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.

Extra-Chocolatey Nanaimo Bars: A Recipe to Celebrate Canada’s 150th Birthday

Too delicious to share! (My waist recommended that I share these, but my taste buds said ‘mine, all mine!’)

Why are these Nanaimo bars extra-chocolatey? Because the bottom layer (that scrumptiousness made of cookies, coconut, and nuts) is made with CHOCOLATE graham crackers! And of course, I made my own (although you could buy store-bought) simply because I prefer to have as fresh ingredients as possible.Oh, and I made my chocolate graham crackers with whole wheat flour, to increase the fibre content. I’m sure that balances out all the butter and sugar, right? M’kay.

I did write in the post title, that this recipe was to celebrate Canada’s 150th Birthday (yes, Canada as a nation is only 150 years old!), but I would be remiss if I didn’t address the fact that Canada is built on someone else’s land: that of the First Nations people. I don’t know what the solution is. Obviously after 150 years, all non-native peoples are not going to go back to the lands of their genetic heritage, but at the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that there are problems with how the First Nations people have been treated, both historically (residential schools) and currently (the appalling state of some of the reserves in the Canadian north). There’s no easy answer, and I have no insights that others do not. Addressing social issues is also not the purpose of this blog, but I felt I couldn’t celebrate Canada (Multiculturalism! Delicious foods like Nanaimo bars!) without acknowledging the First Nations who were the original inhabitants of Kanata.

Now, let’s make us some Nanaimo bars!

Luscious ripply layers!

Extra Chocolatey Nanaimo Bars

Top Layer

  • 3/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 tsp. butter

Middle Layer

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 drop yellow food colouring
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. corn starch
  • 2 tbsp. milk powder
  • 2 1/2 c. icing sugar
  • 1/2 c. butter, softened
  • 1 tbsp. milk

Bottom Layer

  • 1 c. chocolate graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 c. ground mixed salted nuts
  • 1 c. coconut (unsweetened)
  • 1/2 c. butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. icing sugar
  • 1/3 c. cocoa
  • 1 egg

Make the bottom layer: Mix all ingredients for the bottom layer together. Line a buttered 9×9 inch pan with parchment paper; leave enough parchment paper to overhang the sides (you’ll be using this later to lift the squares out of the tray easily). Press the ingredients into the tray. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Let cool in pan, and set aside (in pan).

Make the custardy middle layer: Blend all ingredients together. Spread smoothly over chilled bottom layer. Put in fridge until firm, or at least an hour.

Make the topping: mix the chocolate chips and butter together in a microwave safe bowl, and microwave in 30 s. bursts, stirring in between each, until thoroughly melted. Mix together and let cool slightly. Spread cooled mixture over the custard layer in the tray.

Chill the squares thoroughly before cutting. Lift entire tray of bars out of pan using parchment paper ends as handles. Place on a flat surface, and cut using a knife dipped in hot water (and then dried). Dip knife in hot water between each cut (and wipe dry after dipping).

And, enjoy a slice of Canadiana!

Can’t stop eating them! Even the chocolate-disliking DH ate them!

BONUS RECIPE: Chocolate Graham Crackers

Want to make your own chocolate graham crumbs? You totes can! I made my own chocolate graham crackers, by using this recipe (except halving it, and leaving out any toppings), and adding in 1/3 c. cocoa, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, and using only whole wheat flour. Once baked and cooled, and I then blitzed the cookies in the blender until they were finely crumbled. Voila, homemade chocolate graham cracker crumbs!

Next Post: How to Make Your Own Banoffee Frappe! That’s right, it’s a frappe with banana, caramel, and whipped cream — so delicious on a hot summer’s day!

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

Vanilla Bean & Granola Meal Replacement Bars Plus Why I Stomped on My Baking

Crunch, crunch, crunch…and I ate a bunch! (But over several days, obvs!)

Guess what I did last weekend? I made meal replacement bars for my husband! He likes to grab a bar to go for breakfast when he’s in a hurry, but I know there are healthier breakfasts than Slimfast bars (*shudder*), so I finally got him to agree to eat them if I made them!

I used vanilla bean whey protein powder, as well as my homemade granola (using home-dehydrated strawberries instead of dried cranberries), along with the last of the psyllium powder I bought months ago at the behest of my doctor, and added in some ground flax seed too. I used egg whites to increase the stickiness of the ingredients without adding extra sugar (which most granola bar recipes use), plus it increases the protein in the recipe. The combination of fibre and protein should keep him full from breakfast to lunch. And, no preservatives! Winning!

The protein comes from the protein powder, the oats (they have a surprising amount of protein!), the egg whites, and the seeds. Diverse sources of protein, plus some omega fatty acids in the form of flax seeds, combined with lots of plant fibre, means a healthy breakfast that packs a winning punch!

Am so pleased with myself for developing this recipe!

Vanilla Bean & Granola Meal Replacement Bars

  • 4 c. homemade granola
  • 32 g. vanilla bean protein powder (I used a whey based protein, as I don’t digest pea protein well)
  • 1/2 c. ground flax seed
  • 1/2 c. psyllium powder
  • 1/4 c. oat flour (i.e. ground oats)
  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 2 egg whites, lightly whipped
  • 1/4 c. oil

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.

Line a 9×9 baking tray with parchment paper. Pour mixture into lined tray. Place more parchment paper on top, and press an 8×8 tray on top of that. Really press on it (I admit to standing on it on one foot). This smushes the mixture into a compact form, and helps the ingredients bind together so that the bars are less likely to crumble.

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly golden on top. Let cool in pan. Once cool, remove from pan, place on a cutting board, and cut into bars. Et voila — meal replacement bars!

Rows of crispy, hearty, fruit and seed flecked bars!

I tried to figure out how to eliminate the honey, but all the granola bar recipes I researched use it as a binding agent. I did use a much smaller amount than most recipes, and relied on the flax seed powder, oat flour, and egg whites to bind the ingredients together.

Personally, I’m more of a chocolate than a vanilla person, so had I made them for me, I probably would have dunked them in chocolate, in addition to adding in chocolate chips. I left them out in this recipe, as the DH isn’t a chocolate person (who knew they existed?). If you made these with chocolate chips, let me know what you think!

Next Post: Erm…food. A post about food. Something yummy, at any rate!

Linking Up at Meal Plan Monday!

Pesto & Portobello Mushroom Pasta Bake and Why I Took Dinner Away From My Husband

I’m about to dive fork first into this dish, but held off just long enough to snap a photo for you, my dear reader! (I know. I’m all heart.)

I went camping last weekend, and boy did we eat well! After the whole Amazon-bought-Whole-Foods news bite recently, the DH went shopping at Whole Foods to see what the furor was about, and bought most of our camping food there. (As I said, we ate well.) There were some Portobello mushrooms that he had picked up, all nice and juicy plump, and he grilled some of them on the camping trip, along with the steaks he bought (and grilled them just plain for me, his beloved vegetarian spouse) but there were still a couple mushrooms left after the trip. What to do with these high caliber morsels of mushroom heaven? Fry ’em up and toss them in my next pasta bake!

Sound boring? Not at all! I picked some basil from my balcony garden, added it to some frozen pesto I had made a few months ago (made using almonds instead of pine nuts because that was what I had in my cupboard), tossed it with some pasta, added in the mushrooms after frying them to an aromatic buttery golden colour, topped it with homemade breadcrumbs and aged white cheddar, and voila, a lovely casserole! So, so, SO good!

This dish is worth making again and again! Sophisticated enough for an adult dinner, but easy enough for a family meal with kids. The Portobello mushrooms add a nice meaty flavour and texture, and who doesn’t love a cheesy crunchy topping?

Want to duplicate the dish? Let’s!

Close up of the veggie cheesy pasta nom-nom-nom-ness

Pesto & Portobello Mushroom Pasta Bake

  • 1/2 c. pesto
  • 10 basil leaves, fresh, chopped
  • 5 cups cooked small shell pasta (I also think orecchiette pasta would be fabulous in this dish!)
  • 3/4 c. crumbled aged white cheddar
  • 1/2 c. bread crumbs
  • 1/2 c. butter, divided into 1/4 c. measurements
  • 2 large Portobello mushrooms

Fry (it’s actually a combination of frying and toasting) the breadcrumbs in 1/4 c. butter. Set aside.

Chop the mushrooms into large chunks, and fry in 1/4 c. butter, until golden and the juices have reduced. Toss the mushrooms (including any juices in the pan) with the cooked pasta, pesto, and fresh basil. Dump this mixture into a casserole dish, sprinkle the crumbled cheddar on top, and top it all with the toasted crumbs. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese has melted, and the crumb topping is uniformly golden and crispy.

Serve, and be prepared for everyone to ask for second helpings!

This pasta bake was so good that the DH said (and I quote) “Get it away from me or I’ll eat it all!” (I do so love when my sweetie appreciates my cooking!) Make this for your friends/family/work lunches and let me know what feedback you get! It’s a seriously yummy dish!

Next Post: It’s Nanaimo bar time, my friends! But chocolate-ified, because, well, chocolate! 

Linking Up at Meal Plan Monday!

Easy Dutch Chocolate Cupcakes & What To Do When You Run Out of Icing Sugar

Creamy, chocolatey goodness!

I had a milestone birthday last week (and no, I won’t be telling you my age. I like some mystery in our blogging relationship, dear reader!) and one of my colleagues gave a present. Best present ever, because it was chocolate sprinkles that she picked up in a local Dutch goods store! Naturally, I had to bake with them, so I baked up some Easy Dutch Chocolate Cupcakes!

Are you familiar with chocolate sprinkles? I’m not talking about the chocolate sprinkles sold in North America for baking, but the real Dutch chocolate ‘hail’ (chocolade hagel) that generations of Dutch children have grown up eating with bread and butter. Sound too decadent to give to a child? Well, I remember my grade school teacher talking about how her mom would give her a slice of bread with a chunk of chocolate, before the era of Nutella. And if parents will feed Nutella to their kids, well, chocolate ‘hail’ is the same! Except way more fun because you get to sprinkle the ‘hail’ on your buttered bread yourself. And as a child, that’s so. much. fun! And the deliciousness of bread buttered with chocolate sprinkles has to be tasted to be believed.

I decided to try and recipe that deliciousness in cupcake form. I used a chocolate cupcake instead of a slice of bread, and buttercream instead of butter, but the chocolate ‘hail’? No substitutions for that — it was imported straight from Holland!

Have I teased you enough by describing the lusciousness of this cupcake? Shall we get to baking? (And more importantly, to eating?) Yes? I concur!

EASY DUTCH CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES W/ CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM & CHOCOLATE SPRINKLES

You’ll need

  • 1 batch chocolate cupcake batter (my hands-down-best-ever recipe is Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake recipe. Only recipe I ever use.)
  • 1 batch chocolate buttercream (see recipe below)
  • 1 c. chocolate sprinkles

Bake cupcakes in liners in a muffin tray in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until the tops spring back when lightly tapped. Let cool.

Ice with chocolate buttercream. There at two ways to do this: you can use a Wilton 1M tip (my favourite way to ice) or, if like me, you’ve misplaced your 1M tip, just use a knife to spread the buttercream roughly on the top of the muffin.

If you’ve piped your icing on, sprinkle your chocolate hail on top of the icing in a random and pretty design. And you’re done!

If you’ve spread your icing on, like me, take the iced cupcake, turn it upside down, and roll the top in a bowl of chocolate hail. Simple, elegant, and oh, so yummy to eat! If you make this recipe, let me know in the comments which technique you used!

How to ice a chocolate hailstorm cupcake! Spread, dip, roll…and eat!

CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM

  • Take one batch of my The Only Buttercream Recipe You’ll Ever Need, and add 1/2 c. cocoa powder. Are you a super-duper chocolate lover? Add 1 c. cocoa powder. Are you a chocolate fiend? Add 1 1/2 c. cocoa powder. Not chocolatey enough? Forget buttercream and just use straight ganache, my friend!

I’ve mentioned often enough that I’m the Queen of Substitutions, and here is a case in point! I ran out of icing sugar, but needed one more cup to finish this recipe. What to do? It’s time for a…

Kitchen Hack

Take 1 c. regular white sugar, and blend it in a blender for 5 minutes, shaking occasionally, until as finely ground as you can get it. This won’t be exactly like icing sugar, but definitely more like icing sugar than regular sugar, so it’s a good hack to use in a pinch.

Wasn’t using regular sugar and turning it into icing sugar, a clever way to finish the recipe? I mean, one can’t stop baking in the middle of a baking storm! Cooking creativity cannot be stifled!

Want more easy substitutions? Subscribe to my blog and receive a copy of my e-book, This for That: Easy Kitchen Swaps and Hacks via email! How to sign up? Enter your email addy in the orangey-red bar at the top of the blog, or look at the right top of the blog and sign up there. Free kitchen tips: who doesn’t want that?

Next Post: I’ve been working on a Extra-Chocolatey Nanaimo Bar recipe, in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday this year, and it’s just about done! So stay tuned for a Nanaimo Bar recipe that’ll knock your socks off! They’re so addictive, btw. So, so, very deliciously addictive! 

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

Vegan Peach Galette – Plus Why I Put Bread in My Pie

Ready for the eating! The crust isn’t the expected golden brown, because there isn’t any butter in the dough, just shortening. Hence the vegan title!

I attended a potluck BBQ thrown by a friend recently, and as she is vegan, I wanted to bring something that she could eat. Also, I wanted to bake because I love baking. And sugar. And I had a bowlful of peaches in the house. And that’s how my peach pie was born!

Except that I made the rustic French version of a pie, a galette. It’s…wait for it…easy as pie (ba da dum!) except easier, because you don’t have to worry about shaping the pie all purdy like. You just roll out that dough, slap in some filling, pull up the edges, and shove the thing in the oven. How’s that for easy?

Let’s make some!

VEGAN PEACH GALETTE

  • 1 batch pie crust, but made with only vegetable shortening (I used my regular dough recipe, and whole wheat flour)
  • 5 peaches (free-stone, because it’s easier to slice for display)
  • 1 tsp. lime zest
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • Pinch each nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch
  • ¼ c. brown sugar
  • ¼ c. bread crumbs
  • 1 tbsp. large sugar crystals

Make dough and chill in fridge for at least an hour.

Cut peaches into sixths, place in a bowl, and add cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, corn starch, and brown sugar. Stir until combined.

Roll out dough on a silicone liner (or wherever and then transfer to a cookie tray) into a round shape. Place silicone liner on cookie tray. Spread bread crumbs in centre of dough, leaving 2 cm bare around the edge of the circle.

Place fruit wedges in a pretty design on top of the bread crumbs. Then gently pull up edges of dough and fold in on the filling. Sprinkle the sugar crystals on the edges of the dough, and a few in the centre.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes or until the pie crust is golden and the filling is bubbling.

Crust with crumbs, ready and waiting for the peach filling!

BREAD CRUMBS? HUH?: The fruit in your galette will be nice and juicy, but too juicy will mean soggy crust and a galette that falls apart or worse, doesn’t bake properly. The corn starch will help thicken up the fruit juices, and make the galette less soggy. And the bread crumbs also absorb all those luscious fruit juices, preventing your galette from being a soggy mess! You won’t be able to see the bread crumbs in your galette once it’s baked, don’t worry. Bread crumbs in pie. Who’d a thunk it?

I’m happy to say that the galette was happily received! And happily eaten, with friends. The best way to eat a pie, yes?

Next Post: Erm, I dunno. Imma gonna think on that and get back to you, ‘kay ?

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