What Chocolate To Cook And Bake With

We pepper our calendar year with chocolate-centric holidays. (It’s morale-boosting, no?) While there’s no chocolate not worth eating, not all chocolate is fit for baking and cooking. Rewind to early in my own home baking career: a childhood best friend and I decide to bake brownies using Aero chocolate bars from my family’s infamous candy bowl. An hour later we open the oven to tan “brownies”—no not blondies—with a surprisingly unpronounced chocolate flavour. My dad, as all fathers should for their families, ate the entire batch, saving his wife and children (and their friends) the pain and embarrassment.

This Valentine’s Day, don’t disappoint your lovers, friends, family or self with botched chocolate-based baking.

Meet the stalwarts of baking-appropriate chocolate and use them wisely.

What chocolate to cook or bake with

Baking chocolate

It’s all in the name (and likely the majority of your chocolate-flavoured home baking). Baking chocolate is traditionally sold in bars ranging in their ratio of chocolate (or cacao, the seed used to make chocolate) to other ingredients. Unsweetened baking chocolate, the most bitter and darkest in colour, is made of pure cacao with no added sugar. Meanwhile, bittersweet and semisweet are reminiscent of dark chocolate candy bars and versatile in use when either baking or cooking. They contain at least 35% cacao with some added sugar and in the case of semisweet, cocoa butter, and are generally interchangeable, depending on your personal preference. Sweet baking chocolate contains at least 15% cacao, and milk chocolate at least 10% as well as cocoa butter and sugar. Finally, there’s white chocolate, or more accurately white “chocolate”. It’s composed entirely of cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids and flavouring—and absolutely no cacao. Like sweet and milk, it’s best used as a chocolatey addition rather than the main flavour component of your dish or baked good.

Chocolate blocks

Unless you’re baking on a commercial scale, you’re likely to never encounter chocolate blocks. (Two pounds of chocolate, anyone?) However, if you do, shave the chocolate off an end with a serrated knife rather than attempting to chop it into chunks.

Chocolate wafers

No, I am not referring to those sandpaper-dry rectangular cookies. Chocolate wafers are small, disc-shaped chocolate, ideal for melting for glazes or frosting. Unlike chocolate chips, they do not contain stabilizers, the food addictive which allows a chip to maintain its classic shape. They are available in the same percentages of cacao as baking chocolate and blocks.

Chocolate chips

What’s there to say about the beloved chocolate chip? They can be used in place of wafers for meltable delicacies (although ultimately wafers are superior for this use), as additions to cookies, brownies, muffins and breads or as a mid-baking session snack.

Cocoa powder

Unsweetened natural cocoa powder is best for cakes and brownies. Dutch process cocoa powder has a lower acidity level—it’s its reason for existence—making it more likely to react to other ingredients. As a result, use it only as a garnish, say a sprinkle over hot chocolate or homemade truffles.

Leftover candy bars, truffles or individual chocolates

Who would ever leave unfinished chocolate lying around forgotten and alone? I assure you, many. Think back to this post after Valentine’s Day and you will understand. When it comes to baking, pre-made chocolates are best used as garnishes, chopped and sprinkled over a glowing glaze or like the chocolate chip as an addition. Candy bars and individual chocolates, given their own creation processes, simply don’t have the reliability to serve as a structural component in baked goods.


Finding The Key To Your Valentine’s Heart (Through Their Stomach)

This Valentine’s Day, don’t let the pressure get to you. Wish your sweetheart a “Happy Valetine’s Day” and stuff them with food and drink. Tenderly mutter words of love as they slurp spaghetti or slug back a beer and they’ll be boasting about your kindness at the cafeteria for weeks to follow. Only someone on an empty stomach or uncomfortably sober would identify the gesture as pandering, thoughtless and likely derived from a blog post. And if your valentine thinks your relationship is above commercial holidays (i.e., a cynic), they’re even more likely to swoon over your edible gesture.

“Love conquers all”? Not in my books. It’s food.

Four keys to your valentine’s heart (through their stomach)

For the lazy valentine: A week of no cooking (or cleaning)

If you casually tease your lover about their inability to make their bed or wash their dishes, admit it: they’re lazy. Or, if you prefer euphemisms, they’re free-spirited. Either way a meal plan gift card is the key to their idle heart. Even if they don’t normally frequent the cafeteria, the freedom from groceries, cooking and cleaning will inspire them to load up on the daily lunch special or Friday night custom nachos.

For the sophisticated valentine: Quality pantry staples

Say your lover fills their iTunes with opera recordings, totes around non-school books and wears actual clothes—you know, more than underwear or pyjamas—for the majority of their day, you’re in a relationship with a sophisticate. Even if they’re not pompous enough to proclaim themselves a foodie, they appreciate cooking and understand it’s a pillar of adulthood. Present them with the best of the basics: olive oil, salt, pepper, or vinegar. Head to a specialty grocery store or perhaps even a butcher, fishmonger or bakery and let their staff guide you to the crème de la crème of pantry staples.   

For the traditional valentine: Dinner and a movie

So your valentine is actually boring enough to believe in the hallmarks of February 14. Don’t fight it—instead be as boring. Treat them to dinner and movie. Now there’s no reason to overspend on such a traditional gesture. You’re a student, your lover shouldn’t expect a four-star meal at your age. So take them out to their favourite burger joint before curling up on the couch to a movie. Now you could at least stray beyond Netflix and rent a movie online. It’s not as expensive as a trip to the cinema, but not as mundane as everyday streaming. Should your valentine appear disappointed with your pocket-friendly Valentine’s Day, describe your choice as “quirky,” “youthful” and “fun” and compare it to the dime store scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Your relationship hopefully doesn’t last long enough to establish a pattern of cheapness.  

For the homebody valentine: cocoa and brownies in bed

Unlike the sophisticated valentine, yours rarely strays from the couch. They consider a bag of potato chips and an episode of Game of Thrones an exciting night. Thank yourself for selecting such an easygoing specimen. You lucky son of a gun. Embrace your beloved homebody by whipping up a batch of homemade hot chocolate and brownies and snuggle up under the covers.

Homemade Hot Chocolate For Two (adapted from epicurious.com)

2 cups whole milk

4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbsp sugar

pinch of salt

pinch of cinnamon

4 jumbo marshmallows

  1.     Whisk ¼ cup milk with cocoa powder, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a small saucepan over medium heat until dissolved.
  2.     Add the remaining milk and continue to whisk until warm. Serve in mugs and top with marshmallows.

One-Bowl Brownies (adapted from kraftrecipes.com)

4 oz unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped

¾ butter

2 cups sugar

3 eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup flour

  1.     Preheat oven to 350 F and butter a 9-inch square baking pan.
  2.     Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler or small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until melted.
  3.     Pour into a large bowl. Stir in sugar, eggs and vanilla and then flour.
  4.     Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool completely before removing from pan.


How To Effectively Self-Reflect

“New Year, new you,” right? As eager as you may be to improve your grades, health or relationships in the New Year, don’t forget to consider what you achieved this past year. It was once new too, remember. In fact effective self-reflection will help you build reasonable and attainable New Year’s resolutions. And there’s no need to limit self-reflection to January. Assuming you see its effects, it can become a life-long habit.

As a student, your independence has increased and self-awareness heightened. Don’t let either overwhelm you. Instead take advantage of this exciting stage of young adulthood by acknowledging your actions and their outcomes. Improvement aside, it’s part of discovering who you are now and who you may become in the future.    

How to effectively self-reflect

Make it regular

To get the most out of self-reflection, take a cue from scientific experimentation. In order to accurately test the hypothesis of a science experiment, there must be a constant, a part of the experiment, which remains, well, constant in comparison to the tested subjects. Self-reflect at a set time on a regular basis, say every evening, every Sunday or once a month. After several sessions of self-reflection, you can review your thoughts and note any developments. By self-reflecting at the same time, you’re also more likely to review your actions with a similar perspective each time. Choose a time when you won’t feel rushed or over tired. When relaxed and well rested (or as close as you can be to either), you’re more likely to revisit your actions without unnecessary judgement. Consider too developing a set of questions or prompts to answer or respond to each self-reflection.

Find your form

Keeping a diary is not the only form of self-reflection. Although it’s perhaps the most common. And its permanence allows you to revisit entries years in the future. However, for some writing is limiting. It’s an unnatural form of expression. Even for a student. (We do enough writing as it is anyways.) Certainly try writing in a diary, however also explore other forms of self-reflection. Speak aloud and record your thoughts using a voice memo function on your phone or audio recording program on your computer. If monologuing feels bizarre, recruit a friend or family member who’s a good listener and capable of asking prompting, non-judgemental questions. In this case, record the conversations. And return the favour by serving as a listener to their self-reflection. Of course if finances allow, counselling is a great option. Although recording may not be possible, a counsellor will track your progress for you. For something untraditional yet still helpful, draw your reflections, titling each piece. A clear title will allow you to remember your reflections even if the image isn’t literal.

Stick with honesty

No matter how or when you self-reflect, do so with honesty. While difficult, it’s essential to successful, practical self-reflection. Furthermore, as best you can review your actions with neutrality. Don’t be overly harsh, nor forgiving about your past choices. When planning for the future, ask yourself “how” rather than “why”. How questions naturally incite action, for example: “How can I get more sleep?” rather than “Why don’t I sleep more?”


Two Holiday Cookie Recipes For Santa (Or More Likely Yourself)

From my experience, holiday cookies go one of two ways: utter disaster or utter perfection. Chalk it up to endless holiday parties, casual kitchen drinking, end-of-term goo brain, or all three. It adds to the fun, no? And, say your batch of cookies flops, the blunder should make for an entertaining story next holiday season.

In this high-risk spirit, here are my two favourite cookie recipes, a standard (i.e., consistently reliable) chocolate chip and seemingly simple (i.e., consistently unreliable) shortbread from my one of my most beloved Christmas gifts, the 75th anniversary edition of Joy of Cooking. Admittedly, the latter of the two recipes must deliver for some bakers. (It’s a Joy recipe!) However, in my approximately twelve years of baking, I have yet to turn out a respectable batch of shortbread. Every time it’s either too crumbly or impossibly stiff. On the other hand, chocolate chip has become my signature bake. Whether you eat the whole batch out of desire or because no one else will, make cookies part of your holiday traditions.

Two holiday cookie recipes for Santa (or more likely yourself)

Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Joy of Cooking, 2006)

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

½ tsp salt

3 tsp vanilla

1 300g-pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips


  1.     Preheat the oven to 350 F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2.     Whisk together flour and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside.
  3.     Beat butter and sugars in a large bowl until well blended before adding eggs, salt and vanilla and beating further.
  4.     Stir the flour mixture into the butter until smooth. Add chocolate chips and stir again until combined.
  5.     Using an ice cream scoop, drop the dough by heaping teaspoonfuls about two inches apart onto the cookie sheets. Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies are just slighted coloured on top and the edges brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Let stand briefly, then remove to a rack to cool completed.

Scotch Shortbread (from Joy of Cooking, 2006)

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened

¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

¼ cup + 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, divided

¼ tsp salt

1½ cups all-purpose flour


  1.     Preheat the oven to 300 F.
  2.     Beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, ¼ cup sugar and salt in a large bowl. Stir in flour.
  3.     Lightly knead the dough until blended. Press it evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 8-inch square baking pan, pierce the dough deeply with a fork all over in a decorative pattern and sprinkle with remaining sugar.
  4.     Bake until the shortbread is lightly browned and darker at the edges, 45 to 50 minutes. Immediately cut into bars while still warm, then cool in the pan or on a rack.


Seventeen gift ideas for your roommates

If your Christmas shopping list wasn’t already overextended, did you consider your roommates? They may not be your best friends, but there’s nothing like a thoughtful gift to send everyone into the New Year in good spirits. Whether you’ve got one or ten, it’s possible to both please and come in on budget. It can be difficult to buy for someone you don’t cry on the floor to after a bad break-up or misbehave alongside on a Friday night. Give yourself credit though. You do live with the person—you see what they eat, drink and wash themselves with. And they too are a student. You both require certain supplies and necessities to navigate college life.

However, it isn’t the time for passive aggressive gifts like dish soap for that roommate who never washes their dishes or a timer for the other whose indulgent showers upset your morning routine. If your relationship is strained, better a card or nothing. Who needs unnecessary drama this holiday season?  Especially in your own house. The following gift ideas are for roomies whose presence (or even absence) makes for a hopefully comfortable living situation. Acknowledge this and express your thanks.

Friends presenting gifts each other in bedroom

In the bathroom

Ignoring the times you took a glug of their mouthwash or a squirt of their shampoo without asking, do a snoop of your roommates’ toiletries. Buy them each a back-up of one of them. Hair and oral hygiene products are best (and aren’t likely to prove controversial). Otherwise you could buy one pack of toilet paper per roommate in the house. While a communal item, who doesn’t appreciate a healthy supply of TP? Finally, speaking of shared items, consider a new bathmat, hand towels or shower curtain if your current is in rough condition. Your roommates should appreciate the upgrade. It’ll refresh your bathroom without the handy work.

In the kitchen

For most young adults, food is always a welcome gift idea. Again, like in the bathroom, some detective skills are required. Check out their cupboards and designated refrigerator space and note their junk food of choice. And buy as much of their guilty food pleasure as your budget allows. If they drink, conduct an investigation of their favourite beverage (assuming they don’t have expensive tastes). Otherwise a gift card to your local grocery, beer or wine store should do the trick. (I don’t care what others say, gift cards are always welcome in my opinion.) For your not so chef-savy roommate consider a meal plan top-up. They’ll think of you every time they sip their mid-morning coffee.

In the bedroom

As sexy as it sounds, when it comes to the bedroom, I’m thinking more towards school and sleeping supplies. Assuming they own a printer, buy them a stack of printer paper or if you’re a big spender, even ink. (So sexy, right?) Or if they still handwrite notes, try some new pens, pencils and lined paper. Maybe it’s the mom in me, but when it comes to sleeping there’s nothing like a new set of pillowcases to help with some restful shuteye. Likewise for a truly cosy blanket or pair of woolly socks. Because as much as students struggle to fit it in, we love our sleep.

What Dad Really Wants To Eat This Father’s Day

by David Kitai

On every Father’s Day for years I tried to get my dad to eat a conventional “manly” meal. He keeps strict kosher, so a bacon-laden breakfast was out of the question. He doesn’t drink, so I certainly couldn’t pour us some scotch. And his disdain for red meat meant that steak was completely out of the question.

So what’s an uninspired child to do? Shouldn’t all dads want a T-bone and a bottle of Napa Cab? Shouldn’t we sit down with our dads and force conversation about a sport neither of us actually understands? Shouldn’t Father’s Day be a strained, stilted experience as father and child squeeze into familial conventions they never inhabit the other 364 days in a year?


No! Please, just—no. Absolutely not.


Let me share three principles to follow for an unconventional Father’s Day dinner. And maybe by foregoing conventions you’ll end up repairing that oh-so-broken relationship.

what dad really wants to eat this father's day


Consider dad’s tastes

It’s not as simple a suggestion as it sounds. You’ve been away at college or university, focusing on yourself for much of your adult life. And before that you were a teenager, focusing even more on yourself. So if you’re making the effort to prepare a meal on Father’s Day, ask the guy about his favourite food and restaurant. You may uncover a dish he loves, but hasn’t eaten in years. Who knew you share a love of curried eggplant and respectively frequented the same cheap Sri Lankan spot as students?


Cook dinner WITH—not for—dad

Surprisingly, many a dad can cook. In fact he might know a few things he can teach you—as might you for him. However, if he hates cooking, show him something easy you like to make. If he’s already an avid cook, combine your skill sets for a legendary dinner. You’ve probably had a tough time describing your major in intersectional equity studies to him, so why not show dad that you’ve learned something practical during university.


Don’t make steak—unless dad requests it

Steak on Father’s Day is boring and clichéd. If he’s a big time meat-eater, why not mix it up with carne asada or smoked pork shoulder? If like many fathers of university-aged children he’s watching his red meat intake then skillet-bake chicken thighs or grill a whole fish. Better yet, make the whole meal vegetarian. Damn the heteronormative Father’s Day meal. Be progressive—and don’t forget about mom.

The Mother’s Day Breakfast Guide

What every mom needs is breakfast—preferably in bed. The traditional Mother’s Day celebration has become a mainstay for a reason (or three). It can accommodate a range of budgets and skill sets and, above all, it’s restful. Ask anyone to describe their dream Sunday and waking-up before sunrise is never included—but a leisurely breakfast surely is. That said not all mothers are alike. Heck, the “mom” in your life may not even be your biological mother. And, thusly, their breakfast choices are similarly not alike. Here’s my breakdown of moms to breakfasts. Take my advice though, don’t let your mom know which category she falls under. Mother’s Day is a day of celebration, not humiliation.


The neurotic mom


Of course you love her, but sometimes you wish she wouldn’t text you reminders in the middle of the night. Why does she think it’s appropriate to text you: “Don’t leave your house with wet hair…you’ll catch a cold. Xx” at 2:34 am? With a neurotic mom of my own, I’ve yet to solve that mystery. However, what I am certain of are the requirements of her breakfast of choice: no open flames, sharp knives or scalding water. Instead cook up a pot of homey oatmeal served alongside a selection of her preferred toppings such as the first berries of the summer season or a sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon. Brew up a batch of her favourite coffee or tea served in her favourite mug alongside a copy of her favourite Sunday papers. If she’s feeling adventurous, pop open a bottle of Prosecco, finished with a splash of freshly-squeezed fruit juice. Just be sure to point the cork away from your little brother’s face.


The “cool” mom


If you’ve seen Tina Fey’s Mean Girls—thirteen years on and it’s still gold—you know exactly what kind of mom I’m referring to (i.e. Amy Poehler as Mrs. George). And if you haven’t, thankfully YouTube clips of Poehler in the role abound. The “cool” mom is into everything your into—your music, your sense of fashion, even your love interests. Ultimately, her intentions are good—she just loves you. A lot. For her Mother’s Day breakfast, prepare your favourite early morning meal. Remember it’s hers too. Otherwise stick to the latest in breakfast trends—chances are high she’s following them. Trendworthy breakfasts include poached eggs on multigrain toast with a smear of guac or overnight chia seed puddings with a kale smoothie.


The foodie mom


The foodie mom is the most particular about her breakfast. Food is her life, so celebratory meals are cause for thoughtful choices. Think outside the cereal box. Reserve a table at a buzz-worthy restaurant. Otherwise take the continental approach, featuring items from a respected bakery, butcher or farmers’ market stall. As for beverages make a run to her neighbourhood coffee shop for a cup of the good stuff otherwise a well-made brunch cocktail is welcome. Among a curation of all her favourite food products, sneak in some surprises. She’ll admire your ingenuity.

Get Your Grill On For National BBQ Month

Nothing denotes the end of another school year like barbecue—even if it’s just the smell of burning charcoal drifting up from your neighbour’s backyard. Perhaps you’re still miffed by your stove top, sticking to microwavable ramen noodles for most meals instead. But it’s the summer, you’ve got time to experiment. In my household growing-up, barbecuing was a once a week occurrence at most or the meal of choice for summer holidays and birthdays. So, in this writer’s mind at least, don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t take to the grill like an up-and-coming Bobby Flay. Building the perfect beach bod is such a clichéd summer goal—light up your first barbecue instead.

Get your grill on for National BBQ Month

Read up on recipes

We’re dealing with fire here, folks, so a little preparation is worthwhile. While most of us halfheartedly scan recipes moments before we run to a grocery store or dive into the preparation itself, make a trip to your local library and read, actually read, a selection of barbecue cookbooks. From there you’ll familiarize yourself with the dishes best suited to grilling. Check out Joy of Cooking’s entry on the subject (or something equally encyclopedic in style) to start, before moving on to such authors as Bobby Flay (I know, I know) and Steven Raichlen. Likely your trusted sites for recipes also offer features on grilling. The New York Times Cooking guides are my go-to for unfamiliar techniques. Here’s their introduction to grilling.

How To Have The Best Reading Week (No Vacation Necessary)

by Danielle Del Vicario

As you drag yourself to the library to study for yet another midterm, you daydream about a week of no exams and no deadlines. Thankfully, reading week is fast approaching. You’ve picked out your next big Netflix binge, you’re ready to sleep-in every day, and—if you’re a little OCD like me—you can’t wait to give your student room that deep clean it so desperately needs. But this year, why not try something different? I’m certainly not advocating that you use reading week to actually study. Take this little piece of free time to reconnect with yourself and the people around you. You don’t need to spend money or go far (though this is the year for great ski holidays if that’s the way you ride). Follow the suggestions below for cheap and easy refreshers to put you back in the right headspace for another hard push to the end of the semester.

how to have the best reading week no vacation necessary


Actually read (but not something for class). For one week, put down your phone and laptop over breakfast and devote yourself fully to a good book. Choose something short that you can finish with just an hour of reading per day for a week. I like to go back to old favourites like Michael Ondatje’s In the Skin of a Lion or Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Dig into books where each sentence turns back on itself, drawing you in deeper and deeper.


Plan a sunrise picnic with friends. Hear me out. There’s something uniquely calming about a Canadian dawn sky from your favourite trail or park paired with tea, freshly baked muffins and good friends And if you’re anything like me, the thick of term probably saw you wrapped in a bubble of sullen solitude, broken only by the most necessary of human interaction. Borrowing notes counts as human interaction, right? Best of all winter’s sunrise is at an almost reasonable hour. In Vancouver, for example, that means 7:12 am on February 20, the first day of UBC’s reading week. I coincidence I think not.   


Host a DIY cocktail and pizza party. Think all the fun of birthday party pita pizzas with a little more class. Pick up two or three of your favourite spirits, splitting the cost with friends. Tell everyone to bring one cocktail ingredient and one pizza topping. And then let your creativity lead the way. I’m decidedly partial towards gin and currently love a classic G&T with lots of lemon and fresh basil or even Earl Grey martinis, but the internet is full of good cocktail ideas. For easy pizza dough recipes and topping inspiration, see “No-knead for delivery: a guide to homemade pizzas.”


Valentines Gift Guide: Edible Gifts

Move over Purdy’s! I present to you three edible Valentine’s Day gifts, appropriate even for the V-Day Scrooge who hates pink ribbons, sugar, kittens and probably student food blogs…

‘Baking the classic’

edible valentines gifts - apples roses

Replace red roses with apple roses made from frozen puffed pastry for an easy, impressive delight.

Makes 10

2 sheets puffed pastry, thawed
3 apples, such as honeysuckles or braeburns
2 tbsps sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
juice from half lemon
2 tbsps water
spoonful of melted butter for assembly
icing sugar to dust

  1. Roll pastry slightly thinner and cut each sheet into five pieces.
  2. Halve, core and slice apples into ¼ inch-thick pieces.
  3. In microwavable bowl, sprinkle apples with sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice and a splash of water. Cover and microwave for two to three minutes until apples are just pliable.
  4. To assemble each rose, place apple slices halfway down strip of pastry, overlapping adjacent slice by one inch. Brush exposed pastry with butter and fold over to seal before rolling into rose shape. (There are lots of YouTube videos out there for further explanation.)
  5. Bake roses in muffin tin brushed with melted butter for 40 minutes at 375ºF until pastry in rose centres looks golden.
  6. Remove from oven and dust with icing sugar.