12 December


Tiffin Squares

Tiffin Squares

December 25: Christmas

‘Tis the season to see pretty plaid patterns as Christmas decorations, which are reminiscent of Scottish tartans. For many years, the English banned the Scots from wearing their cultural clothing (learn more about the “repeal of dress” here). Also, for four centuries, Christmas was banned in Scotland because Protestant rulers of the 16th century associated Christ’s mass with Catholicism. It was only in 1958 that Christmas became an official holiday in Scotland.

Now with the freedom to express themselves with plaid AND observe Christmas Day, the Scots have been very influential in their holiday celebrations with decorations and traditions.

As a Christmas dessert, we made a traditional Scottish treat called tiffin. The recipe originated in Troon, Scotland, in the 1900s, and is a chocolate cake-like confectionary commonly comprising of crushed digestive or rich tea biscuits (cookies), cocoa powder, golden syrup and dried fruit with a top layer of melted chocolate. Although it is considered a “cake”, tiffin does not require baking in the oven. Because the mixture is chilled in the refrigerator to set until hardened, tiffin is also known as fridge or icebox cake, chocolate concrete cake and no- bake chocolate biscuit cake.

Tiffin is very similar to the groom’s cake made for Prince William when he married Kate Middleton in 2011 (but the royal recipe contains eggs). Like the royal cake, tiffin is a treat that tastes rich and decadent but is very easy to make, especially for Christmas cookie exchanges and for Hogmanay next week.

Try tiffin and celebrate Christmas and be proud of plaid. Nollaig Chridheil (Merry Christmas in Scots Gaelic)!

Recipe

(Adapted from Rampant Scotland)

Ingredients

  • 1 package digestive biscuits
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1-2 tablespoons raisins
  • 1-2 tablespoons glacé cherries, halved (optional)
  • 6 ounces good quality chocolate, melted

Directions

In a plastic bag, crush the biscuits into small crumbs. Set aside. In a saucepan over medium low heat, melt the butter with the cocoa powder and golden syrup and stir until smooth.

Tiffin Squares

Add the raisins and glacé cherries. Add the crushed biscuit pieces and mix to coat well. Line an 8×8-inch square pan with parchment or wax paper with a little overhang for the handles. Press the chocolate mixture into the pan until flat and even. Set aside.

Tiffin Squares

Pour melted chocolate over the top and smooth with a spatula. Refrigerate for at least an hour until firm. Lift the tiffin out of the pan using the paper handles. Slice into 36 squares.

Tiffin Squares

Notes

  • Because Christmas was banned for 400 years in Scotland, the Scots have celebrated Hogmanay (new year) in grander style. “Auld Lang Syne” is a popular and traditional Scottish song for the new year.
  • Search our blog for other Scottish and Christmas recipes.

Star Wars Cookies

Star Wars Cookies

December 18, 2015: Premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

May the Force be with you…and with your spirit! Fans are literally out in full force as the new movie in the third trilogy of the famous film/space saga, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, opens worldwide in theaters today (although some lucky fans got to see the movie earlier at the Hollywood/Los Angeles premiere). We had to reserve our tickets online a few weeks earlier to get good seats at the movie theater tonight!

In eager anticipation of the long-awaited Star Wars film, we made sugar cookies to share with co-workers and friends to observe the movie’s release date. What an excuse to use some of the cookie cutters that Highlander gifted Islander one year!

Star Wars cookie cutters

We have posted two simple recipes on our blog today: basic green Yoda sugar cookies and dark chocolate-cinnamon Darth Vader cookies. Even though these classic characters are part of the previous trilogies, enjoy these sweet treats for a multi-generational Star Wars celebration or for a unique holiday cookie exchange.

Recipes

For the Yoda Sugar Cookies

(Adapted from Williams-Sonoma)

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • green food coloring (we used Wilton “leaf green” food paste/gel coloring)

Directions

In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in the egg. Add the vanilla.

Yoda Cookies

Gradually add the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Mix until a dough is formed. Tint with green food coloring to the desired shade of “Yoda”. Roll the dough into a large ball, divide in thirds, cover and refrigerate until firm (about an hour).

Yoda Cookies

Roll out dough ¼-inch thick. Cut out shapes with Yoda cookie cutter. Place on a lightly greased baking pan. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to firm up the dough. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for five minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely and become crisp.

Yoda Cookies

For the Darth Vader Dark Chocolate-Cinnamon Cookies

(Adapted from Southern Living Incredible Cookies)

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup cocoa powder (we used Hershey’s Special Dark—for an intense color and “dark side” taste)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ cups butter, softened
  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

In a bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt and ground cinnamon. Set aside.

Darth Vader Cookies

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the powdered sugar. Beat in the eggs. Add the vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Mix until a sticky dough is formed.

Darth Vader Cookies

Roll the dough into a large ball, divide in half or thirds, cover and refrigerate until firm (about an hour). Roll out dough ¼-inch thick. Cut out shapes with Darth Vader cookie cutter. Place on a lightly greased baking pan. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to firm up the dough. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for five minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely and become crisp.

Darth Vader Cookies

Notes

  • Jedi mind tricks and tips: Roll out the dough between sheets of waxed paper and chill until ready to use. Keep the cut-out cookie dough very cold to retain its shape while baking in the oven. Dip cookie cutters in a little flour to prevent them from sticking to the dough.
  • We halved the Darth Vader cookie recipe for this post.
  • Search our blog for other Star Wars recipe ideas.

Maple-Glazed Ribs

Maple Glazed Ribs

December 17: National Maple Syrup Day

After visiting Highlander’s relatives in Canada, we always bring back foodstuffs so we can savor the flavors from our North American neighbors when we are back in the United States. Maple products are popular, like syrup, cookies and candies, following the iconic leaf on the nation’s flag.

We got a can of Canadian maple syrup that we typically put on pancakes. It was a lot of syrup for just the two of us so we decided to try a recipe for ribs that featured a maple glaze. We are used to the southern-style BBQ ribs with its saucy marinades. But maple-glazed ribs were a nice change and they are perfect for a picnic in the summer and, with a hint of jalapeno heat in this recipe, hearty and heart-warming to eat during the colder seasons when National Maple Syrup Day is scheduled.

Recipe

Adapted from Endless Vacation magazine (Spring 2012)

Ingredients

  • 1 rack of pork baby back ribs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ¾ cup maple syrup
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons ginger, grated
  • 1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 2 small limes, juiced

Directions

Line a lipped baking pan with foil to catch the drippings. Salt and pepper both sides of the ribs. Place meat side down. Make the maple glaze by mixing the maple syrup with garlic, ginger, japaleno and lime juice.

Maple Glazed Ribs

Brush the top and sides of the ribs with 1/3 of the glaze mixture. Cover the ribs with foil and bake in a preheated oven at 300 degrees F for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, carefully lift the foil and avoid escaping steam, turn the ribs over and brush another 1/3 of the glaze mixture on the meat side of the ribs. Cover again with foil and return to the oven to bake for another 30 minutes. Remove the ribs from the oven and discard the top foil. Turn up the oven’s heat to 375 degrees F. Baste with the remaining glaze, return the ribs to the oven and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven again and continue to baste, spooning the darker drippings onto the ribs to give them some color. Bake for 15-20 more minutes. Remove from the oven, slice the ribs, put them on a platter and spoon some of the glaze drippings on the meat. Serve hot.

Maple Glazed Ribs

Notes

  • There are some burnt bits of maple glaze drippings on the baking pan. Mix this caramelized gooey goodness with the thinner meat juices and brush on the ribs to give them some color.
  • Serve these ribs for a summery Canada Day picnic on July 1.
  • Try the recipe for maple-glazed chicken for National Maple Syrup Day.

Hemp Chocolate Candy Bar Brownies

Hemp Chocolate Candy Bar Brownies

December 8: National Brownie Day

We have blogged several times about brownies before. But this one is baked with a special ingredient—a chocolate candy bar! And it’s not just any bar—it has hemp seeds! Hemp is related to but is not the same as marijuana, although they both come from one of the varieties of their common cannabis plant. When baked into brownies, a few people automatically assume there is “pot” in it, which is illegal in some states. Nevertheless, we reassured our skeptical friends that they would probably only get high on sugar and not on “weed”! For National Brownie Day, bake some brownies with a special ingredient—a chocolate candy bar with or without hemp.

Recipe

(Adapted from Dave Lieberman of the Food Network)

Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 stick butter) butter, melted, divided use
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 hemp chocolate candy bar, coarsely chopped

Directions

Prepare an 8×8-inch square baking pan that has been lined with foil with a little hanging over the edges (this will act as the “handles” to lift the cooled brownies from the pan). Grease the bottom and sides of the foil-lined pan with 2 tablespoons melted butter. With the remaining butter, combine it with the sugar in a mixing bowl.

Hemp Chocolate Candy Bar Brownies

Beat in the egg, water and vanilla. Next, add the salt, baking powder, cocoa powder and flour.

Hemp Chocolate Candy Bar Brownies

Fold in the chopped hemp chocolate candy bar pieces. Spread evenly into the prepared pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until the center is set and the top is shiny and slightly wrinkled. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Use the foil “handles” to lift the brownie out of the pan. Cut into squares and serve. Yield: 16 brownie pieces.

Hemp Chocolate Candy Bar Brownies

Notes

  • Thanks to Lisa L. for giving us the special ingredient for this recipe—the hemp chocolate candy bar. The hemp seeds added a nice occasional crunch to the fudgy-cake like texture in this brownie.
  • Substitute the hemp chocolate candy bar for a cup of another candy bar (like Snickers fun size or mini chocolate-peanut candy bars).
  • Search our blog for other brownie recipes.

Pumpkin Pie

(Gluten and Dairy Free)

Pumpkin Pie (Allergy-Free)

December 25: National Pumpkin Pie Day

“Rockin’ around the Christmas tree

Let the Christmas spirit ring

Later we’ll have some pumpkin pie

And we’ll do some caroling!”

Now Islander can enjoy a piece of pumpkin pie without worrying that it will bloat her belly like a bowl full of jelly because the recipe that follows features gluten- and dairy-free ingredients!

She found gluten-free pie crusts in the freezer section at Whole Foods market, used coconut instead of cow’s milk and sweetened the batter with maple syrup (hence, our pie is decked out with maple leaves molded from pumpkin-flavored Candy Melts).

Those suffering from food allergies can try this delicious dessert with or without the crust. So celebrate Christmas and National Pumpkin Pie Day with a sweet slice of gluten- and dairy-free pumpkin pie.

Recipe

(Adapted from Williams-Sonoma)

Ingredients

  • 1 9-inch gluten-free pie crust, baked
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk (use full fat Thai Kitchen brand)
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca flour
  • 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoon agar-agar powder (do not use bar or flakes)
  • ¾ cup water

Directions

Pre-bake the pie crust according to the package directions. Set aside to cool completely.

Pumpkin Pie (Allergy-Free)

In the blender container, combine the pumpkin, maple syrup and coconut milk.

Pumpkin Pie (Allergy-Free)

Add the tapioca flour, pumpkin pie spice, salt and vanilla.

Pumpkin Pie (Allergy-Free)

Blend until smooth. Set aside. In a saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the agar-agar powder in water. Simmer to thicken, about 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the pumpkin batter. Bring to a boil and stir until thickened (another 2-3 minutes). Immediately pour into the pie crust. Cool at room temperature then transfer to the refrigerator. When chilled, slice and serve.

Pumpkin Pie (Allergy-Free)

Notes

  • Take a taste test to compare this with a traditional pumpkin pie (see the regular recipe on our blog). The crust is crisp without a buttery taste. The filling is firm and gelatinous and not as creamy. But it is a nice alternative for those with food allergies. Even our friends who can tolerate gluten and dairy do not mind eating this pumpkin pie with us.
  • For another no-bake pumpkin pie, try it St. Martha-style using lactose-free milk.

Fried Shrimp Balls

Shrimp Balls

December 20: National Fried Shrimp Day

Fried shrimp balls may have a naughty name but these appetizers are nice to eat during holiday gatherings (Christmas and New Year) and throughout the year. We like to order fried shrimp balls from the dim sum menu when we at Chinese restaurants that offer them. Some are plain and soft, but we like the crunchy thread-like coating for its artistic presentation.

Be naughty yet nice and fry some shrimp balls for the holidays and on National Fried Shrimp Day.

Recipe

(Adapted from Rasa Malaysia)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound shrimp, raw, shelled and deveined
  • 1 egg white
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil
  • white pepper powder, to taste
  • won ton pi (thin wrappers)
  • Oil for frying

Directions

In a blender (we used our nifty Nutribullet), place the egg white and beat until frothy. Place the shrimp, salt and sugar in the container.

Shrimp Balls

Add the corn starch, vegetable or canola oil, sesame oil and white pepper powder in the container.

Shrimp Balls

Blend until all the ingredients become paste-like. Using slightly wet hands, form the paste into one-inch balls. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to set. Slice the won ton pi into thin strips.

Shrimp Balls

Roll the shrimp balls in the strips to coat evenly. Heat the oil and deep fry the shrimp balls until puffed up and golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towels. Transfer to a plate and serve hot with sauce. Yield: 2 dozen fried shrimp balls.

Shrimp Balls

Notes

  • Thanks to our friends Pat and Phyllis S. for helping us prepare the fried shrimp balls for our blog. Phyllis helped to roll them in the won ton pi while Pat fried them in his wok.
  • Serve the shrimp balls with soy sauce or sweet Thai chili sauce.
  • The balls may flatten slightly but will puff up into rounds when fried.
  • If not coating the balls in won ton strips, deep fry plain until golden. Poke toothpicks or skewer a few fried shrimp balls for an appetizing arrangement on a party platter.
  • Search our blog for more shrimp recipes.

Black Russian Cupcakes

Black Russian Cupcakes

December 15: National Cupcake Day

When our Ukrainian friend Olga W. got married in 2004, we gifted her groom with a cake. The flavor requested was a Black Russian chocolate cake because 1) they are chocoholics and 2) the flavor gives tribute to Olga’s culture.

The Black Russian cocktail is made with vodka and coffee liqueur (which gives the drink a dark color) and served over ice. The cake also contains both spirits for a doubly delightful dessert.

Instead of a groom’s cake, we made them into mini-sizes for our blog post for National Cupcake Day. Bake Black Russian cupcakes and enjoy! Na zdorovie!

Recipe

(Adapted from “Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor” by Anne Byrn)

For the cupcakes

  • 1 package yellow cake mix (we recommend Duncan Hines brand)
  • 1 package (5.9 ounces) chocolate instant pudding mix
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup water
  • ½ cup sugar, granulated white
  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ cup coffee liqueur (Kahlúa)
  • ¼ cup vodka

Directions

In a mixing bowl, combine the yellow cake mix and chocolate instant pudding mix. Stir in the oil and water.

Black Russian Cupcakes

Add the sugar, eggs, coffee liqueur and vodka.

Black Russian Cupcakes

Blend well. Scoop the batter into cupcake papers lining muffin tins. Bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees F for 30-35 minutes, testing for doneness with a toothpick. Remove from the oven and transfer the cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely. Yield: Approximately 2 ½ dozen cupcakes.

Black Russian Cupcakes

For the glaze and topping

  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup coffee liqueur (Kahlúa)
  • white/vanilla frosting or whipped cream
  • chocolate-covered coffee beans

Directions

In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar with the coffee liqueur. Mix until smooth. Generously brush the tops of the cooled cupcakes with the glaze. Pipe white/vanilla frosting or whipped cream in the middle of the cupcakes. Top with a chocolate-covered coffee bean. Serve at room temperature.

Black Russian Cupcakes

Notes

  • We used brown “tulip” cupcake papers for this blog recipe post. Check local craft stores and bakery supply shops for an assortment of choices of cupcake paper styles (regular, mini, jumbo, “tulip”, scalloped, ruffled, foil, colored, patterned, etc.).
  • Search our blog post for more cupcake recipes.

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