Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Cookies for Santa - White Chocolate & Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

I love Christmas. I love everything about it: the sight of a twinkling Christmas tree, the hope the season brings, the joy in getting together with family and friends, and the smells of Christmas.

Nothing helps me to get into the Christmas spirit more than decorating my tree, cranking the Christmas carols and pulling out some cookie sheets to do some baking.  As much as I love planning and baking the dessert for Christmas dinner, it wouldn't be complete without a tray full of Christmas baking.

The favourite in our household - cookies.  I mean, who doesn't love cookies?  And they are so easy to make and much healthier (& tastier!) than the store-bought variety.  A tray full of cookies makes a wonderful gift - it's been a tradition whenever time permits to gift our friends with a box full of cookies.

Unlike my family where traditions run deep and the same cookies were mostly made year after year to accommodate everyone's favourites, I usually change the cookies in my cookie box.

This one is one of my new favourites - white chocolate, cranberries and oatmeal.

I also have a love of coconut, so I threw some in for good measure, but it is easily omitted if you're not a fan like I am.

White Chocolate Chip Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or grated peel of 1 orange
3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries

1/2 cup sweetened, flaked coconut
Preheat oven to 350° F.

Combine, flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract in large bowl. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in oats, cranberries, white chocolate chips and coconut (if using) . Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for 1 - 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

I also drizzled some melted white chocolate on top of the cookies ( 3 oz for the recipe), but the cookies were equally delicious without.

And on Christmas Eve when your kids want to leave out cookies and milk for Santa - try these.  I guarantee you he'll like them.  Mine sure did!!!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Breakfast with the Kids - Chocolate Chip and Banana Pancakes

I love chocolate.  Chocolate is one of those things that tastes good with so many things and in so many things.  I love chocolate with nuts, chocolate with peanut butter, chocolate with fruit (except oranges but I know others love it!) and even in my vegetarian chili.  You wouldn't know that it is in there, but it adds a depth of flavour.  Chocolate and banana is a marriage made in heaven  in my books - think Nutella slathered on a banana for an afternoon snack!

I had always resisted having chocolate for breakfast - I mean who does that?  I know they do in France but amazingly those French women can eat chocolate for breakfast and still manage to stay thin.   But one morning, my mother-in-law offered to make the kids pancakes for breakfast and added some chocolate chips.  Not surprisingly, that became a very requested treat when Grandma was in town.  I mean what kid doesn't love pancakes?  And what kid wouldn't like a pancake with chocolate chips?  That's like having your cake AND eating it too!!

My kids also like helping me out in the kitchen, and it is true - they really do eat better when they've helped in the preparation.  Let them measure - let them stir and let them sprinkle on the chocolate chips.  They'll have fun and they'll devour them at the end!

I should also confess that I've never found a pancake mould that I like and I've tried many.  I find them cumbersome and a pain.  So I prefer to think of mine as being a little more rustic.  I just grab a tablespoon and shape into whatever the mood strikes - lately its been snowmen!

Aren't they cute??  Just a word of caution - make sure your spatula is big enough to flip these over otherwise they'll look like part of Frosty is gone already.  And if you want them to look pretty, wipe the spatula between flipping so you don't end up with smeared chocolate chips .

Chocolate Chip and Banana Pancakes
3 cups   flour
3 tbsp.   sugar
9 tsp.     baking powder
3/4 tsp   salt
3           eggs
2 1/4 c. milk
6 tbsp.  vegetable oil
2           mashed bananas
             chocolate chips

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and oil and then stir in mashed bananas.  Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the banana mixture and stir until just combined.  Sprinkle on the chocolate chips while cooking.

**  I also added some cinnamon and nutmeg to my batter, but this is easily omitted.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Appies with Friends - Brie, Date and Toasted Walnut Crostini

When I think of Saturday nights, I often think about getting together with those near and dear to me.  Entertaining can be so much fun but it can also be stressful if you aren't prepared properly.  Nothing is worse than inviting friends over for nibbles, and missing all the action while you're cooped up in the kitchen.  That is why when planning my menu, I always look for recipes that don't require a lot of fussing and preparation right when everyone arrives.

These crostini fit the bill really well.  Most of the prep work can be done ahead of time which frees up valuable time for catching up with those near and dear to your heart.   Oh, and they are delicious so everyone will think you've fussed when you haven't!

Brie, Date and Toasted Walnut Crostini

1          medium baguette sliced into 1/2" rounds (about 24 slices)
2 Tbs.  extra-virgin olive oil
            Kosher Salt
1/2 c.   coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
1/2 c.   fresh dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 Tbs.  honey
1 Tbs.  balsamic vinegar
6 oz.    brie, rind trimmed, softened at room temperature
2 Tbs.  chives, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 425.  Set the baguette slices on a large baking sheet; dab both sides with the olive oil and sprinkle one side lightly with salt (about 1/4 tsp for all the bread).  Bake until the bread starts to brown and crisp, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, toss the walnuts with the dates, money, and balsamic vinegar.  While the toasts are still warm, spread with the brie and then top with the date and nut mixture.  Sprinkle with the chives and serve.

The crostini are best served right out of the oven, but they can also hold for an hour or two at room temperature.

Serves 8

Recipe courtesy of Fine Cooking.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Family Pizza Night

Who doesn't love the weekend?  I sure do.  There was a time (more years ago than I care to remember) when my evenings and weeknights were jammed packed with things to do, people to see and places to go. This was pre-kids when life was a little simpler and I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

That's a luxury that I just don't have anymore.  I'm still busy (too busy some would say) but it's a busyness not of my own choosing.  My life these days revolves around chauffeuring duties to school, dance lessons, swimming lessons, football, ringette, skating lessons.......well you get the point - life is just busy.

That's why I love the weekend so much.  Sure we still have places to go and things to do, but we have purposely scheduled things in such a way that we still have time to do things of our own choosing.  I enjoy having the time on weekends to putter around in my kitchen and to take more time making dinner than I can during the week.

One of the things that I like to make is pizza.  I love pizza.  Make pizza you say?  Why would you do that?  Isn't it just simpler and more relaxing to just order in?  Of course it would be easier to just order in and we do that too.   Pizza conjures up images of parties, social gatherings and having fun.  Pizza on Saturday nights is also extremely nostalgic for me.  I grew up with pizza on Saturday nights.  It was always made the same way with the dough coming from that yellow box found in the pasta aisle.  I admit it - pizza at our house isn't always made from scratch, and when I'm feeling nostalgic or homesick, I will reach for that yellow box that I equate with security and happiness.  The memories of my childhood.

I loved helping my mom make pizza.

I loved spreading the sauce, sprinkling on the toppings, but mostly I loved sneaking that grated cheese when no one was looking.

Who's sneaking cheese now?
And now things have come full circle.  Except this time I'm the one doing all the chopping, and my kids are the ones sneaking the cheese and arranging the toppings in pretty patterns on top of the crust.

Making salad to go with our pizza
The circle of life - I love it.

Time to go sneak another piece - I think there's still some leftovers in the fridge ;)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Love of Pumpkins

I love fall.  I love everything about it.  I love how the air is crisp, I love the sound of leaves crunching under my feet, I love wearing warm cozy sweaters, and I love being able to wear boots and not worry if my pedicure is way overdue.  Fall makes me think of golden colours, spicy smells and warmth which in turn makes me think of baking.

I don't bake much in the summer.  I'm having too much fun playing outside and taking advantage of the warm weather to spend it inside.  But when the weather turns cold in the fall, and you can fill that nip in the air, then the warmth of my kitchen beckons me back inside.

I like to cook or bake seasonally.  Meaning when something is in season, I will use it a lot.  Case in point - pumpkins!

I get excited when the small little Sugar Pie Pumpkins make their appearance at the grocery store.  I'm not talking about the big 'ol Jack-a-lantern Pumpkins that are used for pumpkin carving (but that's fun too!) but the smaller sweeter ones that are best used for baking.  First off they make a great seasonal decoration even before I actually get around to using them, but when I finally roast them, I wonder why it took me so long to use them!

One of my favourite pumpkin things are the lattes from Starbucks.  I guess this would be the appropriate time to confess that I am a Starbucks-addict.  I love it - it simply makes me happy. When I was looking through some recipes one afternoon (probably while drinking coffee!) I found this recipe:

Pumpkin Cookies with Brown Butter Frosting
 They are everything that a pumpkin cookie should be - light, ethereal, spicy and heavenly - just like those lattes from Starbucks.  I suggest that you give them a try!  http://www.marthastewart.com/318741/pumpkin-cookies-with-brown-butter-icing

But a pumpkin love-affair being what it is, the cookies weren't even gone and I was already planning on what I could make next.   You see the love of all things pumpkin isn't jut limited to me.  Every time I stop at Starbucks my kids beg and plead for a pumpkin scone.  That makes an expensive habit all the more expensive.  I figured I could probably make them for a fraction of the cost, and they would be fresher and healthier too.

They were in a word dee-lish (as my son described them).  They may not have been as uniform and pretty as the scones from Starbucks but hey - it was my loving hands that formed them.

You'd think after all that baking that I'd be done with pumpkins but all I'd really done was satisfy the sweet side of pumpkins.  You see like me, pumpkins can go either sweet or salty.  If you're in the mood for salty - try roasting the seeds.

I guarantee you won't be able to stop at just one handful.  Or possibly like in my case you can if when you turn your back the bowl is emptied!

The other thing I'd suggest is roasting the pumpkin wedges with a little olive oil, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper.  Try melting some cheese over top during the last few minutes of baking - I can guarantee that the result will be sublime!!

But last but not least, you can't forget those big old pumpkins that I talked about earlier.  They may not be as tasty as the little fellows, and they're a lot more difficult to clean, but they serve a purpose too!

Just don't forget to scoop out those seeds and roast them!