Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sundried Tomato Cheese Rolls

These buns freeze great and are wonderful to adapt by adding bacon, veggies, changing the dressing/cheese/spices, whatever you can dream up. They cna easily be portable meals and are also a great way to use up last night's leftover mashed potatoes.

Lately it seems that I've been really into experimenting with different additions to dough, for example: No-yeast Cottage Cheese Dough for tangy and quick Orange Rolls or Rice "Foccacia" Bread made with leftover rice.

Today I'm adding potatoes! According to King Arthur Flour, potato in the dough gives bread a soft, moist, creamy texture; the starch in the potato attracts and holds liquid, meaning breads baked with potato will not only be soft and moist initially, but will stay that way longer. So tender and fluffy when baked and a dream to roll out and shape. The recipe was very heavily adapted from Cooks Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen

Sundried Tomato Cheese Rolls
20 rolls (or 2-9" pizzas) | dough adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Deep-Dish Potato Dough
1 cup warm water (110 degrees)
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
8 to 10 oz. russet potato, peeled, cooked and grated (about 2 cups, or use 1 1/2 cups mashed potatoes)
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour, approximately
1 3/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp olive oil, plus 2 tbsp for coating pan (or use oil from sundried tomato can)

Filling for Spirals
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 tbsp mixed garlic powder/onion powder/basil/oregano or whatever spices you like
1 cup drained sundried tomatoed, diced
1/2 cup ranch dressing (or jalapeno ranch)
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced (optional)

1. In mixer bowl combine yeast, sugar and water and let stand 5 minutes, until foamy. Stir in 6 tbsp olive oil. Using dough hook, add in 2 cups flour, all the potato, and salt. Gradually add in more flour as needed until the dough is smooth and slightly sticky. Transfer to a lightly oiled medium bowl, turn to coat with oil. Cover and let stand until doubled in size, about 45-60 minutes.

2. Now you can either use the dough to make spirals like I did or for pizza.

Spirals: Oil the bottom of an 11 x 16 inch pan with 2 tbsp oil. It seems like a lot of oil, but the oil is what browns the crust. Reserve 1/2 cup cheese. Toss remaining grated cheese with spices and jalapeno if using. Deflate and roll dough to about 1/4" thick. Spread ranch evenly over dough and sprinkle with cheese mixture. Roll up jelly roll style and cut into 20 even pieces using a sharp serrated knife. Place in prepared pan. Cover and let rise overnight in fridge or at room temperature for about 45 minutes or until almost doubled. Sprinkle tops with reserved cheese before baking. Bake at 425 degrees F on middle rack for 25-35 minutes, until golden brown and dough is cooked through. I like using a glass baking dish so I can see the bottom of the buns. Cool slightly before serving.

Pizza: Oil the bottom of two 9" deep-dish pizza pans with remaining 1 tbsp each of oil. Gently punch down dough, pat each half into a 10-inch round and transfer to the pan. Pull it into the edges and up the sides of the pan to form a 1" lip. If dough resists, let it sit for 10 minutes, covered, to relax. Let rise in a warm, draft-free spot for about 30 minutes, until about doubled.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Uncover and pierce dough surface generously with a fork. Bake until the crust is dry and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Add desired toppings and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes. Move the pizza to the top rack and bake until the cheese is golden brown in spots, about 5 minutes longer.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Chocolate Chunk Toffee Coffee Cookies

My son wanted me to feed his toy dinosaur, hence, the cookie-eating dinosaur pic :)

This cookie has everything I love all rolled into one. It's like grown-up twist on classic chocolate chip. It starts with cookie dough spiked with coffee flavor and laced with a hint of chocolate. Combining 2 kinds of chocolate chunks, hazelnuts and crispy toffee bits, every bite is like sensory overload on your tastebuds.

A thin, bendy, chewy cookie, these are a little less sturdy than regular chocolate chip cookies but would still make an awesome take-along treat for (adult) lunchboxes. For thicker cookies refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before baking.

Chocolate Chunk Toffee Coffee Cookies
2 1/2 dozen | Adapted from Marcy Goldman

1 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled
1-2 tbsp instant coffee powder (depending on how much you like coffee)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 oz semisweet chocolate, melted
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

2 cups and 2 tbsp flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup white chocolate chunks
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chunks
1/2 cup toffee bits (crushed heath/skor bar)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Dissolve instant coffee powder in melted butter. With a wooden spoon, stir in melted chocolate and sugars followed by egg and vanilla.
3. In a separate bowl combine all remaining ingredients. Add this mixture to the coffee mixture and stir to combine. It will be a softer-type cookie dough. Scoop onto an ungreased cookie sheet by the tablespoonfuls, leaving 2" between cookies as they will spread. Bake for 8-10 minutes, watching closely so as not to overcook them. They are done when edges are light golden brown. Allow to cool 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack as they will still be very soft but will firm up a bit as they cool while still retaining their chewy texture.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rice "Foccacia" Bread

If you're looking for another way to use up leftover rice, look no further! I love when baking mistakes turn into surprise successes like this one. I Googled recipes using bread and came across this one from a food blog. It was supposed to be for loaves, not foccacia, but when I was making the dough it seemed really sticky. I thought I would have to throw the whole thing out until I remembered that foccacia bread is a high-hydration dough. I added a bunch of dried herbs and patted it out onto a well olive-oiled baking sheet since there was no way I could shape it into a loaf. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Success! This recipe is a keeper! You would never guess there's rice in it and it wasn't heavy in the least. The best part is you can use whatever rice you have. Brown, White, Wild or even a pilaf like I did.

Rice "Foccacia" Bread
Adapted from My Diverse Kitchen

3 tbsp active dry yeast
1 cup warm milk (105-110 degrees F)
3 tbsp sugar
3 cups cooked rice (I used brown rice pilaf)
1 tsp salt
4 cups bread flour (or as needed for a sticky dough)
2 tbsp herbs (thyme, oregano, basil, your choice)

Add the sugar and yeast to the warm milk, stir well and let stand 3-5 minutes.

Put the rice, about half the flour and the yeast mixture in the food processor. Process until it comes together. Keep adding flour a little at a time till the dough is a sticky ball. This is a high-hydration dough so it will be quite sticky. Place in a greased bowl, cover and allow to double in size. Punch down the dough and place on a rimmed baking sheet oiled with olive oil. (It helps if you put olive oil on your hands to prevent the dough from sticking to you). Pat the dough out into a square approximately 3/4" thick. Using your fingertips, dimple the top of the foccacia all over. Let rise again for about an hour.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

DB: Nanaimo Bars

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

This month's challenge is near to my heart. Being from Vancouver, BC, the city of Nanaimo is only a short drive and ferry ride away - about 60km (36 miles). It's neat that so many bakers around the world this mont are baking these bars which originate from my very own province! (Beams with pride). My personal preference is to omit the coconut and add a few tbsp of peanut butter to the filling. However, I have included the original, unadulterated Nanaimo Bar recipe below.

Confession: I did not do the graham cracker part of the challenge, I used storebought instead because I had a sleeve of them leftover. I also couldn't find graham flour!

Nanaimo Bars
City of Nanaimo, BC

Bottom Layer
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 1/4 cups graham wafer crumbs
1/2 c. finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.

Second Layer
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Third Layer
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter overlow heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wholesome Fruit Muffins

"With four whole grains and three dried fruits, these muffins are a great way to get a variety of antioxidants and fiber. Wheat germ is a good source of vitamin E. Look for untoasted wheat germ in the organic food section of the supermarket. Adding boiling water to the batter and allowing it to sit for 15 minutes before baking allows the hearty oats, wheat germ, and bran to soak up the liquid for a more tender muffin." - CL

Happy Monday everyone! Looks like I'm starting the week off on a healthy foot, showing that wholesome can indeed still be yummy! These muffins are proof. Feel free to switch it up flavorings with different dried fruits or even swap in some chopped apple. One word of advice: I recommend using paper liners in your muffin tins as these tend to stick (due to the low fat content). I learned that the painful way as many of these had to be dug out, leaving some muffin bits stuck to the pan.

Wholesome Fruit Muffins
12 servings | Adapted from Cooking Light, Jan 2006

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons untoasted wheat germ
2 tablespoons wheat bran
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1/3 cup chopped dried apricots
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 1 tbsp lemon juice, let stand 15 mins)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup boiling water

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 7 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Stir in oats and dried fruit. Make a well in center of mixture. Combine buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and egg; add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Stir in boiling water. Let batter stand 15 minutes.

Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove muffins from pans and cool on a wire rack.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Panda Express Orange Chicken

This was an amazing Panda Express copycat recipe that I adapted from Recipezaar. Crispy chicken with a sweet-spicy orange sauce. Served with a side of stir-fried veggies and fragant rice, it was way better than any take-out I've had. The ingredient list looks kinda long but it cooks up really quickly. The most time consuming part of the recipe is measuring out the ingredients.

For a healthier version or if you don't want to deep fry, you could stir-fry the chicken to cook it through (without the batter) then make the orange sauce and proceed as directed in the recipe.

Panda Express Orange Chicken
Serves 4

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, bite sized pieces
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup flour
oil (for frying)

1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed hot red chili pepper
1/4 cup green onion, chopped
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 tbsp corn starch
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Orange Sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
8 tablespoons sugar
10 tablespoons white vinegar
1 orange, zest of

1. Heat 2-3 inches of oil for deep-frying to 375 degrees F. Place chicken pieces in large bowl. Stir in egg, salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon oil and mix well. Toss in cornstarch and flour mixture to coat.
2. Add chicken, small batches at a time, and fry 3 to 4 minutes or until golden crisp. Do not overcook. Remove from oil with slotted spoon and set aside.
3. In a small bowl combine 1 tablespoon corn starch with 1/4 cup water and sesame oil. In a separate bowl combine all orange sauce ingredients. Set aside.
4. Heat 1 tbsp oil over high heat. Add ginger and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, 10 seconds. Add crushed chiles, rice wine and green onions. Add orange sauce and bring to a boil then add cornstarch mixture and simmer until thickened. Add cooked chicken, stirring to coat.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mrs. Field's Double-Rich Chocolate Cookies

To add a little fun to the day... here's an intensely chocolatey, chewy and brownie-like cookie studded with 4 different kinds of chocolate! Milk, white, semisweet with a handful of Smarties tossed in there just for fun. The recipe is adapted from an oldish book (1996): Mrs. Fields Best Cookie Book Ever!: 130 Delicious Cookie and Dessert Recipes from the Kitchen of Mrs. Fields. It's important to use regular cocoa powder here (not Dutch, which has been alkalized AKA. had the acids removed) because of the baking soda used to leaven in this recipe. If you do use Dutch cocoa, use baking powder instead.

Mrs. Field's Double-Rich Chocolate Cookies
4 dozen | Adapted from Mrs. Field's Best Cookie Book

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup regular cocoa powder (not Dutched)
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup sugar
1 cups butter, softened
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups chocolate chips (I used milk, white, semisweet and Smarties!)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used almonds)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Combine flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.
2. In an electric mixer at medium speed beat butter and sugar to form a grainy paste. Scrape down sides of bowl, then add eggs and vanilla. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the flour mixture, chips and nuts and stir in by hand until combined. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased baking sheets 1 1/2 inches apart. Flatten slightly so they are like pucks rather than spheres.
3. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Do not overbake or they will not be chewy. Cool for a few minutes on the tray then transfer to a wire rack.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fast Orange Rolls (No Yeast)

No yeast required! The dough comes together in seconds in the food processor.
Perfect for a quick morning fix when you just don't have the patience to wait for yeast to rise. These rolls get their tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture from the pureed cottage cheese and buttermilk. The filling/frosting is heavenly. I was tempted to call these sunshine rolls because of their bright color from the flecks of orange zest.

Fast Orange Rolls (No Yeast)
Makes 12 | Adapted from Beth Hensperger

Cottage Cheese Dough:
1 cup cottage cheese, well drained
1/3 cup buttermilk (or 1/3 cup milk and 1 tsp vinegar)
1/4 cup sugar
4 tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 cups icing sugar
zest of one orange
3 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 tbsp fresh orange juice

Heat the oven to 400°F. Grease the sides and bottom of a 9" springform pan.

Make the dough:
In a food processor, combine the cottage cheese, buttermilk, sugar, melted butter, and vanilla. Process until smooth, about 10 seconds. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and pulse in short bursts just until the dough clumps together (don’t overprocess). The dough will be soft and moist. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it with floured hands 4 or 5 times until smooth. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 12"x15" rectangle.

Make the filling/frosting:
Blend the filling/frosting ingredients and beat until creamy. Spread 1/2 mixture evenly over dough.

Starting at a long edge, roll up the dough jelly-roll style. Pinch the seam to seal. With a sharp knife, cut the roll into 12 equal pieces. Set the pieces, cut side up, in the prepared pan; they should fill the pan and touch slightly, but don’t worry if there are small gaps.

Bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, 20 to 28 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Run a spatula around the inside edge of the pan and remove the springform ring. Transfer the rolls to a serving plate and spread remaining filling/frosting on top.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Malaysian Siew Bao (BBQ Pork Buns)

Time for a little Asian inspired baking! You might have seen these in Asian bakeries or dim sum menus. They are about 2-3" in diameter - a super-flaky pastry encasing a sweet, barbecued pork (Char Siew) filling. I believe they are a Malaysian (the city of Seremban in particular) or south-east Asian snack. My dad happens to be from Seremban and he loved them. He can also vouch for the authenticity of these buns. The recipe is adapted from Rasa Malaysia, an awesome site that has recipes from all Asian cuisines from Chinese to Indian to Thai.

The pastry is a little time consuming because you have to make 2 doughs then wrap one dough in the other, but the results are worth it. However, I suppose you could substitute a regular pie crust dough with good results if you wanted.

Malaysian Siew Bao (BBQ Pork Buns)
Makes 12

Water Dough
200 g flour, sifted
100 g water
50 g shortening
50 g icing sugar

Oil Dough
200 g flour, sifted
100 g shortening

300 g BBQ pork (Char Siew), diced small
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup peas
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp water
1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tbsp sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten
sesame seeds

1. Filling: Add oyster sauce, soy sauce, water, corn flour and sugar in a small bowl and stir to mix well. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a frying pan. Stir fry BBQ pork, onion and green peas until fragrant. Add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, water, cornstarch and sugar mixture and stir well.

2. Pastry: Put all the ingredients of water dough in a food processor and pulse until it forms a soft dough. Cover it in a bowl and let it rest for 30 minutes. Repeat the same with oil dough.

3. Divide the water dough and oil dough into 18 equal portions. Roll out a piece of the water dough into a flat circle. Place a piece of the rounded oil dough in the centre of the flat circle. Gather the outer edges of the water dough circle and wrap up the oil dough ball. Pinch and seal the edges. With the heel of your palm, gently press the dough down to flatten it lightly. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into rectangle shape. Roll up the dough Swiss-roll style. Turn the rolled dough 90 degrees. Repeat. The pastry is now ready for filling and shaping.

4. Assembly: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out the pastry into a flat circle. Place 1 tbsp of filling in the centre. Gather the outer edges of the dough circle and pleat and pinch to seal. Brush egg wash on the surface and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

TWD: Chocolate Oatmeal Almost-Candy Bars

Lillian of Confectiona’s Realm picked this week's recipe for Chocolate Oatmeal Almost-Candy Bars, pages 114 and 115. Check out her blog for the recipe!

This was a really simple recipe, basically the same as making date squares using a chocolate filling instead of the dates. It should have gone off without a hitch, but every baker has an off day and I guess today was mine. The base wouldn't hold together and I was left with a pile of crumbs in my baking pan when I tried to lift them out. They refused to brown and so I kept them in the oven for almost double the time called for. By that time, the filling at the edges had burned and the bars still weren't brown. They were quite possibly the uglist bars I've ever made!

The good news is that all that oatmeal crumble didn't go to waste. It tasted great over yogurt for breakfast! Next time I think I will use Dorie's filling but I'll stick to my own tried and true oatmeal base/topping which I use for my Oatmeal Blueberry Squares.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Crispy Cheddar Stars

I have been going through baking/sugar withdrawal. This girl at work decided to implement a 2 week "Sugar Free Workzone" thing so she can squeeze into her bikini. Normally our workplace is crawling with candy - jujubes, jellybeans and a constant stream of munchies. I love being able to bring in my baked creations since there is no way my family could eat them all as fast as I bake them. I had to get my baking fix somehow, so I made these crunchy cracker-ish cheese stars. Not too diet-friendly, but at least they don't break any of the sugar-free rules! They're really just crispy cheese held together by a bit of dough. Yum!

The recipe I followed was from Taste of Home. It was supposed to be for Crisp Cheese Twists but the dough was too crumbly to twist so they followed the cookie cutter route instead. The cheddar flavor is awesome despite me not using aged (I used medium) cheddar. You don't even need any dip or spread although they'd go great with a herb & garlic cream cheese.

Let me just tell you, I can't wait until the sugar-ban is lifted! Does anyone have the same problem I do - Baking faster and more frequently than people can eat? Who do you give your baked goods to? What do you do with them?

Cinnamon Walnut Monkey Bread

Oh, the infamous monkey bread. Little balls of buttery, sticky, gooey, cinnamon covered goodness baked into a beautiful Bundt. What could be fun-ner? I have also heard this bread being called "bubble bread" or "pull-apart bread".

Be creative! Add in chocolate chips or switch the type of nuts if you like. Some people add a package of vanilla pudding mix to the cinnamon sugar mixture for a more caramelly flavor. You could even add chopped apples and top with caramel sauce instead of icing. In the picture below you can see the stages of done-ness from raw to baked to invernted and finally iced.

I used a dough recipe for "Wondrous Bread" AKA. Copycat Wonder Bread (from my new cookbook by Marcy Goldman of Better The copycat Pizza Hut Pan Pizza Crust which I was really impressed by also came from this book. I can't put my finger on why exactly, but this book struck a chord with me and Marcy Goldman had won my trust early on. This book covers every category of baking, even fried doughs like Beavertails and Doughnuts. Not many pictures in this book, but I didn't miss them at all. She knows her stuff and her recipes are solid, tried, tested and true. I've never been a member of so I don't know how the book compares to the website, but as a stand-alone, the book is amazing. The recipes range from simple (brownies) to complex (puff pastry) Her experience as a commercial baker shines through as she translates her knowledge into pieces suitable for homr baking. I found this book to be a quick favorite amongst my many baking books.

Cinnamon Walnut Monkey Bread
Makes 1 Bundt | Dough recipe from

1 1/3 cups warm water
4 1/2 tsp instant yeast
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
5 tbsp butter, melted
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-2 cups bread flour

3/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup light-brown sugar

2 cups confectioners' sugar
2-3 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

1. Dissolve yeast in warm water with 1 tbsp of sugar for 2-3 minutes. Add in melted butter, remaining sugar, salt and the all purpose flour. Mix it in by hand or using a dough hook until it forms a soft mass, adding bread flour as needed to form a soft dough, not too much flour! Let rise, covered, in a warm place for 30-45 minutes until almost doubled.

2. Make coating: Put melted butter in a bowl. In another bowl, mix brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar and half the walnuts into a well greased and floured Bundt pan. On the counter, gently deflate dough and divide into 1/2" pieces. Roll into balls. Dip balls in butter, then roll in cinnamon mixture. Layer them in the prepared Bundt pan. Sprinkle remaining walnuts over the dough balls halfway through the layering. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

3. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. Cool 15 minutes in pan then invert. Cool 20 minutes while you make the icing: In small bowl, combine icing ingredients until smooth. Drizzle over slightly cooled bread.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Zucchini Bread

Zucchini is my current obsession. I tend to fixate on one food intensely for a period of time then make myself so sick of it that I don't want to eat it again for a really long time. Before Zucchini it was spinach and before that it was spring mix. Right now I love the buttery taste and texture after the zucchini has been cut into 1" chunks and steamed - no oil! I sprinkle (way too much) coarse sea-salt on it and dig in. I could eat 3 or 4 zucchinis in one sitting cooked in this way.

So, in honor of my obsession, here is an old classic: zucchini bread. Nice, simple, lightly sweetened and very moist. This recipe has a higher proportion of zucchini per loaf than others I've seen (1 1/2 cups/loaf), so dare I venture to say it is healthier?! Serve with your favorite cream cheese frosting or just plain.

Zucchini Bread
1 loaf | Adapted from Canadian Living Magazine

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 egg
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk (approx.- use more/less depending on how juicy the zucchinis are)
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups grated zucchini, unpeeled
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

In bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg.

In separate bowl, whisk together egg, sugar, vegetable oil, milk, and vanilla. Stir in zucchini, and walnuts (if using). Pour over dry ingredients; stir just until combined. Scrape into greased 8x4-inch loaf pan.

Bake in centre of 350 degree F oven for 1 hour or until cake tester inserted in centre comes out clean. Let cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack; let cool completely.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Soft Pretzels: 2 ways

I couldn't decide which ones I preferred, the plain buttery pretzels or the pizza ones covered in mozzarella. I made the mistake of putting both types on the same baking sheet not knowing that they have different cooking times. The pizza ones were done before the plain ones which could have used a little more browning. That's why they're paler than I would have liked. Not a problem since they are so easy to make and fun to shape. The dough is great to work with and what I like about this King Arthur recipe is that it doesn't make a mountain of pretzels. Just 6 decent sized ones. My only wish is that they came out a little more heart shaped and "pretzel-like" and less round and "bun-like".

Soft Pretzels: 2 ways
Makes 6 | Adapted from King Arthur Flour

2 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons regular instant yeast
7/8 to 1 cup warm water

1/2 cup hot water
2 tablespoons baking soda
coarse salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

*Use the greater amount in the winter, the lesser amount in the summer, and somewhere in between in the spring and fall. Your goal is a soft dough.

Place the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a food processor with the steel blade. Process for 5 seconds. Add the water, and process for 7-10 seconds, until the dough starts to clear the sides of the bowl. Process a further 45 seconds. Place a handful of flour in a bowl, scoop the slack dough into the bowl, and shape the dough into a ball, coating it with the flour. Transfer the dough to a plastic bag, close the bag loosely, leaving room for the dough to expand, and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 475 degrees F. Prepare two baking sheets by spraying them with vegetable oil spray, or lining them with parchment paper.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, and divide it into 6 pieces. Allow the pieces to rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes. While the dough is resting, combine the water and the baking soda in a shallow bowl. Make sure the baking soda is thoroughly dissolved; if it isn't, it'll make your pretzels splotchy.

Roll each piece of dough into a long, thin rope (about 30" long), and twist into a pretzel. Let rise for 30-45 minutes, until sligtly puffy.

Plain: Dip each pretzel in the baking soda wash (to give pretzels a nice, golden-brown color), and place them on the baking sheets. Sprinkle them lightly with coarse salt. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Bake for 8-9 minutes, or until golden brown, reversing the baking sheets halfway through. When done, remove from the oven, and brush them thoroughly with the melted butter.

Pizza Pretzel: Bake for approx. 5 minutes then spread with pizza sauce and top with grated mozzarella. Return to oven to finish baking, approx. 5 more minutes.

Store at room temperature, airtight for a couple days or freeze for up to 2 months.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Marbled Pecan Blondies

Another quickie recipe using a cake mix. I couldn't help myself - Betty Crocker cake mixes were on sale for $1 each, so I stocked up. I'm such a sucker for buying in bulk when things are on sale. Especially baking ingredients. I go through so much flour as I bake almost every day so when it goes on sale I buy a 2 or 3 bags. Same with sugar. I also find myself buying ingredients just because they are cheap, then finding myself in a rush for recipes to use them up before the best before date. Silly me.

I'm curious... How closely do you adhere to "best before" dates? I use them as a guideline but I often find that things are still good for a lot longer than the date on the package. What confuses me is the "sell by" date because then I really have no idea what the expiry date is! Hmmm... maybe I overthink such things?

These blondies are dense with a pleasantly chewy-sticky centre of caramel and pecans. If you eat them slightly warm, the chocolate is still gooey and melty. Mmmm. With their marbled topping they look dressed up with minimal effort. Cake mix doctored recipes are great because they offer so much instant variety. Switch the cake mix and suddenly you have a different recipe!

Marbled Pecan Blondies
9 x 13 pan

1 box yellow cake mix
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil

40 unwrapped soft caramels
2 tbsp whipping cream
3/4 cup chopped pecans

1 cup semisweet chocolate or chips
1 cup white chocolate or chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan.
2. Combine cake mix with eggs and oil. Press into greased pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until almost fully cooked. Remove from oven but leave oven on.
3. Melt caramels with whipping cream in a heavy sauce pan over low-medium heat, stirring frequently. Stir in pecans then spread over base. Return to oven until base is fully cooked (5-10 more minutes).
4. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Let stand for 5 minutes to soften chocolate then spread chocolate with an offset metal spatula, creating a marble pattern. Cool fully - several hours - before cutting. If you want to refrigerate these, make sure you score the chocolate top first or it will crack when you cut them.

Technicolor Chicken Stir Fry

I am not a cook. I prefer baking. Whenever I DO cook, it is usually something that can be thrown in the oven. That is why I am so proud of my chicken-veggie stir fry! The recipe comes from this great book called 300 Best Stir-Fry Recipes and so far every recipe I have tried has been a hit. The Moo Goo Gai Pan was incredibly authentic too. As most recipe collections published by Robert Rose, ingredient lists and prep time required are short and sweet.

As a bonus, I got to use my adorable new pink knife to chop up all the veggies!

These were totally an impulse buy. I bought my dad some Wusthof (sp?) knives for Christmas and this bright, happy set of Komachi 2 knives caught my eye. The quality seems to be pretty good as they are made by Shun. They are high carbon stainless steel, non-stick and color coded, like green for paring, red for tomato/cheese, etc. to help prevent cross-contamination.

Technicolor Chicken Stir Fry
4 servings

1 tbsp corn starch
1 tbsp water
2 tsp rice wine
1 tsp salt
12 oz. chicken breast, 1” chunks

1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp garlic
2 tsp ginger
1/2 cup carrots, sliced
1/2 cup celery, thickly sliced
1 cup broccoli florets

1. Combine all marinade ingredients and pour over chicken to marinade. Combine sauce ingredients and set aside. Steam carrots, celery and broccoli to just under desired doneness.
2. Over high heat, fry garlic and ginger in the oil for about 15 seconds. Add chicken and cook until almost fully cooked. Add steamed vegetables and stir in sauce. Toss well and cook until chicken is done and sauce is thickened.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Yam Fries

These. Were. So. Good.

What a nice change from regular old potatoes too! I heard that they're better for you than potatoes. Well, whether that's true or not, I'm not sure, but I'm gonna hang on to that as truth because I'll take any excuse I can get to eat these. If you happen to have leftovers - highly unlikely - refrigerate them and give them a quick re-heat in your toaster oven to re-crisp them at a later time.

The picture below shows the finished yam fries, the yam fries in the dutch oven frying and the fries after the first frying - notice how they are not browned yet at this point.

Yam Fries
2 servings

1 lb (or as many sweet potatoes/yams as you want)
2-3 inches oil for deep frying in a dutch oven (or as required by your fryer)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Equipment: Deep Fryer (or Heavy Pot and Thermometer), Wire Skimmer

1. Peel and cut sweet potato into strips. I like them cut thin so they get crispier versus being too potato-ey inside. About 1/4" thick seemed to work. Try and cut them all the same size.

2. I used the double-frying method that is used for fries. They are crispier when cooked this way and for the little bit more effort it takes to double-fry, the results are totally worth it. First you fry them at 325 degrees F for 2 minutes, remove, let stand for 5 minutes (up to 2 hours), then re-fry at 375 degrees F for about 5 minutes until golden brown. Remove from fryer and drain on wire rack set over newspapers or other absorbent material.

3. Season to taste (I like just salt and pepper) and serve with yummy mayo dips... Chipotle Mayo or Garlic Mayo anyone?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Apricot Orange Coffee Cake

I entered the ingredient list for these into an online recipe analyser and they actually came out pretty healthy! They got a B- rating I believe. Now, compare that to some other recipes I've thrown in there, that's pretty good. You don't even want to know the results for brownies or cinnamon buns! That link is a great resource and it's bookmarked for frequent reference.

This recipe is from Cook's Country. I had a 14 day free trial online during which I downloaded a bunch of recipes. I don't think the subscription would be worth it because a lot of the recipes are duplicates and in typical Cooks Illustrated style, they recycle a lot of their content. However, this cake is exceptionally moist from the yogurt it uses. Other variations offered are substituting dried cranberries for the apricots.

Apricot Orange Coffee Cake
1 - 9x13 inch pan | Adapted from Cooks Country

Streusel Topping:
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 tbsp butter, melted and cooled

3 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups plain yogurt
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
7 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1 cup dried chopped apricots
1 tsp grated orange zest

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9" x 13" pan.
2. Topping: Mix together sugars and flour. Using fingers, mix in melted butter so it resembles wet sand.
3. Mix all dry cake ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl whisk together yogurt, sugars, eggs and butter. Fold into flour mixture and add chopped apricots and orange zest. Mix until combined then pour into prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle streusel topping evenly over top.
4. Bake for 45-50 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time. Toothpick inserted in centre should come out with just a few crumbs attached.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Parker House Crescent Rolls

These delicious rolls were (dare I say) better than Pillsbury crescents! Never again will I pop open one of those little blue tubes. I used a King Arthur Flour recipe and made crescents instead of rolls. I'm finding more and more ways to have my son help out in the kitchen which is the best of both worlds because I get to entertain/occupy him while also doing something I love - cooking! For this recipe he helped spread the butter on the dough and brush more butter on top before they went into the oven.

One thing I have learned is that recipes from King Arthur Flour are always awesome. I have the Baker's Companion baking book by them and it is a wonderful resource. It might not have the fancy, glossy pictures that other cookbooks have but the wealth of knowledge and the quality of the recipes more than makes up for it. These rolls were so rich and flaky they didn't need any extra butter for spreading and they were excellent with soup - cream of broccoli, my favorite!

Parker House Crescent Rolls
Makes 12 | Adapted from King Arthur Flour

3 cups All-Purpose Flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup potato starch or flour
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
1 egg
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened (for filling and brushing)

In a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of an electric mixer, combine all of the ingredients (except the 4 tablespoons butter for the filling), mixing to form a shaggy dough. Knead the dough, by hand (10 minutes) or by machine (5 minutes) till it's smooth. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, and allow it to rest for 1 hour; it'll become quite puffy, though it may not double in bulk.

Gently deflate dough then transfer to a lightly floured surface and roll out into a large circle, about 12" in diameter if you can. Generously brush the whole round with softened butter. Cut the round into 12 wedges. Roll each wedge up tightly and place seam side down on a baking sheet.

Allow them to rise for about 1 hour. They won't double in bulk, but will become somewhat puffy; if you let them rise too much, they'll pop open in the oven. Brush tops with butter.

Bake the rolls in a preheated 400°F oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they're a light golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and allow them to cool on a rack till they're almost completely cool; while they're still very slightly warm, place them in a closed container, such as a plastic bag. This will help keep them soft.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pizza Hut Pan Pizza

I have a little obsession with pizza. Me and a lot of people I suppose, as there is a whole Pizza Making Forum where they discuss different pizza styles: New York, Chicago, Italian, Thin Crust, Pan Crust, you name it! They also talk about different pizza making equipment like pizza stones and various pans. Come to think of it, I don't think I've actually had a really bad pizza - hard to go terribly wrong with bread, tomato sauce and cheese, right?

My son and I had a lot of fun making these pizzas. I made the dough this morning before work, let it rise in the fridge and then rolled it out and topped it when we got home after picking him up from daycare. We also sang the song "Je Suis Un Pizza" or "I am a Pizza" which I remember singing in my own elementary school classes as a kid. Aww... this mommyhood thing is getting more and more fun as time goes by and as Zach begins asking more questions and interacting more with me. When they were done he quickly scrambled up onto a kitchen chair and yelled at the top of his lungs "DINNER! PIZZA'S READY!" Aww, he melts my heart.

This pizza is a copycat of Pizza Hut's deep dish pizza. I must say, it is pretty close! It might seem like a lot of oil to put in the pan, but it's not too oily once it's baked and it helps the crust not stick. I baked these in my 9" cake pans. The original recipe says you can make 3 pizzas but I could only get 2 out of the recipe.

Pizza Hut Pan Pizza
Makes 2 - 9" pizzas

1 1/3 cup warm water (105F)
1/4 cup dry milk powder
1/2 tsp salt
3-4 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 pkg (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
2 tbsp vegetable oil (for dough)
6 tbsp vegetable oil (3 tbsp per pan)

8 oz. grated mozzarella cheese
2/3 cup pizza sauce
toppings of your choice

Put yeast, sugar, salt, and dry milk in a large bowl. Add water and stir to mix well. Allow to sit for two minutes. Add oil and stir again. Add flour and stir until dough forms and flour is absorbed. Turn out on to a flat surface and knead for about 10 minutes. Divide dough into two balls. In 2- 9″ cake pans put 3 tbsp oil in each making sure it is spread evenly. Using a rolling pin, roll out each dough ball to about a 9″ circle. Place in cake pans. Cover with a plate. Place in warm area and allow to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Prepeat oven to 450 degrees F. Spoon 1/3 cup sauce on each pizza and spread to within 1/2 inch of edge. Distribute 1 oz. of shredded mozzarella cheese on each pizza. Place toppings of your choice in this order – pepperoni or ham, vegetables, meats (cooked ground sausage or beef) Top with 3 oz. mozzarella cheese. Cook until cheese is bubbling and outer crust is brown – about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

TWD: Tarte Tatin aux Pommes

Today's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe is Tarte Tatin. This week is extra special because it was picked by the person who started TWD in the first place - Laurie at Slush. Check out her website for the recipe.

I was super excited to make this. I love all apple baked goods and I've never made an upside-down anything before, not even an upside-down cake! so it was a nice challenge for me. The dish smelled sooo good as the apples bubbled away happily on the stove top. However, in the end I was so disappointed! I didn’t brown mine for long enough before bakingso they ended up pale and anemic looking. I was afraid of burning them as I couldn't see the color properly in my dark pan and so I was overly cautious. As I pulled it out of the oven and prepared to flip it, my heart was pounding. I just kept replaying the scene where Julia Child flips something over and it falls all over the place. Overall the flipping went well although a minimal amount of juice/caramel did fly out during the flip.

I ended up making a caramel sauce afterwards and pouring that over the apples (shown in the first picture) for more color and more caramel-ly taste. See the huge difference between the first and second pictures?

**Tip: Improvising the pan**
I had no idea how to execute this recipe since I didn't have an ovenproof pan. My cast iron skillet had a wooden handle which I wasn't sure could be put into the oven. After talking to a sales associate at a kitchen store, I found out that you can wrap your wooden handle in foil to protect it from the heat and proceed to put it in the oven! Worked for me!

The other option is to cook the apples on the stove then carefully slide them onto a bake-safe dish such as a pie plate (ceramic if you have it). Rearrange the apples nicely after transferring and proceed with covering them with pie dough and baking.

Tarte Tatin history: Tradition says that the Tarte Tatin was first created by accident at the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, France in 1898. The hotel was run by two sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin. Stéphanie started to make a traditional apple pie but left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. She tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry base on top of the pan of apples, quickly finishing the cooking by putting the whole pan in the oven. After turning out the upside down tart, she was surprised to find how much the hotel guests appreciated the dessert. (Wikipedia)

Hotel Tatin

Monday, January 4, 2010

Blueberry Peach Scones

The weather here has been surprisingly pleasant, especially compared to last year when I was snowed in and had to cancel my trip to L.A. over Christmas because of the now. Today it was 6º Celsius and I was loving every minute of it. I pretty much have zero tolerance for the cold. I have my room thermostat cranked to 30 all the time. I know it's only January 4th, but I've already got my sights set on summer and feeling warm again.

The one positive thing about having poor circulation and body heat regulation is that my hands are great for pastry making as they don't melt the butter when you're working with the dough.

So, today I baked some summer inspired scones using the fruit I'd frozen back in August. These scones are very tender and moist and easily adaptable. All you need is a bowl and a wooden spoon!

Blueberry Peach Scones
Makes 8-10 | America's Test Kitchen

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, very cold
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (unthawed)
1/2 cup diced peaches, fresh or canned
dugar for sprinkling, optional

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Combine all dry ingredients in a med/lrg bowl. Cut in butter until it resembles peas.
2. Stir together sour cream and milk then add to flour mixture, mixing with a fork. Do not over mix.
3. Roll out into a square about 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle fruit over bottom 1/3 of the dough, pressing fruit in gently. Fold up like a letter*** Gently roll out dough until it is about 3/4" thick. Cut out scone triangle shapes and transfer to cookie sheet, ungreased. Sprinkle with sugar if desired. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown on top.

***Alternately, you could just mix the berries and peaches in but then the berries bleed color into the dough and get mushed up.
Tip: If you want to make these ahead, you can roll and cut them then freeze. Later, bake from frozen and add approx. 5 minutes to baking time.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Chocolate Marbled Cheesecake

Here is the first (but definitly not the last) cheesecake I've baked this year.
A simple, unassuming chocolate marble cheesecake. The top was crackless so I opted not to top it with anything.

The recipe comes from Tyler Florence. A lot of people really looooove Tyler but I'm still on the fence. There are other food network personalities I'd rather watch, but as for his recipes they seem decent so far. I checked his book, "Tyler's Ultimate, out of the library. The content was nicely laid out and organized. A picture accompanies almost every recipe and of course the photography is gorgeous. However, the word "ultimate" is starting to get on my nerves from it being used so many times through this book. The book has classics like chicken provençal and spaghetti and meatballs but also branches out to ethnic inspired dishes like lemon curry and coconut shrimp. However, I don't think I will be buying it. There just aren't enough things I want to cook from the book. Like cornish hens... I doubt I'll ever cook one of those in my lifetime :)

Chocolate Marbled Cheesecake
1- 8" cake | Adapted from Tyler Florence

2 cups crushed graham crackers (about 30 squares)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted

2 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese, softened
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 pint sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz. melted, cooled semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, combine the ingredients with a fork until evenly moistened. Lightly grease bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan. You could use a 9" pan but your cake will be lower.

Pour the crumbs into the pan and press the crumbs down into the base and 1" up the sides. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

Filling: Make sure all filling ingredients are at room temperature before beginning.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on low until smooth and free of any lumps. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and continue to beat slowly until combined. Gradually add sugar and beat until creamy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add sour cream and vanilla. Periodically scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beaters. The batter should be well-mixed but not overbeaten. Reserve 1/3 filling and combine with melted chocolate until no streaks remain. Pour the rest of the filling into the crust-lined pan and smooth the top. Drop chocolate batter on top by the tablespoonfuls and marble with a thin knife.

Set the cheesecake pan on a large piece of aluminum foil and fold up the sides around it. Place the cake pan in a large roasting pan. Pour boiling water into the roasting pan until the water is about halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan; the foil will keep the water from seeping into the cheesecake. Bake for 45 minutes. The cheesecake should still jiggle (it will firm up after chilling), so be careful not to overcook. Let cool in pan for 30 minutes. Chill in the refrigerator, loosely covered, for at least 4 hours. Loosen the cheesecake from the sides of the pan by running a thin metal spatula around the inside rim. Unmold and transfer to a cake plate. Slice the cheesecake with a thin, non-serrated knife that has been dipped in hot water. Wipe dry after each cut.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Almond Roca and 2010 Cooking Resolutions

Happy New Year!!! Welcome to 2010!!!

Can you believe it has been 1 whole decade since the 1999 to 2000 Y2K when we were worried about our computers blowing up and the world stopping?

I wanted to make a fancy shmancy cake for the new year but there was just such an abundance of food and dessert around already from the holidays that it would have been redundant. Plus, it doesn't help that our "holiday tradition" is to go shopping for discount Christmas chocolates the day after Christmas (...and Halloween, and Easter, and Valentine's day)!

This toffee is so easy and so addictive. It comes together quickly but needs to set and cool for several hours, so plan ahead. With under 10 ingredients, if you can boil water, you can surely make this. A candy thermometer is nice to have but not essential for this tecipe. However, you need a heavy vessel such as a cast iron skillet or a small/med dutch oven to better regulate the heat. A lightweight pot will scorch the sugar and you'll have less control over it.

This is my first post of the year so I'm going to outline some of my 2010 Baking Resolutions. In 2009 I conquered my fear of yeast and I expanded my horizons to include some cooking real food (as opposed to just baking & sweets). I also started getting purchase requests from co-workers and acquaintances for my baking! My cookbook collection has grown significsntly and I finally organized my printed and photocopied recipes into a 3" binder with dividers - one baking type.

1) Make Candy. I have only ever really made the almond roca toffee candy like the one in this post, which turned out great, but somehow the idea of candy making is still daunting. I'm going to challenge this fear and make use of my new Taylor heavy duty candy thermometer.

2) Laminated Doughs. I have never worked with croissant dough before but I have made puff pastry. My goal is to make a chocolate croissant or sticky buns from croissant dough.

3) Fondant and Cake Decorating. I have never worked with fondant before. Fondant covered cakes look so pretty and professional - I would love to be able to turn out something like that from my kitchen!

4) Use my dehydrator more. Ever since I received my dehydrator in July I have only used it twice. When summer hits this year I am determined to dry strawberries, cherries, peaches and blueberries so that I can take advantage of these summer fruits year-round.

5) Work my way through my cookbooks before buying more. I could devote a whole room to cook books and if I had the space, I probably would! Me and bookstores are like a moth to a flame. I can't help myself from gravitating towards the cookbooks!

Almond Roca
9 x 13 inch pan

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp water
1 tsp corn syrup

1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)

1. Have all ingredients ready before you begin. Line a 9x13 inch pan with parchment or silicone mat or lightly butter ir. Do not use foil or waxed paper because it sticks and is a bitch to peel off.

2. Melt butter in a cast iron/heavy pot. I use my 10" cast iron skillet or dutch oven. A heavy pot is key for heat regulation so it doesn't scorch.

3. Add sugar, water and corn syrup to melted butter on medium heat. Slowly bring mixture to 290-300 degrees F or until it darkens to a dark amber, stirring occasionally. Immediately remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup chopped almonds. Spread not mixture into pan and immediately sprinkle chocolate on top. Let stand for a few minutes before smoothing out evenly with a metal spatula. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup almonds over melted chocolate. Allow to cool fully before breaking into pieces.