Recipe: S’more Cookie Bars

heaven

‘Tis the season for Christmas cookie exchanges! Something about Christmas seems to make even the least kitcheny person a little bit more likely to bust out a rolling pin or cookie cutters. I learned a really brilliant lesson this Christmas Cookie Exchange Season, in fact I’m relieved to be learning this now in my early 30s. Ready? Cookie bars. This is the answer to parties where you need to have 9 dozen cookies perfectly packaged. It’s not the mixing that takes long, nor the actual baking time. It’s the rolling/cutting/or even dropping a zillion evenly placed cookies onto rotating baking sheets, parchment, silpat and the like. Cookie bars solve all this. Mix, bake, cut, give. Then instead of cutting the cookie bar into little pieces, I gave them away as a big bar, maybe 6″x6″, wrapped in parchment paper and ribbon. SO EASY.

I came across this recipe from Here . It is so easy, works out great, and pays tribute to (let’s be honest) the most loved confection of all times, the S’more. So Thank you Lovin’ From the Oven for my new absolute favorite cookie bar recipe! (You may also remember my honest and vulnerable confession about my obsession with marshmallows).

I wanted to take a minute to thank the Calgary Herald for listing Fig&Fennel as one of Calgary’s favorite food blogs! And thank YOU for reading! That was a very nice surprise to wake up to yesterday.

S’more Cookie Bars

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 king-sized milk chocolate bars (e.g. Hershey’s)

1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme/fluff (not melted marshmallows)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix at a low speed until combined.  Divide dough in half and press half of dough into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared pan. Place chocolate bars over dough. 2 king-sized Hershey’s bars should fit perfectly side by side, but break the chocolate (if necessary) to get it to fit in a single layer no more than 1/4 inch thick. Spread chocolate with marshmallow creme or fluff. Place remaining dough in a single layer on top of the fluff (most easily achieved by flattening the dough into small shingles and laying them together). Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting into bars.
Makes 16 cookie bars.

graham dough

chocolate layer

Recipe: Chocolate Raspberry Shortbread Squares

Chocolate Raspberry Shortbread Squares

Well Hello!!!

It’s been a long time! I hope you are all warm and well with people you love. I can’t believe fall is gone and Christmas is nearly upon us. I’m finding myself drawn to simpler things this year. Other years I find time and inspiration for decor and crafts and elaborate desserts and dinner parties and new recipes galore. This year I’m happy to read the girls Christmas books, toboggan, and meet friends for a glass of wine. But I am grateful for the season. Grateful for winter magic in little girl eyes.

Mini Cookbook update: I know. I know. I’m working on it. It’s too long and dreary to explain but let’s just summarize: new publisher, new format, first experience outsourcing(amazing), new graphic work, not a lot of free time, setting up online purchasing, soon.

I’m pretty sure I haven’t cooked anything since I last blogged which was…2 months ago. It’s true. Sexy Husband is on tour, Picky Princess and (super picky) Foodie Baby eat about 1 calorie each for supper, so I slice a lot of apples and boil a lot of eggs. I’m unapologetic. It’s the season. And seasons change all the time.

THIS recipe, however, is amazing. It is a no-fail-go-to-every-winter-binge-worthy dessert. It is easy and was handed down to me by a lady named Gail, who is wonderful. Gail is a friend of mine from Saskatoon, where I went to university. I was just there to watch a show Sexy Husband sang in and…she made it again! It brought back the happiest most nostalgic memories, even though I’ve made them myself every winter. Something about Gail making them, reminded me of cold COLD winters in Saskatchewan, surrounded by the warmest people I’ve ever met. I can’t actually find the original recipe she gave me, but it’s one that I can make in my sleep because it’s THAT GOOD. If you have holiday parties, cookie exchanges, or boring lonely nights when your husband is away on tour: this is a great treat. I’ve discovered this year that is pairs nicely with red wine(go figure).

Chocolate Raspberry Shortbread Squares

1 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup icing sugar

2 cups flour

1/2 can sweet and condensed milk(Eagle Brand)

1 bag(approx) chocolate chips

raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add flour and stir to combine. Press 2/3 of dough into a 8×8 glass baking dish. Bake for 15 mins. Remove from oven and drizzle with Eagle Brand, chocolate chips, small dollops of raspberry jam(try to space evenly for a little on every square) and the rest of the dough. Bake for 20 minutes more until edges are turning golden. Remove and cool completely. Cut into small squares(or large ones, whatever). They are much easier to cut if they’ve been in the freezer for a little bit.

Happy December!

Recipe: Rhubarb Shortbread

Rhubarb Shortbread

…brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favorite things…particularly if the brown paper package is filled with rhubarb straight from the garden, delivered by a friend, and still with the slightest bit of dirt on the stalks.  Just such a package arrived for me this week from a Beautiful Soul and I’ve had a great time making rhubarb inspired meals. We had rhubarb compote on chicken breasts, strawberry rhubarb crumble, and tonight’s experiment: rhubarb shortbread. This recipe is loosely taken from a Smitten Kitchen recipe that is one of my summer favorites. A few changes and voila. The sweet and nutty brown sugar spelt shortbread with the tang of the rhubarb is absolutely delicious. It all tastes a bit like…summer!

Rhubarb Shortbread

makes a lot

3 cups spelt flour(or regular unbleached flour)

1 cup brown or raw sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 egg

2 cups thinly chopped rhubarb

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 and butter a 9×13 baking dish. Whisk together all the dry ingredients. Add butter and egg and work together with a fork until mixture resembles coarse meal. Tightly press 3/4 of mixture into the baking dish. Sprinkle the rhubarb over the shortbread. Top with remaining shortbread mixture. Bake for about 30 mins until edges are turning golden. Cool completely in pan and cut into squares.

Local Fare: Cruffs

Birthday Boy

Sexy Husband is 34 today!!! Happy Birthday Love! The world is celebrating him by snowing. Again. Not what he deserves for being one of those people who lives to serve others, do anything to make his family happy, and enjoy the simple things in life. He really is the best person I know.

Every year I ask him what kind of cake he wants. I’m hoping he’ll say something like 6 layer hazelnut ganache torte or baked alaska. But no, it’s always something like, Dairy Queen Ice Cream Cake, or Strawberry Shortcake. I want to put monstrous amounts of effort in to show my love, he wants me to spend 2 minutes buying it, instead of 2 days baking it. Of course this is why I love him. This year he requested cream puffs. A tower of cream puffs to be exact. So I purchased enough cream puffs to feed the SW corner of Calgary. But then this morning we were downtown and noticed Cruffs, a Cream Puff Store!! Perfect! So I stopped in and now…you MUST! Click on the link to see their website.

Cruffs is owned by 2 brothers from Indonesia. The couple who were working were passionate about their cream puffs, taking great care to tell me how to store them until tonight. They were also seriously about the nicest people I’ve talked to in days. I left wanting to be their friend. This is how it works. You choose mini or regular sized cream puffs. The minis are about 3 times of the size of minis you get in a tub from Superstore. The large ones about the size of a donut. Then you pick your fill, and he injects the filling straight into the cream puff, so it’s completely fresh!!! Fillings included: hazelnut chocolate, coconut, lemon, strawberry, vanilla, and chantilly cream. How amazing is that? They cost exactly half the price of fancy cupcakes and I love the idea of getting exactly the kinds you want!

yum yum

Tonight we will celebrate with a tower of cream puffs, particularly coconut, lemon and hazelnut ones. Tomorrow is Foodie Baby’s 2nd birthday(can you BELIEVE I have 2 important people to cook for and celebrate within 48 hrs? Tricky). So the afternoon is being spent baking all things mini: mini cookies, mini scones, mini cupcakes, all for her little Button mini brunch table tomorrow. Pics to come I’m sure. Forgive my few day foray away from normal, healthy, easy meals!

My little Button

Think Fresh: Pavlova

pavlova with vanilla whipped cream and berries

Pavlova is such a beautiful, colorful dessert. It is light and airy and completely versatile. It seems like the ultimate springtime dessert. I made a couple of pavlovas for Easter Dinner this year. It just seemed right with the sun finally out, and the slightest hue of green starting to emerge.

I wouldn’t exactly call pavlova healthy, as it has a fair bit of sugar in it. However it is low in fat and sweet enough that a little goes a long way.

Follow the basic pavlova recipe below and then add any toppings you like. I like it with vanilla whipped cream and fresh berries on top, or you can top it with whipped cream and any fruit! Another favorite is to make lemon meringue pie filling, and fold in some whipped cream, layer that on top of the pavlova for a lemon meringue type dessert. You can also add a bit of cocoa to the basic recipe and top the chocolate meringe with whipped cream and chopped hazelnuts. mmm, so many options! Let me know if you try a great combination!

I’m going to give some credit to Martha Stewart for this basic pavlova recipe. It’s the recipe I use from my head for pavlova but I’m pretty sure that a million years ago when I first made it, I probably got it from Martha.

Vanilla Pavlova

1 serves about 8

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 200. In a standing mixer, beat 4 egg whites, 1 tsp white vinegar, 1/2 tsp cornstarch and a pinch of salt. Mix on medium until very frothy. Very slowly add 1/2 cup superfine sugar. Beat on medium-high until stiff peaks form, about 7 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and very slowly add 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar. Beat on medium-high until very stiff glossy peaks form, 5 more minutes. Beat in 1 tsp vanilla. Using a spatula, plop meringue onto parchment and form into about a 9 inch circle, making a bit of a divot in the middle for the filling. Bake for 2hrs. Meringue should be marshmallowy in the centre but dry to touch and easily lift off parchment. Turn off oven and crack door open. Let cool in the oven. Whip cream and add toppings right before serving(or up to 1 hr ahead). Enjoy!

Think Fresh: Sugar Free

We don’t eat a lot of sugar around here. Not for the calories, not for weight loss, but for the sheer reality that sugar is dangerous to our bodies, creates an environment for bad things to grow inside us, messes with our natural cellular functions, and stresses our immune system. I can completely tell in my body too when sugar is more present. If I eat poorly, I feel every painful detoxifying second in the Bikram Yoga hot room I practice regularly in. If I don’t have sugar in my system, I feel great! To be honest, when we don’t eat sugar, I don’t miss it or even notice it. But it has a way of creeping back into our lives. It is just EVERYWHERE, and it can easily become a habit for me, to have it around. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the odd dessert or special treat. But when it becomes that I am consuming some amount of sugar, every day, it’s too much. Let’s be honest, it’s not a treat if you have ice cream every day. So every once in a while I feel the urge to eliminate sugar completely from our lives, just for a week or two to get back on track. I like to think of it as spring cleaning for the body!

That’s where we’re at this week. Sexy Husband and I are off sugar for a couple of weeks. Thankfully we eat healthy enough that it’s not too dramatic(although he is a chocoholic so it’s a bit more painful for him;). HOWEVER, life is meant to be enjoyed and there are so many amazing and natural sweet things out there that are sweet simply because they were made to be that way, not because they’ve been chemically manufactured for sweetness.

Honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and fruit, are all great sugar alternatives. Once you get used to the more natural taste of sweet, refined sugar can seem too cloying.

So here’s an idea. I made this as a little pre-class snack for one of my bff’s who is pregnant with baby number 2, baby number 1 just turned 1 and she’s a full time university student(so she’s busy and needs healthy snacks!) So simple, took 2 minutes to prep:

Slice one pear into paper thin slices. Divide between two bowls. Pour 1/4 cup of whipping cream into a standing mixer. Add 1 tbs of maple syrup and 1 tsp of cinnamon. Beat until whip cream is lightly whipped. Place a couple of spoonfuls of spiced whipped cream on the pears and serve. So yummy!

The bottom line is this: I have kids, we like sweet things. I’m not going to pretend that eating ultra healthy things that taste like dirt are satisfying. But there are many ways to make small changes, decreasing the amount of sugar we eat. Hopefully I can give you some ideas this week!

Baking: Caramel Fudge Macadamia Squares

Caramel Fudge Macadamia Squares

In case the title of the dessert didn’t give it away: these are not healthy squares. These are a special treat. We have some friends coming over tonight and we’ve placed a ridiculously enormous sushi order in from our favorite place here in Calgary. I’ve managed to not have to cook hardly at all this week so I thought I should bake a little something, just so I don’t forget how! It was all a little bit of an experiment, and after sampling one or two(or five) of these squares, I can assure you…delish. Totally over the top, totally decadent, perfect for cutting into little pieces.

Caramel Fudge Macadamia Squares

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 can eagle brand sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

1 tbs cocoa powder

2 tbs unsalted butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup whipping cream

handful or two each of macadamia nuts and shredded coconut

Directions: Preheat oven to 375. Butter a 8×8 glass baking dish. In a food processor, combine first 3 ingredients. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press into pan and bake for 15 minutes. Meanwhile in a small saucepan, over medium heat, stir eagle brand, chocolate chips and cocoa powder until melted and smooth, just a couple of minutes. Set aside. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, combine butter and sugar. Stir until smooth and combined and then let simmer until the whole top of the caramel is frothy with bubbles(3 minutes of boiling or so). Remove from heat and stir in cream. Pour chocolate ganache mixture over the crust, sprinkle coconut and nuts over the chocolate and drizzle caramel over the top. Bake for about 20 minutes more. Remove from heat and cool completely until set. Cut into squares and serve!

Brown Sugar Caramel

Recipe: White Chocolate Cranberry Cheesecake

White Chocolate Cranberry Cheesecake

I’m not really sure how it happened, but cheesecake has become a deep Christmas tradition in my house. I think it’s actually become my favorite Christmas tradition. Maybe not the cheesecake itself(although what’s not to love about cheesecake?), but the event the cheesecake is for.  Christmas Eve, after the church service, which Sexy Husband produces and sings at, we come home for soup and cheesecake. Every year we invite our friends who don’t have family around to join us. Each year it’s a slightly different group of people, usually some old friends, usually some new friends. It’s always special, always wonderful. Soup is the perfect meal because I just make a giant giant pot. If it gets eaten great, if not, then we have it for the week. And cheesecake is great because a little goes a long way, serving lots of people. No work for anyone.

I have made a lot of cheesecake in my life and this recipe is SO versatile. The basic formula of 2 bricks of cream cheese + 1 cup of sugar + 3 eggs, works with almost any flavor. You can add cocoa or melted chocolate to make chocolate cheesecake, you can add a bit of egg nog and a pinch of nutmeg to make egg nog cheesecake. For this I decreased the sugar and added some melted white chocolate. Right now I’m baking cinnamon cheesecake, using brown sugar instead of white and adding a couple of tbs of cinnamon. Be creative!

White Chocolate Cranberry Cheesecake

Preheat oven to 350. In a food processor, process about 32 gingersnap cookies, with 1/4 cup melted butter. I used gingersnap for a festive taste but you can swap for chocolate cookie crumbs or graham crumbs. Press into the bottom of a spring form pan and bake for 10 minutes, until starting to turn golden. Remove from oven and decrease temperature to 325.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat 2 bricks of cream cheese with about 1 cup of sugar until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Decrease the sugar if you are using sweet additions like melted chocolate or caramel. Add in 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition and scraping down the bowl. In this recipe I added 1/2 bag of melted white chocolate chips. Pour into pan and bake for about 45 minutes until the top is set but still slightly wobbly. If you overcook it will crack a bit, which is not really that big of a deal because you’re going to top it.

In a small saucepan, heat 3 cups of cranberries with 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup water. Simmer until it is thickened and reduced and bubbly. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Pour on top of the cheesecake and serve! This is yummy with the cranberry sauce warm, or chilled.

Recipe: Christmas Bark

christmas bark

I live to plan. No seriously, I LIVE to plan. I love to plan ahead, I have my girls next five birthday parties already planned out, I know what kind of cheesecake I’ll be making for Christmas dinner NEXT year, and I’m already slightly annoyed about how much spring cleaning has to be done this spring – MONTHS away. It’s just what I do. But I have learned, (slowly because I never planned to have to learn it), that spontaneity is ok. In fact, it might almost sometimes maybe perchance be fun. Christmas seems to be a bit of a time for spontaneous entertaining(the fun kind). Friends drop by, family invites you over, and even for someone who plans waaaaay ahead for everything, there is the odd time I am scrambling to whip up a dessert, or snack without a lot of forethought or prepped groceries. This recipe is utterly and completely simple. It requires as little as 2 ingredients. It forced me to wash one bowl and one spatula. It takes almost zero minutes to make. So I thought I’d share this yummy little treat with you so that if you get caught in a last minute spontaneous holiday cheer moment, you would still have something fabulous to make!

I do also feel that, in the spirit of generosity at Christmas, I need to share with you something that I’m pretty sure NONE of you know about me. I love marshmallows. No, you don’t even understand. I LOVE marshmallows. If I had to pick only one sweet thing to snack on for the rest of my life, it would be marshmallows. There. You have it. I’m like a 5 year old. Don’t judge.

Christmas Bark

1 bag of chocolate chips

add ins

Directions: in a microwave safe bowl(you all know never to microwave anything plastic right?), melt the chocolate chips. I definitely prefer dark chocolate, but do what you like. Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between so chocolate doesn’t burn. Usually takes 1.5mins. Line a 8×8 cake pan with parchment or wax paper, so that there is overhang for easy removal. Pour chocolate onto paper and smooth around the bottom of the pan. Dump the add ins onto the melted chocolate. Here I used a couple of handfuls of marshmallows, a handful of pecans, and a handful of Christmasy M&Ms. Press in slightly to chocolate. Refrigerate until set(or freeze if you’re in a super big hurry). Pull parchment and bark out of pan. Use a large knife and cut into small squares. Voila.

Ideas:

White chocolate and cranberries and almonds

White chocolate and candy canes crumbled

Dark chocolate and 1tsp peppermint extract with peppermint patties

Milk Chocolate and toffee pieces

Milk chocolate and a variety of nuts

Dark chocolate and a sprinkling of fleur de sel

Dark chocolate and dried cherries and almonds

Milk chocolate and coconut flakes

Milk chocolate and rice crispies

Dark chocolate and peanut butter cups

The options are endless, which is why it’s so great. Use what you have!

Recipe: Autumn Pear Cake

autumn pear cake

I follow quite a few food blogs. There are some incredible, beautiful, inspiring writers out there whose food is secondarily beautiful to the spirit they write in. It’s amazing to see that there are some similarities between pretty much all the food blogs I follow. Most are committed to healthy food, and even if they’re a bit indulgent, the food is prepared in a fresh way, with fascinating combinations, beautiful colors, and seasonal palettes. I’ve noticed several autumn-themed recipes: pumpkins, squash, pear, hazelnuts, cinnamon, and really, who doesn’t want these cozy and homey ingredients when the wind has a chill to it, and the sun sets earlier and earlier. I love the idea of eating seasonally. I don’t really think about watermelon in the winter. And I don’t really think about stew and biscuits in the summer! The smell of cinnamon makes me dream of Christmas, the sight of new asparagus brings hope of spring. It’s a miracle really!  So all the talk of seasonal food and the particularly nippy breeze made me think something along these lines today: cinnamon + pears + nuts = autumn pear cake. Enjoy!

Autumn Pear Cake

makes one loaf pan

3/4 cup spelt flour

1/2 cup almond meal

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

6 tbs butter, melted

1/2 cup agave nectar

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg

1 large pear grated

1/2 cup chopped nuts

sprinkling of brown sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350. Butter one loaf pan. Whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and stir until barely combined. Stir in pear and nuts. Pour into loaf pan and sprinkle top with brown sugar. Bake until golden around the edges and set, approx 45 mins.  This cake is so moist and delicious, it is much easier to cut if you allow to cool somewhat. Slice and serve!

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