Butter Tart Squares

Butter Tarts (Canadian Living, photography by Edward Pond)

So the request from Zoe was followed by a suggestion from my Mom to post the Butter Tart Squares recipe that was featured in the same Canadian Living magazine as the Lemon Squares recipe. Although I feel a little like I am giving away all of my secrets, here it is.  I suppose I can’t claim exclusive rights to something that was published in a national magazine over twenty years ago… (I actually found the original recipe here and discovered that my Mom, genius that she is, has actually doubled the recipe so that you bake it in a 9×13 pan instead of a 9×9 pan.  Good move, Mom, good move.)

Butter Tart Squares

This recipe follows the same pattern as the Lemon Squares recipe – shortbread base with a topping.  So here goes. Blend the following ingredients using either a mixer or a dough blender.

2 cups flour
1 cup margarine
1/2 cup sugar

Press the crumbs into a 9×13 ungreased pan (glass is best) and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.  While that is baking, mix together the following ingredients.  Just use the same bowl you used for the shortbread base – don’t worry about cleaning it out.

2 cups brown sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
4 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 pinches salt
2 cups raisins
1 cup chopped nuts (I use walnuts, but pecans would be good too)

When the shortbread is done pull it out of the oven and pour the topping on the shortbread.  Bake at 350 degrees (same temperature as the shortbread, so it is nice and simple) for 25 minutes or until it is nearly set.  Just like for the lemon squares, the way that I test the doneness (not even a word, but whatever) is gently life up one end of the pan.  If the middle barely moves, it is done.  If the middle shifts significantly, put it in for another few minutes.

The best part of this recipe is that you get all the deliciousness of butter tarts without having to bother with individual tart cups.  I’m all about efficient baking, and squares certainly fit that description!


Lemon Squares

English: Shortbread lemon squares. Italiano: S...

This post is for my friend, Zoe, who requested my lemon square recipe.  I got this from my Mom who got it from Canadian Living or something (Mom, feel free to clarify the origins of the recipe).  They are extremely good.

Lemon Shortbread Squares

Blend the following ingredients using either a mixer or a dough blender.

2 cups flour
1 cup margarine
1/2 cup sugar

Press the crumbs into a 9×13 ungreased pan (glass is best) and bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes.  While that is baking, mix together the following ingredients.  Just use the same bowl you used for the shortbread base – don’t worry about cleaning it out.

2 cups sugar
4 eggs
4 teaspoons grated lemon peel (approx 2 lemons worth)
6 Tablespoons lemon juice (just squeeze out the lemons and supplement with bottled lemon juice)
4 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (NOT soda, I made that mistake once)
1/2 teaspoon salt

When the shortbread is done pull it out of the oven and pour the topping on the shortbread.  Bake at 325 degrees (same temperature as the shortbread, so it is nice and simple) for 25 minutes or until it is nearly set.  The way that I test the doneness (not even a word, but whatever) is gently life up one end of the pan.  If the middle barely moves, it is done.  If the middle shifts significantly, put it in for another few minutes.  Although I will say that underdone lemon squares are better than overdone lemon squares.  I also know this from experience.

Happy lemon-squaring!

Killing the Candida

First of all, did you know that Candida has its own theme song? Oh yes it does!

I was going to post the live version, but there is some extraordinarily annoying clapping during Tony Orlando’s live performance.

Subjecting you to Tony Orlando is my way of announcing that my candida levels have dropped from a “10” in November to a “0” in February! Ha ha!! Which means that my “no-go” food list has shrunk to this:


I went to the a Valentines Pro-Life Dinner and Dance and I was able to have about three-quarters of the food in the buffet line. For the first time in three months I tried pickles (and more pickles), Cesar salad, and parmesan (ok, I cheated a little bit with the dairy). For the most part, I felt great, and when I could feel my head starting to get a little fuzzy, I just stopped ingesting the culprit, namely the Thai vegetable salad. But I had chocolate for dessert, and it was divine!!!

I thought I would write about this today because I have been spending the afternoon meal planning. Now that I can eat a wider variety of food, I thought I would take the time to crack open our cookbook collection to see whether I could vary our diet a little bit.

When cooking for my small family, I need recipes that are healthy, quick, and easy. No big deal, right? I can adjust recipes to use wheat and dairy alternatives (or just add the dairy after at the table), but I have discovered that a disproportionate amount of healthy, quick, easy dinner recipes contain tomatoes. They are everywhere. I know that you can substitute zucchini for tomatoes, but I think that only works for small amounts. I can’t imagine making the zucchini switch for a 28 oz can of tomatoes with juice. It just doesn’t translate. After looking through two cookbooks (one vegetarian and the other was just soups and stews) I was left with a total of four recipes that my children would eat and did not contain tomatoes. But hey, that’s four recipes that I couldn’t eat two weeks ago, so things are still looking up. And I’m sure my family will appreciate the variation in our dinners.

Nevertheless, if you have any healthy, quick, and easy recipes that are free from dairy, wheat, beef, pork, and tomatoes, would you mind passing them my way?

Update: I’m still having issues with onions and celery. I think the celery may be the main culprit, at least I’m hoping it is the celery… So the Dutch Farmer’s Soup I made for dinner two nights ago knocked me out. Oh well, at least the kids liked it. We have used it as a veggie side dish and that has been quite successful.

Tale of Two Cakes

I miss chocolate. After I finish this post I plan on ignoring the dietary recommendations from my naturopath and eating a chocolate brownie before bed. In the meantime I have two stories for you that involve chocolate. We will begin with the sad story.

During my last visit to the naturopath I finally got the go-ahead to try carob. My cravings for sweets have been manageable (once you identify what is making you feel like a zombie it is actually pretty easy to avoid it), but I was longing for a little variety in the dessert department.

After careful consideration, I decided that I would try a carob cake made with almond flour. Darren has been making fresh almond milk for me (SOOOOOO much better than the store-bought stuff, and usually cheaper) which means that every week we have a bunch of almond meal that just gets chucked. I figured that if I could salvage the almond meal and use the carob I would be killing two birds with one stone. Sweet treat for me and using all the buffalo…almond. I found a recipe to adapt and got to work.

I’m not going to walk you through the carob almond cake because it was ultimately a failure, and in more ways than one. It had a very promising start. Carob tastes like a close cousin of coffee and chocolate, different but not unpleasant. The batter was good, but things took a turn for the worse when the cake fell apart as I removed it from the cake pan, despite having lined the pan with parchment paper. Then I tried a piece and within half an hour I had staggered upstairs and conked out on the bed. It tasted alright, but not good enough to become a voluntary narcoleptic.

So that was rather sad. I haven’t tried carob again, although I probably should because I have a sneaking suspicion that it may have been the stevia rather than the carob that knocked me out.

And now the happy story. In some ways, this story is the inverse of the carob tale. As you may know, I really enjoy making from-scratch birthday cakes for my kids (or other relatives). Ben’s birthday was in the beginning of December, and I knew that I wanted to do something special. He is really into Lego, specifically StarWars Lego, and so after learning that he wanted a chocolate cake with vanilla icing, I decided to try a Death Star Cake.

The Death Star in A New Hope

This required a round cake, so I decided to go for a chocolate layer cake. My “go-to” chocolate cake recipe is from Betty Crocker – a real cake, not a cake mix. I like it because it uses cocoa instead of melted chocolate squares (WAY less work) and it comes together very quickly. In fact, it looks an awful lot like a boxed cake mix when you put it together, but you use all fresh ingredients and there are no preservatives. I can’t find the recipe online right now, so let me know if you want me to add it here and I will. (I’ve had a couple of requests for the recipe, so I’ve added it at the bottom of the post).

Now, in the carob cake story I made reference to lining the pans with parchment paper. When I was prepping the pans for Ben’s cake I thought, “These are non-stick pans, they should be fine. Not a problem. I’ll just skip the parchment paper.” This was a mistake. The cake batter came together nicely, the cake baked just fine, but when it came to getting the cake out of the pans, I was in big trouble. I think one of the cakes may have just about split in half, and there was definitely a coating of chocolate cake left on the bottom of the pan after I finally pried the cake out.

Incidentally, when everything is going wrong did you ever get the feeling that you were destined to make this horrific mistake and all you could do was to continue doing whatever you are doing as quickly as possible just to get it over with? That is how I felt when I was removing the cakes from the pan. Doomed to crappy cake.

Once the cake crumbs had settled, I realized that this cake would require some heavy-duty help if it was going to make it to the birthday party in one piece. Enter Chocolate Fudge Superglue. The whole recipe is probably pretty good, but it is the “whipped fudge filling” that you want to focus on. Just three ingredients: chocolate, whipping cream, and corn syrup. To say it is delicious is an understatement, but the most important element for me was that it provided a solid, stable centre for my sad almost-disintegrated chocolate cake.

I was glad that Ben wanted vanilla icing because with all that rich chocolate, chocolate icing would probably be overkill. I find that chocolate works well when it has something to bring out its flavour, something for contrast. (I also love chocolate just on its own, but always dark chocolate. Milk chocolate is too sticky and you get a sugar kick instead of a serotonin kick. But I digress.)

I checked my recipe box and surfed the web and decided to try a new buttercream recipe. This icing has a higher proportion of butter than I am used to. My regular icing recipe has more sugar, and I was always a bit disappointed when I lost the delicate butter flavour in order to maintain the proper consistency. This buttercream does not disappoint – light, sweet, and buttery, I think I have been converted!

I cemented the cake bits together with the fudge filling, put on a crumb coat and let it set up in the fridge for a bit, then iced the cake. The buttercream had a lovely texture and I was able to smooth it to perfection.

Then came the decorations. I was going to use the same sprinkle/shading technique that I used for the Mario Cake. Unfortunately, as the day grew closer, I realized that I really was running out of time, and the mental gymnastics were just a bit much for me. I swallowed my pride and went with the classic: chocolate chips and Lego figures.


Here is the cake, alight for the birthday boy.


And how did it taste? Unbelievably delicious. Vanilla buttercream, rich, moist chocolate cake, fudgey filling, almost like a truffle. This stuff was worth the subsequent narcolepsy, which actually wasn’t nearly so bad as I had expected.


Will I be making this again? You bet. But Benno’s not getting the next one. I am.


Betty Crocker Chocolate Cake

2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup baking cocoa
1 1/4 cups water
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees, one 13×9, two 9″ rounds, three 8″ rounds, grease and flour pans AND USE PARCHMENT PAPER!!!!!

2. Beat all ingredients with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly.  Beat on high speed for 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally.  Pour into pan(s).

3. Bake rectangle 40-45 min, rounds 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool rectangle in pan on wire rack. Cool rounds 10 minutes, remove from pans to wire rack, cool completely, about one hour.  (Okay, obviously I am not the best at removing cakes, so either choose to follow these directions or just do the best that you can.  Remember, icing can cover a multitude of sins.)

4. Frost.



Mario Cake

This is a bit of a brag post. Not very humble of me, but oh well.

A few weeks ago my sister in law asked me to make a birthday cake for my nephew. He is really into Super Mario right now, and so he had requested a Mario cake.  I knew that there was no way that I could draw him freehand, especially as I don’t have the right tools and those Cakemate Scribblers are hardly accurate enough to write “Happy Birthday” let alone draw a cartoon. I didn’t really want to resort to the “toy-on-top-of-the-cake” strategy, especially as we don’t own any Super Mario toys and I am the world’s cheapest cake decorator.

But I do own sugar, and food colouring, and a printer.

So, I made up my own coloured sugar (found through Pinterest, obviously) and found a good picture of Mario. It had to be old-school because the new versions of Mario have too much shading and I’m not that dedicated!  I figured out which colours I needed (yellow/skin tone. blue, red, and brown – cocoa powder) and made up the coloured sugar. Then I printed out four copies of the picture and cut out a different colour from each sheet. These were my templates. After the cake was ready (a from scratch silver-white cake with marshmallow frosting) I started to put Mario together.

The marshmallow frosting was a little sticky, so I started out by dusting a light layer of icing sugar over the surface of the cake. (I should say that the icing sugar was Darren’s suggestion. Smart man). The icing sugar layer allowed me to put the paper templates on top without messing up the surface of the cake.


Then I started with the coloured sugar. Yellow sugar, then the red, then the blue, and finally the cocoa powder.


I ended up using the white Scribbler icing for Mario’s hands. They aren’t exactly as they were in the cartoon, but close enough. And it looked a whole lot better than outlining the hands in green Scribbler, which was my first idea. (By the way, I started to write “Happy Birthday” on the bottom of the cake in green Scribbler, but it looked so absolutely awful beside the amazing Mario that I scraped it all off and re-dusted the cake again with icing sugar. Yep, I’m that picky about my cake fonts.)


So here it is, completed.


The cake was a hit. And how did it taste? I have no idea. Ben was sick that day and we had to rush home because his fever had spiked again. Poor kid.

My favourite thing about making this cake was that I was able to make a great looking cake without spending a fortune on decorating supplies. Take that Cakemate and Wilton!


Incidentally, I hope that when I am 85 years old I will be able to celebrate with an Egyptian-themed birthday party and epic cake.


Keepin’ it real.


Documentary: All About The Good Life (and a bonus Sloppy Joe)

In keeping with Tuesday’s post, and in honour of a friend who just returned from a visit to her family in England, here is a documentary about the cast and crew of “The Good Life” to keep you company this Thursday.

But watch the series first!!!!


By the way, we had the most marvelous dinner last night: Sloppy Joes a la Simply Recipes and Jaime Oliver. I used the basic instructions and seasoning from Simply Recipes and added the beans and whole wheat wraps from Jaime Oliver and it came out looking something like this:


Darren and I loved them, and the kids complained a little bit but eventually ate them. I will definitely be making this one again.

Most Beautiful Thing: A Little Indulgence

Guinness Milk Chocolate Ice Cream

This weekend we celebrated my Mom’s birthday.  (Really, this post should be about my Mother and how amazing she is, and beautiful too!  Some people find it hard to believe that she has three grandkids.  I’m just grateful that she is my Mom and that she is as generous as she is with her time! But this post is not about her, a very important Most Beautiful Thing in my life.  It is about a small, relatively unimportant, but nevertheless delightful, rare indulgence that made me happy.  Sorry, Mom).

We spent Saturday evening to late Monday afternoon at my parents’ house.  We were only supposed to go for one night, but John is cutting his molars and by 8:00 on Sunday evening it became very clear that taking the extra hour and a half or so to pack and be on our way, all while trying to jolly along a tired and cranky one year old, would not be an intelligent idea.  So we stayed the extra night.

After the kids were in bed, Darren used his time wisely by exercising.  I, on the other hand, decided to indulge myself a little bit.  I had chocolate ice cream with Cointreau.  YUM.  When I was a kid there was a local dairy called Milk Maid that used to make the most delicious ice cream – Swiss Chocolate Chip – which was chocolate ice cream with orange chocolate chips.  This tasted a lot like that, except a bit more grown up.

I was first introduced to this lovely treat by my Aunty Mary shortly after Darren and I were married.  We crashed my aunt and uncle’s house at the tail end of our honeymoon in order to save a bit of cash (as we were still poor students at the time) while we wandered around Victoria.  Yes, we are the history-nerdish type of people who slot a trip to the Royal British Columbia Museum into our honeymoon.

So on Sunday evening, there I was, eating this lovely concoction and watching episodes of “The Good Life” on YouTube.  And so, for your own viewing pleasure, here is Series 1, Episode 1 of “The Good Life” (which ran as “Good Neighbors‘ in the US) featuring Richard Briers, Felicity Kendall, Penelope Keith, and Paul Eddington.  The first episode is a bit stilted, but bear with them.  You will be rewarded.

(It appears that only parts of Episodes 1 and 2 are online, so to watch full episodes type in “Good Life Series 1 Episode 3” to YouTube and that should work.  Enjoy!)

Bean Burgers

For years, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything has been one of our “go-to” cookbooks.  Whenever culinary difficulties and disputes arise, Bittman is consulted.

One of our standard meals (usually on Fridays, as we generally avoid meat on Fridays) is bean burgers.  They are delicious and the kids will eat them with no complaints.  How can you go wrong?  A friend asked me about the recipe the other day, and rather than sending a link with my variations, I thought I should just post the recipe here.

There are a bunch of variations, but this is the way that I make them.

Bean Burgers, Adapted from Mark Bittman

  • 2 cups well-cooked chickpeas (I use a 19oz can, rinsed and drained)
  • 1 medium onion , quartered
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats (preferably not instant)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (optional)
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • a bit of ketchup (usually a couple of good squeezes)
  • extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil or corn oil , any neutral oil, as needed


  1. Combine the egg and the onion in the food processor and pulse until chunky (this is to make sure you don’t have big onion pieces in the burgers, as this will upset the kids)
  2. Add the beans, oats, spices, ketchup (start with a little bit and add more if necessary), salt, and pepper and pulse until chunky but not puréed, adding a little liquid if necessary (this is unlikely but not impossible) to produce a moist but not wet mixture. Let the mixture rest for a few minutes if time allows.
  3. With wet hands, shape into whatever size patties you want and again let rest for a few minutes if time allows. (You can make the burger mixture or even shape the burgers up to a day or so in advance. Just cover tightly and refrigerate, then bring everything back to room temperature before cooking.) Film the bottom of a large nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet with oil and turn the heat to medium. A minute later, add the patties. Cook until nicely browned on one side, about 5 minutes; turn carefully and cook on the other side until firm and browned.
  4. Serve on buns with the usual burger fixings. Or cool and refrigerate or freeze for later use.
Let me know if you try it!

The Cake.

When I am asked to put together a dessert, I usually turn to my old standby, lemon squares. They have a shortbread bottom and a lemon curd top and are extremely toothsome. At least, so I have been told.  Oh, and I just recently discovered that warm lemon squares are just this side of heaven.  Many thanks to my Mom, who gave me her recipe!

However, this Easter I wanted to switch things up, so when I ran across a recipe for Vanilla Cake with Pineapple Cream Cheese Icing, I was pretty sure I had a winner. The recipe calls for a boxed white cake as a base, and seeing as how Darren avoids boxed cake like the plague, I found a good recipe for vanilla cake in a Cooks Illustrated cookbook.

(Side note: We don’t have a stand mixer, and I can usually manage without one.  However, I really could have used one when I made this cake as the batter was very thick and it challenged the old hand mixer that I inherited from my Mom.  Incidentally, it is my birthday in about a month, so if anyone (hint hint, *cough* Darren) wanted to buy me either a good hand mixer or a KitchenAid stand mixer, I wouldn’t object.  Given the space limitations in our kitchen, the hand mixer is probably the more affordable and prudent choice.  Just saying…)

To continue with the cake.

The recipe called for making the cake in a cookie sheet with 1″ sides, which I did not have, so I resorted to two 9″ round pans.  Darren calculated that the volume would be the same, so on Saturday afternoon Cate and I made the cake.  They cooled, I wrapped them, and away they went to Chilliwack.  I thought it would be easier to make the icing in Chilliwack, rather than ice the cake and transport it without a proper cake box/tin/Tupperware/whatever you call it.

The cake was originally intended for Easter Sunday, but I think everyone filled up on the delicious dinner, and by the time I got downstairs from putting John to sleep, mostly everyone had gone.  So I postponed the cake completion until Monday.

Monday rolled around, and when everyone else was in the hot tub, I tackled the completion of the cake.  Here’s what the icing looked like midway through:


This is my Mom’s old Kenwood stand mixer.  She has had it forever and it is still going strong.  I remember using this when I was younger.  My first attempt at a cake was a failure.  It ended up looking like it was created by Dr. Seuss and made a HUGE mess in the kitchen. (Hey Mom, you should track down those pictures so I can post them!)


This is the cake with icing in the middle.  I don’t think I drained the pineapple enough so I had to add about an extra cup of icing sugar, which I think made the icing a little too sweet.  Next time I am going to strain the pineapple and squeeze it out so I don’t have to add extra sugar as a stabilizer.  I was a little worried that the icing would be too wet to hold the cake together, but it turned out all right in the end.


See? Pretty fancy!


Obligatory interior shot. Check out all that delicious icing!


It was really good.  I got rave reviews from everyone who has tasted it, including both family and friends.  It’s amazing what you can create when you follow a recipe!  Oh, and I am definitely giving this a shot again, but preferably when there are more people around to help eat it.  And I think I’ll try the cookie sheet version as well.

Have I mentioned that I love food?

Confessions and Cookies for Lent

I am addicted to chocolate chips. So every Lent I give up chocolate. It is hard, especially when it is time to prep dinner and the kids are fussy and I am looking for that sugar rush to get me through the next hour or so. I end up eating a lot of chocolate chips, many more than are good for me.

This year has been easier than the previous years, and I’m not sure why, but I’m not arguing. What with avoiding chocolate and doing the Fab Ab February Challenge last month, I think I have managed to drop a few pounds, which is nice. I also have a two-pack, which I am proud of. Now I just have to keep up the push-ups, stomach crunches, and planks so that all my hard work doesn’t go to waste (or waist…get it? Sigh…)

Nevertheless, all of this virtue does not stop me from wanting to snack on things, and in the interests of not inventing something even worse to snack on (which I am quite capable of doing), I turned to my newly discovered/created/adapted cookie recipe.

I adapted this recipe from Olympic Oatmeal cookies, which they apparently served to the athletes in Olympic Village. The original recipe is exceptionally good, especially when you add mini M&Ms, but here is my variation,

Cream 1 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar

Add in 1 egg
1 1/4 tsp vanilla

Mix in 1 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Mix in 2 1/2 cup oatmeal (I used organic quick oats)

Add 1 cup craisins
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup ground flax


Form into one-inch round balls and flatten slightly (this is a very robust dough and you will need to do this with your hands). Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until done.

This recipe is nut-free, which is great for lunches. There are at least three kids in Benno’s class with nut allergies, and this cookie is safe for all of them. It is nice to be able to put something fairly healthy in Ben’s lunch and not have to worry that he will cause someone else to break out in an allergic reaction.

Let me know if you try them…

PS. I originally named these things “Lenten Snack Cookies” however, when I read this post to Darren we proceeded to get into a rather heated debate about the name of the cookies. I would like to note that, while Darren certainly has a point that naming these “Lenten cookies” contradicts the whole idea of Lent (you know, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving), I have halved the sugar in the original recipe and, minus the M&Ms, the sugar is really the only thing that could be construed as bad for you. I came up with the name “Seedy Bars” but that may be a bit too sketchy. What do you think they should be called?