Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Looking back at the Cookie Swaps

I was thinking about the cookie exchanges and how it would have been 12 years of hosting it last Christmas.  I thought about us gathering together in the kitchen and sharing our recipes and stories like we have in the past. We skipped the last 2 years as we were under lock down and had a quieter than usual Christmas with a lot  less cookies. 

In the meantime, it is fun to look back at some of the past ones!

My cameraman (AKA Dan)  creates a fun picture based on a Christmas movie for the invitation.  The one above is from 2019.

I usually have the swap on the weekend  of the 15th or 16th and Dan would meet up with some of the guys and go to brunch at Murphy's Law around the corner.  (they have a Caesar buffet)

I have been serving basically the same thing year after year.  Cool spring rolls from Mimi's that Leslie often picks up for me, although  Jim has picked them up too.  Thank you Jim!!!!!  Samosas from the Sultan of Samosas, veggie tray, cheeses and bevies.

The last year we had it,  Chris brought everyone a jar of her cranberry chutney which my family and friends  devoured at Christmas.
I have invited the same friends year after year and try to keep it small (about 12-13 people)  The reason I keep it small is so we don't have to bake more than seven dozen (of the same cookie = 84 cookies divided by 13 friends give us each about 6-7 cookies of each type) and we each leave with 7 dozen of a variety of cookies.  If there are more bakers and baked the same 7 dozen we would leave with seven dozen but less of the same cookie and I think 6-7 of the same cookie is about what we want.

I try to get everyone to tell me their recipe,  but that hasn't worked out very well ...busy lives etc.
We try not to have store bought cookies but with some of our busy schedules that hasn't always worked out either.  We do say that if you are going to buy them, they must be from a local bakery and look like a home made cookie.  There is no question, that we really would prefer everyone to make their cookies, no matter what they look like, because we know they were baked ...from the heart.

It is quite exciting when everyone comes in with their containers and starts laying out their cookies...they look so beautiful.
We go around the room and everyone gets to talk about their cookies and usually some disasters  surface.  I remember the day we found out that Brenda's ginger snap cookies were not ginger snap cookies at all.

We all talked about how we wait each year for Brenda's ginger snap cookies. How I remember Savannah, Lori's daughter  and Liam, Lisa's son barely tall enough to see over the table and staring wide eyed at the ginger snap cookies that Brenda baked.  We wouldn't let them touch the cookies until the swap began!,  Then she finally had to break it to us that it was a molasses cookie...we were all shocked and laughed.
And then there was the year that Brenda was busy and in walked her husband Pat (Macdonald) with the cookies....our special guest!  Those who know him can imagine the laughs we had that year.

And then there was Brent, who made the cookies that year for Elaine because she was away until the last minute.  He actually made a video demonstrating himself making the cookies - like the star on a cookie channel ...hilarious!

Meredith's mom, Myfanwy who always parks  so many blocks away because she doesn't love driving around here, has been coming each year. Surprise surprise - she parked close to the house the last time!  She comes in laden with cookies and also decorations for her platter!.  Myfanwy and Meredith have been coming since the beginning and we love to always hear the stories of the boys with their cookies and of course the year Meredith's oven didn't work and she had to come up with a non- bake cookie.

 Lisa sometimes flies in just in time to get the cookies on the table but she missed it the last time... that is a strange word!   There is Mary Lou who hasn't  missed until the last year (because she was sick) and who I can depend on to help me tidy things up and remind me to take things out of the oven!
And then there is Leslie who usually wants to bake something different and more complicated. She baked the most beautiful  Florentines one year and then there are her chocolate covered cherries.
There was the year that Chris showed up at the door, with her wooden Sleigh platter, (she always displays her cookies on the sleigh so they look so pretty)  and she forgot what time the cookie swap started and we had already finished and everyone was leaving! Chris makes some great cookies but really stresses out about her baking for this exchange.  Her cookies are always great!  

Karen always has very pretty cookies that everyone appreciates, usually decorated in beautiful colors. 


Caley,  has also been coming for the last few years.  She showed up last time with half the amount of cookies needed.  I can bug her at work about forgetting the amount of cookies  LOL...How many cookies????  I have to thank her and Brenda for keeping Wally under control:)

Our 2 new guests this year were Dianne and Lynda who both made fantastic cookies...Sadly Lynda lost her fight to cancer this past year.  She left us with her family shortbread recipe which we will make in our future cookie swaps in her memory.

Sometimes I want to try different cookies but I am drawn back to my usual ones.  How could I not make my Mayan chocolate sparklers.  When Ben, Chris' son was visiting, he asked if I would be having the cookie exchange this year.  He told me how he loved when his mom came home with all the different cookies and would I be making my Chocolate Mayan cookies because he loved them.
I have watched this little guy grow up and so thrilled by the handsome wonderful guy he has become!  


The last year I changed my  cookies ( Linzer) and actually felt bad that I did...I wanted to try something else but I like tradition and next year I am back to the Mayan sparklers and cranberry pistachio shortbread!

So at the end of the day, it really isn't all about the cookies but more about the tradition and getting together with some friends, sharing stories, laughing together and connecting at least one time a year for a few hours.   I really look forward to it every year and hope it continues for many years to come.This year showed me how much  I missed the cookie exchange...the cookies...but mostly my friends...looking forward to the day when we can be together in the kitchen again, sharing stories and laughing and maybe even hugging... I miss you guys...
Until we bake again

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Wally"s Cheesy Biscuits

Our dog Wally (2 years old)
I know he will eat anything- yes- any - thing. He loves napkins, particularly paper napkins to eat and cloth ones to steal off your lap....but the best are oven mitts...all full of yummy!

If Wally hears a slight gesture toward his biscuit jar, he rises from a deep sleep and runs as fast as he can to get his cookie.  This cheese biscuit is one of his favourites!

These are also great to give as gifts to dog owners!!!! Package them in a little cellophane bag with a ribbon:)

Dig n cheese
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons softened margarine
One and a half cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup milk 

  1. Preheat oven to 375°. 
  2. Cream together cheese and margarine. 
  3. Add milk and flour. 
  4. Combine  mixture into a ball
  5. Roll to a quarter inch thickness. 
  6. Cut dough with cookie cutter and place on un-greased cookie sheet.
  7. bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until edges start to brown. Makes one and a half dozen. 
From the treat book the doggy bone by Michele Bledsoe 

Check out the video for the demo!

Until we bake again
Penny ....and Wally my sous chef!

Saturday, April 18, 2020


Biscuit Bitch is a great little spot in Seattle.  See the note at the bottom of the page to hear more about it.

And the baking continues....
Memories of baked goods from our friends and family give  us comfort and these days any extra comfort we can get is good.   After my last post I received this recipe from Sandra, who is one of the travel agents I work with at The Travel Agent Next Door. This is her grandmother's recipe for scones or some call them tea biscuits. 

  Sandra's grandmother Flora with her Grandfather David

"We called her “Mother”. All the family, grandkids and friends & neighbours did. She was born, raised and lived in Newfoundland so a true Newfie."  Now both of Sandra's parents live with them (mom(81) & dad (93)).  

 Here is Sandra's mom with her grandmother

I love when we can pass these recipes on.  I made these blueberry scones/biscuits  today and they really are deeeeelicious- especially warm! 

Sandra doubles the recipe and then freezes them.

3 Cups Flour
6 Tsp Baking Powder
½ Cup Sugar
Rind of one Lemon
1 Cup Butter (cut in pieces and put in the freezer for about 10-15 mins )
1 Egg
1 Tsp Vanilla
1 Pint Blueberries (fresh) (a little over 1 cup)
1 Cup Milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Wash your hands!!!!
Mix Flour, Baking Powder and Sugar together. Whisk to mix.

Add finely grated rind of one lemon.
Cut in the butter to the dry mix.  You can either use a pastry tool like this one but I often just use my finger tips.  This is a very important step so do not incorporate the butter too much!  It should be little pieces.

Add Blueberries and mix.

Mix in a smaller bowl  the Egg, Vanilla and 1 cup of milk.

Add wet mixture to the dry mixture a little at a time. Don’t overmix. 

Grease a cookie sheet  or line with parchment paper. Drop large spoonfuls on a cookie sheet .

Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.They should be golden.
Cool on the cookie sheet for about 10 minutes before lifting off.

This should make about  1.5 dozen, but it depends on the sizes of the scones:)

Substitute with raisins if you want. If you do then the batter will be much drier and you can use a cookie cutter to cut out the scones.   The recipe with the fresh blueberries was really good.

Hope you enjoy them!  Dan gobbled them up!
Thank you Sandra!!!

Until we bake again
Stay healthy and keep at a distance!

From their site...
A place where you can get a kick-ass local espresso and order a comforting meal while getting to say the word “bitch” over and over… and over. Don’t worry if your face turns red, we might tease you a bit, but we’ll laugh with you! Our music will be upbeat and usually oldies, motown or southern rock because we’re a little bit trailer trash too. But even if there’s a long line you can watch our staff dance to the beat in our tiny kitchen all the while flipping your eggs and calling out the orders. The ambiance is kitschy- the energy palpable. This is a place to put a smile on your face, because even if it’s not, it feels like it could easily be home.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Carl's Mom's Banana Bread

I love to bake. In these times of Covid-19 and staying inside and isolated, I have been baking quite a bit! It is therapeutic to create something you and others can enjoy plus the smell of fresh baked bread, cookies cakes etc is usually so wonderful- you feel happier!

One of the best things about baking  are the memories that we have of our mom's or dad's baking or our grandmothers, aunts etc.  Granted some of them weren't the best but they sure are memorable!  And yes my dad did bake.  He baked bread,  after my mom (Sadie)  passed away to have at our  Friday night dinners to keep the tradition alive. So in these times of isolation, there is something very comforting in going back to some of those recipes that remind us of their presence and happier times.

When I was talking to my friend Carl (Carlos to me!)  the other day, he said he was going to bake his mom's banana bread.  He didn't have a pan though, so was going to get one...eventually. I am not sure his bananas will survive.  I happened to have some bananas and decided to make Carl's mom's recipe.

I am sure her banana bread was better...but I still think she would be happy that I made one for Carl and of course Eric too!

Dan and I took a drive over to their place and left it on their doorknob (yes we are keeping our distance) ...
Hope you enjoyed it Carl and Eric and it gave you some memories of your mom, your Mother Hen.

Here's the recipe that Carl gave me:

  • 1 Cup butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 Tsp Baking soda
  • 1/3 Cup Sour milk
  • 2 1/4 cups white sugar (I think)
  • 1 1/2 cups Mashed bananas
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • 1 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla
Note: you can use Buttermilk instead of sour milk.  If you want to make your own sour milk
Here is how....
To make  1 cup of sour milk put 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a measuring cup and fill it up with milk until you get to the 1 cup mark. Give it a stir. I recommend using whole milk or 2% milk.
Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes so it can become soured and it’s ready to use. This recipe only uses 1/3 cup.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 loaf pans
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs  and vanilla, then add the remaining ingredients. Divide the batter into the 2 loaf pans and bake for 1 hour.

Thought you would also get a chuckle at the following video of Carl's mom baking a christmas giant cookie!

Until we bake again
Stay healthy and wash your hands!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

I love apples. I love baking apple desserts. So when I saw this recipe from Bobette and Belle, I knew it would be good. Their shop is on Queen St East not far from where I live in Toronto, and their pastries are great. I have tried a few from the book and each has turned out well. Their cookbook which is called Bobbette and Belle - Classic recipes from the celebrated pastry shop by Allyson Bobbitt and Sarah Bell. 

We started off peeling, slicing and coring 14 apples. I have my handy dandy peel away peeler which makes this sooooo easy!

I greased a 9 x 13 baking pan with nonstick cooking spray then I made the Apple filling.

In a large bowl, I tossed the apple slices with a tablespoon of lemon juice - actually I probably used a little more.

Then in another bowl I whisked together
1.5 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

I then added this to the apples and tossed it all together so that the apples were evenly coated. The apples looked so good I could’ have just eaten them like that!

Next in a large saute pan, I melted half cup butter over medium heat and then added the apple mixture. I cooked the apples for about 10 minutes.

To make the crumble topping, I combined in a large bowl , 
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups pecans roughly chopped 
  • 2 cups large flake rolled oats 
  • 1 cup +2 tablespoons loosely packed brown sugar 
  • 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon 
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt 
  • 1 1/2 cups cold unsalted butter cut into 1 inch cubes 

Mix everything together and then add the butter and work it in with your fingers until the mixture begins to stick together.

I added about 1/4 cups of salted caramel chips (not in the original recipe)

Place one layer of all the apple mixture on the bottom of your pan and then sprinkle the crumble evenly over the apples. It’s quite thick and I actually didn’t even use all of it.

Bake it for 30 to 40 minutes until it starts to bubble on the top and turns golden brown. Rotate the pan halfway through. You can keep it covered and stored in the fridge for up to four days.

I hope you like it !
Until we bake again...


Thursday, March 15, 2018

St. Patrick's Day is coming up and these Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes are a definite winner!  Why are they called Irish Car Bombs?  Because of the popular bar shot with 3 Irish ingredients - Irish Whiskey, Irish Cream and Guinness Stout.  In cupcake talk, it is Guinness chocolate cake, Irish whiskey ganache filling and Baileys buttercream frosting.  We need a few more ingredients to make these cupcakes but they are sooooo fact spectacular!!!!!!  But you judge for yourself.

Caley and I have made these before and they have become a tradition at the office of The Travel Agent Next Door.  
Caley and the cupcakes

Here is the recipe...Makes 24
There are many versions around so this has been adapted from a few of them

What's in the cupcakes?
  • 1 cup Guinness stout
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup  cocoa powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ⅔ cup sour cream

What's in the Whiskey Ganache Filling?
  •  8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped 
  • ⅔ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey

What's in the Bailey's Frosting:
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 7 tablespoons Bailey’s Irish Cream

First the cupcakes

  1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 standard tins (12 cupcakes in each) with liners.
  2. Heat the Guinness and butter in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
  4. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sour cream on medium speed until combined. 
  5. Add the slightly cooled Guinness-chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat just to combine. 
  6. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and beat just until it starts to come together, about 30 seconds. Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter until completely combined. 
  7. Divide the batter among the cupcake liners about 2/3 full and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean ( about 17 minutes)
  8. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

Second - The Whiskey Ganache Filling

  1. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. 
  2. Place the heavy cream in a small saucepan and bring to simmer over medium heat. Immediately pour it over the chocolate, then let it sit for two minutes. 
  3. Using a rubber spatula, gently stir the mixture from the center outward until smooth. Add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined. 
  4. Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped, about 30 minutes. (If it becomes too stiff, whisk it until it gets softer)
Third - Inserting the Ganache into the Cupcakes

  1. You can either use a paring knife, apple corer, or large pastry tip to cut out the centers of the cooled cupcakes- going about halfway down.  I then used a teaspoon and filled the centers with the ganache.
Fourth - Top it with the Baileys Frosting
  1. Using the whisk attachment of the electric mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. 
  2. Reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually - (actually very slowly so you are not enveloped in a white cloud) add the powdered sugar until all of it is incorporated. 
  3. Add the Baileys and increase the speed to medium-high and whip for another 2 to 3 minutes, until it is light and fluffy.  (Be careful because it tends to splash)
  4. Using your favourite decorating tip, an offset spatula or a simple knife,  frost the cupcakes and decorate with sprinkles, if desired.  

Voila!  A  cupcake winner!!!!

Until we bake again...

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sourdough Bread - The Queen of the Table

I love talking about bread.  When I took my classes with the great baker, Richard Bertinet in Bath, England, he had the term Bread Bore....yup - we can be boring to many people when talking about bread.... but if you are interested, it is incredibly fascinating!!!!

I love baking it! I love eating it!  Reading about it...etc. etc.  I first started this journey when my brother in law,  Colin, was telling me about his Sunday bread baking.  They didn't and maybe still don't have a bread  bakery in Florenceville, NB, so he baked the bread for the week.  It was beautiful!  In Toronto, we have so many wonderful bakeries and markets, but I thought it would be a great idea to spend Sunday mornings baking bread.  It would be a way for me to slow plans...just make my bread.  It lasted for quite a while but then life got in the way and I stopped doing it as regularly.  I still have my starters bubbling away. I have been privileged to be a tester for one of Peter Reinhart's bread books, taken classes in Paris and Bath and have studied bread  a lot.  I still have sooooo much much to learn.  I would like to take classes in San Francisco and  I daydream about  working in the kitchen of many of them is Tartine Bakery.   

When I saw a Mother's Day workshop in Toronto at Nella Cucina for Sourdough bread, I jumped at it.  Patti, who was giving the class, had the opportunity to bake at Tartine's so I was interested....The only thing missing was my mom....but I know she was with me.... We would have had so much fun...

Because this bread could take 2 or more days to make, some stages were prepared in advance.

We started off with flour, water, salt and a culture I have called "Nella"  of course!

We then mixed the dough....

Ate lunch on some freshly baked bread

let it rise....scored it....

and baked it!.....and voila!

Happy Mother's Day to all those fabulous women or men who are moms!
Moms to your own other's pets... to godchildren....etc. etc.

Have a great day!
Until we bake again

Here is the recipe from the class....

How To Start Your Own Bread Starter:

·        Have a blend of organic whole grain flour and organic unbleached hard white flour.

·        Mix 150g grams of flour to 150g of filtered water.   Let it rest in a cool area for a couple of days. 

·        After a couple of days you should see/smell activity; you should be able to see the Co2 bubbles and it will have doubled in size, if not, wait another day.

·        Once there is life, discard 80% and feed equal parts flour and water. (75g each)

·        Let it rest over night and repeat this process for a few days to get a good starter.  Keep your feedings regular, and make sure to smell and get a feel for the ideal ripeness.

·        Once your starter is strong enough you can either continue feeding with the whole grain and white flour blend, or just strictly use white flour.  

·        If you are not using your starter on a regular basis, you can place it in the fridge for a few months. When you are ready to make bread again, make sure to discard the liquid that forms on the top, and begin replenishing it.  It will require a few feedings, equal parts flour and water, to bring it back

Basic Sourdough Recipe:

350g organic hard white wheat flour
7g salt
262g filtered water
70g leaven

·        Mix flour, water and leaven, rest for 10- 20 minutes
·        After rest period (autolyse) add salt.   Knead dough for 7 minutes, or until dough has a smooth surface. 

Bulk Fermentation:

·        Make sure to turn dough every half hour in the first 2 hours, to help strengthen the glutens and redistribute the temperature of the dough.

·        The following 2 hours, fold each hour.


·        Lightly pre-shape dough into a boule or two smaller boules.  

·        Set aside and cover for 10 – 20 minutes or until the dough feels relaxed.  Use a banneton or line a bowl with a cloth and lightly dust with flour (ideally rice flour, which is less sticky).

·        Shape pre-shaped dough into tight boules.  Try not to tear the surface of the dough but also try to get the most tension without over working the dough.

·        Place dough into the bowl and banneton for a final proof, and refrigerate. 


·        Preheat oven at 500 F.  Place dutch oven or la cloche in oven.  

·        A good test to see if the dough is ready to bake is to lightly press your finger into the dough, if a print stays up to 7 seconds it's ready to bake

·        Once he dough ready turn the boule from the banneton or bowl onto the pre-heated Cloche or dutch oven.

·        Score the dough with fresh, sharp razor (a serrated knife will also work), cover and let bake for 20 minutes.

·        Remove lid and finish baking for 20 min    

·        Once the bread comes out of the oven, let it cool completely first before slicing into it.

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