Thursday, 28 January 2016

Coffee & Walnut Bread [Coffee: 100 Everyday Recipes]

I want to preface this recipe from the coffee cookbook with the warning that I have genuinely never baked bread from scratch before. However, since the whole point of this blog is that these recipes should work out, I'm putting my trust in the cookbook. As a precaution, I made sure to crank the heat in my place, since I normally like to keep it cool and I know that's not great for yeast.

Cookbook Recipe:


  • vegetable oil, for greasing
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 2/3 cups white flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, chopped coarsely
  • 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp honey

Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. Grease a baking sheet. In one bowl, mix the flour, salt, yeast, and walnuts, making a well in the centre. In another bowl, mix the water, coffee, olive oil, and honey. Pour the liquid into the flour and mix with a knife until soft and sticky. (Not sure why the recipe specifies a knife to mix it with, but I went with a butterknife.)

2. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5-7 minutes. (As seen later, this is the crux of the problem with this recipe.) Put the dough in a bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and place in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size.

After the second rising. I mean, it kinda worked!

3. Turn the dough out again onto a floured surface, and knead for 1 minute. Shape into an 8-inch long oval and place on the baking sheet. Dust with flour and slash a curve off-centre along the loaf. Let rest (they don't specify covered or uncovered) for 40-50 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400F.

That is definitely bread!

4. Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden brown and "the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with your knuckles". Cool on a wire rack.

The Outcome:

Hey, I made bread! However, this bread is way too dense. I googled around to see if it was something I had done, but it turns out that the problem is the recipe - 5-7 minutes is half the time bread really should be kneaded (though there's plenty of conflicting arguments). It still tastes pretty delicious, though I don't think the coffee adds much except a bit of colouring.  I do want to try this again and knead it longer to see if that will make it into a lighter, fluffier loaf. But hey, it's distinctly and clearly bread, and I made from scratch!

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Cookbook Crusher: Coffee: 100 Everyday Recipes

Look at this tiny cookbook! Coffee: 100 Everyday Recipes is a cute mini hardcover cookbook, with every recipe using coffee to some extent. A caveat - I'm not a big coffee snob (I'm happy with Tim Hortons); I like the taste but it's mainly a caffeine delivery vehicle to me. Still, it'll be interesting to see how it's incorporated into all these dishes.

I was initially a bit leery about this cookbook, since as shown by the sign, I did get it for a toonie at the dollar store. I also can't seem to find a listing for it on Amazon, which is a bit of a red flag. But leafing through it, it does have professionally done photographs for each recipe, and nothing in the recipes I've skimmed jumps out at me as off or wrong. However, I haven't tried anything from here yet, so I'm going in blind.

This cookbook is about 3/4 dessert recipes - they're split up into cakes, "small cakes" / cookies, and general desserts. This makes sense, since coffee pairs great with things like chocolate or nuts. There is a small section on savoury dishes that's caught my eye, I definitely want to try some of those! There's a generous drinks section too - both alcoholic and non-alc. It's an American cookbook, and in my experience American desserts can run a bit sweet or heavy, but I'm ready to get my beano buzz on!

The five recipes tested are:


Monday, 25 January 2016

The Outcome: What's Cooking: Festive '12

So, I've now tried five new recipes from What's Cooking: Festive '12. I tried to cook them as close to possible to the recipes, so here's the outcome.

The Verdict is:

For something that's basically a nicely bound advertisement, not bad. I mean, it's a branded cookbook, so What's Cooking is first and foremost set up to sell Kraft products. However, as far as branded recipes go, this is the better end of it - it's pretty much a full magazine, there definitely has been a lot of thought put into it, and it has the bonus of being Canadian so it actually matches up with our not-quite-American kitchen measurements and has stuff that's generally found in Canadian grocery stores.

As for the actual recipes, on a whole, they seemed to be good and perfectly edible but nothing completely knocked my socks off. Some need a bit of tweaking - the Chocolate-Marbled Banana Bread needs some adjustments so it's less toasted on the outside, while the Reindeer Munch needs to fix the ingredient proportions. Both the Mushroom and Snow Pea Sauté and the Wagon Wheel-Chili Skillet were tasty, but seemed to be missing something I couldn't put my finger on, it's like they both needed something extra to make them pop. The Cheesy Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes were the closest thing to a flop - despite the pretense of the recipe they tasted great freshly made, but not when made ahead.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Cheesy Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes [What's Cooking: Festive '12]

The last recipe from Kraft's 2012 Holiday season What's Cooking Magazine is what looks like a reasonably straightforward mashed potato recipe - the catch being that it's meant to be made ahead and then reheated instead of eaten straight out of the pot while being told to leave some for the rest of the guests.

Cookbook Recipe:


  • 2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes (about 6)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup shredded old cheddar cheese (being a branded recipe, they wanted Cracked Barrel but since there's literally no difference, I went for the brand I already had in the fridge)
  • 1/4 cup Miracle Whip
  • 1 green onion, sliced
Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Boil in a large pot 15-20 minutes, until tender.

2. Mash potatoes, then stir in the milk, cheese, Miracle Whip, and green onion.

3. Refrigerate until ready to serve, then spoon into a microwaveable bowl and microwave on High 5-7 minutes, until heated through, stirring occasionally. (This is presumably for the entire dish).

The Outcome:

I really like mashed potatoes, but I  normally make it with just milk and butter. I tasted this three ways - hot out of the pot, cold from the fridge, and microwaved after cooling as the recipe suggested. Hot out of the pot, the combination of the Miracle Whip and the fresh green onion gave it a flavour similar to potato salad. It was also distinctly smooth and creamy, and generally pretty nice. Eating it cold out of the fridge was, well, cold mashed potatoes. I like cold mashed potatoes. However, reheating it according to the recipe gives you something distinctly different from hot out of the pot - the green onion has lost most of its flavour by then, and the texture turns into something almost too creamy and liquid. It wouldn't be able to hold a gravy pool like this, which is clearly a serious problem when it comes to mashed potatoes!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Reindeer Munch [What's Cooking: Festive '12]

This is apparently the "holiday name" for a snack called "puppy chow" that's really popular in the States. All the elements seem pretty sound, but this is the first recipe from this edition of Kraft's What's Cooking that didn't really follow through. Let's just say, eight cups is a lot of cereal.

Cookbook Recipe:


  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (since it's a branded recipe, they wanted Kraft brand, but there's literally no difference between Kraft and the brand I already had in my cupboard, so I'm going to defend this non-substitution)
  • 4 squares Baker's Semi-Sweet chocolate
  • 8 cups "bite-size crispy rice cereal squares" (this is where I wish there had been branding because that's such an oddly specific cereal request. I used rice-based Chex, since that fits the description)
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar

Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. In a large, microwaveable bowl, nuke the peanut butter and chocolate on medium for 2 minutes. Stir until blended.

2. Add the cereal and toss to coat. Here's where the problem comes in for this recipe - 8 cups is a massive amount of cereal, and there's just not enough chocolate/peanut butter mix to coat everything completely.

3. Spread the mix on wax or parchment paper covered baking sheets and let cool.

4. Place in a large resealable plastic bag or paper bag with the icing sugar. Close the bag and shake to coat.

The Outcome:

The picture in the cookbook shows cereal that looks like it's been dipped in chocolate instead of just a slight dusting. The actual outcome is still pretty good, but it tastes more like I'm just eating dry chocolate frosted cereal (I should try putting milk in the bowl and see how it goes). The portions here seem off, maybe using half the cereal would make it more into a dessert instead of just an amped up cereal. I mean, it's still tasty, but that's because you're essentially just adding sugar and chocolate to something that's already "breakfast dessert".

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Wagon Wheel-Chili Skillet [What's Cooking: Festive '12]

Ok, I had to make a substitution with this recipe from Kraft's 2012 What's Cooking edition, and while it makes no difference in terms of how the recipe comes together, it does make the name of the recipe moot. Let's just pretend the "wagon wheel" refers to the "quasi-western" flavours, and not for the pasta shape.

Cookbook Recipe:

Yeah, ground beef costs that much here.


  • 1 lb (450g) extra lean ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 green pepper, chopped (they didn't specify what kind, so I went for an Anaheim)
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup salsa (again, they didn't specify heat level, so I went for my default - hot)
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 3 cups wagon wheel pasta, uncooked (I genuinely could not find wagon wheel pasta. I haven't seen it in grocery stores anywhere in years - so I went with penne because it's still thick and shaped pasta)
  • 1/4 cup Cheez Whiz Jalapeno Tex Mex Cheese Spread (the mandatory branded ingredient here, but at least it's a unique one.)

Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. Cook the pasta as directed, but without salt.

2. Brown the meat, onions, and garlic in a large skillet on medium.

3. Stir in the pepper (the recipe says "peppers" but there's only one?), corn, salsa, and chili powder. Bring to a boil, cover, simmer on medium-low for 10 mins, stirring occasionally.

I don't think it's actually legal to call Cheez Whiz "cheese" in Canada.
4. Remove from heat, stir in the Cheez Whiz (which is laughably called "cheese" in the recipe) until melted. Stir in the pasta.

The Outcome:

This is definitely pretty good - it's warm and filling, very hearty for the winter. However, it feels like it's missing something, something to make it really zing. It's not very spicy, despite using hot salsa (the recipe is specifically meant for the larger Canadian market, so that's not surprising). I should have grabbed a Serrano for my "green pepper". I can't really put my finger on what this recipe needs - something to offset the very slight cloying touch of Cheez Whiz. It's still pretty tasty, though, and it seems like the kind of thing that would go down really well at a potluck or with children.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Chocolate-Marbled Banana Bread [What's Cooking: Festive '12]

I like banana bread, and I like chocolate, so I'm down for What's Cooking's Kraft-branded recipe. I don't normally eat mayo, so its seems a bit odd to put it in what is essentially a type of cake (sorry, not "mayo" - "Miracle Whip dressing spread") but I can see it working. Between following the recipe exactly plus the double boiler, this recipe uses a LOT of mixing bowls.

Cookbook Recipe:


  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup Miracle Whip
  • 1 1/3 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 3)
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 squares Baker's Semi-Sweet chocolate, melted (I always find an impromptu double boiler of putting the chocolate in a small bowl inside a bigger bowl of boiling water works easiest)

Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Beat the egg, bananas, and Miracle Whip with a whisk until blended.

2. In another bowl, mix the remaining ingredients except for the chocolate. Add to the banana mix and stir until "just moistened". Pour half the mix into a bowl and stir in the melted chocolate.

Dat swirl tho
3. Spoon the batters alternately into a greased 8x4 inch loaf pan. With a knife, gently swirl the batter. Bake for 1 hour - 1 hour and 5 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

4. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack and cool completely.

The Outcome:

This is pretty good banana bread - I really like the chocolate addition. The cool swirl pattern is lost a bit when baked, but it still looks neat. I was worried it would be too sweet (American baking recipes usually use too much sugar for my taste), but it tastes pretty decent. The only issue I have is that the outside was a bit too cooked - not burnt, but starting to head down that path, and gives a noticeably harder crust that tastes a bit strong. That can possibly be fixed by playing with different oven temperatures and cooking times.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Mushroom & Snow Pea Sauté [What's Cooking: Festive '12]

Well, since it's January and I'm sick to the gills of heavy holiday food, I'm going to start this What's Cooking edition with a lighter recipe. This is one is a three-ingredient recipe that's meant to be quick and basic and reasonably healthy. The idea of using salad dressing as a cooking sauce is not a bad one, even if the execution here isn't amazing.

Cookbook Recipe:


  • 3 tbsp Kraft Calorie-Wise Sun-Dried Tomato & Oregano Dressing (I havered over going for the branded products but they had it in my grocery store, and, well, I guess it counts as going for the exact recipe)
  • 4 cup quartered fresh mushrooms (oddly, they did not specify what kind or size)
  • 1 1/2 cups snow peas, halved crosswise

Following the cookbook exactly:

1. Heat 2 tbsp of the dressing in a skillet on medium-high. Saute the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes until lightly browned.

2. Add the remaining tbsp of dressing and the snow peas and saute for 2 minutes.

The Outcome:

The upside here is that the dressing does work really well as a cooking medium, though it smells exactly like cheap pizza sauce. The downside is that the mushrooms aren't fully cooked - they're whatever the mushroom equivalent of al dente is. They're definitely not raw but they retain a bit of not-quite-cooked texture. The dish is also, well, not bland but ... straightforward. The flavours work together but they don't make me go "wow!". Adding the suggested splash of lemon juice makes it pop a bit, but if I was going to make this again, I'd cook the mushrooms a few minutes longer and maybe add something spicy to make it really zing. It's not a bad recipe but it could definitely be improved without sacrificing ease or calories.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Cookbook Crusher: What's Cooking: Festive '12

I have a big pile of these promotional cooking "magazines" that have been given or mailed to me, mainly Kraft's What's Cooking (I think it may be digital-only now.) While they are full of recipes and definitely fall under my loose definition of a "cookbook" for this blog, they are the kind that are really meant to be advertisements - they're the kinds with specific branded ingredients even on generic products. Recipes call for "30 Jet-Puffed marshmallows" or the more cumbersome "2 tbsp Philadelphia Roasted Garlic Cream Cheese Product".

"Cooking Creme"

The big question with this cookbook and with all the other promotional materials is going to be - are these recipes actually good?

This is an old Christmas edition I have kicking around from 2012, and it's a pretty solid thing for a free promotional item - it feels a bit lighter and thinner than a real magazine but not by much. It looks like it has a wide spread of recipes, mainly entrees and Christmas treats.

Behold yonder cheese tree!

It's pretty sleek - but I'm not surprised, it's from one of the largest food conglomerations in the world. Weirdly, there are actual ads in here, some from Kraft-owned food companies...which have their own recipes in them. And yet they're somehow distinct from the rest of the book, which is also essentially one big Kraft advertisement with recipes.

The five recipes tested are:

1. Mushroom & Snow Pea Sauté
2. Chocolate-Marbled Banana Bread
3. Wagon Wheel-Chili Skillet
4. Reindeer Munch
5. Cheesy Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

And the Verdict is...