Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Warm Maple, Bacon, and Cheddar Dip

In addition to the spinach and feta puff pastry cups I made for my girls night, I also made this decadent dip. I was really counting on there being leftovers for me to enjoy the next day but the entire dish was cleaned out by the time everyone left. I think most people (that I know anyway) would agree that you can never go wrong when there's bacon involved.

Warm Maple, Bacon, and Cheddar Dip
modified from
serves a crowd
  • 1 package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup mayo
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 8 to 10 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used extra old)
  • 2 green onions, sliced
Combine the cream cheese, mayo, and maple syrup. I would recommend a hand mixer or stand mixer for this. I did it by hand and it took forever to get everything incorporated.

Mix in the bacon, shredded cheese, and green onions. Smooth into an oven safe baking dish. Top with a bit more cheddar if you'd like.

Bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes until it's hot, golden, and bubbling. Serve with crackers, tortilla chips, veggies, or all of the above.

This was absolutely delicious. If you like bacon, cheese, or creamy dips, you have to try this. Something to consider if you're looking for something to bring to a New Year's party this week.

If you're worried about the calorie content you can certainly lighten it up a bit by using light cream cheese, light mayo, and reduced fat cheddar and serving it with veggies. I don't think I'd go as far as substituting turkey bacon, but I guess you could always give it a shot. I will certainly be making this again in the not to distant future. Imagine this in the puff pastry cups!

What's your favorite decadent dip or spread to eat around the holidays?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Spinach and Feta Puff Pastry Bites

I had friends over for a little festive gathering a few weeks ago and I was trying to come up with some appetizers that I hadn't made a million times before. I had some frozen spinach in the freezer and a three pack of cream cheese in the fridge so I came up with this tasty treat. I just kind of made it up based on what I had on hand.

Spinach and Feta Puff Pastry Bites
makes 24
preheat oven to 425F
  • 1/2 package (4 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup mayo
  • 1 package chopped fozen spinach, thawed and well drained
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
Combine the cream cheese and mayo in a large bowl. Add the spinach and garlic and stir to combine. Stir in feta and pepper. Set aside while you prepare the puff pastry.

Unroll thawed pastry and cut into 25 2x2 inch squares. The pastry I buy (President's Choice) is usually 10x10 so it's quite easy. I always pull out the tape measure just in case. If you can't get the pastry into a square, just cut into 25 relatively even pieces.

Put each square into one well of a mini muffin tin. You'll have one square of pastry leftover. I find I always manage to mangle at least one in the process anyway.

Fill each cup with about a tablespoon of the spinach mixture. I used my trusty tablespoon scoop once again and it made the whole process really quick. At this point you can put them in the fridge until your guests arrive or throw them straight into the oven.

Bake at 425 for about 10-15 minutes until the pastry puffs and is lightly golden. Cool for a few minutes in the pan and enjoy!

This also works really well with prepared dips. I've done it with artichoke dip topped with a little mozzarella cheese. You could also use prepared spinach dip or any other dip you like and would normally serve warm. This technique is one of my go-to, super easy appetizers.

What kind of dip would you bake up in puff pastry?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chocolate Mint Crackles

These are one of my favorite holiday cookies. I discovered this chocolate mint concoction in a Better Homes and Gardens "best of" cookie book that I bought at Costco a few years ago.

For those of you familiar with Tim Horton's, I would describe these as tasting like a chocolate glaze timbit if you were to add mint to it. There's almost a cakey texture to the cookie which is what I love about them. They're crisp on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside, full of chocolate, and delicious all around.

Chocolate Mint Crackles
from the Better Homes and Gardens' The Ultimate Cookie Book
makes 36 to 48 cookies
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon mint extract
  • 1 to 2 cups icing sugar for rolling

Stir together dry ingredients and set aside.

In a microwave safe bowl, melt one cup of chocolate chips. Microwave for 30 seconds and stir. Repeat at 30 second intervals until the chips are melted. Set aside.

With a stand mixer (or hand mixer) beat butter until fluffy. Add sugar and mix until combined. Add eggs, vanilla, and mint. Combine the melted chocolate into the butter/sugar/egg mixture. Add the dry ingredients slowly and mix on low speed. When incorporated, add the remaining ½ cup of chocolate chips. The dough gets pretty stiff so I recommend you use a stand mixer if you've got one.
Chill the dough for an hour or more until it firms up a bit. Using a tablespoon scoop (or a spoon) roll dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Toss dough balls in icing sugar and place about 2 inches apart on parchment lined cookie sheets.

Bake at 350F for about 10 to 12 minutes until the tops are cracked. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

I find the easiest way to coat the cookies in the icing sugar is to put about a cup or so of sugar into a plastic container with a tight fitting lid. Add the dough balls, secure the lid, and shake. You can also just put the sugar into a bowl and toss the dough around with a spoon or your hands until coated.

The finished product is best eaten within a day or two. They don't freeze particulary well because of the icing sugar, but you can make the dough balls in advance and freeze those. Thaw for a few hours in the fridge, roll in sugar, and you're good to go.

Chocolate and mint can be a polarizing combination. Do you love it or loathe it?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Eggnog Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

I had a few friends over last weekend and I knew I wanted to make cupcakes. The chocolate mint cupcakes from a couple of weeks ago had already been requested but I wanted to add something different, but equally Christmasy to the mix. I had noticed a link to eggnog cupcakes on Twitter so I decided to take a closer look at the recipe. Here is what I ended up with.

I modified the recipe for the cupcake from Bakers Royale and used my standby cream cheese frosting and added cinnamon and nutmeg.

Eggnog Cupcakes
modified from Eggnog Cupcakes with Spiced Rum from Bakers Royale
makes 12 cupcakes
  • 1 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup eggnog
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • splash of rum (optional)
Measure out flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg and set aside.

Combine eggnog, vanilla, and rum in a measuring cup or small bowl.

Add sugar and butter in a bowl and cream on medium speed until fluffy. Add eggs in 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the eggnog and vanilla. Mix after each addition until just incorporated.

Fill cupcake liners about 3/4 full and bake for 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer cupcakes from tins to cooling rack. Allow cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
modified from Martha Stewart
makes enough to frost 12 cupcakes
  • 1/2 package cream cheese (4 ounces), room temperature
  • 1/4 butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Place cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat until creamy. Mix the cinnamon and nutmeg with the icing sugar. With the mixer on low, slowly add the sugar 1/2 a cup at a time. Increase speed to high for 10 seconds after each addition has been incorporated. Add vanilla and mix until incorporated.

And here is the finished product...

I was a little heavy handed with the frosting on the first few so I had to spread the icing on the last four. I topped them off with some gingerbread man sprinkles to try and hide the messy spreading job but they didn't look quite as good as I'd hoped. All in all, I think these were pretty good. I'm not super familiar with what eggnog even tastes like on its own but these just tasted like mildly spiced vanilla cupcakes. If I were to make them again, I'd go a little heavier on the spice in the cake and definitely add more spice in the frosting. Something to consider if you take these on for yourself.   

Apologies for the lack of a staged final picture. You'll notice in the next few posts from my holiday party that I got caught up in the baking and cooking and totally forgot to properly photograph the final products. I think you can get the gist of things regardless. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

A big thank you to the ladies who sent me their cookies as part of the first annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap. I look forward to participating again next year!

Oatmeal Chocolate Cookies from Sarah at West Wellington Veggie
Sugar Swirl Cookies from Laura at Food. Love. Happiness.

Toasted Sesame Tahini Cookies from Calantha at piecurious

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

A few months ago I came across a link for a blogger event that looked like it had the potential to be pretty interesting...

The cookie swap called for bloggers from all across the world to sign up for a holiday cookie exchange. Bloggers were matched up with three other participants in their country. We received the addresses of our matches a few weeks ago and cookies were sent out last week. 

The cookies I decided to send out to my matches (Alyssa, Liliana, and Carole) were Toblerone Shortbreads. There's a bakery here in Ottawa, Simply Biscotti, that makes a sugar/shortbread cookie with a giant Toblerone triangle in it and it's delicious. This was my attempt to recreate that cookie. I thought they would be a nice option that would probably hold up pretty well to being shipped across the country. I used the same shortbread base that I used for the cranberry shortbread last week.

Toblerone Shortbread
adapted from Martha Stewart's Icebox Shortbread
makes 48+ cookies
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 Toblerone bars, cut into triangles
With an electric or stand mixer, beat butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt until smooth. With mixer on low speed, add flour, mixing just until a dough forms. 

Divide dough in half; place each half on a piece plastic wrap. Gently roll each into a 1 1/2-inch-diameter log about 12 inches long. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. I sometimes shape my cookies in an empty parchment paper box to make rectangular instead of round cookies which is what I did here.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Unwrap logs; with a serrated knife, slice dough 1/4 inch thick Arrange slices, about 1 inch apart, on baking sheets. Bake 6 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and gently press a Toblerone triangle onto the top of each cookie and return to the oven for another 2 minutes until slightly golden at the edges.

Cool on baking sheets 1 to 2 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

I thought these turned out really well. The chocolate stayed slightly soft even after the cookies cooled down. Hopefully they survived the the shipping process alright. 

I thought this was a great event. The organizers did a great job and kept us all updated and  the process moving smoothly. I plan on posting later this week about the cookies I received as part of the swap. To those who received my cookies, I hope you liked them! 

If you're interested in updates about next year's cookie swap, you can go here to sign up for the mailing list.

Have you ever tried to recreate a treat from a bakery or restaurant? How did it work out?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chocolate Toffee Bark

This delicious treat is also known across the internet as "chocolate crack". I had a friend visiting from out of town this weekend and I wanted to pull together something pretty quick and delicious to share with her and this is what I chose. 

This is one of those recipes that is in SO MANY different places on the internet that it's impossible to know where it started out. This is my version of the classic recipe.

Chocolate Toffee Bark
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • one package chocolate chips
  • one box of graham crackers
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped nuts
Line a large cookie sheet with foil and parchment. This makes cleaning up so much easier. Fill the sheet with graham crackers (or saltine/soda crackers) to cover the whole bottom.

Mix the butter and sugar together over medium heat until the butter melts and starts to bubble. The mixture won't really combine and come together until it starts to boil. Once it comes to a boil mix constantly for about five minutes and pour over the crackers.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 5 to 8 minutes until bubbly and heated through.

Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top and let sit for a few minutes until the chocolate melts. You'll see the color change from chalky to shiny. When the chocolate's melted, spread across the top of the toffee.

Sprinkle with whatever toppings you'd like. I used chopped nuts and sea salt. I read a version of the recipe today that used crushed candy canes. Totally up to you.

Let the toffee cool a bit and then put it in the fridge until solid, about an hour. Break it up into smaller pieces and you're ready to go. I usually keep this in a large cookie tin in the fridge to keep the chocolate and toffee solid. The upside is that this stuff is delicious. The downside is that this stuff is so delicious that I can't stop eating it when it's in the house. As soon as the weekend was over I was forced to take the leftovers to work and keep them there so I wouldn't finish off the batch by myself. This is a great, easy treat to take to any holiday gathering.

Have you ever made a batch of chocolate "crack"?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cranberry Shortbread Cookies

It's time. I'm in holiday mode. I know, it's not even December yet but I can't help it! I love Christmas and everything that comes along with it. Last week I received an email asking if I could contribute a holiday recipe for the Kitchissippi Times (my neighborhood paper) and this is what I decided on. A little twist on my favorite, and most popular, Christmas cookie - cranberry shortbread.

Cranberry Shortbread
adapted from Martha Stewart's Icebox Shortbread
makes 48+ cookies
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
With an electric or stand mixer, beat butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt until smooth. With mixer on low speed, add flour, mixing just until a dough forms. Stir in cranberries

Divide dough in half; place each half on a piece plastic wrap. Gently roll each into a 1 1/2-inch-diameter log. It will be about 12 inches long. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Unwrap logs; with a serrated knife, slice dough 1/4 inch thick Arrange slices, about 1 inch apart, on baking sheets.Bake until lightly golden around the edges, 6 to 8 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 1 to 2 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Somewhere along the way I came across a super helpful tip. I can't remember where I saw or heard about this trick, but I've been using it for years. When storing a log of cookie dough in the fridge or freezer, put it in an empty paper towel roll that you've cut down the middle. It helps to keep the round shape and prevents the flat side you might get after it rests for awhile.

And here is the final result. Delicious, tender, buttery shortbread. These cookies are dangerous things. Most Christmases I make so many of them that I don't want to eat them. This being my first batch in almost a year, I was all over them. Shortbread is my ultimate Christmas cookie.

There will be at least one more variation of this recipe showing up here in the weeks to come. 

What is your favorite Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate) treat?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: The 'Burg

Hintonburg in all its glory

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chocolate Mint Cupcakes

This past weekend I got to meet up with some people from my neighborhood (who I've met through Twitter) for a doughnut taste off at one of our local restaurants. The plan was for them to try my baked caramel apple doughnuts and for me to get to try the restaurant's delicious fried yeast doughnuts. However, me being me, I decided making only doughnuts was not enough and I got ambitious and made some cupcakes as well.  


May I present my chocolate buttermilk cupcakes with peppermint buttercream. Mmm. This recipe combination has been in my head for awhile now. I was planning to wait and make them for an upcoming holiday party but I just couldn't hold out that long. It combines two of my favorite go-to recipes into one.

I've posted about this chocolate cupcake recipe a few times before but I'm not sure I've actually posted the recipe. It's my favorite because it's super simple. I can just whisk it together by hand and it only makes a dozen cupcakes so it's great for feeding a smaller group.

Martha Stewart's Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcakes 
makes 12 cupcakes
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 6 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg white
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

With an electric mixer or whisk, combine cocoa and 3 tablespoons hot water until a thick paste forms. Add butter, buttermilk, egg, and egg white; beat until combined. Whisk in flour mixture until smooth.

Scoop (or spoon) batter into prepared tin. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

Martha's Fluffy Buttercream
modified from
enough to frost 12 cupcakes
  • 3/4 butter, softened 
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
Put butter in bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add peppermint extract. Reduce speed to low; add sugar 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well, raising to high speed for 10 seconds after each addition. The whole process should take about 5 minutes total. 

This is how I get the frosting into the piping bag. Just put the bag into a tall glass and fold the top over the outside of the glass to keep the top open. This leaves both hands free to get the frosting into the piping bag. So much easier this way. My favorite glass to use is a pint glass from a local brewery. It's just the right size for the disposable piping bags.

And here's the finished product...

I sprinkled some crushed candy cane on top to finish them off. These were most definitely a hit. I had some friends over later in the day and they were arguing over who was going to get the last one. I'm not usually huge on mint, or frosting, but I was eating the leftovers straight out of the piping bag. It's pretty unusual for me. Sometimes all it takes is a slight change to a recipe that you're already really familiar with to make it something totally different and so much better. I wouldn't have thought a little mint extract could be so delicious. 

Have you ever made a small change to a recipe that made a really big difference to the flavor?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mixed Up: President's Choice Whoopie Pie Mix

This week I thought I'd try something a little different. I made something from a boxed mix. I'll admit, I was feeling a little bit lazy and the idea of making something from a package was ridiculously appealing. Just dump, mix, and you're ready to go, right?

I saw the new President's Choice whoopie pie mix in the Holiday Insider's Report earlier this month and thought I'd give it a try. Whoopie pies are all the rage these days. The cake seems easy enough but the marshmallowy filling has always frightened me. The "just add water" aspect of the filling part of the mix seemed super appealing to me. 

The recipe itself seemed simple enough. Minimal extra ingredients to add to the prepared mix. 

My one tip for the cake mix would be not to bother with using the electric beaters. They didn't do a great job of mixing the thick batter and it was just one more thing to get out of the cupboard and wash later on. I think a spatula or whisk would work just fine. 

To get consistently sized cookies, I used my one tablespoon cookie scoop. I bought that scoop when I was making hundreds of mini cupcakes for a wedding. I thought I'd never use it again but it's become one of the most used tools in my kitchen. Well worth the $12 I almost didn't pay for it. 

The cookies came out perfectly smooth and very evenly sized and shaped. I got 30 cookies.

The filling mix just required the addition of 1/4 cup of water and into the mixer. For this step I would recommend a stand mixer if you have one. It's so much easier to just set the mixer on high and walk away for the three to five minutes instead of standing at the counter with a hand mixer. 

The result was a super gooey, fluffy, glossy, vanilla bean laden filling. 

I used a piping bag to get the filling onto the cookies. It just seemed like the least messy way to go about it. I was pretty generous with the filling and still had quite a bit leftover. 

They turned out picture perfect. They really couldn't look more like the ones on the box. My main complaint was the taste. I thought they were revolting. The mix had a serious chemical smell to it, as did the finished product. I took one bite and I was done. There was some flavor in them that I just couldn't place but I knew I despised. 

I took them to work to get a second opinion and was surprised by what people said - they liked them! One so much so that she asked for the name of the mix so she could make them for herself. I tried one again today and found that the cake had a better flavor but the filling still tasted weird to me. 

All in all, I don't think I'd make these again. It was nice not to have to measure out ingredients but the taste wasn't worth any of the trouble I saved. At $2.99 they might be worth checking out if you're in a pinch.

Have you ever been grossed out by a prepared food that you thought was going to be tasty?
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