Toffee crunch cookie cups with ice cream

An easy, extra-special, make-ahead dessert!

These chewy, delicious cookie cups are outstanding on their own, but fill them with your favourite ice cream and you’ve got an extra-special dessert that’s sure to garner rave reviews. You could even go ‘over the top’ and drizzle a little chocolate or caramel sauce on top, but that’s really not necessary. If you can’t find Skor baking bits at your grocery store, feel free to swap in chocolate, butterscotch or salted caramel baking chips. If you have a favourite gluten-free cookie recipe that turns out soft and chewy, you could easily use it and follow the method below to shape the cookie cups.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups (560 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) sea salt
  • 1 cup (250 mL) butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (250 mL) light brown sugar (lightly packed)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup (160 mL) Skor (toffee) baking bits

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Line two regular-sized muffin tins (you’ll need 18 – 20 compartments) with paper liners and set aside.
  • Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt, set aside.
  • In a stand mixer, or with an electric hand mixer, beat butter and sugars on med-high until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Reduce speed and add eggs one at a time, beating well to incorporate thoroughly. Add vanilla and beat again until blended.
  • Add flour mixture and Skor bits to the bowl and mix just until incorporated.
  • Using a large (3 tablespoon / 45 mL) cookie or ice cream scoop, scoop dough into muffin tins.
  • Bake for approximately 18 minutes, or until lightly browned and mostly, but not complete, set.
  • Remove from oven and immediately use a small jar (I used a glass spice jar, which I wiped down between cookies and oiled very lightly with vegetable oil each time) to press down firmly in the centre of each cookie cup, while still in the muffin tins. This will create the bowl shape; as you do so, take care not to break through the sides or bottoms of the cookies.
  • Let cookie cups cool in the muffin pans for 10 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Because the cookies are so soft, I found it easiest to freeze them in a single layer in an airtight container for a few hours before unwrapping them and leaving them to finish thawing in the airtight container. Cookies can be frozen up to a month before serving.
  • When ready to serve, scoop a large dollop of your favourite ice cream (I used butterscotch ripple) into the cookie cups and serve immediately.

Makes 18 – 20 cookie cups.

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Kale and pear salad with creamy maple dressing

 A delicious and nutritious fall and winter salad!

I am such a fan of kale salads and these days, with lettuce recalls happening far too often, I’m much happier to reach for local kale to get some leafy greens on my table. This new creation is bright and fresh tasting; it’s super easy too. You can wash and prep the kale ahead of time plus shake up the dressing ahead so all you’ll have to do is chop the pear and toss it all together. If you’re also a fan of kale, you might enjoy this version with a caper vinaigrette or this kale-grapefruit-pomegranate salad or even this warm kale salad with figs.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 bunch fresh kale (enough to make about 6 cups / 1.5 L chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) plain Greek yogurt (or non-dairy yogurt)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ripe pear
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) grated parmesan cheese (or non-dairy cheese)
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) toasted pecan pieces

Method

  • Wash and dry the kale. Strip leaves from stems. Chop leaves finely and place in a mixing bowl.
  • Combine the vinegar, salt, pepper, yogurt, maple syrup and olive oil in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Seal and shake to form a smooth, well-blended dressing.
  • Cut pear off core and dice.
  • Add vinaigrette to kale and massage kale with your hands so dressing tenderizes the kale and coats the greens thoroughly. Transfer dressed kale to a serving bowl.
  • Add chopped pear, parmesan and pecans; toss gently and serve.

Serves 3 – 4.

 

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Stocking the holiday pantry

Having a few essentials on hand makes for easier entertaining!

You know those people who just love everything about Christmas? That’s me. I’m much more about the food, music and decorations than I am about the gifts. I genuinely enjoy opening our home to family and friends, often spontaneously. While making the holidays happy for everyone does require a little bit of advance planning, having a party-ready pantry (including a few items in the fridge and freezer) keeps the season from getting too hectic. Many people have their entertaining staples like crackers & cheese, Asian dumplings or pot stickers, frozen smoked salmon. I like all of those things and here are some more of my must-haves:

Honeycomb

Awesome with charcuterie, cheese, crumbled over a salad or stirred into Greek yogurt for a delicious, easy dessert.

Frozen spicy cheddar cookie dough 

The dough can be mixed, shaped into cylinders, then frozen. Unwrap and let thaw briefly then slice (or put into a cookie press) and bake. Delicious on their own or as part of a charcuterie or cheese board.

Crab spread ingredients

I always make sure I have a couple of cans of canned crab meat, some jars of seafood cocktail sauce and tubs of spreadable cream cheese on hand. This layered dip recipe is an oldie but a goodie – spread cream cheese on a plate, pour seafood cocktail sauce over in a thin layer, then top with crab meat (and chopped parsley if you have it on hand; a squeeze of fresh lemon juice is great, too). Serve with crackers.

 Frozen cooked meatballs

Meatballs are super versatile and can form the basis of a quick meal (like this great sweet and sour version) or be served as a fun appetizer like this Russian-inspired recipe.

Frozen cookie dough balls

I shape and freeze cookie dough balls so they can be baked (from frozen) as needed, a dozen or so at a time. I usually have several different varieties in the freezer;  having a vegan option like these peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, is really helpful.

Frozen puff pastry

Sheets of store-bought frozen puff pastry are so versatile for whipping up sweet and savoury items like these speedy cinnamon knots which are great for brunch or a coffee date. You can also make a savoury version with garlic butter.

Non-alcoholic beverages

Instead of juice or plain sparkling water, consider options like Seedlip, a line of distilled non-alcoholic spirits; they’re absolutely delicious mixed with sparkling water or tonic.

By stocking up on some of these entertaining essentials, I always feel more prepared and inclined to invite people over on the spur of the moment, plus I’ve always got a stash of edible hostess gifts for any last-minute invitations we receive. I can’t wait for the holiday season to begin!

 

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Speedy cinnamon knots

Easy, delicious party-worthy pastries!

I like to think of frozen puff pastry as a secret weapon. I always keep some on hand as it is so versatile and ideal for making all sorts of sweet and savoury treats. Some of my favourites include goat cheese and caramelized onion palmiers, lemon puffs and these cute little apple pie rings. I really like this new recipe as well – the knots are a fun shape and the filling/topping of butter, sugar and cinnamon adds great flavour without making them too sweet. They’re best enjoyed right after baking although they will keep for a day or two if stored in an airtight container. If you’re more of a savoury person, good news:  you can replace the cinnamon-butter-sugar mixture with garlic butter.

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed but still cold
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, softened but not melted
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) ground cinnamon

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, mix the butter with sugar and cinnamon until well blended. Set aside.
  • Place one sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface, or on a piece of parchment paper. If necessary, roll it a little (putting a bit of flour or another piece of parchment on top) to achieve a 12 x 16 inch (30 x 40 cm) rectangle.
  • Working with a long side facing you, spread one half of the pastry with a thin layer of the butter and sugar mixture, then fold the sheet of pastry in half, to cover the butter mixture.

  • Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, slice the dough into 10 long strips (each about 3/4 inch or 2 cm wide), then cut each long strip in half to make 20 strips.

  • Stretch each strip and tie into a knot and tuck the ends underneath the center of the knot. Place the knots onto the prepared baking sheet. Melt the remaining butter and sugar mixture and brush it over the shaped knots.
  • Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown, 15 to 17 minutes.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 20 knots.

Hot tip: If you’re more of a savoury person, good news: replace the cinnamon-butter-sugar mixture with garlic butter for an equally delicious version!

 

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Smashed sweet potatoes

A fun new way to enjoy a colourful and nutritious vegetable!

I was one of the first to jump on the smashed potato bandwagon when recipes starting popping up everywhere a few years ago. I never posted one because my method was not particularly innovative. I am ready, now, however, to share this delightful recipe – a great twist on a favourite it dish. My taste testers all gave it two thumbs up! If you are a big fan of sweet potatoes, as I am, you may want to check out these lovely little sweet potato stacks, or this fully-loaded version of baked sweet potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium sized sweet potatoes
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) plus 3/4 teaspoon (3.75 mL) kosher salt, divided
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) garlic powder
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Method

  • Preheat oven to 450F. While it heats, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat.
  • Scrub the potatoes (do not peel) and slice them crosswise into slices just slightly thicker than 1 inch (2.5 cm). Add the sweet potato slices and 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of the salt to the pot of boiling water and cook, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender and easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife (15 to 18 minutes, depending on the size of your slices). Drain carefully and set aside.
  • While potatoes are cooking, drizzle 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of the oil onto a rimmed baking sheet. When potatoes are done, drain thoroughly then transfer cooked potatoes to the baking sheet. Flip them once or twice so both sides are well coated with the oil. Spread into a single layer, leaving space between each potato slice.
  • Using the bottom of a lightly greased sturdy drinking glass, mug or measuring cup (choose a vessel with a flat bottom), press down on each slice until it splits open and is flattened to 3/4-inch (2 cm) thick. After smashing each slice, you will need to wipe off the glass, mug or cup and lightly re-oil the bottom.
  • Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of oil over the smashed slices, then sprinkle evenly with thyme, garlic powder, a grind or two of black pepper and remaining kosher salt. Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the potatoes.
  • Roast the potatoes for 15 – 18 minutes until bottoms and tops are golden brown and cheese is getting crispy. Serve hot.

Serves 2; recipe can easily be multiplied.

 

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Innovative edible gifts for holidays and hosts

Handmade treats that are sure to please!

When it comes to holiday gifts for neighbours, teachers and friends, something consumable is always appreciated. I love preparing edible gifts and it’s really fun to come up with new ideas each year to suit the tastes of my recipients. I also look for new packaging options each to make my handmade gifts look really special. I presented a few delicious ideas in my latest Shepherd’s Fashions Coffee Talk video segment with Marlene Shepherd and Kathie Donovan. You can click on the titles below to jump to the recipes and be sure to search through the Edible Gifts category on the right hand side of this website to access more ideas.

Curried coconut lentil soup mix

Spiced whisky

photo by Mark Holleron

Chocolate-coated pretzel rods

 

Mango-maple hot sauce

Coffee spice rub

Bailey’s Irish Cream and white chocolate fudge

 

 

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Chocolate-dipped pretzel rods

A sweet and salty festive treat!

I don’t often wish I lived anywhere other than where I do. Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, is a pretty awesome place and has the most amazing, vibrant culinary scene. I can find international ingredients from all over the world in shops across the city, including many right in my neighbourhood. The one thing I’ve been yearning for that I can’t find are the addictive pretzel rods that seem to be an ‘only in the USA’ kind of food. They’re usually dark brown, sourdough-based pretzels and about 6 inches (15 cm) long. I was planning this recipe and hunted high and low to no avail; you can imagine my relief when I found shorter ones at Bulk Barn. This recipe was inspired by a delicious treat I enjoyed at a food event recently. While I’ll never stop loving soft, ballpark-style pretzels, the crispy, coated ones I tasted were fabulously festive and I’m going to make a huge batch for gifting. They’d also be terrific for school parties or holiday bake sales.

Ingredients

  • 3 dozen pretzel rods
  • 1 cup (250 mL) white chocolate baking chips
  • 2 cups (500 mL) dark chocolate baking chips
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) vegetable oil, divided
  • Candy sprinkles and/or Skor toffee baking bits, for decoration

Method

  • Line three small baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  • Place white chocolate baking chips in a small, microwave-safe ramekin. Add 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of vegetable oil. Heat on medium-high power for 1 minute then stir vigorously. Continue heating and stirring in 15 second increments until mixture is smooth.
  • Working one at a time with one dozen of the pretzel rods, dip one end of each rod into the melted white chocolate, tilting the ramekin as you do so. You want to coat about 1.5 inches (4 cm) of one end of each pretzel. After dipping, hold each one over the ramekin for about 10 seconds to allow excess chocolate to drip off. Place on parchment-lined tray and repeat with remaining pretzel rods. When done, put tray in refrigerator to set chocolate coating.
  • In a slightly larger ramekin, melt the dark chocolate chips and remaining 2 teaspoons (10 mL) of vegetable oil, following the same procedure as above. Dip 12 pretzel rods in the dark chocolate and once they’ve been laid out on one of the baking trays, sprinkle generously with Skor baking bits or candy sprinkles.
  • Briefly reheat the dark chocolate, giving it a good stir, before dipping the final 12 pretzels and sprinkling them with your topping of choice.
  • Reheat the remaining dark chocolate and use a small whisk or the tines of a fork to spatter it across the tops of the white chocolate coated pretzel rods.
  • Refrigerate all the pretzel rods until the coatings are firm, then transfer to an airtight container and store for up to a week.

Makes 3 dozen. Recipe can easily be multiplied, but it’s not advisable to melt more than 2 cups (500 mL) of baking chips at one time in the microwave (use a double boiler instead).

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