December 13, 2012

I recently wrote a story for a wedding blog on Edible Gift Ideas and I came to the conclusion that most of the fun in giving an edible gift is actually in the packaging. It's true though. I love browsing craft stores for neat boxes, bags and supplies and I especially love giving homemade treats as gifts.

No reusable Tupperware for these cookies. These tasty cookies get sent off in style.


Last year I participated in The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap for the first time and I made sure to sign up again this year.

Food bloggers from all over sign up for the exchange where you're matched with three recipients. You then send a dozen cookies to your matches and receive three dozen in exchange. Then everyone waits anxiously by their mailboxes for their cookies and posts the recipe they made on their blogs.

I made sugar spiral cookies last time that were a little tedious, so I decided on something a little easier this year. Or, something that was actually easy, but looks like it took hours and hours to make--that's where some packaging and ribbon go a long way too.


I take absolutely no credit for this amazing recipe and its versatility. Chatelaine Magazine knocked it out of the park with their Holiday Cookie Collection feature, both in their December magazine and on their website. They have recipes for 100 holiday cookies and most of them use the same sugar cookie base. The genius part is that you just add fillings or flavours to various batches and you magically have a whole bunch of different types of cookies.

Since I needed to make three dozen cookies I decided on three different types of cookies: fruitcake, candy cane and ginger. I did stock up quite a few sticks of butter, but I hardly had to buy any additional ingredients. For the fruitcake, glaced fruit; for the candy cane, crushed candy canes; and for the ginger, candied ginger.


After "slaving away" baking cookies, you then package them up nicely and ship them off to all your friends. And receive some lovely packages from your other friends, but actually people from the internet. These chocolate truffles from Kristy of Gastronomical Sovereignty were heavenly and I loved her sparkly packaging.


Sadly, at press time I only received one package of cookies in the mail. Fingers crossed that the rest are on their way. I guess it is a busy time of year for mail and all, so I should cut Canada Post some slack.

Update: I received two lovely packages in the mail this week and they were definitely worth the wait. Check out these gingerbread white chocolate blondies in pretty packaging from Becky of bex bakes and cakes. She also has a blog devoted solely to whoopie pies!


And let's talk about these gingerbread eggnog fudge cookies from Sharana from Living the Sweet Life. Besides getting wonderful treats like these (I haven't made gingerbread this year yet, so I definitely enjoyed these two batches of treats), I also love discovering new food blogs, especially Canadian ones.


These were my cookies in cookie boxes purchased from Michael's Craft Store. I can't make these look any cooler than Chatelaine Magazine.


Can I also say I am so excited to make fruitcake this year? Yes, fruitcake. I love fruitcake so much and I don't know why, even though the glaced fruit looks like something from a 1970's nightmare.


Vanilla Icebox Cookies (Recipe from Chatelaine) (makes 55-60 cookies)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Directions: 

Stir flour with baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture until combined. Gather the dough into a ball or separate it into however many batches you want to make.


Add your various fillings and mix well into the dough. Roll each portion into a 2-inch wide log, wrap it in saran wrap and refrigerate for about an hour. 


Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice cookies into 1/4-inch rounds and arrange 1-inch apart on the sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes and let them cook on a wire rack. 


And there you have it. According to Chatelaine, these cookies last up to five days refrigerated and up to one month frozen (uncooked dough). Just don't look at the nutritional information because that's no fun at this time of year. 

After I mailed off my required cookies, I made two more kinds from the Holiday Cookie Guide: London fog and Birthday cake. Those ones were made with ground tea leaves, sprinkles and a touch of icing on top. You could put any kind of filling you want in them to modify the basic recipe. Now I'm thinking ground espresso, chai tea and coloured sugar. This could get interesting. 


To receive notifications for next year's Great Food Blogger Cookie swap sign up here. Who knows? You may even receive a pretty package of cookies from a fellow Canadian foodie.
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December 06, 2012

A few Easters ago I made mini egg scones. Look how pretty they are with the pastel chocolates and slightly browned pastry edges. Mini eggs are those perfect morsels of candy and chocolate combined.
And scones are that perfect mix between a sweet cake and a biscuit. 


You have to use up all of that holiday chocolate and candy somehow. It's not even the holidays and I've already almost gone through my stash of holiday candy. Really, you could put any chocolate you want in them, but there's something about mini eggs that adds a little bit of sweetness that isn't overpowering.


These ones turned out slightly more cake-like than the Easter ones. With the melted chocolate, buttery dough and hint of sweetness, it didn't matter. Bulk Barn must have a candy colour scheme for each season or I must be one of their most loyal customers; either way these would also work with Halloween candy or multi-coloured candies for birthday or kids parties.


Just be careful not to eat all of the chocolate before you combine it with the dough. A little icing sugar sprinkled on top makes them a little more festive too. A tip for making scones from Canadian Living: always use cubed, chilled butter because the cold butter combined with the dry ingredients give it that flaky scone-like texture. They also don't require any egg.

Mini Egg Scones Recipe (from We are not Martha)
Ingredients:

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cups butter, chilled
1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup greek yoghurt
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup milk
1 cup Cadbury mini-eggs, crushed

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
3. Dice the cold butter into pieces and add it to the flour mixture. Break down the butter until it resembles coarse meal.
4. Add the sugar, vanilla, yoghurt, vanilla and milk. Chop up the mini-eggs and them to the batter.


5. Bake the scones at 350 for 17-20 minutes. Let them cool on a wire rack completely.

You could also drizzle a bit of melted chocolate on top for decoration. I like my scones lumpy and free-form, but you could use a cookie cutter or cut triangular sections from the dough


They were definitely a little too free-form when they came out of the oven. I wonder if the cookie sheet was too warm before I put the dough on it or maybe the butter wasn't quite chilled. The coloured candies and a bit of decoration makes them look better anyway.


Have you started your holiday baking yet? I am anxiously awaiting my cookies in the mail from the Food Blogger Cookie Exchange. I had lots of fun making sugar cookies with various holiday fillings and I can't wait to post the results next week!
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December 01, 2012

For the last few weeks I have seen nothing but turkey, stuffing, pie and "green bean casserole" recipes and I have been a little bit jealous. Here in Canada, we had our Thanksgiving months ago, or so it seems like it. After seeing so many Thanksgiving recipes and roundups, I had a huge craving for brussel sprouts. I guess you know you're officially an adult when you actually crave green vegetables. 


I wanted to make brussel sprouts as a side to something, but I wasn't sure what to make. Then that idea progressed into making a mini "Thanksgiving" dinner on American Thanksgiving Sunday. I didn't want to buy a whole turkey, so I made vegetarian stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts with some homemade pumpkin pie for dessert. 


I use spaghetti squash as a substitute in quite a few dishes now. According to Chatelaine Magazine, spaghetti squash is only 44 calories a cup and if you use half of it instead of a full pasta serving, you can cut down on 100 calories. Traditional turkey stuffing, on the other hand--as well as consuming a plate of Thanksgiving goodness--probably has a lot more calories. I didn't actually find any recipes based on my creation. I found a lot of "stuffed spaghetti squash" recipes, but no, "spaghetti squash stuffing" recipes. So, this is an invention of my own. 


A traditional stuffing with half spaghetti squash instead of bread. It might not cut down on all of your holiday calories, but the small things help right? If you had a turkey, you could put the turkey neck on top of the stuffing to add some more juice or cook the stuffing right inside.

Spaghetti Squash Stuffing

1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 spaghetti squash
4 pieces of sliced bread or day-old baguette
1 cup chicken stock
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup crushed walnuts
1 handful of fresh sage and rosemary


Directions:

1. Leave the bread out for a few hours to make it a bit stale.
2. Microwave the spaghetti squash for about 5 minutes then scoop out the filling. Combine vegetables, bread, herbs, raisins and walnuts in a casserole or baking dish.
3. Pour chicken stock and then egg over the mixture. Mix up with your hands.
4. Cover and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes.

Since I'm in the holiday spirit, I thought I would do something to give back. Of course, it's important to give all year round, but I just happened to stumble across a wonderful opportunity. Soup Sisters is an initiative dedicated to providing comfort to women and children in need through the making and sharing of soup.

Once a month, at Soup Sister events across Canada, ladies (and gentlemen too, called the Broth Brothers) get together for a soup-making event in a professional kitchen under the supervision of a chef. Anyone can sign up for an event and some even sign up in groups as a night out with girlfriends. Events are a chance for people to get together to make soup and then have a nice meal together afterwards.


We were separated into four teams to make four different types of soup: mushroom, lentil, chicken noodle and hamburger soup. I was on team "Hamburger Soup" and our soup included tomatoes, barley, ground beef, carrots and celery. I helped chop some carrots and celery, while my other team members added the ingredients to the pot and stirred.  The recipes were printed out on each station and we also wrote out the ingredients on labels that were going to be on the soup containers for the Women's House.


After all of the soups were made, we all sat down for dinner and wine. The meal started with a moroccan salad of quinoa, lentils and vegetables. The chef wouldn't tell us her secret recipe, but I think I'm going to recreate it at home some time.


Then cheese biscuits, warm right out of the oven, were passed around in anticipation for the soup.


The soup du jour was Moroccan chicken stew. The chef leading the event also teaches cooking classes and had taught a Moroccan cooking class that day, hence the theme. So we ate the leftover soup from her cooking class instead of eating the soup we made. Overall, we made about 70 litres of soup that night, which is about 150 individual servings. The soup gets packaged up and delivered the next morning to the shelter kitchens.


I didn't have enough cash on me to purchase a Soup Sisters Cookbook at the event, but I am planning to pick one up soon for a Christmas gift. It was a nice evening out and a chance to give back, as well as  pick up some new cooking skills and recipes. There are monthly events across Ontario, including Ottawa, Toronto and Kitchener, so check out their website for bookings or to donate.
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