Saturday, May 3, 2014

S'more Ice Cream Sandwiches

Time to think of summer, we've been having some wonky weather here in Toronto, but it's bound to remain sunny and warm soon. And when it does, it's time to bring out the cool treats!

Always be prepared when you're trying a new recipe. Decide what kind of ice cream sandwich you're going to make. Read through the instructions, I've taken photos each step of the way, and if you're going for that gold star, watch this video featuring Canadian Living Test Kitchen Specialist Irene Fong.

I decided on the s'more ice cream sandwiches because they remind me of fun camping trips and hilarious visits to the cottage with friends. There's something mesmerizing about roasting a marshmallow over a fire pit. Before it catches on fire and creates a torch, you squish it between graham crackers and chocolate. Yum! There's no camping or cottage trips on the horizon, but our new home does have a fire pit. So who knows? Maybe we'll relive those good times this summer.

S'more Ice Cream Sandwiches
Shopping List: unsalted butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, all-purpose flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, chocolate chips, graham crackers, mini marshmallows, and vanilla ice cream.
First, we have to make the chocolate sandwich cookies. In a large bowl, beat the softened butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until fluffy. It should resemble a coarse buttercream frosting.
Beat in eggs, one at a time. Then add in the vanilla extract. This makes the batter nice and smooth.
Gather all the dry ingredients together in a bowl.
Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together. This will help mix everything together and get rid of any lumps.
Mix into the butter mixture until combined. Scrape the sides of your bowl as needed. Be careful not to over mix. You can do this part with a spatula if you want.
Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C).
Scoop one tablespoon of batter and place two inches (five centimetres) apart onto baking sheets (line with silicone mat or parchment paper). The batter spreads quite a bit while baking, so make sure you stick to one tablespoon or less. Unless you want gigantic ice cream sandwiches - then who am I to judge?
Bake until sides are just firm to the touch, about eleven minutes. They'll be soft, but you do want them a little bit under baked because they'll be softer and chewier. Let the cookies cool for ten minutes.
Transfer to racks and let the cookies cool completely. If you make these ahead of time, layer waxed paper between the cookies in airtight container and store at room temperature for up to five days.
To prepare the s'more, halve the mini marshmallows. Howard laughed at me for making something mini even smaller! But it's all about having the right proportions.
I used a blender to grind the graham crackers instead of chopping them.
Just a few pulses and it was a nice graham crumb.
In a bowl, combine the chocolate chips, graham crackers, and mini marshmallows.
Scoop about 1/4-1/3 cup of ice cream onto the bottom of a cookie. Top with a second cookie and gently press to adhere. You want the ice cream to almost reach the edge of the cookies. Dip the ice cream edge in the bowl, making sure that the chocolate chips, graham crackers, and marshmallows stick. Wrap with a double layer of plastic wrap and freeze until ice cream hardens, about 1 hour.
If you're like me, sometimes you need instant gratification. I tried the s'more ice cream sandwich right after I assembled it (no freezer time) and enjoyed the gooey, melty mess!

If you're looking for more ice cream sandwich ideas, visit the Test Kitchen Blog over at Canadian Living to see what other bloggers made! Strawberry White Chocolate Sprinkle or Chocolate Toffee and Nuts anyone? You really can't go wrong. Maybe even try mixing the toppings into the ice cream before you sandwich it!

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post by Canadian Living and I received compensation for it. There was no requirement to produce a positive review of this recipe. All opinions are our own.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Fish Stick Tacos

I thought I'd share one of our favourite quick and easy meal ideas. This is perfect at the end of the week or on weekends when you don't need leftovers for lunch the next day. There are so many things to love about fish stick tacos: it takes about half an hour to prepare and it isn't a heavy meal. Plus, Howard and I can usually finish everything, meaning there's no waste or leftovers to pack away.
To start, purchase your favourite breaded or battered fish stick brand and follow the baking instructions. I bake around 5-7 fish sticks depending on how hungry we are. The ones we buy take about thirty minutes in the oven, which gives me time to prepare everything else. We also buy large size tortillas.
Garnish #1
1 medium size tomato
1 medium size onion
1 sprig of cilantro

Dice up the tomato and onion.
Keep 3/4 of the tomato and onion in a bowl.
Put the remaining 1/4 of tomato and onions in a blender. Set aside.
Chop up one sprig of cilantro and mix it into the bowl of tomatoes and onions.
Garnish #2
1 mango

This can be optional, but we love the sweet taste of mango with the fish sticks. Dice up the mangoes and set it aside. If you want more sour notes and crunch, don't use ripe mangoes, use firm ones instead (similar to mango salads).
Garnish #3
2 small-medium sized avocados
1 clove of garlic
1 sprig of cilantro
1/4 of diced tomatoes
1/4 of diced onions
1-2 small limes
Salt and pepper to taste

Add the avocados, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper into the blender with the chopped tomatoes and onions. Pulse until smooth. See how quick and easy that was? Guacamole in under a minute!
Lettuce is also optional, I think as long as you have garnish #1 and #3, the flavours are there to work with the fish stick. But, if you have a bit more time and ingredients on hand, include the mango and lettuce.

You leave all of the mise en place out and warm up the tortillas. When the fish sticks are ready, everyone grabs a plate and piles on the deliciousness. You can even have wedges of lemon out if people want to squeeze some more citrus over their taco creations.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cook the Cover: Canadian Living May 2014

Happy spring everyone! Although it still doesn't feel like spring here in Toronto, we're still getting bouts of cool temperature and snow flurries. It'll truly be spring when I can wear my ballet flats and spring jacket to work. For now, I'm still rocking the boots and wool coat.

This month, we were given a salad recipe to try. For me, this was an adventurous one to try. I love a good salad, but I like them green! Iceberg lettuce, arugula, or even spring mix, those are my favourite leafy greens. But cabbage, let alone red cabbage? Fennel? These two ingredients were out of my comfort zone. I do have to acknowledge that I like that Canadian Living is challenging me, it's the reason I signed up to cook the covers in the first place! I want to learn about new things that I normally wouldn't pick up and expand my tastebuds, so to speak.
Sesame Chicken with Fennel and Orange Salad
Shopping List: boneless skinless chicken breasts, salt and pepper, sesame seeds, liquid honey, lime juice, mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, mustard, garlic, fennel, red cabbage, cilantro, and orange.
I whisked together the mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, mustard, and garlic.

Sob! I really dislike mayonnaise. It is not a staple in my pantry and I never use it on sandwiches or anything else. But, I wanted to give this recipe a true test so I could report back to you, so I bought mayo. Even Howard cringed when it went into our shopping basket. Another condiment I dislike is mustard - Howard's not with me on this one though - and we had this in the fridge. I was starting to wonder if I would like this salad dressing. So far it included two ingredients that I normally don't eat.
I had to take a photograph of the first fennel I ever purchased. It looks pretty cute, like a little heart in some ways. I had no idea how to prepare it so I may have watched a YouTube video to find out. If you're trying it out for the first time too, this is how you core and slice fennel:
  1. Slice the bottom of the bulb (the line on the left of the top photograph).
  2. Remove the outer white layer.
  3. No stalks in this recipe, so slice those off as well (the line on the right of the top photograph).
  4. Cut the bulb in half. To core it, make two cuts (the green lines on the top photograph) on the bottom half.
  5. You're finished coring it! Thinly slice the fennel. It'll smell like licorice.
I also took a photo of the first red cabbage I bought. It's such a deep purple and felt like shiny leather. It was pretty tough too, I wonder if there's a way to soften up the cabbage?
Mixing in the fennel and cilantro with the salad dressing.
For the chicken, mix the honey, sesame seeds, and lime juice together. Sorry that I don't have a photo of the grilling chicken. I'm not able to work carefully with heat and my camera yet. Plus, the instructions told me to cover the chicken with a lid!
While the chicken is cooking, slice the orange, this should go on the salad last. Once the chicken is done, slice and top it on the fennel and orange salad, serve right away!

What can I say about this recipe? The chicken I would add to my repertoire for future use. I like eating honey glazed chicken and the sesame seeds were a nice touch. Orange slices in my salad? I like that too.

But . . . this salad isn't something I would want to eat again. It includes a lot of strong flavours - fennel, red cabbage, and cilantro. It also includes things I personally don't like - mayonnaise, mustard, and fennel. But that's just me. Howard didn't seem to mind it, his only comment being that the dressing was really creamy. That surprised me too because the image on the cover doesn't show the creamy dressing. However, if I were to make the salad again, I would probably slice the fennel even smaller. And I would use a mandolin for the red cabbage.

See what other bloggers thought about the recipe here.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post by Canadian Living and I received compensation for it. There was no requirement to produce a positive review of this recipe. All opinions are our own.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Surprise-Inside Cakes

I have been following Amanda on for a long time now. She has a great collection of topic-specific blogs and even prettier posts about sweet and savory confections. I couldn't wait for her book, Surprise-Inside Cakes, to release! If you were particularly fond of the tutorials she's shared on her blog like I was - Ghost Cake, BOO Cake, and the Countdown Cake, you'll enjoy this book. You can feel the patience she's giving with her clear cut instructions. I was also lucky enough to be able to connect with Amanda and ask her a few questions about the process!
Sylvia: Did anyone take a look under the dust jacket? I love that there's something special stamped on the case. How do you read the symbols stamped on the case? It is still "Surprise-Inside Cake" or "You never know what you'll get inside a cake"?

Amanda: That just depends on who is reading it! ;)
Sylvia: Okay, how many cakes did you go through to make this book? You mention baking over 50 cakes in 30 days in the acknowledgments, do you have an exact number? I am just trying to imagine all the ingredients you would have had to stock up on! How many carton of eggs, milk, and sticks of butter? How many bags of sugar? I'm not even a "number" person, but I find this fascinating!

Amanda: I made about 60 cakes all together. It was an insane amount of ingredients! I was buying flour and sugar in 25 lg. bags and running out frequently! I didn't keep track of specific numbers, but I definitely got strange looks at the grocery store! :)

Sylvia: How many attempts are required for you to be satisfied with the surprise inside? Do you do a lot of trial-and-error or at the level you are now, are you able to hit it bang on during your first attempt? Was there a cake design in the book that required more than a few tries before you were happy with it?

Amanda: Since I had a short timeline for the book, I would often think of a cake and then make it. If the design was awful and unrecognizable, it didn't make it in the book! Some of the cakes we left in are rough-around-the-edges, but I left them in for sentimental reasons or for inspiration.

Sylvia: You take beautiful photos for you blog, I was a bit surprised to see that you didn't take them for the book. How was it working with Susan Powers?

Amanda: Susan is so talented and added a level of sophistication for the book that I greatly lacked.
Sylvia: I have to say, I loved reading each cake introduction, you have a great personality that shines through and you're thoughtful in each of your cake dedications. In response to your Kiss Cake and also being from Canada, I would love to see a maple leaf inside a cake! I do hope you'll try it soon! The one about Beth Moore made me laugh, so often we think BFFs are made through cake!

Amanda: Thank you! I am now starting to work with twice-baked cakes and could easily do a leaf now! Will hopefully blog that soon! :)

Sylvia: Is there a second book in the works?

Amanda: Nope! No second book right now.

Sylvia: Okay, last one! Favorite dessert in the whole wide world?

Amanda: Mr. Donut donuts with frosting inside and powdered sugar outside. I haven't seen a Mr. Donut in 15 years… how I long for those delectable treats!
My favourite design in the book is the Herringbone Cake. To my dismay, it's the most difficult one by Amanda's standard. So I'm just going to bookmark this until I reach the expert level to attempt it!
Bunny! I seem to be drawn to all the animal cakes.
Now for the fun part, if you want this cook to bee yours (see what I did there?), enter by leaving a comment below telling me what design you'd like to find in a surprise-inside cake. North American mailing address only and giveaway ends on April 8, 2014 at midnight EST. Please leave me a way of contacting you (e-mail address, twitter handle, etc.), otherwise, check back when the winners are announced!

Disclaimer: A copy of Surprise-Inside Cakes by Amanda Rettke was sent to us for review. There was no requirement to produce a positive review of this book. All opinions are our own.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread

"I can't even deal."
That line pretty much sums up this recipe. I first bookmarked and saved this recipe from Joy the Baker and could not let it go this past week. Maybe it's because I was on the verge of getting sick and looking at her post and dreaming about this bread provided comfort. Or maybe because I'm a sucker for cinnamon sugar. And bread.
My bread doesn't look as tidy and neat as Joy's loaf, but I'm sure that it tasted just as good. Seriously, I was going ballistic when this came out of the oven. It was warm and gooey and sticky and had lovely little crunchy bites to it.
I did this part the night before: In a small saucepan, melt together 1/3 cup of milk and half a stick of unsalted butter until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and add 1/4 cup of water and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Let the mixture stand for a minute or two.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, whisk together 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Then, use your dough hook on the stand mixer and pour in the milk mixture with the dry ingredients. Crack 2 large eggs in a small bowl and whisk it together. Add the eggs into the batter and mix until combined. Add an additional 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour and stir until combined.

Place the dough is a large, greased bowl and cover it with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Set it near a warm spot and let it rest for about an hour. It should double in size. After the dough has doubled in size, refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, let the dough rest on the counter for 30 minutes. In the meantime, whisk together 1 cup of granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg. Using a small saucepan, melt half a stick of unsalted butter until it is brown. Be careful here, once you see the butter colour change, you can remove it from the heat because it'll keep cooking and you don't want the butter to turn dark brown or burn.

Deflate the dough and knead 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour into it. I found that 1 tablespoon was enough before the dough became too dry. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, take out your rolling pin and lightly flour your work surface. This was the part I realized that I didn't pack a rolling pin during our move. There were three sitting in the drawer of my parent's house and I had to resort to using a wine bottle. But it worked! Roll the dough as flat as it will go. Use a pastry brush to slather on the brown butter. Then sprinkle the cinnamon/nutmeg sugar on it. The brown butter will melt some of the sugar, but not to worry, keep sprinkling until the sugar doesn't disappear.
Cut the dough into squares, peel them off your work surface and stack them into your greased loaf pan or muffin tin.
Let the dough rest again for half an hour and it will poof up in size.
Look at how poofy the dough is!
Did you notice that in the after photo, the top left corner in the muffin tin is missing a slice? It popped out. Seriously. There was one lone piece of bread in my oven beside the pan. I have no idea how it flew out leaving three behind. If it was trying to escape, it's plan backfired because I ate that piece first.
Bake at 350°F (176°C) for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the bread cool and rest. Eat immediately. Because you've already did so much work, kick up your feet and enjoy. You don't have to do anything else that day.
If there happen to be leftovers the next day, microwave the loaf for 20-25 seconds to get that fresh out of the oven feeling again. Trust us on that. It will taste better!