Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Salted Caramel Sauce

The Recipe: Caramel Sauce from Simply Recipes.

The Substitutions: Added a couple of pinches of fleur de sel to make it Salted Caramel Sauce.

The Verdict: Thumbs up. This is easy peasey. For some reason, this year I've become a little obsessed with homemade candy. I've always been afraid of all that stove-top sugar boiling, but now that my kids are old enough to stay out of the kitchen if I give them a stern warning, I'm a little more confident that I'm not going to fatally burn anyone with molten sugar. This sauce takes about five minutes to make and is pretty delicious. Next time I would have added more salt. That's all I have to say on the matter.

The Cooky Book: Scotch Shortbread

The Recipe: Scotch Shortbread from The Cooky Book by Betty Crocker

The Substitutions: none

The Verdict: I needed to make some shortbread, so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone by doing the Cooky Book version. Meh. The dough was incredibly hard to work with, thus incredibly hard to roll, and incredibly hard to cut. The result is a very small yield of crumbly, time-consuming shortbread. Sure, it's buttery and all that, but disappointing. The plan was to serve these guys up with some salted caramel sauce and lemon curd, but I think I'm going to have to (wait for it...) go and buy some pre-made shortbread from the grocery store. Because I only ended up with about two dozen of these guys and I don't want to go through the pain of having to make another batch. Sad.

The Cooky Book: Candy Cane Cookies

The Recipe: Candy Cane Cookies from Betty Crocker's The Cooky Book

The Substitutions: I skipped the crushed candy topping (because I'm freezing them and it all would have fallen off anyway) and I used butter instead of shortening.

The Verdict: Surprisingly great. I'm officially going rogue on the Cooky Book for the holidays -- that is, I'm doing some of the recipes out of order so that I wouldn't have to make Candy Cane Cookies in July. I'm practical that way. I wasn't too excited about these cookies because cute novelty cookies are usually pretty short on flavor, especially in the Betty Crocker universe. Imagine my surprise to learn that these aren't only cute, but kind of delicious.

The dough in these cookies is basically a almond-flavored plain cookie dough and the almond really saves a day. Maybe it's just because I'm a sucker for marzipan, but these are really yummy. I realize my execution in twisting the candy canes is far from perfect, but I had the help of a very excited five-year-old, so I can blame the lack of perfection on her. Either way, these will be a pleasant addition to my Christmas buffet, which seems like a very Betty Crocker kind of thing to say.

Waldorf Salad

The Recipe: Waldorf Salad from Jamie Oliver's Jamie's America

The Substitutions: I didn't have an apple on hand, so I skipped it.

The Verdict: Pretty darn good. I love a Waldorf salad, if only for the sheer volume of goodies. Sure, I could always eat a handful of grapes or walnuts, but they just seem so much more decadent when they're hiding in a green salad. Sad, I know.

As far as Waldorfs go, this one probably won't pass muster with full-on purists, but it fit my purposes quite nicely. Here's the thing: I'm a weird freak who can not stomach mayonnaise. I'm sure I happily eat things with mayo in them all the time, but if I make it myself and I know that there's mayo in there, I get squeamish. This salad does not contain mayo. Instead, Jamie throws in some yogurt, which is another substance I can't handle on it's own, but I'm less grossed out by it when it's mixed with other things. Like I said, I'm a weirdo.

So, as a result, this salad isn't nearly as creamy as a real Waldorf salad. The dressing ends up like more of a vinaigrette than a creamy dressing, which is fine by my books. It was easy, tasty, a little more low-cal than the real thing. In other words: delicious.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fennel and Apple Meatloaf

The Recipe: Fennel and Apple Meatloaf from the November 2010 issue of Everyday Food.

The Substitutions: None, though I will note that I made it with a combo or turkey and bulk sausage.

The Verdict: This is one of those change-em-up recipes, where they offer two or three meatloaf variations, each more delicious looking than the next. I'm a sucker for fennel, so this one called my name. And man, is it ever delicious. Like, super delicious. Adding sausage keeps the turkey from getting too dry, but I think all the veg in there help out too. I'm definitely going to try the other variations, but this one is so fresh and tasty it might become a dinner standard in our house.

Oven Roasted Potatoes

The Recipe: Oven Roasted Potatoes from AllRecipes. Recipe found here.

The Substitutions: None.

The Verdict: Pretty darn good. This is simple, simple, simple, but simple with spice, if that makes sense. You need to have a fairly well-stocked spice rack to pull this one off, but if you're missing a spice or two you probably can just skip it. My crew find regular roasted potatoes too bland (I know, they're crazy), so these were very well received.

Coconut Key-Lime Pie

The Recipe: Coconut Key-Lime Pie from the November 2010 issue of Everyday Food. Recipe online here.

Substitutions: None.

The Verdict: I'm kind of speechless over this one. First off, you should not know what goes into key lime pie. It's essentially an egg yolk omelet rounded off by loads of condensed milk and topped with whipped cream. Hello, heart attack. But if you can ignore that, this pie is unbelievable. Creamy, coconuty and even better the next day (especially if you eat it directly out of the fridge by the spoonful). My husband actually said it's the best thing I've ever made. I'm not sure I disagree.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Peanut Brittle

The Recipe: Peanut Brittle from the December 2010 issue of Everyday Food.

The Substitutions: nada

The Verdict: Easy peasy. It's peanut brittle -- there's not much to say. Hard, stuck in your teeth, crunchy, peanut brittle. My only word of caution: you cook the sugar for 20 minutes -- when you're getting close to the end of that 20 minutes, WATCH THE STOVE. I burned the first batch and not only did it stink up the house, but I suddenly had all of this molten blackened sugar and didn't know what to do with it. I was afraid of pouring it into a bowl because I knew once it hardened, I'd never be able to get it out. I also knew that pouring it down the sink could result in a hefty plumbing bill. I ended up pouring it into a paper plate after it had cooled slightly and then threw the plate out when it was hard as a rock. On the upside, it all washed out of the pot in the dishwasher, which was a pleasant surprise.

Oh, and it tastes delicious. Not the burnt stuff, batch #2.

The Cooky Book: Lemon Squares

The Recipe: Lemon Squares from the Betty Crocker Cooky Book

The Substitutions: none.

The Verdict: Severe disappointment. There are a million recipes for lemon squares. Everyone has their favourite specifications: the right crust, the right amount of filling, and the right balance between sweet and sour. When I was making this recipe I said to myself "there is not enough lemon juice in here. I should up the lemon juice." But did I do it? Not really.

Last year's lemon bars (and I can't remember what recipe I used for the life of me) were too tart, so I was a bit gun-shy about going off-recipe and adding a bunch of extra lemon. The recipe only calls for two tablespoons. I juiced a small lemon and it yielded about three tablespoons and I put all of it in. Still, not nearly tart enough. Not even close. The lemon flavor is faint, at best. I also think that there is generally not enough filling or, alternately, the crust is too thick. I also baked this for the minimum time (and with my oven I usually have to bake for the max), and it was too brown in the middle in too chewy around the edges.

So is this a flawed recipe? Perhaps. Or perhaps those of you who don't like anything that's too tart would love it. But why would you make lemon squares if you don't like things that are tart? Anyway, it'll be back to the drawing board next Christmas, but for now these are happily hanging out in the freezer, ready to hit my holiday cookie plate. Because while they're not perfect, they're still lemon squares, which is worth something.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The recipe: Chicken and Sausage Gumbo from the Canadian Living Slow Cooker cookbook. Recipe online here

Substitutions: None. I took the chorizo option and opted out of adding white wine.

Verdict: Not bad. This was another slow cooker recipe that required a lot of prep, which is kind of a pain. The taste was yummy, but I'm doubting very authentic. I went with chorizo rather than sweet Italian sausages and while it was a little spicy for the kids, I'm glad because otherwise the sauce/broth (depending on whether you consider gumbo a soup or not) would have been a little bland. Still, a nice warmer-upper on a freezing cold winter night.

The Cooky Book: Jam Bars

The Recipe: Jam Bars from Betty Crocker's The Cooky Book

The Substitutions: Per usual, I used butter for shortening. I also used the jam version rather than the original Date Bars, which was just not going to fly around here.

The Verdict: I really like this oatmeal/fruit kind of treats for the kids school/babysitting snacks. But I will say, I have had better versions. More hippie versions, should I say? This one is pretty yummy, as far as your classic fruit sandwiched between layers of oatmeal squares go, but man, is it ever sweet. Like pow! Henry, of course, can't get enough of these things. But I couldn't even finish one off because it was like spooning brown sugar directly into my mouth. So yes, this one is a hit, but I'm unable to congratulate myself for making the kids a wholesome snack. And is there any other reason to bake with oatmeal?

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Cooky Book: Butterscotch Brownies

The Recipe: Butterscotch Brownies from Betty Crocker's The Cooky Book.

The Substitutions: Omitted nuts and made the coconut version.

The Verdict: After months of bland drop cookies, these were a real treat to make. They were so easy -- I mixed them with a spoon and then just poured them into the pan. So easy. And they're actually pretty good. Everyone in the family agreed that chocolate brownies would have been preferable (what is with Betty Crocker's aversion to chocolate?), but the children have been eating them up with glee. And the best part about bars (or as they call them in these parts, squares) is that the batch is small, so I can move onto something else sooner rather than later.

Stuffed Shells

The Recipe: Stuffed Shells from the November 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

The Substitutions: I used red cabbage rather than radicchio.

The Verdict: This was in the "Confident Cook" section of MSL, and it's really fussy, so I'm sort of shocked I made it at all. But I'm glad I did. These shells are stuffed with cabbage and prosciutto, plus the obligatory cheeses. Simple, but kind of time-consuming. Still, I found it kind of meditative to stuff those pasta shells by hand.

Thankfully, they were appreciated by all. These would be really easy to make vegetarian, but I must say, the prosciutto gives them a great flavour and is probably my favourite part of the whole thing. Either way, I was glad to have taken on a classic and not had it end in disaster.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cocoa Croissant Pudding

The Recipe: Croissant Pudding from the Martha Stewart website.

The Substitutions: I dumped in a few tablespoons of cocoa powder to give it a chocolate taste. I also used whole wheat croissants.

The Verdict: I had some stale croissants staring me in the face, so I went online to find a croissant pudding recipe that called for ingredients I had in my kitchen (i.e. no heavy cream). This one is simple, easy, and really delicious. If I hadn't added cocoa I might have thrown in some cinnamon, because it could have run kind of bland. But this was just perfect, especially when served with some Moose Tracks ice cream.

The Cooky Book: Jubilee Jumbles

The Recipe: Jubilee Jumbles from Betty Crocker's The Cooky Book

The Substitutions: I subbed butter for shortening and skipped the nuts. To prevent the cookies from being fatally boring, I added coconut and leftover Halloween Smarties.

The Verdict: Big time fail. According to the Cooky Book, these cookies were developed by General Mills in 1955 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Gold Medal Flour. Someone at General Mills must have secretly resented Gold Medal Flour, because these are not worthy of a celebration. They're a very basic cookie, but are really... off. I think it might be the inclusion of a full cup of sour cream -- they're just too soft and gooey and mushy. My kids like them because of the inclusion of Smarties, but generally these are a total dud.

Roast Beef With winter Vegetables

The Recipe: Roast Beef with Cabbage, Squash, and Carrots from the November 2010 issue of Everyday Food.

The Substitutions: I used acorn squash instead of butternut.

The Verdict: Doesn't this roast look beautiful? Like seriously gorgeous. Oh, how looks can deceive. I have a confession to make: I can't roast meat to save my life. I don't think there's anything wrong with my oven, because my baked goods turn out fine, but I am really bad at judging the size of a cut of meat and adjusting cooking times. Maybe it's because I was a vegetarian until I was 25 and never learned how to cook meat from my mother. Maybe it's because I can never find the exact cut of meat in the grocery store that's called for in a recipe. Maybe I'm just dumb. I don't know.

Anyway, I cooked this sucker (which was only slightly heavier than the cut called for in the recipe, but admittedly thicker and rounder) for about a half hour longer than called for and it was still a bloodbath. Like, really rare. I realize this is not the fault of the recipe, but I do find Martha Stewart recipes often have ridiculously short cooking times. Anyway, it made for a bit of a dinner disaster.

What we were able to eat (at a late hour) was not bad, though. These vegetables were quite tasty, though it was a little heavy on the cabbage. Not a bad recipe. If you know how to cook a roast, that is.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Charmoula Chicken

The Recipe: Charmoula Chicken from the Canadian Living Slow Cooker Collection. Similar (non-crock pot) recipe here.

The Substitutions: nada

The Verdict: Yum! I will admit, this is actually the second time I've made this in the last two weeks. It is really good -- flavourful, without being super spicy or zingy or zesty or whatever makes over flavoured dishes so overwhelming. I served mind with a nice crusty bread, lots of butter and some green beans, but it would also be nice over rice. It is one of those annoying slow cooker recipes that involves browning everything and cooking the onions beforehand (I prefer the dump and plug in variety) and there's no veg in it, so it's not the kind of thing where you can walk in the door at 6 pm and be eating five minutes later. But it's so tasty, none of that matters. Did I say yum?