Naughty & Nice = Something for Everyone!

I can’t take all the credit for this post – the Naughty and Nice concept comes from a good friend of mine, Kate over at My Sweet Pancreas. And while we do share a number of similiarities, like The Vampire Diaries and shoes, when it comes to food choices we couldn’t be further apart. She’s a diabetic devoted to clean eating and yoga, and I am…not. I would put bacon on anything I could. Which brings me to the ‘Naughty’ portion of this post.

Peanut Butter-Bacon truffles

Behold, the Peanut Butter-Bacon truffle.

 

Now before any purists out there get all in a tizzy, I’m well aware that this isn’t technically a truffle. However, because it is a peanut butter ball filled with bacon-y goodness that happens to be shaped like a truffle and dipped in Callebaut milk chocolate, I’m calling it like I see it. The recipe comes from an old Crisco holiday baking booklet that came to me in a pack of my mother’s cookbooks that my sister brought on Thanksgiving. Not being a huge fan of Crisco – it has its place, just not in candy-making – I repurposed it and made the inclusion of my favourite ingredient, bacon. Because everything’s better with bacon!

 

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I’ve included a pic of the original recipe: I swapped out the Golden Crisco for unsalted butter and the chopped peanuts for crispy bacon pieces. Also, I tempered the chocolate and did away with the paraffin wax, not because it was easier but because we eat enough things that are fake and petroleum-based. And the ick factor was just too high…

 

 

 

 

 

 

In wanting to take advantage of the few days I had last week where I was virtually pain-free, I went on to create what I consider to be the exact opposite of this treat: raw ‘truffles’ using a blend of pureed dates and Cadbury’s Bourneville cocoa powder.

 

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I’ve been itching to try this for awhile now, figuring what with the trend toward healthy eating I should think about adding something that wasn’t loaded down with butter or bacon into my treat repertoire. I’m not sure what took me so long – it was dead easy to do!

Using this recipe as a starting point, I ended up using a blend of prunes and dates for added texture and sweetness and then, in a move that was clearly taken from someone else’s playbook, I decided to throw in some ground flax seed to upp the nutrient factor. Who am I?

Here’s the final recipe:

Cocoa Date Raw Truffles – yield 1 dozen

12-15 dates
2 tbsp hot water

Chop dates. In heatproof dish, pour hot water over dates and microwave on high for one minute. Stir until soft and well-blended.

Add
4 chopped prunes
1 tbsp ground flax seed
2 tbsp cocoa powder

Stir until smooth. Roll into one inch balls, then roll in more cocoa powder. Refrigerate until firm.

 

Whichever one you go with, whether you’re feeling naughty or nice, enjoy.

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A Rose by Any Other Name…

Wait – how does that go again…would it smell as sweet?

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If it were made of chocolate, it would.

Since I found some recipes online for chocolate clay – basically it’s made by adding 1/3 cup corn syrup to a pound of chocolate – I’ve become a little obsessed with making flowers. Well, roses mainly since so far that’s all I can do, but hey – it’s a start. I started with dark chocolate because its lower level of cocoa butter means it’s easier to work with. Those unstable little particles of fat are responsible for most of things that can go wrong with chocolate when you’re working with it. It’s also the reason you need to temper it in order to obtain that nice, glossy sheen. Unfortunately, because white chocolate is essentially cocoa butter, it took a bit longer to get the consistency right. But as they say, third time’s the charm.

If you haven’t yet given something like this a shot, you totally should. It’s completely easy and kind of fun – sort of like Playdoh for grown-ups.

Fit for The King Praline Bars – Internet Famous, Twitter-Style

I swear, this is the last post you’re going to see on the contest, but this is a little exciting:

Here’s a photo of the head chocolatier from Purdy’s, the chocolate company that sponsored that little contest I’ve been bugging you about, with his version of my Fit for The King Praline that was just posted up on Twitter.

Below, I’ve included the original picture of my recipe after it was made for the video. Just to compare and contrast, you know?

 

He did a pretty good job, not that I’m surprised seeing as he’s a professional and all. Colour me impressed!

For more info on this Canadian chocolate company, here’s a link to their website and Facebook page. Oh – and if you’re looking for the recipe, it can be found here beneath the video itself, which you can feel free to ignore. Along with some snippets of my old makeup life, which I should probably delete since they’re no longer relevant. But nevertheless it’s part of who I am, so I guess it stays.

Update: Chocolate Contest

Update to my previous post: sadly, I did not win the recipe competition. However I did place third – of how many, I’m not entirely sure – and will be getting a basket of chocolate in recognition of my efforts. So, not too shabby for a first try.

Now normally I would allow something like this to completely deflate me and never allow me to put myself out like that again. The inside voice, that one that is usually so quick to jump in at these moments with an ‘I told you so’ or a ‘why bother trying when you know you can’t win’, has been strangely quiet this time. Oh, it’s still whispering, but what used to come through as if on loudspeaker has been reduced to little more than a whisper from the corner.

Could it be that the very act of trying something different, of taking a chance, was enough this time to keep that nasty little voice at bay? Is it really that simple, or have I just gotten lucky this time? I suspect it’s more of the latter, although the courage that comes from mere action may have had something to do with it as well. Because this time, rather than give up entirely, it’s made me want to seek out more opportunities to stretch my skills. Preferably not in a video format, but certainly with creating and submitting my own ideas for recipes.

So in that sense, perhaps I did win big after all.

More Shameless Self-Promotion: Of Chocolate and Savvy Food Apps

It’s been a busy week, kicking off with a rather uncharacteristic move for me. I made a recipe video, and actually put it up on YouTube. For real.

You see, I’m not typically one who puts myself out there. I much prefer to hide somewhere in the background making sarcastic comments and rude gestures, but generally preferring not to be a centre of attention. But in order to get anywhere, in terms of career networking and the like, society seems to favour the extrovert-types. That whole ‘squeakiest wheel gets the grease’ kind of mentality. That’s why blogging and Twitter are so appealing to me – they allow me to engage in a certain amount of extrovert-esque behaviour while hiding behind a carefully edited Internet presence. Trouble is, I’m not all that good at the editing part  which means it’s often pretty much what you see is what you get, and I’m even worse when it comes to the ass-kissing, which is the other method that society prefers. And then there’s that horrible habit I have of going off on tangents that bear little to no resemblance to the original topic at hand…

What was I talking about? Oh right, my video.

I didn’t just randomly decide to ‘challenge myself’ by making a video – I had a reason to do it. A contest held by Canadian chocolate company, Purdy’s Chocolates, that I found out about on Twitter is what compelled me; the grand prize up for grabs is a trip for two to The Chocolate Show in New York City. I thought to myself, what do I have to lose exactly? And since I just happened to weasel my way into a very casual position at a local chocolate shop (more on that later – still very new), it seemed rather fitting as a next step. All I needed to do was come up with a concept. That’s where daily baking and Food Gawker-stalking come in really handy – they serve as excellent sources for inspiration. The only thing I really knew for sure is that I wanted to do something using bacon, because I’m a huge fan of the chocolate and bacon combination. And I know for a fact I’m not the only one. I also wanted to do something that represents my love of 50s culture, rock n’ roll and Southern food. So, not too tall of an order, right?

And then it hit me: Elvis bars. Or, so to avoid any messy copyright issues with Graceland, Fit for The King bars. A deliriously delicious combination of those things Elvis held most dear: peanut butter, banana, and bacon. It was a flavour combination first introduced to me by a cupcake called the Hunka-Hunka Burnin’ Love, which is comprised of a banana cupcake topped with peanut butter buttercream and a slice of bacon. In short, it’s the best little piece of Memphis flavour north of the Mason-Dixon line. But I didn’t want to copy this or even make another cupcake version, I wanted to make it into a candy. A bit more research led me to  look at penuches and pralines, so I figured I would just combine the two concepts into one and make it a praline cut in squares. This reflects my own baking roots that started in my mother’s kitchen with the trusty Women’s Institute cookbook at my side – those ladies do love their bars. I also somehow managed to incorporate my own Anglo-Scottish heritage into the candy’s design: with its peanut butter praline base topped with a mix of chopped up peanut brittle, banana chips and candied bacon it resembles the popular tea-time treat, Millionaire’s Shortbread.

So I entered, and have made it to the finals. Not by sheer talent, mind you, but by virtue of being one of only three who actually entered. But hey – it’s a start, right? And although my recipe will ultimately be made and judged by their head chocolatier and a panel of judges at their offices in Vancouver, they are still offering the public a chance to vote on their favourites via their Facebook page. Which leads me – finally – to the purpose of writing all of this: please…VOTE FOR ME! Basically, I’ve never really been in a position to win anything before – possibly because I don’t tend to even put myself in the running – but  perhaps this could mark a turning point? If people seem to like my video or recipe, perhaps that might be enough to inspire the confidence to do more of both.

The YouTube link for the video is here, where you’ll find the recipe listed in the description. Feel free to share and comment, just please – not on my chins. I’m not sure whether it’s the camera angle, the camera itself, or the cumulative effect of doing nothing but baking up sweets or making chocolates for the past few months, but let’s just say that I’m not a fan of myself on camera. Cast your vote here before 9pm Pacific time on Sunday, October 21st

Oh, and seeing how it’s the weekend and all, you may want to check out my latest post for She’s So Savvy. It’s about the various food iPhone apps I use on an almost daily basis, whenever I’m looking for something to make or go eat somewhere new. You can read it here.

 

Milk Chocolate-Dipped Potato Chips. Oh Yes, I Did.

And trust me when I tell you that they are every stinking bit as heavenly as you want them to be, as well as being dead simple to make. But let’s go back and see what brought us to this point, shall we?

I was having a rough day yesterday. Want to know how I know ? Because I found myself itching to make chocolates of some sort. I only tend to do that when I’m feeling at my lowest of lows. And the reason for it is quite simple: chocolate demands your attention in such a way that you have no choice but to give it exactly that. Chocolate won’t let you think about anything else. It’s not its fault – it just is what it is. Unlike the notoriously temperamental fussiness of the macaron, where despite even the most careful blending of almond flour and egg white it could either fall or crack if you happen to look at it wrong. It’s just frustrating for the sake of being frustrating, it would seem. But I think that the French secretly made it that way on purpose whereas chocolate – if I may quote Lady Gaga – was born this way. In short, I am fully aware that chocolate is a demanding mistress, but I will always heed her siren call.

It’s not lost on me that chocolate also contains certain mood-boosting ingredients such as tryptophan, an amino acid that leads to the production of serotonin which regulates our sleeping patterns and moods in the brain. But then, turkey also has an abundance of this chemical- but as good as turkey is it’s not quite so smooth, creamy and delicious.

Can you tell that today may not be so much better? It’s not quite as bad as a chocolate-making day, but still, not the best couple of days I’ve had.  I hate waiting at the best of times, but today finds me waiting not on one but two major things that could have serious impact on my future – for better or for worse. Wow, that sounded a little more ominous than it should have. Let’s move right along to the chocolate dip chips.

I’ve been wanting to do this for ages, having seen some in a chocolate shop earlier this year. It had such an effect on me that I couldn’t tell you which shop it was – that’s how focused on the chocolate with chips. It was one of those white light beaming down from the Heavens moments where the only thing that exists is you and that piece of chocolate. And I wasn’t even eating it; I was just imagining the silky smooth sweetness of the chocolate mingling with the salty crunch of the chip. That’s quite the impression, wouldn’t you say? I picked up some chips during this week’s grocery shop, with the intention of baking up this chocolate-dipped potato chip cookie recipe I had stumbled upon whilst trolling foodgawker. And then I thought to myself why am I going to the trouble of making a cookie, when what I really want is just the chips and chocolate? Of course, the cookie looks delicious but it was really just the means to an end. That end being dipping that lovely salty potato chip into some melted milk chocolate and getting it into my mouth in fairly short order.

Did I mention it was easy? In the past when I’ve been in such a state I tended to want to make something more elaborate like truffles or fondant creams, something that requires tempering the chocolate but this time I wanted it quick. Instant gratification. So I grabbed some milk chocolate chips from the cupboard and set to work with a microwave proof bowl, and ten minutes later I was eating the dream.

And if you’ve got ten minutes, so could you. You may notice I say 12 chips. Why not the whole bag or can, you may ask. Because as tasty as they are, unlike what the commercials say, they are decadent that you really don’t want to eat more than one. Well okay, maybe you do – but you shouldn’t. You’ll get what I mean soon enough…

 

Milk Chocolate Dipped Potato Chips 

  •    1/2 cup milk chocolate chips – you could also use dark or even white, depending on your preference
  •    1 tsp neutral-flavoured cooking oil (I used almond)
  •    12 potato chips – Ruffles or Pringles-type ones work best because they tend to be sturdier and more able to carry the weight of the chocolate
  •     1 large baking sheet or tray and waxed or parchment paper, for drying

Prepare the sheet or tray by covering surface with waxed paper, set beside where you plan to dip.

Combine chocolate chips and oil in a microwave proof bowl.

With microwave set at 50%  power begin to slowly melt the chips in 30 second increments, stirring frequently until all the chips are melted and texture is smooth.

Gently dip half of a potato chip into the melted chocolate so that the bottom half is covered. You may need to use a spoon to help evenly coat it – stirring the chip around could lead to breakage. Once coated, place on prepared sheet to dry.

Repeat process with remaining chips until chocolate is gone.

Allow chips to dry for about two hours at room temperature, or place in fridge for an hour to speed up the process. Then enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Treatzilla. The End of All Cravings as You Know Them

Some treat recipes are passed down generation by generation as a family tradition. Others come by way of a quick search online or a newspaper or magazine article. And then there are the ones that kind of just…appear, out of nowhere it would seem in your mind, leaving you wondering what the heck that’s all about. That’s the kind of treat Treatzilla is – the kind that gets inside your head and just refuses to leave you in peace until you finally give in and make it.

It started out simply enough from a popcorn ball cake recipe, but the original recipe used jujubes. Now, I know there are many people out there who’d be all over that – and it is a great recipe in its own right, so I will definitely be posting it as well – but I’m not that crazy about fruit candies like that. I was looking for something far more decadent. Something that would be sure to satisfy almost any craving it came across. And so with that in mind I just started digging through cupboards to see what I had on hand that could be considered snack-y, then take it from there. Turns out that I had quite a lot of options, almost enough for more than one treat, but then I thought – Why Choose? Why not just throw it all into one giant Mega-Treat?

And with that, Treatzilla was born.

For those people who can’t live without jelly beans or Gummie Bears, I threw some in on the side to make it complete. Believe me, if I could have figured out how to squeeze some bacon into this, I would have. But I think it’s probably more than enough to handle on its own. However, if bacon is something you can’t live without then feel free to make those necessary modifications. I completely understand

Treatzilla – a Seven Aprons Original Recipe 

(inspired by Popcorn Cake from Bruce County Women’s Institute cookbook – recipe below)

1 and a 1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup corn syrup

1/2 cup brown sugar

250g bag marshmallows, divided into three parts as follows: half bag, then half bag minus 1/4 cup reserved.

1 Tbsp butter (salted, unsalted-doesn’t really matter)

1 cup pretzels, crushed

4 cups popcorn

3/4 cup chocolate chips

3/4 cup butterscotch chips

1. Melt peanut butter and corn syrup with half bag of marshmallows over medium heat till incorporated. Add butter and brown sugar, stir till fully blended. 

2. Add remaining ingredients in order and stir until all are covered by the peanut butter

3.  Lightly oil a tube or Bundt pan, then sprinkle 1/4 reserved marshmallows evenly along the bottom. Pour mixture into prepared bundt pan.

 4. Allow to cool and set before unmolding onto plate. Top with glaze and allow to cool before slicing.

5. Serve on a plate with a side of jelly beans, jujubes, red licorice or Gummie Bears  if desired. 

Glaze 

1/4 cup chocolate chips

1/4 butterscotch chips

4 Tbsp whipping cream

2 Tbsp butter

1. In one small bowl, combine chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp butter and melt slowly in microwave at 50% power in 20 second increments until combined. Stir frequently.

2. Stir in 2 Tbsp whipping cream until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Set aside.

3. In another small bowl, repeat Steps 1 and 2 with the butterscotch chips, remaining butter and cream. 

4. Alternating between the chocolate and butterscotch mixtures,  pour by spoonfuls over the cooled and inverted cake in whatever pattern (or non-pattern) is desired. 

 

Original recipe. As you can see, I made a few modifications…

Mental for Macarons, Messing with Tradition

I went with this title because it reminded me of Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, and that’s kind of where I find myself with the macaron right now. Now that it appears we’ve reached some sort of understanding and mutual cooperation, it’s all I can think about making. But that’s not the point of this blog – the point is to experiment with all manner of baked goods, wherever my whims or fancies might take me. But I do find it interesting – almost empowering, in a bizarre way – that the one confection that had eluded me for so long, to the point where I had become almost terrified of it, is now the bakery version of my BFF.

Take a good look at these macaron pictures side by side. One batch is baked in the Parisian tradition, with ground almonds and icing sugar sifted twice through etc. The other, however, is an experimental batch made with rice flour and dried lavender, adapted from this recipe by a New York City chef. And as a complete aside, isn’t there something extremely attractive about a young man who obsesses over making macarons? Or is that just me?

Anyways – I think it’s fairly obvious which ones are made with the lavender and rice flour combination. In hindsight I think that the texture would have come out much better had I just stuck faithfully to the recipe. But no. That’s just not the way I roll, it would seem. In fact, it would seem that once I managed to get my first ever batch of chocolate macarons to come out with the properly domed, uncracked shell and the all-important pied, that I started looking for other ways to create something that had been nothing but another failed dream for so long. To put it another, much more succinct way: once I did something right the first time, rather than continue to do it that way so as to become a master of it and then moving on to finding other options, I jump straight into looking for other options. So really, macarons are like a metaphor for my life. That might explain why they remained such a struggle for me for so long. It seemed that the harder I worked, the more painstakingly I followed the directions to the letter, the result was always the same: failure. I felt like I was going in circles and gave up on them altogether for quite awhile. Until I moved into my wonderful new house with my ancient yet insanely reliable Eaton Viking oven (that I am never, ever getting rid of for as long as I can help it) that I decided to give them another go with that David Lebovitz recipe. And the rest is blog history, really.

Wow…that got unintentionally deep there for a moment. But it’s true – as soon as I’d read about his own macaron attempts and his research from actual Parisian chefs who created them daily, I relaxed a little. Lebovitz is a world-renowned pastry chef, who has written a number of books on the subject of baking . If he had trouble baking macarons for the first time, then obviously someone like myself – with no formal training in pastry arts whatsoever and not nearly as much baking experience as him – would hit  few snags in the quest for almond-meringue perfection. And I think therein lies my problems in general: that I am my own worst enemy and that I have insanely high expectations of myself. I seek instant perfection, and if I don’t attain it then it’s automatically ‘my fault’ for whatever reason. Because I’m not smart enough, I’m not young enough, I’m not pretty or thin enough…the list could go on and on. Never does it occur to me that I may need some time to learn whatever skill or technique it is that I’m attempting to master. If I were good enough, it would just happen naturally. And when it doesn’t, it’s obviously because there is something wrong with me.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Yeah…when you type it all out like that it really is quite ridiculous to have such unrealistic demands of oneself. You wouldn’t expect that of your friends, your children, husband or wife. But I’m curious, how many of you out there feel kind of the same way? Because I know I can’t be alone in this.

Okay, so that concludes the impromptu therapy portion of our post today, and now back to the subject at hand: macarons. Part of me – the practical, non-crazy part – went looking for ways to create macarons with something other than almond flour, since that effectively denies most nut allergy sufferers of the joys of these little domes of heaven. A quick search in Google proved that I wasn’t the only one. I discovered that people were making their macarons, and achieving proper domage and pied, with such ingredients as coconut flour, ground pumpkin seeds and just straight up meringue bolstered with a bit of corn starch. But the main comment that links them all is that macaron purists would not consider these creations worthy of bearing the name since they have not been made in ‘the proper tradition’ .

To which I reply: You make your own traditions  as you roll along.

 

 

 

Adventures in Ice Cream-Making, Without the Machine

I’ll admit, I’m a little behind on my blog posting of late. But it’s for good reason, at least, and not just procrastination. It’s because I’ve been quite busy actually baking and making stuff. There were a number of days where it was simply too hot to bake, so my thoughts turned once again to ice cream. And I wasn’t about to have a little thing like not having a machine stop me. I’m not certain my arm has quite forgiven me for that decision. Actually no, that’s not entirely true: I’m pretty sure all was forgiven once I’d had a chance to sample the Malted Chocolate, which was the second flavour I’d made in the past few days. But now I’m just getting ahead of myself. First we need to talk about the Vanilla Bean with Dark Chocolate Chips and Candied Pecans.

The thing about baking with egg whites is that you’re often left with a number of egg yolks. Since I don’t generally like to waste ingredients (and am also cheap) I was always at a loss as to what to do with them. Until I discovered that they are a main ingredient for traditional ice cream. Well, it’s really more of a frozen custard. Either way, who cares? Just show me what to do so I can get it in my mouth already!

My first attempt with the Banana Ice made with coconut milk came out more as a freeze than a cream – I attributed it to the coconut milk. But it was when it happened again with the vanilla chocolate chip, although not to the same extreme, that I realized a bit more research was needed. I’d followed the directions properly, or so I thought. This particular recipe came from a package of Junket, also known as rennet which is a common enzyme used for making cheese or custard as it encourages milk to curdle. It is an ingredient most often found in British recipes. I feel like this may have helped with achieving the creamier texture, but the ice crystals were still a bit too large and gave the ice cream a grittiness that wasn’t unpleasant. it just didn’t feel like proper ice cream. Upon that further research I’d discovered two things I’d done wrong: I didn’t let it cool for long enough before putting it covered in the freezer, and I didn’t remove it from the container to stir it. Okay, that’s actually three things. But these are three vitally important things to remember if you’re daft enough to try making ice cream without an ice cream maker.

Armed with this new knowledge, I set about making one of my favourites: chocolate ice cream. This was a proper frozen custard ice cream recipe that I’d gotten from this book I’d picked up somewhere awhile back. It was at the last minute, much like the pecans I’d candied quickly in a frying pan with butter and brown sugar for the vanilla, when I decided I was going to throw in some malt powder to spice things up a little bit. I followed my new method – allow to cool for an hour to room temperature, freeze uncovered for an hour then turn out into bowl to stir before returning to the freezer still uncovered. And the result, in my humble opinion, was spectacular. I mean sure, it doesn’t have the emulsifiers or polymers that storebought ice cream has to keep it at the ideal scoopable temperature at all times, so you have to move it from freezer to fridge about twenty minutes before you plan on eating it. But the flavour…dear sweet lord, the flavour is unprecedented. My husband, who is not a huge fan of ice cream, said it was hands-down the best chocolate ice cream he’s ever tasted. The taste of malt was subtle, but definitely there; I’m thinking next time to add a fourth tablespoon as well as remember to stir it in during the custard-cooking process.

Actually, I’m thinking that next time may involve something with candied bacon. As well as waiting till I have a machine. I can feel my right arm relaxing already.