Bake Club: Cookies

Give me a freshly made ginger cookie and a cup of tea and you will never hear another word from me for the rest of the day. To me that is the perfect escape. It relaxes me and strangely fortifies me. You know all those British crime dramas where someone finds a mutilated body, then the detective makes them a cup of tea to make it better? Yeah… that is me. Tea sooths the savage beast. But give me coffee to kickstart my day.

Something happened to me last week. Looking back at everything that is going on, I am not surprised. I have reached maximum.

I am very much my mother’s daughter. There is something compelling me to do more. Be it work, community service, cooking, baking or just play time, more is something that natters at the back of my mind. I need to do more. It isn’t enough to make one batch of cookies, I need to make all the batches of cookies. So I did.

In one day I made:

  • Gingerbread (non-gendered) cookies
  • Ginger sparklers
  • Sugar cookies
  • Shortbread cookies
  • Chocolate chip cookies

I learned that there is such thing as too much.

I started the morning making whipped shortbread. This is the only thing from my ex that I appreciated. His mom taught me how to make excellent shortbread. I use the vintage recipe from the Canadian cornstarch box. The recipe is no longer found on the container, I have it in my recipe journal for safe keeping

  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1 cup of AP flour
  • 3/4 of butter, softened (not margarine – it isn’t the same thing)

Whip it together with a stand mixer until it forms a ball of dough. It feels like it will never come together then BOOM. Shape into one inch balls and flatten with a cookie press of some sort (fork, glass, your hand) Bake at 300F for 20 minutes. It is better to over bake than under bake. They are rich little nuggets that my brother says are the best thing ever.

While I was rolling out the shortbread, I was mixing the gingerbread for non-gendered cookies. These were going (most of them) to my niece’s class. I used the classic Company’s Coming recipe. You can find it here. I popped the dough into the fridge to chill for a while.

Not wanting to do more dishes than necessary, I made a batch of soft and chewy gingerbread. These are my all time favourite cookie and bless the internet because you can find the classic cookie recipe from Company’s Coming here. I pulled out my tattered cookie book but it is the same. I use fancy molasses. These went into the fridge to chill as well. They scoop easier when cold.

Next on the list was sugar cookies. I love a good sugar cookie. But the recipes that call for cream of tartar are not those… I search long and hard for a delicious version and then I found Steph. I follow her on Instagram. These are amazing. There is a video you can watch here because she is an extraordinary decorator or you can find the written recipe is here. I cut rounds, left some plain, used sprinkles for some and butter cream for the rest. I crushed candy cane over the butter cream. I do not enjoy royal icing so my cookies will never be decorated in a detailed way. I go for flavour. My Aunty always made hearts at valentines and used butter cream. To me, that is the proper way to eat sugar cookies. I rolled and baked these right away, the don’t need to chill. Honestly, these are a miracle cookie.

While the sugar cookies were baking, I made a double batch of chocolate chip cookies. These are my son’s favourite so I make a batch for the cookie jar and a batch for his Christmas stocking. That way he doesn’t have to share. They are gone in about a day. I use the Nestle Toll House recipe, no nuts and use salted butter because the contrast between the salt and sweet is amazing. I under bake these bad boys until the seven minute mark. Soft and chewy, this is the way the Tourist family likes them best. I searched the internet and this version are what my cookies look like.

Original Nestle® Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies | Allrecipes

After the sugar cookies were cooling on the rack, I started baking the chocolate chip cookies. While those were in the oven, I started rolling the shortbread into balls. While those were in the oven, I scooped the ginger sparklers into 1 1/2″ balls and rolled them in sugar. Baked those off and finally rolled out the gingerbread non-gendered cookies. That is when I realized I was doing too much.

Work was on the phone, my puppy was sick, I haven’t been sleeping because of stress, I am also Christmas shopping on line while waiting for cookies to come and go from the oven. Last batch of gingerbread was ready to go in, I set the timer and left for more Christmas shopping. Time timer went off, I opened the oven and LITERALLY the gingerbread non-gendered cookies ran away. They were not in the oven. I found the tray of unbaked cookies on my freezer in the pantry. Clearly my brain had reached maximum.

I finished them off and decided to store and decorate cookies the next day.

The moral of the story? I think 2021 will be the year for me to do less. I want to try to focus on one thing at a time. Be mindful. Be intentional. Enjoy my days rather than try to do everything. I have commitments that take all my time until December 19. That is the day I will deliver my cookies to friends and family and begin my new practice.

I am taking a break for the holidays, see you in a few weeks!

Stay healthy friends! I wish you the very best holiday possible.

Bake Club: Pumpkin Bourbon Bread

Back in the spring when I was buying squash seeds, I purchased butternut squash. When they came from the online shop they were actually kobocha squash. This was a happy accident. I had no idea what to do with them but after a little research, I learned they taste like pumpkin and sweet potato. Libby’s uses these to make their canned pumpkin – this could be a lie because I hear Libby genetically created their own special squash. Doesn’t matter – the kobocha squash tasted exactly like canned pumpkin only… fresher if that makes sense.

I harvested them, cut them up, seeded and roasted them for about an hour at 400F – until fork tender. I had 5lbs of squash and that should yield about 2-2.5 cups of puree. I pushed the roasted pulp through a sieve and was very pleased with the result.

The puree was smooth and tasty.

I followed Melissa Clark’s Pumpkin Bourbon Bread recipe. I had a some bourbon leftover from making vanilla extract and I had 1 3/4 of squash left aft I ran it through the sieve so it work out perfectly! You can use canned pumpkin but my garden squash was next level!

Her method for making brown butter was the easiest method. The key is to use a skillet. That way you can actually see when the solids turn. Big foam – then brown solids. Perfect.

I added all the wet ingredients into the squash except the sugar. That was weird. The sugar needed to be whisked into the flour. I had never done that before.

The 1/4 cup of whisky smelled amazing. Don’t leave it out. It makes this bread.

Then combine everything together and fill two 8″ loaf pans. I have 9″ so they were a bit shallow.

This made two loaves and I think pistachios would be great in this. I used fresh and fragrant ground cardamom – It is worth doing that as well. I am learning fresh spices not purchased in bulk at Costco is worth it. The flavour intensity is amazing.

These were simple to make and Melissa Clarks instructions are always easy to follow. I added this recipe to my hand written recipe book because I will always make this version.

Stay healthy friends!

Bake Club: Vanilla Extract

Has anyone else notice how expensive vanilla extract is? The price keeps rising because of how labour intensive it is to grow them and how rare they are. 80% of the worlds supply comes from Madagascar. I spend – roughly on average – $204 for twelve cups of pure vanilla extract. I think I go through about one and a half cups a year. This year is a bit more because of the pandemic but maybe it is my regular life now, who knows? But even at $25 a year – that gets expensive. It also isn’t always the best quality. My mom brought me 2L of Mexican vanilla once. It was wonderful and lasted a couple of years. Last year I went to Trader Joe’s and brought home bourbon vanilla extract, 1/2 cup for $9 usd. It was good. I mean, reeeeeaaaaalllyyyy good. I wanted that flavour on a regular basis.

So I did the research.

I watched numerous videos and read articles about making your own. I learned that the more vanilla bean you use, the faster it is ready. One gal used 1 bean per four cups and it took a year before she could use it. Ina Gartner uses 10 beans per four cups and it was read in less than 4 weeks. Regardless of quantity, the process is incredibly simple.

Next I did the research looking for vanillla bean. Sobeys rarely has any and often it is one in a glass test tube for $8. Bulk Barn didn’t have any – but they cary paste. Cool to know, but not what I am looking for. I googled a local source and found Silk Road Spice Merchant on Whyte Avenue. The original shop is in Calgary. They recently reopened here in Edmonton. There was a bit of a wait to enter the shop. The limit the number of people allowed in at one time. They have sanitized baskets, hand sanitizer at the entrance and pleanty of staff on hand to help.

THIS WAS A COOL SHOP!

It felt like an old timey apothecary. There were jars of various spices lined on shelves. You could purchase in jars or they would weigh out amounts for you an put it in a bag. All of it was cool.

I went in looking for whole nutmeg for my pumpkin pies and 10 Tahitian vanilla beans (the lesser expensive to Madagascar bean). I came away with black volcanic salt from Hawaii, and very fragrant cardamom. The smells and pungency of these spices are incredible compared to Bulk Barn. Fresh is best apparently.

The vanilla bean was the freshest I have ever experienced. They were soft and fragrant.

I cut them in half. My kitchen and I smelled like vanilla for the rest of the day and I wasn’t mad about that.

I bought the cheapest bourbon available to me. $25 for 750 ml of Jim Bean Kentucky Bourbon, I bought two. I filled three 2-cup jars with the bourbon. and divided up the twenty pieces. When it got down to the last two, I chopped them in thirds and popped them into the jars.

I have left them on my counter so I remember to shake them up about three-four times a day for a week. Then once in the pantry, they will get a shake about once every four to five days. In 4-6 weeks it should be ready to use and will last indefinitely.

Once the jar has about a quarter left, I can refill it with bourbon for one more use. That doubles the value of those beans or I can squeeze the the beans and get a paste out and stick the empty pod in to a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar. Either way, excellent value because six cups of vanilla bourbon extract cost me $99. I saved $105. Maybe I will buy myself some new cake pans, a new rolling pin and a set of circle cutters. OR I could buy new electric beaters. OR maybe just put it away for something else.

When these beauties are ready they will be dark – just like the stuff you buy from the grocery store. I will let you know how it turns out.

Stay healthy everyone!

Resolutions

Today’s post is from some new friends (Alanna and Jana – it’s great when new friends rhyme!) I met at the WordPress Conference this year. They speak my language of yoga and Chocolate, so naturally we hit it off immediately! I invite you to take a stroll over to their page Rejuvenate your Prana and tell them I say hi!

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RESOLUTIONS

Could it almost be the start of another New Year? Along with the excitement of a fresh start and new possibilities comes the dreaded New Year’s Resolution! I, like many others, have fallen prey to this tradition. I have made myself a lofty goal or two that usually goes something like; This year I will lose 10 pounds or This year I will stop drinking coffee or This year I will not buy so many clothes! I would immediately start working on my goal by setting a date on which to start it – say sometime mid-February perhaps (I would need some time to prepare myself to start this plan)! Actually, it would give me just enough time to forget I ever made that goal and to go on my merry way right into the next year at which time I could start all over again!

So, why do we do this to ourselves? I like to believe that those of us who create resolutions are doing so because we are ‘resolving’ to be a better version of ourselves in the coming year. We would like to see ourselves grow, change and evolve as the years go by. There’s nothing wrong with that right? Maybe not – but perhaps there is a different way to approach the process; a kinder, gentler and more rewarding way.

We all have what we call “guilty pleasures”, things that we love but that we believe are in some way ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. Maybe it’s chocolate or coffee or shoe shopping. When we deprive ourselves of these things by taking them away, we usually end up rebounding and eating more chocolate than ever or having two lattes a day instead of just one! Well, what if we were to take the guilt away leaving only the pleasure? Perhaps we could do the things that we would most deeply desire for ourselves, not what we think we should do or need to do!

So how do we do this? Well, I believe the key lies in creating balance and using our focus to our benefit. In yoga, when we bring our bodies into a balancing posture like “Tree Pose”, we first find our center (putting our weight onto one leg), bring our gaze to a focal point in front of us (allowing us to stay steady) and then start coming into the pose and finding our balance. This isn’t the end of the process though. To find our balance in the pose, we may find ourselves losing our balance, swaying to the right or left or needing to put our foot back down on the ground. So, we allow ourselves to rock back and forth, to sway, to lose our balance and then we just come back into the pose again, the same way we did the first time.

I believe that setting resolutions or goals for ourselves can look the same as practicing Tree Pose. First, we find our center; that is, we discover what it is we truly want for ourselves. Maybe this is more vibrant health or a more satisfying diet or to feel better in our bodies. Then we bring our focus to that goal by seeing what it is that that we can do to achieve this for ourselves. Perhaps it is by adding new foods to our diet that make us feel healthy and vibrant instead of focusing on taking other foods away. Doing this allows us to place our focus on what we want in our lives, not what we feel we must not have. Then we start to find our balance within this new way of living. We notice when the balance feels right and if it doesn’t or we lose our balance, we come back to the process by re-adjusting our focus. We may start to notice that the foods or other things that don’t fit with our true intention for ourselves start to fall away or are replaced by things that make us feel differently.

So, what do you desire for yourself in the coming year? How will you approach this intention in a way that leaves you feeling pleasure minus the guilt? We’d love to know!

Speaking of guilt-free pleasures, Jana has been whisk-deep in culinary experimentation as usual. Her obsession lately has been to create “clean” eating chocolate treats. So here is a recipe that comes directly to you from the Rejuvenate Your Prana Kitchen. We call it “Passion Pot de Creme” (a no bake version with layers of orange-mint chocolate and raw cashew cream). Sometimes life doesn’t always deliver, but this desert sure will!

Recipe:

For the chocolate pot de crème:

8 oz. of good quality semi-sweet chocolate (I used Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate chips – use your favorite kind)

2 tsp of orange zest (other options: ground coffee, cinnamon, etc.)

1 C of plain almond milk

½ C finely ground almond

1 tsp of vanilla extract

For the cashew cream:

1 C raw cashews (soaked in water for 30 minutes)

3 oz dates (soaked in water for 30 minutes)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Water as needed (use soaking water from the dates)

Directions:

  1. For the pot de crème: melt chocolate in heat proof bowl (e.g. I placed the bowl in a shallow pan filled with water to create a double boiler)
  2. Mix orange zest in melted chocolate. Remove from heat.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the almond milk, vanilla and ground almonds. Pour mixture into melted chocolate and whisk until evenly blended.
  4. Pour into 4 small ramekins. Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours. The pot de crème should be thick and rich like pudding after refrigeration.
  5. Make the cashew cream: Drain water from cashews and place in a blender, add with dates and the soaking water and the vanilla (the amount of water added should be just enough to cover the solids). Taste and add more sweetener if desired (remember that the chocolate will be quite sweet so the cashew cream should have a milder taste).
  6. To assemble: Dollop cashew cream on top of chilled chocolate.
  7. Garnish with berries or chocolate shavings and serve chilled.
  8. Enjoy!

Happy New Year from Rejuvenate Your Prana!