I’m baaaaaack!

Yes, I’m back…..I didn’t quit, I wasn’t MIA, I didn’t throw my laptop out the window and I most certainly did not lose my passion for following in Oma’s footsteps to bake my way into everyone’s hearts……I simply took a little break from sharing all the deliciousness with the world (well, at least with social media!).  I was still busy baking away, sharing the goodies with friends and family and definitely enjoying EVERY SINGLE MINUTE of it!  Summers are busy for most people, vacations, kidlets out of school, barbecues, picnics, beaches….the list goes on.  I did partake in most of these, however, I’m a bit of a sports nut, especially in the summer when I can A) be outside doing as much as I can that is sports related or physically active and B) dust off my cleats and glove and get back on the diamond!  So that was basically what took up most of my free time over the past several months, hence the hiatus from blogging!

ballOk, sooooo I thought I’d come back with one of the most popular and tastiest cookies I’ve ever made (aside from my mom’s recipe, which came from my Oma).  They are not only incredibly simple, but they are gluten free and healthy – yes, healthy (unless you eat the entire batch in one sitting!)  The amazing chef responsible for this recipe is Vanille Verte’s Nathalie.  I’ve made many recipes from her site and every single one has been outstanding.  But these……these literally make your taste buds dance on your tongue!   Salted Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Go ahead, say it out loud “Salted Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies”  Just saying it makes your mouth water and now you want to try one, don’t you?

                             salted-pb-choc-chip-cookies-013     salted-pb-choc-chip-cookies-014

Well there are only 6 ingredients in these and they literally take 20 minutes to make, so get to it.  One egg, peanut butter, coconut palm sugar, vanilla, chocolate chips and sea salt.  Seriously, that’s it!  Easy Peasy and did I mention Gluten Free??  The only tricky part (and it’s not even really all that hard) is that you cannot overcook these otherwise they will be really dry!

salted-pb-choc-chip-cookies-020Because these do not have any flour in them, the bottoms may burn a bit if they’re directly on the baking sheet, so be sure to line your baking sheet with parchment paper.  They don’t spread out too much, and when you scoop them out, they should be kept round-ish, so they will bake evenly AND that also makes it way easier just to pop them in your mouth in one bite   You will not be disappointed with these chunks of heaven.

salted-pb-choc-chip-cookies-024

 

KUMBAYA!!

Last weekend we had a birthday celebration at the house – Jaks’ 2nd birthday and Hudson’s 13th birthday.  10 kids, all cousins, on a beautiful, sunny day, all playing, laughing, eating bbq’d hot dogs and burgers, being silly……being kids!  Along with Mom, Dad, Aunts, Uncles, Grandma, Grandpa, Great Aunts, 2nd cousins, friends, basically a nice, big family party.

  Happy Birthday   taste test2
What better fun birthday dessert could I make for the event, but Minion cupcakes!  Anyone who knows me, knows that I love the Minions, they’re funny, cute, silly and they sort of walk to their own beat!  Making these definitely brought out the kid in me, (not that the kid in me isn’t out almost every day already)., but I got to make Bob, Dave, Kevin, Stuart and have fun making goofy smiles with them!  I used licorice wheels, giant marshmallows, the brown Reese’s Pieces and some black icing to create their faces.

End ProductFor the cupcakes, I used a basic vanilla recipe out of this amazing little recipe book I have from the Food Network Magazine.

  • 1 1/3c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1c sugar (I used brown sugar)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2c milk

This book has everything from a birthday classic cupcake to salted caramel toffee to malted milk to passion fruit to root beer float – yes, we are still talking about cupcakes!  There are 50 different kinds of cupcakes……hmmmm, maybe this should be the recipe “book” that I use to make every recipe listed.  Not enough variety maybe?  We’ll see.  Anyway, back to my Minions…..I sliced the tops with an ‘X’ and filled them with a shot of vanilla custard just to give the kids an extra surprise when they bit into them, which was a HUGE hit!

           ready to mix    Filling

As much as using a boxed cupcake mix would be simpler and maybe save me about 5 minutes (ok, maybe 10)……there’s just something about a cupcake from scratch that is sooooo much yummier than a powder in a bag in a box where you add oil, an egg and some milk.  Nope, not gonna do it!!  Plus, I can also modify the ingredients and make it a “healthier” version if I want to.  Same goes for the icing – none of that plastic tub stuff.  I want the real deal……scrumptious, fluffy buttercream frosting, which conveniently, I found on the Food Network’s website.  Mmmmmm, YUM!  It’s crazy simple to whip up and it tastes way better than the ready made store bought icing.   From the looks on these little munchkins’ faces, I think it’s safe to say they’re “kid approved”!

Collage

So next time you’re throwing a birthday party for one of your kidlets, be creative, be adventurous, have some fun with the “cake”.  And remember, it doesn’t have to be the traditional cake that you cut into pieces for everyone – cupcakes are kind of like their own personal mini cake.  Plus, you won’t have anyone fighting over the flower, balloon or whatever the decoration may be on the corner of the cake slab so they can have extra icing!!

Happy BakingBusiness Card heart

 

Attack of the Giant Raisins

So, after being told several times by different people that I really should watch the movie “Julie and Julia” with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, I finally got the chance to.  It was very cute and it kind of planted a seed in my head…..I’m actually considering doing something similar – finding a really amazing dessert cookbook (recommendations are more than welcome – feel free to leave your ideas in a comment!) and making all the recipes in it!   The only 2 things I need is to find the cookbook and find someone (or multiple someones) that would volunteer as guinea pigs to try the end results of my efforts!  The other thing in the movie that came up was in one of the blogs that Julie Powell was writing, she asks if there is even anyone that reads her blog and I got to thinking the same thing!  Does anyone read this?  Do I inspire anyone to try making a new dessert or try to improve on a classic?  Is there anyone out there?  Or is it just me, writing my overspilling brain’s thoughts on to my computer screen?      On to today’s blog…………….

Growing up, I thought dates were “yicky” and this was probably because I thought they were like a prune or just giant raisins – which I also wasn’t a fan of.  In all honesty, up until about a year ago, I still wasn’t sold on them.  Then I tried my first date square and was kicking myself for not giving them more of a chance.  I realized that they are sweet and tasted like a brilliant mix of caramel, cinnamon and honey.  Plus, there are so many wonderful health benefits to them.  Aside from being filled with nutrients your body needs, like protein, anti-oxidants, B-Complex vitamins, potassium and magnesium (which both aid in the regulation of blood pressure and give you a big boost of energy), they are also a great source of fiber, and we all know how beneficial that is, especially for our digestive system!  Did you also know that they help combat arteriosclerosis, which is the thickening and hardening of the walls of your arteries.

  • “The anti-oxidants in Medjool dates play an important role in ridding from the body bad fats as well as reducing the risk cancers. Their high fiber content also plays an important role in fighting deposition of plaque, mostly associated with development of arteriosclerosis.”   ~  www.healthbenefitsofeating.com

datesEnough from the side of my brain that is obsessed with the health factors that certain foods bring to us and over to the other side, the side that is obsessed with creating deliciousness and transforming these sweet, plump and luscious fruits into a gooey, thick mixture to cover a crumbly, soft crust.

pouring mixtureDate squares are actually quite effortless to make.  Chopping the 3 cups of dates is perhaps the most time consuming task of the whole process.  Nevertheless, chopping them by hand is the best approach, as you can decide how big or how small you want the pieces of dates to be.  I cut mine into medium sized chunks (about 8 little nuggets per date).  I found keeping them a good size helps keep the mixture a bit thicker, so when the final masterpiece is baked, the filling doesn’t ooze out the sides when you grab a square to sink your teeth into!  Add a bit of water, lemon juice and some brown sugar and pop the concoction on the stove to simmer it all together into a thickened, blended filling.  The crust and the crumble for the topping is a basic recipe – flour, butter, brown sugar, oats and a bit of baking soda.  You can get fancy if you want and add a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg, or some chopped nuts, whatever your taste buds are in the mood for that day.  Bake it for about a half hour and let the enticing aroma take over your kitchen.

fresh from the oven 
I guarantee these mouth watering squares will not last in your house!  But just remember that dates have a healthy dose of fiber and amino acids that will help “move things along” your digestive track, so it would be a wise decision NOT to eat half the pan of squares in one day!!

ready to eat

 

 

This amazing recipe was found on www.robinhood.ca

 

 

Mushy Smooshy Heart Day

Yes, I’m talking about St. Valentine’s Day.  Some people look forward to this “holiday” as soon as New Year’s is over, some people loathe this day (for varying reasons) and some people (like me) are completely indifferent on the day.  It really has no bearing on the way, (or more specifically when), I show my love for those that are close to me.  The only impact it does have on me is that it’s an excuse to make some treats – not that I really need an excuse!  This year, I made something new and a bit different than just my regular lovey-dovey heart shaped shortbreads, something that is sort of trending lately – Cake Pops.  They were both fun to make and a big hit!  The nice thing about the cake pop maker I bought is that it came with a pretty good recipe book, with simple recipes from scratch.  To use the maker itself, is as easy as pie, as simple as ABC, like taking candy from a kid……well, you get the idea!  It’s like a waffle maker – you can only mess it up if you put too much batter in each of the divots, which if you follow the directions of 1 tbsp of batter, you’re good to go!

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Seeing as Valentine’s Day typically goes for reds, pinks, hearts, x’s & o’s, smoochy lips and chocolate, I thought it best to stick with tradition.  We don’t have a microwave (and honestly, I don’t even miss it!), so melting the chocolate in the oven is the best option for me – plus, I find melting chocolate slow in the oven just works better.  Dipping the cake pops into the chocolate does require a bit of patience, as you have to wait until the excess chocolate has dripped off so you don’t waste any or get it all over the place.  The secret to getting the stick to stay in the cake ball is to dip the end of the stick into the chocolate first, then jab it in (gently of course).

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If you plan on using sprinkles or small candies to decorate, keep in mind to roll the cake pop in the decorative whatever-you’re-using once the chocolate or glaze stops dripping and they are tacky, or you’ll get ‘bald spots’ on them!  And if you are drizzling chocolate on them, make sure the chocolate or glaze is dry, otherwise the drizzle just slides right off! Just remember that however you choose to decorate them, they will be amazing because it’s YOUR creativity that’s making them!

February 2016 085    February 2016 095

Now of course, I had to make shortbread, but I wanted to do something really cool with them.  Something I hadn’t tried before, something that tested my “skills”.  So, these happened!  My simple shortbread cookies became pretty!  Ha

February 2016 054Although these took a little bit of time to create, it was relatively simple “artwork”.  It just took some diligence and a steady hand.  The trick to blending the icing without it running is to use flood consistency Royal Icing, which you can find on various different websites!  You will need a #1 icing tip to create the designs, as well as a scribe tool.  I wouldn’t try using a toothpick instead of the scribe tool, as the wood will soak in the icing and it will run, which won’t work too well for your little hearts.

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It’s also important to remember to let your charming little indulgences set overnight so they don’t stick together when you package them up for a beautiful little gift d’amour!

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Both cake pops and yummy shortbread cookies are great for all occasions – parties, luncheons, birthdays, family get togethers, even business meetings!  Contact me to place your custom order!

 

 

 

 

Christmas in……..January??

So, if you remember my blog post back in November on our family Thanksgiving, I mentioned that our holiday get togethers aren’t exactly always celebrated on time!  So, in keeping with our Levear tradition, this year’s Christmas was no different.  I know that when there are extended families involved with holiday gatherings, they don’t always happen on the exact date, however, we really pushed the envelope on this one and had our Christmas dinner on January 31st.  Yes, 37 days after the actual day!  But seriously……does it really matter that much when we have it?  As long as it’s still technically in the winter, right?  I probably shouldn’t mention then, that the weekend of January 31st was also the weekend that our temperatures were a record high of 17!  LOL.  Oh well, we still had a great dinner, as always!  We all piled into my brother’s dining room and once again filled it with copious amounts of laughter, loud conversation, a hodgepodge of beverages and crazy delish food!  We had a big, fat turkey with all the traditional fixings, including my sister-in-law, Angela’s, heavenly cranberry sauce, stuffing, taters, salads and veggies!  And in following Dutch tradition, my amazing mom got us all our Chocoladeletter.

Chocolate letterSince my brother was hosting all of us, I gave him the option of which dessert he wanted me to bring – my Oma’s apple pie or a cheesecake of some sort, which completely threw him for a loop.  He actually had to take a night to decide…….all I got the next day was a text with the word “cheesecake”.  I’m not the biggest fan of a simple (and in my mind, boring) cherry cheesecake, so I elected to go with a dark and white chocolate cheesecake.   And just to be sure I scored extra brownie points, I made sure to use Lindt chocolate too!

cheesecake 004Chocolate crust, with a rich concoction of cream cheese, eggs, vanilla and the melted white chocolate.

                             cheesecake 001   cheesecake 006
Dollups of the dark chocolate blended with a bit of the cream cheese mixture, swirled in through the cake just enough to create a kaleidoscopic design and keep the contrast of colours visible, then into the oven she goes for the hour.

                            cheesecake 007   cheesecake 008

One of the first times I baked a cheesecake, I made the mistake of opening the oven door a few times to see how the cake was coming along – BIG MISTAKE.  By the time it was done, there were so many cracks across the top, it looked like remnants of an earthquake!  Needless to say, that cheesecake was topped with lots and lots of whipped cream!  Luckily, I’ve made enough cheesecakes since then to almost perfect them!  I’d say this one is pretty close and appears that it was quite popular too!

       cheesecake 016   cheesecake 032   cheesecake 023

Merry (very belated) Christmas everyone?? 

 

Rolling with my BIT (baker in training)

When it comes to baking, at least for me, it’s usually something you do on your own.  It’s my escape from…….everything really!  However, there’s always an exception and that’s when any of my nieces, nephews or friends’ kidlets ask me to bake with them.  I just can’t say no to spending some fun time with them and helping them make some yummy treats!

                          Kya chilling in the leaves    Kya waterfall b&w

This is Ric’s beautiful daughter, Kya.  I have the joy of being able to hang out with her on a weekly basis and just seeing her makes my day brighter!  She’s a ball of magnificent energy and her smile lights up a room, so when she asked me if we could make some cinnamon rolls together, I was all over it.  We picked out a recipe together from Food.com, which took us a little bit to find, as we were looking for a recipe that didn’t call for yeast (we didn’t have any in the pantry and wasn’t able to go out & get any).  Kya then took over the reigns and basically did everything from the measuring to the mixing to rolling the dough out on her own.

     Kya rolling   Sprinkling cinnamon   Cutting the roll of dough

She wanted them to be extra tasty, so we used a little more butter and cinnamon/sugar mix than the recipe called for on the dough before rolling it up!  My only job was slicing up the rolled dough and taking them out of the oven.  Now, I have to admit, we probably should have used a recipe that included yeast, as these ones came out a bit dense and flat, but they were still tasty…. just look at that big smile, it’s obvious that Kya enjoyed them!

cinnamon rolls yum

What’s Up Doc?

Carrot cake – you either like it or you don’t.  There’s not really an in between, there’s no “Well, I’ll have a piece if there’s nothing else for dessert” or “Meh, it’ll do”.  However, those who do love their carrot cake can very persnickety about it and really, why shouldn’t they be?  If you’re going to take joy in indulging in something, you may as well have it made the way you like it!  Some love it with raisins, some with nuts (and can also be particular about what kind of nut!), some with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg, some without any spices, some like the carrots shredded, while others enjoy the cake with chunks of carrot…….and don’t even get me started on the icing preferences!  There are so many different ways that people enjoy their carrot cake, so when you make one, it’s always a good idea to find out if they do want any “funky stuff” in the cake (ie nuts or raisins) or if they are ok with the traditional cream cheese icing.

When I launched my blog back in October, I ran a contest for my wonderful followers and the winner received a dessert of their choice – whatever they fancied!  Patti Bulleyment was the lucky winner and since her daughter loves carrot cake, that was what I was going to make for them!   There are so many different variations for this simple recipe, but I decided to keep it simple, with no funky stuff added!  Plus, there was a special request to NOT use a cream cheese icing, so I traded it up for a basic whipped vanilla cream topping (which I think was way tastier anyway!)   My secret ingredient though, was adding 1/2 cup of applesauce, which added a bit of sweetness and also kept it moist.

ShreddingMix ready to goPouring the batter

 

 

 

 

I found this recipe on foodnetwork.com and although it wasn’t easy to find a basic recipe, it was worth the search!  I also got some other juicy ideas for more yummy baked goodness on the website!   I packaged up Patti’s tasty cake and voila!  Dessert Dutchess strikes again

                           baked cake     Boxed and ready to go

Kid Approved

With all the baking I do, most of the recipes are full on desserts, meaning they’re made with things like flour, butter, eggs, milk, a lot of the traditional ingredients you’d use when you think of desserts.  So when my beautiful and dear friend, Victoria, asked me if I could write a blog with some gluten free and vegan recipes, I happily went through my recipe books in search of a few good ones.

So, yes, most kids love ooey, gooey, sugary cookies and cupcakes, but in all honesty, how many do you know that would actually eat not just a ‘protein energy ball’, but a gluten free and healthy one?  HA!  Well, I found a crazy delicious recipe on thewhoot.com that is all of the above AND it’s kid approved!  These cutie patooties are Ryland and Jaks, 2 of the 4 sweet little munchkins that I have the pleasure of spending my days with and they are, without a doubt, typical kids that love their cookies!  So, I was very happy when they both devoured a couple of these little morsels!

                                  Ryland approved    Jaks approved

These seriously take about 5 minutes to toss these 8 simple, healthy ingredients together in a bowl – 1 cup oats, 2/3 cup coconut, 1 tbsp chia seeds, 1/2 cup ground flaxseed, 1/3 cup honey (or maple syrup), 1/2 cup cacao nibs, 1/2 cup peanut butter and 1 tsp vanilla. Chill in the fridge for about a 1/2 hour, roll into balls and voila…..you have a tasty treat!  Just keep in mind – with the flaxseed and chia seeds in them, if you eat more than a few of them in one day, they will certainly give your digestion a big boost!!

                                  Ingredients Mixed    Protein Balls

As I’ve done a 30 day healthy detox program with my USANA business a few times, there are a lot of gluten free and vegan recipes, but most are meals, not desserts.  However, one of the desserts in the program, which is both gluten free and vegan, is so delicious, that the pan of them literally does not last more than a couple days any time I’ve made them.  The No Bake Protein Bars recipe was created by Gorete Almeida, who is one of the brilliant nutritionists that helped create the program and some of the recipes.

                                   Ready for the freezer   Plated

Typically, dessert recipes that are gluten free and/or vegan have ingredients that some people really don’t care for too much (like tofu) or that you may need to do a little hunting around for, such as amaranth, buckwheat or coconut flour or even flaxseed meal.  Luckily, these sensational squares are made with simple ingredients and most are probably in your pantry or cupboards right now!  Coconut, oats, cinnamon, vanilla, maple syrup, natural peanut butter……and they’re all healthy too!  And on a side note – these are out-of-this-world delish when you store them in the freezer!

OMG Shortbread

Who doesn’t love shortbread?  When it’s baked just the perfect amount of time so the bottom is light golden, it crumbles just a little when you break off a tiny piece and that piece melts in your mouth with a buttery smoothness……..Mmmmmm, YUM! It’s like a party in your mouth! 

As I mentioned before, I do have my own super dee-lish recipe for shortbread, but a wonderful lady, Auntie Bernie, posted this recipe on her Facebook profile, so of course I just had to try it.  Looking at the it, it seemed like a pretty straight forward shortbread recipe, just with the exception of some yummy peanut butter added to it. I threw it all in the bowl, mixed it up, rolled & wrapped it to be refrigerated and waited (this was the hard part LOL).  Once it was chilled, I cut some nice, big, fat slices, because really…..who’s craving is going to be fully satisfied by a thin, puny little piece?  It did crumble a bit when I cut them (as the recipe said it would), but it was easy to shape them back together, plus it created a bit of cookie dough chunks for me to taste test.

PB Choc Chip Shortbread mixPB Choc Chip Shortbread logPB Choc Chip Shortbread log cut 2

 

 

 

 

In to the oven they went……..tick tock, tick tock…….the 12 minute baking time seemed like an eternity!  Especially since the irresistible smell of fresh cookies was not just filling the kitchen, but drifting throughout the whole house!  Finally, they were done and when I opened the oven door, heads turned.  An even stronger yummy cookie aroma filled everyone’s noses and I was pretty sure they’d suffer through a bit of a burnt tongue just to get a bite as soon as possible!

PB Choc Chip Shortbread baked

PB Choc Chip Shortbread stacked 3Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies from The View from Great Island website – and yes “OMG” were the words that escaped from the lips of a couple people.  There was also “Are you kidding me?”, “These are ridiculous” & a muffled approval that I couldn’t fully understand because she had just sunk her teeth in to this heavenly indulgence!  Now, I’m not going to admit that these are better than mine, they’re just……a different recipe with a few different ingredients and I can guarantee that they will be made again

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 chocolate chips

Cream butter & peanut butter with a hand mixer, beat in vanilla.  In a separate bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together and add to the butter mixture until the dough is no longer crumbly.  Stir in the chips and turn the dough out onto a piece of wax paper. Gently form the dough into a log. Roll it up in the paper, smoothing it out as you go. Twist the ends securely and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Take the log out, unwrap it and slice into 1/3 inch slices with a sharp knife.  If it crumbles a bit, just smooth it back together.  Bake on parchment paper for 12-14 minutes at 350F.  Let them cool on the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to the cooling rack.  ENJOY!!

Halloween Leftovers

Halloween is now behind us and if you have kids, you’ve probably already sorted through your kidlets’ candy and maybe downsized the amount of goodies (namely chocolate bars), to save yourself a not-so-fun trip to the dentist, or for other reasons like avoiding borderline diabetic shock or possibly just to have a few for yourself!  Maybe you bought a whole big Costco size box of goodies to hand out to all those cuties that were supposed to be knocking on your door, politely chiming “Trick-or-treat” in unison, yet you had all of a dozen little costumed munchkins show up.  So what do you do with all those extra little chocolate bars?  You could eat them – “I’ll just have a couple, they’re only mini ones”, next thing you know, the whole bowl is empty and beside you is a big pile of wrappers.  Prepare for intense sugar crash!  OR there’s always the alternative – make something easy and fun out of them – Peanut Butter Cups!  I found a super simple recipe on Allrecipes and made some scrumptious little treats that got 2 thumbs up from Ric (I’m told he’s a PB cup expert!).  I simply grabbed some Hershey milk chocolate minis, some smooth peanut butter and a lined muffin tin.

PB Cups - prepMelted the chocolate, added some icing sugar to the peanut butter to make it a bit thicker, scooped a spoonful of each into the liners, then topped it off with some more melted chocolate. Let em chill in the fridge for about an hour and voila!!  Homemade Peanut Butter Cups!  And just to be sure I’m not tempted to eat the whole lot of them, I gave them to Ric so he could enjoy them! Haha.  These will make great little gifts for someone who is a bit of a chocoholic!

PB Cups - choc & pb

PB Cups 2