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Archive for April, 2012

At some point in our lives we’ll all take a phone call, where immediately we can tell that something is wrong.  It’s either because it’s from someone we don’t usually hear from or there’s a detectable strain in the person’s voice.  Immediately we hold our breath and pray that everything is okay. Last week, I had one of those phone calls.

My mom and my cousin who live in Newfoundland, had been travelling on the highway and had been in a car accident.  One that could have quite easily, been much more devastating than it was. While slowed to turn, a truck carrying a full load of jet fuel could not slow down and in order to avoid hitting them, veered around them on the right shoulder.  While doing this he collided with their right back bumper and pushed them across the highway and onto the opposite shoulder. Thankfully there was no other traffic and each vehicle was able to stop before hitting the guard rail, which was by this point a barrier between the highway and the water below.

At times like this you stop to take stock of the situation and you get a sense that, “if this” or “if that” had happened, the outcome could have been much worse. Which makes you grateful that things turned out the way they did.

This got me thinking about my mom and all of the things she’s accomplished over the years.  When we were growing up as kids she worked in The Kitchen’s of Sara Lee.  I remember as a kid how she would cook, clean and bake all day before heading out for her shift in the afternoon.  She always wanted to have food ready for us kids when we came home from school and she couldn’t be there.

One of the things she often made were marshmallow squares.  The crust was always thick, buttery and flaky and I remember it often crumbled when you bit into it. The marshmallow was super thick, twice as thick as mine (so I think she must have used a 9″ x 9″ pan whereas, I’ve used a 9″ x 13″) and the palest pink.  Often they were cut into squares, rolled in fine white coconut and placed out on a sheet of waxed paper in a square Tupperware container. When we came home, all we had to do was peel back that lid and bite into the sticky sweetness.

These squares go way back to my grandmother’s era when gelatin desserts were all the rage.  The ingredients are simple, right down to the nostalgic Club House food colouring. Not wanting to bother mom for the recipe, I  once again thumbed through my Anglican Church Ladies cookbook and found a recipe for Marshmallow Squares and immediately knew I would make these in honour of my mom. I don’t ever remember cherries in them but this particular recipe suggested them, and since my husband loves cherries, I thought that would be the way to go.

Working from memory, I don’t think these squares are exactly like mom’s — they seem somewhat sweeter than I remember but everyone enjoyed them because of course, my family’s fond of sweet.  The addition of cherries adds a second level of sweetness so I took it easy on the coconut, just sprinkling some on the top instead of rolling each side in it. I think the next time I make them, I may experiment and reduce the sugar slightly, leave out the cherries and roll them in coconut to see if I can match my childhood memories.  Or I may even give mom a call and see if she still has her old recipe 😉

Old Fashioned Coconut Marshmallow Squares

Base:

3/4 cup butter

1/3 cup brown sugar

1-1/2 cups flour

1/4 tsp. salt

Mix together and press into a 9″ x 13″ pan.  Bake for 20 minutes at 325 degrees F.

Topping:

2 tbsp. unflavoured gelatin

1/2 cup cold water

2 cups white sugar

1/2 cup hot water

1/2 cup red cherries, chopped, optional

1/2 tsp. almond flavouring, optional

1 tsp. Club House red food colouring (any brand of liquid colouring will do)

1/4 cup fine coconut

Method:

Sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let stand to soften.

In a saucepan, put sugar and hot water to boil for 2 minutes over high heat. Remove from heat and add gelatin mixture to the hot syrup.  Stir until dissolved.  Beat in electric mixer until thick and stiff. Fold in cherries, flavouring, and food colouring.  Spoon mixture over shortbread and smooth out with a spatula.  You can dip your spatula in hot water if the marshmallow is sticking.

Cool several hours at room temperature until firm.  Cut into squares and sprinkle with, or roll in, coconut. Store in a airtight container.

Makes 1-1/2 dozen squares

Note:  These square would be beautiful cut small and served at a shower.

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There’s a page in my cookbook that’s tattered and torn, grease stained and smeared with chocolate.  There are notes and exclamation marks in the margins, a few things crossed out here and there and some new additions penciled in.  It’s the most worn out page in my “Best Recipes This Side of Heaven” Home-Tested Recipes from Anglican Church Ladies, cookbook.  The cookbook itself is in poor condition.  The pages are dog-eared and stained, the back cover is ripped in half, the front cover is worn, creased and faded and little sticky tabs pop out on every side.  It was given to me by my husband’s aunt Mary in 1989, and reminds me fondly of her. For many years it was my most thumbed-through cookbook and as a new mom, helped me get a tasty, if not well-balanced meal on the table.  Never underestimate the culinary power of a home-tested church-lady recipe.  It can bring you fame, if only at your own kitchen table.

There must be a gazillion brownie recipes of various methods and ingredients and everyone seems to have their own personal favourite.  Brownies are like perfume or cologne ~ you have to find the one that suits you.  I’ve found one that suits me … perfectly. The surprising thing is, that it isn’t the one that’s all smeared and stained in my Anglican church ladies cookbook.  It’s new.

But these brownies, are officially my new:

sit-on-the-counter –

I-love-you –

I-have-to-have-chocolate –

let-me-comfort-you –

the-world-is-a-wonderful-place –

 brownies

Do you want to know a secret about this recipe?  It’s been directly above the one I’ve been using for the last 25 years.  Sitting there all the time.

The one I’d never tried and it took all these years to find. 

And do you know what my kids said when I asked them how they compared to the ones I had made them for the last quarter century.

“Oh, yeah, these are way better! 

There’s something about brownies that make everything better and these brownies are no exception.  Fudgy, moist and full of satisfying chocolate flavour, they rival my oldest tried and true go-to-brownie recipe.

Wonderful Brownies

2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

 1-1/2 cups flour

10 tablespoons cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

milk chocolate/semi-sweet chocolate chips or slivered almonds, optional, to sprinkle on top

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 9″ x 13″ pan with cooking spray and set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla.  In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until incorporated.  Pour into your prepared pan and spread evenly.  Sprinkle with optional chocolate chips and/or nuts.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Remove pan to a rack to cool completely. Cut into squares and serve.

Source:  Best Recipes This Side of Heaven, St. Andrew’s church lady in Sidney, B.C.

 

 

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 You can never get enough of this kind of fun, can you?  

 

This is what we were doing at the farm on Easter Sunday afternoon following a beautiful morning with friends and neighbours at church.  I was told well in advance of Easter Sunday that even though my 3 boys were well into their adult/teenage years (21, 19 & 17), they in no way had outgrown the annual Easter egg hunt and were anticipating lots of goodies in the form of candy and chocolate treats.

They did say however, that they would be willing to let their (much) younger cousins have most of the fun running around the farm, gathering up the eggs from all sorts of secret hiding places. They were even willing to hide the eggs, just as long as there was sure to be enough yumminess to go around.

   

Holidays always seem to bring out the kid in us, even when we’re no longer the kid.  Special rituals and traditions like this never lose their appeal, no matter what our age when it’s shared with special people in our lives.  That’s why we were so excited when my sister promised to visit from Kitchener with her family.  Her children are much younger than mine and so we love it when they can visit. Despite the significant age differences (Liam 9, Elliott 7, Kate 5) we have copious amounts of fun playing and hanging out together.  Coming to visit the farm is always an adventure for them and they love the freedom and fun of playing outside on the big front lawn. 

  

You just never know where you’re going to find an egg.  

 

 Once Kate got going she was determined to fill her basket.

  

Trying to keep all those eggs from spilling out wasn’t easy. 

 

And now for the reward.

Uncovering the treasures and treats inside those beautiful eggs.

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It isn’t every day that your niece has a birthday. Just one day out of 364 other days. So it’s important to celebrate.

Celebrations are special and so are birthdays. They help us mark the passage of time and milestones that recognize changes in our lives. When you think about it, so many things in our lives are based on our birthday. When we can cast our vote, when we can get behind the wheel of a car, when we can get our first job or plan to retire from a career; all important milestones, all based on our birthday. It seems, that one special day, can make all the difference.

People in our lives make all the difference too. They can impact us in ways that matter.  Their personalities can grab us and kindle a flame that wasn’t there before. Sometimes that flame ignites and starts a fire and suddenly we’re better than we were before, because of that one person.

I’ve always believed that it’s important to impact people in positive ways whenever we can. To give in some way, so that someone else can feel good.  It doesn’t always come back to you, but often it does. I’ve always believed that the point of giving though, is not expecting something in return. Just giving. People don’t always accept what we give them. Sometimes it isn’t what they wanted or were looking for. But sometimes they do and that’s what makes giving worthwhile. Bringing happiness to someone else. Making them feel special, which in turn, makes us feel special.

That’s what this cake was about.  Celebrating.  Making a 17-year-old feel special … loved … and blessed. Which in turn, made me feel special, loved and blessed.

I’m feeling doubly blessed this Easter, as I think about all that’s been given to me.  I’m excited about celebrating life and hope and promise with my family this weekend. This cake was just the pre-celebration icing on my cake!  Whatever you’re celebrating this weekend, I hope it’s special and brings you joy.

This cake may look complicated, but it’s really not.  There are just 4 steps: make the cheesecake, bake the cake, whip the frosting and assemble.

I’ve tried several red velvet cake recipes and each had some positives but also some negatives.  This one however, is the best by far.  It’s got superb flavour and a great crumb and texture. It’s rich, moist and doesn’t taste weird or artificial. It mixes up really easily and the results are divine.

Most red velvet cheesecakes that I’ve seen, have a really thick centre.  For this celebration, I felt that I wanted less of a good thing and so I went with half the size most recipes call for. The result lended the perfect amount of taste and texture to make it a delicious combination. This cheesecake had a slightly firm texture that was rich and creamy. What’s the secret to preventing a cheesecake from cracking? Grease the pan and bake it in a hot water bath so that it can move easily while baking, so you won’t want to skip those two steps.

And finally, the frosting … you’ll either love it or  … you won’t.  Thankfully our family loved it. The dreamy flavour and the whipped creamy texture of this frosting had everyone licking their forks. As strange as it sounds, don’t let the ingredients or the cooking process deter you from experiencing what may well be, your all-time favourite frosting yet.

These 3 separate components; the cake, the cheesecake and the frosting came together to deliver a complete package.  A stand out cake that tasted as good as it looked. My husband thought it may have been the best cake I’ve made yet. Now that’s something worth celebrating!

Red Velvet Cheesecake

Makes a rich 9″ cake, 12-14 servings

The steps of this recipe can be completed over a two-day period. The cake and cheesecake layers can easily be made a day ahead of the icing and assembly.

Cheesecake:

Adapted from: RecipeGirl

One (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature

1/3 cup granulated white sugar

pinch of salt

1/8 cup sour cream

1/8 cup heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Red Velvet Cake:

Cake adapted from: 17 and baking

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon white vinegar

Red food colouring, as desired

Cream Cheese Frosting:

Frosting adapted from Tasty Kitchen

5 tablespoons flour

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup butter

1 cup granulated white sugar

Directions:

1. Prepare the cheesecake layer:  Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place a large pan (one that’s larger than your springform pan) on the lower third rack of the oven.  Boil some water.  Spray a 9-inch springform pan with joystick spray and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.  Place the pan on a double layer of foil and press the foil up and around the bottom of the pan to prevent any water from the water bath from seeping into the pan.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to mix the cream cheese, blending until it is nice and smooth and creamy.  Mix in sugar and salt and blend for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add eggs, one at a time, blending after each addition.  Finally, mix in the sour cream, whipping cream and vanilla.  Mix until smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Set the springform pan into the shallow pan in the preheated oven. Carefully pour the hot water from the boiling water into the larger pan until it reaches 1 inch up the side of the springform pan.  Bake the cheesecake for 30-35 minutes.  It should be set to the touch and not jiggly.  Remove the cheesecake from the shallow pan and let it cool on a wire rack for at least an hour.  When it has cooled, cover with plastic wrap and place the pan into the fridge until firm.  This can be done for an hour or overnight.

2. Prepare the cake layer: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour two-9 inch round baking pans.  In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the eggs, oil, buttermilk, vanilla, vinegar and desired amount of red gel food colouring, I used Americana super red gel food colouring, until well combined. I used 2 squirts (which I think is approximately 10 ml).

Beat on medium-low speed for 1 minute, until blended. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat on high-speed for 2 minutes. Dividing equally, spread the batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.  Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges.  Invert the cakes onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

3. Prepare the frosting:  In a small saucepan, whisk flour into milk and place over low heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens (into a roux). You want it to be very thick, definitely thicker than cake mix, and more like a brownie mix. Remove from heat, add the vanilla extract and let it cool to room temperature. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the top to prevent any dry edges while it  cools. If you are in a hurry, place the saucepan over ice in the sink for approximately 10 minutes, until the mixture cools. The roux must be  completely cool before you use it in the next step.

While the mixture is cooling, beat the butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until it’s light and creamy.  I use my hand mixer for this because my Kitchen Aid can’t reach such a small amount.  Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl until there are no lumps.  Add the sugar and continue beating until its super light and fluffy.  You don’t want any sugar graininess at all.

Add the completely cooled milk/flour/vanilla mixture and beat on high-speed until light and fluffy (8-10 minutes or longer if necessary).  If the icing looks separated, keep beating until it combines and resembles whipped cream in a soft, creamy and luxurious way.

4. Assemble the cake: Use a cake leveler or serrated knife to level the tops of the red velvet cakes.  If the cakes came out of the oven already level, you can skip this step. I’ve found that insulated pan wraps by Wilton work well at preventing cakes from doming. Remove the parchment paper and put one of the layers cut side up, in the centre of a cake or serving plate.  Spread a very small amount of frosting on top, just enough to cover the cake in a thin layer.

Remove the cheesecake from the fridge, peel off the plastic wrap and open up the springform pan. With the bottom of the springform pan still attached, gently flip the cheesecake over onto the red velvet cake.  With a knife, lift off the bottom of  the springform pan and peel off the parchment paper.

If your cheesecake is wider than your red velvet cake, gently saw a knife around the edge and trim the excess. Spread another very thin layer of frosting on the top of the cheesecake.  Flip the remaining layer of red velvet cake, cut side down, on top. Peel off the parchment paper.

Using a long, thin spatula, spread about a third of the cream cheese frosting to cover the whole cake with a crumb coat. The crumb coat is a very thin layer of frosting that you spread all around and on top of the cake to catch and seal in all of the crumbs. The idea is that if you catch and trap the crumbs in the first thin layer of frosting, they won’t transfer to the second and final layer of frosting.  I tend to cover the top of the cake first and finish with the sides. Refrigerate the cake for 20 minutes to harden the crumb coat, less if you’re confident with the spatula and won’t mix your first and second coats together. When ready, frost the cake with the rest of the cream cheese frosting.

Decorate as desired.  For my cake I piped some frosting onto the top of the cake using a pastry bag and a Wilton 2D tip. Apply pressure to the bag until the swirl reaches 1 1/2-inches, twist slightly and pull up. Repeat  this 9 times around the cake and top each swirl with a pink chocolate coated easter egg. I finished the cake off with some pink, Party Decoratifs by India Tree called “Pretty Bubbles” and some white Sprinkles by Wilton, purchased from Golda’s Kitchen. Other options for decorating include using shaved chocolate, crushed walnuts or chocolate ganache.

Keep the cake in the fridge. Let it stand at room temperature for about half an hour before serving.

Notes:

}} This cake has a delicious flavour and a really nice crumb/texture. Adjust the amount of food colouring depending on how light or dark you want the cake to be, adding less for a light shade and more for a darker shade. Usually, the way it appears in the bowl, is the way it will bake up in the pan.

}} The cheesecake recipe can be doubled for a thicker cheesecake centre.

}} This icing gets rave reviews from those who like icing that isn’t overly sweet or sugary.  If you eliminate the cream cheese, it’s also a top-notch, delicious icing for chocolate cake.

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