Raising the Baking Bar – New Recipes, New Loves & *NEW* Cranberry Chocolcate Pecan Oat Squares!

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I’m on cloud nine.  I just had one of the best baking experiences EVER over the weekend and I’m so excited to share the goods with you all!  Ate by Ate has been starving for some baking love for a few months now and while I’ve been collecting recipes and thinking of new ideas, I haven’t put on oven mitts in goodness knows how long.  And if I have, it’s only been to open and shut my beloved George Foreman grill!  It feels SO good to bake.  I’ve missed it and even though it’s really only been a few months, it feels like an eternity to me.  And it felt so fabulous trying something new! 

Everyone knows I love cookies and cupcakes, but for the first time in my life, I took a crack at baking squares and bars!  It sounds ridiculous, I know.  “You’ve never made brownies?!  You’ve never used a 9×13 pan?!”  Sad, but true.  But there’s a first time for many things in life and this is mine.  I used my brand new 9×13 pan to make cranberry chocolate pecan oat bars and squares and they turned out amazing! 

I got the recipe from Kraft Foods ‘What’s Cooking’ magazine (Festive 2007) and I fell in love with the recipe the second I saw it.  And for those of you who might be unfamiliar with Kraft’s magazine, ‘What’s Cooking’ is a quarterly publication available through subscription only.  Not to fret though because all of these magazine recipes are also available online on their website at kraftcanada.com.  There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of recipes of all kinds on their website (dinner ideas, sandwiches, desserts, pasta, meats, barbeque, you name it!) so if you’re interested in online recipe surfing, that’s your way to go.  But you know me – hard copy rules my heart!  

After making these, I am so in love with making bars and squares.  They are so incredibly easy to make and they’re almost like one of my favourite cookies, cranberry white & dark chocolate chip cookies, only in square form!  Beware if you’re allergic to nuts though; these have pecans in them so if you omit them you can substitute them with different dried fruit.  Or, you know, some more chocolate!  

Recipe for Chocolate, Cranberry & Oat Bars (makes 32 squares or 16 bars):

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup orange juice (*Deb’s Note: I actually omitted the orange juice from the recipe because I ran out of it.  My brother, um, kind of drank it all.  So I didn’t use it!)
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 cups quick cooking oats
  • 1 tsp. Magic Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup non-hydrogenated margarine (*Deb’s Note: I used butter because I prefer it over margarine and the squares turned out fabulous, so use whatever you feel most comfortable with.  3/4 cup butter equals 1-1/2 sticks of butter, just for reference.  And make sure it’s at room temperature!)
  • 1-1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 squares Baker’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup pecan pieces

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.  Combine cranberries and orange juice in microwaveable bowl.  Microwave on HIGH 30 sec.  Let stand 10 minutes.  (*Deb’s Note: remember, I didn’t use orange juice so if you find yourself in my shoes, just measure out the cranberries and put them aside for later).
  • Meanwhile, combine flour, oats, baking powder and salt; set aside.  Beat margarine and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.  (*Deb’s Note: I used a handheld mixer and I also used butter as opposed to margarine).
  • Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition.  Gradually add flour mixture, mixing well after each addition.  Stir in cranberries (and orange juice if you’re using), chocoate and pecans.
  • Spread dough firmly into 9×13-inch baking pan sprayed with cooking cooking spray (*Deb’s Note: I lined my baking pan with parchment paper and had “handles” hanging off the sides so it would be easy to lift out the giant baked bar after cooling).
  • Bake 20 to 22 min. or until centre is set.  Cool completely on wire rack before cutting to serve (*Deb’s Note: mine took 21 minutes and I left mine to cool for an hour before cutting.  Cooling is absolutely necessary because it will literally crumble if you try to take it out too soon).

*****

Recipe taken from Kraft Foods Canada ‘What’s Cooking’ magazine, Festive 2007, page 23.

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Let’s Talk Bagels! Toasted Poppy Seed Favourites with Cheddar & Cranberry Chicken Salad

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It’s been quite some time since my last bagel-related post, so here are a batch of photos of three of my favourite things rolled up in one bagel sandwich: poppy seed bagels, cheddar cheese, and dried cranberries in chicken salad!  There hasn’t been much bagel love on the blog (you can check out my two bagel-related posts listed at the bottom here) so I’m determined to change that with a little more exploration on the bagels and great bagel bakeries that are waiting for me in our city.  There was a time when I avoided bagels like the plague because I believed they were ungodly fattening.  Coming from a girl who loves cupcakes, that probably sounds like a huge hoot to everyone.  But it’s true.  For about 2 years I did not nosh on one single bagel.  I didn’t eat toasted bagels when I was out.  I didn’t buy any from the bakery.  And I hated the ones that looked as though they’d been pumped with a steroid gun.  

Then one day I realized that I was missing out on some of the truly good quality stuff and that I actually kind of missed them.  So I snapped out of it, stopped caring about the aforementioned fat, and enjoyed the delightful toasty stuff with my favourite fillings and spreads such as cream cheese (no butter for me!), smoked salmon, chicken salad, and grilled veggies on either toasted sesame seed or poppy seed bagels.  Those two are my favourites with onion and garlic ones coming in at a close third.  And while what you see here is a bagel sandwich, I actually love eating my bagels open-faced because I think they taste yummier that way!   

This bagel in particular came from Bruegger’s Bagels (an American chain that has opened up shop on our side of the pond in both Hillcrest Mall in Thornhill and in the underground PATH near the Dundee Place food court) and the first time I came across their goods was last fall when they had pumpkin bagels with pumpkin cream cheese!  Even though I didn’t have any of the special cream cheese because I was taking bagels home as opposed to eating one right away (not getting a taste makes me a little sad now that I think of it!), I really enjoyed theirs and there’s some fab Jewish, Montreal-style bagels I’ve had during my time as icing sugar queen at Le Dolci.  Oh!  And the jalapeño asiago mozzarella bagel from our dear Tim’s is also a favourite of mine!  With cream cheese, it’s exactly like eating a creamy, cheesy, stuffed jalapeño popper.  Indulgent?  Sure.  But life is that much funner with a few indulgent moments savoured every now and then.      

*****

For a look at previous bagel-related posts in Ate by Ate, check out my veggie bagel from Seventh Sister Bakery on Roncesvalles and my delicious smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel brunch from Niche Coffee & Tea Company.

Chinese Bakery Swiss Roll Cakes & Blackberries – The Summer Berry “Bread Pudding” Yogurt Parfait

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Inspired by trifles and bread puddings: sponge cake cubes as the backdrop of my latest summer yogurt parfait!  Every time I think of trifles, I laugh and snort because I’m reminded of the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. episode in Season 6 where Rachel is in charge of making Thanksgiving dessert at Monica’s.  She decides to make a pretty, fancy trifle, only to get the recipe mixed up (magazine pages stuck together – whoops!), thus ending up with half a trifle and half of what appears to be shepherd’s pie: “We have a layer of lady fingers, and then a layer of peas and onions…”; and don’t even get me started on Ross’s, “it tastes like feet!” comment!  Ha!

Lucky for me, no shepherd’s pie and trifle mix-up on my end, just good old fashioned sponge cake with yogurt – a little like a trifle because of all the layering, fruits, and cake, and a little like a bread pudding with the bread “soaked” fruit and yogurt mixture!  In my breakfast bowl we have vanilla and mango sponge cake cubes, dried cranberries, plump blackberries, strawberry yogurt, honey nut flake cereal (I know it’s hard to see since the poor things are buried, but I promise they’re there!) and shredded coconut.

I don’t eat sponge cake very often, but there’s this one Chinese bakery in Scarborough called Kin-Kin Bakery (specifically the one in Agincourt Mall) that makes the BEST Chinese sponge-cake swiss rolls!  These swiss roll cakes, in general, can either be absolutely fabulous or absolutely horrid (think dry, crumbly, and tough to eat) and after many years of trying out different bakeries, my family has finally found our holy grail Chinese bakery for these lovely swiss roll sponge cake logs at Kin-Kin and every single one of their cake flavours are delicious.  My favourite flavour, hands down, is their mango one and I decided to use a slice to pretty up my morning breakfast.  For a really decadent parfait in the future, I’m thinking chocolate sponge cake swiss roll, strawberries, chocolate chips, and vanilla yogurt – yet another opportunity to make breakfast sweet and fun.

A Berry, Berry Fruity Yogurt Parfait! Cranberries, Blueberries, & Blackberries on Cereal & Vanilla Yogurt

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I have 3 names for this fruity tutti berry parfait: the “perfect-for-Deb-because-she’s-not-allergic-to-any-of-it” yogurt parfait, the “this-might-as-well-be-a-berry-pie-or-cheesecake” yogurt parfait, or the “my-brother-won’t-touch-this-with a-stick-so-I-don’t-have-to-share” parfait.  I like all three 😀 

Berries are a godsend because they don’t give me hives or make me swell up like a water balloon, they taste great in both dried and fresh forms, I don’t have to fight with anyone over them (my brother hates berries with a passion – oh shucks, more for me), and they’re a yummy alternative to the daily banana fruit I normally eat for breakfast. 

For the past year or two I’ve been relying on bananas to fill part of my daily fruit quota simply because they have a longer shelf life than berries and also because they’re one of the few fruits that are available all-year round.  I kind of overdid it with the dried cranberries though.  I had to scoop half of them out because I went a little sprinkle happy for the photos, oops!  I switched up the granola and used my vanilla almond honey bunches of oats flake cereal in its place over vanilla yogurt, and sprinkled shredded coconut on top again because I love coconut and think it’s cute that it looks like snow on my parfait.

Tutti Fruitti Breakfast Muffins – Flourless, Gluten-Free, Banana Almond With Dried Cranberries and Pineapple!

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Happy new year, everyone!  I hope everyone is well-rested from the outings, parties, and holiday madness in general.  I had myself a relaxing new year’s eve going out for frozen yogurt with my family, picking up some snazzy scrapbooking materials on mega sale, and stuffing myself with pesto pizza before settling in for some good old-fashioned new year’s eve tv watching.  Low key, but delicious, just the way I like it!  And here we are almost two days into 2012 with a whole year of fun things and opportunities ahead of us. 

Even though I’m looking forward to so many things in the next little while (I have a scrapbooking supply shopping trip in the works and some upcoming winter markets I’m excited about!), I’m really sad that Christmas and the holidays are over.  I know it’s because my holiday hoopla festivities got off to a late start this year and I feel like it passed by way too fast.  My Christmas and holiday clock is still ticking and I have an abundance of energy that I need to channel to the point where I still want to fill Christmas cookie boxes and buy Christmas scrapbook paper!  I was the one having fun Christmas shopping after Christmas!  If anything, I can tuck away all the Christmas ideas and things I didn’t get around to enjoying in 2011 and save them for 2012.

A new year means a fresh and clean slate and that means noshing on leftovers and using up some ingredients that need to be eaten pronto.  We had some super ripe bananas in the kitchen and because I accidentally bought one too many bags of ground almonds (which I told you all about here), it was the most opportune time to do some baking!  Enter a fresh batch of baked goods for the first day of 2012: flourless, gluten-free banana almond nutmeg breakfast muffins with dried cranberries and pineapple!  It’s the first time I’ve ever baked anything flourless and I was super excited to bake something entirely out of ground almonds.  Not to mention I was giddy over mashing bananas – it’s very therapeutic and fun! 

I had to convert almost all the measurements from the original recipe though because they were in grams as opposed to cups and spoon measurements and I improvised and changed things up a little when it came to the ingredients, but lucky for me, the muffins turned out AMAZING!  The original recipe doesn’t have much sugar in it and for good reason: the dried fruit is deliciously juicy and sweet in these muffins and the texture of the ground almond cake is wonderfully soft and moist.  It’s incredibly moist banana cake and they smell divine!  These muffins are definitely the kind you want to enjoy every morning with some almond milk or yogurt.  This was one yummy way to celebrate the first day of the new year!

Recipe for Flourless, Banana Almond Muffins With Dried Fruit and Nutmeg (yields 12 muffins)

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened at room temperature (3/4 of a stick)
  • 2 cups ground almonds
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries or other dried fruit (I only had 1/4 cup, so I used chopped dried pineapple to fill in the rest)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • juice from 1 whole lemon
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup (pure maple syrup does not have gluten in it, but check the label of your syrup just to be sure if you are making these for those who have celiac disease or who are gluten-intolerant)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (pure is best, but again, check the label to make sure there is no gluten)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • cinnamon sugar (optional; 1/8 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon)

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line a 12-cup muffin/cupcake pan (or two 6-cup ones, whatever combination you have) with paper liners and set aside.
  •  Place the softened butter, maple syrup, and beaten eggs in a large mixing bowl.  Using an electric mixer, mix the ingredients together until butter is creamy and eggs and maple syrup are thoroughly incorporated.
  • Mix in the baking powder, then slowly add the ground almonds, occasionally scraping down the sides until everything is combined.
  • Add the lemon juice, nutmeg, and mashed bananas, mixing after each addition.
  • Using a large spoon, fold the cranberries, dried pineapple, or whatever dried fruit you are using, into the batter.  Spoon the batter into the paper-lined muffin tin, filling each cup to the top.  If you are using cinnamon sugar (like me!), sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on the tops.
  • Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean.  When the muffins are cool enough to handle, transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling.  Keep in a dry, airtight container.

*****

Recipe adapted from Banana, Cranberry, and Nutmeg Ground Almond Muffins on Calorie Count.

Indulging My Inner Bake Sale Fanatic! Soft, Chewy Cranberry Cookies With White & Semisweet Chocolate Chips

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It feels like forever since I last baked cookies!  I know it’s only been about two and a half months, but I have a constant baking itch that makes it seem like eons between batches.  I go through phases where I’ll bake cookies five times in a row, jump over to muffins, daydream about cake pop flavours and cupcake frosting, and then come back to my beloved cookies.  October was filled with apple baked goods and fall flavours and it was so much fun baking cute little tea muffins stuffed with juicy apples.  I’m sad that I didn’t get any pumpkin baking in, but November is still young so I’m crossing my fingers that I can still get some pumpkin baking in alongside all the holiday goodie recipes dancing in my head.

I got this recipe from my November issue of Food & Wine magazine and I was ecstatic to find holiday cookie recipes in their article “How Baking Can Change the World”, which highlights the fusion of bake sales and charitable causes.  I have cookie cookbooks, yes, but it’s always exciting to find random cookie recipes in magazines since they don’t always have them.  I’m crazy about bake sales and I go crazy for cookie articles and recipes in food magazines because there’s so much inspiration to gain from them: ways to package them, pretty decorative paper packaging, and all the different types of cookies you can try your hand at baking!  Bake sales have always been special to me because along with craft and artisan sales, I really enjoy supporting independent businesses and homemade/handmade things. 

I’ve been thinking more and more about holiday cookie exchanges and I love the idea of cookie exchanges in general.  Swapping cookies is a heck of a lot easier than trading cake!  And sure, many of us are cupcake lovers, but not everyone has the fancy tools and supplies to make frostings and decorations.  Cookies can be simple in composition and taste amazing though, so it’s win-win.  Baking batches of cookies to trade with your friends?  FUN!  Coming home with a dozen different cookies to nosh on?  EVEN MORE FUN!  I’ve never actually done a holiday cookie exchange before but I really want to, so we’ll see if anything pans out over the next and a half during the holdiays! 

Given how the holidays are nipping at our heels, I felt that baking with tart cranberries would be the perfect way to straddle both the fall and upcoming winter seasons.  I love cranberries, both fresh ones and dried ones.  I know some people find cranberries way too fish-face sour, but I love cranberries and cranberry juice (and I do mean juice, not the oversweetened cocktail variety!) and I take advantage of cranberry juices and flavoured things whenever I can.  If you love chocolate chips and fruity flavours, you have to try this recipe!  These cookies are so super soft and chewy and you get such a such a beautiful flavour contrast between the cranberries and the chocolate.  The tartness of the cranberries and the rich sweetness of the chocolate don’t overpower each other so you get the best of both worlds.  They are delicious!

Recipe for Dried Cranberry and Chocolate Cookies from Food & Wine magazine (yields 3-4 dozen cookies)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2½ sticks unsalted butter (10 ounces), at room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups semisweet or white chocolate chips (*Deb’s Note: I used both!) 
  • 1½ cups dried cranberries

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (*Deb’s Note: My batch of cookie dough made 39 cookies so I actually ended up reusing one of the two baking sheets to bake the extras after the first batch came out of the oven).
  • In a medium bowl, mix the flour with the oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt (*Deb’s Note: I didn’t use the mixer for this step, I just used a large spoon to mix everything together).
  • In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and both sugars at medium speed until creamy.  Add the egg followed by egg yolk and vanilla, beating well between additions and scraping down the side of the bowl as necessary (*Deb’s Note: I don’t have a standing mixer so I used a handheld).
  • Beat in the dry ingredients, then add the chocolate chips and cranberries and beat until incorporated (*Deb’s Note: I don’t prefer beating chocolate chips and dried fruit, so I used a large spoon to fold everything in instead).
  • Spoon heaping teaspoons of the dough onto the baking sheets, 2 inches apart.  Bake 12-15 minutes, until the cookies begin to brown at the edges.  Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets, then transfer them to a rack to cool completely (*Deb’s Note: I rolled my cookie dough into balls a little smaller than golf ball size and placed 15 on each baking sheet.  Mine took about 14 minutes in the oven).

*****

Recipe taken from Food & Wine magazine.  Sampson, Sally.  “How Baking Can Change the World.” Food & Wine November 2011: 130.

Sunny Sunday Weekend Baking – Cranberry Oatmeal Crunch Cookies!

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Happy Sunday everyone!  I’ve been itching to bake more cookies for ages now (I haven’t baked since Easter!), so in honour of my mum’s birthday today I baked cookies using one of my mum’s favourite foods – oatmeal!  I love using the recipes from my favourite foodie murder mystery series by Joanne Fluke and I’m hoping that I can bake my way through the entire series, cookie wise anyway.  I’ve baked and posted recipes and photos for three kinds of cookies on the blog so far including this one and I can’t wait to go through all my books and bookmark recipes I want to try next. 

I took this recipe from Joanne Fluke’s Cream Puff Murder and while the original recipe called for dried blueberries for blueberry crunch cookies, I tweaked it and used dried cranberries instead and halved the recipe so that I would have closer to three dozen as opposed to six dozen.  I would have followed the recipe and used dried blueberries, but by golly are dried blueberries ever expensive!  I wasn’t willing to pay an arm and a leg for them, even in bulk, so I opted for dried cranberries sweetened with strawberries.  The result was amazing crunchy cookies with rich flavour and fruity sweetness.

If you can find already ground oatmeal, it’ll save you a bit of time and arm muscle, but I could only find regular cooking oats at the bulk so I ground the oatmeal myself.  Obviously using a food processor is the easiest way to go about grinding the oats, but since I don’t have a food processor and didn’t want to make a mess out of my blender, I ground them by hand.  How, you ask?  I left the oats in the plastic bag I bought them in, used the back of a butcher knife, and pounded the oats until they were the consistency and texture of thick sand.  It was a damn good arm workout, ha!  It was so worth it though because the cookies turned out great.

 

Recipe for Blueberry Crunch Cookies (yields 6 dozen cookies)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup melted butter (2 sticks, 1/2 a pound)
  • 2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1⅟₂teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 large eggs, beaten (just whip them up with a fork)
  • 2⅟₂cups flour (no need to sift – pack it down when you measure it)
  • 1 cup dried sweetened blueberries (other dried fruit will also work if blueberry-sized or cut to blueberry size)
  • 2 cups GROUND dry oatmeal (measure before grinding)

Note: mixing this dough is much easier with an electric mixer, but you can also do it by hand.  I stirred by hand for the first two steps and used an electric mixer to incorporate the eggs and flour.  I then mixed the cranberries and ground oatmeal into the dough afterward by hand.

Directions:

  • Melt the butter in a large microwave-safe bowl for 1 minute on HIGH.  Add the sugar and mix it in thoroughly.
  • Add the vanilla, salt, and the baking soda.  Mix it in well.
  • When the mixture has cooled to room temperature, stir in the beaten eggs.  When they are fully incorporated, add the flour in half-cup increments, stirring after each addition.
  • Mix in the dried blueberries (**Deb’s note: or in my case, cranberries).
  • Prepare your oatmeal.  Measure out two cups and place them in the food processor or blender, chopping with the steel blade until the oatmeal is the consistency of coarse sand. (**Deb’s note: like I mentioned before, I ground the oatmeal by hand, pounding on the bag of oats using the back of a butcher knife.  Works the same way and you get great arm exercise!).
  • Add the ground oatmeal to your bowl, and mix it in thoroughly.  The resulting dough will be quite stiff.
  • Roll walnut-sized dough balls with your hands, and place them on a greased cookie sheet (12 balls to a standard-size sheet (**Deb’s note: I was able to fit 15 dough balls comfortably on mine).  (If the dough is too sticky to roll, place the bowl in the refrigerator for 30 minutes and try again).  Squish the dough balls down a bit to prevent them from rolling off the cookie sheet.
  • Bake at 350°F for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown on top.  Cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes, and then remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

I absolutely love the cranberries in these cookies and I think using dried apricots would be great for this recipe too.  The perfect sized cookies to tote along on a picnic or for a breakfast treat or mid-morning snack.  Happy baking everyone!

*****

Recipe taken from Joanne Fluke’s Cream Puff Murder.  New York: Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2009.  Photographs taken by me.  The recipe can be found on page 197.  The original recipe is titled Blueberry Crunch Cookies.