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 
from marthastewart.com
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 marthastewart.com
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?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Holy

St-Fran├žois d'Assise Church - Wellington at Fairmont

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Caitlyn's Pumpkin Spice Cupcake

Impromptu desk photo shoot of Caitlyn's (@lizard_princess) pumpkin spice cupcake with brown sugar cream cheese frosting.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

I have been waiting for quite awhile to make a pumpkin cinnamon roll pancake recipe I found online. This morning I came up with an idea to make the whole process easier. I removed the pumpkin from the equation and used my favorite President's Choice "just add water" buttermilk pancake mix instead of making them from scratch.

I know pancakes from scratch aren't difficult. I just figure, why make them from scratch when I like the results from the box just as much? I'm usually only making one large pancake and the mix lets me make just enough for myself without wasting a ton of extra ingredients. In an effort to spice things up a bit I added cinnamon filling and maple syrup glaze to my standard boxed mix.

Cinnamon Sugar Filling
Half the recipe as posted on RecipeGirl
enough for about 8 5 inch pancakes

1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • In a small bowl, mix butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Scoop the filling into a small zip baggie and set aside until cooled and thickened
  • It's best if it becomes a consistency similar to toothpaste


Use your favorite pancake recipe or mix. Pour the batter into a preheated pan. Let the pancake cook for a minute before swirling the cinnamon filling around the top of the pancake. Flip when the bubbles pop and the surface looks dry.

I ended up having to use a disposable piping bag after busting the seams on two different baggies. Only made four 5 inch pancakes so I had quite a bit of filling left. I wrapped it up in the piping bag and put it in the fridge. There isn't anything perishable in it so I'm going to see if I can keep it and use it another time.

Icing Sugar Glaze

1 teaspoon butter, softened
1 tablespoon maple syrup
a splash of milk
1/2 cup of icing sugar
  • Mix all ingredients together with a fork or whisk until smooth
  • If the mix is too thick, add a tiny bit of milk at a time until you reach the consistency you like
  • If the mix is too thin, add icing sugar by the tablespoon until you reach the consistency you like 
Top your pancakes with as much, or as little, glaze as you'd like and enjoy!


I thought these were pretty tasty. I did feel like the filling was a little bit of a pain to make. However, I probably feel that way because I was starving and the filling took awhile to get to the "toothpaste" consistency the recipe called for. I would recommend making the filling about half an hour before you want to make the pancakes to give it time to cool down. I ended up throwing mine in the freezer for a few minutes because I was so impatient. If you're planning to feed a crowd for brunch I think the effort would certainly be worth the reward. 

What's your favorite breakfast for a lazy Sunday?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Backpackers Recipe Guide for HostelBookers.com: Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto Tortilla Pizza

Over in the forums at Food Bloggers of Canada, I came across a post about a contest HostelBookers.com has going on. Submit your best 5 ingredient, 5 step recipe that can be made in a hostel kitchen. The top recipes are going to be included in a recipe guide they're putting together and will available on their website and in some of the hostels in their network around the world. Having spent a fair amount of time in the hostels of Australia, I thought this would be a fantastic contest to enter. The recipe I decided on was fresh tomato, mozzarella, and pesto pizza...made in a frying pan.

I've spent a lot of time in Australia. Between a semester abroad, a four month backpacking trip, and two shorter sight seeing trips I've spent a decent amount of time in hostels all over that country. Cooking in a hostel kitchen can be a pain in the butt but, when you're traveling for that long, take out for every meal isn't really an option. You learn to adapt but, I'll admit, I was never too creative in those kitchens. I ate a LOT of peanut butter on water crackers. Most kitchens that I encountered didn't have an oven or a freezer so the cheap grocery store meals that you might want to gravitate towards weren't really an option. 

We ate a lot of take out pizza while we were traveling so I thought a fresher version would be a good recipe to work on. At home, I make this in the oven. That's just what you normally do, right? And that's how I was going to submit this until I was talking to my mom on the phone and she suggested making it in a frying pan. Genius! It's the perfect solution for the limited hostel kitchen where an oven is a real luxury. 

Fresh Tomato, Mozzarella, and Pesto Tortilla PIzza
Serves one
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes

1 large tortilla (or pita)
Handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced (or a small regular tomato or drained canned tomatoes)
1 tablespoon of prepared pesto
2 regular sized bocconcini (or about 1/4 to 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella or other cheese)
  • Heat tortilla in a frying pan over medium heat
  • Spread pesto on the tortilla
  • Top the tortilla and pesto with tomato slices and cheese
  • Cover the pan with a lid or another frying pan for about 5 minutes until cheese is melted, pesto is bubbling, and tortilla is crispy.
  • Slice and enjoy!
Of course, if you happen to be in a hostel where you have access to an oven, this can be baked at 425 degrees until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. If you happen to have access to fresh ground pepper it's a nice addition just before serving.

Step 1: Tortilla into a frying pan on medium heat

Step 2: Spread the pesto across the tortilla

Step 3: Top the pesto with tomatoes

and sliced cheese

Step 4: Cover with a lid or another pan until hot and bubbly

The finished product
I have to say that I might start making this pizza in a frying pan all the time. The tortilla crust was so much crispier than I've ever been able to get it in the oven. 

Mmmm, you’ll find tasty recipes like these in the HostelBookers.com Backpacker Recipe Guide. Every time I make this pizza I feel like I'm making something really fancy. It always looks so impressive. When you're traveling and away from home a homemade meal can feel like an indulgence. I recommend to take a few minutes to treat yourself and sit down to eat a nice meal. 

Have you spent time traveling? What was your favorite meal while you were on the road?
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