Coconut caramel pound cake.

pound cake

This was one of those weeks that really makes one appreciate the simple things; the kind of week where at the end of it, my salvation came from the basics – eggs and butter and sugar and flour, a bit of pasta, a bag of onions, and a few frozen sausages. The week started with some debit card fraud that cost me most of what was in my bank account, and an unavoidable trip to the local mechanic that threatened to eat up the rest.

It is also December, as you might have noticed – on top of everything, I’ve got places to go and potlucks to participate in and when you’ve got a cookbook pending, it is poor form to show up at these things with a two-liter bottle of store-brand pop and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. If you’re not going to bother washing your hair or dressing like an adult, you should at least show up with a salad, I guess.

But I haven’t been to a grocery store all week, which is silly because there’s one half a block away and I’ve managed to hit up the liquor store in the same vicinity twice. I am a caricature of a woman unraveling. Imagine a lot of leggings and cat hair.

December is reason enough to unravel and as a good a time as any. ‘Tis the season for demands on top of demands and far more debits than credits. And it’s so easy to fall into an exasperated funk and find yourself yelling at everyone; this is not what the season is all about, I’m told. I know it’s hard advice to take sometimes, but we need to go easy on ourselves. Take breaks. Take shortcuts. Make pound cake.

Pound cake will solve a great many of your December problems. It’s cheap – at its most basic it is literally just butter, sugar, flour and eggs – and it benefits from sitting around a while, so it’s best to make it a day ahead. It’s cake, so people will think that you tried. It’s cake, so everyone will like it.

This is grandma-level stuff right here, the kind of thing that will stand the test of time. A glazed pound cake recipe in your back pocket will get you through all kinds of things, and up to 98 per cent of what December can throw at you.

This is not one of those Bundt-pan pound cakes; make this in a loaf pan. Make it the night before you want to serve it, and then plop it out onto a plate or into a container and take it wherever you need to go. This is not fancy. Let someone else handle fancy – your job is to get through the holidays, deliciously.

Coconut caramel pound cake

Cake:

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Sauce:

  • 1 14-oz. (398 mL) can coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan, then line it with parchment paper so that the paper peeks over the sides by a couple of inches.

Using either a stand mixer or an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy and pale. Pause occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the eggs one at a time while continuing to beat the mixture. Once you’ve added your last egg, add the vanilla and salt, and continue to beat until thoroughly mixed.

Using a spatula, fold the flour into the butter-sugar-egg mixture, a third of a cup at a time until just moistened. Pour the batter into your loaf pan, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Meanwhile, simmer coconut milk over medium heat with brown sugar until the mixture reduces by half. Add the vanilla and the salt, and set aside.

Using a toothpick, poke many holes into the top of the still-hot cake. Pour the coconut milk mixture over top, and let sit until cool. Cover, and let rest at room temperature for at least eight (up to 24) hours before serving.

To serve, reheat in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes. Invert onto a plate, peel away the parchment, and cut into slices. Serve as is, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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Spaghetti squash muffins.

spaghetti squash muffins

I make a lot of muffins.

Not on purpose, really; I have a picky eater and more produce than I know what to do with and I’ve got to get something that grows into him somehow and he’ll eat baked goods. All the baked goods. So, over the past year or so, I have honed my muffin-making prowess to the point where I believe I could now fill a book with deceptively healthy muffin recipes. When did I get so dull?

If it makes me seem any cooler, I am currently drinking a vodka and soda out of a topless sippy cup because we have a ran-out-of-clean-dishes situation.

Vodka. Topless. There you go, there’s some good stuff, right?

And we have reached that part of the year where all my good intentions in June have manifested in abundance come late-September, and now we’re into October and I have to do something with all the squash. “Good intentions” might be the wrong way to put it – I was a little more delusional than well-intended, I think, because while I love spaghetti squash, I don’t love having to eat a dozen of them all at once, but I never think about that when I’m enthusiastically thumbing seeds into the ground. So, between what grew in the garden and what I couldn’t resist at the farmer’s market, I am forced to get creative.

One does not simply feed a picky eater stringy bits of yellow squash. No.

Fortunately, I’m acing muffins these days and you can put spaghetti squash in muffins. You can. And it’s pretty good.

This recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of cooked spaghetti squash; most of the time, that’s one whole spaghetti squash. If you’re a little short, just add a bit of applesauce to make up the difference.

Spaghetti squash muffins

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats (not instant or quick-cooking)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. flax seed
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked and drained spaghetti squash
  • 1 cup grapeseed or other neutral-tasting oil
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla or maple extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Cook your spaghetti squash. There are a bunch of ways you can do this – I usually just throw the whole thing into a 400-degree oven and let it go until it’s soft, but that’s not terribly helpful. You can also microwave it, which is faster. Check this list out, and cook it however you like; just be sure to discard the seeds and scrape the flesh into a colander in the sink to drain it; drain for about 15 minutes, after which the squash should be cool enough to work with.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. If you have two muffin pans, you are very lucky – grease them both, or line the little cups with whatever kind of liner you like. I’m cheap, so one muffin pan plus grease it is.

In a large bowl, combine your flours, oats, sugars, flax, baking soda, spices, and salt. Mix well.

In another bowl, mix squash, oil, eggs, and extract. Fold into your dry ingredients until they are just moistened; add your walnuts and fold again.

Spoon your batter into muffin tins until each muffin cup is about three-quarters full. You should get between 21 and 24 muffins.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Whoever you’re deceiving with these will never notice that these are kind of good for them, I promise.

Picky.

Toddler muffins.

Never eats.

I read the books about French babies and how they eat everything, and I assumed that mine would be an enthusiastic omnivore – how could he not be?! And in the beginning, he was – he ate his purees, grains and yogurts happily, lapping up anything I put in front of him and smacking his lips with great delight. Around the time we began to introduce textures, though, something went horribly awry.

The kid doesn’t eat.

Well, he doesn’t eat much, I should say. He’ll eat oatmeal, and applesauce, and yogurt, and peanut butter toast, and all the crackers. He likes cookies, and will eat just about anything I blend into a mush, except for purple things. He likes watermelon in slices, but won’t eat a sliced strawberry. Blueberries and grapes are untouchable, potatoes and pasta an insult. He was handed a hot dog at a birthday party and abhorred it. He tasted a bite of hummus off a cracker at Costco and burst into tears.

Needless to say, he is not an adventurous eater, though he did taste a snow pea the other day and took two bites before throwing it on the ground, which I think was progress. One day he might eat a green bean! One can hope. I keep handing him things, and putting food in front of him, which is about the best I can do, right? I don’t know.

His daycare requires us to send him meals, and I am told that he eats brilliantly when he’s there, so I send him nutrient-dense soups and things to make up for what he doesn’t eat at home. For breakfast, I send him muffins.

He gets all kinds – I made some pink ones for him last week that used up a pound of strawberries and the rest of my rolled oats. He’s had peach muffins, and subtly cheesy corn muffins, and gluten-free coconut flour muffins for something a little different; he likes a meal he can cart around, and a handful of carbs meets his almost all of his needs. My peanut butter-banana-chocolate muffins though, those are his favourite. And even though they aren’t a seasonal thing – I make them whenever the bananas at the little natural foods store on the corner are brown and sad-looking (and cheap).

Gross bananas.

I finally got a photo of him eating one today (after posting on Facebook that I figured it would be impossible). So here’s the recipe. I like to think these are reasonably healthy.

Any of the weird ingredients can be subbed for stuff you have; I bought a lifetime supply of coconut sugar when Nick was diagnosed with diabetes because it’s a low-GI sweetener, even though it later turned out that all sugar acts like refined white sugar in the blood for a diabetic no matter how pure my intentions. You can use brown sugar. Any other oil will work fine in place of the grapeseed. You can omit the ground flax if you don’t have it, but I find that by using entirely whole wheat flour in these, the recipe benefits from the bit of leavening the flax provides; if don’t have flax and like a lighter muffin, use half whole-wheat and half white all-purpose flour.

Toddler_MuffinToddler muffins (or: Peanut butter banana muffins)

Makes 12.

  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 or 3 ripe – brown – bananas (if you have smaller bananas, use 3; if you only have those giant monster ones that are like a foot long, two will suffice), mashed
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (chunky or smooth, whatever you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 3 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed

Preheat your oven to 375°F. Grease a muffin tin, or fill the tin with 12 paper liners. I am cheap, so I just grease.

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

In another larger bowl, mix bananas, peanut butter, coconut sugar, cocoa powder, egg, and oil until thoroughly combined. Stir in chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, and flaxseed – mix well.

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.

Spoon into your prepared muffin tin. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of one of the middle ones comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for five minutes before turning the muffins out onto a wire rack to cool. If you are going to freeze these for daycare, let them cool all the way before putting them into a large freezer bag. If you like bananas and are just going to eat these yourself, go nuts.

Peanut butter chocolate banana muffins

Here are the B-sides – a handful of this morning’s attempts to catch the toddler in action.

Guest post: Taslim Jaffer’s Extreme Chocolate Cake

It’s just about time for the holidays – Hanukkah starts this weekend! – and while we’ve moved in and are just about finished with living out of boxes and garbage bags, we’re not fully settled yet. With moving and work and not having done anything festive yet, I’m just not feeling the seasonal buzz  … so to remedy this, and to add a little sweetness to this now-neglected part of the web, I’ve invited another local blogger to share a treat she makes for her family during the Christmas season – her name is Taslim, and she blogs about inspiration and creativity at Let ME Out!! Releasing Your Creative Self. We met at an event for Vancouver mom bloggers this past spring, and I was impressed by her enthusiasm. I don’t think she even owns crankypants! I guess I wouldn’t either if there was more cake in my life.

***

The Cake That Makes Me Look Like the Goddess of Baking

Another Christmas potluck – possibly the fourth of the season, thus far. While digging through my wardrobe, trying to find the most elastic waist on a pair of pants, a skirt, a dress (anything really, at this point) I thank my lucky stars that finding a recipe to please a crowd is infinitely easier than this. One year, I will find a dress that’s as rich as the ganache on my Extreme Chocolate Cake. One year, I will find a skirt that slips on as easily as this cake slips out of a bundt pan.

IMG_5532

But this year, the ooohs and aaaahs as I enter a party will all be for the gorgeous hunk of chocolate I carry in my hands. And rightly so. I slaved over it for hours and needed to call in a cleaning crew to help with the aftermath…

NOT!

IMG_5547

Here’s my easy-peasy, make-em-think-you’re-a-goddess recipe.

Extreme Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 box of dark chocolate cake mix (515g) – I usually use Devil’s Food
  • 1 package of instant chocolate pudding (4 serving size)
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup cooking oil
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 ½ cup chocolate chips (I don’t usually add these. Seriously, not needed, though you may beg to differ!)

For the ganache (glaze):

  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 4 squares of bittersweet chocolate (1 oz or 28 g each)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 12-cup bundt pan.

Beat together all the ingredients except the chocolate chips in a large bowl on low for 2 minutes, scraping down sides twice or three times. Beat on medium for about 2 minutes until smooth.

IMG_5537

Stir in the chocolate chips. Turn into prepared pan. Spread evenly.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (although if you use the chocolate chips, you will end up with chocolate on the toothpick). Let stand in pan on cooling rack for 20 minutes before turning over on to a plate to cool completely.

To make the ganache, heat whipping cream in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until it just comes to a boil. Remove from heat.

Add chocolate. Stir slowly until the chocolate has melted completely. Let sit – after a few minutes it will be a little thicker, but still pourable.

Slowly pour over the top of the cake, allowing some to run partially down sides. Let set before cutting. Serves 16 very happy people, or 1 lucky husband and 2 ecstatic kids. (Maybe I had a couple slices, too!)

IMG_5548

About the author

Taslim Jaffer

Taslim Jaffer is the voice behind the inspirational blog Let ME Out!! Releasing Your Creative Self and author of the Let ME Out!! workbook series. She also shares her motivational stories in the Heartmind Wisdom Collection anthologies.  Recently, Taslim combined her two loves of art and social change in her new line of inspirational, pay-it-forward type cards called Make-A-Wave cards.  She is happiest at home in her wool socks and sweats with her husband and two beautiful children where she writes and raises funds for the literary arts. You can also find her on stage sharing life-gained wisdom and joy. Connect with Taslim on Facebook and Twitter.

A recipe for apple cake.

My mom sent me home with big bag of apples last Sunday, and though I eat a lot of fruit and put apples in Nick’s lunch bag each morning this week, I still have quite a few left over. I also had the last of a bag of oatmeal in my cupboard, and a few handfuls of pecans left in my freezer. I have currants, and they’re drying out. And Nick’s dad called to ask if he could come see the little pork chop this afternoon, as it’d been awhile and he was headed out of town so it would be a while longer before we’d see Nick’s parents again. Last night some friends came over for fried chicken, and this morning my apartment smelled like fried grease and dirty dishes.

The situation was ripe for cake-baking, and oh, I thought I was clever. I would whip up a quick cake batter, toss in a couple of those apples and nuts and maybe the currants, and maybe throw an oaty, streusely topping on the whole thing so when Nick’s dad arrived at least there would be something to go with a cup of tea, and maybe it would seem like Nick and I have our shit together a little more than we actually do. I shoved most of the dishes into the sink and covered them with soapy water and got to baking.

And then I pulled my well-worn copy of Fannie Farmer off the bookshelf to check one little thing, and the book flipped open to a spot I use quite a bit, to a recipe for an apple cake with raisins and walnuts, one so close to what I was doing that I am certain I didn’t invent it after all. I make the sour cream spice cake on page 344 quite often, and there was the apple cake, just the other side of the page on 343 where it’s been all this time, where I must have seen it a million times but never thought about it.

In high school, Hunter S. Thompson was my favourite writer. I bought every single one of his books, including an exorbitantly priced used copy of Curse of Lono – illustrated by Ralph Steadman, it cost a little more than I made in four weekends working the cash register at Farmer Ken’s. Every night I would fall asleep watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I replaced my VHS copy three times, and the DVD twice. I own a copy of the not-popular Where the Buffalo Roam, and even if it isn’t brilliant, it’s still important to me.

It was reading Hunter S. Thompson that I began to understand how a literary voice could be distinct, and I poured myself so deeply into his writing that when I typed my own words, they were accented with his. Without practice and spending the time to figure out my own voice, I emulated his (poorly). I became editor of my high school paper as part of my journalism class in Grade 12, and though it started as a respectable publication, I was unjustly handed a C+ at mid-term for my efforts by a teacher who graded on personality. I stopped caring about journalistic integrity and by the end it was my own personal tabloid and rant rag, a tribute to my misunderstanding of Gonzo Journalism. The school’s administration refused to approve publication the last issue due to the amount of questionable content, which I thought meant I was totally badass. In hindsight, I was probably just a jackass.

By the time I finished university, I had fallen under the sway of Kerouac and Vonnegut and Whitman and Ginsberg, as one does, and went through phases of trying to be more like each of them, with predictably little success. The hardest thing about learning to write is learning to write simply and honestly, and to learn to distinguish the difference between being influenced and copying outright.

Like a lot of people, until 2008 I was pretty certain the Internet was for nerds (forgetting how big a nerd I have always been). I didn’t know what blogging was, but it sounded lame. And then I discovered The Bloggess, and I related again to a weird person doing awesome things with words, and it was like I was 17 again – “I can do that!” I thought. And so I started this blog, and again couldn’t help but copy another writer’s tone, her syntax, her delicious use of profanity and run-on sentences and sentence fragments. I am a little embarrassed about the whole first year or so of this site, because I was trying so hard to write in a way that I thought sounded good and that I thought people would like.

I feel like I have grown with this little blog, and now the words you read are written the way I would speak them. If in three years this embarrasses me, I’ll let you know.

Learning to cook is a lot like learning to write. You find recipes that suit you and what you have in the fridge, and you practice them, and eventually you think you have what it takes to ditch recipes and go it alone. And maybe you do. But if you are passionate about something you immerse yourself in the culture of the thing and soon you are using what you’ve learned, applying other people’s ideas and techniques and style to your work.

Every day I learn something new about food by eating in restaurants and watching the Food Network and reading food writing in magazines and books and on blogs. I cook almost every day, and I often write about it, but I would be lying if I said that every dish I’ve ever posted here is a complete original. Maybe there was no recipe in front of me, and maybe I wasn’t even thinking of a specific thing I’d seen or read about or tasted, but the influences are there. I’ve used thousands of recipes, and I don’t know the point at which the ones I’ve memorized and remade hundreds of times and tweaked and recreated become mine. Any recipe I’ve written myself has likely been touched by something I experienced somewhere else, or something I saw but thought I could do better.

Maybe you own a recipe the first time you change the recipe. Maybe a recipe is just a list of ingredients, and the ownership comes with the instructions and the presentation and the story you tell alongside the dish. Recipe ownership has been a topic of discussion on Twitter and at Dianne Jacob’s website (here, here, and here) about this, and I don’t know what’s right. There are only so many recipes for any one thing (for example, lemon bars), and chances are that if you search the ingredients for the thing you invented or that you make all the time without a recipe, Google will produce a match. Cooking is derivative. Writing can be too. And if you knowingly reproduce a recipe on your blog, you have a responsibility to give credit and link back to the original (or to where you can buy the book online) the same way that if you use prose that someone else has written, you would place the text in quotation marks and provide a reference.

Every English teacher I ever had claimed that there are only seven plots. In spite of this, people keep telling stories. So maybe there are no original recipes, and maybe every dish is just a creative re-telling. Maybe all cooks and all artists steal and the magic is not in making it look like you have created something when you haven’t, but in showing the way in which you’ve made something old new.

Anyway, here’s a recipe for apple cake. It’s kind of like this other apple cake I know. If you’ve got the Fannie Farmer Baking Book, it’s on page 343.

Apple Cake

Adapted from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book

Cake

  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. maple extract (no maple? Vanilla’s fine)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 medium firm-fleshed apples (such as Gala, Granny Smith, or Red Delicious), diced to 1/4″
  • 1 cup whole pecans, toasted and roughly chopped (divided)
  • 1/2 cup dried currants

Streusel:

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup butter, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8″x 8″ cake pan.

In a medium bowl, combine butter, sugar, oats, and half of the pecans. Mix with your hands until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating continuously until batter is smooth. Add maple extract.

In yet another bowl, add both types of flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Whisk to combine.

Stir flour mixture into wet ingredients until just moistened. Fold in apples, remaining pecans, and currants.

Pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle oat mixture over top of the batter, and then bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Serve warm, with tea or coffee. You can say you invented it, if you like.

Fudge brownies.

Okay. So I was totally going to take artful photos of these brownies that I made and then share with you some delightful tale of how they came to be. But it didn’t work out. Because these brownies are a visceral experience, and I got carried away.

Ordinarily I don’t care about brownies because the only good brownies are the ones my Dad makes but he hardly ever makes them, so I forget about them most of the time. Last year someone told me to try the vegan brownies at the food co-op across the concourse from my office, and they tasted like the sadness you’d feel if someone told you your baked goods could never have butter in them ever again. I am pretty sure they contained legumes. I am pretty sure they were baked by a raging misanthropist.

There are some things that I cannot be open-minded about. Since then, I haven’t thought much about brownies.

That is, until my parents were going to come over to drop off the baby’s new crib. We were going to have lunch, which I had hoped would make their 90-minute roundtrip with a car full of huge boxes worthwhile. I made butter chicken meatballs, and that New York Times no-knead bread, and the timing of the meal – and this new thing I’m trying where I “clean as I go,” which has reduced the number of times Nick threatens divorce in a day by nearly half – made it so that I didn’t have a lot of time to invest in dessert.

Enter the recipe for these brownies. The recipe comes from The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook, but I noticed a few things wrong with it, so this is an update (I fixed the cooking time, and added frosting which is something all brownies need, no exceptions).

They are a miracle of butter, chocolate, flour, and eggs, in that they almost lack structural integrity. They are chewy. Perfectly moist, even at the edges. They are rich, but the slight sourness of the cream cheese frosting makes them totally snarfable. The recipe makes sixteen; I ate nine all by myself.

You probably have everything you need to make them just sitting in your cupboards or fridge, possibly except for the maple extract, which you can swap for vanilla in a pinch. They do not contain a single legume.

Fudge Brownies

Brownies:

  • 1/2 lb. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 6 tbsp. butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. maple extract
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Frosting:

  • 4 oz. (1/2 package) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup cocoa, sifted
  • 1 tsp. maple extract

Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease an 8″x8″ baking pan, then line it with parchment paper, which has also been lightly greased on both sides.

Using a double boiler, a glass bowl over just-simmering water, or a microwave (three rounds of 30 seconds, stirring each time), gently melt chocolate chips and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth.

Beat the sugar, salt, and maple extract into the melted chocolate, then beat the eggs in one at a time. Add the flour and stir until just moistened; batter should pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Pour batter into your prepared pan, and bake 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out mostly clean; you want a few moist crumbs to cling to the toothpick, not batter.

Let brownies rest in the pan 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before frosting.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, butter, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, and maple extract together until smooth and spreadable. Frost cooled brownies.

Cut into 16 pieces.

 

Canadian Pudding.

Our 2011 was a busy year, and many of its outcomes were unexpected. Nick was diagnosed with late-onset Type 1 diabetes. I found myself pregnant and then had a baby. We needed a bigger apartment, and a  two-bedroom opened up across the hall. Nick and I agreed on paint colours and the apartment got painted and nobody cried. I didn’t gain weight over Christmas. There were surprises at every turn, and we handled them surprisingly well – I’m impressed with us.

How was your year? I hear grumblings every now and then, and read them in blogs and on Facebook, about how 2011 was a hard year for a lot of people. It was a year of change and no money and tumult and bad weather, and the overwhelming sentiment last night and this morning seemed to be “Good grief, it’s finally over.” (We didn’t all go to Paris. We all deserved to, though.)

Maybe 2012 will be easier. My hope is that it’s a year of creativity and learning to do more with less – I hope this for me, and for all of us, because it doesn’t seem like life is going to get cheaper or easier for anyone anytime soon. I want to write more. I want to spend fewer dollars. I have to do both, but it’s becoming woefully apparent that I am unable to do either without serious focus and discipline. I want to find opportunities to write for money, which would solve both of my problems.

I want to fit into a smaller dress size without eating less cheese. I want to expand my repertoire of home-cured meats. I want the baby’s first word to be guanciale. These are lesser goals, perhaps, but smaller challenges make the bigger ones seem less daunting. Lara at Food. Soil. Thread. has a great take on resolution-making, and is in the process of achieving 101 of her own personal goals – I encourage you to check out what she’s doing and find your own inspiration.

And in the meantime, a goal that’s totally doable: eat more bacon. Let me help you with that.

Canadian Pudding

If this seems weird, I promise you that it is but in the most worthwhile way. It’s sweet and salty and maple and bacon and bourbon all play so nicely together, and when I served it to my friend Tracy she said that the bacon was a pleasant surprise, because she didn’t know what the taste was at first, and she liked it. You can scrap the bacon if your guests aren’t daring, I suppose.

(Serves four to six.)

Cake:

  • 2 strips thick-sliced smoked bacon
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tsp. melted butter
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Sauce:

  • 2 tbsp. melted butter
  • 2 tbsp. bourbon
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup hot water

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a pan over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towel, and then chop into bits.

In a 1 1/2 quart casserole or baking dish, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, pecans, bacon bits, and nutmeg. Stir in milk and butter until dry ingredients are just moistened.

In a separate bowl, mix butter, bourbon, maple syrup, and water. Pour over cake mixture. Do not stir.

Bake for one hour. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream.

Happy New Year. I hope 2012 is good to you.