Friday, August 14, 2009

A Taste Trippin' Party!

Last night I went to a taste trippin' party at the Drake hotel in Toronto (I'm living in the city now).

This is something I have wanted to do for at least a year. I was so excited! At a taste trippin' party you eat something called a Miracle Berry. It has a funny effect on your tongue that makes it so that everything sour tastes sweet for the next hour. I've been dying to know if it really works.

So BF and I headed over and were each presented with a berry in a shot glass and a sheet of instructions.
You put the berry in your mouth, remove the skin and pulp and let the seed rest on your tongue for two minutes. Spit it out, and two minutes later you're ready to go!

They had all kinds of foods to try. There were lemons, limes, oranges, sour soothers, pickles, cheeses, brussel sprouts, mustards and apple cider vinegar to drink. This had better work!

The lemons and limes tasted just like candy! I was amazed! The flavour of the limes was indistinguishable from sweetened limeade. The oranges were so sweet that I actually didn't care for them. BF normally has no tolerance for sour food so he was pretty excited too.

Next I tried one of the pickles and a creamy cheese. I was disappointed to find that the restaurant had provided us with sweet gherkins and feta cheese, I wanted something with bite! Later I found out that they were in fact very, very sour pickles and sharp goat cheese, it was just that under the influence of the miracle berry, I honestly couldn't tell!

There was a gruyere cheese that tasted normal, the berry didn't seem to affect it. The sour soothers just tasted like regular candy, say Swedish berries. The mustards were intensified in flavour. I could barely eat them they were so strong! The brussel sprouts were delicious! They just tasted like yummy raw vegetable with none of the bitterness that makes uncooked brussel sprouts generally so unpalatable. And the vinegar had such a pleasant taste, unlike anything I've ever tasted before. John couldn't get enough of it.

The experience lasted about 20 or 25 minutes before it started to wear off. It lingered for about an hour after that, so the lemon wedges went from tasting like sweet candy to tasting like sour candy to tasting like sour lemons.

Afterwards we walked down the street to a bar for some drinks. They all tasted funny because of the berry. I had a cosmo and all I could taste was the vodka at first because the berry took away all of the bite of the lime and the cranberry. BF's beer was sweet and delicious and without the bitter aftertaste. As time went on though and the berry wore of I realized it was actually a really well made cosmo and I actually didn't like BF's beer after all.

It was a really cool experience, I think everyone should try it at least once. Although we had the actually berries, you can also order the berry in tablet form, I know ThinkGeek carries it here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wilton Course 3 - Final Cake

Last night I finished up Wilton Course 3 at Michael's. Check out my cake!I'm so glad I took this class because making this cake has taught me so much! I learned that I actually like making cakes. I always thought that I would infinitely prefer cupcakes but as it turns out, cake decorating lets you use some different skill sets that I find both fun and challenging. I also learned how much work goes into a tiered cake. I put about 15 hours into making this. I am much more appreciative now when I see a really beautiful cake because I can better understand what it takes to put something like that together.

And I'm pretty sure I learned some technical skills in there somewhere too.

On to the cake!

I went with lemon cake and almond buttercream frosting. I used a cake mix (eep!) for this since it was just a practice cake. I use two vanilla mixes and substitued the juice from three lemons for part of the water. I also grated the rind of the lemons and threw that in. It turned out yummy, lemony and not at all tart. Next time I might use one more lemon because I like some tartness. The bottom tier is two stacked 10" round cakes and the top is two 6" stacked cakes. One cake mix was exactly enough to make a 6" inch cake and a 10" cake so it worked out pretty well. I didn't make any fancy fillings, I just put buttercream between the layers.

I leveled the cakes, did a buttercream crumb coat, let that chill for a bit in the fridge and then did a thicker coat of the buttercream. Next I covered them in homemade marshmallow fondant.

With the leftover fondant, I punch out some tiny flowers and stuck them on the cake randomly with a bit of water.

The roses were all done in advance. My sister came over and we sat around making roses all day since she was making the same cake except that her flowers were yellow. It took about 8.5 hours for me to finish all of my roses. There are 20 large roses, 11 medium roses, and 8 little rosebuds and 40 leaves. I ended up having 5 roses left that I didn't use though. The Wilton method of making fondant roses is just to make a small cone of fondant, stick it on a tooth pick and then use a 5-petal flower cutter to cut out three flowers which you then stab through the toothpick and wrap the petals around the center cone. There are some great tutorials on youtube that can show you how to do this.

Next came the hard part: transporting the cake to class. I put the 10" cake on a 12" cakeboard that I made from cardboard and aluminum foil, and the the 6" cake on a 6"cakeboard (since it sits on a plastic tray when the cake is done) and held them on a large board in my lap, trying not to let them slide around when we went over a bump.

In retrospect, I probably didn't need to actually go to the class because I knew how to assemble the rest of the cake on my own and it was even tougher to get it home, but I guess it's good that I went because I got to see everyone else's cakes and pick up my certificate.

In class, the first thing I did was pipe the border along the bottom of both tiers. You start with a #18 shell border, followed by a #86 ruffle and then a #16 shell border along the top of the ruffle. Then I stacked the tiers using pillars that push straight through the bottom tier so that they can support the weight of the top tier (the parts came in the course kit).

The next step was to attach the roses. I found this to be the toughest part. I basically just set the roses on the cake and rearranged them until I found an arrangement that I was happy with before I actually started attaching them. The ones on top of the cake are attached with buttercream while the ones along the sides are attached with toothpicks since the buttercream isn't strong enough to hold them. I stuck the leaves in along the sides and in between the roses to fill any gaps. The very last step was to pipe little dots in the center of the little white flowers using a #3 tip.

Here is a picture of the top of the cake so you can see a little bit more detail. Overall, I'm happy with my cake, but if I was doing it again, there are some things I would do differently.

  • I would stack three cakes for each tier instead of 2
  • I would made a separate batch of white icing using shortening instead of butter for the ruffle border so that it matched better.
  • I would try to get the petals on the roses thinner.
After flipping through the book for Course 4, I've decided that there isn't enough new information there to make it worth taking course. I bought the course kit (50% off with a coupon) and I will pick up the book as well and work through the exercises, but since there are no pretty final cakes to be made in that class, I'm not going to bother.

All in all, I definitely recommend the Wilton courses at Michaels. I learned so much by making the cakes that I did and it's renewed my interest in decorative work with different forms of sugar. And for under $30 per course, you can't really beat the price.

So I've got this huge cake now and no event to take it to. I think BF is going to end up taking it to work. Hopefully they enjoy it! I also have a whole lot of fondant left over so I think I may use it in some cupcakes this weekend. We'll see!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wilton Course 3 - My first fondant covered cake!

Some of you might remember that my sister and I were taking Wilton cake decorating courses at Michael's late last year. Well, one month off of classes turned into several, but this month we finally got it together and went back for course 3. This class covers fondant covered cakes, fondant roses, some new types of royal icing flowers (morning glories, poinsettias, Easter lilies and petunias) and constructing 2-tiered cakes.

So far it's been a blast! Last night we made fondant covered cakes. This was my first time covering a cake with fondant. The closest thing I had ever done previously was to cover some fruit cakes with marzipan at Christmas. Of course with marzipan, the buttercream goes on top, so it hides any spots where you might have messed up a bit. With fondant, the buttercream goes underneath, so it's important for the fondant to be smooth and beautiful. I think for my first try, my cake turned out great! Here it is:

The cake itself is a 2-layer 9" square. I usually just use a cake mix for class. This time I used a devil's food mix and added 1/2 cup of Nutella to the batter. Next time I think I would add closer to a cup since it didn't come out as nutty as I would have liked. Next I put a mixture of 50/50 vanilla buttercream and Nutella in between the layers and frosted the cake with the rest of the vanilla buttercream.

The truth is that I don't much care for Wilton brand prepackaged fondant, and in my experience most people don't, so I decided to give homemade marshmallow fondant a try. I used a recipe that seems to be floating all over the internet, so I'm not sure who to credit it to. Here it is:

Recipe: Marshmallow Fondant

16 oz (454 gram) bag plain small marshmallows
2 Tbsp water
shortening, for greasing bowls
1-2 tsp flavoring
2 lb confectioner’s sugar minus 1 cup
pinch of salt

Grease a microwave safe bowl, a spoon, the dough hook, and the bowl of your stand mixer with shortening.

Place the marshmallows and water in the greased microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 60 seconds. Stir with the greased spoon. If all the marshmallows have not melted, microwave for 30 seconds more. Stir in flavoring and water.

Place confectioner’s sugar and salt in the stand mixer bowl, and make a well in the center. Pour in the marshmallow mix and turn the mixer on to the lowest setting. When it sounds strained, increase the mixer speed up one setting. Turn off the mixer once all sugar has been incorporated. If the fondant is sticky, add the reserved confectioner’s sugar 1/4 cup at a time.

Turn fondant out onto plastic wrap. Rub a bit of shortening on the outside of the ball. Wrap in plastic wrap, place in a ziploc bag, and let rest for at least 2-3 hours. Keep unused portions covered when not using. If the fondant becomes stiff, place in microwave for 20 seconds at a time until pliable.

Roll out on a greased mat/fondant circle to the desired thickness.

Verdict: This stuff is delicious. Much better than Wilton in terms of flavour. I did find it quite a bit tougher to roll out however, and had a hard time getting it as thin as I would have liked. It was definitely worth the effort though, given how much better it tastes.

Once the cake was covered, the rest was a breeze. I just cut out two pink ribbons (1 1/2" wide) and then the pieces for the bow (we had templates for that ). The flowers were punched out of white fondant with a cutter and I rolled the little pink centers by hand before finding out that you can just use your #12 tip as a cutter for these. All of the decorations were 'glued' together using some clear vanilla and a paintbrush. The bottom border is piped buttercream using a #5 tip.
I didn't think I would enjoy eating a fondant covered cake, but I actually really like the marshmallow fondant, and there's enough buttercream going on under there that the cake is still nice and moist. Making this cake has completely changed my mind about fondant, I can't wait to make more of these!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lamb Stew Recipe

I love lamb. It's not something that we ate in my house when I was growing up, so it wasn't until university that I tried lamb and I have been hooked ever since. I cook it pretty much every chance I get.

My other new love this winter has been the slow cooker. I've been making all kinds of soft, melt in your mouth meats in the forms of roasts, soups and stews. So it was only a matter of time before I learned how to make a delicious lamb stew. And here's the recipe so that you can make it too!!

I actually ended up making this on the stove rather than the slow cooker, but you could do it in the slow cooker as well. I managed to get some really fresh, wonderful, stewing lamb from my local butcher, and because of it's strong flavour, the stew needed very little seasoning compared to a beef stew for example.

It was a little on the expensive side to make. I spent about $22 ($15 for the meat, $3 for beef broth, the rest for veggies) but it made enough to feed BF and I for three days so I'm still well within my $60 a week food budget goal with this recipe. And it turned out incredibly rich and hearty and delicious. It's truly a wonderful comfort food. The recipe is one that I've adapted from for Irish lamb stew.

Recipe: Lamb Stew


2 Tbsp canola oil
1.5 lbs stewing lamb, cut into bite sized chunks
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 large onions, chopped
1/2 cup water
3 cups beef stock
2 teaspoons white sugar
4 carrots, sliced
3 potatoes, cut into bite sized dice
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
¾ cup red wine

Put lamb, salt, pepper, and flour in large mixing bowl. Toss to coat meat evenly. Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat and brown the lamb.

Place lamb into stock pot. Add the garlic and yellow onion to the frying pan and saute till onion begins to become golden. Deglaze frying pan with 1/2 cup water and add the garlic-onion mixture to the stock pot with the beef stock and sugar. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
Add carrots, potatoes, thyme, bay leaves, and wine to pot. Reduce heat, and simmer covered for 30 minutes until vegetables are tender.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Surprise Cookies Recipe

Usually when I need my baking fix, I make whatever I like and send anything we can't eat into work with BF. For the longest time, that meant cupcakes every week. He's moved to a different department though so for now, big, beautiful cupcakes aren't really appropriate for him to bring in.

To sneak around that, I've started making more discreet snack packs. Rather than big, ostentatious foil trays with neat rows of colourful cupcakes, I've switched to decadent cookies and squares that can be stacked in tupperware containers and hidden in plastic bags (Don't worry, I still make cupcakes every chance I get! This is just random midweek baking we're talking about).

When I saw this recipe by Martha Stewart for Surprise Cookies, I knew they would be perfect. Like cupcakes, they are big, cakey and coated in frosting and each one has soft, gooey marshmallow hidden inside. As far as cookies go, this is the closest thing to a cupcake I've ever seen.

This is a fabulous recipe, I definitely recommend it. Despite their plain appearance, these didn't last long! Luckily, I made a double batch.
Recipe: Surprise Cookies


For the Cookies

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • About 15 marshmallows, halved crosswise

For the Frosting

  • 3 cups icing sugar
  • 6 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tsp cocoa
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla

Make cookies: Preheat the oven to 375. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl; set aside. Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about three minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla and mix for an additional minute. Mix in flour miture, 1/2 cup at a time until combined.

Using a 1 3/4" ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 2" apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until firm, 8 to 10 minutes.

Immediately press a marshmallow half onto the top of each cookie. Return to the oven and bake until marshmallows begin to melt, about 2 minutes more. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks.

Make the frosting: Put icing sugar in a medium bowl, set aside. Melt butter with the cocoa in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Add butter mixture to the icing sugar. Whisk in milk and vanilla.

Spread about 1 Tbsp of frosting on top of each cookie to cover marshmallow. Let stand until set, about 10 minutes.

Have I mentioned how much I love frosting on cookies? Love, love love it!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Thai Vegetable and Noodle Soup Recipe and Some Thoughts on Meal Planning

I'm totally into meal planning these days.

BF and I have been trying to cut back on the restaurants. I'm a little embarassed to admit that for a while we were eating out an average of three nights a week + Sunday brunch with an average meal costing around $60. At the same time, produce in the fridge would go bad because we weren't cooking at home.

One of my new years resolutions was that this needed to stop. First I looked at why it was happening and came up with two reasons:

  • We love delicious food made from fresh ingredients and refuse to settle for processed convenience foods.
  • When we were hungry we found it easier to go to a restaurant than to think about what we were going to make and then cook. i.e, lazy and disorganized.

So I got organized!!

The new routine is that every Sunday, I plan out our meals for the following week. I look at what we already have for groceries and make a list of everything we need and then on Sunday afternoon we pick up the groceries.

Now, each day I have a plan. Knowing exactly what I want to make and knowing that I have all of the ingredients makes it really easy for me to get motivated to start cooking. And knowing that if I go to a restaurant rather than make dinner means that the ingredients allotted for that night don't get used up and will probably end up going bad is a good motivator to keep us from going out.

Here's a quick run down of how I plan out my meals:

At the top of a piece of a paper, I write out the names of the days of the week.

Throughout the week, if I stumble upon any recipes I want to try out, I write them under one of the days, ensuring that each day has no more than one main source of protein and one source of carbs. I also try to have at least two veggies in each meal and usually a dessert because that's my favorite part!

On Sunday I pull out my recipe books and start filling in the gaps. I try to include meals from at least three different ethnicities (My favorites are Japanese, Italian and Thai, but BF likes me to include Indian as well) and one "meat and potatoes" meal. If there are still gaps after all of that, I look to see what carbs are missing (I usually try to use rice, sweet potato and whole wheat pasta each week and use white potatoes, breads or Asian noodles if I still need more ideas), and what proteins are missing (Beef, pork, lamb, eggs, chicken, tofu, fish) and look up recipes specifically containing those ingredients. For any remaining veggie gaps in the menu, I buy whatever is on sale that week.

With all of the dinners planned, it's easy to just make the lunches from leftovers and any extra fruits,veggies and meat we have on hand. For breakfasts, I stock a box of cereal, a carton of eggs, a block of cheddar cheese and some frozen blueberries for pancakes. I make a lot of breakfast carbs from scratch, like pancakes, waffles or crepes. If I do everything right, I won't have to buy any more food for the whole week, not even to pick up a carton of milk.

It's a little complicated to explain, but it's really easy and intuitive to do in practice. I've been doing this for three weeks now and it's made a huge difference in how we eat. Trying new recipes every night means that I have been learning so much about different cooking techniques and flavour combinations which I have found to be very rewarding. We eat a very balanced diet with nutrients coming from all different kinds of sources. The cost savings have been huge, we're now spending about $70/week to feed the both of us (and BF has a big appetite) and we've greatly reduced the amount of food we end up throwing out because we no longer buy groceries we don't need. Also, I think BF appreciates being able to come home and eat in about 25 minutes and then get on with the evening rather than taking an hour and a half to go to a restaurant and eat.

And the food has been awesome! I have been making all kinds of things from scratch using fresh ingredients, like soups, homemade pasta and lots of different sauces. I'm really having a lot of fun with this.

I wanted to share a recipe for a Thai curry soup that I made last night. It is loaded with noodles and vegetables, so I just paired it with some baked chicken thighs for a well rounded meal. The recipe comes from a cookbook that my Mom gave me for Christmas, entitled simply "Thai Cooking".

Recipe: Thai Vegetable and Noodle Soup


2 Tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
1 onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 large carrot, cut into thin sticks
1 zucchini, cut into thin sticks
4oz/115gm broccoli, cut into florets
1 3/4 pints / 1 litre / 4 cups vegetable stock
14fl oz / 400ml / 1 3/4 cups coconut milk
3-4 Tbsp Thai soy sauce
2 Tbsp Thai red curry paste
4oz / 110g wide rice noodles
4oz / 115g / 3/4 cup mung or soy bean sprouts
4 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet and stir-fry the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Add the carrot, zucchini and broccoli and stir-fry for 3-4 minuts,until just tender.Pour in the stock and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add the soy sauce, curry paste, and noodles, and let simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the noodles have swelled. Stir in the bean sprouts and cilantro and serve immediately.

It's pictured in a bento here if you would like to see it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Greatest Pulled Pork Recipe of All Time


Thanks to a recipe shared with me by some online friends, I now make the greatest pulled pork in existence.

This recipe is easy as punch. Just throw it in the slow cooker and wait. It uses one of the cheapest cuts of meat I've ever seen and turns it into pure deliciousness. Last time I made it, I think I paid $10 for 5 lbs of solid meat.

If you have a slow cooker, you definitely should try it out. If you don't have one, it's actually worth purchasing one just to make pulled pork in my opinion. Make this whenever you have a big group of guys to serve (for example, while watching the 'big game') and serve it on kaiser rolls with some barbecue sauce and little cheddar cheese. They will love you forever. For real.

Recipe: Pulled Pork


2 Onions, sliced thin
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs paprika
2 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 (4-6 lb) boneless pork butt or shoulder
¾ cup cider vinegar
4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 ½ tsp sugar
½ tsp dry mustard
½ tsp garlic salt
¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Place onions in crock-pot. Combine brown sugar, paprika, salt and pepper;
rub over roast. Place roast on top of onions.

Combine vinegar, Worcestershire, red pepper flakes, sugar, mustard, garlic
salt and cayenne; stir to mix well. Drizzle about 1/3 of vinegar mixture
over roast. Cover and refrigerate remaining vinegar mixture.
Cover crock-pot; cook on low 12-14 hours. Drizzle about 1/3 of reserved
vinegar mixture over roast during last ½ hour of cooking.

Remove meat and onions; drain. Chop or shred meat and onions. Serve with
remaining vinegar mixture

Sorry for the lack of pictures. I made some this past Saturday and it quite literally disappeared before I had a chance to take any pictures. I did manage to hoard a little bit though to put in the bento lunch I made today, which you can check out here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Ever have something that you're supposed to do, but then you don't get around to doing it? And then maybe there's other parts of it that subsequently don't get done because you need to do the first part first? And then eventually you get so far behind that to take care of the whole big mess of things that didn't get done seems like an awful lot of work so you put it off even longer?
Okay, so that's what happened with this blog.

It started with the Christmas baking. I did so much in so little time that I got behind on my blog posts. And then I didn't want to post anything else because I hadn't finished my Christmas baking posts yet. So I've been having all sorts of cooking adventures and I've even taken the occasional photo, but the blog posts never got done.

But, this is a new year! Today is the day I get caught up. I have been cooking up a storm this month. Below, you'll see some of the posts I've been meaning to do, starting with the end of my series of Christmas posts. Over the next few days, I'll be getting caught up on the rest of the posts.

I do apologize that I don't have photos for all of them, I got so far behind that I slacked on the pictures for a while.

Happy 2009 everyone!

Holiday Baking Part 7: Gift Baskets

I can't always think of the perfect gift for someone.

There are those who I love, but sadly I don't spend enough time with to know their current interests so that I can figure out the perfect present.

I don't believe in regifting or giving someone something I'm not sure whether they will use, and I don't believe that simply spending money shows how much you care. But I also don't want to be viewed as stingy, and I do believe in giving something from the heart.

So the happy medium that I have come up with for these instances is to lovingly put together a basket of baked goodies, and include a gift card for a place that I'm sure the recipient will either enjoy or be able to find something useful. I think it shows the honest truth which is that although I don't know them as well as perhaps I should, I still care about them enough to make something from the heart, but also want to allow them to choose their own gift because they know better than I do what would make them happy.

These gift baskets are one of the main reasons I do so much baking at Christmas. I think it's fun to have a lot of variety!

This year I was wicked coordinated. I found these wonderful boxes with a snowflake print and a roll of matching wrapping paper. They were two piece boxes meant to hold a bottle of wine. I took each box and split it into its two halves and lined each half with wrapping paper (attached with a glue gun)

I really liked the shape of these boxes because they hold a tonne (last year I used tins and they didn't hold as much as I would have liked) and I could arrange everything in neat rows.
Here are the contents from left to write (top row first): Shortbread stars with yellow sprinkles, lebkuchen, pineapple Christmas cake (each slice individually wrapped), a container of lemon curd (I picked these up at the dollar store because they matched so well and had cute snowmen on them), and empty tart shells placed in a snowflake muffin cup. In the second row there are snowballs placed in silver candy cups, snowflake sugar cookies, apricot and hazelnut thumbprints and a couple of peanut butter balls placed in candy cups.

Recipes for everything except the shortbreads can be found below.

I wrapped the boxes with clear cellophane with blue snowflakes and tied it with a thick piece of silver elastic. I found little blue gift card boxes at Carlton cards which I punched a hole in the corner and attached to the elastic. The finishing touch was a silver name tag on each box.

I'm really happy with how these turned out!

One quick note about freshness: I figured out ahead of time how many baskets I would be making and subsequently froze the appropriate amount of goodies as soon as they were made. I thawed them out on the morning of Christmas Eve, assembled the baskets and gave them to their recipients on Christmas Eve afternoon. This was to ensure that everything was fresh since the cellophane around the box is not air tight.

Holiday Baking Part 6: Lemon Cheese Tarts

This recipe is one that my Dad has been making every Christmas for as long as I can remember. It consists of pastry tart shells and a lemon curd filling that are stored separately, with the filling spooned into the shell right before serving. I loved these as a kid because if Mom wasn't looking, I could over fill the tart shell and maybe grab one more little spoonful of filling just to eat off the spoon.

As for why they're called lemon cheese tarts when they have no cheese in them, I'm not sure. I assume it's because the creamy texture of the lemon curd is reminscent of the consistency of a soft cheese.

Also, I will be perfectly honest and tell you that this is the one place in my holiday baking that I take a shortcut. I buy frozen tart shells. Don't tell anyone, okay? These are so popular that I always make a double batch.

Recipe: Lemon Cheese Tarts


-Premade tart shells (homemade or frozen)
-3 eggs less one white
-1 cup sugar
-2 Tbsp butter
-Juice and rind from one lemon

Melt the butter and place in a double boiler. Add remaining ingredients to the double boiler and cook, stirring continuously, until thickened. Allow to cool before pouring into shells. Store in the refrigerator and spoon into shells as required.

Note about the recipe: This is definitely a taste-as-you-go recipe. Some people will prefer to use more or less lemon juice, depending on whether you like a sweet tart or a tart tart!

Holiday Baking Part 5: Snowball and Peanut Butter Ball Recipes

So many cookies and cakes! Baking tends to involve lots of flour based desserts, so I try to throw in a couple every year that are just pure, straight sweetness. These rich little bites are completely flour free!

The first are my own invention, and I call them snowballs. It's a really simple concept, but I've never seen it done anywhere else, so if you have let me know. These beauties burst with cherry when you bite into them. They're really rich and delicious. Secondly, I've included a recipe for peanut butter balls, a personal favorite of mine, that is from You can never go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate!

Recipe: Snowballs


2 packages of marzipan (it comes in tubes)
1 jar of marischino cherries
White chocolate for melting/dipping (I use Wilton melting wafers)
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Drain cherries.

For each snowball, tear off a small piece of marzipan and roll it into a ball about 3/4" in diameter. Flatten the ball of marzipan on an icing sugar dusted surface with a rolling pin until it is about 1/4" thin. It should look like a thick dumpling wrapper. Place a cherry in the center of the marzipan and wrap the edges of the marzipan upwards to completely enclose the cherry. Press seams together firmly (If they're not sticking well, moisten slightly with a little water). Roll the marzipan wrapped cherry between your palms to smooth out the surface and round out the ball. Each ball should be just under an inch in diameter.

Once all of the cherries have been wrapped in marzipan, melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Dip each wrapped cherry in the melted chocolate and allow excess to run off. Place on wax paper and sprinkle a little coconut on top. Allow the finished snowballs to harden at room temperature (If you cool them in the fridge, they sweat).

Recipe: Peanut Butter Balls


2 cups creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter
3 cups icing sugar
3 cups Rice Krispies
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips or melting wafers

Melt peanut butter and butter in saucepan, over low heat. In large bowl, mix Rice Krispies and icing sugar well. Pour melted peanut butter and butter over cereal and sugar and blend together thoroughly.

Form into 1 inch or smaller balls, spread on cookie sheets, chill till firm in refrigerator (over night is okay).

Melt chocolate in double boiler and keep melted while working with balls. Dip peanut butter balls in the melted chocolate and place on a wax paper covered cookie sheet. Optional: Sprinkle with ground peanuts.

Recipe makes about a hundred.

For a picture of both of these recipes, please see the above post on Christmas gift baskets.

Holiday Baking Part 4: Apricot and Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookie Recipe

I have my staple recipes that I make every Christmas. Some of them are family traditions and some are my own personal tradition. This year I felt like I needed an extra cookie in my baking.

I already had the heavy big cookies, light and fluffy shortbreads and decorative sugar cookies, so I decided that the next cookie should have fruit and nuts. I like fruit and nuts in Christmas baking because it reminds me of my ancestors who couldn't buy passionfruits or lychees or even grapes in December like I can. I've always felt that Christmas is a time for tradition, so it's a good time to remember your ancestors as well. Dried fruits and nuts were a treat to them, so I try to respect that in my holiday baking. Christmas is one of the few times in the year where I incorporate these ingredients into desserts.

This year I borrowed a recipe from Martha Stewart for hazelnut thumbprints which I've adapted a little bit. They turned out fluffy and delicious and were quite pretty, so I wanted to share the recipe with you. I will definitely make them next year.

Note about the recipe: Refrigerating the dough takes a long time and it makes the dough more difficult to work with, so it's tempting to skip it, but try to resist! If you don't refrigerate the dough, the cookies will not hold their shape as well while baking so they may not turn out round or the space in the top for the jam may end up bigger than intended so you end up having to use too much jam to fill the cookie.

Recipe: Apricot and Hazelnut Thumbprints


1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
1 large egg, separated, each part lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup ground hazelnuts (or filberts)
a jar of apricot jam

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Dry roast hazelnut by placing in a dry frying pan over medium heat and stirring continuously until nuts become aromatic and turn a nice toasted brown colour. Remove from heat and place in a small bowl.

Cream together butter and 1/3 cup of sugar at medium speed until pale and fluffy (3 to 5 minutes). Add egg yolk and vanilla and cream for an additional minute.

Reduce speed to low and add flour and salt. Mix just until combined. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Add remaining sugar to the bowl with the hazelnuts and mix. Roll dough into 1" balls, dip in the egg white and then roll in the nut mixture until completely covered. Space one inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Press down the center of each ball with your thumb. Bake for ten minutes.

Press down the centers of each cookie a second time using the tip of the handle of a wooden spoon or rolling pin. Return to the oven and bake until golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes.

Let cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet and then remove to wire racks to finish cooling. Fill each center with jam.

For a picture of these cookies, please see the above post on Christmas gift baskets.

Holiday Baking Part 3: Pineapple Christmas Cake (white fruit cake) Recipe

It wouldn't be Christmas at my mom's house without the Christmas cake.

My mother makes this every single year. She got the recipe from Nannie, who also made it every year. A few years ago, I started making it and this year, my sister made one for the first time.

I know what you're thinking. How can my family possibly need 4 identical cakes? Especially given that these are fairly big cakes. I use my Wilton 10" fluted angel food cake pan and it is filled almost to the brim and weighs several pounds.

I promise you, none of it goes to waste. It's that good. It's actually one of the first things to disappear out of the huge assortment of desserts we put together. This isn't your typical fruit cake (although I made one of those this year as well). The chunks of fruit are big and juicy, the cake is moist and fluffy and there are no nuts or dried fruits/raisins/currants. Also, understand that I fear and loath glaceed fruit as much as anyone. But somehow, it turns out delicious in this cake. You just have to trust me on this one!

So I will share with you our secret family recipe, and just hope that anyone I know who reads this will come visit me at Christmas anyway, even though they'll now be able to make their own Christmas cake.

Recipe: Pineapple Christmas Cake


3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract
3 eggs
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 19oz can crushed pineapple (drain and reserve liquid)
1/2lb glazed pineapple, cut into 1" pieces
1 1/2 lb glazed cherries
2 Tbsp cornstarch

Note about ingredients: I usually use yellow pineapple pieces along with green and red cherries to make my cake colourful and pretty.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and line a 10" angel food pan with wax paper (I use this pan).

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (3 to 5 minutes). Add extracts and mix until combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition.

In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients. Gradually add to the creamed mixture, mixing well after each addition, and alternating with the reserved pineapple juice when the consistency gets too dry (I usually end up using about 3/4 of the juice in total). Add crushed pineapple and mix until combined.

In a separate bowl, combine cornstarch and drained glazed fruit. Fold into the cake batter. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for about two hours. Cool in the pan for about ten minutes and then remove to a cooling rack. Remove wax paper from cake when it has completely cooled.

To see a picture of a piece of this cake, see the post above about Christmas gift baskets.

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