All posts by Heather

Contributor Heather Rose is a freelance writer living in Toronto with her puppy, Bodie and boyfriend, Matt, one of whom enjoys her culinary experiments more than the other. She applies her life-long philosophy - "I did my best" - to all her recipes and cooking experiences. Check out her website at www.heatherrosewriting.com.

Easiest Potluck Dish That Wows

Easy Potluck RecipeIf you’re like me and don’t have any money/quiver in terror at the thought of having to prepare a dish for other people (except for your boyfriend who has to eat what you make before he goes to work in the evenings or he starves), this dish is perfect for you. So, you can relax and focus on what’s really important: Removing things in your medicine cabinet because you know your friends are snoopy.

I make this side dish every time we host a medium-to-large dinner party or holiday dinner in our apartment. It doesn’t take long, which is always nice when oven space is at a premium. It’s generally really cheap to make, tastes delicious and is subject to oohs and aahs when unveiled to a crowd.

I stole this recipe from my boyfriend’s mom. She makes it on similar occasions, but she puts carrots in it too. I skip the carrots because then there’s room for more cheese. It has no name, other than that “cheesy broccoli thing”, but my friends have tried to make “Pillsbury broccoli delight” catch on.

This is a perfect potluck side dish as well. I made this for my very first potluck and it turned out great, although while it was baking I made a frantic phone call to my parents asking what the general potluck etiquette was when it came to getting your dish back because my dishware was new at the time and I wanted it back. My mom assured me when I was leaving the host would wash it for me and give it back, which is exactly what happened. Phew. She also suggested adding pretty shapes.

Easy Potluck Recipe
"Does this mean you're going out tonight?"

You’ll need:

Baking dish (red Kitchen-aid dishware is the most impressive)
Cooking spray
3 tubes of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls (keep each of these in the fridge until the last second. This means when the recipe calls for one tube, you go get one tube out of the fridge and leave the rest in there or it will be a big sticky mess)
1 block (the big package!) of cheddar cheese, the older or sharper the better, grated
2-3 big heads of fresh broccoli, chopped into pieces
Parchment paper
Cookie cutters

And it goes like this:

1. Lube up the baking dish with a thin layer of cooking spray, paying extra special attention to the corners and the sides.

2. Spread one tube of crescent roll dough across the bottom of the dish, and squish together the little dotted lines on the dough with your fingers.

3. Bake this layer for 8-10 minutes or so at about 350, until reasonably cooked.

Easy Potluck Recipe
The first layer, baked in advance. If you're not pressed for time, you can skip this step, but it is difficult to discern whether or not the bottom layer is truly cooked once it is all constructed.

4. Cover the first layer of cooked dough with broccoli pieces.

Easy Potluck Recipe
The broccoli layer. This is the coverage you should be striving for.

5. Spread the cheese over the broccoli, filling up all of the nooks and crannies (especially the crannies).

Easy Potluck Recipe
The cheese layer. Crannies: filled.

6. Cover with another tube of crescent roll dough, stretching it out as much as possible to cover all of the broccoli and cheese. Pinch the seams in the dough together with your fingers.

Easy Potluck Recipe
Do your best, those Pillsbury crescent roll seams are tricky.

Here’s where we get fancy! I’ve served this plenty of times without the shapes on top, but I don’t think I’ll do it any other way after doing it with the shapes the last time.

7. Lay out a sheet of parchment paper and lightly spray it with cooking spray.

8. Roll out the last tube of dough onto the parchment paper. Pinch together the seams yet again to make one smooth sheet of dough.

9. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and place them on the dish.

Easy Potluck Recipe
I only have Christmas cookie cutters, and the only other shapes were snowmen and candy canes. I didn't think they would come off well.

 

 

 

You cannot ball up this dough and roll it out again, it just doesn’t work no matter what you do. Do you see the tiny, mangled, ugly star in the bottom right-hand corner up there? That’s what happens when you try to recycle the dough. Just never try. Maximize the amount of shapes you can make to the best of your ability.

Bake the entire thing as long as you can in the middle of the oven at about 350. You need to keep it in the oven a while to make sure the broccoli cooks and the cheese melts, but you don’t want to burn the top dough layer. I’ve found it usually takes between 15-20 minutes, but if your dough layer isn’t too brown yet – keep going. If you didn’t bake the bottom layer first, you need to keep it in the oven until the top layer just can’t take it anymore.

10. Impress your friends! Also, you can add shredded chicken and make it a meal.

Easy Potluck Recipe
BOOM. Tastes even better the next day as leftovers!

 

How To Make Your Own Sushi For Fun And Profit

Sushi is delicious. It’s a popular take-out item, but it can be made at home much more easily than you think. To get real specific, “sushi” only refers to the vinegared rice found in various applications from nigiri (fish on top of rice) to maki (rolls of rice with stuff). Technically, this is Makizushi or “maki”.

Along with the following food items, you will also require a sushi rolling mat (or a bamboo placemat from the dollar store) and some plastic wrap.

Make your own sushi ingredients
Ingredients.

Mandatory sushi ingredients:

  • Sushi rice

Sometimes sold as sticky rice or calrose rice… if there’s a picture of a sushi roll on the package you are probably good to go. Cook it in a rice cooker, let it cool.

  • Nori

Nori are dried seaweed sheets. For some reason I thought you had to soak them in advance or something in order to transform them from delicate, dried crunchy pieces of mermaid-tail coloured paper into the soft, stretchy sushi coating we all know and love, but you don’t – the humidity from the rice takes care of all of that.

  • Rice vinegar
  • A couple spoonfuls of white granulated sugar

Our optional sushi ingredients:

  • Cucumber
  • “Crab”

Spicy mayo:How to make your own sushi

Hold on to your butts, because I am about to significantly improve your life. Spicy mayo, found on many delicious sushi roll varieties, is nothing more than mayonnaise mixed with Sriracha chill sauce. You’re welcome. Now you have the most delicious condiment for dipping, to spread on sandwiches and more. You’re not eating straight mayo, it’s an exotic treat!

How to make your own sushiCrushed Nacho Cheese Doritos

The restaurant that awakened my desire for sushi, Kinki in Ottawa, has a roll with crunchy stuff in it that appears to be crisped rice mixed with Dorito cheese. It’s probably not exactly that, but it totally tastes like it. Here we have cleverly skipped a step and simply crushed Doritos. Get a little crazy and go with extra spicy if you so desire.

The Steps:

1. Dissolve the sugar and vinegar together on the stove and allow this to cool before adding it to your rice. Mix well. Almost immediately, the rice will unstick itself and you will panic as it takes on the appearance of plain white rice – fear not, for this is only a disguise. If you let it sit for a moment it will recombobulate itself back into sticky rice.

 How to make your own sushi
Sushi rice.

2. Place the bamboo mat on a firm surface and have a bowl of warm water and a stiff spatula handy.

3. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the bamboo mat. This is supposed to make it easier to form the sushi roll, but I find it gets in the way sometimes. You will have to find the best way for yourself.

4. Place the nori rough side up (it has a rough side and a shiny side) and gently spread the rice on it using the spatula. Wet the spatula in the water periodically to make this easier – but overall, this is the hardest part. Cram the rice onto the nori in a thin but tightly-adhered layer using the spatula, dipping it in the warm water to help it slide along the rice. Iron Chef Morimoto can do this simply with his wet hands at ninja speed, but we are lesser beings. Keep the rice layer only about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch thick – the thicker this layer, the bigger the rolls will be. You will need less rice than you think.

How to make your own sushi
Nori, rough side up and shiny side down.
How to make your own sushi
Rice on the nori! Nori tears easily so do this gently.

5. Place your ingredients on the sushi in a straight line on the end of the nori that is closest to you.

How to make your own sushi
Ingredients should be chopped into "stick" shape.
How to make your own sushi
Keep the ingredients somewhat compact and make sure each ingredient is placed throughout the length of the nori.

6. Use the bamboo mat to fold the nori over the ingredients and roll it up with your hands, keeping it tightly compacted.

How to make your own sushi
Folded over.
How to make your own sushi
Complete!

7. Chill the sushi in the fridge for about 30 minutes or so. I made this step up, I don’t know if you need to. It makes it easier to cut.

8. Slice the sushi!

9. ????

10. Profit!

How to make your own sushi
Enjoy!

Guest contributor Heather Rose is a freelance writer living in Toronto with her puppy, Bodie and boyfriend, Matt, one of whom enjoys her culinary experiments more than the other. She applies her life-long philosophy – “I did my best” – to all her recipes and cooking experiences.

Holiday Treats: 2 Family Faves

Chocolate Truffle Mice 

My mom used to make these chocolate truffle mice every Christmas. When other kids brought in cookies or bar desserts their moms made during our elementary school Christmas parties, I brought these mice. Santa may have even been left a few mice on more than one occasion. This recipe and the recipe below, candied orange peels, are in the notebook my mom passed onto me.

Adult me is wondering how kid me did not appreciate “gooey pizza muffins”.

As an aside, this notebook is the first thing I will grab if there’s ever a fire. It’s full of clippings from magazines and newspapers my mom stuck in a huge spiral-bound notebook. There’s notes all throughout, “excellent”, “not great”, “Heather loves these” and lots of these recipes I remember my mom making growing up.

Chocolate Truffle Mice (Canadian Living Magazine)

4 ounces/squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate
1/3 cup sour cream
1 cup chocolate wafer crumbs (or Oreo baking crumbs… But if you grind up the cookies yourself, about 30 cookies.)
1/3 cup more crumbs for later (or you can use icing sugar or sprinkles… But be warned, icing sugar will make your little mice disturbingly realistic)
Dragees
Almond slivers or flakes
Licorice for tails

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, then remove it from the heat. Mix in sour cream, and then the cookie crumbs. Park it in the fridge to cool for about an hour.

Roll about a tablespoon’s worth of truffle into a ball, and then shape the ball to have a little point at the end for the mouse’s nose. Coat the truffle in more cookie crumbs.

You can then decorate with dragees (silver balls) for eyes, almond slivers for ears and licorice strings for tails. Do not be surprised if once everyone is done eating them, you are left with a plate of disembodied tails.

Candied Orange Peels

I’ve been making the candied orange peels on my own for the past three or four Christmases. Matt’s mom showed me a recipe in a magazine for candied orange slices, not peels. I thought this was really interesting and I am going to do both peels and slices during this run.

One interesting note is that the recipe for peels is done in two stages: first, you boil the peels in water for 15 minutes to remove the bitterness, then simmer them in sugar syrup until they are candied. For the slices, all the recipes I have found skip that first step. In addition, the peels use sugar and corn syrup, while the slices do not use corn syrup, but simply a 2:3 water to sugar ratio.

I’ve experimented with this recipe, and the only other citrus fruit that holds up well to the process is grapefruit, which still retains its distinct grapefruit flavour. Lemon and lime peels seem too thin and turn out crunchy and burnt-tasting.

The chocolate dipping is what I added to this recipe. Dark chocolate tastes really good, but semi-sweet chocolate chips are easier to eat out of the freezer when no one is looking.

This recipe is from Family Circle, December 1989.

Candied Orange Peels

2 to 3 lbs of navel oranges, or about 8 oranges.
3/4 cup of water
2 cups of sugar, with extra for rolling the peels in
2 tablespoons of corn syrup

Remove the peel from the oranges. I’ve found cutting them into quarters and scooping out the flesh works best, but if you intend on eating the leftovers later you will be left with a pile of mush. I always intend to eat the oranges, but never do. This is why I am excited about trying slices this time around, because there is less waste.

Boil the orange peels in a pot of water for about 15 minutes, drain.

Boil sugar, 3/4 cup of water and corn syrup, add the orange peels and simmer for about 35-55 minutes or until translucent. Do not burn it, or your pot will never be the same again. In addition if you burn the syrup, your peels will taste burnt and be crunchy even if they don’t look burnt.

After the peels are simmered, they are left to cool/dry before rolling them in sugar. They are supposed to be rolled in sugar when they’re just “tacky”, but I have found if you roll them when too dry the sugar won’t stick, but if you roll them just before the tacky stage the sugar is absorbed because of the moisture and the peels stay… Juicy.

I found the slices difficult to candy evenly, as they float. And, the more you push ’em back into their syrup, the more they fall apart. But if you cover them with enough chocolate it doesn’t really matter 🙂

Enjoy!

Holiday Lemon Cheesecake Bars

Instead of perusing the internet for fun new recipes, I actually ventured outside and purchased the Canadian Living Special Cookbook Edition – Holiday Favourites at the grocery checkout to find a second new recipe to try. I love Canadian Living and I’d say 80 per cent of the recipes in my most prized possession, my mom’s scrapbook of recipes cut out from newspapers and magazines, are from Canadian Living. I chose the lemon cheesecake bars, because I love lemon bars – but have never made lemon bars before – and the cheesecake layer seemed like it would be an interesting addition.

The "healthy" lemon cookies I used for the crust.

The original recipe calls for 30 lemon social tea cookies, but all I could find at my pathetically understocked, low-variety grocery store were no- sugar-added Peek Freans lemon “Lifestyle” cookies. Healthy ones. I wasn’t confident they would be lemony enough for the purpose, so I added two heaping spoonfuls of lemon curd to the butter and whisked them together after melting. I used almost the entire package of cookies and fed the leftover five or six to Matt. I also ground up enough to make a little more than the required two cups of crumbs to compensate for the extra liquid from the lemon curd.

Sometimes I get overzealous while baking, so here’s where I screwed up:

I didn’t follow the order when making the cheesecake layer, instead of beating the cheese and sugar first, then adding the egg, I just beat it all together. This is probably why when I bake cookies they melt into a giant cookie puddle in the oven. I didn’t trust the texture after I realized my mistake, so I let the cheesecake layer sit in the fridge for a few hours to firm up before pouring over the lemon layer.

Doing my best to make up for lost deliciousness in the crust by adding lemon curd.

Onto the lemons: it took me approximately three regular-sized lemons to come up with the lemon zest I needed, and two and a half of those lemons for the juice required for the recipe. And with the shhht shhht shhht of the microplane, our puppy Bodie came running into the kitchen. I’ve been known to spoil him with some asiago microplaned over his kibbles so the sound of the microplane in use is akin to a can opener to a cat, but not today. Sorry, Bodie.

The lemon squares turned out very well, and extremely rich. The cheesecake layer was not overpowering in its cheesecakey-flavour. The crust tastes like any good, buttery shortbread crust with a hint of lemon. I would recommend parking them in the fridge for a while after they cool to make cutting them easier, as they are quite delicate. I cut them into very tiny, one-bite pieces. The recipe says it makes 60 bars, and I got 60 very tiny, 1 1/2-inch pieces.

Lemon Cheesecake Bars

4 eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 Tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsp baking powder
Icing sugar for topping

Cheesecake Layer:
1 package cream cheese (one brick, 8 oz)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg

Base:
30 lemon social tea cookies
1/2 cup butter, melted

Base:
In a food processor, crush cookies to make 2 cups crumbs, pulse in butter until moistened. Press into 9×13-inch parchment-paper lined or greased cake pan. Bake at 325 until firm, about 12 minutes. Cool on rack.

Cheesecake layer: In bowl, beat cream cheese with sugar until smooth; beat in egg. Spread over base, set aside.

And the rest:
In a bowl, beat eggs with sugar until thickened. Beat in lemon zest juice, flour and baking powder until smooth, pour over cheesecake later.
Bake at 325 for about 35 minutes or until edges are brown, the top is slightly golden and lemon layer is set. Cool on rack, cut into bars, dust with icing sugar.

Makes 60 bars (apparently).

Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.

Lemon bar base, out of the oven and cooling. Instead of one large, 9x13 pan, I used two smaller ones.
The second layer - cheesecake.
With the frothy lemon layer added, it's time to go into the oven.
Out of the oven, cooled and dusted liberally with icing sugar.
A close up of the lemon cheesecake strata.
The finished lemon cheesecake bars.

Contributor Heather Rose is a freelance writer living in Toronto with her puppy, Bodie and boyfriend, Matt, one of whom enjoys her culinary experiments more than the other. She applies her life-long philosophy – “I did my best” – to all her recipes and cooking experiences. Check out her website at www.heatherrosewriting.com.

 

Holiday Baking: Mini-Panettones

I want to bake something and cram it full of candied fruit

– Myself, looking for a new holiday recipe to try.

I love candied fruit – candied peel, citron pieces, translucent glacé cherries and mystery pieces of candied chunks. Fruitcake is out, because my grandma has that more than covered. I found a recipe for fruitcake cookies, but cookies and I do not get along. With me, Pillsbury cookies (not even the ones you scoop out yourself from the tube, but the ones that are pre-cut and just need to be placed on the cookie sheet), will turn out burnt beyond edibility on the bottom and raw on top – when cooked on the top rack of the oven.

I’ve never eaten panettone before, in its natural state anyway… my dad makes a mean french toast out of chocolate chip panettone. I see it in boxes in the grocery store and can’t imagine that it’s not all dried out and gross – and there certainly never looks like there is enough candied fruit in it.

There are plenty of mini-panettone recipes out there, and alternatively you could make one giant panettone and bake it in a coffee can. One recipe I found had you making starter a day in advance as well as panettones strung across the kitchen like garlands, held upside down with dowels to prevent them from sinking.

The recipe I finally chose was this one, from the UK’s Daily Mail. This recipe calls for food by weight, so I have a food scale handy.

Finding something to shape the panettones was the next challenge. The recipe I used calls for pudding molds, while others suggest using actual paper panettone molds, which are like perfectly cylindrical and smooth muffin cups. Instead, I bought a very large muffin tin for mine and holiday muffin papers. Before adding the dough, I gave each paper 2 spritzes of PAM to avoid wasting my expensive butter to coat them.

I made a few modifications because when finding something new to bake or make, I love to look at different recipes and formulate my own ideas, drawing different methods from each:

*   I soaked the raisins in a few splashes of black rum overnight so they were plump, juicy and boozy.

Raisins after a night of soaking in rum. I should package these as-is and sell them as a breakfast cereal.

*   Instead of 75 grams of raisins and 115 grams of dried peel, I used 400 total grams of whatever the heck I liked. Some batches had 100 grams of raisins and 300 grams of mixed peel and mixed fruit chunks, and others contained 100 grams of chopped candied cherries and 300 grams of semi-sweet chocolate chips.

I’ve never baked anything from scratch that was bread-like and used yeast. I baked for years in a retail environment during my college years (all of two years ago) but never made the dough from scratch. Instead, I like to think my past job gave me an “eye” for rising bread, recognizing humidity and temperature variations that would affect the rising bread and what over-risen or under-risen bread looks like.

Kneading the panettone dough after the first rising was interesting to say the least. The fruit does not stick to the dough, it just pops right out of it as you work it. It reminded me of that YouTube video that was floating around a couple years ago of the baby Suriname toads emerging from their mothers’ back and fleeing – although in this case, all over my countertop and the floor.

I made one complete batch before making any more dough just in case it didn’t work out, but it did. And they are delicious. While waiting for the one beginner batch to rise, I had the remaining half of the dough in the fridge (the perils of only having bought one muffin pan). This batch took much longer to rise because it was cold, but the dough was so much easier to work with and form into balls even when it contained fruit.

The bread is dense, probably not as fluffy as the ones from the store, but it is sweet, rich and packed with candied fruit and chocolate chips. They are fantastic warmed up for a few seconds in the microwave for breakfast with some coffee.

The process:

A food scale made this process so much easier.
This "well" in the center of the flour contains the starter with the yeast, which is left to activate for 30 minutes.
Finished dough, freshly plopped onto the counter.
After a good five minutes of kneading.
400 grams or so of chopped mixed fruit, cherries, mixed peel and rum raisins.
After nearly doubling in size two hours later, the dough is covered with the fruit mixture and is then kneaded furiously.
I flattened the dough and made a pouch, filling it with fruit before kneading. The recipe said to "gently" knead the fruit in, but no matter how mean I was to the dough it still rose again.
Dough, finished and complete with fruit.
I cut the dough in half, cut those halves in half, and so on until I had 16 little balls. These balls were allowed to rise again to their desired size in muffin cups before baking.
I later experimented with chocolate chips.
The finished product: dense yet fluffy, and fruit-filled.
Serving suggestion...breakfast!

Contributor Heather Rose is a freelance writer living in Toronto with her puppy, Bodie and boyfriend, Matt, one of whom enjoys her culinary experiments more than the other. She applies her life-long philosophy – “I did my best” – to all her recipes and cooking experiences. Check out her website at www.heatherrosewriting.com.