ChickenSalsaCheese

Cait:  the whole recipe is: you take chicken and you put salsa and cheese.

You can read the instructions above ↑ or the ones below ↓.  The results will be the same.

Chicken Salsa Cheese 11

This recipe is an oldie, but a goodie.  The first time Cait cooked me dinner, probably over a decade ago, it was this dish.  She’s been pressuring me to put it on the blog for a while now, so I’m capitulating.  

This recipe involves three ingredients, no more, no less.  Though if you wanted to add a side of rice or other vegetables, feel free.  Only Cait will judge you.  And she will judge you hard.

Chicken Salsa Cheese 2

Cait and I have been trying for years to come up with enough ridiculous three-ingredient recipes to make a cookbook.  So far, we have ChickenSalsaCheese.  Although really that’s probably enough, with variations like ChickenFingersSrirachaBrie. It would be a quick read.

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Take a dish.  Put some chicken in it.  However much you want.  Or that fits in the dish, probably in a single layer. I may have put some salt and pepper on the chicken. Don’t tell Cait.

Chicken Salsa Cheese 5

Take some salsa.  Put that in the dish too, so it’s all up in the chicken’s grill.  Whatever kind you want.

Chicken Salsa Cheese 7

Take some cheese.  Grate some.  However much you want.  Then sprinkle that on top of the salsa and the cheese.

Chicken Salsa Cheese 8

Bung that in the oven.  Cait cooks everything for 45 minutes at 375°F.  Even hot dogs, she says.  So she bakes this for 45 minutes.  I suggest a little less, but that will depend on how much chicken you have and whether or not it’s on the bone.  And how much insulating salsa and cheese you’ve plonked on it.  Properly cooked chicken has an internal temperature of 160°F and its juices run clear if you cut it.  So go with that benchmark and you should be good.

Chicken Salsa Cheese 10

For the sake of colour and substance (I am married to a boy after all), we served our ChickenSalsaCheese with rice and some kale chips.  The Pie even folded his into a wrap.  Cait was unhappy when I texted her a photo of it (not an Instagram – I’m not that much of a hipster), but she lives 3000km away and can’t do anything about it. Yum!

Chicken Salsa Cheese 13

Tipsy Asiago Chicken Noodles

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Before we begin, let me clarify something.  This recipe does not contain any alcohol.  Rather, it was I who contained alcohol when I made it.  When you have your first few days of spring here in St. John’s, where the temperature goes up to the double digits (even 10 is sufficient) and it’s sunny ALL DAY, then the whole city mysteriously sells out of beer.  And I’m not even joking.  So this recipe came after a beer and a half on a day where I had forgotten my lunch.  As a result, I didn’t measure a darned thing.  Not that I usually measure anything anyway.

First let’s work on our component parts.  Chop up about 2 broccoli florets.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Steam them for a few minutes until they’re bright green.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Slice up 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Sauté them with a bit of garlic and olive oil until they’re cooked through.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Boil up some egg noodles until tender.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

If you have them (I didn’t), I would also recommend chopping up and cooking some mushrooms, as well, to complement the cheese and to add flavour to the chicken.

And the sauce is easy peasy.  Start with grating up some asiago, or whatever cheese you like.  In hindsight, the Pie and I think we would temper the asiago with something a little more mild, like a white cheddar.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Finely chop 1 onion.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Plop that in a small saucepan with a dollop of butter and another dollop of garlic.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Sauté the onions until they are translucent.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Add in about 2 tablespoons flour and stir that around to get all the onions coated in flour.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Pour in some milk, and stir to thicken.  Add in a bit more milk, then add the cheese and stir it in until it’s all melted.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Toss your broccoli (mushrooms) and chicken in the pot with the cooked, drained egg noodles and toss that around.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Add the sauce and toss to coat.  Serve immediately.  Serves six.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Simple Butter Fudge (Tablet)

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Oh.  Hello.  Can I help you?

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

You want to learn to MAKE this stuff?  And you want me to teach you?

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Sorry.  Can’t.  I’m too busy cramming it in my face.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Come back later.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Okay fine.

I’ve wanted to teach myself to make fudge for an age and a half. Fudge is one of my favourite things, especially the simple traditional ones.  Butter and Maple fudge?  I could eat those forever.  And whenever I can get my hands on them and the Pie is out for the evening, I frequently do.  I pay for it, oh yes, I pay for it.  But it’s totally worth it.

This year my New Year’s Resolution was to learn to make fudge.  That and eat more vegetables.  I never thought vegetables would be a problem for me.  But of course that was before I moved to Newfoundland.  Anyway.  Fudge.  Resolution for fudge.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

So last week I decided that enough was enough.  It was time.  Plus I keep trying to think of luscious dessert-y-type objects that also happen to be gluten-free so that I can bribe Fussellette to drive me places.  I figure it’s a win-win situation for all concerned.

In searching for crumbly oh-so-melt-in-your-mouth fudge recipes on the internet, I came to the realization that the stuff I am thinking of is also known simply as TABLET, a traditional Scottish bon-bon.  I wish I had known this sooner.  Finding a good recipe would have been quicker, and every time I passed a package of tablet in the specialty store I would have purchased it.  So perhaps it’s a good thing I didn’t find this out sooner.

Enough with my blathering.  I found this recipe by Stewart C. Russell and it seems to be the best, mostly for the clear instructions.  And if I’m going to experiment and things are going to go horribly, spectacularly wrong, I want it to count.  So I doubled the recipe and modified things a bit.  I’ll give you my version here, and if you don’t like the craziness of it you can go back to Stewart and do his recipe the right way.

You will only need four ingredients for this, but you need a lot of most of them:

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

1 cup cold milk (this is for dampening down your sugar.  The measurement is approximate.)

200g butter (I used salted instead of unsalted, because I like my fudge a little less than sickly sweet.  This measurement is slightly less than half of the 1lb [454g] block you get in the stores.)

3, 300g tins sweetened condensed milk (Stewart’s recipe calls for a 400g tin, which doesn’t seem to exist around these parts, so this is the reason I doubled the recipe.  In the end I had 100g more milk than the math called for but I don’t think it did any harm.)

2kg brown sugar (you can use white here for a lighter fudge, but this is what I had around)

First thing: generously butter two rimmed baking sheets.  I mean GENEROUSLY.  And you will need these ready to go before you do anything else, because when you need them you will have no time to spare.  Put them somewhere handy, on a heatproof surface.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Take out your largest saucepan (this stuff foams up quite a bit). And a big wooden spoon (you always make candy with wooden spoons).   I also recommend using a candy thermometer.  We’re going to do some other tests here but if you want surefire accuracy I would use one as well as a fail-safe.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Plop the sugar in that there saucepan and pour on the milk.  Give that a wee stir.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Add in your butter and your condensed milk.  Take a dobble of that and put it on a plate.  Admire the grainy texture and pale colour.  You are going to have quite the colour chart on this plate by the end.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Heat the stuff in the saucepan on medium-high, stirring, until the butter is melted and everything is starting to get smooth.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Bring the mixture to a boil.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Turn it down to a simmer (this will depend on the thickness of your pot, the amount you have in it, and the temperature of your element). You’re going to simmer it for a while, stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking. It’s gonna get foamy and scary.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

You’re waiting for the “soft ball” stage in candy making, which is when your thermometer hits 240°F.  If you’re simmering and you can’t get the sugar to increase in temperature, try turning up the heat a little bit at a time until you see a difference.  Just make sure not to burn it!

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

While you’re waiting, keep testing out your liquid on your plate.  Dobble some on and let it cool.  Watch it darken in colour and smooth out in consistency.  On this one the latest dobble, the one at the far right, is exhibiting some caramel tendencies, as it’s starting to stretch out when I pull it.  That means we’re almost there.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Another way to test is to take a teaspoon-full of your sugar mix and plunge it into a small amount of cold water for a second or two.  Then tip the spoon and watch the sugar pour off the spoon.  Here it’s coming off in a smooth string, so it’s not ready.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Still too stringy here.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Ah.  Here we have a SOFT BALL coming off the spoon.  It’s ready.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Remove the pan from the heat and start stirring it vigorously with your wooden spoon.  Not so vigorously that you splash yourself with molten sugar, but put some energy into it.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Pause occasionally to scrape the crystallized sugar off the sides of the pot.  These crystals will help to seed other crystals in the mix, which is what we want.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

When you start to feel the grate of crystals on the bottom (when scraping your spoon down there feels a little gritty), then your fudge is starting to set.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Quickly pour the contents of the saucepan onto the baking sheets. Use a spatula to get it all.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

You can see how it started to set as I was pouring because I took too long.  As a result, I have fudge with lumps.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Leave the stuff to set overnight, if you can stand it, or at least until they’ve cooled completely.  Those light blotches you see are just crystallizing sugar, which is a good thing.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Look how nicely it just pops out of the pan!

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Use a long flat knife to cut or break your set fudge into pieces. When you are cutting it, press down on the whole length of the blade at once.  If you go in at an angle the fudge will crack along a different line.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Of course, then you get reject pieces, which is what I’ve been eating.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

I recommend cutting your fudge into smallish pieces.  Otherwise you might eat too much.  Oh who are we kidding?  You (or someone you know and love) are (is) going to eat too much anyway.

Store in an airtight container.  Or mail pieces to all your friends.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

I think I’d like to try this again with granulated sugar, as opposed to brown.  I think the molasses in the brown sugar, together with the extended simmering time I had to get the sugar up to the right temperature, made for a firmer fudge than the super crumbly stuff I really love.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

CLEANING TIP: If you fill your empty saucepan with hot water right away and leave it for a bit, then cleanup will be a breeze.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

O Canada: French Toast

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!French Toast

Wait a second. Are you telling me that French toast is Canadian?

No, not really.  In fact the first reference to a dish resembling French toast is written in Latin and dates back to the 4th or 5th century.  French toast, or pain doré (“golden bread”), can be found in a lot of recipe books from all over the world.

But it does form part of what the Pie and I refer to as a “lumberjack breakfast,” and that makes it part of our Canadian cuisine.

French Toast

Picture this: most of Canada is unpopulated by people, and in many places still there are huge tracts of old-growth forest stretching off past the horizon.  One thing we do got is trees.  A steady supply of timber is one of the reasons Canada was colonized in the first place.  Our capital city was founded in the 1850s as a lumber town, and mills operated there even as late as the 1960s, clogging the Ottawa river with rafts and rafts of logs.

From our old $1 bill, image from Steve Briggs

The timber that flowed downriver to the mills came from logging camps far upstream, and these camps were occupied by big, rough men, mostly immigrants from Poland, Ireland, or the wilds of Québec, working in miserable conditions to earn enough money to send to their families, who often lived hundreds of miles away.

Norris Point

Logging was (and still is) a rather dangerous occupation, and it took a lot of energy just to stay alive and get the job done.  That is why every logging camp worth its salt (and many weren’t) had a reputable camp cook, and this cook was responsible for providing all the loggers with the caloric intake they needed to last out the day.  This meant a breakfast crammed with carbohydrates, proteins, and fats: bacon, biscuits, eggs, pancakes, bread, sausages, steaks — and French toast.

French Toast

The traditional lumberjack French toast would have originally started out as a loaf of stale bread, sliced and left to soak overnight in a mixture of milk and eggs.  It was fried up and served hot, slathered with sugary maple syrup and dusted with more sugar.  Our version is only slightly more refined.  Oh, and if you’d like to read a bit more about logging camps, John Irving produced a great novel recently on the subject called Last Night in Twisted River.  It’s a good read, one of Irving’s best, in my opinion.

French Toast

Anyway, French toast.  Here we go.  This recipe will give you six to eight slices of eggy toast, depending on the size and absorbency of your bread.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup milk (or half milk and half cream) and 4 eggs.

French Toast

Add in as well 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  If you want to go very traditional, try a teaspoon of rum instead and replace the sugar with maple syrup.

French Toast

One at a time, soak your pieces of bread in the egg mixture.  Here we used raisin bread because we love it.

French Toast

Traditionally you would use a thick hearth loaf, but if you want to get fancy, it’s also good with brioche, or pannetone, or even biscuits.  Experiment. Make sure to get both sides good and eggy.

French Toast

Slip the bread into a hot buttered skillet.

French Toast

Brown both sides (this takes about three minutes a side if you use medium heat).

French Toast

Serve hot, sprinkled with icing sugar and fresh fruit, if available.

French Toast

You can add a sprinkle of cinnamon, too, if the mood strikes you.

French Toast

Canadian-style means, of course, lots and lots of maple syrup. Lumberjacks need their caffeine, too, so have it with a hot cup of coffee.

French Toast

Makes a great start (or end) to any day.

French Toast

Tofu Feature Month: Corn and Tofu au Gratin

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

This quick and warm meal comes just in time for the start of school and our rainy season here in Newfoundland.  So while the wind howls outside our windows, averaging 75km/h (on a relatively calm day), and the rain patters through the holes in our leaky roof, we can curl up after a long day at school with this comforting little casserole.   I pulled it from Metro’s recipe site, and modified it a bit because I can’t find chipotle purée anywhere (hint, hint: stocking stuffers, people).

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Chop up about 1/2 a small onion.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

In a large skillet, heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat.  Chuck in your chopped onion and 2 teaspoons minced garlic and sweat that stuff for a minute or so.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Next, crumble up 1 (1lb) package firm tofu and dump that into the pan.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Add in 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 2 teaspoons chipotle seasoning (chipotle purée if you can get it), 1 teaspoon dried oregano, and the leaves from 4 sprigs of fresh thyme.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Also add 1 12oz can of corn, drained (you could probably use thawed frozen corn, too). This is the world’s best can opener, by the way. We got it at Lee Valley. You should get one.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Then add 1 cup vegetable broth.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Stir that around and reduce for 5-10 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed or evaporated.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Transfer the whole shebang to a baking dish and top with 7oz crumbled chèvre (goat’s cheese).

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Bake until the cheese is melty (chèvre doesn’t get all runny, so you have to keep an eye on it), about 10 minutes, and serve right away.  Fantastic reheated the next day as well.

Spicy Corn & Tofu Gratin

Delicious Disaster

Well.

I should know by now that experimenting with recipes before a dinner party is not a good idea.  But who else can I experiment on but my hapless dinner guests?

My goal was a dense, gooey, flourless chocolate cake, maybe with a glossy dark chocolate ganache poured over top.  I thought I had found the ideal recipe here.  It had four simple ingredients and no-nonsense instructions.  It even gave me the opportunity to use my kitchen scale, which had long sat unused.  Working in metric is such fun.

I’ll give you the recipe here, and then you can see for yourself how things went horribly wrong.

Preheat your oven to 180°C (that’s about 350°F for those of you who don’t have both measures on your ovens).  Grease (with lots and lots of butter) a 22cm/9″ cake pan and set that aside.

Measure yourself out 250g dark chocolate and chop that sucker into pieces.

Melt that in a double boiler with 100g butter until smooth.  Remove from the heat.

Separate 4 large eggs.  Sift 175g icing sugar into a bowl, add the 4 yolks, and whisk until pale and creamy.

Fold the melted chocolate into the egg mixture.

In yet another bowl, whisk the 4 egg whites until soft peaks form.

Using a metal spoon, gradually fold the whites into the chocolate mixture.

Pour the mixture into the greased pan.  Mine nearly filled it, so I put a pizza pan underneath to catch any spills.  I needn’t have worried, it turns out.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the surface begins to crack but the centre is still gooey.

Alas, though the cake baked up perfectly and smelled divine, it wouldn’t come out of the pan, no sir.  Not at all.  I don’t even think lining the pan with parchment paper would have helped.

This is it after it cooled.

I ended up with warm, gooey, dense chocolate cake bits in a pile on a plate.

With three hours until the dinner guests arrived, the Pie said, “Well, you have time to make another cake.”

I gave him a dark look.

“Or,” he says, backtracking, “you could make a trifle?”

Huzzah!  Dessert is saved!  Another floor pizza crisis averted.

Of course, having never made trifle in my life (I save that duty for my mother-in-law, because Mrs. Nice does it so well), I do not own a trifle bowl.  Not to worry, I will improvise.  Though I wouldn’t mind getting a trifle bowl someday, hint, hint …

Trifle is all about the layers.  The traditional version is a sponge cake, usually soaked with some form of alcohol, like brandy or sherry, topped with fruit, custard, and whipping cream in alternating layers.  In a straight-sided container like a trifle bowl you can see all the layers and the effect is quite pretty.

This being a chocolate cake, I thought the custard would be inappropriate.  If I had more time, I would have made chocolate pudding as a substitute for the custard, but I didn’t have the time needed for the pudding to set.  Instead, I opted for a strawberry fruit sauce with drizzled melted chocolate between the layers of whipped cream, and topped with fresh raspberries.  I drizzled a wee bit of Grand Marnier over the cake and let that sink in.

When I made the fruit sauce I added a little bit of corn starch just so it would thicken, and then I made sure to let it cool.

I added butter to the melted chocolate so that when it cooled it wouldn’t be as hard as it was originally.

I also added a wee bit of cream of tartar to my whipped cream so that it would hold its shape better while chilling in the refrigerator.

Then I did my layering …

Gooey cake.  Drizzled chocolate.  Strawberry goodness.  Whipped cream.  Repeat.

Drop a handful or two of fresh raspberries on top and drizzle the remaining chocolate all over and we’re set.

The layering doesn’t look as pretty from the side but we have to sacrifice aesthetics sometimes.  Chill that sucker for a couple hours then feed it to your unsuspecting dinner guests with a sob story about your failed dessert.

Chewy Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies

This recipe is an interesting one, and the Pie pointed it out to me.  He loves peanut butter, but isn’t a huge fan of the peanut butter cookie, finding it too crumbly and dry.  So he found me this recipe in Baked’s first cookbook, and I thought I would try it out for one of my research participants.  The participant in question, poor fellow, just broke his collarbone in two places.  I got a one-armed hug for my cookie efforts.  It helped that I also brought along some of the ever-popular peanut butter cups.

And, because my lovely Baked book is back in St. John’s, I used the instructions of Laura over at Kitchen Illiterate — thanks Laura!

I doubled my recipe and am going to attempt to freeze half this dough and see how it turns out.  As always, I left out the salt, because my butter is salted.

So get your mis en place all set up:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, whisked or sifted together with 2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup butter, softened and cut into pieces

1 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup peanut butter (I used all-natural crunchy)

6 ounces chocolate, chopped (I used dark chocolate)

If you’re not sure how fine to chop your chocolate, remember that, unlike chocolate chips, bar and slab chocolate does not retain its shape when it’s melted, so think carefully about the size of chocolate goo you want wandering around in your cookie and you’ll be fine.

First, beat the butter and the sugars together until they’re totally fluffy.  If you find your mixture is too dry and crumbly, your butter needs to be softer.  You can chuck your mixing bowl into the oven at 250°F for a few minutes and that will do the trick nicely.

Add each egg one at a time and beat until fully incorporated.

Then you can plop in your peanut butter and the vanilla.  I found it mixed easier if I softened the peanut butter as well, but it depends on the type of peanut butter you use.  Beat that until it’s just mixed.

Add about half the flour mixture and beat for 15 seconds (just following the recipe here, folks).  Add the second half and beat until just incorporated, though you want to make sure you don’t have any pockets of flour anywhere.

Now you can add in your chocolate.

Cover your bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.  I am a bad person, and only had time to do it for 2 hours, but I don’t think it makes a whole lot of difference.  The dough might be a little harder to handle, but you get used to it.

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and use a tablespoon measure or small scoop to drop rounded balls of dough onto the sheet. 

The secret is in the roundness of your implement.

Make sure they’re at least 2″ apart, because these babies will spread like the Dickens. (Incidentally, does anyone know where that particular turn of phrase comes from?)

Flatten the balls with your fingers, but just a little bit.  They’ll do the rest on their own.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating your sheets halfway through baking, until the cookies have just started to brown on top.  You may find that your oven is hotter or more efficient than this and your cookies end up a bit darker or slightly burnt on the bottom. I always burn my first batch anyway.  My dad loves it because it means more cookies for him.

I ended up cutting the baking time down to 8 minutes, rotating halfway through.  It might even be better to cook them at 350°F instead, but I guess it depends on how thick your pan is.  I used two kinds of baking sheets, one rimmed and one not, and the ones on the rimmed sheet did not turn out as dark.

Remove them from the oven and allow them to sit on the baking sheets for a few minutes to firm up before you transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.  Then you can stuff your face.  Go ahead.  You know you want to.

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!

Scottish Shortbread

The New Year was always more of a big deal to the Celtic grownups in our household than Christmas was, and to this day I still hold the door open at midnight to let out the old year and beckon in the new.  If you do this at midnight in one of the coastal cities, it is likely you’ll hear all the ships in the harbour in a chorus of horns.  It’s always been a very private moment for me, a wee superstition I have continued regardless of what is going on.

No matter what happens in our chaotic lives over the holidays, especially now that we are several families stretched out over thousands of kilometres, it’s a guarantee that at least one of us at some point will whip up our family recipe for traditional Scottish shortbread.  It makes a meaningful hostess gift when you’re wandering about over the holidays, and there are very few people who won’t be able to immediately offer a traditional shortbread recipe of their own.

This particular version is incredibly simple, with just three humble ingredients: 1 cup butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 2 cups flour.  That’s really it.  That’s what makes this recipe extremely easy and almost impossible to screw up.

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

Make sure your butter is softened, but under no circumstances should you let it melt in any way.  It absolutely has to be solid.  Cream that sucker with the sugar in a bowl.

Add in about half your flour and mix well, then add in the rest of the flour and stir until all you have is a million flour-covered butter/sugar crumbs.

Stick your hands in and knead and squish those crumbs until they’re all stuck together.

Pound and flatten that lovely buttery dough ball into a rough oval on an ungreased baking sheet.

Flute the edges by pinching it between your fingers and prick the whole thing thoroughly with a fork.  Make sure the fork goes all the way to the bottom when you’re poking around.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the dough is a lovely golden brown.  It will be darker brown on the edges.  Remove from the oven and cut it into squares while it’s still hot (this will be impossible to do when it cools as it will be much harder and you’ll end up with shattered shortbread everywhere).

Take it to all your friends as host/ess gifts, still warm in a paper bag.  Mmm!

Have a safe and happy New Year everybody!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.

CHORUS

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie’s a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS
Robert Burns

Coconut Cream Cheese Cookies

There is a new god in the pantheon and its name is COOKIE.

Holy SMOKES these are wicked good.  And I don’t even really LIKE cookies.

I was going to make cream cheese brownies to give to the Pie when he came to visit for Thanksgiving, but I figured I should probably go with something new that he hadn’t had before, and besides, I had a lot of cream cheese on hand.  What goes well with cream cheese?

Coconut, of course.  This recipe was adapted with thanks from Dawn Finicane at Vanilla Sugar (who made some adaptations of her own) and it’s fantastic.  FANTASTIC. 

(Just note that this is a two-day cookie to make.  And yeah, I doubled the recipe, as usual.)

DAY ONE:

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and divide 5 cups unsweetened shredded coconut between them.  Seems like a lot, I know, but trust me on this one.

Bake for 10-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, for even toasting.  When the coconut is a golden brown, take it out and let it cool.

Melt 1 1/2 cups butter and let it cool to room temperature.

Whisk together4 1/2 cups flour with 1 teaspoon baking soda and set aside.

In a large bowl, plop in two 400g packages cream cheese.

Add to this your now-cooled butter.

Use an electric mixer to cream the crap out of it.

Add 2 cups packed brown sugar, 1 cup granulated sugar, and 4 teaspoons vanilla extract and mix until thoroughly combined.

Add your flour gradually and mix at a low speed until just combined. 

Stir in your cooled coconut.

Cover the dough and chill it overnight.

DAY TWO:

Preheat your oven to 350°F and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.  For this amount of cookie dough you’ll need to use your pans several times, so I prepped four pans, to bake two at a time.

Drop the dough onto the parchment — the cookies will not expand much but might settle slightly during baking.

Bake for 12-14 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are set and the bottoms are light brown.  You have to be careful not to overbake these babies. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets until you can lift them without breaking them. Place on wire racks to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container until you eat them all up!

Next time I think I might add a bit of lime juice and grated lime peel to the recipe.  I think that would boost its godliness to new heights.  It will be like the creamy coconut lime cupcakes, but in cookie form.

*** Ali’s Note, 31 January 2010: I added the juice and rind of two limes to this at the cream cheese stage.  The result? OH.  MY.  DO IT.