27 March, 2010

Babka is a Family Affair

It's only fitting that I felt compelled to make Babka on the day of the bake sale at my parents' church. They would have sold Babka by the hundreds there. Not surprising since every single recipe I had seemed to make enough to feed an entire Ukrainian village. 10 eggs! 3 packages of yeast! 10 cups of flour! Oi vey.

So I did what any good Ukrainian would do. I called my mom. Unfortunately, she was at that bakesale, but my dad totally came through for me. He referred me to another cookbook in the family collection, where we found a recipe that could easily be adapted for a normal family size. And he said it looked a lot like the Babka that he was familiar with.

Did I mention that I've never made Babka before?

Traditionally served at Easter, and part of the required items in the Easter basket to be blessed at church, Babka is a sweet, eggy bread. Our family likes our studded with raisins or currants. A lot of descriptions  online call it something between a cake and a bread. Not so in my world. I always think of Babka as a sweet, rich bread, baked tall and best with creamy butter. Keep your cinnamon and chocolate and your Jerry Seinfeld, Babka is for spring, with a touch of citrus.

So the girls and I gathered our ingredients, put on our aprons, and set about to make a big giant mess. The good thing about making Babka is that it needs a lot of eggs, perfect for little hands. And what gorgeous little hands. I adore watching my girls' attack dough in their attempts to knead it. The Monster even has the push - turn - fold technique down now. And so long as we can keep Smilosaurus from snitching bits of raw dough we end up with a nice piece set to rise. And rise. And rise again. Be forewarned, from start to finish this is a full day affair.

This recipe starts out quite wet, what with all those eggs, milk, and a juiced orange. You will have to play with the flour, adding as much as necessary.  Just go slow, adding a few tablespoons at a time. Your dough is ready when it is smooth, aside from the raisins, no longer sticky, and relaxes a little, just a little, when you stop kneading.

Babka is traditionally made into a tall, round loaf. You do this by baking it in cleaned out cleaned tin cans. You could bake it in a loaf pan, but that doesn't seem quite as fun, or traditional. If, like me, you don't have a lot of cans in your house you can ask a neighbour. Failing that, make plans to make sauce later and use the cans from some tinned tomatoes. Just make sure they are washed well. Then buttered quite well. If you are worried about the bread releasing from the can, line it with a strip of parchment paper, and more butter. 

And when you are all done, make sure you call your parents to share your success. Then butter some slices for the next generation and enjoy with tea. Church blessings optional.

Ukrainian Babka
Makes 5 large tin size loaves, more or less depending on the size of container

1 tsp  plus 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 package Active Dry Yeast
3 whole eggs
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup warm milk
1 tsp salt
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 tsp vanilla
4-5 cups flour
1 cup golden raisins or currants
1 egg, beaten

1. Dissolve 1 tsp sugar in warm water.  Add yeast and let stand 10 minutes.
2. Soak raisins in warm water. Drain well.
3. Beat eggs and yolks until light - 4 minutes with stand mixer, about 8 minutes by hand. Stir in remaining sugar and beat 30 seconds more. Add melted butter, milk, salt, orange juice and zest, and vanilla. Mix well.
4. Mix the wet ingredients to the 4 cups flour in a large bowl. Mix together well.  Add flour, if necessary, 1/4 cup at a time until you get a wet dough. 
5. Turn out onto a floured countertop and knead.  Add flour in small bits until the dough is smooth.  Knead for 4 minutes or so. In two batches knead the drained raisins into the dough. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a clean, buttered bowl, rub a bit more butter on the dough and set in a warm, draft-free spot to rise.
6. Let rise until double in size.  Punch down and let rise again.
7. Butter cleaned tins, dish, or pans. If preferred, line with a strip of parchment paper, then butter that as well. Form dough into balls that will fill container of choice to 1/3. Place in container and let rise again.
8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Brush the tops of the babka with beaten egg.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your container. It should be nicely browned and have a hollow sound when you tap it.

26 March, 2010

Only in My House?

Hubby has a disgusting habit. Okay, he has more than one. Opening beer bottles with his teeth, eating knobs of butter, just butter, and eating dried macaroni by the handful. And much to my chagrin, he's passed on those habits to our youngest child. Not the beer bottle one - yet.

Yes, when we bake she steals bits of butter and I've found her with her finger in the butter dish more than once. Are you cringing just a little at that? I am.

Lately, however, the macaroni habit has become an obsession. All our dry goods are stored in glass jars on open shelves above the stove.  She literally tries to climb up the stove, yelling, "Macaroni please!"

At first I refused, fearing that she would choke. We've been down that road and I was terrified of another ambulance visit. Eventually I relented, letting her have just one. She chomped down, chewed it up, and asked for more. So now she and her Daddy sit with handfuls of dried macaroni, crunching and laughing together over the naughtiness of their habit.

Does anyone else do this? Or is my family just this special? (Sarah, don't answer that)

24 March, 2010

Lemon Frozen Yogurt

For sittin' on the porch and pretending it's summer.

This is about the laziest dessert one could make, aside from cutting up fruit and pretending it's a treat. Of course, it only works if you own an ice cream maker. That's not true, you could just stick a container of yogurt in the freezer, but you'll miss the churning and the joy of soft serve fro yo as it comes out of the ice cream maker.

Take a carton or two of your favourite yoghurt such as Liberte Mediterranee Lemon. Dump it in a frozen ice cream maker. Turn on. Eat when frozen. Dream of green grass, ocean breezes, and blazing sunshine.

18 March, 2010

Scotch and ...

In a fit of accidental drinking and eating Hubby and I discovered a fantastic food/liquor combo. Scotch and caramel corn.  In particular, peanut and sea salt with my caramel corn and a smoky scotch like Caol Isla. Okay, so the drinking wasn't accidental, but the insane hunger that led us to the Scouts caramel corn was.

Not wanting to repeat ourselves, nor get into that beyond sweet caramel corn again, as well as prep for My "Whiskey for Dinner" class tonight I set out to make my own caramel corn. How refreshing it was to discover that it is so damn easy. Pop some popcorn, make some caramel, toss together, and bake at low heat. That's it. I even encouraged the men in our class tonight that it was dead easy and hopefully they are logging on to get the recipe right now.

One of the surprising things in my research was that 99.99 % of the recipes I found used brown sugar.  Actually, I didn't find any that used white sugar, but I can't conclusively say that there isn't one out there. The first batch I made was with the "best brown" sugar I keep in the house for oatmeal and cookies.  It was good, once I got over the concept of adding baking soda to the recipe. But I knew I wouldn't have enough, plus I wasn't that fond of the colour.

The second batch was with the "yellow" brown sugar I borrowed from the neighbour when I realized that the nanny had used the last of my brown sugar making cookies - not that I was complaining. And, I'll admit it, I was afraid to try white sugar since I found no recipes with it. So yellow brown sugar it was. 

Can you tell the difference in the photo above? Best Brown on the left, yellow brown on the right.

So I had my caramel corn ready to go. Good to go. Loaded up I joined a great group of guys at J. Webb tonight. Where are my single ladies?  Seriously, develop a taste for scotch or an open mind, because there are always a fun, intelligent group of guys at scotch tastings. 

The caramel corn was on deck to serve with those lovely smoky or peaty scotches.  When it comes to scotch and food pairings you don't want to pair smoke with smoke. The sweet and salt of caramel corn matches perfectly with the smoky drinks. Actually, the caramel corn went with almost all the scotches.  As does chocolate, especially the fruity ones from Venezuela and Guatemala.

But pairing scotch and food is more than the sweet stuff. At its most basic level, pairing is pretty straight forward - match the basic characteristics of the scotch to your food. For example, the Lowland scotches are lighter, so they work well with rich cheese, honey, and fruit. Something like a pear and brie tart, or a cream of leek soup. And think about where the scotch comes from, The Island and Speyside styles work really well with seafood and both clean and salty flavours.  Even sushi works really well, or mussels with fennel.  The Lowland and Highland styles lend themselves to the richness of game meat, the sweetness of peppers, and even some spice.

But the star of the night was the caramel corn.  And the Glenfarclas 17 year old.

The caramel corn recipe I used was a slight variation on this one.  I added a bit more salt, used the roasted peanuts I had in the cupboard, and that yellow brown sugar. It isn't cloying, has the burnt sugar saltiness, and the baking soda makes the carmel crackle, but not crack.

Caramel Corn
Makes about 10 cups

1 3/12 ounce package plain/orginal/natural popcorn
OR 10 cups air popped popcorn
1 cup yellow brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tbsp water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (cut this back if you prefer it without the salty taste)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup peanuts, cashews, or pecans

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or spray with non-stick spray. Spray a large bowl.
2. Pop your popcorn and toss in the bowl, being careful to keep out any unpopped kernels.
3. Whisk sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and water in a small saucepan.  Melt and boil for 3-5 minutes until it reaches 250 degrees F on a candy thermometer. You need the candy thermometer, so don't try to just eyeball this step.
4. As soon as you reach temperature stir the baking soda and vanilla into the caramel.  Pour over the popcorn, add the nuts, and stir together.  You won't get a complete cover over the popcorn, but stir well and try to get a little on each bit of popped corn. Spread out on the cookie sheet.
5. Let cook slowly in your low oven, stirring gently every 20 minutes, for 1 hour. Let cool completely before enjoying.

14 March, 2010

Bean Burgers Yum!

If you've been reading a while you know that I was the mom who went crazy anal about making my kids' food when they were little. Or you just know me and that fact isn't surprising at all. But the one thing I did buy was some bean burgers from a local manufacturer. The Monster absolutely loved them. But they were expensive. Damn expensive.

I launched a search to make a good bean burger myself. And I searched and tested and searched and tested some more. And I had no success. Nothing seemed to work.  They were all too dry or too wet, so I gave up.

Then the Blog Aid: Haiti cookbook arrived. Catherine McCord at Weelicious included a recipe for garbanzo burgers in it. The old challenge poked its head out of my subconscious and forced me to make her burgers. And you know what? Success at last! 

Of course, I did adapt it a bit.  But that's because I had a 19 ounce can of chickpeas, not 14 ounces as in the original recipe. To compensate I added some pistachios when I was making the breadcrumbs and threw in some spices. The girls and I happily ate them, as did our vegetarian friend who was visiting. Even Hubby, the devout carnivore, ate them without grumbling. Much. But he did clarify that they were actually patties and did not deserve the name burger.

Garbanzo Patties
Adapted from the Weelicious recipe in the Blog Aid:Haiti Cookbook

Makes 12-15 patties

1 19 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 small carrot, chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped pistachios
2 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
1-2 tbsp oil

1. Blitz the first 8 ingredients in a food processor until it is a consistent mixture.
2. Stir in the bread crumbs, pistachios, and sesame seeds.
3. Scoop about 1/4 cup of the mixture (it will be wet) into your hand and form patties. 
4. Heat oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Cook patties for 5 minutes, flip and cook 3-5 minutes longer.

Particularly tasty with Edgar Farms Asparagus Relish. Or a nice green salad.

10 March, 2010

The Cure for Picky Eating?

Head on over to Simple Bites today. I'm sharing our family food philosophy and tips for getting your kids to embrace food. Will it cure a picky eater? No, but taking a relaxed approach that makes food the star will make everyone happier and well fed. 

08 March, 2010

Upcoming Event - A True Taste Adventure

This one is not for the kids!

I'm happy to announce a new relationship and upcoming event with J. Webb Wine Merchant Ltd. Lee Hansen and I will be joining forces for a scotch and food pairing class. Actually, there will be two opportunities to enjoy the range of tastes from Scotland and the food we are pairing with it. Think sweet, salty, and meaty. Then think of the scotch!

Join us on March 17 or 18 at the Glenmore Landing location. For sign-up information visit the J. Webb site.

02 March, 2010


It seems that your quads are the first muscle to atrophy when you wreck your knees. Despite the layers of insulation covering those large muscles of mine it is quite noticable that they aren't so large anymore. Neither are my calves. But sadly, my ass is still as big as it ever was. Needless to say, ice cream is probably the last thing I need right now.

But oh how I need ice cream. The last 6 weeks have certainly screamed out for comfort food. My mom make us pyrohy, we've eaten countless bowls of pho after The Monster's dance class, managed more than one batch of cookies, and indulged in a heck of a lot of beer during the Olympics. Not once, however, have I been able to convince Hubby to buy ice cream. Bloody diet nazi.

So I added heavy cream to the grocery list. Ha Ha! Combined with the very large bar of bittersweet Bernard Callebaut chocolate in my cupboard and I got him back. The girls and I set out to chop chocolate, dissolve cocoa, cook a lovely custard, and anticipate the ice cream. They were diverted from cooling time and the churning with snow play.

I did save the first taste of ice cream for an Olympic hockey game.  At least my brain hasn't atrophied. Kids and a bowl of cold ice cream means nearly a period of peace for Hubby and I. It worked so well that we used it repeatedly throughout the Games. Minus the bowls I snuck for myself.

The recipe I used was absolutely phenomenal.  It was so decadent and rich, and just perfect. In truth, it was exactly like a frozen pudding. With a bit more effort on my part I could have enjoyed it with a brownie and salted caramel sauce. The knees however can't hack that much work yet. And my ass can't handle that much in the absence of a good workout.

With thanks to David Lebovitz and The Perfect Scoop.  I followed the recipe word for word and it was perfect. And thanks to Tara at Seven Spoons for the photo inspiration on that top picture.