Happy Halloween!

The children are done trick or treating, and the loot has been checked. Now while my family curls up on the couch and enjoys our yearly viewing of The Nightmare Before Christmas, please enjoy a treat from our home to yours - some lovely chocolate cookies!

The recipe for these cookies comes from Nicole over at Baking Bites, who posted about some very cool mummy cookies some time ago. I've had that page open since then, and finally got them finished late this afternoon. My mummies don't look nearly as good as hers (my white chocolate was not cooperating so I moved on to ghosts covered in a glaze of icing sugar and milk and some plain bats,) but they sure taste good!

I hope you have had a wonderful Halloween!

(And yes, that is my little pumpkin, all dressed up! I didn't have time to carve it up, any further than to pull out the seeds.)

Getting in under the wire: Grow Your Own 2007, Part 3

Sorry Andrea! I am really doing this at the last minute but didn't have too much of a choice!

You see, that lovely pumpkin I grew in my backyard grew a friend, and just recently was harvested, just in time to be carved up for Halloween! (The second one did not have enough time to turn completely orange before we got frost and all the vines shriveled up and fit nicely into a yard bag.)

For those of you who like pumpkin for eating and are now sitting there thinking, "Oh what a waste of a good pumpkin - carved into a jack-o-lantern!" Yes, it is true, my little guy is going to get a face, but he was always planted for that purpose and was specifically a jack-o-lantern type pumpkin, not a sweet pie pumpkin, to begin with.

His seeds, however, were always destined for snacking! The only part of a pumpkin that my children like to eat, and every year look forward to. They don't enjoy taking the seeds out of the "guts" but once they've been toasted and salted, they love them!

Simple is how I toast up pumpkin seeds. One year I tried something a bit more spicy and the seeds went untouched until I finally threw them out. But when tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, then roasted on a sheet pan at 425F until golden and crispy? They are a hit!

Can't wait to see what everyone else comes up with from their garden fare! It has gotten a little to cold for gardens here in Ottawa (though it was beautiful today and supposed to be even nicer for the kids out trick-or-treating tomorrow night!) so I am looking forward to seeing what comes out of the ground in other, warmer parts of the world!

Now to rush this off to Andrea and hope I made it in time!

Holy Cow We are Growing Again!

Latest count has the Daring Baker's at 299! Wow!

And to think, when I did my first challenge back in January, we were SEVEN!

Can't wait to see what we make for November. :-)

The Daring Baker's do Custard!

Yes it sounds a bit "naughty" but other than the calorie count, there was nothing bad about this month's challenge, chosen by wonderful Mary of Alpineberry - Bostini Cream Pie!

Yes, you read that correctly.... I said Bostini Cream Pie, not Boston. No mistake there. This decadent dessert was Mary's choice, a favorite of hers from Donna Scala & Kurtis Baguley of Bistro Don Giovanni in the Napa Valley and Scala's Bistro in San Francisco. And having made and eaten some, I can understand why!

I chose to make mine for dessert for the grown up's at Thanksgiving this year, while the children ate caramel apples. Normally they would have gotten the better dessert, seeing as I love caramel's, but this time I think we got the best!

The challenge actually consists of three different recipes, if you could call the chocolate glaze a recipe (equal parts butter and melted chocolate.) A deliciously light custard, a mildly orange sponge cake and a slightly warm chocolate glaze. Mary gave us a bit of leeway with the flavoring, provided we kept the colors the same, and gave us permission to be creative with the plating. Unlike the Boston Cream Pie, however, which is cake, then custard, then cake, then chocolate, ours had to be custard, then cake, then chocolate.

Our friend Fanny, of Foodbeam fame, suggested early on after the unveiling the idea of using wine glasses. Seeing as I don't own 16 ramekins (or really even four), I loved the idea of the wine glass and ended up being the first of many to show a picture of a wine glass style Bostini! Thanks for the inspiration Fanny!

Now onto the recipe. I've made custard before, and sponge cakes, but this recipe surprised me a bit with the ingredients list:

13 -14 egg yolks
1 whole egg
9-10 egg whites
3/4 cup whole milk
3 3/4 cup heavy cream
and sugar

Sounds pretty heavy, doesn't it? Yet despite the massive amounts of eggs and cream, this custard was light and airy. Completely unexpected! Having gotten all my eggs ready in advance, as well as all the rest of my mise en place for the custard, it came together very quickly and thickened up nicely. But it did not want to go nicely into the wine glasses without leaving splotches all over the sides! I finally had to get creative and used my rarely used turkey baster to "squirt" custard evenly into 8 wine glasses.

Sorry, I didn't get a picture of that. Probably should have.

Both the cake and the custard I made the day before our Thanksgiving feast, so that all I had to do for dessert was to cube up the sponge cake (I baked mine in my grandmother's tube pan and had 3/4 of the cake left after making 8 Bostini's), place the pieces on top of the custard and make the glaze for drizzling. I admit I did the glaze by eye, rather than by measuring out tablespoons of melted chocolate and butter, but it seemed to work out perfectly.

I did have one odd complaint about the dessert - the wine glasses I chose to serve them in did not give enough room to let fingers in to "lick" clean the sides of the glass! Which didn't stop us from trying.

This challenge was alot of fun. Not complicated, but fun!

And while we all very much enjoyed the flavors, I'm not sure how often I could justify making a dessert that uses that many eggs and so much cream!

Big Thanks to Mary for her choice in this month's challenge! Don't forget to head on over to the Daring Baker's Blogroll and check out some of the other presentations. Some of them are so gorgeous you will not believe it is the same dessert!

Bostini Cream Pie
(from Donna Scala & Kurtis Baguley of Bistro Don Giovanni and Scala's Bistro)
(makes 8 generous servings)


Custard (Pastry Cream)
3/4 cup whole milk
2 3/4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 whole egg, beaten
9 egg yolks, beaten
3 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar

Chiffon Cake
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 1/3 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup beaten egg yolks (3 to 4 yolks)
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup egg whites (about 8 large)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Chocolate Glaze
8 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces unsalted butter


To prepare the custard (pastry cream):
Combine the milk and cornstarch in a bowl; blend until smooth. Whisk in the whole egg and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into the egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard and pour into 8 large custard cups. Refrigerate to chill.

To prepare the chiffon cakes:
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray 8 molds with nonstick cooking spray. You may use 7-ounce custard cups, ovenproof wide mugs or even large foil cups. Whatever you use should be the same size as the custard cups.

Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and vanilla. Stir until smooth, but do not overbeat.

Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten whites into the orange batter. Fill the sprayed molds nearly to the top with the batter.

Bake approximately 25 minutes, until the cakes bounce back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When completely cool, remove the cakes from the molds. Cover the cakes to keep them moist.

To prepare the glaze:
Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat until it is just about to bubble. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir to melt. Pour through a strainer and keep warm.

To assemble:
Cut a thin slice from the top of each cake to create a flat surface. Place a cake flat-side down on top of each custard. Cover the tops with warm chocolate glaze. Serve immediately.

I'm sorry Cream Puff!

We waited for you to come claim your birthday cake, but finally could not resist anymore and had to start without you!

Seeing as there is no cake left now though, I guess I'll just have to tell you all about it instead.

This is a variation of Peabody's Pumpkin Butterscotch Cake , made with applesauce instead of pumpkin puree, making it my Apple Butterscotch Cake. On wow was it sweet!

I like pumpkin, but as usual, no one else in my house does. Except for the seeds - they like the seeds that I roast up after we carve the pumpkins on Halloween, but that is a few days away still. So rather than dismiss the recipe because of the one ingredient, okay the main ingredient, I decided to change it instead.

I started out by taking apple sauce (sorry, it was from a jar, I'd run out of the homemade stuff I'd had on hand) and reducing it in a small pot until it was much thicker. I used that in place of the 3/4 cup of pumpkin puree in the cake and the cake came out moist and full of flavor!

I accidentally screwed up the filling the first time, forgetting to actually let the sugar caramelize before adding the cream - it was a Doh! moment. I caught it before I added the butter and started over, but it meant I was a bit short on cream for the frosting afterwards, which worked out alright as I had 1/2 cup of whipping cream left, and also had a full container of half and half cream which I used to make up the difference. Sure the frosting needed a bit more chilling before it would thicken up nicely, but it worked in the end.

Oh, I also omitted the nuts in the filling, which I think were actually needed to temper some of the sweetness (and bitterness) that comes with homemade butterscotch.

Like I said, Cream Puff, this cake was very sweet (sweets for the sweet maybe?) The two different types of butterscotch would have both worked with the cake by itself (though I did not actually like the filling butterscotch), and there was alot left of both! The fridge had to be stored in the fridge to keep the icing firm, but it also helped to keep the cake moist longer.

I hope you had a wonderful birthday and maybe next year we will wait for you a bit longer?

A long distance thank you!

Looking at my blog over the last year, there has been alot of belated and delays and such. You'd think I was frequently late and disorganized.

I'm not, really I'm not.

So even though I've had these wonderful cookies for quite awhile now, I'm not late.

A little background probably would help at this point.

A little while back, two of the Daring Baker's decided to host a Blog Event called the Risotto Relay. Make a risotto, post about it, and you could win a package of Tin Tams. If you are from Australia, you know what a Tim Tam is. But if you are from Canada, Tim Tam's sound like a knock off of Timbits. That is what I always thought when I heard the name Tim Tams, though it never matched up with what I had heard and seen of Tim Tam's from the Down Under blogs that had mentioned them.

Now I like risotto. The other three members of my household, however, don't. Sure you can make a small batch of risotto for one or two, but sorry, I don't have time for making something for one person and something different for everyone else. So I sadly declined the invitation to participate, and my chance to win the package of Tim Tams.

That's where Stephanie came in to my rescue!

Stephanie, a fellow Daring Baker, has relocated to Australia, and was sympathetic to my desire to try Tim Tams. She offered to send me some by mail and I was happy to accept!

Now when Stephanie made her offer, I was expecting a small package containing something about the size of a chocolate bar. What I wasn't expecting was a good sized box with not one but FOUR different kinds of Tim Tams!

Original, Dark Chocolate, Chewy Caramel and Latte!

Holy Cow!

My initial plan had been to try all four types before blogging a huge thanks to Stephanie, who asked me to let her know what the three types she hadn't tried yet were like. But since I am conserving them, if I wait until we are done all of them, it might be awhile before she would get to hear how the tastings went. (And I must add that I am showing remarkable self restraint in not having inhaled all of them yet.)

So far we have eaten the Original and the Chewy Caramel. The Original were very good, nothing like what I was expecting. Layers of cookie, sandwiching a chocolaty filling, and covered by chocolate. The Chewy Caramel was even better and reminded me of a Twix bar, which is good because it will be alot easier for me to get a Twix when I crave those Tim Tams than it will be for me to replenish our supply of Tim Tams. (The shipping on them alone makes that cost prohibitive.)

Haven't opened the other two packages yet, so I can't yet give my opinion of them, but I'll get there!

So another huge THANKS! to Stephanie for this great gift! The offer of some Tim Horton's coffee is still there if you want it! I won't try sending you Timbits though.

The rest of the weekend

It certainly isn't perfect, and leans more towards a shuttle than an airplane, but it made my little guy very happy!

I finished this around midnight on Saturday for a Sunday party. When I walked away I wasn't happy with it but knew if I stayed up and kept looking at it, I'd be at it for alot longer.

One thing about this cake is that I free formed everything. The base of the plane is the same chocolate cake as I used for the star cake, baked in a 9x13 and cut down and stacked with strawberry jam in the middle, then curved slightly with a breadknife. The nose of the plane is a combination of the chocolate and vanilla cakes, cut and put in until I was happy with it. The tail, the wings and the back wings are all from a 9x9 vanilla cake that I cut various pieces off of to get the shapes I wanted.

This plane really needed more color but at midnight I kept looking at it trying to figure out what I wanted where and just couldn't, so left it as is. I didn't hear any complaints, not even about the big finger mark that was in the nose of the plane the next morning. (Though none of the 3 finger suspects would admit to touching it.)

When I brought this into the gymnastics party yesterday, I got alot of compliments and was also asked by several people if I did this for a living, did I have a card and did I take orders. I don't think I'm quite ready for that yet. I'd like to play alot more, take a few more Wilton courses, and become more comfortable with the process before I go that way.

Why I've been too busy to blog this last week

Okay it was more than just this cake. There was the first hot dog day at school (major problems I helped solve, but did not create,) the first Subway day (my responsibility and it went pretty well) and the first pizza day (which also went well.)

I went into this cake a) knowing about what I wanted it to look like and b) having not worked with fondant every before. As well as c) not having any fondant tools at all.

I managed to bake the cakes for this cake on the Thursday, with the party being on Saturday, allowing me to start the fondant on Friday night.

I very quickly learned that fondant is tougher to shape than I had thought it would be. I'm a big Ace of Cakes fan and love to see how they effortlessly roll and then smooth on their fondant. I'm sure if I ever make 30+ cakes a week, I too will find it effortless to roll and smooth out as well. But for now, rolling fondant is hard work! And kneading color into it is hard on the hands and wrists!

The package of Wilton fondant I used was very clear that to get a smooth finish with the fondant, you needed to have a perfectly smooth cake. Hahahaha Are they serious? Who gets a perfectly smooth cake without tonnes and tonnes of practice? Not me, that's for sure!

Still, I didn't end up with bumps all over the place, and think some of the rough spots on my cake could have been avoided if I had been willing to run out and buy a fondant smoother instead of using my hands and what tools I could improvise with.

Actually my biggest frustration was my missing cookie cutters. Turns out I had lent some of them to a friend, but I am still missing the star cutout from my linzer cookie set, with the itty bitty star, the one I wanted to use to ring the bottom of the cake with tiny stars. Oh well, I did with what I had and the birthday boy was happy.

I, on the other hand, was reasonably satisfied, but not exactly happy with my results. What I wanted and what I got were close enough. But just close enough.

For cakes I used recipes from Tish Boyle's Cake Book, which I've owned for awhile but had not used yet. The bottom round of the cake is the Sour Cream Chocolate Layers on page 124 (which actually ended up being a bit too crumbly for the buttercream.) The top round is the Basic White Cake Layers from page 119, which is a great cake for decorating with, sturdy and heavy enough, but a little bland flavor wise. Probably a completely different cake if you add the lemon zest to it, but as I was catering to a 5 year old, I took the option of omitting it.

This cake ended up being much bigger than I needed for the party we hosted on the day of my little guy's 5th birthday. Partially because the birthday boy chose the menu for his party and by the time we were ready for cake, only the kids were really interested in more "sweets."

Sorry, no pictures of that feast, but the menu broke down like this: double cream brie cheese with maple syrup, brown sugar and cashews, served with melba toast crackers, maple and brown sugar breakfast sausages, crispy bacon, hot waffles, strawberries in syrup, banana slices, apple brown sugar compote, homemade blueberry syrup, maple syrup, and whipped cream in both regular and chocolate. Yes, we had a waffle bar for my son's birthday dinner. Followed by cake and 3 different types of ice cream.

Then we cleaned everything up and got ready for the next party. More on that later!

Thanksgiving, delayed

I have been a chicken with my head cut off lately. Between work (paid and unpaid stuff, mostly unpaid) and holidays and this last weekend birthday stuff, I have not been reading blogs much, let alone updating my own!

Things are calmer this week. Cleaning up to do, prepping for winter, but no huge hurry to get everything done today. Or even tomorrow.

With this breather, I am able to show off what few pictures I managed to get for the Thanksgiving dinner I prepared last weekend for my cousin and his family, as well as my in-laws. I was pretty pleased with how well it went, as well as how relaxed I managed to be for it. I made alot of food, but managed to time things so that the only time I felt rushed or anything was in the setting it all out, still warm, while making the gravy.

So starting at the top, turkey, spaghetti squash, seasoned green beans, broccoli salad (provided by my cousin's wife, yummy!), sweet potatoes, stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy. Missing from the picture is the cranberry sauce I made to go with the turkey.

I "treated" myself to a roasting pan this year. Not the lovely Paderno or Lagostina, or even All-Clad I would have loved, but instead a simple President's Choice one from the grocery store that should serve me well for quite awhile. It is nice and heavy, solid, with a removable rack, and held my 6kg turkey with ample room.

After weeks of reading recipes for brined turkeys, herb stuffed turkeys, flavor injected turkeys, I chose to skip them all and go with simple. After washing and trying the big fresh bird, I dried it off, seasoned the cavity before stuffing some onions in it, smeared butter under the skin and then seasoned well with salt and pepper. I covered the breast and roasted my bird, occasionally adding a bit of water to the bottom of the pan.

The previous night I had made up my stuffing, using a loaf of fresh "stuffing" bread from Farm Boy (white bread seasoned with sage.) I cut the bread up into big chunks while sauteing half an onion and 2 stalks of celery in some butter and oil. Before adding the bread chunks, I bloomed some poultry seasoning with the onions and celery, then tossed in the bread. After ensuring each piece of bread had been coated with the oil and seasonings, I added a few splashes of chicken stock, just enough to moisten the stuffing together. The stuffing rested in a covered baking dish overnight, until it was time to go into the oven about 45 minutes before dinner was served.

The spaghetti squash and sweet potatoes I had prepared earlier in the day, cooked until almost done then finished off in the oven while the turkey rested. Both were done simply - the squash cut in half, deseeded and oven roasted face down, then tossed with a bit of butter before serving. The sweet potatoes were cubed and tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, then roasted until soft on the inside with a slight "crunch" on the outside. I ate cold ones later on as a snack.

My potatoes were made using lots of warm cream and butter. I was tempted to add some cheese to these, mostly because I love cheesy potatoes, but decided that I didn't want too many conflicting flavors. Afterall, the turkey is supposed to be the star of the meal, and cheese added to the potatoes would only have taken away from its shine.

Everyone was very complimentary of dinner, and clean up was done very quickly with lots of help. I had plenty of left overs but thankfully have a second fridge able to hold them all! (If we ever move, one of my fridges is going with me - a second fridge is a luxury I will not willingly give up!)

Dessert was a generational affair this year. The adults had a wonderful, sophisticated dessert that I will post about later, but the kids didn't mind. They had their own thing to do.

I think I earned the title of Coolest Mom/Cousin that day. Afterall, how many kids got to make and decorate their own caramel apples on Thanksgiving? I know of four.

I had a recipe for making my own caramel with cream and sugar and such, but the fun of unwrapping a bag load of vanilla caramels was much more tempting (and less time consuming.) So while the children set up their places, choosing what candies they wanted on their apples from the selection I had put out for them, I melted the caramels with some cream and covered each apple with a thick layer of caramel. Then they went crazy decorating!

As a final touch, I melted some milk chocolate and drizzled the chocolate to the thickness and coverage the child wanted.

Yes it was alot of sugar but the kids loved it, and then worked some of that "energy" off by entertaining us to a wild dance show to the very loud singing of Crazy Frog.

I hope everyone else had a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with family and friends and lots of good food!

Family Food Tasters

Recently I received an email from Carlen at The Spice Depot, asking if I would be willing to try out their new Grind Fresh spices and do a review on my blog. I'd never been asked this before, but was thrilled with the idea of getting to try a new spice blend and see what I could come up with.

What a wonderful surprise to find that not only did I get two full sized jars of spices to try, but I also received from Carlen a great reusable fabric bag! I love reusable bags, as my husband could probably tell you from the size of the pile of them that has quickly outgrown the small basket I keep them in.

My two spices for testing were the Spicy Chicken and the Salad blends. I admit I had no idea what to do with the Salad. Spicy chicken is fairly simple, even if I only sprinkle it all over a roaster before putting it in the oven. But dried spices on salad? I don't think I've ever seen that.

But if I can be creative coming up with kids crafts for preschool, surely I could figure out a way to use the Salad spice. First though, the Spicy Chicken.....

I decided not to go the route of simply roasting a chicken seasoned with the blend. Yes, that would have been the simple solution, but who needs simple? Instead I decided to make some crispy, spicy, breaded chicken wings. Deciding upon that also gave me the idea of how to use the Salad blend, generously sprinkled over sauted green beans and served with the chicken.

Dinner that night was amusing. My children took their job of taste testing and rating the seasonings very seriously. My oldest even decided there had to be a scale, between 1 and 10, by which we all needed to use to properly give our opinions. Which was even cutter in that his brother didn't quite get the concept so was rating the beans at 1 million and the chicken at zero. Then he changed it to 4 and 1 - the number of each that he had eaten.

I very much enjoyed the green beans, as did my children. I had sauted the fresh beans in a hot pan with some olive oil and butter, then added a splash of water to steam them a bit, before adding 12-15 grinds of the seasonings on it before serving. The grind came out nicely, not too coarse, but also not too fine. If you look closely at the picture, you can see bits of the spices on the beans, which I liked. The flavor was very mild, with no one spice standing out, but giving it a bit more ooomph than a traditional salt and pepper seasoning. My oldest son gave them a rating of 10 out of 10, having decided that while he couldn't quite figure out what the seasonings were, he liked them much better than "plain" beans.

We will be using this blend again - perhaps I can even liven up cauliflower enough to get them both to eat it!

The chicken was a bit more difficult to judge. Yes, it was a bit spicy, but other than spice, again there was no seasoning that jumped out at any of us. My oldest did ask if there was Paprika in it but I think it was more from the picture on the bottle than from flavor. The flavor also tasted a bit better after a few bites - his initial rating was 5/6 out of 10, but by the time he was done his one wing, he had increased his rating and asked if I was going to make these again.

Again the spice was easy to dispense, though it took alot more turns of the grinder to get a good amount of seasonings in the marinade and in the breadcrumbs. Being able to see the coarseness of the grind as I added them into things was handy, but I could not even tell you how much I put in terms of measuring.

I'm going to use the Chicken Spice again, but next time I'm going to try it in hamburgers and see how it fairs.

From the looks of the Spice Depot website, these blends aren't readily available yet, but if you happen to come across one, they aren't a bad thing to add to your spice cupboard, and you might find having a blend very handy at dinner time!

Thanks, Carlen, for letting me try these out!

Crispy, Spicy Breaded Chicken Wings

1 1/2 pounds chicken wings and/or drumettes
1 cup plain yogurt
30-40 grinds of Always Grind Fresh Spicy Chicken seasonings, divided
2 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs
cooking spray

Place wings in large non-reactive bowl. Add yogurt and about 10 grinds of the seasoning, mixing well so that every wing is coated. Set aside in the fridge for 30 minutes. (Put on some music, dance!)
Preheat oven to 425F. Spray baking sheet well. Mix together bread crumbs and 30 or so grinds of the spicy seasoning. If you like things very spicy, add more.
One at a time, remove wing from yogurt, give a shake to remove any extra yogurt, then dredge in seasoned panko crumbs. Place breaded wing on baking sheet. Repeat until all the wings are covered, being sure they do not touch each other on the pan. Spray the tops of each wing with some cooking spray.
Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the wings over and bake for another 5-10 minutes.
No sauce required - Enjoy!