to the egg yolks to temper. Continue until all of the liquid has been incorporated.
Return the mixture to the saucepan over medium heat.
Continue to heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly and reaches 170-175˚ F on an instant-read thermometer. 
Immediately remove from the heat and pour through the sieve and into the bowl with the cream.
Stir in the vanilla.
Cover the bowl and transfer to the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled. (To speed chilling, stir over an ice bath.)

Once the mixture is completely chilled, freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, gently folding in the brownie bits at the end until evenly incorporated.
 Transfer to a freezer-safe container.
Freeze until firm.


Source(s): slightly adapted from The Perfect Scoop, Crumbs and Cookies.

One small addition...  Can you see where my cat is hiding?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Basil-Mushroom Pizza

This week's been busy.  Two Christmas parties, a catch-up with friends, my cake decorating class, and now Mom's birthday visit.  The busy weeks seem to fly by!  Since I'll be too busy tonight to share my meal with you, I'm cheating a bit and showing lunch.  It's cheating, because only half is a new recipe.  This pizza, is made using a fresher batch of the pizza dough I showed a few months ago.

Really, it's simple, and turns out fantastically!

Basil-Mushroom Pizza
Makes: 1 individual pizza

1/6th of the pizza dough (1 ball) [if using frozen, defrost overnight in the fridge]
2 Tbsp pizza sauce
1 oz pizza mozzarella
6 fresh basil leaves
2 mushrooms, sliced

Preheat oven to 450 F.  At the same time, remove pizza dough from fridge and let it warm to room temperature on the counter top (about 10 minutes).

Knead your dough, using cornmeal instead of whole wheat flour this time.  Place it on parchment so it doesn't stick to the pizza stone (optional).
Spread pizza dough with sauce, mushrooms, basil, and cheese.
Bake pizza on pizza stone for 15 - 18 minutes.  Remove from oven, serve with a salad and enjoy!
Source: adapted from Best of Clean Eating Magazine.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chewy Peanut Butter Gingersnaps

My sisters came to visit this weekend, and since one's a baker as well, we got to talking, and comparing cookies.  She's got a chocolate chip recipe that has cream cheese in it that supposedly is to die for, so I'll have to find the time to test that one out.  Yeah, time, and a recipient! After all the goodies everyone's eating this month, I'll be running out of people to give mine to.

Anyway, between her studying, and the Christmas party I attended Saturday night, we found time to do a little baking ourselves.  She was craving a gingerbread cookie, but every recipe I know needs to be refrigerated, and we were short on time.  So, I remembered this well-loved, much-used recipe for peanut butter ginger cookies.  They're not really snaps because they're chewy -- and ooey-gooey-good!  This is one recipe that's easy to make, but also easy to mess up.  Don't substitute margarine, or put them on a warm cookie sheet, or bake for more or less time than indicated.  The recipe says to grease the pans, but I never had any luck with that.  I use Silpat or parchment paper all the time with them now.

These cookies are one of my favourites... my only real criticism is that the recipe makes so few.  They disappear quickly, and make the house smell amazing!  I'm experimenting a bit with the recipe to clean it up, like subbing out the white flour for white whole wheat, table salt for sea salt, and the brown sugar for Sucanat, and skipping entirely on rolling the cookies in the white sugar-cinnamon mix.  So far the substitutions haven't been an issue.  One thing though, is that you really, really need to use commercial peanut butter.  I switched it out for the natural no-salt/no-sugar kind once and had a total flop with the recipe.

I'm happy my sisters were visiting.  I get so distracted making new recipes all the time that I forget that some were staples before because they are so darn good!  If I hadn't had visitors this weekend, I never would've made this gem and been reminded.

Chewy Peanut Butter Gingersnaps
Makes: 25 cookies

3/4 cup all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat)
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp ground cinnamon, divided (just 1 if making the clean version)
1/4 tsp each ground ginger, and sea salt
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/4 cup white sugar (omit for clean version)
1/3 cup light peanut butter
3 tbsp butter, softened (must be butter!  If salted, omit the sea salt)
1 cup packed brown sugar (I used Sucanat)
1 egg
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350.  Line two cookies sheets with parchment paper or Silpat.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda, 1 tsp cinnamon, ginger, salt, and allspice.  Set aside.

In another medium bowl, beat together peanut butter, butter, and brown sugar on medium speed of an electric mixer (or LOW on a stand mixer) for about 1 minute.  Add egg, molasses, and vanilla.  Beat again until smooth.

Using a wooden spoon, stir flour mixture into peanut butter mixture.  You will be making a stiff dough.  Using your hands (or a small ice cream scoop), shape dough into 1 1/2-inch balls.  [If making the regular version of this recipe, mix remaining 2 tsp cinnamon with white sugar in a small bowl.  Roll each ball in the cinnamon sugar mixture.]  Place each ball on a prepared cookie sheet, spaced 2 inches apart.  They spread a lot while baking.  You can flatten cookies slightly with a fork, but really, it's not necessary.

Bake cookies for 7 minutes.  They may appear undercooked, but that's okay.   Remove cookies from the oven and immediately transfer from pan to a wire rack to cool.  This is where the parchment/Silpat comes in handy!

Source: Eat, Shrink, & Be Merry, page 168, "Girl-Guy Cookies" by Janet & Greta Podleski.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chocolate Hazelnut Crispy Balls

It's definitely December!  This week, I made molasses crinkles for a Christmas cookie exchange at work, and pumpkin cream cheese muffins for today's bake sale.  Then there was my section's group Christmas lunch.  This weekend's a Christmas party with a bunch of my friends, and next week's our directorate Christmas party and Mom's birthday.  Add to that my cake decorating course is back in my weekly rotation, and my workouts, and my weekend walking group... yup, definitely December madness.  Good thing I'm done my Christmas shopping!  I think I'll be happy for the calm the new year brings.

Remember the energy bars I made for my workouts?  They're awesome! I'd still recommend them highly -- they do exactly what they promise to do -- but I'm always on the lookout for new things, right?  I decided to try these chocolate hazelnut crispy bars -- as a new workout snack.  But reading the recipe, it suggested making balls out of it instead, and really, balls are much more portable.  Plus, the hazelnut and chocolate in them really have the feel of Ferrero Rocher treats, so I feel like I'm treating myself after each workout.  Who wouldn't love that?!

This recipe I actually made a few weeks ago, and am only now getting around to posting it.  I told you I've been busy!  So I've been preserving the balls by freezing them.  They're surviving fine.  I pull one out of the freezer on the way to the gym, and by the time I'm done my workout it's thawed and ready for me.

Since making this recipe, I discovered I absolutely love hazelnut butter.  I was hesitant to try it before, since it's quite expensive, and I was afraid I wouldn't like it, but yum! I definitely do like it.  I recommend you treat yourself today.  If you like natural nut butters, this one's worth the money. 

Chocolate Hazelnut Crispy Balls
Makes: 24 balls

1/4 cup unsalted raw hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups unsweetened brown rice cereal
3/4 cup rolled oats
2 1/2 oz dark chocolate (70% cocoa or greater), chopped into chunks (75 g or 1/3 cup + 2 Tbsp)
1 cup unsweetened dried pitted dates (Medjool or honey), pureed until smooth
1/2 cup unsalted hazelnut butter or your favourite unsalted natural nut butter
2 Tbsp raw honey

In a medium mixing bowl, add hazelnuts, cereal, and oats and stir until combined.  Set aside.
Melt chocolate in a medium bowl over a double boiler.  Remove bowl from double boiler and, using a wooden spoon, add pureed dates, hazelnut butter, and honey to the melted chocolate.  Carefully stir until combined.  As mixture stiffens, set bowl over double boiler again as needed.
Add the chocolate mixture to the bowl with the cereal mixture and, using a wooden spoon, fold in until thoroughly combined.
Shape into 24 balls, with approximately 1 1/2 Tbsp mixture in each.  Refrigerate 30 minutes to one hour to allow mixture to set.  Balls can be kept covered in the fridge 3-5 days. (I've learned they'll survive fine longer than that in the freezer.)
The recipe suggests serving them with low-fat plain yogurt sweetened with raw honey.  I haven't tried it myself, but it sounds like it'd go well.


Source:  Best of Clean Eating Magazine, page 218.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Molasses Crinkles

Tomorrow's a cookie exchange at work.  Tomorrow I have to bring five dozen cookies, in packages of four, to divide between my coworkers in exchange for their delights.  I'm excited! And a little afraid.  Some of them are bakers, like I am, and some, very much aren't.  But, such is life, yes?  I'll have lots of goodies to freeze and save for Christmas dinner and the many parties in between.

If I only needed one or two dozen, I'd probably have made something fancier, but for bulk cookies, Hershey's Molasses Crinkles have yet to let me down.  They're easy, taste great, and make five dozen even without doubling the recipe.  Perfect!

The recipe was even easy enough I could make it up, wash the dishes, bag the cookies and blog it all in one night!  What could be easier than that?

Molasses Crinkles
Makes:  approximately 60 cookies

2 1/4 cup whole wheat flour*
2 tsp baking soda
1 cup Sucanat
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
1 2/3 cups (10 oz bag) Reese's Peanut Butter chips

Stir together the flour and baking soda. 
Beat together the butter and sugar. 
Add in the egg and molasses, beating until smooth.  Stir the flour into the butter mixture and add in the peanut butter chips. 
Cover and refrigerate one hour.
 Heat oven to 350F.  Line cookie sheets with parchment or silpat.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Place onto prepared cookie sheets.
Bake cookies 8-10 minutes. 
Remove immediately from cookie sheets onto wire rack to cool completely.
* I used my regular whole wheat flour because I was out of the white whole wheat... I don't plan to do this again... the substitution is too obvious, so I'll wait for a refill on my white whole wheat!

Source: adapted from Hershey's Recipe Collection.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chicken Almondine

I made an absolute delight tonight.  I even surprised myself with how good it was!   I picked it thinking it would be a ho-hum easy dinner for a Sunday night.  I was hoping for an easy meal to finish up the weekend of baking and cleaning.  I've been preparing for two work events this week:  a cookie exchange and a bake sale.  What a surprise I got with this one!

I love it when recipes turn out better than I expect.  This one's easily going to be added to my regular rotation because the whole thing whips up quickly and requires only a few ingredients that I typically have around home.  The only thing I have to remember to do is defrost my chicken breasts... see, easy-peasy.

This meal was a nice finish to my weekend.  I cleaned, vacuumed, did my laundry, cooked supper, and hung out this afternoon listening to the new Eli Young Band album (check out the Falling)... really, just a cozy, relaxed finish to my weekend.  Just perfection!  Enjoy :)

Chicken Almondine
Makes: 3 or 4 servings

1/8 cup slivered unsalted almonds
1/8 cup ground almonds
1 Tbsp whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp paprika
sea salt & black pepper to taste
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, divided into 3 or 4 pieces (pounded thin works best)
olive oil cooking spray
1 lb fresh green beans
2-3 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Mix together the ground almonds, whole wheat flour, salt, pepper, and paprika in a flat, shallow dish.  Dredge chicken breasts in the mixture and set aside.

Boil water and steam the green beans.

Heat a skillet on medium-high heat.  Add the oil, then the chicken.  Turn the chicken after a few minutes and cook until no longer pink in the middle.
 Beans and chicken should be ready close to the same time.  
 Remove the beans from the heat and mix together with the lemon juice and zest.
Serve beans and chicken together, topped with remaining almonds.

Source:  Best of Clean Eating Magazine, page 69.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wilton Royal Icing

I meant to post this a few weeks ago, when I made Jeff's cookies, but I got distracted making lots of great new things and forgot.  So, while I'm killing time tonight, I thought I'd squeeze it in!

Royal icing is great! It's easy to make, easy to use, and there are tons of great tutorials all over the web, like this one, this one or this one.  I followed the steps there, and the cookies turned out great!  The biggest lesson learned is that I need to practice before actually icing the cookies -- the best ones are the ones I did last.  But, like anything, I learn as I go and improve as I go, so the next batch will be even better, I'm sure.  It's encouraging at least!

My recipe differs a little from some of the others floating around, and for these cookies I made only a half-batch, (since I only made a half-batch of cookies) and it was still way more than I needed.  Regardless, it's better to have too much than too little, and the leftovers were put to good use: I made little designs on wax paper to be used later as sprinkles or cupcake toppers.

I decided upon the Wilton recipe for Royal Icing since I had made Wilton's sugar cookies, and since the cake decorating class I'm following is Wilton.  I've got them on the brain, I guess, but really any recipe should turn out more or less the same, provided you follow the steps in the tutorials.  The only thing I'd change were I to do it again with the stand mixer, is to add another teaspoon of water in to thin the first batch (the writing icing) -- it was a little too thick and burst through the piping bag.  It was also hard on my hands to use.  So, with a little bit more water, I'm sure it'd work better.  I just wouldn't try with too much more water than that because if it's too thin I really can't pipe with it!

Wilton Royal Icing
Makes: about 3 cups of icing*

3 Tbsp Meringue Powder
1 pound (about 4 cups) powdered sugar
6 Tbsp warm water
icing colour

Add all ingredients to your mixing bowl.
Beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks (7-10 minutes at LOW speed with a stand mixer, 10-12 minutes at HIGH speed with a hand-held mixer.)
 At this point, I took out half of it because I wanted some to be white, and dyed the rest pink for Jeff's cookies.  You can find a tutorial here.
After that, I packed up the colours in AIR TIGHT containers for the night, and left the icing job for the next day.  I did it only because it was getting to be late at night and the icing can take a long time, but really it's a good idea because the colours tend to intensify the longer the icing sits... I ended up adding a drop of white-white into the pink to tone down the intensity, that's why the border of the pink and the filling of the pink don't match in colour.  Wilton offers white-white colour so that your white icing is white on the cookies, and not transparent.  Whether you use it or not depends on how picky you are with your white!
Notes from Wilton:   
  • Keep all utensils completely grease-free for proper icing consistency.
  • For stiffer icing, use 1 tablespoon less water.
  • When using large counter top mixer or for stiffer icing, use 1 tablespoon less water.
Thinned Royal Icing: To thin for pouring, add 1 teaspoon water per cup of royal icing. Use grease-free spoon or spatula to stir slowly. Add 1/2 teaspoon water at a time until you reach proper consistency.
 * I'm providing the whole recipe, but I halved it and was fine.  Adjust as you see fit.

Source: Recipe & notes, Wilton.