31 December, 2009

Champagne and Truffles

Today's post brought to you by fun things to do to impress others. On tap today is sabering champagne bottles open. Now there is a way to show off at your New Year's Eve event.  Just promise me that you will do it while still sober.

Take one of your bottles of champagne - preferably a cheaper one, just in case - and get it cold. Almost freezing.  So, if you are here in Alberta this means you can just leave it outside for an hour or so. Then you can take one of your solid kitchen knives if you don't have your own sword handy.

With your cold bottle in hand and look for the seam in the glass.  Your target for your knife/sword is just below the lip of the bottle right at the seam. Remove the foil, but you canleave the wire on. With a firm, but not heavy hand slide your blade against the bottom of the lip of the bottle.  Don't hack or whack it. With a really cold bottle the right pressure will simply cause the entire top of the bottle to pop off.  With the pressure of the bubbles no glass falls back into the bottle.  Straight to the enjoyment.

Traditionally, this was done with a sword and on horseback. In the modern world I am thankful for truffled popcorn and a dishtowel to catch the popped cork. We won't be sabering tonight, but we will enjoy bubbly with friends. Thanks for the folks at Sumac Ridge for the demo and opportunity to impress.  And for the champagne/popcorn combo. 

Happy New Year!

23 December, 2009

Potluck Recipes

This morning I had the pleasure of cooking on Breakfast Television. I also had the pleasure of meeting Santa! The segment was on what to bring to a Holiday Potluck.  Break free from Spinach Dip in Sourdough and Sweet Potatoe Casserole!

Here are the recipes for the savoury items - Cauliflower Gratin, Mushroom Pate, and Cranberry Sauce. The desserts can be found here.

Cauliflower Gratin
This is based on a Martha Stewart recipe that I first tried years ago.  To be honest, I never found it again, so I had to make it up the next time I tried it. The original is actually now in The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The New Classics. I'm not too far off, just a little bit less of everything. My recipe serves 4-6 as a side (depending on how many other sides you have) or 3 of us at lunch, eating it straight from the pan.

1 head cauliflower
Juice of 1 orange
2 tbsps flour
salt and pepper
6 ounces goat cheese (1 and a 1/2 grocery store logs)
2 tbsps fresh thyme
50-75 grams thinly sliced pancetta or proscuitto

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter an 8 by 8 casserole dish.
2. Cut cauliflower into bite size pieces.  Steam for 5 minutes.  Set aside.
3. Combine orange juice and water to equal 1/2 cup.  Combine water, flour, 4 ounces (1 log) crumbled goat cheese, and thyme.  Mix well.  Combine with cauliflower and pancetta/proscuitto. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into prepared pan.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, covered with foil.  Bake another 30 minutes uncovered.

Mushroom Pate
One of the bridal showers hosted for me back when Hubby and I were getting married was an in-house cooking class.  Brad Smoliak came to my in-law's house and shared an amazing repertoire of appetizer recipes with all my girlfriends. The mushroom pate he shared has made the rounds of nearly every party any of us now attends.  It takes the creaminess of spinach dip that we all like and turns it around into a richness unlike anything else. Like the recipe for Cauliflower Gratin, I couldn't find the original and made it up as I went.  Today I made it with a surfeit of chanterelles a neighbour left me, but it can be made with any combination of mushrooms.

1 pound finely chopped mushrooms
1 large shallot or 1/2 a small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup cognac, brandy, or whiskey
3 tbsps cream cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp fresh thyme
Worcestershire sauce
Salt and Pepper

1. Combine mushrooms, shallot, and garlic in large frying pan. Drizzle with olive oil and a generous pinch of salt.  Cook over medium heat until the liquid from the mushrooms is evaporated, approximately 10 minutes.
2. Pour in alcohol of choice.  Cook until the liquid is evaporated.
3. Stir in cream cheese until melted in to mushrooms. Add cream, thyme, and a few splashes of worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cranberry Sauce
Unless you have a nostalgic fondness for the ridges on the wiggling cylinder of canned cranberry jelly I strongly recommend that you commit to making your own cranberry sauce. It is ridiculously easy and the flavours can be customized to your own taste.  Here is the basic recipe, but you can change it up any way your like.  What about using pomegranate juice instead water or orange juice?  How about throwing in some cardamom and cloves? Or, using molasses and ginger with some pears and dried currants?

1 bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup brown or white sugar
1/2 water or juice

Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the cranberries have popped and the mixture is slightly thick.  It will thicken more as it cools. 

Christmas Desserts

It was always my job, from about the age of 13 on, to make dessert for Christmas dinner. So long as I was baking away I was relieved of all other Christmas dinner duties.  As far as I was concerned, that was a good deal, but I'm not sure how my brother and sister felt about it. All would be forgiven as soon as the cheesecake, torte, or even zabaglione came out.  A rich, over the top creation to fill our already overflowing tummies.

Things sure have changed.  Now I do all the work - dinner and dessert - and am stuck with most of the clean-up too.  Not that I'm complaining if it means having a lovely, albeit raucous dinner at home. My desserts have changed too.  Gone are the rich, chocolate affairs.  Those are still good, but after a rich, starchy dinner I've trained myself to want something lighter.

Last year it was Key Lime Pie.  Oh, was it pie!

This year I am opting for Panna Cotta.  Appropriately, the first time I had it was at a Christmas lunch for the office. I have no idea what was served for the rest of the meal, but I can still taste that first bite. While it is not exactly light considering that it is made with loads of cream, the perception is of something lighter.  Still an indulgence, but a slightly more refreshing one.

Panna Cotta is essentially Jello for grown-ups.  Made with cream and flavoured with lovely essences like vanilla, orange, or raspberry is takes jello far beyond any layered, Cool-Whip concoction you've ever had. Oh, and it is so very simple to make.  So simple that after you've made it you wonder why you ever thought gelatin was a scary thing.  Trust me, I can't make Jello, so this was indeed a scary endeavour. But all you do is let the gelatin bloom - a fancy word for get activated by a liquid - and stir it into your sweetened, flavoured cream. Then chill.

In fact, undo your pants, pour yourself a glass of sherry, and definitely chill in the post-feast bliss.

Merry Christmas!

Orange Scented Panna Cotta
(serves 6-8)

3 cups heavy cream
2 oranges
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp unflavoured, powdered gelatin (1 1/2 packets in Canadian grocery store availability)

1. Prepare a mold or 6-8 individual ramekins/bowls/glasses by cleaning thoroughly and letting air dry.
2. Zest oranges.  Stir zest into cream along with sugar and vanilla.
3. Juice oranges.  Add enough water to equal 1 cup liquid.
4. Place a few tablespoons of the juice/water into a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin. Let sit for about 5-10 minutes. Mixture will feel like a very firm gelled substance.
5. Heat cream mixture until just simmering and sugar is well dissolved. Remove from heat. If you do not want to see the zest in your finished panna cotta strain through a fine-mesh strainer at this point.
6. Stir in the gelatin to the heated cream mixture until smooth and all the gelatin is dissolved. Pour into molds, ramekins, cups, or bowls.  Chill 10 minutes, stir gently.  Chill 3 hours or overnight.

20 December, 2009

Backseat Adventure - Chopping Your Own Christmas Tree

You would think that after a trip where we got lost in the forest and ran out of gas on the way home in minus 30 I would be smart enough not to want to ever chop down my own Christmas tree ever again. You would think that after not checking the Junior Forest Warden's site and mistakenly assuming that the chopping spot was in the same location you've been to three times to discover it is an hour away we would take the girls and dogs back home. That would be a safe conclusion, but our annual Christmas tree chop is the one holiday tradition that I simply can’t do without.

The tradition is an inherited one from my husband’s family. They would load everyone into the classic Aspen Wagon and trek out to the forest on the last weekend before Christmas. Following a romp through the woods there was the inevitable debate over just the right tree. Was it full enough? Were the branches strong enough for all the lights and ornaments? And, most importantly, was it tall enough?

With more than a few years experience of tree chopping under my belt, and subsequent decorating, I can safely tell you that the answer to those questions in the forest always seem to be no, but they are a resounding yes once you get home.

Your first clue that the tree is just a bit too big is when the branches hang over the sides of the car when you strap it down and you are required to put a fluorescent orange strap to the end of the truck so the cars behind don’t hit it. Oversize Load.

Then you get it home. And it’s at least 6 feet too tall for your living room and you have to remove more than the side table to just find a spot for all the branches. So you cut off about half of what you brought home (from the bottom so you preserve the integral shape of the tree) and plunge into decorating. And if it’s my house you eat cookies and watch Will Ferrell in Elf while you do it.

Even if you do run out of gas and are left running from farm house to farm house to call the other party – hey, this was a few years before everyone had a cell phone – the exuberance of running through the forest on a single-minded mission is worth it. It is worth it for the long-standing and memorable family tradition. It is worth it for the freshest and most local tree you can get. And it is worth it for the hot chocolate and cookies that come at the end of the journey.

Aside from a few new and old favourites I tried the trendy Butterscotch cookies I've been eyeing in my original Five Rose Cookbook. To me, they were a perfect dough and a lovely fireside and snowsuit compliment to our day.

Butterscotch Cookies
(Adapted from Five Roses Flour Cookbook)

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder

1. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, mix well.
2. Sift together dry ingredients. Add to wet and mix well.
3. Roll into a log and chill in fridge 1 hour - overnight.
4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Slice cookies from log roughly 1/4 inch thick.
5. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

14 December, 2009

The Last Recipe

There is something immensely appealing about the making the last recipe in a cookbook. Don't ask me why, but I got a little giddy seeing that I was making the last recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  The occasion was our Julie/Julia dinner party and I was in charge of dessert.  Because I had not seen the movie I was at a bit of a loss for what to make.  

My boss actually gave me the idea to make this cake.  She just randomly mentioned her daughter making a cake that Julia makes in the movies where you press nuts in to the side of the cake. That's all I had to go on. So I read the the cake section (5 basic cakes takes up about 25 pages) and decided that Reine de Saba was the cake in question.

Nowhere does Julia Child tell you why it is named after the Queen of Sheba, but she does think of it is as a quintessential French Cake.  Me?  I'll just refer to it as chocolate and almond cake. I'll also refer to it as one of my favourite chocolate cakes ever.

Chocolate cake can come in many forms - uber moist, dense and flourless, simply chalky or dry, and sometimes perfectly lovely.  This one falls in the last category. Only a hint of almond touches the slightly creamy but rich texture. With ground almonds and whipped egg whites competing between grounding the cake and making it soar, it really lands somewhere in between in an earthly heaven made of chocolate.

The cake itself isn't the last recipe in the book, it is the chocolate butter icing. Officially, this might be my new favourite icing.  It isn't sweet or terribly rich.  Good butter makes this icing because all it really is is melted chocolate with butter whipped in.  Not much fancier than that. Of course, the recipe makes it seem a lot fancier, but don't be fooled. And don't get lost in the instructions.

You should also not be fooled by the small amount of icing the recipe makes.  It seems like such a paltry amount, but it covers the cake and is a perfect compliment to the cake.  Next time I might use that last recipe as a filling, or a crumb coat on a cake I cover with ganache. Or, I'll just follow the recipe again and make The Queen of Sheba as intended.

Cake decorating is not my forte. I sincerely hope that my girls NEVER ask for a themed cake because it will be a sad, sad birthday for them. I can, however, hold a cake and press ground almonds in to the side.  That is not difficult at all, but worth the mess. I strongly recommend that you do not skip this step.

If I drank espresso it would have been a nice accompaniment.  My mind went to scotch. But after more than a few glasses of wine that night, all I could think about was whether it would be rude or not to take one of the last pieces and skip making my souffle.  Alas, Pierre and Gail's husband made the decision for me.  The souffle was good, but I am still thinking about the cake. I just might open the book to the last page and make it again for Christmas dinner.

08 December, 2009

At Julie's house for Julie/Julia

Eating in a room full of food bloggers and writers is almost as bad as eating dinner with toddlers, except the conversation is far better.  In the interest of the blog, the en mass photography when five bloggers gather for an impressive dinner is somewhat insane.  Sorry, there were only 4 photographers and 1 illustrator at our Julie/Julia themed dinner party on Sunday. Pierre stood back, secretly laughing I think, while the rest of us pushed buttons and tried to make adjustments for the fact that it was close to 7pm when we started eating, er... photographing.

It's a good thing that our vichyssoise was being served chilled.

The occasion of our gathering was ostensibly to celebrate the release of the Julie/Julia DVD today.  In reality, Julie invited us all together to meet, cook, chat, and celebrate. Most of us knew at least one other person there, and I think Julie knew everyone. (She really does know everyone.) Gwendolyn from Patent and the Pantry, Gail from The Pink Peppercorn and her sax playing husband, Pierre of Kitchen Scraps fame with his love, and then Hubby and myself all descended upon Julie with an abundance of butter, cream, wine, and our best stories.

Our instructions were simple: make something from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  We each volunteered a course/dish. There was the vichyssoise from Gwendolyn, surprisingly (to me) rich and actually quite refreshing even though it was minus a billion outside. For dinner itself Julie made Boeuf Bourguignon. Pierre made Ratatouile and the most amazing potatoes ever. Gail spent two days in the kitchen to make a Moussaka unlike anything I've ever had in a neighbourhood Greek joint.  Two days! Oh, and I made Reine de Saba and a souffle but I'll save the details for another day.

To start the night we toasted new friendships with French cider and bubbly.  And we watched old episodes of The French Chef.  Correction, we had it on the TV but were too busy talking. That theme continued for the night.  We were so damn eager at the beginning of the night, dutifully taking photos. Then we sat down to eat.  And drink. And talk.  So there might be one blurry shot of the souffle that Gwendolyn and I made together.

Aside from our critiques and comments about the books, cookbook, and movie (enough about Meryl already and how long exactly should I simmer for?) we talked and laughed.  I'm not telling secrets, but I do know about some tidbits about mascots, child actors, and degrees in sex.  But I'm not talking. In fact, I think I might still be digesting.

04 December, 2009

Blizzards, Banana Cake and Builder Men

December 4th and we're finally getting a good snowfall.  Indeed, it is a full on blizzard of white out there.  The weather folks might call it a winter storm, but we all know that the wicked wind, sandy snow, and a cold that makes you never, ever want to leave your house means that it is a blizzard.  If you're me that means you bake.

Today's recipe comes to you courtesy of The Monster.  When I suggested we bake she informed me that we must bake a birthday cake.  Today, however, is not the birthday of anyone on this house.  That perfect three year old mind remembered that it was her cousin's birthday a few days ago and therefore we must make him a birthday cake.

Now, I have no idea what kind of cake my nephew would have liked, but The Monster decided he wanted a peanut butter cake.  I talked her into a banana cake with peanut butter icing. So we dug through the cookbook shelf and found a recipe for banana cake in the Favorite Family Recipes of Holy Cross Parish cookbook. It's one of those cookbooks where everyone submits the pride and joy of their kitchens. That means it is really hit or miss depending on the recipe instructions. We got ourselves a hit here!

The girls got aproned up, we turned on the Toopy and Binoo Christmas album (oh, thank-you Grandma), and we set ourselves up for a messy old time.  We mashed bananas, creamed butter and sugar, sifted flour, and licked, licked, licked everything. You know, I'm convinced that if I put liverwurst in the Kitchen Aid they would devour it.

This is your basic cake recipe.  There isn't anything fancy about it except for the fact that it calls for the baking soda to be added to the wet ingredients. It bakes in a classic 9 by 13 pan.  In reality it is a simple weeknight dessert.  It isn't overly sweet and it is wonderfully moist, with a good crumb as they say.

While the girls napped I set to making the icing. I'll be honest, it was a bit of a challenge because it turns out I need a few groceries. Did I mention there was a blizzard going on? So I hoped for the best with the bit of peanut butter and icing sugar I had.  I had my fears, but damn, it is good icing! Not at all sweet and as creamy as it can be when you only have natural peanut butter in the house. And just the right amount for a sheet cake.

This is the kind of cake you want after trudging home from a day at school (or work).  It is a cake that makes you feel loved.  It is a cake that mom can feel pretty good serving and also enjoy with a cup of tea.  Ahem, let me refresh my cup.

And tonight it will also be our dessert as we treat our builder men, as The Monster calls them, who've been helping Hubby out with digging, pouring concrete, and framing in the basement. Sunday dinner on Friday night.  Mayhem, new friends, and cold weather comfort at the table.

Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Icing
Makes 1 9x13 pan

Banana Cake
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 large, ripe bananas
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter and flour a 9x13 pan. 
2. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.
3. Add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla, mixing well after each addition.  Scrape down sides.
4. In a separate bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
5. Mash bananas well.  Combine with milk and baking soda.
6. Add 1/3 of the banana mixture of the butter/sugar/eggs.  Add 1/2 flour mixture.  Continue alternating wet and dry ingredients, ending with wet. Mix until smooth.
7. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes. Let cool completely.

Peanut Butter Icing
1/4 cup softened butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 cups icing sugar
5-6 tbsp milk

1. Cream together butter and peanut butter.
2. Add the icing sugar, 1/2 cup at a time.  Alternate with a tbsp of milk until all the sugar is incorporated.  Mix well until light and fluffy.  If you want a softer icing add a touch more milk.
3.  Frost cake and enjoy.

26 November, 2009

Who Moved My Cheese?

If you're ever looking for party ideas I've got a new suggestion for inspiration: the business section of the book store.  I'm serious.  We had a great party in the office today and I came up with the idea after reading this book.

There is no need to bore you with the details of the office, suffice it to say there's been more than a bit of upheaval lately.  We have a good group of people with some pretty strong convictions.  Perhaps more importantly, we all have a pretty wicked sense of humour.  Even the senior folks were entertained by the party idea. A little chat about finding our cheese when it comes to work, combined with an ongoing mouse problem in the building gave us the idea to have a cheese crawl in the office.

People set up a plate of cheese and accoutrements in their office.  Then, individually or in small groups, we wandered the halls visiting and tasting.  And yes, we hid the cheese of one boss so that he was forced to yell, "Hey, who moved my cheese?" Hmm, maybe it's an inside joke.

Quite surprisingly to me everyone totally got in to the idea.  We had a great variety of cheeses from an amazing triple creme brie to a heavenly honey goat. Winner of the most unique cheese was the gjetost, or Norwegian brown cheese.  It looks like fudge and does have a caramel taste to it.  We ate it on mini rye with cucumber.  I don't think it was very popular, but I really liked it.

My contribution was the Seckel pears with blue cheese, honeycomb, and hazelnuts. We were served something very similar on our trip to the Okanagan in September (The dinner is gloriously summarized here.)  The difference was that the pears we ate there were still warm from the sun and the blue was local Poplar Grove. I've taken to eating the pear, blue, honey combo as a frequent snack so I passed that on today. The consensus is that they would also make a fantastic holiday appetizer, or perhaps as an alternative to chicken wings this Sunday for the Grey Cup.

And, of course, there was just a teeny bit of wine. Served in our glorious reusable plastic cups.

22 November, 2009

Does it count?

Back when I was full of energy and vigor and swiss chard I entered my Frico recipe in the Safeway Cheese Champions contest. To be honest, I saw the ad on Facebook and was bored.  Yup, I actually noticed the ad, that's how bored I was. 

So I entered and found out recently that I won something.  Sadly, it was not the grand prize.  That means no Mama/Daddy time in Lake Louise for free.  But I did get a grocery gift card and it will buy our dairy for a couple of weeks. No complaints there.

And, if you are in a Safeway in the coming weeks, probably only in Western Canada, pick up the Safeway Cheese Champions book.  You will find my recipe and more in there. Oh, and a teeny tiny picture of me and The Monster. 

12 November, 2009

Taste Adventure - Cape Gooseberry

After a very busy morning gluing brown circles to bigger brown circles, building floor puzzles of cats, and dancing to a jazzy version of Spiderman it was time to settle down for snacks. It was our day to volunteer at preschool. As the parent volunteer responsibilities include directing the craft, helping the teacher with all the regular tasks, and cleaning up at the end of the class. Our kid gets to be VIP that day, getting to go first for all activities and bringing something special for show and tell. Oh, and the parent gets the pleasure of bringing a snack.

Now, it should be painfully clear by now that I'm not the apple slice and snack pack kind of mom. I bake cookies and muffins when they ask me to. I don't bring juice for other people's kids. And when it is our turn to bring a snack I think it is a great idea to bring something likely foreign to the average Canadian three year old, like a cape gooseberry. I wonder what the other parents thought when they saw our snack reported on the calendar.

(A total aside, but don't you think having to record you snack is just another form of competitive parenting? Remind me to ask the teacher about that.)

A cape gooseberry isn't a common fruit. I always associate it with hotel fruit trays at meetings. Their distinctive papery coverings serve more as garnish to most of us. But peel that back and taste the sweetly sour fruit with the hint of sunshine. It's kind of like a natural version of sour gummy candy, minus the jelly texture. Personally, I love them. But I wasn't sure about the kids.

I baked cookies as a fall back position.

The cape gooseberries? They went over surprisingly well. In a class of eight kids one outright refused to even have the gooseberry in his bowl, stopping just short of a complete fit over the fact that it even touched his cookies. A couple more sniffed it and merely set it aside. Two more had to be cajoled... er, encouraged to try the fruit. And three happily tried them. One kept asking for more and more, leaving his cookies aside. Way to go kid!

My kid tried hers, declared it too sour, and returned to her cookies.

The kid that loved them?  His dad is a chef.

08 November, 2009

Cottage Cheese

I have a desire to make my own cottage cheese one of these days, just like my Baba used to. That won't be happening until Smilosaurus learns to keep it on the high chair tray, at least, instead of decorating the dog. The worst part is that we usually rely on the dogs to clean up after she eats.  What am I supposed to do when this happens?

31 October, 2009

Taste Adventure - Coconut Jam and Pandan

Every book in our house is read a minimum of 4 times an hour.  Each day it might be a different rotation of books, if I am fortunate enough to sneak in a repertoire, but each book will be read ad infinitum.  Generally this causes intense boredom on the part of us parents, sometimes to the point of irritation.  There is one book, however, that doesn't drive me completely insane to read: Munch by Emma McCann.

In this story of a toast and jam loving monster named Munch fighting off an enormous monster with an enormous appetite the strangest jams are highlighted as favourites of Munch: coconut, broccoli, and banana jam. While I had no interest in broccoli or banana jam, I was always intensely curious about the thought of coconut jam. So my Monster and I googled it one day only to discover what apparently most of South East Asia has already known.  Coconut jam, more generally known as Kaya is a little bit of tropical heaven in a jar.

This morning I managed a quick escape from our self-imposed quarantine (still not sure if the flu is really here or not) for a trip to the Loriz Bakery, a Phillipino bakery and convenience store not to far from our house to pick up pandan.  Also known by the horribly bad name of screw pine leaves, pandan is common on Thai, Malaysian, and Phillipino cuisine.  Honestly, to me it smelled like a type of grass.  Tasted bland too.  But combined with coconut it tasted And smelled like our house was transported into somewhere far more tropical than Calgary for an hour. Remind me to get Thai of dinner tomorrow.

I blitzed my screw pine leaves with a bit of water and strained the mess.  Then I set to carmelizing sugar, beating eggs, and cooking it all together with some thick coconut milk.  It turns out coconut jam is more like a custard.  But damn, it is good.

Sadly, The Monster refused to try it and Smilosaurus did not like it at all.  I am blaming it all on the sickness and not on the odd colour that this ends up.  Putting green goop on your toast is not appetizing to the eyes, but to the nose and tongue it was fantastic!  Seriously, it was so good. And one of the best things is that I have A LOT more pandan leaves in the freezer and you can always get coconut milk. Even though the recipe only makes about 3 jars of jam you can make it at any time of the year.

In my research I discovered recipes with or without the pandan  I decided to go for the pandan to make it a bit more authentic.  A lot of the recipes had up to 10 eggs too.  It seemed like it would be a bit too eggy so I found another recipe and adapted it because my can of coconut milk was bigger than the one in the original. It worked for me, it definitely worked for me.

Coconut Jam
Adapted from Almost Bourdain
(makes 3 250 ml jars)

5 pandan leaves
250 grams sugar
1 can coconut milk (not light) or cream
5 eggs, beaten well

1. Blitz the pandan leaves with 1/4 cup of water.  Push the liquid through a sieve and measure 50 ml.
2. Melt sugar and pandan juice in a heavy bottomed pan on medium heat until carmelized.  it will be green, so don't let it go much more than a couple of minutes once the sugar is melted.
3. Remove from heat, stir in the coconut milk and eggs.
4. Return to heat and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is thickened and cooked, approximately 20-25 minutes.
5. Place in sterilized jars and seal.  Alternatively, let cool and serve that day. (I did not process my jars, but they did seal.)

Make sure to visit Under the High Chair for her virtual jam swap, there are going to be some fantastic submissions!

29 October, 2009

The Most Fantastic Raisin Bread Ever

The little one is sick.  It garnered a trip to the ER last night, on what one nurse described as the craziest night she's ever had at the Children's Hospital. But with some steroids and lots of rest she and I are both feeling better.

Today, however, was a day for snuggles and gratitude.  So I sifted through some photos and pulled together this little photo essay.  We spent a chilly Saturday in the kitchen and with some old magazines.  Thanks to Julie and this interview I had a strong desire for raisin bread.  A very strong desire. 

Thank-you Gourmet for the most fantastic raisin bread ever.  Seriously, all raisin bread should include cardamom, whether it is Finnish or not. Anyone know what makes it Finnish?  It just seemed like a challah with raisins and cardamom. And who cares?  Just get in the kitchen, get messy, and bake some.

25 October, 2009

Uncles are Evil

I'm not sure that the guy who invented caramel apples had kids.  I bet he was an uncle, not a dad. He took evil pleasure in feeding his nieces and nephews sugar on a stick - under the guise of a healthy apple - then sending them home to Mommy and Daddy all jacked up. Mr. Dan Walker, a sales rep from Kraft is the man credited with introducing the caramel apple to the mass market. Someone out there do a geneology search on him and see if he had kids, will ya?

Personally, my first caramel apple was only enjoyed recently because my mom refused to let us have them as kids.  At least this is what I remember, she may argue differently.  It may have been the profusion of sweetness or the gooey mess, but I can tell you that I felt deprived.  I'm over it now, only because I now know how to make my own caramel apples.

There are two ways to go about it.  You can use the brand name kits or buy a bag of premade caramels and melt them.  Or you can make the caramel yourself.  Really, it isn't hard, only 4 ingredients, plus the apples. You do need a candy thermometer, but a basic one can be picked up at the grocery store. Your homemade caramel will also have a much richer flavour and a darker colour.

The alternative to making caramel apples is to make a caramel dipping sauce for apples, brownies, bananas, ice cream, and pretty much anything else that is only better with melted sugar on it.  So, that means pretty much everything. Making a caramel sauce is even easier, taking only three ingredients and not requiring anything but a good pot.

While I generally welcome the girls, ages 1 and 3, into the kitchen regardless of what I'm cooking, this was a task I saved for naptime.  Caramel is liquid sugar.  It is ridiculously hot and can burn.  And my youngest has an innate ability to stand right behind you without you knowing. With me making caramel she really would be living up to her nickname of Death Wish. So I boiled my caramel, cleaned and dried my apples, prepared some yummy toppings, then got to dipping.  By the time naptime was over the girls had a treat to take them through an extra long trip to the park.

Caramel Apples
(6-8 apples)

6-8 apples
2 cups brown sugar
1 3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp butter
1/2 c corn syrup

Special Equipment:
  • candy thermometer
  • bamboo skewers, popsicle sticks, or chopsticks
  • parchment paper or Silpat

1. Wash and clean apples.  If they are supermarket apples wash in hot water and wipe well to ensure that all wax is removed.  Dry thoroughly, very thoroughly.  Insert a stick into the core of each apple.  Set aside.

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment rubbed with butter or a Silpat mat.  Set aside.

3. Fill a large bowl with ice water.  It should be big enough to safely hold the pot with the caramel mixture .  Set aside.

4. Combine all ingredients (save for apples) in a saucepan at least 3 times the size of the mixture.  Set on medium to high heat with the thermometer in the mixture.  Cook until the temperature reaches 235-240 degrees F, approximately 10-15 minutes.  As soon as it reaches temperature remove the pot from the heat and immerse the bottom of the pot in the bowl of ice water to cool.  Stir and cool until the temperature measure 200 degrees F.  DO NOT GET ANY WATER IN THE CARAMEL.

5. Dip your apples, one at a time, in the caramel.  Twirl the apples to coat, then lift and twirl for 10-15 seconds letting the excess caramel drip off.  Hold upright and repeat 10-15 seconds of twirling. Place on prepared cookie sheet to cool.

6. If desired, once the caramel has cooled for a minute or two dip in topping of choice.

Topping suggestions:
  • Chopped nuts
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Crushed pretzels
  • Dried fruit
  • Toffee bits
  • Crumbled, cooked bacon
  • Candy sprinkles
  • Crushed Gingersnaps

Caramel Dipping Sauce
(makes approximately 2 cups)

1 cup sugar
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. In a medium saucepan melt sugar, swirling pan frequently, until amber in colour.  There is no need to whisk or stir, just lift the pan and swirl the sugar until it is all melted and amber.

2. Cut butter into small chunks.  Lift pot off burner and add in butter.  Whisk to combine and return to heat until butter is melted and caramel is smooth.

3.  Slowly add cream.  Mixture will bubble and thicken.  Continue to whisk until soft and smooth.  Remove from heat.

4.  Once cool, store in a glass jar until ready to use.  Keeps for 1-2 weeks in the fridge or 3-4 months in the freezer.  Serve as a dip for fruit, an ice cream topping, or on cake.

For those of you joining me from Breakfast Television, if you are also looking for the salted caramel ice cream recipe you can find it here. Print it now, before they shut down the site.

And for those of you interested in seeing my appearance on BT, you can find it here. Yes, I did indeed use bacon as a topping and it was delicious!

16 October, 2009


With more than a little impatience I've been watching the mailbox the last two weeks.  Well, watching isn't quite the right term since I'm at work when our mailman comes.  But the second my feet hit the ground out of the car I have a single vision.  Sadly, it is not to kiss my girls hello or pet the pooches.  Nope, I'm looking out for my last issue of Gourmet. Sigh. The last issue.

My Gourmet love started 15 years ago as an undergrad.  I started buying the magazine from The Daily Grind in Halifax on my way home from the farmers' market. It was perfect for my busy life - I could read it in snippets and it transported me from the real daily grind of life as a working student.

Since those days I've been a faithful subscriber - even when we were stone cold broke it was my one luxury.  I do indeed cook regularly from it.  Last year in a fit of purging I only now regret I shared my magazines with a worthy recipient, dear Julie. I kept some memorable issues and I will be hanging on to the two years worth that I still have. And now it is gone. At least Julie is promising to open a lending library out of her basement.  (Let me know if you need her address.) I still haven't stopped sighing.

I've also found myself defending the magazine to many. To the people who criticized the magazine as snobby, elitist, and catering to people with big gobs of time and money to cook and travel I say BAH!  Don't get me wrong, it did have some pretty fantastical stuff.  But it also had everyday recipes that included things like canned beans and frozen pizza dough.  In The Kitchen Notebook section it broke down ingredients and techniques, making them quite manageable for the home cook.  In the past few years Jane and Michael Stern's pieces were getting more and more play.  And finally, I loved, absolutely loved the Politics of the Plate pieces.  

Reading a magazine for me isn't about giving me 20 new ideas for a fast dinner. If I want that I can browse on-line or go to my mom's old Canadian Livings.  But sitting down with a beer or a cup of tea, or flipping through the pages on a road trip were part escape and part inspiration. I may not make my own demi glace (I know people who do) but maybe I'll tackle beef stock again. Reading a magazine was my own little vacation.

I would be hard pressed to find a single recipe that I could say is a favourite from the magazine, but there are certainly some memorable ones - the chicken cashew chili is a favourite of Hubby's. And I've been making braised swiss chard with feta and currants a lot.  On the list for the next dinner party is the apple pie with cheddar crust.  

One of the most formative recipes from the magazine is one I've only made once.  And that was a long, long time ago.  I'm picking this one to share because the first time I had it was at the house of the only person I know personally to have ever been published in the magazine. Friends of mine from journalism school lived in the same city as we did for a few years.  They had two adorable little boys that Hubby and I would frequently babysit.  They were writers and I adored them.  Valerie wrote a little piece about a fantastic bakery in Edmonton and Ruth Reichl published it.  I don't think we celebrated with this cake, but in my memory I am toasting both Valerie and Gourmet with it.

(PS  A Mingling of Tastes is gathering Gourmet obituaries and musings.  Check them out!)

13 October, 2009

Slightly Regrouped

It wasn't just the pie, but that definitely had something to do with it.  It might have been the four day weekend.  Or maybe staying home with our modern family (our friends) did it for me. Quite possibly it was simply sleeping for more than 5 hours a night.  Whatever it was, I can feel some of my mojo coming back. And yes, this pie had a lot to do with it.

Maple makes me happy.  In a delirious sort of way.  I fully admit to taking swigs of maple syrup from the bottle.  I will find any excuse to include it in a recipe from baked beans to oatmeal cookies to lamb stew with dumplings. The sight of a real sugar maple is enough to make me start salivating. So this Rustic Maple Pecan Pie indeed made me happy.

It made me happy to read about it in the first place.  It made me happy to make it yesterday afternoon while the rest of the house napped.  It made me happy to share it with our close-knit friends after a raucous Thanksgiving dinner.  And it is making me happy to share it with you.  

Thank-you to Aimée at Under the High Chair for letting me share this with you. Use your favourite pie crust, I went with my standard Pate Brisée.

Rustic Maple Pecan Pie
(courtesy of  Aimée's Auntie Lynn)

1 unbaked 9 inch pie shell
2 eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 chopped pecans (I used a bit more than that)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2.  Beat eggs in a medium sized bowl.  Stir flour into brown sugar and add to eggs. Mix well. Stir in remaining ingredients.
3. Pour into pie shell and bake for 40 minutes.
4. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.  And more maple syrup drizzled on top.

09 October, 2009

Just Friday

If you've seen my mojo can you please give it back?

Maybe it was the turn in weather from our snippet of fall to pretty much winter.  Generally I would enjoy that, but this has just been a week to get me down.  The one thing keeping me going is the thought of Thanksgiving this weekend. Hands down, it is my favourite holiday. And I had grand plans for sharing recipes all week for some lovely dishes. Instead, I'm going to send you off to this site for breakfast. One day I will get the chance to really enjoy that first cup of hot tea and some hand pies in quiet contemplation of the last issue of Gourmet.  For now I'll scarf the pies, burn my tongue on the tea, and read a paragraph or two in the midst of screaming, Super Why, and dirty bums.