Monday, July 30, 2012

Birthdays are nature's way of telling us to eat more cake.

How beautiful is this cake?!

I can say this because I did not bake it myself. This baked beauty was made especially for me by my very good friend to celebrate my birthday. What's great about this cake, besides the fact that it looked and tasted fantastic, was that it was totally unexpected. Nothing makes a birthday more special than an unexpected surprise. 

I'm not one to be over the top about my own birthday. Don't get me wrong... I love birthdays, just not my own.  Nothing gives me more pleasure than celebrating some one's birthday and making them feel special. When the tables are turned however, I feel a bit uncomfortable by all of the attention. I must say though, that this cake made my day. It was so delicate and feminine, almost too good to eat! It had a delicious almond flavour and a light and fluffy icing topped with pink and cream chocolate shavings. It was decadent and delicious. While I can't share the recipe I just had to share the photos and give kudos to my wonderful and thoughtful friend. I am so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life. 

Pretty in pink!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Calories don't count if they're connected to a celebration.

      What's more cheerful than a birthday cake? Seriously. What else in life comes with icing, sprinkles and good wishes?  It's the epitome of happiness. If you want to get happy, birthday cake is the way to go. It doesn't even have to be your own; birthday cakes are made for sharing!

       I am a devout fan of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels. I've read them all and eagerly await the next one.  Her characters never cease to make me laugh and make my life seem mundane and perfectly normal by comparison.  Stephanie Plum is also a fan of birthday cake.  She often keeps at least one in her freezer for emergencies. She's also been known to go to the supermarket and cruise the bakery aisle for abandoned birthday cakes.  Did you know that you can get them for half off?  "Happy Birthday Steve!" Who's Steve? Does it really matter when you are scarfing down the last of the decadent icing roses? I think not!

       My sister in law recently had a birthday and in my current domestic goddess state I decided to bake her a birthday cake - from scratch.  Betty Crocker was not invited to this party. It didn't take long for me to find the most wonderfully decadent recipe and before I knew it I was baking up some birthday bliss.  Like birthday cake, this recipe was made to share. Be warned, this one isn't diet friendly, but as Stephanie says;

“Calories don’t count if they’re connected to a celebration. Everyone knows this.”
Janet Evanovich, Hard Eight

It's My Birthday And I'll Eat Cake If I Want To

What You Need:

10 squares of Baker's Unsweetened Chocolate, divided
1 1/2 cups Miracle Whip dressing
2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp vanilla, divided
3 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup butter
3 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup milk

To Make It:

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Melt 6 chocolate squares as directed on package; cool.
  • Beat dressing, brown sugar and 1 1/2 tsp vanilla in large bowl with mixer until well blended.
  • Add eggs and melted chocolate; mix well.
  • Combine flour, baking soda and salt in separate bowl.
  • Add to chocolate mixture alternately with boiling water, mixing well after each addition.
  • Pour into 2 parchment paper lined 9 inch round pans.
  • Bake 30 ~ 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centres comes out clean.
  • Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes.
  • Remove from pans to wire racks.
  • Cool completely.
For Icing:
  • Meanwhile, microwave remaining chocolate squares and butter in large microwaveable bowl on medium for 1 to 2 minutes, or until butter is melted.
  • Stir until chocolate is completely melted.
  • Cool.
  • Add icing sugar, milk and remaining vanilla and beat with mixer until well blended.
  • Refrigerate 30 minutes or until icing is of desired spreading consistency.
  • Stack cake layers on plate, filling and frosting with chocolate icing.

Thanks Kraft for this decadent recipe!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Will You Accept This Cupcake?

     It's rare these days to find a television show as intellectually stimulating as The Bachelor or Bachelorette. Of course I am being sarcastic, but truthfully, I love the show mainly for the fact that it brings women together. What better way is there to spend a mundane Monday night than getting together with girlfriends to heckle the latest candidate in the reality T.V. dating arena? It may be hard to fathom, but it's not at all about the show ~ seriously. More so, it's about the snacks and the cocktails and time spent talking with friends (during the commercials of course!).

     Seeing as this past Monday was the much anticipated season finale, and what was promised to be "the most dramatic rose ceremony ever" I decided that a special dessert was called for. While perusing Internet recipe sites I was pleasantly surprised by something I found on the Betty Crocker web site. It was a recipe for Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes. As I read on, I soon discovered that this was not my mother's Betty Crocker!  Booze infused cupcakes were just what we needed to see how Emily's quest for true love played out. By the time we were done eating a few of these tipsy treats no one cared that she picked Jef with one f over Arie.    It was a recipe for love!    

The Final Rose Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes

You Will Need:

1 box of white cake mix (Betty would like you to use hers, but any brand will do)
1 cup bottled strawberry margarita or daiquiri mix (I used Island Originals Authentic Strawberry Frozen Drink & Smoothie Mix)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup tequila (this is where it gets interesting!)
3 eggs

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Line muffin tins with paper liners.
  • In a large bowl beat all cupcake ingredients with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds.
  • Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally.
  • Divide batter among muffin cups.
  • Bake 18-23 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Cool 10 minutes in pan, then remove cupcakes and place on cooling racks.
  • Cool completely before icing.

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 cups icing sugar
3 tbsp margarita mix
  • Beat shortening and butter on low speed until smooth.
  • Gradually add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time and mix until combined.
  • Add 1 tbsp of margarita mix and beat until blended.
  • Add enough of the remaining margarita mix one tbsp at a time and beat until light and fluffy.
  • *You may substitute 1 tbsp of tequila for 1 tbsp margarita mix to make a boozy frosting if desired.

Garnish with lime slices and enjoy!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wedding at Cana Zucchini

     Recently a friend of ours stopped by with a special delivery; two very large, homegrown zucchinis from his father's garden.  What makes this zucchini extra special is the fact that our friend went out of his way, on his bike, at the onset of a great summer thunderstorm to bring us this wonderful summer squash.  As it turns out, this is the gift that keeps on giving!

     We ate some for supper that night; roasted in olive oil, salt and pepper and tossed with pasta. It was fantastic!  Our kids though, wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole so I decided to get creative.  The next day I donned my apron, searched my recipe books, and found the recipe below.  It baked up well, didn't require too much effort and I had everything I needed in my pantry and fridge. What more can you ask for?  What I didn't expect was how far this zucchini would go!  Turns out I spent more time in the kitchen than I had planned to, but the reward was more than worth it!  Spending a rainy day in the kitchen is a treat for me and being able to give away a bounty of zucchini bread to my friends and family warms me from within.  It may not be as monumental as turning water into wine, but for me, it was pretty close. 

Turning Zucchini Into Something My Kids Will Eat

You Will Need:

1 egg
1/2 cup Miracle Whip Dressing
1 1/2 cups grated Zucchini (unpaired)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

~Heat oven to 350 degrees
~Beat egg and Miracle Whip in large bowl with whisk until well blended.
~Stir in zucchini.
~Mix remaining ingredients in separate bowl.
~Add to zucchini mixture, stir until just moistened.

~Pour into loaf pan sprayed with Pam.

~Bake for 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted into middle comes out clean.
~Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove and continue to cool on wire rack.



and After!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sleepless Nights & Smoke Alarms

     The other night I found myself restless and unable to sleep.  At 4:30 in the morning, I finally gave in to my wake fullness and abandoned all hope of getting back to the land of slumber.  Since early morning infomercials are not my cup of tea and my eyes were too weary to read a book, I decided to flip through my recipes.  Before I knew it, I was in the kitchen with spatula in hand, mixing bowls at the ready. I was up and baking before the birds!

     Seeing as blueberries are in season and I had a fresh bounty of them in the fridge I decided that was the way to go.  As I prepared to create a wonderful breakfast surprise for my family I didn't take into account the fact that my baking would soon wake them - not with the pleasant, aromatic smells coming from the kitchen, but from the shrill sound of the smoke alarm! In my bleary eyed, early morning, pre-coffee state I neglected to notice the large dollop of cheese that last night's pizza left on the element in our oven.  When I turned the oven on to pre-heat that un-noticed piece of cheese burned itself to a crisp and set off our smoke alarm. Talk about a rude awakening!  Fortunately, my family are all heavy sleepers and only my poor husband came down to see what the fuss was about. I placated him with the promise of a hot cup of java and a warm from the oven slice of coffee cake so he was able to go back up to bed with visions of blueberries dancing in his head. With disaster averted, I was able to whip up an impressive coffee cake and replace the burnt cheese smell with a much more pleasant aroma of fresh baked goods.

     I have many recipes that call for this wonderful summer fruit, but none are as easy or as impressive as this one. Another early morning benefit of this recipe is the fact that it does not require a noisy mixer; so if you are unlike me, and manage not to set off the smoke alarm you'll have some peace and quiet to enjoy your coffee while this bakes.

Up With The Birds Lemon Blueberry Coffee Cake

You will need:
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/4 cups of Bisquick
  • 2/3 cup of milk
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • grated peel of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup blueberries
~Heat oven to 400 degrees (be sure to look for errant cheese!).
~Grease a round 9" pan or bunt pan.
~Whisk egg in medium bowl.
~Stir in Bisquick, sugar, milk and lemon peel.
~Fold blueberries into batter.
~Spread into pan.
~Bake for 20~25 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted into centre comes out clean.
~Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove  and place on a wire baking rack.

While the cake is cooling mix 2/3 cup of icing sugar with 3 to 4 teaspoons of lemon juice. Stir until a smooth paste forms.  Pour glaze over cake and enjoy!

Morning Glory

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Take it with a grain of salt...

    I came across this recipe while looking for something different to bake and take to an out of town baseball tournament. Sweet and salty seems to be all the rage these days, and what goes better with a beer (incognito in a red solo cup of course) at the ballpark than a salty snack?  I made a double batch of these cookies and I have to be honest, I am on the outfield fence about them.  The first bite is an eye opener to be sure.  The melody of sweet and salty plays over your tongue while your brain tries to figure out if you are eating a cookie or a pretzel. It's an interesting combination to say the least.  About half of the baseball parents were in favour of them and half not so much; my husband was in the former, myself in the latter.

     Here is the recipe; and as the old saying implies, you should take what you read and evaluate it on your own. I will say that they bake up nicely and make an impressive looking cookie. They are also a good conversation starter and fodder for debate around the ball diamond.

Salt of the Ballpark Cookies

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla

1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
1/2 cup pretzels, broken into pieces

  • In a medium bowl sift together the flour baking soda and salt.
  • In a larger bowl, beat the butter and sugars together on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2~3 minutes).
  • On low speed, slowly add the beaten egg and vanilla.
  • Beat to combine, scraping down sides of the bowl.
  • Gradually add the flour mixture and beat until combined.
  • Stir in chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and pretzels.
  • Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
*Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Scoop out well rounded spoon fulls of dough and place on cookie sheet.
  • Sprinkle with sea salt or leftover salt from the pretzels (* I may omit this step the next time I make these as I think it was just too much in the way of flavouring).
  • Bake 10~12 minutes until golden brown around the edges.
  • Allow to cool on cookie sheet 1~2 minutes before removing to cool on wire baking racks.

With cookies like these, who needs peanuts and Cracker Jacks?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The meaning of "Happy Hour"

School is out, the kids are home, and we are all set to enjoy the summer holidays. Our days are soon to be filled with favourite summer rituals.  In summers past, our family spent some vacation time at a cottage in Renfrew, Ontario. It was a cottage that had been in my husband's family for years. We all loved going and it became a summer tradition that we looked forward to every year. Grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins all spent time together playing cards, talking, laughing and having great fun at the red cottage by the lake. It was the perfect location to relax, unwind and reconnect.

While at the cottage, we developed the habit of over indulging in both food and libations. Not a hard thing to do when you are on vacation! Each day, our family looked forward to our favourite meal of the day...Happy Hour! Seeing as this was always a family vacation, the young and old alike participated in our cottage version of Happy Hour. While the adults imbibed liquids that came from the LCBO or The Beer Store, the under 19 set were treated to the sugary, caffeinated beverages that would be deemed off limits in regular life.

What made our cottage Happy Hour unique was the fact that it was not all about the drinking. Much thought was put into our daily theme. Should we go Mexican? We could have nachos, salsa, guacamole and margaritas (virgin ones for the kids of course!). Perhaps we should go all out sodium with a variety of chips, pretzels, nuts and beer. My theme of choice was Italian. We'd have bruschetta, assorted cheeses and crackers and of course, wine. Music often accompanied our Happy Hour as well. It was not unknown to have entire play lists devoted to our chosen theme. Spontaneous dancing often occurred when Louis Prima’s Angelina was played; it was a crowd favourite to be sure.

Each day, everyone would participate in the preparation of Happy Hour. It became an all out festival of food and drinks. Our crowd didn’t wait for it to be 5:00 somewhere; come 2:00pm, we'd sit on the deck and enjoy our afternoon. Soon we’d all get caught up in card playing, stories and fish tales, sometimes forgetting that it would soon be time for supper. The kids, as well as most of the adults, would be too full of snacks to even think about eating a full meal!

When my kids were much younger, a funny story came about from our cottage Happy Hour ritual. We had just returned home from one of our trips and I had to return to work. My mother was minding our children and she took them to the park for the afternoon. Once there,  our oldest son began asking, "Granny, what time is it?" She politely replied, "It's 1:00pm." She smiled at the man next to her who was pushing his child on the swing, thinking, my grandson is learning to tell time! Shortly thereafter he'd ask again "Granny, what time is it?" She grinned and then replied, “It’s 1:10pm." A few trips down the slide later, my son would ask "Granny, what time is it now?" Seeing as less than 15 minutes had past and my son had asked this same question multiple times, my mother told him more bluntly, "1:15pm. Now go and enjoy the swings!" Her pride of his eagerness to learn time telling skills was wearing thin.

At this point I must mention that my mother is very Scottish (heavy on the accent) and at the time, was in her late 70's (heavy on the hard of hearing). When asked the same, repetitive question once again, my mother finally gave in to her impatience. Curiosity, however, had gotten the better of her so she took a sidelong glance at the man next to her and said "Why on earth are you so concerned about what time it is?!" Well, I'll tell you...if my mother could have anticipated the answer she never, in a million years, would have asked the question. Much to my mother's chagrin, my son quite loudly replied, "We don't want to be late for Happy Hour!"

The man pushing his child on the swing did a double take while my poor mother tried to regain her footing. What could her precious grandchild know about Happy Hour? My mother made an attempt to regain a semblance of dignity, thinking that surely there must be some sort of childish definition of Happy Hour. Hopefully it was one other than what she, along with the man next to her was thinking. To ward off the intervention of child protective services (which my mother was sure the man would soon be speed dialing on his phone) she asked, "Happy Hour? What do you do at Happy Hour?" Very loudly, albeit innocently, my son replied "Granny, at Happy Hour we all get junk!" I’m sure you can see where this is going... my elderly Scottish mother hears this as “We all get drunk!” I can almost picture how quickly she then packed up our three kids, stroller, diaper bag, sand buckets and all.

When I returned home from work later that day, I was not at all expecting a lecture about my poor parenting skills and my bad influence on my impressionable young children. When my mother gave me her account of the afternoon I couldn't help but laugh hysterically. "No Mum" I said through my tears of laughter, "he did not say 'We all get drunk!' he said 'junk, not drunk!' At Happy Hour they are allowed to have treats...junk food and pop! At Happy Hour we all get junk!"

It took me a while to convince my mother that I was telling her the truth. I think her relief became evident by the time I laid out a Happy Hour spread on our back deck and she saw my children giddy with sugar, fingers covered in orange cheesy dust. It may have helped that I also gave her a more traditional Happy Hour fare - a stiff drink to calm her frazzled nerves. This seemed to do the trick and I was able to assure her that child protective services had surely not been called.

Since that day at the park, the story of Happy Hour has taken root in our family. Happy hour has become more than just a fun tradition, it became a humorous story worthy of telling and re-telling; one that I'm sure will remain in our family for many years to come. My oldest son, the one who was once obsessed with the time, will soon be turning 15. I still smile when I think of him repetitively asking my unsuspecting mother for the time. If only I could freeze the passage of time so that he remains delighted at the fact that at Happy Hour we all get junk. Cheers to that!

At Happy Hour We All Get Junk Cupcakes

1 pkg. (2-layer size) white cake mix
2-1/4 cups thawed Cool Whip Whipped Topping, divided
6 drops blue food colouring
1/2 cupHoney Maid Graham Crumbs
Teddy Grahams Cookie
24 Cocktail umbrellas      

PREPARE cake batter and bake as directed on package for 24 cupcakes. Cool in pans 15 min. Remove from pans to wire racks; cool completely. 
REMOVE 1-1/4 cups Cool Whip; set aside. Tint remaining Cool Whip blue with food colouring. Spread top of each cupcake with some of each colour Cool Whip to resemble the ocean and its beach. Sprinkle 1 tsp. graham crumbs over white Cool Whip on each cupcake for sand. 
INSERT 1 small cocktail umbrella into beach area on each cupcake for the beach umbrella. Decorate cupcakes with remaining ingredients as shown in photo. Keep refrigerated until ready to enjoy.
Shortcut tip:
Spoon each colour of Cool Whip into separate resealable plastic bag; cut small corner off bottom of each bag. Use to squeeze Cool Whip from bag to frost cupcakes.
Special Extras:
Cut wide, soft candy ribbon or fruit roll ups into pieces to resemble beach towels and use Swedish Fish in the ocean!

Happy Hour Cupcakes!