Chai Spiced Hot Cross Bread Pudding w/ Vanilla Sauce

CELEBRATING GOOD FRIDAY!

Bread pudding always gives me reason to remember good things. Truly a comfort food for those of us that recall it from childhood days. It’s not that the dish was invented here — that honor likely goes to clever medieval or even ancient cooks in Europe and the Middle East who had a surplus of stale bread on their hands. The perfect embodiment of the virtues of frugality and indulgence: day old bread, too precious to waste, is bathed in a mixture of milk and eggs and made into either a sweet or savory bread pudding (with a few other additions) and baked into something sublime. What makes it special is the blend of spices mixed into it and the sauce.

The chai spice baking blend, which is sometimes overlooked, adds a distinct warm flavor and depth. It can include a number of different spices. Cardamom is the most common ingredient, followed by some mixture of cinnamon, ginger, star anise and cloves. Pepper, coriander, nutmeg and fennel are also used but they are slightly less common.

This bread pudding combines hot cross buns with spices inspired by the world’s love affair with Indian chai. The origins of hot cross buns may go back as far as the 12th century. According to the story, an Anglican monk baked the buns and marked them with a cross in honor of Good Friday. Over time they gained popularity, and eventually became a symbol of Easter weekend.

Bread pudding, when done right, should have the perfect balance of gooey goodness and chewy texture. That’s why stale bread/buns are important. The bread needs a degree of crunch otherwise you will have ‘mush pudding’. For additional flavor, the pudding is served with a vanilla sauce. Who says bread pudding has to be boring!

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Chai Spiced Hot Cross Bread Pudding w/ Vanilla Sauce
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Bread Pudding
Vanilla Sauce
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Bread Pudding
Vanilla Sauce
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Instructions
Bread Pudding
  1. Place cubed hot cross buns in a greased 9 x 9-inch baking dish.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the milk, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, spices & salt. Pour over buns, making sure that the bread is completely covered by the milk mixture.
  3. Cover & refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
  4. Set out the chilled bread pudding while you preheat the oven to 350 F.
  5. Bake 40 - 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the pudding comes out clean. Remove from oven & serve with vanilla sauce.
Vanilla Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, melt butter & add flour. Stir until mixture has a nutty aroma.
  2. Add salt, cream & sugar; stir until mixture becomes thick. Remove from heat & stir in vanilla.
  3. Spoon over servings of warm bread pudding.
Recipe Notes
  • You will notice I have only used 2 Tbsp sugar in the vanilla sauce to offset the sweetness of the pudding.

Mini Persimmon Cheesecakes

Persimmon fruit is delicious in their natural state, but they also add wonderful moisture and flavor to baked goods. Fall and winter is the season for persimmons, and with persimmons you can make the most wonderful, sweet or savory things.

A good persimmon (at its peak) has a mild taste that has been described ‘honey-like’. Its texture is similar to that of an apricot and its skin is tougher than an apple.

For Fuyu persimmons, make sure they are very ripe. Peel them, chop them, and remove their seeds. Use a food processor to puree the fruit. If you have ripe persimmons but aren’t ready to make use of them yet, you can freeze the pulp for up to six months. Freeze the puree in 8-ounce containers or ice cube trays. You can add frozen persimmon pulp to smoothies right out of the freezer. If you want to bake with it, bring it to room temperature and use it when thawed.

These little minis are a wonderful mouthful of  light and creamy cheesecake made with fresh persimmon puree and warm holiday spices. Take advantage of this wonderful fruit—in season October through February.

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Mini Persimmon Cheesecakes
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Base
Cheesecake
Course dessert
Cuisine American
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Base
Cheesecake
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Instructions
Base
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place inserts into bottom of each of the 12 cavities of a mini cheesecake pan.
  2. In a small bowl combine gingersnap crumbs with melted butter. Divide between the 12 cavities & press down firmly with the back of a spoon.
  3. Bake on middle rack of oven for about 8 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while filling is being prepared.
Cheesecake Filling
  1. Beat the cream cheese in a medium bowl until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar, persimmon puree, sour cream, egg, spices & vanilla. Beat until smooth & well combined.
  2. Divide filling between the 12 cavities in the cheesecake pan.
  3. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 15-20 minutes or until set. Begin checking for doneness after 10 minutes, as oven temperatures vary considerably.
  4. Cool 20 minutes on a wire rack, then using your finger, push up through the hole in the bottom of each cheesecake & remove each one. Remove metal insert & cool completely in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight.
  5. Garnish with fresh persimmon slices & a bit of whip topping or your choice.

Avocado Cheesecakes

CELEBRATING ST. PATRICK’S DAY!

The term ‘green food’ can mean several things. More and more households are ‘going green’ with their menus, buying food from sustainable local sources. People who are ‘eating greener’ include those who grow their own food and compost all their waste to those who simply take a re-useable bag to the supermarket. Most of us are interested in making decisions that are better for the environment.

Others make immediately think ‘green vegetables’. Then of course there are those who , especially at this time of year, may think of the color green and foods with which to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. There is so much you could do with this holiday in terms of food such as rainbows, leprechauns, shamrocks, pot of gold ………

In North America, St. Patrick’s Day is pretty much just a fun day here. We wear green and we eat green. For the most part, its an excuse to party and drink some green beer. Brion & I aren’t into green beer exactly, so here’s our salute to this Irish day … Avocado Cheesecakes.

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Avocado Cheesecakes
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a mini cheesecake pan with paper liners or just use without if the cup bottoms are removable.
  2. In a bowl, combine wafer crumbs & butter until completely moistened. Press crumb mixture into the bottom of each mini cup & set aside.
  3. Beat cream cheese & brown sugar until blended. In a separate bowl, beat eggs. Add remainder of ingredients to the eggs & mix until combined.
  4. Beat egg mixture into cream cheese mixture until well blended. Spoon over crusts, filling to the top of each mini cup.
  5. Bake 15 minutes or until edges are golden & centers are set. Cool completely, then refrigerate for several hours.

Oatmeal Fig ‘Drops’ w/ Variations

For many people, figs are a traditional part of Christmas food. When it comes to the best fruits to add to your recipes, figs are probably the most underrated of the group. Not only are these sweet fruits delicious, they’re also incredibly versatile. Their concentrated sweetness is balanced by a complex spicy flavor that makes dried figs exactly the right ingredient for those holiday desserts. Fresh off the tree, dried, stuffed or baked, the fig is a classic fruit, ancient in fact.

We are fast approaching the Christmas season and if you have a sweet tooth, the holiday season is basically synonymous with one thing: cookies! Chewy or crunchy, chocolaty or nutty, flat, round or twisted … a cookie is a cookie. In the most basic terms, a cookie is a sweet, baked, flour based finger food. But it can come in all shapes, sizes, flavors and textures.

Figs seem to always have a way of catching my attention at this time of year. I recall my mother making filled date cookies at Christmas. She would make them in advance of Christmas, tucking them away in an airtight cookie box. When Christmas holidays rolled around and we could nibble on them, the flavors had marinated and they tasted amazing!

The combination of flavors and textures in these oatmeal fig cookies should create some tasty little morsels along with giving variety without fuss.

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Oatmeal Fig Drops w/ Variations
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Oatmeal Base
Raspberry-Fig Filling
Apricot-Fig Filling
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Oatmeal Base
Raspberry-Fig Filling
Apricot-Fig Filling
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Instructions
Oatmeal Base
  1. In a large bowl, cream together margarine & sugar; beat in sour cream & vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine oatmeal, flour, baking powder & salt; gradually stir into creamed mixture until blended. Cover with plastic wrap & refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or longer.
Raspberry-Fig Filling
  1. In a saucepan, combine figs, raspberries, water, apple juice & sugar; bring to a boil. Once mixture reaches a boil, reduce heat to low & simmer until figs are soft, stirring often.
  2. When figs are soft, the water/apple juice mixture will have cooked off & will be thick & sticky. Remove from heat, place in a bowl & cool to room temperature. If you wish, you can process in a blender to make a smooth paste/filling.
Date Fig Filling
  1. Snip off stem ends of figs & put the figs, dates & almonds into a food processor. Grind to a coarse paste. Stir in remaining date filling ingredients & process until mixed. Set aside.
Apricot Fig Filling
  1. Snip off stem ends of figs & put the figs & apricots into a food processor. Grind to a coarse paste. Stir in remaining apricot filling ingredients & process until mixed. Set aside.
Assembly & Baking
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray OR line with paper baking cups, 3 (12 cup capacity) MINI muffin pans.
  2. Remove oatmeal base from refrigerator & divide in thirds. Place one tiny scoop of oatmeal batter in each cup. Create an indentation in the center of each one.
  3. Place a dollop of filling in the center of each indentation, making 12 from each kind of filling. Place another tiny scoop on top of each cookie 'drop' & flatten with a fork.
  4. Bake cookie drops for about 15 minutes or just until they test done with a toothpick inserted.
  5. Place on a wire rack to cool. When cooled you can leave plain or dress up with a bit of icing drizzle if you wish.

Crispy Apricot Date Balls

These fruit and cereal balls are an old fashioned, unique idea originally called ‘skillet cookies’. The initial mixture is made on the stovetop before its cooled slightly and rolled into mini-spheres. They’re especially appealing during the winter holidays because they don’t need to be baked. That valuable space in the oven can be used for other types of holiday baking.

The cookies get a crunch from the crispy rice cereal and pepita seeds, while the apricots and dates add an amazing sweet spicy flavor.

It seems the skillet cookie nowadays, refers to a a giant, soft and chewy cookie, baked in a cast iron pan, cut into wedges and served warm with ice cream on top. Now I have to admit, it does sound pretty good but if you are just wanting a great little addition to a casual dessert tray in the upcoming holiday season the ‘vintage’ version is quick and easy.

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Crispy Apricot Date Balls
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Course dessert
Cuisine American
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BALLS
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Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, whisk eggs & brown sugar together thoroughly.
  2. In a heavy skillet, over low heat, melt butter. Remove from heat & stir in egg mixture along with dates & apricots. Set back over low heat & cook, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes or until mixture pulls away from sides of skillet. Do NOT overcook. Remove from heat & stir in vanilla, spices & salt.
  3. Place rice cereal in a large bowl; pour fruit mixture over cereal & blend well. Cool to lukewarm.
  4. Chop pepita seeds finely & place in a shallow dish. Butter your hands lightly & shape mixture into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in pepita seeds to coat. Store in refrigerator.

Chicken Katsu w/ Saskatoon Chutney

Chicken Katsu is simply a Japanese version of chicken cutlets. While it is great to enjoy a good dish, its worth knowing where the idea originated.

Katsu was first created in the late 1800’s by a restaurant in Tokyo that wanted to offer a European style meat cutlet. Now, katsu can be found everywhere from convenience store takeaway bento boxes to Western style Japanese food restaurants. The name ‘katsu’ comes from the English word ‘cutlet’. It is typically made from either chicken breasts or thighs coated in panko breadcrumbs.

Frying or baking chicken cutlets is simple, but its like cooking pasta, when you get it right, it changes everything. Breading helps to seal in moisture during the cooking time. Its a basic process that’s used for making everything from chicken to onion rings. Japanese panko crumbs are lighter and crispier, the secret to ultra-crunchiness which yields to the kind of crust that you can actually hear when you bite into it.

Since its ‘Saskatoon Berry‘ time here on the prairies, I wanted to make some saskatoon chutney to have with these crispy cutlets.

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Chicken Katsu w/ Saskatoon Chutney
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Instructions
Saskatoon Chutney
  1. Combine all chutney ingredients in a large saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently, cook until mixture is the consistency of runny jam, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat & cool completely.
Chicken Cutlets
  1. Place chicken breasts between plastic wrap & carefully pound to 1/4-inch thickness. Season with salt & pepper. Coat with flour then dip in beaten eggs & lastly coat with Panko crumbs. Cover with plastic wrap & place in fridge for 15 minutes to chill before cooking.
  2. In a large skillet, over medium heat, melt butter & add oil. Place cutlets in a single layer in skillet & fry on both sides. When no longer pink inside & golden on the outside remove from skillet & blot on paper towel.
  3. Serve immediately with Saskatoon Chutney.
Recipe Notes
  • The standard breading technique includes three steps: dredging in flour, moistening in egg wash, then coating in crispy panko crumbs. The flour helps the egg wash adhere & the egg helps the breadcrumbs adhere. 
  • Once you have all the food coated, you will want to place it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. This will ensure the breading actually sticks to the food instead of falling off in the hot oil.
  • If baking, put breaded food on a rack set over a baking sheet, drizzle with a little oil & place in the oven. Bake until golden brown & cooked through.

Cardamom Lime Easter ‘Bunnies’

Although we may change the way we celebrate Easter this year, we can still enjoy some great food. One of the special things about any holiday is the brunch that seems to come with it and Easter is no different. The word itself sounds like coziness.

The practice of creating special breads to celebrate holidays, harvests, religious rites and other occasions worldwide, dates back thousands of years. In some cases, breads aren’t symbolic as much as traditional, baked as a reminder of family, togetherness and celebration. They often contain warm spices like cinnamon or cardamom. Some have a touch of liqueur added to them while others are created in special shapes or have little surprises baked in them.

Cardamom may not get the acclaim of cinnamon, nor does it pop up in recipes as often as ginger, but its flavor pairing capabilities are extensive. This is a flavor that you may love or hate, but for me it is very addictive. Warm, subtly spicy, exotically aromatic, a flavor that transforms both sweet and savory recipes into heavenly dishes.

With some simple snipping and shaping, this cardamom sweet dough turns into adorable bunnies for Easter brunch. Edible table décor!

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Cardamom Lime Easter 'Bunnies'
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Instructions
Sweet Dough
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together yeast , 1 tsp sugar & lukewarm milk. Set aside until yeast mixture begins to form a frothy foam, about 5 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, remaining sugar & salt. Add yeast mixture, melted butter & egg. Knead until dough comes together in a ball & no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Transfer dough to a greased bowl & cover with a tea towel. Set aside in a draft free place until dough doubles in size, about an 1 hour.
Filling
  1. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, lime zest, cardamom & butter. Mix well. Set aside.
Glaze
  1. In a small bowl, beat together cream cheese, butter & lime juice. Add powdered sugar & mix until glaze consistency. Set aside until buns are baked.
Assemble & Bake
  1. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide in half; roll each half into a rectangle about 12x10-inches. Sprinkle filling evenly over one of the rectangles. Place the second sheet of pastry on top. Lay a piece of plastic wrap over the pastry & lightly roll with a rolling pin.
  2. With a pizza cutter cut 14 strips. You will use 12 of the strips for 'bunnies' & 2 strips for their tails. To form bunnies, overlap one end of strip over the other to form a loop; bring the end that's underneath up over the top end, letting one end extend on each side to make ears.
  3. Place the shaped 'bunnies' on a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving about 2-3-inches between them as they will expand a bit. Cut each of the remaining strips into 6 equal pieces. Roll each into a ball & place it in the loop to form the tail. Loosely cover the 'bunnies' & let them rise for about 15 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush bunnies with egg wash & bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven & allow to cool slightly on a cooling rack.
  5. While still slightly warm, brush bunnies with glaze. Sprinkle with lime zest & top tails with whites candies.
Recipe Notes
  • If you prefer your bunnies to be a bit more plump, instead of making 12, just make 8 or 10.

Oatmeal Mincemeat Cookies

I confess to being a bit ‘old school’ when it comes to mincemeat. When I was a kid, it was always closely related to Christmas baking. Generations past made it with beef suet, but the only kind I’ve ever known is the ‘all-fruit variety’.

I realize its simple to make but there are so many fantastic mincemeats you can purchase ready made that are just as good if not better than homemade.

My favorite, is one I have used for years, PC Suet-Free 5 Minced Fruits Mincemeat. It contains apples, raisins, currants, orange & lemon peel, rum, brandy and molasses as well as a number of different spices. I like to add a bit more apple, nuts and lemon juice to it for my own personal taste.

Mincemeat is very versatile so there’s no need to limit your repertoire to tarts or pie. Swap the traditional date filling with mincemeat in any date square or use it in Christmas cake. It makes the prep work far easier and has similar flavors and a finer, cakier texture. Of course there are always muffins, cookies or an apple-cranberry mincemeat crumble.

I know that mincemeat is not for everyone but the combination of oatmeal and mincemeat makes these ‘retro’ cookies pretty tasty.

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Oatmeal Mincemeat Cookies
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Cookies
Filling
Servings
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Cookies
Filling
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Instructions
Cookies
  1. In a bowl, cream butter & sugars; add egg & rum extract.
  2. In another bowl, combine oatmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda & cinnamon.
  3. Add flour mixture to butter mixture & combine well. Place cookie dough in refrigerator to chill, (about 30 minutes) while you prepare the filling.
Filling
  1. Peel & chop apples. Chop nuts. Spoon jar of mincemeat into a bowl & combine with apples, nuts & lemon juice.
Assembly & Baking
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll chilled cookie dough into generous 1-inch size balls. Place on cookie sheets making sure to give them some room to spread a bit. Press your thumb down in the center making a dent big enough to hold a generous teaspoon of filling. Divide filling between cookies.
  3. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to rest on cookie sheet for 5 minutes then move to a wire rack to cool completely.

Crispy Seed & Fruit Oat Diamonds

Faster to make than cookies, easier to transport than a cake and equally as delicious as both, what’s not to love about dessert squares (or in this case ‘diamonds’).

The classic rice krispie treats recipe found on the back of the cereal box call for very few ingredients. While we will forever appreciate the simplicity of the sweet treat in its unaltered form, its hard not to experiment with a few new ideas.

There’s a good reason why oatmeal cookies are the poster child for rolled oats. Oatmeal can enhance a whole range of dough and/or batters from pancakes to bread & muffins, etc.

The idea of putting oatmeal, rice krispies, pumpkin seeds & candied fruit peel all in one dessert bar is the ultimate rice krispie treat in my opinion.

You can choose to cut them in whatever shape you wish depending on the the baking pan you use. I wanted to bake these in a 9 x 13 pan and cut them into diamonds for this blog recipe. I had previously made the same recipe in a drop cookie form. Same great taste, just a different shape.

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Crispy Seed & Fruit Oat Diamonds
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DIAMONDS
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Batter
Lemon Glaze
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DIAMONDS
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Batter
Lemon Glaze
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease or line (w/parchment paper) baking pan of choice & set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda & oatmeal.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together butter & sugars until light & fluffy. Mix in vanilla & eggs until well incorporated. Add flour mixture & mix until completely combined.
  4. Stir in seeds, fruit & rice krispies with a spatula.
  5. Press batter into prepared baking pan. Bake 20 minutes, until LIGHTLY golden on the edges. These bars are best if slightly under-baked. They may look shiny & under-baked, but will darken & set up as they cool.
  6. Cool completely then cut into desired size & shape (squares, diamonds or bars). Drizzle with lemon glaze & remove diamonds from pan.
Recipe Notes
  • If you are not a fan of pumpkin seeds or candied fruit peel, just substitute them with your own favorites.

Mini Harvest Galettes

Its like a mix between carrot cake and apple pie. Vegetables and fruit in a pie …. this recipe never fails to be fantastic even if you don’t like zucchini.

The oral history of pie predates its written record. Many cooks stand by family secrets scrawled on stained index cards. It seems, pie is eaten for breakfast, with lunch and for dessert after dinner. In many ways, pie is more prized because it takes time and effort, a slice carries more importance than a cookie, but is less fussy than cake.

The perfect pie (or galette), is built on two things …. a well made crust with a flaky texture and golden color and a fresh, well set, flavorful filling.

The combination of carrots, apple and zucchini is something special. The carrots and zucchini are really interchangeable, so if you’d like to use more of one than the other, no problem.

When baked, zucchini has a similar texture to an apple; it gets soft but retains some texture. Add the same warm, fragrant spices as in an apple pie, lemon juice, a bit of extra sugar to compensate and you got it!

This recipe has been one of my fall favorites for many years and we still enjoy its wonderful flavor.

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Spicy Harvest Galette
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Instructions
  1. Prepare pastry & either use 6 mini flan pans or one 9"deep pie pan. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine apples, zucchini, carrots, nuts & flour; toss to coat.
  3. In a medium bowl, cream together brown sugar & butter; add cinnamon, cardamom, salt, lemon juice, vanilla, orange zest & 2 eggs. Blend well. Add apple mixture & combine well.
  4. Roll out pastry larger than your pans. Line pans leaving the jagged edge to fold over filling. Make a few pastry designs for the tops if you wish. Spoon filling into a pastry lined, mini pans. Flip rough edges over filling. Top with pastry in a fall leaf pattern. In a small dish, blend egg wash & brush over crust.
  5. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until deep golden brown. If necessary, cover pies loosely with foil during last 15 minutes of baking to prevent excessive browning.
  6. Serve warm with whipped cream. Store any 'leftovers' in refrigerator.
Recipe Notes
  • I laid the grated zucchini on paper towel  & placed the grated apple in a strainer while I prepared the rest of the ingredients. In both cases, I did NOT hand squeeze them as you still need some of that moisture to prevent having a dry filling when baked.