Author Archives: Margaret

About Margaret

A self-trained cook, cooking for herself and her husband in their condo. Cue the cozy domesticity! So, yes, this blog is about the creative satisfaction of cooking, about making meals that real people eat, in real people time (I also work outside the home), about trying to find the best recipes out there and about trying to stretch my cooking skills while I’m at it. Join me? I’ll link the recipes to the blog posts, so that you can try them too (I’m interested in feedback), and put in pictures so that you can see how they turned out.

Piped Icing 101: Designer Cookies Using Edible Food Markers!

Edible art therapy for adults: pipe some icing on cookies, draw on icing, eat, and repeat!

I belong to some baking groups on facebook and every now and then I see bakers using food markers to draw on cakes and cookies. It looked like so much fun that I had to try it myself! It’s much easier than you think and just as therapeutic as adult colouring books in my opinion — plus, you can EAT your colouring! What’s not to love?

I’m going to take you through the steps of making, icing, and decorating cookies that are good enough to sell, great for gifts, and (obviously) delicious to eat!

Step 1: BAKE YOUR COOKIES

Make your cookie dough. I used this: Lilaloa’s Vanilla 2.0 recipe, as it’s a fail-proof recipe that I recommend to all my friends (and that includes you all)! Roll out the dough, and cut using your favourite cookie cutters. I used my “Fun Bites” cookie cutter. Easy to use, and it really does make for fun bites! Bake cookies until the bottoms are golden, and let cool.

Cookie blanks, all ready for some icing!

Step 2: MAKE YOUR ICING

While the cookies are cooling, make your icing. Royal icing is the white sauce of the cookie world — versatile and the most important basic recipe to master. I used this recipe. The recipe will give you a stiff icing, and more than you need. That’s ok! You can store the rest in the fridge, in a plastic container, covered with a layer of plastic wrap under the lid.

Flooded cookies, some with outlines, some without.

Step 3: ICING THE COOKIES

Spreadable Icing vs. Piping Icing

So, you start with the stiff icing. This is spreadable consistency. Take a 1/2 c. of the icing, and mix in a teaspoon of water. Now, you’ve got icing that can be piped, but won’t run off the sides of the cookies. (Professional cookiers talk about 6-second icing, 12-second icing, etc., referring to how long it takes for the icing to spread out. It can take a lot of work to get to that level of expertise, and unless you’re making a living from selling cookies, it’s not worth all the practice it takes to get to that level. What I will show you, is good enough to get compliments and oohs and ahhhs from your friends and family — and which home cook doesn’t love that?)

Take your pipeable icing, and place it in a Ziploc bag, in a corner. Twist the top until you’ve essentially made yourself a cheapie piping bag. Cut the tiniest bit off the bottom tip of the bag. Now you can ice an outline! I outlined the squares on my cookies.

Fill-In Icing

Now that you’ve got your icing outlines piping, take another 1/2 cup of your spreadable icing, and add in 2 teaspoons of water. This will make for a looser icing than your piping icing. Place in another Ziploc baggie/icing bag, cut the tip off the bag, and squeeze some icing in the centre of the outlines. You will see this icing spread out in a few seconds. Resist the urge to fill in the outline with lots of icing (or else you’ll get icing running over the sides of the outline) and don’t try to spread out the icing (it will spread out by itself in a few seconds).

The DH walked into the kitchen and said: “That’s not how you use a dehydrator!” Little does he know!

Step 4: DRY YOUR ICING

At this point, you need to let your iced cookies dry before you can draw on them. Professional cookiers use dehydrators to get the icing on the cookies to be glossy. It’s a small difference, but a) makes your cookies look that much more polished and b) you get to draw on them faster! (A huge plus for someone like me who hates boring stuff like watching cookies dry, but loves the fun stuff like drawing on them.)

Put your cookies on dehydrator trays in your dehydrator. The catch is, it has to be a top-down or back-front dehydrator. In other words, the fan has to be on the top, blowing wind down onto the icing on the tops of the cookies, or in the back blowing to the front of the cookies. If you have a dehydrator that blows from the bottom up, you’re going to dry out your cookies instead of making the icing shiny. But….there’s a hack for that!

Kitchen Hack: Don’t have one of the more expensive dehydrators that blow back to front (like the Excalibur models) or top down? No worries, I have the Margaret-tested solution for you! Hack your bottom-up dehydrator! Put your cookies on your dehydrator trays. Place those trays on the counter. Place an empty tray on top of your cookie-filled tray. Then turn the base of your dehydrator upside down and place on top of the empty tray. Yes, it’s a tad wobbly, and you’ll have to keep an eye on it, but it dries those cookies to a glossy finish in under an hour!!!

Let’s make some art: scrabble tiles and smiley faces!

Step 4: GO CRAZY WITH THE FOOD MARKERS!

Once your cookies are dry (you can test this by pressing down with your finger gently on the icing — but be sure to do this on a test cookie), you can draw on them! To be honest, I got tired of piping outlines and filling them in, so I just piping some fill-in icing in blobs in the centre of my cookies and let them spread out into circles. Once dried they were the perfect smiley face template!

I drew on my white circle cookies with a yellow food marker and let that dry for a minute. Then I drew the faces on top!

Emoticon cookies — the perfect way to eat your feelings!

What sort of cookies will you create? Let me know in the comments! I think these cookies would be great to play around with. You could write love messages to the spouse, have the kids draw edible art to give as gifts to the grands, or just have some edible art therapy for yourself!

Food + art…a tasty combo!

Next Post: Hmm. Probably the Apple Cinnamon Pancakes I keep talking about!

Linking Up at Happiness is Homemade!

GOOP: A Baking Wonder Product That Has Nothing To Do With Gwyneth Paltrow!

Looks gross, but works AH-MAZE-ING-LY well! Seriously. Go on faith here, and just try it!

You know how when you’ve baked something (cakes, muffins, whatevs), it’s sometimes hard to get the baked good out of the pan? Ever had a half-torn cakewreck as a result? (Not talking from experience. Nope. Nuh-uh. Incidentally, buttercream is my best friend and patches everything up!) Some people use cake-release spray. Some people use Pam. I’ve always used just plain butter to grease my cake pans, and then followed that by dusting flour on top of the buttered pan (or cocoa if it a chocolate cake). Never had an issue, and why pay for a processed product when I knew flour and butter worked just fine?

But! What is there was a mixture that you could use to turn those two steps (butter pan, dust flour on pan) into one step?

Your dreams have been answered! GOOP has arrived!!! (I’m pretty sure this is NOT what Gwyneth Paltrow had in mind when she named her blog, but so sad, too bad, I shall forever think of lovely buttery cake ingredients when I hear her blog name. (Subversion by food. I like it!)

But what is this GOOP stuff you so lovingly capitalize, you ask?

It’s a mixture of flour, shortening, and oil.

In other words, you’re basically premixing your butter (i.e. solid fat) and flour that you normally would prep the pan with, adding some oil to make it a bit more loose and spreadable (and I’m sure there’s something to be said for the different heating properties of shortening and oil, but eh, I’m writing this post and 4 am in the morning – thank you, insomnia – and don’t really want to dive down a wormhole of googling the properties of different fats. So. Two fats. They work well together. End of bracket).

Now let’s get down to brass tacks! Or quantities, rather.

The original recipe called for equal amounts of flour, oil, and shortening. But whenever do I stick to a recipe? *laughs so hard has to wipe tears from eyes*

So. Modifications are the name of the game. I decided to increase the amount of oil. Just baker’s instinct. I could delve down into why my instincts say that but again, it’s 4 am, so whatevs, I’m going with the flow. Now, let’s get making up some GOOP!

All GOOPed up and ready to go! Yeah, it looks weird. But it really works!

GOOP

(slightly adapted from iambaker.net’s recipe)

  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/3 c. oil
  • 1/2 c. shortening

Mix together, until uniformly blended. To use, apply to cake tins with a pastry brush. Let cakes cool in pans 10 minutes before inverting to release cake. Enjoy your non-stick cake!

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As regular blog readers will have gathered, as much as I love vanilla, I’m all about opportunities for chocolate to shine. As such, here is my own humble recipe for CHOCOLATE GOOP! This is better to use instead of regular GOOP when you’re baking a chocolate cake — ESPECIALLY if you’re baking a naked chocolate cake. You don’t want unsightly white GOOP residue messing up your lusciously cocoa-coloured cake sides! No, use my CHOCOLATE GOOP and save that cake!

CHOCOLATE GOOP

(slightly less adapted from iambaker.net’s recipe)

  • 1/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 1/3 c. oil
  • 1/2 c. shortening

Mix all ingredients together until fully blended. To use, apply to cake tins with a pastry brush. Let cakes cool in pans 10 minutes before inverting them to release cake. Enjoy your non-stick cake!

Literally (LITERALLY) slipped out of the pan. Now that’s non-stick!

Next Post: I finally found some food markers (think Crayola, but food-safe) so I’m going to show you all the basics steps to make fancy-pants cookies! I’ll even include a hack to get the glossy, shiny professional icing! Stay tuned, as it’s a-gonna be fun! And tasty. Tasty really is the most important, don’t you think?

And then after that, perhaps I will finally get to posting about Apple Cinnamon Buttermilk Pancakes and the Birth of a Recipe! Because that recipe is super-tasty too!

Linking Up at Meal Plan Monday! And at Full Plate Thursday!

PB & J Smoothie: Super-Healthy Can Also Be Super-Tasty!

Peanut Butter and Jam Smoothie — yum-city!

Every now and then I go on a healthy food/nutrient kick! I mean, I love sugar (witness the number of baked goods on this site), but I also love health and being healthy. So I try to balance out my sugar intake with lots of leafy greens, omega fatty acid oils, and dairy and plant protein. However, my requirement for this is that the resultant recipe has to taste great! And I think I’ve hit it out of the park with this recipe for a PB &  J Smoothie!

Who doesn’t like peanut butter and jam? Obviously, you can substitute in different ingredients like sun butter or almond butter, but the fact remains that if you make and drink this smoothie, you’re getting a meal with a fruit, two different types of vegetables, two different types of protein (dairy and plant), as well as a nice helping of fibre and omega fatty acids. I feel healthier already, just typing that!

Enough with the talking, let’s make the smoothie!

Healthy PB & J in Smoothie Form

  • 1/2 c. yoghurt
  • 3 tbsp. strawberry jam
  • 4 ice cubes
  • 1/2 c. frozen kale
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 2 tbsp. peanut butter
  • 1/4 c. pear juice
  • 1 tbsp. dehydrated powdered broccoli (or greens powder)
  • 1 tbsp. ground flax seed
  • 1 tbsp. psyllium powder
 Blend together, and enjoy! (Yup, it’s that easy!)

Looking healthy and ready to be blended!

Being vegetarian, I need to work a bit harder than my husband to get my daily requirement of protein in, and this smoothie is a big help with that. Plus, the fibre content helps with my IBS issues. (TMI? Eh.) I keep frozen bananas and kale in my freezer as a matter of course, and since I always have some homemade fruit jam in the fridge along with some homemade yoghurt and some peanut butter, this smoothie is super-easy and quick to pull together!

Not into all things strawberry? Check out my antioxidant smoothie recipe! More health in tasty, drinkable form!
Next Post: Apple Cinnamon Pancakes and the Birth of a Recipe

The Purest Ranch Dressing You’ll Ever Make, & Foodie Accomplishment Awards

Plate o’ greens, drizzled with nectar o’ the (ranch) gods!

I generally eat a lot of salad, and while I do like salad, I need to switch up the dressings every now and then or my palate gets bored and craves carbs. I recently mixed up this Ultra-Pure Ranch Salad Dressing, and I love it so, so incredibly much!

What I really love about it, is that I know exactly what went into it — no preservatives, no commercial additives, no artificial colours or flavours, just pure herbs and dairy. Sounds too good to be true? It’s not!

I mixed up my own dry ranch mix using this recipe, made my own mayo using this recipe (WAY easier than you think), and used some of my own homemade yoghurt. The secret ingredient that makes this dressing so good? Buttermilk powder, which I bought at a local bulk store. That, and the lack of anything artificial, is what makes it so tasty! This is as pure a ranch dressing as ever came from a ranch. Or in my case, condo.

Let’s make some up!

Ultra-Pure Ranch Salad Dressing

  • 3 tbsp. dry ranch dressing mix (I used this recipe)
  • 1 c. homemade mayo (I used this recipe, but substituted the olive oil for vegetable oil, because it tastes better)
  • 1 c. homemade yoghurt

Mix the ingredients all together and serve over salad! Your loved ones (and your taste buds) will thank you!

Dip it, dip it good!

This dressing is so good just drizzled over plain lettuce, or even used as a loose dip. I can’t wait to pack it for work lunches so I can have that yummy fresh taste on my lunch break. And it’s all healthy! Doesn’t food taste even better when you know it’s good for you? Yum, yum, yum!

Sometimes I feel like there should be foodie accomplishment awards, like for when you make your first loaf of homemade bread, or as in this case, when you make a recipe out of ingredients that you’ve made yourself! If a foodie accomplishment award existed, what would you award it to yourself for? Let me know in the comments!

Next Post: Speaking of food that’s good for you, I came up with a recipe for a peanut butter & jam smoothie, that’s packed full of protein, fibre, and antioxidants, and tastes EXACTLY like a PB& J sandwich! Stay tuned!

Linking Up at Meal Plan Monday! And at Happiness is Homemade!

Easy Cheesy Spinach Lasagna: Semi-Hidden Nutrition for the Picky Eaters in Your Life

Looks like spinach, tastes like cheese! In other words, perfect for the picky eater in your life.

I made a scalloped potato and broccoli dish earlier this week, and the cheese sauce that the veggies were covered in was so good that I knew I had to make a veggie lasagna with it. And I did!

This iron and protein-rich dish is easy to make, with an ooey-gooey cheesy top and layers of cheesy spinach and pasta, all layered with a garlicky cheese sauce. Mmm…what’s not to love?

Easily pulled together, you can freeze this dish before or after baking, or prep it in advance and then just set it aside to be baked just before dinner (or lunch! Or both, because yum!).

Let’s get to making it, yes?

Mixing up the (3-ingredient) filling!

Easy Cheesy Spinach Lasagna

Pasta

  • 9 lasagna noodles

Cheese Sauce

  • 2 c. aged white cheddar, grated
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 1/2 tbsp. flour
  • 2 1/4 c. milk
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 1/3 c. butter

Spinach and Ricotta Filling

  • 1 pkg frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed (to get rid of excess liquid)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 containers of ricotta cheese

Cook pasta, drain and set aside. While pasta is cooking, mix spinach, ricotta cheese, and eggs together, and set aside.

Make cheese sauce: melt butter and fry onions in the butter until translucent. Add in chopped garlic and fry until fragrant, about two minutes. Add flour, salt, and pepper, stir, and cook for two minutes (to cook the flour). Slowly (and in three separate stages) add in milk. Whisk with each addition of milk. The sauce will be all clumpy at first as it absorbs the milk, but keep whisking and it will smooth out. Once smooth, add in grated cheese, reserving 1 c. of the cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. Set aside.

Now it’s time to layer the lasagna! Spread several large spoons of the cheese sauce in the bottom of a lasagna pan. Layer 3 noodles on top. Top with 1/2 of spinach mixture, 1/3 of cheese sauce, and a sprinkle of grated cheese. Repeat the layers. Then place the final 3 noodles on top, spread the last of the cheese sauce on top of that, and sprinkle all the remaining grated cheese on the very top.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for half an hour, or until the dish is bubbling and the top is golden brown. Serve with a crisp green salad, and enjoy your delicious meal!

Layers of golden crusted cheesy goodness!

To a beginner cook (or even a not so beginner one!), lasagna can be intimidating. But really, it’s rather easy! For this dish, you make the 3-ingredient filling, the cheese sauce, and boil the noodles, and then layer it all up. That’s rather easy, yes? Especially for a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meal that is great for potlucks, family dinners, or frozen for work lunches!

Next Post: Apple Spice Pancakes and The Birth of A Recipe!

Linking Up at Meal Plan Monday! And at Happiness is Homemade!