Chex Blox

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I thought the name I had come up with for these was pretty cute but one of my coworkers objected and decided they should be called “Chexicans” instead, because of the tenuous (maybe) connection of almonds to Mexico. Then he came up with Chex Yo Self, Chex-o-Slovakia (because Nutella was invented in the Czech Republic), and Early Chex Out (“like early check out, because if you eat too many you’ll die at a young age”). Then he arrived at “Dirty Chexican” because it made his fingers sticky. So I told him I would let you guys decide on a name because you are way smarter than he is. Annnnnnd GO!

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In any case, these little blocks of whatever-they-are are well-received wherever you want to take them. Aside from a wee bit of butter (that could be replaced with margarine), they’re dairy free, and the rice cereal makes them totally gluten-free as well. For nut-free folks you can easily skip the almonds. I totally made this recipe up as I went along so there’s no reason for you not to play around with it too!

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I started with a big-ass bowl and into it I dumped a whole box (about 5 cups) Chex cereal. It was the honey-flavoured but you could use plain too. Then went in about 1/2 cup sliced almonds (use any nut you like – these were on-hand), 1 cup unsweetened dessicated coconut, and 1 cup chocolate chips. Or about those amounts. I didn’t measure anything. I gave that a good stir.

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Into a small pot on the stove went about 3/4 cup Nutella and 3/4 cup peanut butter. The one picture I didn’t take doubles of is of course the one that turns out blurry.

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I stirred that around until it was fully melted and amazing.

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… okay so this one’s a little blurry too.

In another pot I melted about 2 tablespoons butter.

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Then tipped in a whole package (about 5 cups) marshmallows.

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Stirred that up until it melted. SO GOOEY.

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Then I added the hazelnut peanut butter to the cereal and stirred it for a little while.

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Then went in the marshmallow and that got stirred around.

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I plopped it into a high-sided baking sheet lined with parchment paper and pressed it down into place. You can shove it in the fridge to speed up the hardening process but it will happen on its own on the counter if it’s not too hot outside.

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When it’s hardened you can cut it into blocks.

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Store whatever doesn’t get eaten in an airtight container. Enjoy!

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Better Than the Box Brownies

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I know.  There are a plethora of brownie recipes on this website.  But until I find the perfect one, the search continues.  I found this one when both the Pie and I had meetings on the same day (which meant we had to change out of our pyjamas and actually go to work).  The Pie’s boss (and his family) had been complaining for a while that there had been no baked goods delivered, and my boss was doing the same.  So I whipped up a double batch of these in the hopes that they would shut up for a while be pleased.  These are more adult brownies, as they’re not as sweet as some recipes that use melted chocolate.

Start by preheating your oven to 325°F and line a 8″ x 8″ baking pan with parchment paper such that you end up with two handles out the sides.

Better Box Brownies 1

Find a heat-proof bowl and dump in 10 tablespoons butter (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons), 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder.

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Set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water and let the butter melt until the whole thing is a gooey, grainy mess.

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Remove from the heat and allow it to cool so it’s just warm to the touch.  Add in, one at a time, 2 cold eggs (if the mixture was hot you’d cook the eggs and that would be bad).

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Add in as well 1 teaspoon vanilla and beat the whole thing for a little bit until it’s nice and smooth.

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Now you’ll want to stir in 1/2 cup all purpose flour.  Stir that in really well, until it’s totally combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

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Continue to beat the batter until it’s smooth and glossy again.  This is very thick batter for brownies, so don’t be shocked if it takes you a bit of effort.

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Now, if you want, you can tip in 2/3 cup nuts of your choice.  The recipe calls for chopped walnuts, but I find them too bitter so I used pecans.

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Pour the batter into your parchment-ed pan.

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You’ll have to put some effort into smoothing it into the corners.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the centre is completely set, and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Some people making this recipe had to cook it for an additional ten minutes but mine was done after twenty (I’m using a convection oven).  Let it cool completely on a wire rack before lifting out and cutting into small pieces. I don’t have any pictures of the cut up brownies for you because I forgot and by the time I remembered they’d already been eaten.  Sorry!

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EAT IT FOR BREAKFAST: Quinoa Oatmeal

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I love, LOVE reading Thug Kitchen.  Believe it or not, this is actually how I cook most of the time.  With very colourful language.  I tend to tone it down so as not to offend your more delicate sensibilities.  However, you may find that sometimes the tenor of my writing changes a bit.  Usually you can blame that on a binge reading of Thug Kitchen, or a quick episode of Epic Meal Time.  If I had my own internet cooking show, you can bet there would be lots of yelling and throwing of things.  And probably more dropping-things-on-the-floor-then-picking-them-up-and-putting-them-back-in-the-bowl than you were really prepared for.  Because that’s real life for me.

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Anyway, I’m a firm believer in breakfast.  Yup, I’m one of THOSE.  Don’t even argue with me.  And I love me my parritch, so this quinoa oatmeal with steel cut oats appeals to the hippy highlander in me.

Quinoa Oatmeal 1

Start with 1/2 cup quinoa, and give that a good rinse in a sieve so that you wash off all the bitterness.

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Put 4 cups water in a kettle and set that on the stove to come to an almost boil (you’ll thank me for the shortcut later).

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Now you’re going to plop a bit of olive or coconut oil (1 teaspoon) in a saucepan, followed by 1 cup steel cut oats.

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Stir that around on medium heat until the oats start to smell nice and toasty.

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Chuck in the quinoa and the water and bring it to a boil (which will be almost immediately because you already almost boiled the water, remember?), then lower it to a simmer and let it cook as it is for about 20 minutes.

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Stir it occasionally so it doesn’t burn, but don’t fret too much about it.

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Add in about 1/2 cup of whatever kind of milk you like and turn off the heat.

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Serves 4, garnished with fruit and nuts or raisins and brown sugar or whatever floats your boat!

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Chocolate-Filled Eggs

Happy Easter!  And happy birthday to Kª, no longer the Lady Downstairs, but now the Lady in Russia!

Chocolate-Filled Eggs

I never do things and post them in time for the holidays, so this post is coming from you from the distant past … Easter 2012 to be precise.

I wanted to have a bit of a take-away goodie for our Easter dinner guests, and a cute little place-marker in the bargain, so I thought, why not give everyone a chocolate egg — inside a REAL egg?  There are lots of great tutorials out there on how to do this right: both Martha and Not Martha have good ones worth checking out.  Me, on the other hand?  I didn’t look at any of them, except to find out what not to do.  So your options here are simple: you can do it the right way, or you can do it my way.  This is your choice.  Let the chips (of eggshell) fall where they may.

Dyeing the Eggs

Start with 12 large eggs.  You may break one or two, so work with more than you need.  Using a sharp paring knife, give the bottom of one of your eggs a hard poke.  Not hard enough to puncture the egg sac, but enough to chip through the shell.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Once you’ve got a wee hole, start enlarging it by prying up bits of shell until you have a hole about the size of a dime.  It doesn’t have to be perfectly circular, and don’t worry if you get a few hairline cracks.  It will all work out in the end.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Peel up that layer of membrane as well.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Once you’ve got a decent hole, take a syringe with a long tube attached (ear syringes and irrigation syringes work well here) and poke it through the egg sac.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Flip the egg upside down and push air through the syringe into the egg so that it expels all the goo into your waiting bowl.  Save those egg innards for something later on.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

When your eggs are all empty, you’ll need to give them a quick rinse to get rid of anything left behind inside.  I poured a bit of hot water into each egg, enough to fill it about half way, and then gave it a good shake to dislodge anything grody inside.  Empty that out and you’re ready for the next phase.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Now, if you’re going to do this the right way, you’re going to sterilize your eggs first and THEN you’re going to dye them.  This is because agitating your eggs during the dyeing process will result in a mottled appearance in the dye.

I, however, actually wanted to have a mottled look, so I figured I would kill two birds with one stone and dye my eggs while they were sterilizing.  Easy peasy.  So I filled a large pot with water and added a cup of white vinegar.  I submerged all the eggs, making sure to let each one fill completely with water so it wouldn’t float.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Then I added the dye — I used food colouring here, some green and some blue to create a turquoise colour.  Then I boiled it for about 10 minutes, making sure to give it a stir to agitate the eggs really well.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Make yourself a little drying rack by poking skewers into the bottom of your now-empty egg carton.  Tada.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Using a slotted spoon, remove each egg and drain it of dye before sliding it onto a skewer to dry.  Leave that overnight to make sure that everything is well-set.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

See that nice spotting? I like it.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Everything was great until I dropped a spoon on the eggs and smashed two to smithereens.  And then there were ten.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Filling the Eggs

This is the fun part.  You can go crazy and fill your eggs with whatever you want.  I am looking for some kind of fruit and nut combination in my chocolate.

First, weigh a whole egg to figure out approximately how much stuff fits inside it.  Then take that number, multiply it by the number of eggs you have, and that’s how much stuff you need to go in the eggs.

So for me, my average egg weighed in at 60g.  So I needed 600g of chocolate, fruit, and nuts to make this work.  I actually needed more than that, so I suggest you up the chocolate amount significantly.  It’s amazing how much an egg will hold.

I used cashews and a dried fruit combination of cherries and pineapple.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

I blended that sucker in the food processor to turn it all into tiny bits.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Using a serrated knife, chop up your chocolate.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Melt it in a large bowl over a pot of simmering water until it’s smooth and glossy.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Mix in your minced goodies.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Pull your eggs off your makeshift drying rack and line them up inside the carton again, hole-side up.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Now, set a piping bag or a regular plastic freezer bag in a tall glass or pitcher so that one of the ends points down.  Fill that sucker with your melted chocolate.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Snip the end, and, working quickly, fill each of the eggs to the top with your chocolate goo. You may need to use your fingers to encourage the solid bits to go through the bag if there’s a bottleneck.  Allow to cool and set completely.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Just make sure to clean the chocolate off the shells before it sets. If you’re at all like me, there will be chocolate everywhere.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

I was also a little bit of chocolate short, so I melted more (just plain this time) to fill the last little space in the bottom of the egg.

Chocolate Filled Eggs

Now feel free to decorate them any way you wish.  I used some acrylic craft paint to paint each guest’s name on the eggs.  It’s hard to have good penmanship when you are writing on eggs. Apparently I am incapable of following around in a straight line. It always came up slanted every time.

Chocolate-Filled Eggs

Then I set each one in a wee “nest” made out of a cupcake liner and some mini chocolate eggs.  Surprise!

I love me some Granola

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My morning meal usually consists of coffee, juice, yogurt, and granola.  Like I could eat that stuff every single day.

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Until now, I’ve been buying our granola, but it’s quite expensive for the amount you get and it’s full of all sorts of weird additives and the like that I don’t really want to put in my system.

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My mother used to make granola for us sometimes when we were kids, so I figured that I could probably do it myself if I tried.  And it’s easy.  And you can use what you’ve got in your cupboards, or what you can scoop up at the bulk food store.  Which means you can customize each batch.

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So preheat your oven to 350°F and get out a large rimmed baking sheet.  I took the precaution of lining mine with parchment paper, so stuff wouldn’t stick.

The majority of granolas start with a base of oats, about 4 cups.  I used four double handfuls, because I measured my tiny hands once and put together that’s about what they hold.  And thus ends my list of measurements for this recipe.  Because you can do whatever you want.  So what else have I got going on here?  In addition to the oats, I have bran, ground flax, shredded coconut, sliced almonds, nutmeg, cinnamon, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, lavender flowers (yes), and then a selection of dried fruits: apricots, mango, and raisins.

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Take all your happy dry ingredients (minus the fruits) and plop them in a bowl.

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Mix ’em up.

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In another bowl, add about 1/2 cup runny honey,

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about 1/2 cup maple syrup,

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and about 1/2 cup melted butter.

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*** EDIT: If you’d like granola that forms clumps (and that’s my favourite kind), whisk 1 or 2 egg whites into a froth and add them to the mixture as well.  The protein in the whites will stick everything together during the baking process.  Just use caution when stirring mid-bake, as the amount you stir will affect the size of the clumps you create. ***

Pour that golden loveliness into the dry mixture and stir until all the dry ingredients are coated.

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Spread that stuff out on your baking sheet and chuck that in the oven for about 40 minutes.

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Make sure to stir with a spatula every 10-15 minutes or so to keep the stuff on the bottom from burning.

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While that’s on the go, get your dried fruit ready. I chopped up the apricots and mango slices a little to make them easier to get on a spoon.

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Remove from the oven and let it cool in the pan, stirring it occasionally to break up the chunks.  The finer grained your ingredients are, and the more sticky wet ingredients you use, the chunkier your granola will be.

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While it’s still a little warm, stir in your dried fruit.

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Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks, and enjoy whenever you want!

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My new favourite Gluten-Free Pecan Brownies

Gluten-Free Pecan Brownies

I don’t know what it is about chocolate, but it just lends itself so well to gluten-free cooking. This recipe I pulled from the most recent issue of EDF and I think it’s the best brownie recipe I’ve found in a long while (Frugal, I know you think you’ve made enough, but this one is worth a try!).

Gluten-Free Pecan Brownies

I made a triple batch for a friend’s bake sale, so ignore the massive quantities in my photos.  If you follow the recipe below you’ll end up with a single pan of ooey-gooey nutty brownies.

Gluten-Free Pecan Brownies

Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter a baking dish (remember that the smaller the dish, the thicker your brownies will be).  Lay some parchment paper in there as well, to make it easy for you to remove the brownies when they’re done.

Gluten-Free Pecan Brownies

In a small bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup cornstarch1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon fine salt.

Gluten-Free Pecan Brownies

In a larger, metal bowl, chop 12 oz chocolate (I used a mix of milk and dark).  You can use chocolate chips and melt the whole thing in the microwave if you want, but I’m picky.  Add in 6 tablespoons butter and melt until smooth and glossy.  Remove from the heat.

Gluten-Free Pecan Brownies

Add 3/4 cup granulated sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla to the chocolate mixture and then 3 eggs, added one at a time.

Gluten-Free Pecan Brownies

Add in your cocoa mixture and stir it as vigorously as you can until the mixture takes on a sort of cohesiveness that has it following the spoon around the bowl as you go.

Gluten-Free Pecan Brownies

Then you can stir in 1 cup chopped pecans if you like.  I prefer pecans to the more bitter walnuts, but you could also add almonds or hazelnuts or even white chocolate chips — whatever floats your boat.

Gluten-Free Pecan Brownies

Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top.  Bake for about 35 minutes, or until set and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs.  Put the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.

Gluten-Free Pecan Brownies

When it’s all cool, you can cut it up and eat it.

Gluten-Free Pecan Brownies

It was extremely difficult to cut all these brownies, which filled the house with the scent of butter and chocolate, and then wrap them all in little baggies and seal them in a box to be eaten by other people.  Ah well, it’s all for a good cause, right?  I just may have to make them again very soon.

Gluten-Free Pecan Brownies

O Canada: Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo Bars

Despite having eaten probably a thousand of these over the years, I have never made one before.  I guess I thought it would be hard.  It really isn’t.

The origins of the Nanaimo bar are shrouded in mystery.  Some say they are not from Nanaimo at all, that some housewife merely pointed to a town on a map when she named her crusty buttery bar.

Others (Canadians, mostly, and especially those from Nanaimo), insist that the Nanaimo bar belongs in its rightful birthplace on Vancouver Island.  For our purposes, we’ll go with the second story.  According to that second story, miners in town would take the bars with them when they went to work.

Nanaimo Bars

There are, of course, a hojillion recipes out there for Nanaimo bars.  There are a bajillion variations (my neighbour makes a variation with candy canes at Christmas).  I kept seeing ones that told you to use custard powder or pudding mix and I kept thinking, where is the original recipe?  How can I make this from scratch?  Then I realized that using a powder mix IS the original recipe.  The custard powder is there more for flavour and sticky-together-ness than it is for making an original custard.

Nanaimo Bars

This particular recipe, with some very minor modifications, comes from Nanaimo [Nah-NIGH-mo] itself, which is a tiny town on the tiny Vancouver Island, a few hours’ ferry ride away from Vancouver in British Columbia.  Apparently the mayor of Nanaimo held a contest several years ago to find the BEST Nanaimo bar recipe in town.  It was re-posted by the owners of the Buccaneer Inn, in Nanaimo.  How many times do you think I can say “Nanaimo”?  I bet it’s more than you think.

In a double boiler, or a bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water, melt 4 or 5 ounces dark chocolate with 2 tablespoons butter.

Nanaimo Bars

Stir it until it’s smooth and set it aside to cool to room temperature.

Nanaimo Bars

It will cool faster if you swish it up on the sides of the bowl.

Nanaimo Bars

In a stand mixer or with an electric mixer, whip together 1/2 cup room temperature butter, 3 tablespoons cream, 2 tablespoons custard powder (I used Bird’s), 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 2 cups icing sugar.

Nanaimo Bars

Keep going  until it’s light and fluffy.

Nanaimo Bars

In another bowl over a pot of water, melt and stir together 1/2 cup butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and 5 tablespoons cocoa.

Nanaimo Bars

Beat up an egg.

Nanaimo Bars

Add that into the melted butter, sugar, and cocoa, and stir to thicken.  The egg will cook as you do this, and the texture might turn out a little lumpy, but that’s fine.

Nanaimo Bars

Remove the mix from the heat and stir in 1 1/4 cups graham crumbs, 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (I used almonds), and 1 cup sweetened dessicated coconut.

Nanaimo Bars

You can easily chop the nuts in your food processor.

Nanaimo Bars

Press the coconut crumb mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 8″ square pan.  Lacking that, I used a 10″ x 7″ pan and hoped for the best.

Nanaimo Bars

Spread the yellow custard mixture over the top of the crumb base.

Nanaimo Bars

Pour on the melted, cooled chocolate and gently spread it to cover the whole area.

Nanaimo Bars

Chuck in the fridge and leave it to chill for at least an hour.

Nanaimo Bars

Cut it into squares and eat them all.

Nanaimo Bars

Store what you can’t in good conscience finish in an airtight container.

Nanaimo Bars