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.”    Several people thought they were cake.  

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 smothered 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?  

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

An Interview with Jane Austen

          I am a Jane Austen fan.   Although I would not consider myself a Janeite, whenever a new book comes out about her life I am sure to check it out. Recently I saw this one, Jane Austen at Home, on the new releases list, and reviewed it on Goodreads.  

Jane Austen at HomeJane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can there be such a thing as a bad book about Jane Austen – no. Even though we know every detail of her story, and there is really nothing new to be discovered about her life, (excepting the photo of the blue and white egg cup excavated at the Steventon Rectory), Austen fans still find any new book about her fascinating. This is a particularly satisfying read as it focuses more on her quest for a home – after all she is the author who wrote “There’s nothing like staying home for real comfort.” Of course, there are the usual biographical facts, literary and otherwise, seeming to focus more on her personal life, including her five marriage proposals, thus dispelling the myth that she was a lonely old spinster. (Really the woman was so intelligent as to be intimidating, and would she have been happy with any of them?) There is a satisfying number (40 pages or so) of footnotes, always a sign of a good biography, and some photographs, including said egg cup. A lovely read for commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of her death – we remain as captivated as ever.

       A friend gave me The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen, (edited by Joelle Herr), for Christmas as she knew I was a fan, and it is full of her famous quotes and observations.   Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen book, and then Emma, but some of the others I must admit I have never read, although I have seen the movie versions.  It is her life that I find most intriguing.   I often find authors lives to be as or sometimes more interesting than their books, (check out Margaret Mitchell’s biography for parallels to Gone with The Wind, the character of Rhett Butler was thought to be based on her first husband and Ashley Wilkes on her second).   If you are a reader, you want to know where they got their ideas.   Due to the lack of media back then and the passage of time we have little to base our conclusions upon, and baring someone discovering a cache of old letters in their great house, there is nothing new under the sun about Jane Austen, but we still can’t get enough of her life.   She remains a puzzle, an enigma, we want to figure her out.   A fellow blogger asked me which historical figure I would most like to interview, and my answer was Jane.  And so, as Jane said, indulge your imagination in every possible flight.      

 An Interview with Jane Austen

         Welcome to the BBC show, Portal to the Past.  We would like to welcome renowned British author, Jane Austen.   Even though she has been dead for over two hundred years she has been gracious enough to grant us this exclusive interview, and we thank her for the opportunity, because two centuries later we remain as fascinated by her as ever.  (Cue opening pianoforte music link).    Jane enters, wearing a white flowing Stella McCarthy gown, because a woman can never be too fine while she is all in white.  (Camera man sighs, white is not good for the camera, adjusts lighting).  

 Host:  Welcome Jane.   Would you like some  tea?  

Jane:    (demurely declines refreshments.  She doesn’t want to smear her lipstick – lipstick, imagine something to make your lips ruby-red and kiss-worthy.  She wonders if she’ll get a free swag bag from Sephora).

Host:   I’m so glad you could join us today.

Jane:   There is nothing like staying home for real comfort, but if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.    

Host:  Did you ever imagine when you were sitting at your little writing table in Chawton Cottage, scribbling away about three or four families in a country village, that your novels would still be read two hundred years later? 

Jane:   (smiles sweetly)  Alas, it is only a novel… or, in short, some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.

Host:  Did you ever dream that you would become so famous?

Jane:    I have no talent for certainty, but I always had a quiet confidence in my abilities.   The fame though was quite unexpected, though slight initially it has now has grown to such proportions that I find myself adorning the ten pound note.  (blushes modestly).  Pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked.   I lay the blame on my nephew for that biography he penned.    Fame can be a double-edged sword, for regrettably I have now lost all privacy, and sometimes when I want to pay a visit to Chawton Cottage, there are too many tourists milling about.    

Host:   (surprised)    Are you saying you haunt your old sites?

Jane:   I do enjoy dropping by occasionally, but the tourists, their fashion choices are really quite beyond comprehension.  It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire, but still…yoga pants and t-shirts.  (shakes head, and thinks silently, for what do we live, but to make sport of our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn.)   Chawton House was my only true home and I was very content there.   Sometimes I like to sit at my little desk and recollect….or I might visit the kitchen if the new cook is on, because as you know good apple pies were a considerable part of our domestic happiness.   As for my childhood home there is nothing remaining, although I read that a blue and white egg cup was discovered recently in an excavation at Steventon Rectory, but it wasn’t mine, it was Cassandra’s.  An egg cup – really!  Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first.  It seems like a fair bit of nonsense that people would be interested in such things, but that is the price of fame.    One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.    

Host:    Are you aware of how many copies of your books have sold, 20 million of Pride and Prejudice alone?

Jane:    Yes it’s quite astonishing to be so immortal, but I wish I had the royalties.  A single woman with a narrow income must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid, the proper sport of boys and girls; but a single woman of good fortune is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else.

Host:    That portrait of you in the National Gallery, is it a fair likeness, because I’m not seeing too much of a resemblance?    (it might be the makeup and hair blowout, thinks to self, a little makeup can make even the plainest Jane quite pretty.) 

Jane:    I believe it has been photo-shopped too often to be an accurate portrayal.   (ponders uploading a new photo via Instagram for the ten pound note).  To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.    

Host:  Are you happy with your media image?   The sweet loving demure persona, sunny Jane?

Jane:    I must confess I was a bit annoyed with my sister Casandra for destroying most of my letters, especially the ones full of sarcasm and wit.   The ones that survive make me out to be some sort of vapid ninny.    I suppose she thought she was protecting my reputation…(sigh)…but she destroyed the best ones.   

Host:  You had five marriage proposals and turned them all down, did you ever regret being a spinster?  

Jane:     One should only marry for love.   And the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!   You must be the best judge of your own happiness. 

Host:   What do you think of the movie versions of your novels?

Jane:    Some were of more merit than others, but Colin Firth was simply divine as Mr. Darcy.  Such a handsome man.  I wish I had thought of that wet shirt scene but that would have been too risqué for the era. 

Host:   Speaking of Mr. Darcy – who was the model for that darling man?

Jane:   ………………(prolonged silence, that wasn’t in the script, looks annoyed).

Host:   (quickly changes subject).   And  that famous speech, let me tell you how ardently I admire and love you.    Did people really talk like that back then?

Jane:    Ah, that speech……(contemplates, then laughs)…..Said. No. Man. Ever. 

Host:    Jane you seem to be well versed in the ways of the modern world, colloquial speech, photoshop, how do you know about all these things?

Jane:   The afterlife can be heaven – there is plenty of time to read and learn new endeavors.  With a book, you are regardless of time.   You ask yourself, why did we wait for any thing?  Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!     There are balls and a fair bit of dancing, and dancing leads to romance, for to be fond of dancing is a certain step towards falling in love.   If one has been forced into prudence in one’s youth, one can learn romance as one grows older.       

Host:   Well that sounds fascinating….romance in heaven.  (eyes camera man signalling time’s up).   Any advice for modern day lovers?

Jane:   Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.  But don’t settle.  Do anything rather than marry without affection.   Wait for your own Mr. Darcy…..(flutters false eyelashes and smiles coyly)….I have found mine…. 

Host:   Thank you Jane.  (notices camera man motioning cut).   You have delighted us long enough.  Would you like more tea?

Jane:  Thank you, but I must dash to Sephora before the portal closes and I must return to the past.     

          And so there you have it folks, Jane in her own words.    Like I said, nothing new there…..other than the blue and white egg cup was Cassandra’s.  

(Disclaimer:  I apologize in advance if I have messed up any of the quotes or facts as I am by no means an authority on Jane Austen, merely a fan.  Next up, the Brontes  – Branwell would be on board for sure, Charlotte and Anne might be tempted but Emily would never agree.)