Easy Strawberry Trifle

Chocolate and strawberries are traditional Valentine’s Day desserts, so here’s an easy strawberry trifle to make if you are craving something light, fruity and not too sweet – and it’s much better than my low-fat chocolate brownie disaster.  As an added plus, it’s not so much made as assembled, requiring only three ingredients, cake, instant custard and strawberries.

Strawberry trifle

Grocery store strawberries are not so good this time of year in Canada, so I mixed them with some strawberry freezer jam from last summer.   (Click here for blog link).   As I use No Sugar Pectin in my freezer jam, it’s more of a strawberry puree than a sweet jam, but you can also mush up the strawberries and add sugar to taste.   

Strawberries For the cake you can use those mini golden cakes from the grocery store or angel food cake, but I had some leftover cake which had been in the freezer for awhile but when thawed it was just as fresh as the day I made it. 

The last time I made this dessert I used French vanilla pudding cups, but this time I decided to use the more traditional custard.   I bought a package of instant custard from The British Shop, a brand recommended by the owner as I figured the British must know their custards (she also told me last year the shop spent $20,000 on import fees).Custard

Just add 360ml of BOILING Water and stir for a minute and Voila – a nice and creamy custard.   (Next time I might add a teaspoon of Vanilla extract as it was fairly bland). 

As I’ve just spent a fairly productive week cleaning out the basement storage areas and reorganizing things, including some old family heirlooms and crystal, I decided to use my  grandmother’s parfait glasses.   

Crystal glasses

I never met my grandmother as my dad’s parents both died before I was born, but I’ve often wondered what her life was like.   She married in 1919 and as an older mom had her kids at 37, 40 and 41 and died fairly young at age 65, after breaking a hip.   So it’s possible these glasses are a hundred years old – maybe they were part of her wedding trousseau?   My mother said they were in the old farmhouse when she got married in 1952.    Or they may even have been from my great grandmother Ellen farther back in 1900, part of a  collection of crystal from the Edwardian age, of which I have several pieces.   I remember my mother using the matching glasses at family dinners along with her good china, but they are so thin and delicate they require hand-washing.   There are only seven parfait glasses left, plus two with small handles which look like they might be hot toddy glasses.   Anyway, I felt they deserved an outing sometime this century!

I crumbled the cake in the bottom, then layered the strawberries and custard, then cake again (I could have used more cake), custard and more strawberries on top.   You can also garnish with whipped cream and a strawberry, but I ran out of room.      

Strawberry trifle

The parfait glasses seem tiny, so I suspect portion sizes were smaller back in the days of Downton Abbey.    The same with plates – compare this new red Rachel Ray plate to the older pink plate from the thrift shop.    

Pink and red plates

The same with supersized restaurant plates.   While it’s customary to want to fill your plate, maybe that isn’t such a good idea anymore? 

This makes a nice light dessert after a big meal.   There’s something to be said for moderation and family tradition, and strawberries in the middle of winter!  

Happy Valentine’s Day!

PS.  For those of you who are mad for plaid like I am, the plaid charger plates are from Michael’s craft store, after Christmas sale – $1.50 each vs regular $8.        (600 words) 

Pink plates and Valendtine's Day

Low-Fat Chocolate Brownies

          Last week’s Books and Brownies blog left me craving something chocolatey and as Valentine’s Day is fast approaching I decided to make brownies.   I’m not one to say no to convenience food if it tastes good, being perfectly content to bow to the expertise of Betty Crocker, but my favorite mix had turned out dry the last few times I made it.   I used to take brownies to work for birthdays and my brownies had always been a hit, the secret ingredient being butter not oil – I was raised on a dairy farm where butter ruled.   It was always a treat getting off the school bus if my mother had made a big pan of brownies, chewy, no icing but walnuts in them, usually still warm from the oven, but even back in the sixties she used a mix.   After a family member was diagnosed with gallbladder problems, I switched to a low fat mix which eliminated the added oil/butter, but then it too was discontinued. 

Brownies

What’s up Betty Crocker?

After wasting more time than I care to admit pouring over low-fat recipes in cookbooks, online and on that food vortex otherwise known as Pinterest, I discovered that both applesauce and strained prunes can be substituted for some of the fat in a recipe.  I settled on one that called for strained prunes, the baby food kind was okay it said.   So I set out for the grocery store which apparently doesn’t even sell baby food anymore as everyone makes their own.   Luckily, the drugstore had an organic line in plastic pouches – they might want to revisit those old glass jars which can be recycled in all kinds of ways.   A pouch held 125ml, exactly the amount I needed, but when I opened it, it tasted so awful, that I decided to use a different recipe with applesauce instead.   The reviews were all good, except for one dissenter, who said don’t bother, waste of ingredients.   Here’s the recipe for Rich and Chewy Low Fat Brownies.   

Brownie ingredients

Ingredients

½ cup cocoa

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ¾ cup white sugar

2 egg whites

¾ cup applesauce unsweetened

  • Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl using a hand mixer. Add egg whites, applesauce and vanilla.
  • Mix all other ingredients in a separate smaller bowl and add to the wet ingredients in the large bowl. Do NOT overmix!
  • Spray 8×8 dish with PAM and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.   Yields 16 brownies.

The lumpy texture was a bit strange, not sure if that was from the applesauce or my failure to read the recipe as I dumped the sugar in with the dry ingredients by mistake.   They baked up alright, a bit denser than my regular brownie mix but the appearance was good, soft in the centre, slightly crusty at the edges and on top. 

The Verdict:   Well they were certainly rich and chewy, but were they good? 

Never having made brownies from scratch before I had nothing to compare them to but they seemed tasteless, kind of like eating cardboard.   Guilty as charged IMO.   The rest of the jury was polite but noncommittal, preferring the slightly safer remark, “They’re okay, but they don’t taste like your regular brownies.”   

I did cut back on the sugar by half a cup to 1 1/4 cups as some of the reviewers had suggested as it seemed like a lot of sugar for a small 8X8 pan.    My chocolate powder was the very expensive French imported stuff which possibly made it too rich.   They didn’t seem sweet at all, even doused in my regular 2 inches of Canada’s favorite icing (see label). 

brownie icing chocolate

They did look pretty on my pink plates though. 

Brownies

But food is to eat!   I hate it when you’re in a fancy restaurant and you order something outrageously expensive off the dessert trolley because it looks good, and it turns out to be disappointing.   Of course not everyone is a fussy  foodie like I am (except that lone dissenter), but I would not have served these to company.   They were mediocre at best – if I’m going to indulge in a brownie I want it to be great. 

Were they even as healthy as promised?  Here’s the nutrition label:

Serving Size: 1 (812) g

Servings Per Recipe: 1

AMT. PER SERVING% DAILY VALUE

Calories: 147.9

Calories from Fat 16 g 11 %

Total Fat 1.8 g 2 %

Saturated Fat 0.9 g 4 %

Cholesterol 3.8 mg 1 %

Sodium 118.6 mg 4 %

Total Carbohydrate 31.9 g 10 %

Dietary Fiber 0.8 g 3 %

Sugars 21.9 g 87 %

Protein 1.8 g

Add in the nutrition label from the icing:

Betty Crocker icing label

Add up the 1.8g of fat from the brownie, but you would be lucky to get 16 brownies out of a small pan like that so let’s round that up to 4g, with the 5g of fat from the 2 tablespoons of icing (again a stretch), and you have about 9g. 

Now compare that to Betty Crocker’s new product, Fudge Brownie in a Mug with fudge topping:

Mug cake brownie

Nutrition Label:

Mug cake nutrition list

You add some water and nuke it in the microwave for one minute.  One pouch with fudge topping also gives you 9 g of fat, and about the same number of calories as the low fat recipe, but better taste, in fact it was so rich tasting I could only eat half of it.   Is there such a thing as too chocolatey?   I know death by double chocolate is all the rage but I much prefer regular milk chocolate over the often bitter darker stuff.   Plus unless you’re baking for a family who ever eats just one brownie?  The mug box has built-in portion control –  not sure how they came up with 3 portions, why not 2 or 4, but maybe the extra one is to stash away for an emergency on days you need chocolate.   So why not let Betty do all the work?   Now it’s back to the pastry board for a better Valentine’s Day dessert…stay tuned.    (950 words)  

PS.  Do you have a favorite brownie recipe or mix?  

 

 

 

Santa’s Favorite Chocolate Cookies

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is making several batches of no-bake chocolate/oatmeal/peanut butter cookies a week or two before Christmas and distributed them to all the hungry little elves who are slaving away trying to make Christmas good for everyone.   They are always a crowd-pleaser at pot-lucks too.   I don’t know what they are called, but I inherited the recipe from a sister-in-law back in the eighties so we refer to them as her cookies, but you could call them Santa’s favorites.  

Chocolate cookies

I don’t make them any other time of year, just at Christmas, although with the chocolate they would be suitable for Valentine’s Day too.   It’s hard to justify the calories, but they do contain some good-for-you ingredients, like oatmeal (for lowering cholesterol), milk (source of calcium), peanut butter (for protein) and cocoa (source of antioxidants), even if there is a fair bit of sugar in the recipe.   I find good old-fashioned grocery store Fry’s cocoa works best, as the one year I tried a fancy imported French brand, they were way too chocolaty, so I needed to add less.   (Note: some versions of this recipe only use 1/4 cup cocoa but I’ve always used 1/3 cup of Fry’s, so you could adjust to your taste if you have a richer cocoa.)    

Fry's Cocoa

Recipe:

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup Peanut Butter 

2 cups white sugar

1/3 cup cocoa  

1/2 cup milk

3 cups oatmeal (rolled minute oats)

2 tsp (10ml) vanilla

Mix sugar and cocoa in a pan.  Add butter and milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.    When it starts to boil, boil 1 to 1 1/2 minutes exactly.   This is a full boil, not just a few bubbles.   Do not under boil as the mixture will not set properly after you add the other ingredients.

Chocolate cookies

As the chocolate mixture has to be boiled in a pan on the stove, these cookies are not suitable for kids to make.   Santa’s little helpers could help measure the ingredients though. 

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, peanut butter and rolled oats in that order.    I use Crunchy peanut butter as that’s what I buy, but Smooth is okay too.

Chocolate cookies

Once you have added the peanut butter to the boiling chocolate mixture and whisked it through, and then added the oatmeal, you have to work quickly to scoop out the mixture before it sets.   Drop by teaspoon onto wax paper or non-stick baking pans.   Let cool thoroughly.   Makes 24 cookies.    Keep them in an airtight container.   If they dry out too much after a few days, you can zap them in the microwave for ten seconds to make them moist again. 

Chocolate cookies

Some batches turn out drier than others, depending if I have let it boil too long, but it doesn’t affect the overall taste.   It’s all good.   They can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge, or frozen for later.    

I usually keep a batch in the freezer and defrost when needed, even it it’s just one cookie as a treat with a cup of tea before bed.   Heating them up in the microwave for about ten seconds makes them even better as there’s nothing like a warm chocolate cookie.   Don’t forget to leave some out for Santa!  

Christmas mug with cookies       

 

      

Rhubarb Lunar Coffee Cake

Rhubarb

“Mission Control to Earthlings:  Volunteers needed to test Lunar Cake recipe.  Only rhubarb lovers need apply.”       

Rhubarb is one of those foods you either love or hate.   I never liked rhubarb until a few years ago, but then my entire culinary experience consisted of a very tart rhubarb pie my mother would make for my dad once a year.   We had a big rhubarb patch on the farm, and no matter how much sugar she used in the pie, it was so sour no one else would eat it.   The rhubarb patch was rectangular in size and was beside a row of red currant bushes, with one black currant and one gooseberry bush at each end.   Behind it, the odd spike of asparagus would appear in the early spring, these all being old-fashioned farm staples from a century ago.  Today they would be considered heirloom varieties.   Once established, those old rhubarb patches would live forever.   I would sometimes volunteer to pick the red currants, as my dad would get his very own red current pie too.   In retrospect those pies must have been something his mother had made, nostalgic reminders of childhood.   We just thought they were sour.

Rhubarb patch (6)

Because the patch was so large and prolific and had been there for many years, people from town would stop by and ask if they could buy some.   If you are a rhubarb-lover you always know where a good patch is.   We would see the same people year after year, so one day we kids had the ingenious idea that we would have a roadside stand and sell bundles of rhubarb for 25 cents –  a country version of a lemonade stand. 

The rhubarb stand lasted all of one Sunday afternoon.  There was little traffic on our dusty country road and we soon grew bored laying on a blanket under the big tree out front.    On the rare occasion someone did stop, we would run to the house to get our parents, because we had been drilled in school not to talk to strangers, even those innocent souls out for a Sunday drive.   (Makes sense right, well in the mind of a child).   I think we grossed 75 cents.  

rhubarb and dogs (5)

Luckily we had our guard dogs to protect us and the rhubarb patch!

Now as an adult, count me in as a rhubarb fan too.   I especially love strawberry-rhubarb jam, rhubarb scones, and most recently a rhubarb coffee cake, which I’ve made the past few years from a recipe a dietitian friend gave me.    This Canadian recipe is called Lunar Rhubarb Cake and was developed by an editor of Canadian Living magazine back in the 1980’s.   It was so good, it went viral before viral even existed, with everyone saying they got it from their mother, aunt, neighbor.   (A recipe which promotes sharing like that, is one small step for food-kindness).    According to the food column in the Ottawa Citizen, the name lunar comes from the appearance of the top of the cake, similar to the crater-like surface of the moon.   

Rhubarb

CAKE INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup butter (softened)

1 1/2 cup white sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups flour    

1 Tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup sour cream (you can use 2% if you wish)

2 cups chopped rhubarb (you can increase by 1/2 cup more if you wish)

1 tbsp. floor  

LUNAR TOPPING:

1/4 cup butter (melted)

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon  (I omitted this, as in my opinion cinnamon goes with apple pie, not rhubarb)

DIRECTIONS:   

Chop the rhubarb and toss with 1 tbsp flour.   Cream the butter and sugar.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.   Mix 2 cups flour, soda and salt together.  (I buy the premixed flour with the baking soda and salt already in it which is more expensive but saves measuring).   Alternatively add the flour mixture and sour cream to the creamed mixture.   Add the rhubarb to the batter.    Pour into a buttered 9 X 13 inch cake pan.    Mix the topping ingredients and spread evenly over the top of the cake.   Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until the top is pitted and crusty and a skewer comes out clean.    (It was 15 minutes longer for me, as my oven always cooks slow).    Recipe serves twelve hungry astronauts.

Some versions of this recipe call for buttermilk or sour milk instead of sour cream.   The batter will be quite thick with the sour cream.  Rhubarb

The cake keeps well in the fridge and was incredibly moist even after a week.  It transports well too, should you wish to take it to a party in another galaxy.  I think it would work well with blueberries when the season arrives, because as we all know rhubarb season is way too short!     

Maybe if my mother’s old-fashioned rhubarb pie had a crumble topping we might have eaten it too, as the sweetness balances out the tartness of the rhubarb, similar to the popular combination of strawberries and rhubarb.  Although I’m not a huge fan of strawberry-rhubarb pie, mostly because of the pastry, I have made a compote by stewing equal parts of rhubarb and strawberries on the stove and adding sugar to taste.    It’s nice mixed with vanilla yogurt or ice cream or just eaten plain. 

Strawberry-rhubarb compote

I’ve been envisioning my own rhubarb patch in the backyard, so I bought home this last week, although it’s been too cold to plant it.   Rhubarb plant

Although eaten as a fruit, rhubarb is actually a vegetable.   While the stalks may be edible, the leaves are toxic to humans and animals due to a high concentration of the poison, oxalic acid.   It is a perennial which likes cooler climates.   Plant in full sun, spacing 3 or 4 feet apart in a row.    Patience is required as you can’t harvest the first few years until established.   Newer varieties last about 15 years.   You can also divide existing rhubarb plants (root balls) in early spring, so I might be on the hunt for an old patch down a country lane….

Flash forward to 2025 – mission accomplished….hopefully? 

Rhubarb   

 

 

  

 

 

Tea and Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee PuddingSnow, then ice pellets, then freezing rain, then back to snow again – this has been our weather pattern for the past six weeks.   Today is definitely another stay at home day, and for those weary of winter what better thing to do than to bake.  Your kitchen will smell lovely and your family is sure to be appreciative.  The third Monday in February is Family Day in Canada, as the government felt we needed a long holiday weekend to ward off the winter blues.   The idea is to spend the day outdoors with your family enjoying some winter activities, which inspired my mother to paint this picture.

Snow Day - AMc - 2015

Winter Fun

The weather cooperated last night with an unexpected six inch snowfall which made everything clean and white for tobogganing, skiing or skating.    It’s pretty, but I would much prefer to see some greenery in my backyard and if there are any snowdrops beneath the neighbour’s tree they must be smothered by now.   

There’s finally some warmth to the sun and the air has that mild feeling that tells you winter is winding down, but it’s still cold enough to make a nice warm dessert appealing.    I stole this recipe for sticky toffee pudding from a local coffee shop which specializes in homemade deserts –  well they graciously emailed it to me after I told them theirs was the best ever.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t a big seller for them, but sticky toffee pudding is not that well known in Canada, although becoming more popular.   Often thought of as a classic British dessert, it’s origins are actually Canadian, as (Wikipedia) legend has it that two Canadian WW2 officers gave the recipe to a British restaurant owner who put it in a cookbook.   So I guess you could say it’s circled back across the pond.   It’s really more of a cake, but as pudding is an interchangeable term for dessert in Britain, it’s best served with tea (and you can pretend you’re at Downton Abbey).  

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky toffee pudding

I used a big muffin pan instead of an eight inch square dish, as it makes perfect portions, and that’s how the coffee shop served it.   Sticky Toffee Pudding

But I scooped the rest of the leftover batter into a small red loaf pan from Christmas because it looked more festive.  Sticky Toffee PuddingWatch the baking time closely, as I took them out a bit before thirty minutes and they were still well done, (and my oven normally cooks slow). 

The caramel sauce is sweet but not too sweet.   I find those cans of 2% evaporated milk (NOT sweetened condensed), always have a peculiar smell and taste, but you don’t notice it when it’s boiled together with the sugar and butter.   Some recipes say you can use cream if you wish, and I may try that sometime but I didn’t have any and the grocery store was closed because of the holiday.   Of course cream will up the saturated fat content.   Our (President’s Choice) grocery store sold an excellent microwavable freezer brand of this desert, and I was horrified to see they clocked in at 550 calories and over 60% of the days saturated fat quota.  We have extensive food labeling here, which probably discouraged people from buying them as the product was discontinued.   (Note the calories can be cancelled out by volunteering to shovel the driveway).   While many restaurant versions of this desert (and I’ve sampled a few), have a moister darker cake, sometimes with spices, this one is lighter in color and more like a muffin texture.    Store the sauce in the refrigerator if not using right away and reheat.    If you like lots of warm sauce (and who doesn’t as it makes the cake), there was enough evaporated milk in the 300ml can to double the batch.  It’s a rich decadent desert, so you might even want to split one with someone, and of course don’t forget the tea! 

Sticky toffee pudding

Song of the Day:   Tea for Two – Ella Fitzgerald

Teapot