Category Archives: chocolate

(Hello Dolly!) Swalty Chocolate Bars

Well hello there, thanks for stopping by!

I spent the last week in Vegas for a company trip, and upon returning home late on Friday night I knew I probably wouldn’t have the energy to do much on Saturday except catch up on sleep.  When a friend invited me to her house for a BBQ, I wanted to accept but knew I couldn’t go empty-handed.  I did a quick survey of my fridge and knew I would have to decide between either (a) going to the grocery store to pick up ingredients to make a dessert, or (b) making do with what I had on hand, even if that meant making something without butter, eggs, or fresh fruit.  I’m never one to back down from a challenge, so I darted into my walk-in pantry (aka storage room) and contemplated my options.  Besides, I wanted to have a nap and going to the grocery store would cut into my precious sleeping time.

You should also know that this dilemma was further complicated by the fact that the hostess of said-BBQ was my lovely hairdresser Wendy, which meant that I couldn’t just show up; I had to show up and look half-decent.  In other words, I couldn’t spend long cooking; I had to do my hair!

Hmm…what to make, what to make.  I started grabbing random pantry ingredients, since the contents of my fridge were rather pathetic – a cake mix (embarrassing but true; I’m a hoarder, remember?), some marshmallows, and chocolate chips for good measure.  A can of petite diced tomatoes rounded out the mix, and with my arms full I sauntered into the kitchen ready to create something edible without having to change out of my sweats to go to the grocery store.

Once in the kitchen, I surveyed my goods, and made the executive decision to make a pan of gooey bar cookie/brownies/whatchamacallits.  Everyone loves chocolate, I reasoned, and a pan full of something would be less finicky to make than drop cookies.  I needed all the time I could get for my nap and hair, after all.

I vaguely recalled that Hello Dolly bars are always a hit at parties, and wondered if I could replicate something similar using what I had on hand.  I scrummaged around and found some shredded coconut and a bag of chopped walnuts in the freezer, and unearthed a can of sweetened condensed milk from the pantry. How this stuff gets here, I’ll never know, but on occasions like this one I’m always grateful to not have to leave my house or pick up TimBits.   I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, ditched the marshmallows and tomatoes, armed myself with an apron and spatula, and got to work!

I began by mixing the dry cake mix with 1/2 c of canola oil, until it formed a dough.  As a sidenote, have you ever made cookies using a cake mix?  I would have probably done that, if I had eggs or butter or the desire to get dressed and leave my house.

Next, I ate 1/4 of the dough patted the dough into a 9×13″ pan that had been lined with parchment paper.

If the dough looks glossy greasy, its because it is.  No way around that one, folks.  This was NOT a situation where I was trying to make something healthy; it was a situation where I was trying to make something quickly so I could do my hair.

It’s all about priorities, after all.

Once I made peace with the grease, I then sprinkled 1 c each of coconut, chopped walnuts, and chocolate chips on top of the chocolate base…

…and then poured a can of sweetened condensed milk, otherwise known as nectar of the South, evenly on top.

Sweet, sweet, goodness.

It was at this point that I stared at the pan that was before me; the pan that contained enough sugar to put anyone into a diabetic coma, and wanted to add another layer of complexity.  Since I adore anything that is sweet and salty (or swalty), I recalled the chocolate covered caramel pretzel rods that I love so dearly (and therefore never make), and knew instantly that I needed to add a salty element to these bars.  I dashed into my pantry again, and emerged exactly 11.27 seconds later with a bag of these beauties:

Oh happy day!  I smashed up 10 or so, using the bowl from the chocolate batter base and the jar of coconut since I try to avoid doing dishes at all costs.

I put the pretzel pieces over the sweetened condensed milk, and gently pressed them in so they’d stay put. And not end up on my hips by way of my mouth, since we all know that pretzels like to travel.

I popped the whole lot in the oven, jumped in the shower, and in 25 minutes pulled a pan of pure goodness out of the oven.  I left them to cool, and quickly got ready to head out.

A few hours later, after we were all stuffed with grilled chicken and fabulous side dishes, it was time for dessert.

(I’d show you a picture of the pan when it just came out of the oven, but it looks almost identical to the pre-oven shot so just use your imagination, ok?)

I nervously cut into the pan, not sure what to expect.

They cut cleanly; that was a good sign.

With the disclaimer that this was a last-minute throw together type dessert, I quickly summoned the children to do some quality control prior to placing the bars on a plate and bringing them to the adult table.  The children approved – 6 year olds have discerning palates, in case you weren’t aware – and deemed them “safe” for the grown-ups.

You guys.  These.Are. Awesome.  They are sweet, salty, rich, and decadent.  They are serious. Cut them into small pieces, or have insulin on stand-by. They were referred to as “the best dessert I’ve ever had”, and R told me the only time I could make them again was for special occasions, like winning the lottery.  Yes, they’re THAT good.  Make them for your next BBQ with your hairdresser, or your sister, or your neighbour, or The Bachelorette.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to make sure your hair looks good!

Chocolate Swirled Peanut Butter Banana Bread

When you were a kid, did your parents ever tell you that TV would rot your brain? I can’t remember if mine did or not – does that mean my brain has already rotted? Either way, I watched more TV than I should have as a child, and (most days) my brain works alright.

A few years ago, I made the decision to go without a TV.  Criticized by many and understood by few, it was the right thing for me at the time.  Truthfully, I haven’t really missed it, with the exception of a few odd times.  Besides, I always told myself that if I really wanted to watch TV, I could just go to the gym.

Let’s just say I haven’t watched much TV since my days of “Who’s The Boss?” and my gym membership has remained mostly unused since 2007.

The other day, I made a grave mistake: I plugged my TV into the wall, and – lo and behold – I have cable. Who knew?!?!

Naturally, I did what any good Martha-wannabe would do and I turned it to the Food Network.  “Recipe for Riches” was on – have you heard of it? I hadn’t, but it is a reality show of sorts.  Contestants were competing for the best cake in Canada, and the winner will have their product reproduced under the Presidents Choice Brand.  They also win $25,00o in prize money, if you’re into that kind of thing.

One of the final 2 contestants made this cake called Banana Chocolate WOW cake, or something to that effect.  It was a banana cake with a chocolate filling, and a white chocolate cream cheese icing.  One of the judges commented that her cake was good because it wasn’t as dense as banana breads usually are (clearly, banana cake shouldn’t be as dense), and I’ll admit that while at the end of the episode neither she or the cake WOW’d me (or the judges; she lost so you can save yourself the hour it would take to watch the episode), it made me decide to share my version of banana bread with you sooner rather than later.

What are your thoughts on banana bread? Mine are that it is usually too dense, too greasy, too light, or not enough banana flavour.  I know, I’m so fickle! Don’t you agree though? Many quick breads suffer from the same ailment, but many have not yet achieved the perfect flavour/texture balance.

Until now that is.  Enter my new love – chocolate swirled peanut butter banana bread.  Because really, isn’t everything better with peanut butter and chocolate? 

Oil (canola or grapeseed), buttermilk, bananas, brown sugar, peanut butter (I like natural), vanilla, AP flour, WW flour, eggs, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder, chocolate chips.

In a large bowl, mash 3 large bananas.

Add 3/4 c brown sugar, 1/3 c oil, 1/3 c buttermilk, 1/3 c peanut butter, 2 eggs, and 1.5 t vanilla, and beat until everything is well acquainted.

In a separate bowl, stir 1 c AP flour, 1 c ww flour, 3/4 t baking powder, 3/4 t baking soda, and 1/2 t salt together.

Stir the dry ingredients in by hand until everything is just barely incorporated.

No one will eat your banana bread if you don’t.

Wondering when the chocolate joins the party? Grab yourself about 1 c of batter in a separate bowl, and sift in 2 -3 T of cocoa powder.

That, my friends, is why we sift. Use a spoon to smoosh the cocoa pebbles (is that a cereal? I was deprived as a child so I’m not sure) through the sieve, then use the spoon to do a little QC on the batter.

But wait! There’s more:

In this instance, “more” refers to about 1/3 c of chocolate chunks.  Did I measure? Ya right.

Stir the batter together, and set it aside.

Grease and flour 2 loaf pans (I doubled the recipe when I took pictures – this bread is in high demand – so please don’t stretch this 4 ways unless you have a hidden talent for multiplying banana bread), and pour about 2/3 of the regular batter in.

Dallop most of the chocolate batter on top…

Top it off with the rest of the regular batter, and whatever you left in the chocolate bowl.  Unless of course you thought the rest of the chocolate batter was for sampling, in which case you go right ahead.

Gently swirl the two batters together.  Make sure you use a clean skewer for each pan so the swirls are equally distinct.

Bake at 350-degrees for about 40-50 minutes.  These babies took exactly 42 minutes in mine.  Aren’t you proud Mom? I used a timer!

In the pan, they smell delicious.

But once I sliced into them?

To me, this is the quintessential banana bread – not too light, not too dense, hints of peanut butter, and a rich chocolate swirl.

Claimed by some to be the best banana bread they’ve ever had, all I can say is WOW.

(Note: Recipe adapted from the wonderful Julie.)

Carb Lovers Unite!

They say man cannot live on bread alone, but what about woman?

Can she live on chocolate cake with peanut butter cream cheese icing?

Or chewy pretzels with sea salt?

Hmmm….what about 4-cheese butternut squash and cauliflower pasta?

No? Then surely puff pastry appetizers will do!

Ahh…coconut cake.  Just what I’ve been missing my whole life!

Check back in soon; we’ll talk about fish…or eggs…or spinach…or quinoa.

But for now, can someone please pass the peanut butter and bacon chocolate chunk cookies? I’m going through withdrawal.

Thanks.

See you on the StairMaster,

Jaclyn

Strawberry And White Chocolate Stuffed Eggnog French Toast

(I hereby give myself an award for the blog post with the longest title – oy vey!)

I am not a fan of breakfast.

There – I said it. I don’t know if it’s the fact that 95% of the time I’d rather be sleeping or if I have a legitimate distaste for the traditional breakfast foods, but the idea of steel-cut oats just doesn’t get me out of bed in the morning.  Or cereal, I’ve never been a fan of cereal.  Soggy grains in milk? No thanks, I’ll pass. In the summer I’ll whip up a quick smoothie, but when I look outside and see snow that is just about as appealing as spending 3 continuous hours on the StairMaster, followed by running a marathon.  Besides, I hate feeling rushed in the morning, and if I actually make myself a “real” breakfast I tend to be more rushed than normal.  Not quite the best way to start my day, if you know what I mean.

Now brunch, on the other hand, is a completely different animal.  I can handle brunch.  In fact, I quite enjoy it!  I think brunch is the new coffee date, and I’m embracing it wholeheartedly.  I love lingering over brunch with a good friend (or 5), catching up, and not feeling any time pressure to be anywhere or do anything else.  Brunch feels special, since those types of days don’t happen super often.

As you may have picked up on by now, one of my favourite things to do is to open up the pantry and/or fridge and just start combining.  After all, it’s how I first learned how to cook and it is what comes most naturally to me.  On top of this innate desire to play, I also hate to waste food.  What can I say – I’m Scottish!

(It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?!)

Unfortunately (or is it?), I get bored pretty easily and so leftovers are often abandoned in favour of their newer, more exciting cousins.  So…when I looked out the window and saw 2″ of snow (which, by Vancouver standards, is enough to paralyze the entire city…CRAZY I know), opened up my fridge and saw eggnog that was begging for one last chance to shine before being dumped down the drain, and a hunk of french bread on the counter I knew what had to be done.

Brunch on a snow day? Yes please!

Eggnog, egg, vanilla, salt, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, strawberries, white chocolate, bread.

In a shallow dish, whisk together 3/4 c eggnog, 1 egg, 1/2 t vanilla, 1/2 t pumpkin pie spice, 1/4 t nutmeg, and a pinch of salt.

Bonus points if you can find your nutmeg in the abyss of your pantry and grate it fresh.  If you can’t…while, you’ll just have to make this 3x as penance.

Now, I’d like to provide you with a little MDM-style disclaimer: I am fully aware that it’s January, and that in January most people make resolutions to cut back on their fat and sugar consumptions.  I thought about showing you something healthy and delicious…but when I saw the snow all of my logic went out the window and I started for looking for ways to add more fat and sugar to an already-rich dish.

I’m twisted, I know.  I also know that many of you live vicariously through me, so please don’t send me hate mail.

So I thought to myself, while regular eggnog French Toast is good, why not stuff it with chocolate? So I did.  But I added strawberries too, just for good measure.

Since strawberries that are in the grocery stores taste like cardboard aren’t seasonal, I quickly pureed some frozen ones.

One of the most beautiful aspects of French Toast is that it turns out better when it’s made with stale bread.  Love that!  You could use whatever type of bread you have lying around, but I had the last of a loaf of French bread to play with. I sliced it into thick slices, and then made a pocket in each slice.  Don’t cut all the way or the filling will escape!

Put a spoonful of the strawberry puree into the pocket…

And then stuff some good-quality white chocolate in there too.

And please remember, if you wouldn’t eat the chocolate as-is, DO NOT USE IT FOR COOKING!

I’m sorry for yelling, but I feel very strongly about this.

If you had eaten the same melting wafer that I did, you would understand.

Repeat the bread-stuffing process until you run out of bread, filling, or get bored.

Dip the (stuffed) bread into the eggnog mixture, one side at a time.

And then place each slice into a hot skillet.  Not too hot though – the trick with French Toast is that you want it to brown on the exterior, but also to not taste like raw egg (nog) when you take your first bite.

After a few minutes, gently flip each piece.  Looking good!

When you’re ready to eat, dust each piece with some icing sugar.  This is brunch after all, we might as well get a little bit fancy!

Dip in the leftover strawberry puree, if you feel so inclined.

Or maple syrup.  Up to you.  This is pretty rich, but a nice change of pace from your basic French Toast.  Whatever you do, if only for today, please linger and enjoy.  If there’s one thing that I know for sure, it’s that snow day brunches are a very good thing.

Love and best dishes!

Jaclyn

P.S. Don’t be surprised to see a mango-coconut French Toast in the future…or a blueberry-cream cheese one…or peanut butter and chocolate filled…

P.P.S.  Have more eggnog than you know what to do with? Try these scones – they’re delicious, I promise!

Peanut Butter Cookies

When I was younger, it didn’t take much for my Dad to convince my Mom to whip up a batch of peanut butter cookies – they were one of his favourites, and she was always happy to oblige. I always thought she was crazy – all it took was a mere mention a slight hankering for them, and 15 minutes later she’d have a fresh batch coming out of the oven.

Goodness me, I miss living at their house sometimes. You would too if you tried my Mom’s baking.

As a sidenote, it is purely coincidental that I live in elastic-waist yoga pants while at their house.  Their dryer seems to shrink jeans, so what choice do I have?!?! Bizarre, I know.

Unfortunately, since I live exactly 2733.14 miles away from my parents, I don’t have the luxury of having my Mom bake me cookies whenever I feel like them.  Thankfully, she agreed to write out some of her closely guarded  family favourites with the understanding that we wouldn’t give away her trade secrets under any conditions.

Oops.

Anyways, Mom’s cookies are delicious, but I wanted to modernize them a bit since it’s no longer 1987 and since it’s just what I do.

Sorry Mom, nothing personal! Please don’t go on strike anytime soon.

So here ya go – from Momma C’s kitchen to mine to yours – bon appetit my loves!

The cast of characters:

Butter, Peanut Butter, Brown Sugar, White Sugar, Vanilla, Egg, Barley Flour, Quinoa Flour, Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Salt, Dark Chocolate Chips, Fleur de Sel.

Sift or whisk the dry ingredients together:

You’re looking at ½ c barley flour, ¾ c quinoa flour, ½ t baking powder, ¾ t baking soda, and ¼ t salt.

Let’s talk about different flours for a moment, shall we? I grew up with (as most of us did) with good ol’ all-purpose flour with the occasional sprinkling of whole-wheat.  I still use AP flour, but like to experiment with different options that aren’t as heavily refined and processed, and that have higher nutritional value.  I chose quinoa and barley flours for these cookies because both have stronger flavours that the PB could stand up to.  In other words, if you had “eat less wheat” on your New Years Resolutions list, you should make these cookies. They are basically health food.

In case you hadn’t noticed by now, I can justify anything.  I’m thinking about becoming a lawyer when I grow up.

In a separate bowl, cream together the following:

That would be ½ c butter, ½ c all-natural PB* (I like crunchy), ½ c brown sugar, ½ c white sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla extract.

*Yes, you can use regular PB if that’s what you have, I just typically prefer to drink my hydrogenated oils in the form of French Vanilla Coffee Creamer instead of eating them in my PB.

When everything has gotten acquainted, add an egg…

And then the dry ingredients.

Stir everything together, and then add 1/2 c chocolate chips/chunks.  I used dark, but milk would also be good.

My Mom never added chocolate to her cookies, much to my chagrin.  However, one cannot go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate.  This I know for sure.

Stir the dough to incorporate the chocolate, and then roll into balls and place on a cookie sheet.

Use the tines of a fork or the bottom of a potato masher to flatten the cookies slightly.  This is KEY to successful peanut butter cookies.

But wait!

You all know how much I love swalty things, so before I flattened the cookies I sprinkled some fleur de sel on top of each one.

After 7 minutes @ 375-degrees, cookies were born!

Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes to set a little more, and then transfer to a cooling rack.

Or eat directly off the cookie sheet; I won’t judge.

In fact, I might even join you…if I can find my yoga pants that is.

 

Chocolate-Covered Caramel Pretzels

Happy New Year my loves! I don’t know about you, but I am SO excited that 2011 is finally here…so excited that I had to make swalty* pretzels to celebrate.

* Swalty = sweet and salty, a term coined by my friend “Jon” (name may or may not have been changed to protect the privacy of the innocent)

I know what you’re thinking – shouldn’t we be talking about spinach smoothies, grainy salads, or fish now that it’s January 1? Well, quite frankly, no! I am fully aware that about 99% of us resolve to eat healthier and exercise more come January, but I have to get something off of my chest: I have a comfort zone, and it involves butter and chocolate . And cheese, but that’s another post for another day.  I’m tired of setting myself up for failure following the crowd! The year I resolved to eat more sugar and saturated fat.

I want to give myself resolutions I can stick to, you see.

Besides, we have 364 days left to go to the gym.  Today, just focus on making these pretzels.  Trust me, the Stairmaster isn’t going anywhere.

Just to make some of you feel better, I used multigrain pretzels, thereby making these health food.

I just solved your internal dilemma, so let’s play already!

Here’s what you need:

White sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, sweetened condensed milk, sea salt, vanilla, pretzels, chocolate (I used milk and white).

Allow 1 c each of white and brown sugars and corn syrup, 1/2 c butter, and 1 can of sweetened condensed milk to get acquainted over medium heat.

Mood lighting optional.

Once everything has melted together and the mixture has come to a boil, set your timer for 5 minutes and stir constantly so the caramel doesn’t burn.  I could tell you what temperature you’re looking for, but there really isn’t a need to complicate things today.

And also, I’m at my parents house right now and I’m not sure where my Mom keeps her candy thermometer.

Take the pot off the heat, and add vanilla extract or paste, and a pinch of sea salt.

Ladle up some of the caramel in a mug and begin dipping the pretzels!

Let the excess drip off, then put the pretzels on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet.  Repeat until you get bored, or until you run out of pretzels or caramel.

Let the caramel harden for a few hours at room temperature, or speed up the process by putting the pan in the fridge.

Both of my parents fridges are full to the brim, so I had no choice but to wait it out at room temperature.

So I ate some chocolate to console myself.

You can too, if you’re into that kind of thing.

I decided to use milk chocolate for these pretzels, but dark chocolate would also be nice.  A word of caution – use good quality chocolate for these pretzels. I sampled a “melting wafer” and gagged, so I was very thankful that I had the foresight to throw a few bars of Belgium milk chocolate in the grocery cart the other day.

Melt the chocolate chunks with a smidge of butter in a bain marie or in a mug in the microwave if the idea of boiling water on the stove sounds like a lot of work to you.

If you choose to melt the chocolate in the microwave, as I did, make sure you don’t try to rush the process by zapping it at the highest heat.  Low and slow is the way to go, and stir every 30 seconds or so.

Dip the caramel-covered pretzels in the chocolate, and place back on the parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet.  If you had a lot of excess caramel that didn’t stick to the pretzels, you might want to re-line the pan.  Otherwise, the same one you used is probably fine.

Sprinkle the top with some flaky seat salt, if you feel so inclined.

Or what about drizzling the tops with some white chocolate?

You could really top these with anything you’d like – I was tempted to sprinkle the top with some chopped and toasted nuts, or some Craisins, or Skor chips, or even to stir a big spoonful of PB into the chocolate before dipping.

But you know what? I resisted.  And these swalty pretzels are fabulous just as they are.

Don’t you just love healthy food?!?!

P.S. I made 2 cookie-sheets full of these pretzels and got bored, so I poured the leftover caramel into an 8 x 8″ pan that was lined with parchment paper.

I’m planning on cutting it into squares tomorrow for soft caramels, but if you could really do anything with the leftover caramel….dip some apples, some celery, or your arm, for example.

Don’t act like the thought didn’t already cross your mind.

To new New Years Resolutions involving chocolate and caramel instead of celery and Stairmasters – Cheers!

Jaclyn

Uh-oh…

I baked.

It was good.

The end.