Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Great Bake Exchange 2010

Last Thursday my internet and Max tv decided to stop working....I really had no idea how dependent I was on technology until this happened. I couldn't check my emails...my favourite blogs...I couldn't watch the Christmas specials on tv that I wanted to....I felt very....lost. Thankfully both my parents and my BF's parents live close by so I could get a quick-fix when I really needed one. The internet is finally back up and running and I can finally catch up on all that I missed in the world wide web. Most importantly (though much to the chagrin of my BF) I can blog again!!!

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to take part in one of my favourite pre-Christmas pasttimes....The Bake Exchange.

This is the fourth year that I have taken part in a bake exchange that a few of my colleagues and I organize every year. I have to say, I have a love-hate relationship with the bake exchange. Every year, more people take part which means more baking in the end...but more work at the beginning. One year, I baked two pans of my slice....when I took the pans out of the oven, I slipped and the pan I held fell and broke all over my mom's new stove, then projectiled broken glass shards into the other pan which was sitting unsuspecting on the stove top. It was not a great start and needless to say, whenever it is bake exchange time I am filled with both dread and anticipation.

When the time came for me to bake 12 dozen squares, I was ready.

Armed with a very strong cup of coffee, and an obligatory Christmas CD...

I gathered up my ingredients.

The recipe I used is from an old church cookbook of mine called Manna from Minto and it is a fairly easy one to follow as far as recipes are concerned.

First, you melt 1/2cup butter in your pan.

Then add 1 1/2 - 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs...depending how thick you like the crust to be.

Mix the butter and the graham cracker crumbs, then spread them out with a fork until you have a layer that covers the base of the pan.

Now one of my favourite parts. Pour one can of condensed milk onto the base so that it covers all of the graham cracker crumbs.

How beautiful does that look? In my opinion, any dessert that incorporates condensed milk, butter, and graham cracker crumbs is totally worth any effort it may require. YUM!

Ok, Ok...back to baking.

Next add one cup of coconut,

one cup of crushed walnuts,

and one cup of chocolate chips. Press everything down with your (freshly washed) hands, and put it in the oven for 30 minutes.

When you take it out of the oven the edges should be slightly browned and the smell should be irresistable.

Baking the first six dozen squares went smoothly. The next few dozen required a trip to Starbucks for a stronger beverage and a quick pick-me-up.

I decided to make my squares a little more personal and made up recipe cards to go with each batch of squares.

The final product looked something like this...times 12.

The baking portion of the Bake Exchange went off without a hitch for me this year. It took a long time to bake 12 dozen baked goods, but with the right soundtracks and the right caffeinated beverages, it was actually pretty fun.

Here is a sampling of the loot I got in return....

Cuban lunches, pretzel turtles, and almond bark...

Ginger snaps, oatmeal butterscotch cookies, oreo cookies (my personal fav!)

Nanaimo bars, rolo cookies, and carmel covered marshmallows

And as a grand finale....two flavours of mini cheesecakes.

I also received snickerdoodles and icing-covered sugar cookies but they did not make it to photo shoot time. My BF discovered the baking:)

Needless to say, I have enough baked goods to last me until Easter! It's an awesome exchange to do....I had dessert to bring to every holiday gathering that I attended, and I still have some left over for my BF and me:)

I hope you all had a happy, healthy, delicious Christmas.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Most Delicious Time of the Year!

 I cannot tell you what a wonderful feeling it was to hand in my final paper on December 6th and be done my first Masters class EVER! Better yet, I got an 88% in the class which I was extremely happy with.

After my paper was handed in, I could focus on more important, more Christmas-related things.

And so the stockings were hung.

And my happy helpers assisted in decorating the rest of the house.

I use the word "assisted" very loosely.

After all the decorating was complete, I felt that something was missing and it was then I realized that I had been so busy with school work that I had absolutely no Christmas baking in the house. In my opinion, this is NOT acceptable during the holidays.

I had recently received a forward from my mom that contained tonnes of cookie recipes. I was feeling a bit nostalgic, so I decided on making classic Candycane Cookies. These cookies were the best when I was a kid and I remember how excited I used to get when we would make them.  Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

I called a friend of mine to come help bake and so it began.

We gathered our ingredients.

I should mention that she brought her happy helper over too....

We made our dough, split the dough in half and covered one of the halves in red food colouring. That left us with two balls of multi coloured dough.

Great pic....notice my toes made a cameo.

From there, we took about a tablespoon of each, rolled them out and then twisted them together...

Yes, her kitty stayed there for the duration of our time baking. Sanitary? No. Adorable? Yes, most definately.

Once we twisted the dough together we molded the dough into candy canes...this process was the most frustrating bake task I had tackled in a while. Despite following the recipe, the dough was dry and thus it was very hard to work with. It crumbled and fell apart all over the counter. It took over half an hour to twist the dough into about a dozen candy canes.Somehow we managed to keep patient enough to finish twisting and moulding, and finally get the candy canes into the oven.

Before baking we added crushed peppermint (to some cookies not all....the BF apparently does not like peppermint...learned something new again) which we had to manually push into each cookie. Otherwise we just had a bake pan covered in peppermint instead of peppermint cookies. The stupid crushed peppermint (which took my friend at least a half hour to crush manually) would not stick to the frickin cookies. It was a mess.

Thankfully, some of the peppermint stayed and the finished product looked something like this.

I think to start off the bake season, I would recommend a recipe much less labour-intensive and messy.  Once the cookies were baked, the candy cane was melted onto the pans so much that half the cookies broke when they were transferred from the bake pan to a plate. Whatever. Sugar cookies and peppermint combined taste like Christmas to me. I am such a sucker for the holidays and all the traditions that come along with it. Next tradition? Bake Exchange 2010!


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Finding Comfort in a Storm

Snow Snow Snow. It is officially winter and we are officially in a winter deep freeze.

I dont know about you, but I was secretly harboring wishes that the snow may not stick around....much like the last snowfall we had. It melted away and we had the second coming of fall. This time, I think it is here to stay. Unfortunately for me, my wishful thinking meant I did not bring my lawn furniture in...


Today was one of those days where you realize that the lazy days of summer are gone...

And the days of cleaning your car EVERY time you leave the house to go somewhere are around for at least the next few months.


It is days like this that I like nothing more than to spend an evening Hunkering Down (my moms words for getting cozy). So I did just that.

I made myself a cup of tea in my current favourite giant Starbucks mug,

And I pulled out my stack of books. When I say stack....I mean that in the literal sense.

Confession....I am a book hoarder.

I have a problem with compulsively buying books and magazines, putting them on my bookshelf, then letting them collect dust for years. I have 2 bookshelves that are overflowing with books of which three quarters of them I have not read. YET. I will someday! I also have a major problem with buying books, starting them, then getting bored and starting a new one.

Currently I am reading five books. This is my stack of current reads:

I am sure some of you are doubtful that I am reading all five of these, but here is the evidence of such craziness:

Bookmarks in all of them.

It is very possible I have the readers version of ADD. It is my goal to get through the majority of these by the time New Years rolls around.
To me, there is nothing like laying in bed with a mug of hot tea and a good book on a snowy day. Comfort epitomized.

Something else that perks me up on a winter day is a really good dessert. I love comfort food and for me, anything with pumpkin in it is comforting. I do not know if it is the association pumpkin has with holidays and family gatherings or if it is all in my head, but biting into a pumpkin dessert is pure comfort to me. The other day, I made Pumpkin Pie Brownie Cupcakes which I found on my favorite blog. You can see the recipe here. My cupcakes turned out to look NOTHING like the ones on Angelas blog (pictured below).


This is how mine turned out...

Not nearly the same, but they tasted OK, which is all that matters to me.

And the final thing that bring me comfort on a winter day is good company to share these things with.

Stay warm:)


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Early Morning Run and Sneaky Vegan Pudding

This past weekend I was lucky enough to have a four day weekend. To start the weekend off, my friend and I planned a running morning.

We planned the run the night before and were not anticipating having to run through frost and cold temperatures in the morning.

GROSSS....it will definately take a while to acclimatize to the winter weather. That being said, it turned out to be a BEAUTIFUL morning!

It was our first run in the colder weather and our lungs and knees reminded us that winter is not a particularly runner-friendly season. We powered through (with a few walk breaks), if for no other reason than to justify all of the stress-induced snacking both of us have been doing as of late.

As we rounded a turn in the path, we stumbled upon a tinsel-covered tree

I found out later that someone does this every year as a memorial to their loved one who passed away. So precious!

To treat ourselves for all the hard work we did, we stopped for smoothies at Urban Appeal. I got an Absolutely Awesome with a rice protein kicker, and my friend got a Rasberry smoothie also with rice protein.

It is quite possible that the neighbours thought I was a bit crazy when I put the smoothies on the lawn and got down on the ground to take a picture. Look how cute though!

After our run I still had a lot of time to kill in the morning, so I decided to experiment with vegan puddings.

I started with Vegan Vanilla Pudding at my boyfriends request (ok...he did not request the vegan part but I thought it would be fun). I found the recipe here:
The recipe was fairly simple. There were not many ingredients involved....

The most frustrating part of making this pudding was the process of thickening the mixture. It took FOREVER and seemed even longer as I had to stand and stir for at least 15 minutes. It is possible I have a very crappy stove.

The finished product. Put in the fridge for what also seems like forever, or what is in reality 2 to 3 hours.

Since I prefer chocolate pudding to vanilla (I mean....cmon)...I then decided to make Vegan Chocolate Pudding for dessert. I got the recipe here.

There were only 4 ingredients for this recipe.

I started melting the chocolate chips and did not stop drooling for the next 20 minutes.

This pudding recipe is made with Tofu which I was skeptical about at first, but it seemed to turn out OK.

It had to cool for a while which was torture, but the wait was completely worth it. It was quite possibly the creamiest, most decadent pudding I have ever eaten and you would never know that tofu and soy milk made up the majority of the ingredients.

Not the best picture but you get the idea. For a dinner party I would put the pudding in individual wine glasses and garnish with blackberries and raspberries. The grapes worked well too though.

The run and the baking were a great start to the extra-long weekend. Now I am in need of going for another run to wear off all the pudding I ate!