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.