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Hi and welcome to Love and Bistros! A place to write about baking, travel, and living healthy. I have a major sweet tooth but I attempt to stay healthy in between desserts!
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Healthy BBQ Pulled-Chicken Sandwiches

Not too long ago, I discovered a delicious sandwich at a local pub – a BBQ Pulled-Chicken Sandwich. To call it “delicious” would be putting it lightly, it is scrumptious – I am a huge fan of BBQ-sauce on almost everything (from pizza to burgers), and this pulled-chicken sandwich is no exception.

I have made this sandwich a few times B.D. (before diet) but since attempting to eat healthy have long deserted this once favourite dinner of ours. But when Mister got a craving for it, and we really thought about how to make it healthier, we discovered this was an almost-perfect substitute!

I start off with a whole chicken, which the supermarkets name “Fast Frying” but I always roast it. I have no clue why they call it fast-frying, but hey, no complaints – you can also just BUY a roasted chicken from a deli, but I love making it myself!

In about an hour you go from raw and yucky to perfectly roasted and brown – and it smells so good! Try it! This time I sprinkled it with fleur de sel and some olive oil, but there are so many ways to roast a chicken – add garlic, onion, or any other spice you love. Then, if you’re attempting a healthy version, remove the skin and throw it away. I know, horrible, right? But if you’re not on a diet – eat it. Mmmm. I’m jealous.

The main source of trouble for the regular version of this sandwich is the barbeque sauce – packed with sugar, calories and so yummy that you can’t help but pile it on, it’s a huge factor in upping the ‘bad’ factor. And guess what? I couldn’t find sugar-free BBQ sauce, but the winner as the BBQ-sauce with the least amount of calories, sodium AND sugar in a 2 tablespoon serving? Budweiser’s Barbeque Sauce. Check it out – it was the winner by far! The other trick in ensuring the ‘healthiness’ of this sandwich was the bread we chose (D’Italiano’s Whole Wheat Thintini Buns), measuring a proper portion of chicken breast (100 grams), fat-free cheese, and using ONLY 2 TABLESPOONS of BBQ sauce.

Healthy Version: Cut off the two chicken breasts, place in bowl and shred with a fork. Measure out 100 grams / 3 oz. of chicken per serving, and add two tablespoons of barbeque sauce to each serving. After toasting the Thintini buns, place a slice of fat-free cheese on the bottom, scoop out appropriate portion of the chicken onto bun, and then I added pickle slices and a piece of romaine lettuce, with a healthy squirt of mustard on top.

Free For All Version: Remove all the chicken from the bones (including thighs, etc) and shred in a large bowl. Add a healthy dose of barbeque sauce and mix together to taste. On any kind of toasted bun, place a slice of your favourite cheese, scoop out as much chicken as the bun can handle and add any other condiments as desired – this includes Ranch or Caesar dressing which tastes amazing with the sweet BBQ sauce.

Serve With: On the side you can serve this with Caesar salad, sweet potato or regular French fries – or my choice, the green beans tossed with a bit of salt and pepper.

I’ll be the first to admit that I love my BBQ sauce and would’ve loved to pour more on top of my chicken, but at the same time it was filling and just perfectly flavoured (I could still taste the chicken!). This was definitely a success! Try it out and let me know how it goes!

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Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

When I start looking for recipes to bake, I try and keep in mind what my Princess’ favourite treats are. These include cupcake frosting (just the frosting), mini cupcakes, lemon loaf, ginger-molasses cookies, small chocolate chip cookies, and this undeniably delicious chocolate-chip banana bread. She enjoys it without chocolate too, but I like the addition of chocolate in anything and this time I added semi-sweet chocolate chips to the mix.

There are so many different versions of banana bread that you should definitely check out: Smitten Kitchen’s Jacked-Up Bread, Simply Recipe’s Bread, The Hungry Housewife’s Ultimate Bread, or even Not Quite Nigella’s Banana Bread Round-Up with 79 recipes. It makes my head spin… is yours spinning yet? I adapted this recipe from Martha Stewart Living and never looked back – it’s easy to make and always comes out perfectly!

Preheat the oven to 177°C / 350°F and prepare your loaf pan. This recipe calls for 1 9″ x 5″ loaf pan, but you can split it up into smaller loaf pans or even a muffin tin – just account for the baking time. I simply spray my loaf pan with baking spray, you can use parchment paper, butter – whatever you like!

I like to get the dry ingredients out of the way first so in goes the flour, baking soda and salt and mix it all together!

Meanwhile, mush the bananas – or better yet, get someone else to do it! Princess took on this role and made sure to over-dramatically announce the hard work that went into it. Yes dear, it’s hard!

In a larger bowl place the room temperature butter and sugar, and mix it until it’s nice, light and fluffy. I used a hand mixer, but this recipe can be done all by hand as well!

Add the two eggs and mix some more!

Now dump the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar-egg mixture and stir just until combined. You definitely do not want to over-mix any kind of batter: this leads to a drier, tougher cake. Always mix until everything has just been mixed together.

Now, add the mushed-up bananas, sour cream and vanilla extract – and mix, mix, mix until combined again!

BEFORE adding the chocolate chips, mix a tablespoon or so of flour with them. This makes sure that the chocolate chips don’t sink in your bread, so that they’re evenly scattered throughout! Stir them into the batter. Instead of doing this, many recipes add the chocolate chips once the batter is already in the pan.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, evening out the top and bake in the oven for about 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes – until your tester comes out somewhat clean (chocolate will obviously be melted to it!). Let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Stare at it. Smell it. Crave it.

Then turn it upside down and marvel at the goodness that just popped out of your pan. And try to turn it over. It’s heavy. I was worried that I was going to break it. Now let it cool some more.

I like to stare at my baked goods. Build up any cravings I might have inside. Marvel at what I just created.

And then eat! Bon appetit!

This ‘bread’ is so dense, delicious and moist! Best eaten in thick slices! The semi-sweet chocolate adds the perfect hint of sweetness and slathering it with salted butter while it’s still warm – it’s heaven! I ended up making two of these loaves and freezing one to save it for another rainy day. It’s so simple to make and totally worth the effort – and the perfect thing to do with old bananas! Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living
1 9″x5″ loaf

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (about 4) mashed very ripe bananas
  • 1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Method

1 Preheat oven to 177°C / 350°F. Prepare loaf pan.

2 In a bowl mix the flour, baking soda and salt with a whisk.

3 In a seperate and larger bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until combined.

4 Add the flour mixture and beat until combined. Add bananas, sour cream and vanilla and mix until combined. Toss

5 Add a tablespoon of flour to the cup of chocolate chips and mix. Add to batter.

6 Pour batter into prepared loaf pan, bake for about 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes; or until cake tester comes out clean. Let rest in pan for 10 minutes and then turn out onto rack to cool.

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Low-Key Perfection

Happy Monday darlings!

I hope everyone had a great weekend – the weather was amazing here! I spent a few hours on a near-by patio for brunch, getting a bit of colour on my all-too-pale skin and indulging in a yummy meal of eggs benedict and Kronenbourg 1664. My diet took a rest for Mother’s Day.

A walk around town proved too much for my high-heeled feet and a new pair of sandals beckoned to me. Another patio, this time on a roof-top downtown, called our names. Princess ate her promised ice cream sundae (okay, a vanilla bean gelato with chocolate sauce in a toffee-shell bowl) and I held onto my hot pink carnation with pride, a gift to all the mothers in the bistro.

After our walk home, we settled down into our Fat Boy and watched the hockey game. I know, who are we?? Vancouver is obsessed with hockey, and suddenly Mister is watching it too. No complaints – I get to relax while the two people in my house are busy watching tv. Pizza Hut arrived not too much later and we watched our usual Sunday night tv (cartoons & Celebrity Apprentice!).

The weekend sounds low-key, but to me, it was absolutely perfect!

How was your weekend?

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Happy Mother’s Day Cupcakes!

Happy Mother's Day Cupcakes!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Mother’s Day! Whether you’re a new mom, an experienced mom, a grandmother or just celebrating with someone who means a lot to you, I wish you all a great day! Hoping for sunshine and relaxation and flowers and fun!

I have to admit, my Mother’s Day present came a few days early. It all started when I was perusing a local home & kitchen store and noticed that the Kitchenaid Stand Mixers were on sale, like majorly on sale, I snapped a pic to Mister of the sale price – from $549 to $349 – and he agreed that on Sunday we’d stop by there and pick one up. I was so excited. Until Friday. And I went back to the store and all the Kitchenaid mixers and blenders and food processors were back to their regular price. Looking confused, I’m sure, a sales lady approached me and filled me in – it was a one day sale. And I missed it.

I called Mister again. He said that he would do as he promised, bite the bullet, and pay full price. But I refused – I mean, who’s to say that the mixer won’t go back on sale in a week or two?? I’m not overpaying for this thing, no matter how much I want it. I called around, and around, and ended up at Williams-Sonoma within the hour, who had a $100 off their Kitchenaid stand mixers.

Which is how I came to have this beauty at $349 in my kitchen. On a Friday. Because they were having a two day sale and I wasn’t taking any chances!

My Mother's Day Present!

Even though Mister & I are on a diet, I had to try this baby out, and then Princess suggested strawberry cupcakes – who was I to say no to that? I looked through my cupcake books – I’ve done Martha’s before – and couldn’t find a cupcake worthy of my new mixer – and I couldn’t find a recipe that only created a dozen cupcakes. That’s the one problem with Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes book, as much as I love it and adore it, almost every recipe makes anywhere from 18 to 36 cupcakes. What was I to do with 30 strawberry cupcakes? (Fruit cupcakes don’t always freeze that well, so that was out of the question.)

So, I did what I always do when I can’t find anything to bake out of the umpteen cookbooks I own – I searched the internet. I ended up with a Sprinkles cupcake recipe for strawberry cupcakes and strawberry frosting that makes a dozen cupcakes. I found it on Oprah’s site (here for the cupcake recipe, here for the frosting recipe) and I won’t reprint the recipe, but I’ll show you the steps I did and I’ll fill you in on what I would change when making these again.

The Ingredients & my Mother's Day Flowers

So after finding all the ingredients, preheat your oven to 350°F / 180°C and prep your cupcake tin with liners. Then get three bowls ready. One is my mixing bowl attached to the mixer, then two smaller bowls. Then grab about 2/3 cup of strawberries, place in a small food processor and puree!

Strawberry Puree

In the smallest bowl mix together the milk, vanilla and 1/3 cup strawberry puree.

Strawberry Puree, Milk & Vanilla Mixture

In the other bowl place all your dry ingredients and whisk them together:

Flour, Baking Powder & Salt

Then, in your mixer, place the room temperature butter and cream the butter on medium-high speed. I watched in wonder as this happened. It is such a strange feeling to watch it happen instead of using a hand mixer and doing it yourself. I was in awe!

Butter being creamed!

When the butter is light and fluffy, gradually add the sugar. After a couple of minutes add the eggs and beat until well combined. Because I’m crazy and paranoid, I was constantly scraping the sides of the bowl – in the future I will still scrape the sides (and bottom) of the bowl, but perhaps not as often…

And because I was so excited to use my new mixer, I didn’t take as many pictures! Imagine the eggs are well incorporated. Then add half the flour mixture beating until just combined. Add the milk/strawberry mixture and beat until just combined. Then finish off with the rest of the flour mixture, making sure to scrape the bowl if necessary!

Ready to bake!

Fill your cupcake liners as evenly as possible, then bake for approximately 20 – 22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the muffin tin, then allow to cool further on a cooling rack. Smell them – they smell so good!

Warm Strawberry Cupcakes!

The frosting is rather straight forward – cream the butter and pinch of salt until light and fluffy, then add the sifted icing sugar. I usually add this 1 cup at a time, in order to make sure it blends well with the butter as well as to tweak it to your desired sweetness. In this recipe I used the stated amount (3.5 cups).

Adding sugar to the butter!

Again, because of excitement, I didn’t take any other pictures of the frosting! Silly me… after the sugar is added you must add 3 tablespoons of the strawberry puree and 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Don’t overwhip the frosting, it’s supposed to have the texture of ice cream.

I was going to pipe these cupcakes but I ran out of piping bags! So I just frosted them quickly and put cute little Princesses on them.

Princess Strawberry Cupcakes

The verdict on these cupcakes?

Delicious. Moist. Sweet.

Were they my favourite? Nope. If I were to make them again I’d definitely make a Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting – to add a little depth to them. The cupcakes were sweet, the frosting was sweet – it was a child’s cupcake, but maybe I don’t love strawberry cupcakes either. I took one bite of it and liked it, but didn’t need to devour the rest of the cupcake.

Mister and Princess liked them a lot.  One thing that was disappointing was that the strawberry puree didn’t add anything visually to the cake, it wasn’t pink like the frosting and the flavour was sweet and subdued. I prefer chunks of fruit in my cupcakes, but that’s just me! Filling them with leftover puree would’ve also been delicious! They were good but they could be better!

I was pleased with how moist they were though, so that’s a definite bonus! I’ve never been to Sprinkles to have a cupcake so I’d love to know how they truly compare! These are definitely a crowd pleaser and pretty easy to make – try them out!

I hope everyone has a great Mother’s Day!

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Ginger Molasses Cookies

Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies

The smell of ginger molasses cookies reminds me of Autumn – it’s spicy and warm and a comforting food to eat. I used to devour these cookies at Starbucks, but as often is the case with baked goods, homemade ones are even better! There are a few different variations on how to bake them, and I’ll show you a few ways to make them a little bit more ‘designer’ and original – it’s always fun to put your special touch on baked goods, that’s how to make something truly your own!

The Ingredient Line-Up

The cookie is good no matter what you use to make it – if you have the ‘wrong’ kind of sugar (I had fine granulated sugar instead of the necessary coarse/medium granulated) it’s honestly not a big deal. Just use what you have! Make sure to preheat your oven to 190°C / 375°F and prepare your baking sheets – I simply use parchment paper, you can butter it up – do what you wish!

The Dry Ingredients

First, grab a medium bowl and either sift or whisk together the dry ingredients. Your goal here is to make sure everything is mixed together thoroughly and that there are no clumpy ingredients.

Brown Sugar & Butter

Place the room temperature butter and dark brown sugar in a large bowl and cream together using a hand-mixer, stand-mixer, your hands – or even in a food processor! I only had golden yellow sugar, and I find it changes the taste ONLY subtly, so don’t be worried if you don’t have dark brown sugar.

Once it’s creamed, which usually takes only a couple of minutes, add in the egg and the molasses. The mixture might look curdled (it’s only ever happened to me once), just beat on high and it’ll come back together again.

Creamy Goodness!

At this point your batter should look like this! And the smell of molasses will penetrate through the air and you will die! It smells so good! Now, grab your bowl with dry ingredients, and add in a third of the mixture. Mix together on low speed until just combined, and then slowly add more of the flour mixture. The batter will be stiff!

Thick Cookie Dough Batter

Designers! This is where you can get creative! Add in finely chopped ginger, crystallized ginger, chunks of white chocolate or macadamia nuts – get creative here and try different combinations.

At this point I put the batter in the fridge to allow it to chill – I find it’s easier to handle when slightly cooler. It also gives me time to set up my sugar station! I put down a large sheet of parchment paper, and have two bowls – one with sugar, one with a bit of water – along with the prepared baking sheet.

Grab a scoop of the batter, make a ball and roll it around in the sugar!

Even a 4 year-old can do it!

As you can see above, I only had fine granulated sugar – the results are no different if you use the coarse / medium granulated sugar, they are just more crunchy and even yummier that way! But just use what you have, it tastes almost the same!

Drop the balls on the cookie sheet, I baked six at a time, leaving adequate room to allow the cookies to spread – and they will spread! Just before putting them in the oven, dip two of your fingers in the water and press down on the cookies, this dampens them and helps them spread out.

Ready to Bake!

I bake them for exactly 12 minutes – this ensures a still-chewy center which is what this cookie is famous for! If you like them a bit more ‘well done’, leave them in for up to 15 minutes.

Straight out of the oven! Smelling so good!

Leave them to cool on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes, then allow them to cool further on a cooking rack – these taste so good warm, I can hardly resist taking a bit out of them right away.

With a coarse sugar these would look even prettier!

This recipe usually makes 18 cookies for me, if you make them even larger you would get about 12. If you have company coming, leave them out – otherwise freeze them in between layers of parchment or wax paper (so they don’t stick together!). That way you can just pull one out as dessert every now and again!

Chewy Goodness!

Ginger Molasses Cookies
About 12 – 18 cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • 1/4 cup regular unsulphured molasses
  • Coarse or Medium Granulated sugar (for coating cookie dough before baking)

Designer Additions:

  • 1/2 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 cup of white chocolate chips or chopped white chocolate
  • 1 cup of chopped macadamia nuts
  • Demerara-style sugar (in place of regular granulated or mixed with)

Method

1 Preheat oven to 190°C / 375°F. Prepare your baking sheet(s).

2 Sift or whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger into a medium bowl. Set aside.

3 Cream the butter and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl with mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Lower to medium speed, beat in the egg and molasses, then increase speed to high and beat about 1 minute longer, until mixture no longer looks curdled.

4 Mix in the flour mixture on low speed. The batter will be rather stiff. Designers: Add in your crystallized ginger, white chocolate or macadamia nuts if using and mix with a wooden spoon. Place batter in fridge and allow to cool for 15 – 20 minutes.

5 Place some granulated sugar or specialty sugar in a bowl, and keep a seperate bowl with water handy. Start making balls of the cookie dough - Transfer dough to your hands and roll each portion into a rough ball, then roll each ball into the sugar. Place six sugared balls on each baking sheet, spacing them evenly, because they will spread during baking.

5 Dampen your fingers with water and press down lightly on each cookie to flatten it a little and dampen the top. Refrigerate one filled baking sheet while the other bakes.

6 Bake for 12 minutes for a delicious and chewy center, for a completely firm cookie bake up to 15 minutes. Allow to cool and then eat. If you want to freeze them, place wax or parchment paper in between cookies so they don’t stick together.

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