Epic Chocolate, Porter & Potato Cake

March 7, 2014

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Anyone have any leftover mashed potatoes? It is rare that we have them leftover, usually gobbling them all up without a second thought. Yet it does occasionally happen. Truth be told I have started making ridiculous amounts of mashed potatoes when I actually do make them, for a couple of reasons. First of all, we have bee known to eat a whole bunch of mashed potatoes in one sitting. Second reason, I am always hoping there will be leftovers so that I can make them into potato farls the next day. And now I have another reason to scheme for leftovers. Believe it or not, I used leftover mashed potatoes in this Epic Chocolate, Porter & Potato Cake. Epic is the perfect word to sum up how I feel about this cake. Rich, chocolatey, moist and delicious! And with spuds and porter as featured ingredients, what cake could better boast of its Irish origins.

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I found this recipe at Bibliocook, the blog of award-winning Irish food writer and broadcaster, Caroline Hennessey. If you haven’t stopped by this great blog, you really must go take a peek. Caroline’s husband is one of the owners and brewers at Eight Degrees Brewing.  I first tasted one of their beers a couple of years ago at the Dingle Food Festival . My friend Theresa, being a fan of that craft brew, had brought along several of their beers for my husband and I to sample and we were instantly hooked. We are eagerly awaiting Eight Degrees arrival in the States. Make sure you keep it in mind if you are planning a trip over to Ireland. Indeed Caroline recommends that their Knockmealdown Porter, be the porter used in this Epic cake. And believe you me, I really wish I could have gotten ahold of a bottle, but alas, none was to be found in Virginia. So I decided to go with a locally brewed porter, looked to Baltimore Maryland (only about 1 hr or so away) and settled on DuClaw Brewing Company’s Sweet Baby Jesus Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter, a decision which I am not second guessing after tasting this amazing cake. All of the malty, chocolate, espresso and peanut butter notes of that porter really shine through in every decadent forkful.

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I love that this cake is really no fuss/no-nonsense. It comes together quickly and easily. And since Caroline had mentioned that its taste improves a bit with age, I made it the day before I was planning to serve it and then just frosted it before folks arrived. And even though I frosted the entire cake, it really isn’t necessary. I think simply spreading a thick pillowy cloud of that cocoa dusted cream cheese filling would be sheer perfection. So why did I frost the entire cake? Well, it looks like it is time for a true confessions moment. The original recipe called for a 23cm round cake tin. Of course here in the States, we never really got into that metric system thing and still do everything in inches. I quickly figured out that 23 cm is a 9″ pan. However, I grabbed a cake pan that was only 1 1/2″ tall. It really needed to be at least 2″, so there was a bit of batter overflow happening when I baked it. No big deal as I had the cake tin sitting on a baking sheet, which caught the spillage. However, the edge of my cake ended up looking a bit raggedy. So I made the executive decision of covering my mistake with that scrumptious frosting and no one would be the wiser. Which they weren’t…until I spilled the beans here. Oh well, live and learn and always use taller cake tins when possible!

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I served this substantial cake up at one of my husband’s band rehearsals and it easily fed a flock of hungry musicians, some of whom had seconds, raving about it all the while. I guess I do have even more of a reason to make extra mashed potatoes now. I’m going to have to arrange to have 20 lb. sacks delivered to my home soon if I’m not careful. The 5 lb. ones just won’t do anymore!

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Epic Chocolate, Porter & Potato Cake

recipe slightly adapted from: Bibliocook

Ingredients:

  • 75 grams dark chocolate – it’s worth using 70% here
  • 225 grams butter, at room temperature
  • 200 grams caster sugar (caster sugar is the same as superfine sugar)
  • 220 grams light brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 75 grams mashed potato (either cook some potatoes and mash them or used leftover mashed potatoes)
  • 250 grams all-purpose flour
  • 25 grams unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 150mls porter – I wish I could have used Eight Degrees Brewing Company’s Knockmealdown Porter, but I used Duclaw Brewing Company’s Sweet Baby Jesus! Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter

For the Cream cheese icing:

  • 200 grams cream cheese
  • 50 grams butter
  • 50 grams confectioners sugar, sifted

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 ° F and line the base of a 9 X 2″ round baking tin.

Melt the chocolate and allow to cool.

Cream the butter and sugars together in a large bowl then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition.

Mix in the melted chocolate and mashed potato.

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda together. Gently mix into the cake batter in three additions, alternating with the porter.

Spoon into the prepared tin, leveling the surface with the back of the spoon, and bake for 1 hour – 1 hour, 10 minutes or until the cake feels springy and a toothpick comes out clean from the center.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then remove to a cooling rack.

To make the icing, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth, then mix in the confectioners sugar. Spread over the cold cake, dusting with a little sweetened cocoa.

Enjoy!


Guinness Braised Pulled Pork & Black Bean Chili

March 4, 2014

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Please tell me I got your full attention at Guinness Braised Pulled Pork. I mean, if you’re anything like the husband and I, we were sold at those first few words. Truth be told, pulled pork all on its lonesome can stop us in our tracks. Must be that southern thing. But then this recipe goes on to add that magical word “chili”  at the end. What?!! Guinness, Pulled Pork & Chili all together in one recipe? Ohhhh yes! And let me tell you it is out of this world, over the moon deeee-licious!

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How could it not be? First of all, you take that big old hunk of pork butt, which actually is not from the hind end of the animal, but from the shoulder area (go figure), and you rub it all over with a wonderful spice mix, then you sear it and let it cook slowly in a sea of Guinness. Not only does the Guinness tenderize the pork, but the meat becomes deeply flavoured with that most famous of Irish stouts. Now you could stop right there and folks would be pleased as punch if you just served up that amazing pork as it is. But no, you then take that magical spicy, Guinness-y braising liquid and use it as the stock for your chili. Once the black beans and other ingredients are in the pot, you take that melt in your mouth pork, which you have shredded or pulled and stir it right back into the mix. Brilliant!

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Time for a bit of a disclaimer. I will say that this chili is quite spicy, which suited us perfectly. But you know how we are. If you tend to be a bit reserved in the spiciness area, you might want to add the chipotle peppers and adobe sauce slowly, tasting all the while, that way you can adjust it to your particular prefered level of heat. My husband LOVED this chili. And we were able to get several meals from this big pot. Besides just serving it up as chili, I wrapped it up in flour tortillas, added some cheese and made Guinness Pulled Pork & Black Bean Chili Burritos, which were a hit to say the least! You simply must add this one to your catalog of chili recipes.

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Guinness Braised Pulled Pork & Black Bean Chili

recipe inspired by: The Beeroness

Ingredients:

For the pork:

  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 lb. pork butt (pork shoulder)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 28 ounces Guinness (2 cans)
  • 2 cups beef stock

For the chili:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 (14.5 ounce) cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 (14.5 ounce) cans of petite diced tomatoes
  • 3 chipotle peppers in adobo, minced (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons adobo sauce from chipotle can (optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

For Serving:

cheddar cheese, chopped cilantro, chopped white onion, jalapeño peppers, sour cream

Directions:

In a small bowl, stir together the spices.

Rub the pork butt on all sides with the spice mixture.

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Once hot, sear the pork on all sides until browned. Pour the beer and beef stock over the pork. Reduce heat to low. Cover pot with lid and allow pork to simmer away for about 4 hours.

Remove pork from pot and shred using two forks. Set aside.

Pour braising liquid into a gravy separator and let sit until pork fat has separated.

In the meantime, heat 1 tablespoon oil in large Dutch oven. Add onions, red pepper and garlic and cook until soft. Sprinkle 1 tablespoons of chili powder over onion mixture and cook for 30 seconds or so. Add reserved braising liquid, sans fat, to the pan. It should be about 3 1/2 Cups worth of liquid. Add the black beans, diced tomatoes, chipotle pepper and adobo sauce. Stir the pulled pork into the mixture and mix until all ingredients are combined.

Let chili simmer for at least 1 hour before serving. I prefer to let it simmer for 1 – 2 hours and then refrigerate it overnight to allow all of the flavours to come together. However, it will be great served the same day!

Garnish with cheddar, cilantro, onion and sour cream. (or toppings of your choice)

Enjoy!


Traditional Irish Pancakes for Pancake Tuesday

March 3, 2014

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Hey…wait a second! Pancakes? Weren’t you expecting Pancakes yesterday with that Flapjack post? Well here they are today. But again, they are not the pancakes you may be used to in the States. These are Traditional Irish Pancakes and tomorrow, March 4th is Pancake Tuesday! Also know as Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday depending on where you might be standing at the time, this is the last day before Lent begins. So what does that have to do with a Pancake? Well, during Lent folks were supposed to abstain from eating any luxurious or decadent foods which included milk, butter and eggs. Making pancakes along with all of their traditional toppings was a good way to use up all of these forbidden ingredients before the period of fasting began. Traditional Irish Pancakes are thinner, more like a French crêpe, than those big, fluffy, cake-like buttermilk versions so often found in America. Traditionally, you will find these pancakes topped with lemon juice and a sprinkling of superfine sugar. However I’ve also heard of folks eating them with Lyle’s Golden syrup, jellies, jams, honey or Nutella, all of which seem more decadent to me than lemon juice and sugar.

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What did I get up to with mine? Well, I just happened to have a jar of Green Apron’s award-winning Chocolate Raspberry Preserves which I had squirreled away after my last visit to Ireland. The Green Apron is a small artisan preserve company located Derryclough, Ballingarry, County Limerick, Ireland, owned and operated by my friend Theresa Storey. All of the preserves they produce are shamefully delicious, but the Chocolate & Raspberry is my particular favourite. Last year, I made some Chocolate & Raspberry Buttermilk Doughnuts with them to kick off my St. Patrick’s Day countdown. I still drool a bit when I think back to them. If you are in Ireland and would like to get ahold of a jar, you can find the Green Apron in the Limerick Milk Market every Saturday. They also do some other markets and fairs from time to time, so check their Facebook page for updates. I’m afraid The Green Apron Preserves are not being sold in the States at this time, but if you visit Ireland, make sure to pay them a visit while there. So back to my pancakes. Those Chocolate & Raspberry Preserves seemed pretty decadent to me, so I broke out the jar that I had been hoarding away and schmeared  that jammy goodness all over a pancake or two. Yum!

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Guess you could say that I’m all set now for 40 days of deprivation…or not! (just wait until you see all the decadent creations I will be blogging about for the next 14 days…you’ll know there is no abstaining going on around here!) But I’m sure you all will be behaving quite virtuously, so I’m glad you’ll be able to have your last big hurrah for a while tomorrow with these indulgent Traditional Irish Pancakes.

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Traditional Irish Pancakes

recipe from: Irish American Mom

Yield: 12 – 15 pancakes

Ingredients:

for the batter:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 oz. ( 1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 2 oz. (1/2 stick) butter, melted  (for frying)

toppings:

  • freshly squeezed lemon juice ( 2-3 lemons)
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar (superfine sugar)
  • jams, Nutella, Lyle’s Golden syrup, honey

Directions:

Whisk flour and salt together in large bowl. Make a well in the center.

Mix eggs and milk together until fully incorporated.

Slowly pour milk mixture into well in dry ingredients bowl, whisking all the while. Continue mixing until you have a smooth batter.

Add melted butter and continue whisking until smooth.

Heat 8″ skillet over medium high heat. Brush pan with melted butter.

Pour approximately 1/4 cup of batter into the pan. Tilt from side to side until a thin layer of batter is achieved.

Cook until bubbles appear in batter and the top starts to look a bit dry – approximately 1 minute.

Flip pancake and continue to cook for an additional minutes.

Transfer cooked pancakes to plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

When ready to assemble, pour 1 teaspoon lemon juice on each pancake and sprinkle with caster sugar. Or alternatively cover pancake with toppings of your choice. Roll each pancake up and devour!

Enjoy!


Baileys, White Chocolate, Cranberry & Pistachio Flapjacks

March 2, 2014

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These Baileys, White Chocolate, Cranberry & Pistachio Flapjacks are exactly what the doctor ordered today! But wait, I just realized that I might have confused a few of you out there in the blogosphere. You’re probably looking at the photo and thinking, “What Flapjack? That’s a granola bar. A flapjack in the States is a pancake.” Hmmm…perhaps. But in Ireland, that is a Flapjack. It is funny how sometimes even though everyone is speaking English, the words just don’t mean the same thing. For instance, in college once upon what seems like one million years ago, a bunch of us gals were sitting around talking about what fashion accessories we thought looked good on guys. I mentioned that I thought guys looked good in suspenders, which was met with much laughter. Drying her eyes, one friend went on to ask me “how do you get the fellas to wear them?” Somewhat puzzled I said “You just tell them they look good in them and they’ll wear them!” Met with gales of howling laughter. O.k. I thought, what gives? Well…it turns out “suspenders” in Irish-English are a garter belt used to hold up ladies stockings. They not the things that go over your shoulders to hold up your britches, which are in fact are not called suspenders in Ireland but are called “braces”, which I thought were just the things worn on snaggledy teeth to straighten them. Tricky huh?  Another memorable Irish-English faux pas on my part was when a male friend of mine said he was heading out in his car to drive downtown and I said, “Will you give me a ride?” Yeah…that string of words means something totally different from what I intended. (I’ll just let you figure that one out on your own…) Oh well, live and learn.

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So back to the subject at hand…these little delights are flapjacks. And the ones shown here a chock full of all sorts of yumminess like White Chocolate, Cranberries, Pistachios and – be still my heart – Baileys! But Flapjacks are very versatile, you can swap in or leave out whatever you like. Anyone for dark chocolate and coconut? If you are feeling particularly healthy one day, use honey instead of golden syrup and throw in a big helping of fruit, grain and nuts. (Guess you’d have to leave out the Baileys if you were going all healthy huh? shock, horror) It’s all up to you. And me? I like the combination I’ve come up with here, especially that sea salt sprinkled over the top to give it that sweet and salty taste sensation. Only complaint is they were gone in a flash. Luckily they are quick and easy to make, so I can just do another batch. And happily I did find a great use for all those crumbly bits that were left behind in the tin. I’ve been sprinkling them over my yogurt or Skyr (for those of you who read my recent Iceland post). Delicious! Nothing like a hint of Baileys first thing in the morning to get you going!

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Baileys, White Chocolate, Cranberry & Pistachio Flapjacks

recipe adapted from: The Daily Spud

yield: 24 -26 flapjacks – depending on how you cut ’em

Ingredients:

  • 175 grams (12 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 50 grams dark muscovado sugar ( you can substitute in dark brown sugar)
  • 2 Tablespoons Lyle’s Golden Syrup ( you can substitute in light corn syrup or honey)
  • 2 Tablespoons Baileys
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped pistachios
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 250 grams rolled oats
  • flaked sea salt

Directions:

Line a 9″ x 9″ baking tin with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 325° F.

Place a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat and add the butter, sugar, golden syrup, Baileys and salt. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter and sugar have melted.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oats, pistachios, cranberries, and white chocolate. Make a well in the center and add the melted butter mixture. Mix until combined. Place oat mixture in baking tin and press it down with the back of a spoon or a spatula. Sprinkle flaked sea salt over pan.

Bake on middle rack in oven until golden brown, about 20 – 30 minutes. allow to cool completely in the pan before slicing.

Enjoy!


Guinness Irish Apple Beer Bread & Spicy Guinness Cheddar Spread

March 1, 2014

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Here it is March 1st already! That means today is the first day of my annual blog-stravaganza leading up to St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th. Yup…I will be publishing one Irish-y recipe every day until March 17th. This is the 3rd year that I have done this and if you are looking for some tasty Irish-y dishes for St. Patrick’s Day, I hope you will follow along here each day. But I should also mention that I have quite a back catalog of Irish-y recipes from the past years. Just click on Runcible Eats/Recipes at the top of the navigation bar and scroll down to St. Patrick’s Day to see them.  (or just click here and scroll down)

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This year we’re going to get underway with a great recipe for a quick beer bread using… you guessed it – Guinness! Now you know that a bread made with Guinness is going to be fantastic. Cooking anything with Guinness just seems to improve it whether it be a hearty beef stew or a rich chocolate cake. Guinness stout seems to give everything a real depth of flavour. And this Guinness Irish Apple Beer Bread not only has yummy Guinness goodness in it, but it also has delicious apple butter added into the mix! I used some of my homemade Drunken Granny Apple Butter, but if you don’t have time to whip up a batch of your own, any store-bought apple butter will do in a pinch.  Being a quick bread, there are no rise times involved, so you’ll have two loaves out of the oven and ready for snacking before you know it. The bread is very moist and bursting with apple flavour. I like mine slathered in butter.

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The folks at A Spicy Perspective, the blog where I came across the original recipe, suggested that it paired well with a sharp cheddar spread. Apples and cheddar do taste great together, so I adapted a spicy cheddar spread from the folks at Cabot Creamery that I already had in my repertoire. Since this is for St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to Irish it up a bit and used Kerrygold Reserve Cheddar Cheese and a bit more Guinness (of course). Folks loved the resulting Spicy Guinness Cheddar Spread, both on the bread and on crackers as  well.

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This bread would work well with whatever St. Patrick’s Day feast you are preparing, but would also be very welcome at your St. Patrick’s Day breakfast table. Or as a mid-day snack to sop up some of those pints, I mean as a bit of pick-me-up. Make a couple of loaves today and don’t forget the Spicy Guinness Cheddar Spread! (That’s one down and 16 more days to go!)

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Guinness Irish Apple Beer Bread

recipe adapted from: A Spicy Perspective

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups Drunken Granny Apple Butter, or your favourite Apple Butter
  • 12 oz. Guinness Stout beer
  • 1 Tablespoon Lyle’s Golden Syrup (can substitute in 1 T Molasses)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter and flour two 8 1/2 x 4″ loaf pans.

Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs, apple butter, Guinness and golden syrup. Mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. Slowly add dry mixture to the wet mixture. Mix until just combined.

Pour the batter evenly into the prepared loaf pans. Baked for 60 – 70 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean.

Cool bread in the loaf pans for 10 minutes before gently inverting on to a wire rack to cool completely.

Spicy Guinness Cheddar Spread

recipe adapted from: Cabot Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces Kerrygold Reserve Cheddar, grated (about 2 cups) *
  • 1/4 cup  Sour Cream
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon Guinness Stout
  • Large pinch freshly ground nutmeg
  • Pinch ground red pepper (cayenne)

Directions:

Place grated cheddar, sour cream, butter, Guinness, nutmeg and cayenne pepper in bowl of  food processor and pulse until smooth.

* You can substitute in another cheddar if you are not able to find Kerrygold. I will mention though that you should buy a block of cheddar and grate it yourself. Do not use bags of shredded cheese. The pre-shredded cheese is coated with cellulose or corn starch to keep it from sticking together and could cause your cheese spread to be less creamy than it could be if you grated the cheese at home.

Enjoy!


White Chocolate Skyramisu & our annual Iceland in December Adventure

February 27, 2014

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I bet I’ve got a few folks scratching their heads with the title of this blog post, wondering what is “skyramisu” and who goes, nevermind goes annually, to Iceland in December? Well, let me begin by saying Skyramisu is not a misspelling of Tiramisu, the coffee flavoured Italian dessert. It is an adaptation of that popular treat using Icelandic Skyr and cream cheese instead of mascarpone cheese. Tiramisu with an Icelandic twist if you will. The resulting dessert is simply divine! There are a few other differences between the two as well. Instead of using coffee soaked ladyfingers, wafer cookies are used here. Prince Polo, a very popular chocolate bar in Iceland, was the ingredient called for in the original recipe, but since I couldn’t find Prince Polo here in the States, I went with Quadratini biscuits, little bite sized wafer cookies in dark chocolate and cappuccino flavours made by Loacker. These worked perfectly. (You can find them at World Market or online at Amazon.) At this point you may be saying “Hold on a second, what exactly is Skyr?” Well, Skyr is Icelandic yogurt, though I believe it is technically not yogurt, but rather strained skim milk cheese. If while reading this you find yourself pulling some horrible face, just stop it! Skyr is delicious! The Vikings brought Skyr to Iceland with them when they settled the country and it has remained in the Icelandic diet since the 9th Century, so you know it must be good! ( And before you start, don’t even mention the rancid shark thing…Everyone should be allowed a few little quirks…)

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Just focus on this delightful dish…stop thinking about the shark!

Skyr is very smooth, rich and creamy and is a sort of cross between ice cream and yogurt. It has 0% fat, has 2-3 times the amount of protein found in regular yogurt and is high in calcium. And unlike the elusive Prince Polo bars, Skyr is now widely available here in the US. Skyr.ie is imported direct from Iceland and there is a company located in New York owned and operated by a fellow from Iceland, Siggi’s. Their delicious products can be found in the yogurt section in Whole Foods and many other chain grocery stores. See, what’s not to like? If you haven’t tried it, run out today and give it a whirl! I first came across it last December, when I visited Iceland for the first time. My husband and I fell in love with the place and particularly liked being there in December. Contrary to popular belief, the temperatures are generally not that cold, they hover right around freezing, though I will admit there always seems to be wind, ranging from breeze level right up to gale force. Even though there are few hours of daylight, that actually gives you a better chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Icelandic folks love Christmas, so it’s great to visit in December. Believe me, if you can’t get in a Christmas-y mood there, you really are a terrible Scrooge! Another plus is that there are very few other tourists visiting at this time, which suits me just fine – we got the run of the place along with all sorts of airfare and hotel discounts for going in what is considered the “off season”. This year like last, we stayed at lovely Hotel Rangá for a few days and splurged on the Antarctica Suite.

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We hoped to see the Northern Lights again, after last year’s amazing display,

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but alas we were not so lucky. The weather this year was very snowy, indeed snowing every day. (We actually really loved all of the snow this year) So, with the snow came the clouds and the lights were just not visible. In a last-ditch attempt to chase the Aurora down, we even went out with SuperJeep on one of our last days in Reykjavik, but still it managed to elude us.

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I will say though, the SuperJeep Northern Lights tour was a lot of fun, full of off-roading and vodka spiked hot chocolate. I definitely recommend them if you are in Reykjavik and want to get out of the city for a better chance of seeing the lights. The folks at SuperJeep really put forth a good effort on our part, but the cloud coverage just would give! Oh well, I won’t be too disappointed because it means we’ll just have to go back next year to try again 🙂

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Another tour that did not disappoint, but was in fact the highlight of the trip this year was our journey to Jökulsárlón with South Iceland Adventure Company.

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We had gone on a tour to Thórsmörk with them last year and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. So I contacted them this year and was able to book a private Jökulsárlón tour with them. They don’t usually offer that tour in December because the limited daylight hours combined with the long travel time and possible dodgy December weather make it a challenge. Nevertheless,  they were willing to give it a try if we were and we are so glad that we decided to give it a go! Now we probably could have just driven there ourselves, but the advantage of having South Iceland Adventure take us was that there was no driving, we could just sit back, relax and take in the gorgeous vistas. And our fantastic tour guide, Stefnir, is from the area right around Jökulsárlón, so he was just a wealth of information and knew all the best places to visit along the way. Nothing like a local’s knowledge! Jökulsárlón is a large lake formed by a glacier located in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Bits of the Vatnajökull glacier break off (calve) into the lake and these icebergs float around until they melt enough to fit through the narrow opening of the lake and drift out into the ocean, though some do wash up on the nearby black sand beach.

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This place is stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful! Completely surreal, haunting and magical. Simply a must-see if you visit Iceland. And if you can, leave the driving and the expert guiding to the folks at South Iceland Adventure Company. You won’t regret it.  Pictures really don’t do Jökulsárlón justice, but here are a few for you.

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The black lines in some of the icebergs are caused by ash from past volcanic eruptions.

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In the summer you can zoom around the lake in Zodiac boats for a upclose view of the icebergs. As you can see, December proves a bit too icy for that.

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Over at the black sand beach…

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Now we did manage to drive around  south Iceland on our own a bit and after getting turned back by a snowstorm one day, we persevered and made it out to the tiny fishing village of Vík and the Dyrhólaey peninsula the following day. I’ll just let our pictures do the talking here…

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After our stay in the countryside, we headed into Reykjavik for a few days. We hiked up to Hallgrímskirkja to take in the views.

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Reykjavik bird’s-eye view

We took a day trip out to The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal pool and Spa located in a lava field in Grindavík about 40 minutes from Reykjavik.We simply wouldn’t miss it. This year was interesting because the winds were just insane. I kid you not there were literally white caps forming in the pool! As a consequence we tended to shelter under bridges and behind rocks and were still able to really enjoy the waters.

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Otherwise we had a great time just hanging out in the city.

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Once again, we couldn’t stay away from Bæjarins beztu pylsur! Best hot dogs in the country.

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Believe me, we ate at least one every day we were in Reykjavik!

This is where I have to give a huge shout out to a superb Icelandic travel blog, I Heart Reykjavik , written by Auður Ösp. I found her site after our visit last year and have followed it ever since. If you are headed to Iceland, you really must take a look this blog. Come to think of it, you should really check it out whether or not you have plans to visit Iceland. Not only is this blog very entertaining and witty but it is also chock full of honest expert advice from a local on all the sights and natural wonders to be seen in Iceland.  You will also find savvy travel tips, bar and restaurant recommendations and reviews, notes about Icelandic history and culture and even a few lessons on how to say useful phrases in  the Icelandic language. And for a bonus, Auður is a wonderful photographer and Iceland is a gorgeous subject. If her stunning photos can’t tempt you to visit, I don’t know what could! This year we followed lots of her recommendations and can say it sure beat the tired old tourist guide we were dragging around with us last year. Thanks to I Heart Reykjavik we found Ölstofan, a great down to earth bar which not only serves up delicious beer – such as Bríó, their own German pilsner- but does it with music played at a level which is conducive to actually being able to have a conversation with the other folks there who, like us, tend to be a few years past their 25th birthday, she led us to

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Chillin at Ölstofan

The Noodle Station which served up some truly spicy (not often found in Icelandic cuisine) Thai Noodle Soup that I’m still craving, ate the best french fries in Reykjavik at the Laundromat Cafe (and yes you can really do your laundry there while eating fries, reading a book, drinking a beer and surfing the internet) and had one of the best meals of our lives at Grillmarkaðurinn. This top-notch restaurant serves up the freshest local ingredients in exquisitely prepared traditional Icelandic dishes with a modern twist. And it is one of the most beautifully designed restaurants in which we’ve ever had the pleasure of dining. The decor was a blend of chic modern and natural organic outdoorsiness (I think I just invented this word). Our experience there was superb from start to finish! We give it our highest recommendations. So our heartfelt thanks go out to I Heart Reykjavik! We couldn’t have done it without you!

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But I suppose I should get back on the subject of this White Chocolate Skyramisu. Icelandic folks love their Skyr and I noticed that it was featured in quite a few desserts. This one really tempted me in particular because of the inclusion of coffee and white chocolate. Yum!  This tasty dessert comes together very quickly and is sure to please. It is a bit heavier than its inspiration, Tiramisu, but believe me you will savour every thick, rich, creamy decadent spoonful.

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All the while thinking of just how good for you Skyr is. Yeah…you could even say you were being virtuous by gobbling up this dish…At least that’s what I was able to convince myself of! I’m just sitting around, scarfing down dish after dish, thinking about our recent Icelandic break and planning out some adventures for this coming December! (Anyone up for a jaunt into the magma chamber of a volcano?)

PS. Just a reminder – my annual St. Patrick’s Day blog-stravaganza is going to start this Saturday March 1st! I will be posting one Irish-y recipe a day all the way up to March 17th! The Baileys, Guinness and Jameson will be flowing! Check back in to see all the fun! (And wish me luck! – 17 days in a row is a lot of blogging!)

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White Chocolate Skyramisu

recipe adapted from skyr.is

Ingredients:

for the base:

  •  2 – 250 gram bag of bite sized wafer cookies
  • 3/4 cup strong black coffee

for the filling:

  • 400 grams cream cheese
  • 2 containers (300 grams) vanilla skyr
  • 1 tablespoon milk or cream
  • 1 cup (150 grams) White Chocolate
  • 2 Tablespoons brandy or coffee liquor (I used Kahlua)
  • 1 cup (100 grams) icing sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • white chocolate shavings for decoration
  • cocoa powder for decoration
  • rolled wafer cookies

Directions:

Layer the wafer biscuits (cookies) on the bottom of a 9 X 13″ dish. Pour coffee over wafers and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer combine cream cheese and skyr mixing until smooth. Add icing sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, to cream cheese/skyr mixture and continue to mix until fully incorporated. Add egg yolks to the cream cheese mixture mixing until combined.

Place chopped white chocolate in microwave proof bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of milk to chocolate. Microwave in 15 second increments until melted, stirring often. Add liquor into melted chocolate and mix until combined.

Gently fold the melted chocolate/liquor mixture into the skyr mixture.

Spoon filling over the soaked wafer cookies and chill.

When ready to serve, sprinkle with cocoa powder and grated white chocolate. Garnish further with a rolled wafer cookie.

Enjoy!


Königsberger Klopse (German Meatballs)

February 18, 2014

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So you know how I pulled that disappearing act back in the Fall? Well there were just a whole bunch of reasons that happened, some fun and some not so fun. But this post is going to be about one of the fun things. My husband had to go to Berlin for business and I got to tag along! Well, what I actually did was wait until all of his work stuff was nearly done and then flew over and met him. I worked out really well. I avoided all of the stressful icky work stuff and turned up just in time to do all the fun vacation-y, touristy stuff. The only thing I was really sad I missed out on was the Donor Kebab shop that turned into a full on disco suddenly at 3 a.m. My husband took me back to the scene but it failed to make it’s dance-tastic transformation for me. But luckily the Disco Donor Kebab wasn’t the only sight to be taken in whilst in Berlin. What a great city!

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We only had a couple of days to play the tourists there, but we made the most of them. Folks were really friendly and we couldn’t have been anymore impressed with the public transportation system. It was so well thought out, it just made it incredibly easy to speed all about the town. The weather was just perfect, warm but not too warm during the day and jacket weather in the evening. We stayed over in the part of the city that had been “East Berlin” before the wall came down, in the Mitte neighbourhood. If anyone is headed over that way, I have to tell you, we stayed in a great little boutique hotel, Casa Camper. Yup, it is owned by the same folks that do the Camper shoes. Our room was  a bit quirky, sleek, modern and spacious. The hotel is in a great location close to tons of shops, restaurants and the Weinmeisterstraße underground station is right across the street. One of the best things about the hotel is that they don’t do those silly little mini bars in your room, instead they have a lounge located on the top floor which is open 24 hours a day. You can always get a snack there and they have a fully stocked honor bar that you can help yourself to any time of the day or night. Makes you feel right at home! On the weekend they serve their generous breakfasts until 2 pm! It was a great find and as far as I’m concerned the place to stay in Berlin. We spent most of what little time we had in the city checking out the various museums at Museumsinsel (Museum island…that’s right a whole island of nothing but museums!), the Fernsehturm (tv tower – tallest structure in Germany),

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the Berlinerdom (Berlin Cathedral)

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and visiting a pub or two or three…

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Statue of St. George in front of Brauhaus Georgbraeu

Besides the many pints of beer we quaffed (uh…there really were quite a few…) we had some really tasty meals. (Good thing or we really would’ve been in a state with all that beer on empty stomachs…) My husband loves meatballs. Seriously. He likes those little appetizer cocktail meatballs, he likes them perched on top of spaghetti, stuffed into subs or just all on their lonesome. So you can imagine how delighted he was to find them on the menu of pretty much every restaurant we visited! When we got back home, he was somewhat despondent that his meatball access had been curtailed. So I set out to find a recipe for Königsberger Klopse (German Meatballs), just like we had in Berlin. These savoury meatballs cooked in a creamy white sauce came close and definitely brought a smile to his face. Cooked in a broth, rather than grilled, these meatballs are very tender, a bit spicy and have a fresh zing from the lemon zest. The original recipe called for veal, but I went with beef, though I think pork would also work well.  Also there seems to be some folks out there who are quite insistent that capers must be included in this dish for it to be authentic. If that is true, I have fallen a bit short here as there wasn’t a caper to be had in my house on the day I prepared them. If you are a caper fan, feel free to toss a bunch into the mix.

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I served these meatballs over Spaetzle, which I made from scratch. I’m afraid though that I don’t really have that recipe down yet. Certainly not enough to share with you. I’m thinking at this point that a Spaetzle maker might be a necessity here, cause I tried a variety of methods from colander, to potato ricer to strainer and often just ended up with some sort of mutant uber-spaetzle blob. So I’ll put that one on hold right now. I will mention though that after struggling with my homemade spaetzle demons, I found a lovely box of Authentic German Spaetzle at the grocery store, just hanging out there with all of the pastas. That might be the way to go to save yourself a bit of frustration if you haven’t already acquired mad spaetzle making skills. Rice or parsley butter potatoes would also be a good alternative as an accompaniment. And don’t forget a tall frosty beer. I went with one of our all time favourite beers, Pinkus Ur-Pils,  which happens to be brewed in Germany, so that worked out just perfectly. As they say in Germany, “Prost!”

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Königsberger Klopse (German Meatballs)

recipe adapted from: Craig Claiborne at The New York Times

yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 4 teaspoons butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoky paprika
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 Tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons chives, finely chopped with additional for garnish
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions:

Put beef in mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper and mix to combine.

Heat 1 teaspoon of butter in saute pan. Add onion and garlic. Cook until softened. Add onion mixture to beef. Add breadcrumbs, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and zest, paprika, parsley, chives and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly. Shape mixture into equal sized balls.

Heat remaining butter in saucepan and add flour, stirring with whisk until smooth. Add broth, and wine, stirring continuously. Add meatballs to simmering sauce. Stir gently from time to time so that they cook evenly, about 25 minutes.

Beat sour scream with egg yolk and lemon juice. Add mixture to meatballs. Heat briefly without boiling. Serve hot with spaetzle.

Enjoy!


Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin for my Valentine

February 14, 2014

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So here it is, Valentine’s Day yet again. And this one had quite an exciting meteorological lead up to it around here. Folks have been pretty much hysterical all week over the HUGE snow storm that was slated to commence clobbering us on Wednesday evening. Didn’t I say Winter wasn’t done with us yet…dang that old Punxsutawney varmint! (Just kidding…Sorry Phil, I won’t shoot the messenger!) Usually when there is that much hype about a storm here, nothing actually happens. But this time we did end up with about 10 inches in the wee hours of Thursday and sleety rain/snow throughout the entire day. Luckily I was prepared to make a gorgeous treat for my Valentine and had all of my ingredients ready right here in my cozy warm home and did not need to go out to brave the grocery stores, which if they were even open, I’m sure were in a quite a state to say the least! This year I will be sticking to my usual template when making Valentine’s Day Treats for my sweetie. I think the first one I ever blogged about was Lemon Curd Bread Pudding with a Blackberry Glaze,

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the next year I was on to Luscious Lemon Squares,

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then I whipped up a Poached Pear Tart with Lemony Cream.

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Anyone spot a pattern here? I just noticed that they all had lemon in them, but that isn’t really what is key here. Give up? They are all fruit desserts. No rich, decadent, indulgent, oh so common on Valentine’s Day chocolate in sight! Now I’ve told you that I think the husband’s preference for fruit desserts over chocolate ones is a bit inconceivable for me, though I must say, I don’t necessarily want chocolate…You guys know me by now right? What do I want? CUPCAKES! (just thought I’d make that word really stand out in case my sweetie just happens to be reading this post…hint, hint!) But since I’m such a lovely and thoughtful wife, I did not make my Valentine cupcakes. I made him this fantastic Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin!

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I was lucky enough to receive Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook for Christmas and immediately knew this Tarte Tatin would be the Valentine’s Day dish this year. If you have not got a copy of the book, what in the world are you waiting for?!! It is chock full of delicious recipes, similar to the ones found on her blog, as well as her stunning photos. And let me tell you, this Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin did not disappoint. It was very quick and easy to make. You really only dirty one pan, the cast iron skillet that you cook it in. You start by cooking the bananas in a boozy butterscotch sauce on the stove top.

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This is where you will lose any element of surprize because the tantalizing aroma of the bubbling banana medley will bring every single person who is in the house into the kitchen to investigate. Next step is to add the buttery puff pastry topper and then pop the whole thing into the oven for about 25 minutes until it is bubbly and golden.

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Are you drooling yet?

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Next you carefully flip it over onto a plate and get ready for folks to swoon!

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I think it looked truly impressive. Not to mention how scrumptious it tasted…and I am not even that big of a fruity dessert fan.

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I did indeed choose wisely for my Valentine. He was over the moon! Hope everyone has a Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin

Recipe from: Smitten Kitchen Cookbook  by Deb Perelman or you can see recipe online at EatDrink.CA

yield: 6 – 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • All-purpose flour, for work surface
  • 1 sheet frozen puff-pastry dough, thawed in the refrigerator for 1 day
  • 3 Tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (95 grams) packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt flakes, such as Maldon
  • 5 Large ripe bananas peeled, halved lengthwise
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon bourbon or Scotch (optional – are you kidding me?! I chose Knob Creek Bourbon)
  • Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Directions:

For this recipe, you’ll need a 9″ skillet heavy enough so you fear dropping it on your toes. Preheat your oven to 400° F. Roll out your puff pastry on a floured surface to a 9″ circle, and trim if necessary. Transfer the pastry to the fridge until needed.

Melt the butter in the 9″ skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the sugar and salt. Cook, swirling the skillet occasionally, until the mixture turns medium amber, about 3 minutes.

Arrange the bananas in the skillet, overlapping them slightly. Cook, without stirring, for 3 minutes. Drizzle the vanilla and the alcohol of you choice over the bananas and cook them until most of the liquor has evaporated and liquid has thickened, about 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the bananas from heat.

Place the pastry round on top of the bananas and transfer it to the oven. Bake until the pastry is golden brown and puffed, about 25 minutes. Remove the tarte from the oven, and carefully invert the tarte onto a serving plate. Don’t even think about serving this without vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy!


Tater Tot Casserole

February 10, 2014

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I’m sure you know by now, that dang critter saw his shadow. Yup…SIX, count ’em…six more weeks of this bizarro Winter! Boo!!! I kind of had a feeling it wasn’t done with us yet. So looks like we’ll have to hunker down for just a bit longer. This Tater Tot Casserole is the perfect comfort food to help you get through it.

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I’m not even going to try to pretend this casserole is healthy or good for you in any way. I’m quite sure it is not. But let me tell you…it is oh so good. Gooey, creamy, savoury, cheesey, tater-tot-y bliss! Just the thing to warm you up and soothe those nerves on one of these frigid winter nights.

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And one of the truly awesome things about this casserole is that it freezes fantastically well. So once you are going to all the trouble to make it (uh…it is really not very much trouble…) you can make an extra pan of it and just pop it in the freezer. You will be so happy that you did because the next time you have one of those days…you know the kind…made even worse by the icy roads, frozen pipes and kids being home from school for the second week straight…all you’ll have to do is pull that bad boy out of the freezer and place directly in the oven. There you have it…comfort food therapy on the way! And while the family thinks you’re busy “preparing” dinner, you can have a moment or two to yourself. All alone…Well, alone except for that glass (or should I say bottle) of wine… Just kidding! I know you wouldn’t do that. I’m sure it is obvious to everyone that a tall, frosty beer (or say six…one for every extra week of Winter) would be a much better pairing with this dish! Hope everyone enjoys their extended weeks of Winter!

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Tater Tot Casserole

recipe adapted from: craving comfort

yield: 4 servings

ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato puree
  • handful fresh thyme leaves
  • 10 ounce can of condensed cream of chicken or mushroom soup
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 16 oz. package of frozen tater tots
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Brown ground beef seasoned with salt and pepper. Remove beef from pan, leaving as much of grease in pan as possible and set aside.

Saute chopped onion and garlic in reserved grease. Cook until tender. Add ground beef back to pan and add Worcestershire sauce and tomato puree. Stir until combined. Add thyme leaves to mixture.

In large bowl, combine sour cream and cream of chicken soup. Add beef mixture and stir to combine.

Place soup/beef mixture in 8×8″ pan. Top with tater tots.

Bake uncovered for 30 – 40 minutes until bubbly and tater tots are golden brown.

Sprinkle one cup of cheese over tater tots and return to oven until cheese in melted.

Enjoy!

This casserole freezes well. Put it together and freeze until ready to bake. If you would like to feed a crowd, consider doubling it and baking in a 9×13″ pan.


Salted and Malted Nutella Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies

February 5, 2014

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Salted and Malted Nutella Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies. I really don’t know if I need to elaborate on this one… I mean, I don’t know about you, but they had me at Salted & Malted. Nothing more need be said. But then those delicious pair of words are followed by Nutella. And it doesn’t stop there. Oh no. It goes on to read Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie! Have Mercy!

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I was instantly confident that this would be the recipe that I would make for World Nutella Day. That’s right, today February 5th is World Nutella Day. This celebration of all things Nutella was started in 2007 by Sara at Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle at Bleeding Espresso as a day to celebrate, get creative with and most importantly, to EAT Nutella.

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I love Nutella. Although I missed adding a submission to Nutella Day last year. (Total brain freeze…I have no excuse) I have contributed a couple of truly tasty Nutella laden recipes in years past. There was my exquisite Nutella, Double Chocolate & Banana Tart

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and my delightful Nutella & Banana filled Peanut Butter Ebelskivers.

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I think these Salted & Malted Nutella Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies are a great way to jump back into the game.

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Morgan over at Host the Toast came up with these gems back in December. What a masterpiece! They literally have it all, silky, decadent Nutella, creamy caramel, nostalgic malted goodness and rich chocolate chips all rolled up in a crunchy chewy salted cookie. (Yup…its got the salty/sweet thing covered as well!) They are an absolute breeze to make and as I’m sure you can imagine, are certainly quite easy to eat. (Ahem…probably a bit too easy judging from the fit of my britches…) I can’t get enough of these little devils! Get yourself addicted today!

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Salted and Malted Nutella Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies

recipe from Host the Toast

yield: 27 Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 and ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup malted milk powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • ⅔ cup Nutella
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅔ cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • ⅔ cup caramel bits (or baking caramels cut into tiny pieces)
  • Flaky Sea salt, for topping

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, malted milk powder, baking soda, and salt until well blended.

Cream together the butter and both sugars in a separate bowl until completely smooth.

Add the Nutella to the butter mixture and mix until fully combined. Add in the egg and vanilla and continue to mix. Then, slowly add in the flour mixture. Mix until it all is just incorporated, but don’t over-mix.

Stir in the chocolate chips and caramel bits until evenly distributed. I like to refrigerate cookie dough for an hour or so before baking. It helps to keep it from spreading too quickly in the oven resulting in a very thin cookie. However, this step is optional. Using a medium-sized cookie scoop ( holds about 2 tablespoons) scoop dough and drop onto the parchment paper-covered baking sheets, spacing them out about 2½ inches apart and away from the sides of the sheet. You may have to do multiple batches– don’t try to squeeze them all in.

Sprinkle dough with flaky sea salt.

Bake 10-13 minutes. Remove from the oven. They will still be very, very soft. Leave them on the cookie sheet on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, or until they are solid enough to eat.

Enjoy!


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