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.

Salads I Have Known and Loved: Baked Falafel Croutons

So deliciously crunch!

Falafel are one of the few take-out foods that do not taste good reheated. They tend to dry out and become overly mealy when eaten the next day. So what to do when you’ve got leftover falafel sitting in your fridge? Make falafel croutons, obviously!

I tend to eat a lot of salads for health reasons, and I like to switch up the toppings to keep things interesting. I’m also always in search of ways to add vegetarian protein to my diet. And then last week the DH and I ordered takeout from a local Middle Eastern deli, and ended up with leftover falafel. I opened my fridge the next day and looked the head of lettuce sitting on the shelf. I looked at the stale falafel in its wrapper. A light bulb went off in my head, and bam! Falafel croutons were born!

Want to make some yourself? Let’s!

Baked Falafel Croutons

  • 2 falafel
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. onion powder

Chop falafel into cubes. Toss with oil and seasonings. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, flipping them over after 5 minutes. And…you’re done!

That’s right, these croutons bake up in the time it takes to chop up your salad. I made them with purchased falafel, but they could easily be made with homemade falafel. Probably healthier that way, anyway. The two falafel will actually be enough for two salads. Unless you prefer to snack on the croutons like popcorn, which is actually not a bad idea.

As I was finishing up the salads (topped with my fave ranch dressing) the DH came into the kitchen and started nibbling away on the croutons. His reaction? “MMMM!” and then, “Why can’t you make crappy food?” I must have looked a bit taken aback, because he clarified:  “Why do you always make such delicious food? I’m going to gain weight!” A bit of an awkward compliment, but I’ll take it regardless! All of which is to say, falafel croutons are YUMMY!

Try making some yourself, and switch up the seasonings to suit yourself and/or your salad. Let me know what flavourings you think work best!

Next Post: Coconut Buttercream Frosting, probably the best coconut flavoured food to pass your lips this year. Seriously good stuff! Also seriously easy, which means I am all over it!  

Linking Up at Meal Plan Monday! And at Happiness is Homemade! Plus, at Full Plate Thursday!

Three Easy Ways to Bake Alice-in-Wonderland Themed Treats!

Pretty, painted meringue roses that melt in your mouth!

I generally don’t sell my baking, preferring to a) eat it (best part of baking, amirite?), b) bring it to work, or c) have the DH bring it to his work (our colleagues are most appreciative). Recently, however, when someone I didn’t know asked me to do some baking for a themed baby shower, I thought, why not? And baked up these yummy ‘Alice in Wonderland’ themed treats!

What treats did I make? Chessboard Nanaimo Bar Squares, Painted Rose Meringues, and Spotted Mushroom Cupcakes! And honestly, they were so easy to make. Want to make some yourself? Let’s!

Chessboard Nanaimo Bar Squares

  • 1 batch Nanaimo bar ingredients, plus
  • 1 c. white chocolate wafers
  • 1 tbsp. oil

Use my nanaimo bar recipe, but use a lasagna pan instead of a square pan. And, before you add the final chocolate layer, cut the giant block of nanaimo bar in half. Then ice one half in chocolate and ice the other half in white chocolate (that’s what the white chocolate wafers & oil is for). When set, cut into squares and arrange in a chessboard pattern. Et voila! Wasn’t that easy?

What a delicious Nanaimo bar chessboard!

As you all know, I like to use real ingredients to create delicious treats…and then consume them when they’re fresh, because why wait to eat yumminess? Which means that when I made the Spotted Mushroom Cupcakes, I didn’t use a cake mix or canned frosting, but mixed up the batter from scratch, along with some vanilla buttercream! I actually used coconut oil instead of shortening in my vanilla buttercream recipe, and that gave the buttercream a coconutty taste — extra yummy! The DH came by the kitchen as I was baking, and tasted the buttercream. His reaction? “MMMMMMMM!” I think that says it all.

Spotted Mushroom Cupcakes

  • 1 batch chocolate cupcake batter (I HIGHLY recommend this recipe)
  • 1 batch of my vanilla buttercream, but using (room temperature) coconut oil instead of shortening
  • green cupcake wrappers
  • 1 1/2 c. of red candy wafers
  • 1 tsp. vegetable oil

Using the green cupcake wrappers, bake the cupcakes according to the directions. Whip up the buttercream according to the recipe, except use coconut oil in place of the shortening. Using a butter knife, spread icing over the top of each cupcake to create a smooth dome. Place 2 or 3 red wafers on each iced cupcake. Then, place the remaining red wafers in a cup along with the oil and microwave in 30 s. bursts until melted, stirring every 30 s. Once melted, pour into a Ziploc bag, and cut a very small bit off of one corner. Pipe small red dots onto a sheet of waxed paper. Set the waxed paper in the fridge to set. Once the red dots are solid, place two or three red dots on each cupcake. Et voila, your Spotted Mushroom Cupcakes are done!

Coconutty buttercream goodness!

Do you remember the part in ‘Alice in Wonderland’, where the Queen orders her white roses to be painted red? Well, we can do the same, only with roses made out of meringue!

Painted Rose Meringues

  • 1 batch of meringue (I like this recipe, as it creates a very pipeable meringue)
  • 2 cups red candy wafers
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 Wilton 1M piping tip
  • a piping bag

Mix up the batch of meringue batter.  Cut the tip off the piping bag, and attach the piping tip. (If you don’t have a piping attachment, don’t worry, just place the piping tip inside the bag and it will work just fine.) Scoop the meringue batter into the piping bag and twist the top closed. Pipe roses onto a baking sheet. How to pipe a rose? Start in the centre, and pipe a swirl. The 1M piping tip makes the swirl look like a rose! Bake according to meringue batter instructions, or until the meringues are lightly golden on the bottom, and thoroughly dry throughout (I usually break one in half to check the done-ness. And then eat it. Hazard/benefit of the job, right?) When done, remove to a cooling rack and let cool thoroughly.

Mix wafers with vegetable oil, and melt in microwave, in 30 s. bursts, stirring in between each 30 s. When thoroughly melted, pour into a shallow bowl. Dip 1/3 of the roses top down, so that the tops become completely covered in red. Then set these back on the cooling tray (I suggest placing a piece of wax paper underneath to catch all the drips). Take 1/2 of the remaining meringues and dip half of the cookie in the melted red wafers, so that it looks as though someone half-painted a white rose. Set back on cooling tray. Let the candy coating set. If you’re in a hurry, you can place the cooling racks in the fridge to set faster. Once done, arrange the roses on a platter, with some red roses, some white roses, and some half-painted roses. Deliciousness, thy name is meringue!

Wasn’t it easy to make those ‘Alice in Wonderland’ themed desserts? They’re just basic recipes, but with the design slightly tweaked so that they fit with an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme. Do you have an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ themed party coming up? Why not try these out? Not only are they delicious, but they’re fun to look at too! If you do bake these treats, be sure to email me some photos! I’d love to post them on my social media channels!

Next Post: Baked Falafel Croutons! Say what? That’s right! An easy way to add vegetarian protein to your salad!  

Linking Up at Meal Plan Monday! And Happiness is Homemade! And also at Full Plate Thursday!

White Wine Alfredo Sauce (Reduced-Fat! So, like, healthy! Ish.)

Health(ier) means I can eat this more often! And it’s so deliciously creamy!

Guess what? After talking with a friend about ways to use up white wine recently, I came up with a new and delicious recipe: White Wine Alfredo Sauce!  I made it as a reduced fat version, so that the DH and I could enjoy it more often, with less guilt. I actually don’t believe in feeling guilty about food. Nourish yourself, nourish your body, be active, and no guilt. So I guess it’s more that I can eat my (Reduced-Fat) White Wine Alfredo Sauce with less worry about what the fat content is doing to my heart. I served it with blanched broccoli, so there’s that, right? Apparently broccoli is not only a super-food but a super-duper food, and a dash of wine is actually considered heart-healthy, so I think it was a healthy meal overall!

And it’s so easy to make! Seriously! If you have a can of 1% evaporated milk, you can make this recipe!

So, let’s getting cooking!

Reduced-Fat White Wine Alfredo Sauce

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1 can evaporated milk (I used 1%)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1 cube bouillion
  • fresh herbs to taste

Fry the onion and garlic in the vegetable oil, over medium heat, until the onion is translucent. Add in wine and simmer for 5 minutes. Then add in the evaporated milk, bouillon, and flour, and stir over medium high heat until bubbling and slightly thickened. Stir in fresh herbs. Et voila, tu es finis! (Easy-peasy, right?)

I tossed this sauce with shell pasta (two cups dry pasta, then cooked). The pasta will absorb a lot of the sauce, so serve it right away if you like super-saucy pasta, or wait 5 minutes after tossing the pasta with the sauce, if you prefer a thicker sauce.

I served it with blanched broccoli and a glass of apple peach iced tea. Yum!

I plan to put this sauce into my regular dinner rotation, as per the DH’s request. He’s not a fan of the onions in the sauce, and obviously you can leave them out, but personally, I like them. Gives a bit of caramelized-like flavour, I think.

I’ve also packed leftovers for lunches the next day, but somehow, the leftovers never seem to last long enough to make it to my lunchbag. Hmm. I wonder why. *cough*DH*cough* (Oh, ok, me too! It’s just so yummy! Especially with herbs fresh from my garden!)

If you make this dish, let me know what you think! Are you an onions or no onions sort of person?

Next Post: I made baked goods for an Alice-In-Wonderland themed party! Easily done — and I’ll show you how to make them yourself!

Linking Up at Meal Plan Monday!

Cake Icing 101, Plus How to Make Ganache in a Pinch

 

Drool worthy! Maybe fork worthy is a better term. Either way, get in my mouth

This cake-decorating post is coming a week later than planned, as I was away on vacay last weekend. I had thought that I could get the post out beforehand, but then I had minor surgery before we left of vacation, so that put paid to that. As much as I know that you all live for my posts (what, you don’t?), I thought my blog would survive even if I missed a week. So my apologies, mea culpa, and here is this week’s post: Cake Icing 101, and how to make ganache in a pinch!

Icing a cake can be intimidating to a lot of people, but once you know the steps, it’s easy to make a cake that looks at least semi-professional. Once you’ve read this post, you should be able to make a cake that will elicit oohs and ahhs from anyone who sees and eats it!

First off, let me give you my top 3 tips to ice a cake and to make a mean buttercream!

CAKE ICING 101

  • Tips & Tricks to Icing a Cake
    • Half freeze cake before icing; this reduces the chance of the cake breaking during icing as well as reducing the number of crumbs that you’ll get coming off the cake while icing.
    • Do a crumb coat. This is what ices down any loose crumbs, and a major step in making a cake look professional.
    • Use a Wilton 1M tip – this is the best tip to use to get those gorgeous professional swirls!
  • Tips and Tricks to Make a Better Icing
    • Butter tastes better, but shortening makes it fluffier and easier to ice. I suggest using my Best Ever Buttercream recipe, as it combines both for a tasty and easy to pipe icing.
    • Also, beat your icing for a long time! This incorporates a lot of air into the icing, and makes it easier to spread.
    • Spread the icing on the cake using an offset spatula. This is one of the few kitchen tools that is hard to substitute, so if you want to ice cakes, it’s worth the investment!

Full disclosure, I did not use a 1M icing tip for this post. I left my only 1M tip at a friend’s house a few weeks ago when I was icing cookies with her son, and haven’t had a chance to either get it back or buy a new one. So do as I say, not as I do! Seriously, using a 1M tip will make any piping you do look professional. If you take away nothing else from this post, just remember to use a Wilton 1M tip!

Now, let’s whip up some chocolate buttercream, and get to icing a fancy-pants cake!

CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM

  • 1 c. butter, softened
  • 1/3 c. vegetable shortening
  • 3 1/2 c. icing sugar
  • 1 c. cocoa
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Whip butter and shortening together until thoroughly mixed. Add in icing sugar, cocoa, and vanilla, and mix until combined. Beat on high for at least 10 minutes.

Want me some cake right now!

HOW TO MAKE & ICE A FANCY-PANTS CAKE

  1. Grease two cake pans with cake release spread (aka GOOP).
  2. Make a batch of chocolate cake batter. I highly recommend this one (it has the fluffiness of a box mix cake, but is 100% preservative-free).
  3. Pour batter into greased pans and bake a la recipe directions (likely about 350 degrees for about 25 minutes). Only bake until the top of the cake springs back when you poke it lightly with a finger. Don’t overbake, or the cake will be dry! That said, you can rescue an overly dry cake by brushing it with a simple syrup solution once cooled. But it’s easier to just avoid over-baking it in the first place.
  4. Once removed from oven, let cakes sit in pans for about 2 minutes, then invert over a cooling tray. Since you’ve used my fabulous GOOP recipe, the cakes will fall out of the pan super-duper easily!
  5. Let cakes cool until room temperature.
  6. Wrap cakes up individually in plastic wrap and freeze for several hours to overnight.
  7. Remove cake layers from freezer. On a flat cake plate, put a dab of buttercream in the centre, and centre the first cake layer on the tab of icing. This helps ensure the cake won’t slide around when you’re icing it.
  8. Slap on a bunch of icing onto that cake layer, spread it out evenly, and place the second cake layer on top.
  9. Slap a thin layer of icing onto the top layer, and spread it out. Smooth a thin layer of icing onto the sides of the cake, to make the crumb coat.
  10. Stick the crumb-coated cake into the fridge for at least half an hour.
  11. Spread the remaining buttercream  (less 3/4 c.) on the sides and top of the cake. Don’t worry about making it look perfect.
  12. Using a ruler held vertically against the cake (or, if you’re like me and can’t find your ruler, a stiff piece of straight-edged cardboard in a plastic baggie), rotate the cake plate. This will smooth the icing on the sides, and is a big step in making that cake look professional. Don’t worry about smoothing the top too TOO much, as we’re going to be covering the top with ganache!
  13. Chill the cake for at least 30 minutes.
  14. Make your ganache (recipe below) and pour in small circle on the top of the cake. It will start to run down the sides and give it a lusciously drippy chocolate look. Who doesn’t love dripping chocolate?
  15. Using your 1M tip and an icing/pastry bag (or a plastic baggie in a pinch), pipe little rosettes on the top of the cake around the edge. You can also pipe a little edging on the bottom of the cake if you want. You do you, boo!
  16. Stick some decoration on top of the rosettes of icing: chocolate-covered espresso beans, molded chocolates, chocolate wafers, chocolate-dipped strawberries, chunks of chocolate bar…anything you want, really!
  17. Present the cake to your friends, family, or co-workers, and be prepared for compliments! Bask in the oohs, ahhs, and impressed murmurs when you tell them you made it yourself. Ahhh… 🙂

Now about that ganache. Ganache is made using chocolate and cream. Usually, it’s a ratio of 2 to 1; 2 cups chocolate for every 1 c. of cream used. You heat the cream and stir in the chocolate until melted. Yum! But…I didn’t have any cream in the house, and I wanted to finish up the cake to send into work with the DH. (Also, I wanted a slice. I cannot lie.) What to do?

Well, I don’t call myself the Queen of Substitutions for nothing! I just followed my like-replaces-like principle that I talk about in my free e-book (This for That: Easy Kitchen Swaps & Hacks — available free to all subscribers, so subscribe now!), and replaced the cream with evaporated milk, adding in oil, as evaporated milk is lower in fat than cream.

Admittedly, it’s not going to be EXACTLY like ganache, but it’s close enough to work in a pinch. And it’s tasty, so eh, good enough. Life is too short to be a constant perfectionist. And I wanted a slice of that cake asap!

Want to make some good-enough ganache yourself? Let’s!

GOOD-ENOUGH GANACHE

  • 1 c. chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. evaporated milk
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil

Mix chocolate chips, milk, and oil in a microwave-proof bowl. Heat in microwave in 30 s bursts, stirring in between each 30 s., until chocolate is softened and you can stir the mixture into a homogenous thick chocolate sauce. Et voila, good-enough-ganache!

By the way, remember that vacation that I told you I took last weekend? Well, the DH and I went to Vegas with some friends! And, since the DH and I are total romantics, plus we wanted the full Vegas experience…we got (re)married in a limo in a drive-through wedding chapel! (Yes, you read that right!) And being a capital R romantic, I proposed to the DH (he proposed last time, so it was only fair). Of course, me being me, I proposed using food. A slice of cheesecake to be exact.

I proposed at a restaurant, in front of our friends. Sweeet!

The DH, being the DH, ate the cheesecake, and then gave me an answer. Apparently, food really is the way to a man’s heart!

I may or may not have helped him eat that slice of cheesecake. (Hint: It was soooo yummy!)

Next Post: Reduced-Fat Alfredo Sauce & Why I Licked the Plate

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

Ridiculously Easy Strawberry FroYo: A Waistline Friendly Dessert (or Breakfast!)

Strawberry froyo: so easy to make that it’s ridic!

Picture this: it’s a super-hot summer day. The heat hits you like a wall as soon as you step outside. But wait, what’s that in your hand? It’s a scoopful (ok, let’s be realistic, it’s several scoopfuls) of freshly made Strawberry FroYo! And even better, it’s healthy, aka guilt-free! Living the dream, folks!

Recently, I got the ice cream maker attachment to my KitchenAid stand mixer. My husband likes to joke that I have a KitchenAid Kitchen as most of my appliances are KitchenAid (ooh, just had a thought — BHAG goal, a sponsored post with KitchenAid! Plus a giveaway. Now that would be a dream of a post to write! Any KitchenAid marketing staff out there who want to make my dream come true?) but given that I have limited kitchen space, getting an attachment as opposed to another appliance just made sense.

So, I had a new kitchen toy to play with, and it’s the dog days of August. Obviously, the only thing to do was…make ice cream! I’ve posted recipes for my super-yummy No Churn Rum Raisin Ice Cream (OH so good!) and my gluten-free Chunks ‘o Brownie No Churn Ice Cream (I’m drooling just typing that out), but I’ve been trying to develop a healthier ice cream that won’t add to my waistline, while still being yummy. What to do, what to do.

And then I was eating my favourite breakfast one day: homemade yoghurt with homemade strawberry jam. I looked at my breakfast bowl. I looked at my new ice cream maker attachment. And then I dumped my breakfast in the frozen bowl and turned on the paddle. BAM! Strawberry FroYo, yo!

In the time it took me to get dressed for work, my frozen yoghurt was ready. OH. SO. GOOD. Especially to eat happily while walking to work. Mmm…dessert for breakfast!

STRAWBERRY FROYO

  • 1 c. yoghurt (I make my own, using this recipe)
  • 1/4 c. strawberry jam (I make my own, but you do you, boo)

Place yoghurt and strawberry jam in frozen bowl, add paddle, and churn for 20 minutes; or follow instructions for your brand of ice cream maker. And…that’s it! (Told you it was easy!)

Doing its thang: churners gotta churn.

Scoop out, eat it up, and revel in the tartness of the froyo mingling with the sweetness of the strawberries. Ah, summer heaven!

No ice cream maker? You *could* make this without one. You’d just put the ingredients in the freezer in a freezer-safe container, and then stir after the first hour, and every half hour until frozen to your taste. But honestly, that’s a pain in the patootie. This is one of the few recipes that I say you need to have a specific kitchen tool for. If you don’t have an ice cream maker or attachment, I’d suggest making my No Churn Strawberry Ice Cream instead. Not as healthy, but [redacted], it’s tasty!

Next Post: Cake Decorating Basics! I’ve been working on my coursework for the Elite Blog Academy, and this is the result of an assignment a month ago. Learning is fun, but cake is the BEST THING EVER! No, wait that’s chocolate. Ok, I stand corrected: Chocolate Cake: BEST THING EVER!

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