Sunday, October 1, 2017

Apple Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Autumn is here and so are the fresh crop of apples! Today, I'm sharing my recipe for "Apple Sour Cream Coffee Cake"! There are countless recipes for apple coffee cakes on the internet. This recipe is based on a blueberry coffee cake from Mennonite Girls Can Cook.

The basic cake batter is pretty much the same - with a few changes. Obviously, I swapped out the blueberries for diced apples. (I used Royal Gala). I also added some chocolate chips! (duh!)  I prefer using a combo of all purpose flour and whole wheat flour but if you only have all purpose that will work fine. At about $5-6/pound, I can't afford butter, so use a good quality block margarine such as Imperial or Parkay in my baking. The MGCC recipe made the cake in a 9"x13"x2" pan but I tend to favour using 2 8" or 9" round pans. I find they bake more evenly than a large pan. With a bit of pan prep, the cakes can be removed to a serving plate and also wrapped for freezing. The original recipe also called for a layered assembly method of half batter, fruit. half topping, remaining batter and remainder of topping. Personally, I like my fruit mixed into the batter rather than a separate layer. The separate layer tends to get a bit soggy if the entire cake isn't devoured the same day.

For the topping, I used my own recipe which is light on cinnamon as I don't care for an overwhelming taste of it in my food. You can add a bit more if you prefer. My topping also includes toasted almonds and finely chopped chocolate!

As always, I took samples to some of my friends and they thought it was great!

This cake is moist, flavourful and great anytime of the year but there is something about baking with apples in the fall that just feels right and is oh, SO delicious!

 Apple Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Topping
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons cold butter or block margarine
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips or finely chopped chocolate (semi sweet or dark)
3/4 cup finely chopped almonds, toasted

Cake:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter or block margarine at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream (I used light)
1/2 cup milk (I used 1%)
2 cups diced apples (peel and seed before dicing) (I used Royal Gala)
3/4 cup semi sweet or dark chocolate chips

Toasting Almonds:
Preheat oven to 350F. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a rimmed cookie sheet and then spread the chopped almonds in a single layer. Toast in the oven for about 5 - 7 minutes making sure to stir at least once or twice during that time. The almonds will take on a strong nutty aroma and turn a darker shade of brown. Watch them carefully though as they can go from perfectly toasted to burnt in a minute! Remove pan to a cooling rack and cool to room temp while you prepare the rest of the recipe.
For Topping:
Combine the flour, sugar and cinnamon. Add the cold butter/margarine and mix with a fork till fine crumbly mixture. Add in the cooled almonds and chocolate. Stir to combine. Set aside.

For Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare 2  8 or 9 inch round cake pans by spraying with non stick cooking spray. Then place 2 strips of parchment paper (about 1 1/2 - 2 inches wide) in an X shape, pressing down along the bottom and up the sides - allowing about an inch or two to hang over the top edge at each end. Place a circle of parchment over the X and press down to line the bottom of the pan. Note: To make the parchment circles, place the pan on top of the parchment and use a pen or marker to trace around the outside of the bottom of the pan. Then using the marked line as a guide, use scissors to cut out the circle. Repeat for second pan. Set prepared pans aside. (Note: I've tried this with wax paper but it isn't as strong as parchment so tends to tear when you attempt to lift the cake out of the pans after baking and cooling.)
Combine the flours, baking powder, salt, and soda in medium bowl. Set aside/

Using an electric mixer beat butter/margarine in large bowl till fluffy.

Add both sugars and beat until blended.

Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each egg.

Add lemon zest and vanilla and combine.

In a glass measuring cup, measure the 1/2 cup milk then add the 1/2 cup sour cream to make 1 cup. Stir to combine. If you don't have a glass measure, you can blend the two ingredients in a small bowl.

Beat the flour mixture and the milk/sour cream mixture alternately into the butter/margarine mixture - beginning and ending with the flour mixture. This doesn't have to be exact. Just add about 1/3 of the flour mix and mix in. Then add about 1/2 of the milk/sour cream mix and mix in. Repeat with the flour, then the last of the milk/sour cream and the last of the flour.

Stir in the chopped apples and the chocolate chips till well combined.

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and level it out evenly with the back of a spoon or fork. Pans will be pretty much full but not overflowing!

Sprinkle half the topping mix on top of each pan. With the back of a clean fork or spoon, gently press the topping down but do not stir it in!
Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until toothpick test comes out clean.
Cool on wire racks for at least 2 hours before attempting to lift cakes from the pans. The more the cakes have cooled, the easier it will be to remove them without them breaking apart. Once the cakes have completely cooled, they could even be covered and put in the fridge to set more firmly before removal from pan. When you are ready to remove the cakes from the pans, run a knife around the edge between the cake and the pan to ensure it isn't stuck. Gently lift two opposite edges of the parchment to loosen. Then repeat with the other two opposite pieces. When you are sure the cake is not stuck, carefully and gently, lift the cake out of the pan, removing parchment and transferring to a serving plate.

Each cake can be cut into 8 pieces. Total Yield: 16 servings  
It should be noted that you can double wrap one cake in plastic wrap and store in a zipped freezer bag for up to a couple of months.

Enjoy!
dn

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Vulture In The Guise Of A Volunteer

Over the years I've been approached numerous times by strangers who ask about my sight and how I manage to do as much as I do on my own. At first I was a bit surprised at others interest, but soon realized that most people were genuinely curious. I came to appreciate people actually asking rather than making erroneous assumptions. I also got quite good at giving succinct answers to their questions. I say this as a prelude to a recent experience and this cautionary tale....

This past May, I was on a city bus, coming home from my weekly grocery shopping at Superstore when I was approached by a senior. He came from further back on the bus, told me his first name and said he was hoping to become a volunteer with the CNIB. He wondered if he could ask me some questions about my vision, the CNIB and volunteering. He asked about my sight and how I managed. He asked how hard it was to do things like grocery shopping and errands.

I assured him that I was quite capable of doing things for myself and frankly enjoyed having the independence to do things on my own terms and time table. When he suggested that some things would be easier with a volunteer, I said that if I ever did need help, that I had several friends who were more than willing to help out with a heavier than usual shopping trip or assist in other areas if the need arose. There are other people with disabilities who need help much more than I do.

As for being a volunteer at the CNIB? I explained that other than an occasional purchase through the CNIB store, I rarely had contact with the agency anymore. I wasn't familiar with current staff or how volunteers were selected or trained.

Before I got off the bus, I asked if he was online and explained that I'd written a few posts about my vision loss and the CNIB over the years. He told me he wasn't online much - mostly just for email. I gave him one of my cards anyways and suggested he check out my blog.

Now, let me make this clear. I've handed out dozens of these cards over the years so that people can check out my Blog, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube pages. There is also an email address on the card specifically for random contact. Only a handful of people have actually sent me an email.

So, you can imagine my surprise when he sent me an email about 12 hours later - giving me his full name, address, phone number and offering to be my personal volunteer!!

Seriously? Had he heard nothing I'd said about my being independent?

He had seemed sincere on the bus that morning and asked all the typical questions. I'm usually quite good at reading people but somehow no alarm bells went off with this guy - until I got the email!

I waited a day, then responded politely, but firmly stating again that I had NO need for a volunteer. I said I hoped he would find a suitable volunteer position at some point - if not with the CNIB, then with any number of other agencies.

That should have been the end of it - but it wasn't.

The following morning, he sent another email. He wondered how I managed with grocery shopping in the winter. As he lived quite near the Superstore, he suggested that he could do some of my grocery shopping for me but thought I would probably want to shop for perishables myself. He could deliver it to me or meet at a neutral place close to me. Of course he added that we would have to discuss or make some arrangement for his seniors bus tickets but that I could think about his offer over the summer and he'd be in touch in a few months.

OMG!  This guy has NO concept of the word NO! I chose to ignore that email and hoped that he'd forget about me. I should also note that over the next few weeks, I shared this story (in more detail) with several friends - all of whom agreed that this guy was an idiot with an agenda and potentially a borderline stalker!

Well, as you may have guessed by now, that wasn't the end. In early August, I received another email. He had been to a volunteer orientation at the CNIB but wasn't sure he wanted to continue as they seemed to think volunteers were some kind of employee! He was also waiting for his security background check to be completed. He asked again if I needed any help with groceries or other errands.

Over the next week, I carefully drafted a detailed response. The following is a slightly edited version:

"A background/security check has become a necessity for most organizations/businesses. Sadly, there are far too many people who will use any opportunity they can to take advantage of those who require services. The main difference between a volunteer and an employee is a pay-check. Either way, you are a representative of the organization you associate yourself with. Therefore, you are expected and required to behave in a respectful and responsible manner - following their guidelines and directives. Personally, if I WERE to ever need a volunteer, I wouldn't want anyone who hadn't been thoroughly checked and was fully compliant with the agencies policies.

As to your ongoing suggestion of my needing assistance with grocery shopping or other things?

It appears that you've failed to grasp that I have already told you twice (on the bus and in a previous email) that I DO NOT need any help. I have friends in my life who are more than willing to assist if I ever do need help. They would also not expect/want payment for gas/bus tickets either.

When one volunteers, there are ALMOST ALWAYS incidental expense involved. It is extremely rare to receive remuneration for a volunteer position. If finances are that tight for you, perhaps you should reconsider volunteering.

Then, there is the matter of payment for said groceries. I collect PC points on my groceries and often pay with my debit card. These factors alone would eliminate you from doing any of my shopping for me.

Grocery shopping is an art. It is also one that I take VERY seriously! I do all of my own cooking/baking and keep a well stocked pantry. I keep a running list of items I am low on, watch for sales and compare prices in online flyers every week. This allows me to buy items on sale and/or in multiples when there is a good deal. Some items, I am brand loyal and others I will switch out for certain alternative brands if they are cheaper than an advertised item. If an item is cheaper in multiples, or larger sizes I calculate whether or not I would use it all before it expires. I check all packaging for damage and expiry dates.

Seasonally? I stock up even more in spring and fall so that I'm not carrying as much in heat of summer or cold of winter. In winter, I layer up and use grips on my boots in icy conditions. Year round, I use my large ergonomic backpack to carry the heavier items. I also have insulated bags and reusable bags in varying sizes for bulky or more fragile items. With the backpack, I can easily carry 20 - 25 pounds of groceries in one trip and generally have at least one reusable bag in use with the backpack as well. I am my own Sherpa.

In any given grocery shop, approx 40-80% of my list is perishables such as produce. I am even more particular of these items than the grocery items.

Having you or anyone else do only non perishable shopping is useless.

I take pride and pleasure in doing my own grocery shopping. It allows me to get out, see what's new in stores and keep tabs on changing products and prices. It also keeps me in touch with many of the kind staff and customers that I've met at Superstore over the years. On the occasions that I have needed in-store assistance, I've never had an issue finding staff or another customer who is willing to offer me assistance in reading a label or finding an item.

So, as I hope you will FINALLY see, I have NO need for your "assistance" in ANY part of my life.

Please stop trying to find excuses to inject yourself into my life. IT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!"

It is only three weeks since I sent that reply and he hasn't responded. "IF" he is smart, he won't try to contact/speak to me again. It is rare that I have to go into such detail or be that direct with someone but I felt strongly that this was the only way that he might get the message that he wasn't going to be part of my life in any respect. I've also realized that this guy has obviously done this direct approach before. As I said, my radar for sensing crap/scams is pretty well honed but nothing jumped out till I got the first email.

He thought he'd found an easy mark but what he really ended up doing was marking himself. He crossed the wrong person when he continued to contact me.

That persistence concerned me. With that in mind, I contacted a couple of friends who volunteer for various organizations/agencies and asked them to touch base with their coordinators about how this guy operates. I explained my concerns that he may try to take advantage of someone who was naive or vulnerable. I can stand up for myself but not all people can. Without revealing names/agencies - I learned that at least 2 organizations already had notes in their volunteer data base about him. Though I wasn't able to confirm this next part, it is my understanding that he also has his own business and tries to make money off of people like this!

Having a business that helps others is one thing, but approaching people directly or through an agency in the guise of being a volunteer then expecting to be paid is underhanded and pathetic.

It takes all kinds! Thankfully, the vast majority of volunteers are there to truly help others - not to serve their own needs/agenda. Hopefully other agencies and individuals will see his scam and realize that he is a persona non grata.

Admittedly, somewhere (hopefully far) down the road, I may well need a volunteer but it sure as heck won't be someone like that! Until then, I will continue to be proudly independent with an occasional assist from store staff, a fellow customer or my amazing friends!

dn 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Creamy Limoncello Pasta And Chicken

It's spring and for me, that means it's time to post another recipe with lots of lemon flavour!

This past year, I've been working on my own version of Limoncello Pasta!

There are a wide variety of recipes for this tasty pasta dish on the net. Naturally, the one constant is the Limoncello! Depending on where you live, a bottle of Limoncello can seem a bit pricy, but just remember that it can be used in cocktails, desserts, sauces and main course dishes. It also has a lengthy shelf life after being opened as long as the lid is on tight and it is stored in a cool dry place. I bought a 750 ml / 26 ounce bottle for about $25 + tax at my local liquor store here in Manitoba.

The recipe I've come up with is based on a combination of ingredients and quantities from several recipes. As with any recipe I post, I've made a number of changes and tweaks for my version. Here are some notes on what I've tried and how it worked out.

The Pasta:
Many recipes suggest linguini, spaghetti or even fettuccini - all of which are wonderful choices. I've made this with linguini and fettuccini. I've also tried a medium shell pasta which didn't work as well. The shells seemed to want to clump together and not hold the sauce as well as I had hoped. I've used rotini (cork screw) a couple of times and was quite happy with the results. Ultimately, the choice of pasta is up to you! Just remember to undercook it slightly in the salted water as the pasta will be added to the sauce and cooked a bit more before serving.

The Cheese:
Most recipes for Limoncello Pasta will call for "Parmigiano Reggiano". As delicious as it is, it is also incredibly expensive! A 225 gram / 8 ounce piece can cost you well over $10!! It's just not in everyone's price range and especially not in mine! So, what to do? Well, the first time I tried to make a Limoncello Pasta, I just used a white herbed cheddar. I wasn't happy with the results as it didn't seem to melt well into the sauce and actually seemed a bit gritty. The second time I tried to make it, I decided to try an herb and garlic spreadable cream cheese. The result was a flavourful creamy sauce! Another benefit to using the herb and garlic cream cheese is that a 225 gram / 8 ounce container can often be found on sale for about $3!

The Cream:
Almost all of the recipes I looked at, called for heavy cream or whipping cream. This is another item that isn't in my budget. Not to mention the extra calories! Instead, I used a combo of 1/2 & 1/2 with light sour cream. It created a very similar texture without the sweetness of the cream.

Additional Notes:
- This pasta can be made with or without chicken. I've only used fresh boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The chicken can be cut into bite sized pieces or strips. The choice is yours!
- If you don't like peppers then they can be left out.
- Add more or less garlic depending on preference.
- Fresh basil leaves is a MUST in the recipe! They add a dash of colour and the flavour of the fresh can't be beat! Dried basil works in some recipes but NOT in this one!

This past December, I made this dish for two of my gal pals for our annual holiday dinner. I served this pasta dish with a tossed salad, homemade mini bread sticks and herb butter. To drink? A sparkling white grape juice. They thought it was absolutely delicious!

Creamy Limoncello Pasta And Chicken
225 gram / 8 ounces rotini (spiral) pasta (for 4 portions)
350 grams / 12 ounces fresh boneless skinless chicken breast
1 large lemon
2-3 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup Limoncello
1 cup 1/2 + 1/2
1/4 cup light sour cream
40 grams / 1 1/2 ounce package fresh basil
2/3 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced yellow, orange or red sweet bell pepper
1 225 gram / 8 ounce container herb and garlic cream cheese
salt and pepper to taste
green onion for garnish
Zest and juice the lemon. Set aside.

Mince or finely chop the garlic. Set aside.

Combine the lemon juice, Limoncello, 1/2 + 1/2 and sour cream. Set aside.

Remove the basil leaves from the stems and chop or tear the leaves into small pieces. You will get about 1 cup but don't worry if it is a bit more or less! Set aside.

Cut the chicken into small bite size pieces. Heat a small amount of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in a large deep skillet. Add the chicken and brown. 

While the chicken is browning, bring a pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, salt the water liberally. Add pasta and stir. Reduce heat to medium high and cook till el dante. (Times vary depending on type of pasta used. Check the package for cooking times). Drain the pasta - reserving about 1 cup cooking water in case it is needed to add to the sauce if it gets to thick. DO NOT rinse the pasta!

Meanwhile, while the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking - back to the pan with the chicken in it. Reduce heat to medium and add the onion and pepper - sauté for a few minutes then add the lemon zest, garlic and creamy mixture. Cut in the cream cheese and stir to melt. Bring to a gentle boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes - stirring occasionally.

Once the sauce starts to slightly thicken, add the pasta and stir to coat. Add the basil and mix thoroughly. Taste the sauce and add salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water and stir.

Serve hot pasta with a sprinkle of freshly chopped green onion on top and a side of green salad or veg.

Enjoy!

dn

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Raisin Muffins

My mom used to make Raisin Muffins and we loved them! These were just one of the baked treats she tried to keep in the freezer on a regular basis to serve with tea or coffee in case unexpected company stopped by for a visit!

I've been making her raisin muffin recipe at least once a year for a very long time!
More recently, I decided to see if I could update the recipe just a bit. The original called for the raisins to be boiled in water. That was fine, but I figured I could add just a hint more flavour by boiling them in orange juice or a citrus blend such as that made by 5 Alive or other brands. I also thought that since I was using juice, I could cut back a bit on the brown sugar.

The only other change I made was to use whole wheat flour instead of all purpose. The muffins didn't rise quite as much as with the all purpose flour but I prefer the taste and texture with the whole wheat.

As always, the choice is yours. You can boil the raisins in juice, water or a water/juice mix. You can use whole wheat flour, all purpose flour or a combo. I'd still stick with my slightly reduced brown sugar though as these were a bit on the sweet side.

Generally, I use Sultana raisins but you could also use Thompson, Golden or a combination. Regardless of the type, always rinse them with hot water in a colander before using to wake them up a bit from the drying. Raisins (or any dried fruit) can get really hard or clump together after awhile so the hot water rinse or a brief soak in hot water followed by a hot rinse is a perfect way to wake up and enhance the flavour for whatever purpose you are using them!

These muffins are yummy on their own!
They are also a might tasty with a bit of cheddar cheese! I think my favourite way to have them was to slice them in half and top each half with a piece of cheddar cheese - or just put a piece of cheddar between the top and bottom and eat it like a sandwich! 
I also love having them with apple slices or a fruit salad. 
In the last few weeks, I've handed out several muffins to taste testers and they all thought they were delish!

Raisin Muffins
2 cups raisins
3 cups orange juice or an orange/Citrus blend such as 5 Alive
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup block margarine, softened to room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 large eggs, at room temperature - fork beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the raisins, I generally use Sultana's but you could also use Thompson or Golden if you prefer. Measure the raisins then place in a colander and run under hot tap water to rinse and separate. (Note: If the raisins are extremely dry, hard or clumped together, place them in a dish of hot water for a couple minutes then stir to separate then place in a colander to rinse.) Drain well.

Combine the raisins and orange juice in a medium sized pot. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-high and cook at a gentle boil (uncovered) for 20 minutes. Remove from the burner to a rack to cool - DO NOT DRAIN! You will use the raisins and the remaining juice in the recipe!
Spray muffin tins with Pam or line muffin tins with paper liners and set aside.

In a medium size bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. (Note: I prefer using whole wheat but you could use All purpose or a combination of both.)

Place the softened margarine and brown sugar in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and beat till creamy. Add the beaten eggs and the vanilla. Mix thoroughly

Add the cooled raisins AND the juice they were boiled in. Mix thoroughly.

Add the dry ingredients - mixing on low speed till well combined.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins (to about 3/4 full). Bake in preheated 350F oven for 20 minutes or till toothpick test shows clean.
Remove to cooling rack. If you didn't use paper liners, carefully run a knife around the edge of the muffins to make sure they don't stick to the pan. Gently, tip the muffins on their side to cool for a few minutes to cool before removing to the rack to finish cooling.
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen tasty muffins. These freeze really well!

Enjoy!
dn

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cherry Chocolate Shortbread Bars

Okay, I know I haven't posted for several weeks but I've been busy with my annual Christmas baking marathon and getting all my other winter and holiday prep done.

I've also been working on a tasty new holiday dessert! The original idea came to me while reading another Hannah Swensen mystery by Joanne Fluke. In the 6th book of the series - "Sugar Cookie Murder", there is a recipe for a "Blueberry Shortbread Bar Cookie" I thought it sounded good but at the time I was also looking for ideas for a dessert to serve to my gal pals at my annual holiday gathering. I decided that cherries might be a bit more in keeping with the festive season. That being said, the additional changes that I made to the original recipe would also work well with blueberry pie filling or an apple pie filling. I just haven't gotten around to trying those versions yet!

Ms Fluke and most professional chefs/bakers disdain the use of block margarine. That is all well and good IF you can afford it! However, in my area, butter runs about $5/pound and occasionally you may find it on sale for about $3/pound with a limit of one or two per customer. Even the sale price is more than I can justify on a fixed income - especially when you consider that 3 pound packages of name brands like Imperial or Parkay often go on sale for $3 to $4 a package and can be stored in the fridge for several months. So, unless you and your guests have very sensitive gourmet pallets you probably won't notice the difference between a good quality margarine and butter in most baking recipes.

It should also be noted that the original recipe seems to indicate that the dough is more of a crumb mixture rather than a soft dough. When I made it, I decided that I'd see if it would go to a soft dough which I felt would be easier for me to work with. Once I got past the crumb stage, it was only another minute or so of light hand kneading and it was a lovely soft dough.

The first time I made the bar, I thought they were good but decided to jazz it up and add some additional flavours. Namely, layers of roasted almonds and bittersweet chocolate! I also brushed the bottom and top layers of dough with a bit of liqueur. I used Grand Marnier but Cherry Brandy or Amaretto would also work well. If liqueur is not your thing, feel free to skip it. The choice is yours.

Well, I've made this recipe three times now and those who've tasted it think it is delicious! Hopefully, you and your guests will also enjoy it!

Cherry Chocolate Shortbread Bars

1 cup chopped almonds, roasted
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups block margarine, softened
3/4 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 can (21 ounces) cherry pie filling
8 ounces (227 grams) chopped bittersweet chocolate
2 Tablespoons liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Amaretto or Cherry Brandy

Preheat oven to 350F, rack in the middle position.

Line a 9 X 13 inch cake pan with parchment paper - so that the paper is up to the top on all four sides.

Cut a length of wax paper, slightly longer than the baking pan. With a marker, trace the bottom of the pan onto the wax paper. This will be a template to stretch out the dough for the top. Set the wax paper aside.
Place the chopped almonds in the parchment lined pan and roast for about 5-7 minutes or till lightly roasted and aromatic. Stir the nuts once or twice to prevent burning. Remove from oven to a cooling rack. When the almonds have cooled, transfer to a small bowl or plate for later.

In a large bowl, combine powdered sugar, flour, ground almonds and salt. Cut in the margarine. Mix well - to a soft dough. (Note: I mix the dry ingredients with a fork but once the margarine is added, I use my hands to work it into a soft dough. You can also do this in a food processor using cold margarine cut into chunks, and the steel blade.)
 Divide the dough in half. Place half of the dough into the parchment lined 9 x 13 inch pan. Use your fingers and the palms of your hands to spread the dough evenly in the bottom of the lined pan. Do not press it in too firmly as that will make a tough crust to cut or bite into.

With your fingers and the palm of your hands, stretch out the other half of the dough onto the wax paper template. Set aside.
 (Note: I prefer laying out both halves of the dough before baking the base so that I know I've got it fairly even for both top and base)

Bake the base (in the parchment lined pan) at 350F for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven. DON’T TURN OFF THE OVEN!

While the base is baking make sure you have the remaining ingredients organized and ready to go.
 Let the crust cool for 5 minutes.

With a pastry brush, brush 1 Tablespoon of the liqueur over the base.

Sprinkle 1/2 of bittersweet chocolate evenly on the crust. (Don't worry if it starts to melt as the base is still quite warm at this point.)

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the roasted almonds evenly over the chocolate.

Carefully spoon the pie filling over the top of the chocolate and nuts. (Note: I try to spread the cherries around a bit so they aren't all clumped together.)

Sprinkle cherry layer with the other half of the nuts and then the rest of the chocolate.

Carefully turn the top layer of dough (that is on the wax paper) upside down and place it so the dough is lying directly over the final layer of chocolate. Peel the wax paper off. Don't worry if the dough tears a bit - it can be pinched back together or just left as is - as long as it covers the top and is not hanging over the edge of the pan. Gently press it down with your fingers.

Brush the remaining 1 Tablespoon of liqueur over the dough.

Return the pan to the oven and bake the bars for another 30-35 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden. Remove the pan to a wire rack.
Cool thoroughly and then cut into brownie-sized bars. 
Cover and refrigerate any leftovers.

I've never tried freezing these as they've never lasted long enough!

Enjoy!
dn

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Late Autumn Walk In Henteleff Park

Fall has always been my favourite season. The bounty of the harvests. The mouth watering aromas of foods cooking and baking. The scent of wood smoke and the crunch of leaves under your feet as you walk. Mother Nature pulls out her magic paintbrushes and the landscape is awash in spectacular colours!

For the last few years, one of my gal pals and I have made it a tradition to go for an autumn walk. This year, we were looking forward to a walk in Henteleff Park. We had both heard CBC's Terry MacLeod raving about how wonderful the park was and we wanted to explore it!

We planned on going early in the first week of October. The weather cooperated but as so often happens, life had other plans and we had to cancel. Over the next couple of weeks, wind and rain took down a lot of the leaves but we still wanted our autumn walk!

Weather and schedules finally cooperated on Monday October 17. It was mostly sunny with a few light clouds, a light breeze and the temp was 14C/57F!  

Once we arrived at the park (1964 St Mary's Rd) we stopped to look at the information at the newly opened Interpretive Centre and check out the trail map on the welcome sign.
As yet, there is minimal signage along the paths but more will be added as the Henteleff Park Foundation continues to work on its many goals. Even without signage, it is still fairly easy to find your way around on the various trails.

The trails themselves are well groomed. We didn't encounter any tree roots or fallen branches on any of the paths. They are all fairly level with minimal incline/decline in certain areas - but nothing steep. Despite some rain the night before our walk, we encountered only a couple of spots where there were puddles or a small amount of mud on the paths. The rain also pretty much took away the sound of leaves crunching under foot but that certainly didn't dampen our enjoyment of the walk!

Walking along the various trails in Henteleff Park, it is very easy to forget that you are still in the city. It is truly an urban oasis of rustic country beauty! From the moment we stepped onto the trails we felt as if we had been whisked back to the time of early settlers on the prairie landscape with a wide variety of grasses, plants and trees.

Granted, there are a few areas along the outer paths where you can see modern development of homes and apartment blocks bordering the property and the occasional sound of an airplane overhead but that does not detract from the atmosphere.

There is a simple wooden fence that separate some of the prairie grasses from the paths along the first part of the trail. It wasn't hard to imagine early settlers building that type of fence and watching various animals or their livestock munching on those grasses.

The park is home to several species of birds and animals including deer and red foxes. We didn't see those, although my friend got a brief glimpse of a beaver along Normand Creek.

A variety of benches are spread out along the trails. There is a simple old style wooden park bench as well as more elaborate stone benches - one even has a polished surface! They truly add to the uniqueness of the park as do several large colourful stones at the entrance.
I kept thinking of my parents as I walked through the park. They devoted a lot of time to landscaping our farmyard and also did a lot of stonework. They'd have loved Henteleff Park!

Before we left the park, we went back to the Interpretive Centre to look at some of the information again. Sitting on a bench, were two gentleman in conversation. My friend recognized one of them from photos she'd seen online. It was Yude Henteleff himself! We hesitated on whether or not to interrupt but decided we would just say hello and tell him how much we had loved our walk in the park. As it turned out, the gentleman he had been talking with was from the city parks department. Both were pleased to hear our comments!

The park that was once his family's homestead had come oh so close to becoming yet more urban development. Thankfully wiser minds prevailed and the land was rezoned to be developed as a park. The area is rightly named in honour of the Henteleff family. Yude Henteleff and a tireless band of volunteers have dedicated countless hours to creating one of the most beautiful and rustic areas one could ever imagine! They have many short-term and long-term goals yet to accomplish in order to ensure that this spectacular acreage remains for generations to come. I've no doubt they will succeed and am truly grateful for the determination and foresight of the foundation.

Needless to say, we enjoyed our afternoon! Time with a great friend. The weather was perfect! The colours were spectacular! Walking along scenic paths that seemed to transport us back in time and meeting the man whose family worked the land. We could not have asked for more!

I took a lot of photos as we walked. Being legally blind affects how I take my photographs. I'm drawn to the colours and the contrasts in shapes but don't see the finer details. I take a lot of photos on any given walk. Depending on the surroundings I often take 3 or more shots of a similar scene so I'm pretty much guaranteed of getting the pic I really wanted. The LCD screen on my camera is only 3" so I don't really know what I've got till I get home and view it on my 19" computer screen. When I'm reviewing the pics on the PC, I'm always pleasantly surprised to see things in more detail that I hadn't realized were even there. It makes me appreciate the beauty of the season even more!

I've put together a slideshow of the photos I took on our walk. The accompanying music is called "Canadian Waltz" by Mark Howard and is from his album "Old Time Reunion". Watch the video here.

- dn