Bacon Avocado Bites

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Today is Victoria Day, the final day in a long weekend that in Canada is the official herald of the summer to come. It’s the long weekend where people get together for barbecues and outdoor parties, where people open up their cottages and put their boats in the water. It’s the weekend where garden enthusiasts can finally plant all those frost-fearing plants they’ve been keeping inside. It’s a weekend to spend enjoying fresh air and the company of friends.

The Pie is out of town at a tournament this weekend and so I had all sorts of social events planned to keep me from getting lonely and bored by myself. At the eleventh hour, however, literally as I was walking out the door on Friday night to the first of my social engagements, I realized I had picked up a stomach bug from one of my coworkers (despite our best efforts) and I had to cancel everything. While it was a mild case (I’m mostly fine now), I knew it was infectious and one of my events was a brunch with Gen. Zod, a pregnant Atlas, and my immunocompromised mother. So that was a no-go.Avocado Bacon Bites 7

But I’d already bought all the food for it, and so in the moments when I wasn’t feeling terrible, I decided to make smaller amounts of my recipes for the brunch anyway, just to keep myself from going stir crazy with only Gren for company. This one from Sweet Treats & More is ridiculously easy and can be scaled for events of any size. They make great finger food for brunch, lunch, or even dinner. Start by setting your oven to broil and haul out a broiling pan or a baking sheet with a cooling rack set in it.

Then set to and halve, pit, and peel however many ripe avocados you want to use.

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Cut those up into as close to cubes as you can get. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper. I feel like a small gob of goat cheese, brie, or a pecan wouldn’t go amiss tucked into the little indentation left by the pit.

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Then grab a slice of turkey bacon (you can use whatever bacon you want for this of course) for each cube of avocado and wrap it up. Jab a toothpick into it to keep it shut. Wouldn’t want that juicy avocado to escape.

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Lay the little packages on your pan and shove them in the oven.

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I think it depends on how high your rack is and how hot your broiler is because the original recipe called for 10-15 minutes and mine took 8 minutes before they were a little on the charred side. So keep an eye on them.

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Tasty, tasty little bites!

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Treats Week: Salted Toffee

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I know: after overindulging during the holidays, the last thing you want to think about is highly caloric treats.   January is time for moderation and abstinence.

HA.

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We all of us know that this is complete hooey.

Even Gren knows it’s bull pucky.  And he’s a DOG.

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January, and its evil-yet-slightly-shorter twin, February, are both miserable.  Have you looked outside recently?  Blech.  Don’t come to Canada in January or February.  If you do I don’t think you’ll stay long.

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How do we survive this gray misery?  SUGAR.  And lots of it.  Personally, I need the calories to wade through waist-deep snow while my dolphin-corgi hybrid takes his evening constitutional.

So this week I will be featuring three easy treats that are each decadent in their own ways.  These will help you get through the worst of the winter.  And if you have the fortitude to resist them, then keep the recipes on hand for the next time the indulgences of the holidays roll around.

Today we’re going to make ourselves some glorious salted toffee.

Start by buttering a 10″ x 15″ rimmed baking sheet. Set that aside.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and plop 2 cups pecan halves (or pecan pieces) on a baking sheet. Not the buttered one. You’ll notice here I am using hazelnuts. I was out of pecans. But pretend they’re pecans. Stick those in the oven and toast them, stirring once or twice, for about 8-10 minutes.

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Allow them to cool completely and then chop them roughly (saves you effort if you use pecan pieces instead).  Chop half of those up to fine little pieces, and set both the roughly chopped and finely chopped pecans aside.

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In a large saucepan (because remember, sugar expands quite a bit when it boils), mix together 3 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 cup water.

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Heat on medium until the butter is all melted, then increase the heat to medium-high and, stirring occasionally, let that mixture come up to 310°F on a candy thermometer.

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Should take about 20 minutes or so.

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Remove from the heat and carefully stir in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (be careful, this is where it gets fizzy) and the finely chopped half of your pecans.

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Carefully pour your hot toffee into a rimmed baking sheet and let it cool until it’s fully set, about 30 minutes.

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If you want your toffee pieces to come out even, you can score the toffee with a sharp knife after about 10 minutes of setting.  Make sure to wipe off your knife with warm water after each slice for easier cutting.

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While that’s cooling, chop up 12 ounces of chocolate (the darker the better) and melt it over a double boiler or heat safe bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water.

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Remove that from the heat and allow to cool a little bit (so it’s not molten) before pouring it over your set toffee. Smooth the chocolate down with a knife or offset spatula (honestly, it’s a handy item you won’t use often but when you use it, it will rock your cooking experience). Sprinkle the chocolate with your roughly chopped pecans and let it sit for about 20 minutes, until the chocolate has cooled but is still in a squishy state.

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Then sprinkle THAT with about 2 teaspoons fleur de sel (or coarse sea salt, if that’s what you’ve got).

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Chill the pan for about an hour, until it’s all set and lovely, then twist the pan to release the toffee and cut or break into pieces.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks or in the fridge for about a month.

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Spy Tarts

Secret AGENT Tarts, Secret AGENT Tarts, he’s givin’ you a number, and takin’ AWAY your name …

Baking is much more exciting if your recipes come from a spy, like this one did.

I have a friend who works for CSIS, which is the Canadian equivalent of the CIA (likewise, our RCMP is the FBI).  And like all good spies, he is multi-talented, and thus has a very good recipe for butter pecan tarts. Or butter tarts.  Or raisin tarts.  Or whatever you call them.  I call them SPY TARTS.  I had to call him at work to get this recipe.  Espionage was involved.

(I also applied to work at CSIS a few years ago, and after a very entertaining 3-hour interview, both CSIS and I decided we wouldn’t be a good fit, though I’m sure they kept that file on me somewhere.  I must be too awesome to be a spy.)

So here is your top-secret recipe.  It’s top secret because it’s super easy.

At some point I will expand my repertoire to include pastry, but at the moment you will just have to be satisfied with pre-made Tenderflake tartlet shells.  This recipe makes 12 3″ tarts.

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Gather together the following:

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup shortening
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup raisins
Divide the raisins evenly among the 12 pre-made shells and place them on a baking sheet.
Mix all the other ingredients together in a bowl.
Fill each shell 3/4 full.
If you have mixture left over do not be tempted to overfill your cups, as they will bubble and get everywhere.
Bake on the bottom rack of your oven for 12-15 minutes.  Be careful not to overbake.  Of course if you underbake then they will stay runny. 
Remove from oven.  They should be all foamy and bubbling and the crust should be a nice brown.  Place a pecan half on top of each tart and allow to cool and solidify.  The reason I put the pecans on after they are cooked is I find that the pecans tend to burn if you do it before cooking.
EAT!

Fix This Recipe! (Gooey Caramel Pecan Squares)

When I’m arriving at an interview for my research, I like to bring the participant a little something that I made as a thanks for their time.  It’s kind of a rule for me.  I made the following recipe for a family I interviewed a couple of weekends ago and I was disappointed at how it turned out — I’d appreciate your views on what you think went wrong and how we could make this a super awesome dessert.  In light of this being Groundhog Day, I would say this recipe saw its shadow and needs a do-over.

I pulled this out of Esther Brody’s The 250 Best Brownies Bars & Squares, which has also yielded the no-bake peanut butter crunchy squares and the extreme comfort brownies.  So I figured this would be another excellent concoction.  I followed the recipe exactly, with the exception of adding salt, which I never do anyway.  And I doubled the recipe, of course.  Something, however, went horribly, horribly wrong …

Preheat your oven to 425°F and line an 8″ square cake pan with foil, then spray the foil with cooking spray or grease with butter.  I used spray.

For the Base:

In a bowl, mix together 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup granulated sugar.

Using your handy-dandy pastry blender (or two knives), cut 6 tablespoons cold butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.

One tablespoon at a time, sprinkle 3 tablespoons ice water over the mixture, mixing lightly after each addition.  The dough should be just moist enough to hold together at this point.

I found I had to add more water in order to get the dough to stick together, probably about double the amount.

Press the dough evenly into your prepared pan.

Bake it in your oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown, then place on a rack to cool completely.  When I pulled mine out of the oven it was bubbling with butter and not golden at all.  I think I would perhaps use less butter.  Suggestions?

For the Filling:

In a saucepan over high heat, melt together 3 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup light corn syrup, 1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup whipping cream, and 1 teaspoon white vinegar.  Bring the goo to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla until the bubbling stops (bet you didn’t know it would bubble when you added vanilla, did you?)

Pour the filling over the cooled base (I let the filling cool a bit first, as it was rather molten).

Sprinkle the top with 3/4 cup toasted pecans and set aside to cool.

For the Topping:

In a double boiler or bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate and stir until smooth.  Let cool very slightly and then drizzle over the pecans.  Chill until the chocolate is set.

Using the foil as a handle, transfer your chilled squares to a cutting board and cut into squares.  My problem here?  The darned caramel didn’t set.  It got thicker, sure, but still remained steadfastly liquid.  What did I do wrong?

The bottom was pretty rubbery, too, which made eating this sweet confection impossible without a jackhammer, but it is definitely worth trying again, because while it didn’t work out the way I had anticipated, at least it wasn’t floor pizza.

Cocoa-Caramel-Pecan Cookies

At the end of October I dog-sat for one of my neighbours, KDB.  She has two Scottie dogs, Hamish and Flora.

I wanted to leave her something nice to come home to, and to take advantage of the fun that is her kitchen.  It’s blue.  All of it.  And whatever isn’t blue tends to have the image of a Scottie on it.

Kristopf came over to help me make cookies (but in reality to use my computer).This is a recipe that I kind of invented myself, adapted from the basic Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.  I hope you like it.

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Soften 2 cups butter and plop it in a large bowl.Cream it together with 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 1 1/2 cups brown sugar.Crack 4 eggs into a bowl and whisk them silly.

Add the eggs to the butter stuff and mix well.

In a separate bowl, mix together 4 1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 6 to 8 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa.  Add this to the goo mixture a little at a time and stir well.

Now, stirring the whole time (you may need to use your hands at this point as the dough gets hard to handle), add in 2 1/2 cups pecan pieces, 2 cups butterscotch chips, and 2 cups chocolate chips.Drop spoonfuls of the dough on ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating halfway through for even baking.  After removing them from the oven, leave the cookies on the sheets for a few minutes, then remove them to a rack to cool completely.

They are super good with your afternoon tea.

Try not to eat them all at once.

 

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad with Goat Cheese and Pecans


The Pie doesn’t particularly like Brussels sprouts, but the rest of us adore them.  To find a compromise this past Thanksgiving I pulled inspiration from a number of different recipes, and also from a salad I’d eaten at The Black Tomato two nights before, and came up with something that we all loved.

I’m not going to give you measurements for this recipe, because to be honest I didn’t measure anything, just kind of threw it in when the inspiration struck me.  Besides, everyone has their own preferences as to amounts and proportions in a salad.  Just estimate and you’ll be fine.  This version served ten people with tons of leftovers.

First, you cut up your Brussels sprouts.  We tried them first with a mandolin, but then found it was easier just to slice them thinly with a stupid sharp knife.  Cut off the tough stem part at the bottom and discard any bruised or torn outer leaves, then carefully shave those suckers down.We ended up with a medium-sized bowl full of bits of mini-cabbage.Because this was sort of a do-at-the-last-second kind of salad, and because Thanksgiving at the last second gets a little hectic as things come out of the oven and the turkey needs to be carved, I wanted to set up a mise en place for this so everything would be ready to go when I needed it.  Accordingly, I prepared the rest of my ingredients ahead of time.

Three finely chopped green onions.

Two finely sliced shallots.

Two handfuls dried, sweetened cranberries.

A handful each finely chopped radicchio and Boston lettuce.

Goat cheese, or chèvre.

Pecans, ground in my food processor.

Pecan pieces, for garnish.

Mix together the goat cheese, cranberries, and ground pecans.

Set that aside for now.

In a large frying pan or skillet melt about a third of a cup of butter at medium heat.  Toss in your green onions and shallots and sauté for a few minutes until softened.

Chuck in your massive amounts of Brussels sprouts and stir them around until they’re thoroughly coated in butter and start to wilt.

Add in the raddichio and the Boston lettuce and stir to mix.  Drizzle gently with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a healthy dash of real maple syrup.  Toss to coat and remove from heat.

Add in your goat cheese mixture and toss it well.

Sprinkle with pecan pieces and serve warm.

Gooey Bars

This recipe comes from my favourite book, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.  In this particular book, the authors call their bar the Baked Bar, after their establishment in New York, but my cousin’s wife told me that her grandmother used to make her what she called Hello Dolly Bars.  I call them Gooey Bars, because that’s what they truly are.  Many of the wedding guests described them as “life-altering experiences”, but I’ll leave you to determine that for yourself.

The ingredients are simple, but the crust is a little fussy, so the recipe from start to finish takes quite a while.

Preheat your oven to 300°F.

Line a 9 x 13″ pan with aluminum foil and butter it.  The foil makes it much easier to remove everything from the pan after you’ve baked it.

Put a piece of parchment on a baking sheet and spread 2 cups shredded coconut across it.  Bake for 5 or so minutes until the coconut begins to turn golden brown.  Toss the coconut and bake for another 3 minutes or so.

Toss the coconut in a bowl with 2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs.

Melt 1 cup butter and pour it in.

Mix it all up with your hands or a fork, and then use your hands to press the crust mixture into the pan.  Smooth the surface and level it.

Refrigerate the crust for 15 minutes, then bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let the crust cool completely.

Now for the rest.

Raise the oven temperature to 325°F.

Spread 1 1/3 cups pecans over a sheet pan and toast them for a little while until brown.

Spread those over the bottom of the cooled crust and add 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips as well.

Coarsely chop up about 9 oz white baking chocolate (that’s 9 squares).

Spread those on top, as well as 3/4 cup butterscotch chips.

The fun part here is when you pour two cans of sweetened condensed milk over top the whole thing.  Just drizzle that on there.

Shake the pan gently to evenly distribute the milk.  Of course, if you have really thick milk you might want to use a spatula to spread it out.

Bake the whole thing for 30-40 minutes, making sure to rotate the pan every ten minutes.  When it’s all brown and bubbly it’s all done.  Transfer it to a wire rack and let it cool completely before cutting into squares and serving.

Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and keep them in the fridge for up to four days.