Sunday, December 6, 2009

Grits by any other name . . .

This is a follow up post to my dad's birthday meal. As a side dish to accompany the chicken cacciatore (now that I know the origin of the dish, I seem to have no problem spelling it), I made polenta. But not just plain, mushy polenta - baked polenta. What made this dish so good was the copious amounts of cheese. My mom, the turophile, loved it. When I followed the Joy of Cooking's recipe, I felt it made way too much (it made 8+ servings), so I waited on posting until I could experiment with halving the recipe. Some recipes just don't half well. This one did, with a few minor adjustments. So without any further ado:

Polenta, Baked

Ingredient List
Gruyère Swiss cheese (60 g)
mozzarella cheese (60 g)
parmesan cheese, grated ¼ cup)
olive oil
onion (1 small)
chicken broth/stock (1½ cup)
coarse cornmeal
heavy cream

Grate 60 g Gruyère Swiss cheese and 60 grams mozzarella cheese (approximately ¼ cup each). Store, covered, in refrigerator until ready to use. Finely dice 1 small onion. Lightly grease a small casserole dish with butter, oil, or non-stick cooking spray.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook for approximately 5 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent.

Add 1 cup chicken broth and ¾ cup water to the saucepan and bring mixture to a boil. Meanwhile, combine ½ cup chicken broth and ½ cup water with ¾ cup coarse cornmeal.

Once the mixture begins to boil, gradually add the cornmeal. Reduce the heat and cook for approximately 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until the large bubbles form.

Evenly spread half of the polenta in the greased casserole dish. Sprinkle with half of the grated cheese as well as with 2 tbsp parmesan cheese.

Evenly spread the remaining polenta over the cheese and top with remaining grated cheese and another 2 tbsp parmesan cheese.

Drizzle over ¼ cup heavy cream.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the cheese is brown and bubbly. Let the polenta stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 large servings.

Recipe can be easily doubled.

Nutrition (per serving)
Calories 324
Total fat 21 g
Saturated fat 9 g
Cholesterol 40 mg
Sodium 523 mg
Carbohydrate 21 g
Dietary fibre 2 g
Sugars 1 g
Protein 15 g
Vitamin A 8 %DV
Vitamin C 2 %DV
Calcium 34 %DV
Iron 7 %DV

Original Source: adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Hunter's Chicken

When I asked my dad what he wanted me to make for his birthday dinner and he said, "Chicken cacciatore," I thought, "Oh, that's easy. That's chicken breasts, dredged in flour, cooked and served with tomato sauce and spaghetti." That may be what I grew up on, but that's NOT chicken cacciatore. Chicken cacciatore, or, pollo alla cacciatore, literally means "hunter's chicken". It's a traditional way of braising chicken in a sauce. NOT with tomatoes. Thanks to my trusty Joy of Cooking and the internet, I was able to make a delicious version that I think everyone enjoyed. Now, technically, since I added mushrooms, it became "pollo alla forestiere" (forester's chicken), but tough beans.

I served it with a traditional side of baked polenta (to be raved about in another post) and some roasted broccoli (the last of the season). And, of course, the meal was followed up with my dad's staple favourite -- pineapple upside-down cake.

Chicken Cacciatore

Ingredient List

All Purpose flour
table salt
ground black pepper
boneless, skinless chicken thighs (~ 1 kg)
olive oil
white onion (1 medium)
bay leaves (2)
Italian seasoning
wine (red or white), dry
crushed tomatoes (796 mL/28 fl. oz can)
chicken stock/broth
mushrooms (227 g)

Mix ¼ cup AP flour in a bowl with 1 tsp table salt and 1 tsp ground black pepper. Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Dredge the chicken thighs in the flour mixture and brown in batches in the pot. Remove to a plate.

Remove all but 2 tbsp of the fat/oil. Add 1 medium white onion, chopped (~ 1 cup), 2 bay leaves, and 2 tsp Italian seasoning. Cook, stirring, for ~ 5 minutes, until the onion browns. Add 2 cloves garlic, minced, and cook for another 30 seconds.

Return the chicken to the pot and add ½ cup dry wine. Scrape up the fond and boil until all of the wine evaporates.

Add 1 can crushed tomatoes and ¾ cup chicken stock. Bring mixture to a boil. Simmer, uncovered for 25 minutes.

Stir in 227 g mushrooms, sliced. Cook for at least 10 minutes, until the juices thicken. (Depending on evaporation, add back some water if needed.)

Season to taste.

Makes 8 servings.

Polenta is a traditional side dish.

Nutrition (per serving)
Calories 327
Total fat 15 g
Saturated fat 3 g
Cholesterol 111 mg
Sodium 379 mg
Carbohydrate 8 g
Dietary fibre 2 g
Sugars 4 g
Protein 38 g
Vitamin A 9 %DV
Vitamin C 15 %DV
Calcium 4 %DV
Iron 11 %DV

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Irish Car Bomb cupcakes!

Today was Gabriel's 25th birthday and last night we had a party to celebrate. Every year I make him a special cake. Two years ago it was a vanilla cake shaped like the weighted companion cube from the video game, Portal:
Last year, it was the peanut butter chocolate cake of death:
This year, Gabriel was just going to go with his default favourite, spice cake, but I sent him over to SmittenKitchen and he decided to go with . . .

Irish Car Bomb cupcakes!

If you're not familiar with the Irish Car Bomb, it's a drink that really mean college kids make their friends drink. You take a mixed shot of whiskey and Bailey's irish cream and drop it into a mostly full pint of Guiness. The poor soul whose lot this is, must chug the disgusting concoction as quickly as possible, before the cream curdles. Blech.

Luckily, these cupcakes were delicious. The cupcakes themselves are made from a Guiness chocolate cake batter. Then, the centers were hollowed out and filled with a whiskey chocolate ganache (think chocolate truffle, yum). Finally, the icing is a basic buttercream, flavoured with Bailey's. I was very pleased with how they turned out and they were a big hit with the crowd!

Original Source: Smitten Kitten - Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Apple of my Pie

Nom, nom. It's apple season. Two weeks ago I bought my first bag of MacIntosh apples and I nearly died from how good that first bite was. Those of you who think I was over reacting must not remember that apples begin to convert their starches to sugars once picked so, even if you can get apples in April, they're not nearly as good. For this reason, I only eat apples in season. I also had a similar experience when my awesome cousin, Jenn, took me to an orchard where I bought a half peck (yes, as in "Peter Piper...") of more Mac's. While they are my favourie out-of-hand eating apple, they suck in pies (but are great in apple sauce) because they fall apart too easily. For this recipe, choose hearty apples such as Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, and Granny Smiths. Enjoy!

Apple Pie

Ingredient List
pie shells (2)
apples* (1.5 kg, ~ 6-8 medium/large)
unsalted butter (3 tbsp)
granulated sugar
ground cinnamon
table salt
lemon juice
honey (optinal)
coarse sugar (optional)

Peel, core, and slice 1.5 kg apples. Rinse each set of slices briefly in a solution of water and lemon juice to prevent browning while peeling the rest of the apples.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt 3 tbsp unsalted butter in a very large skillet or pot over high heat.

Add the apples and stir to coat. Reduce the head to medium, cover and cook until the apples have softened slightly, stirring often (~ 5-7 minutes).

Stir in ¾ cup granulated sugar, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, ⅛ tsp table salt, and 2 tsp lemon juice.

Increase the heat to high and cook the apples until the juices thicken (~ 3 minutes).

Spread the apples in a single layer on a baking sheet and let them cool to room temperature.

Pour the apple mixture into the bottom pie crust. Cover with a vented top crust (vent can be made with a knife or a small cookie cutter), sealing the edges with pressure from fingers or a fork.

Optional: Mix 1 tbsp honey with 1 tbsp water. Brush over top crust. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake in lower half of the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the filling begins to bubble.

Let cool completely for 3-4 hours before serving. If desired, reheat in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes.

Makes 8 servings.

*A combination of baking apples is best; Courtland, Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Newtown/Pippin, Mutsu/Crispin, Northern Spy, Spygold, and Ida Red.

The top crust can be substituted with a streusel or crisp topping, instead.

Nutrition (per serving)
Calories 233
Total fat 6 g
Saturated fat 3 g
Cholesterol 11 mg
Sodium 93 mg
Carbohydrate 48 g
Dietary fibre 5 g
Sugars 39 g
Protein 1 g
Vitamin A 5 %DV
Vitamin C 15 %DV
Calcium 2 %DV
Iron 2 %D

Original Source: Joy of Cooking

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Don't be such a turkey!

Thanksgiving has come and gone and I made yet another fabulous bird. It's taken several years to develop a fool-proof turkey method but I've done it. If you follow the below steps, you will never have to worry about how your turkey will turn out ever again.

One thing though - You need a probe thermometer. It's the only way to truly tell when your bird is done. They're dirt cheap, especially if you buy the one from PC (doesn't come with a magnet on the back but you can add one).

Oh, and the brining of the turkey is a must. Not only does it give you a moist, succulent bird, but it changes the cooking properties of the meat and reduces the overall cooking time.


Ingredient List

whole young turkey (~ 14 lbs)

vegetable oil

table salt

brown sugar

Hardware List

large bucket or cooler (~ 4 gallon)

probe thermometer

electric knife (optional)

rack or root vegetables

aluminum foil

Thawing Directions

If the turkey needs to be thawed from frozen, place it in a pan, still in its packaging, in the bottom of the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

If the turkey is still frozen the day before cooking, completely submerse it in a bucket full of COLD water for 6-8 hours, changing the water every 3 hours.

Brining Directions

Place the thawed turkey in a bucket or cooler and determine how much water is required to completely submerse it (~3 gallons).

For every gallon of liquid (16 cups), combine ½ cup table salt and ⅓ cup brown sugar in a medium saucepan. Add 2 cups water for each gallon required and heat until everything is completely dissolved. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Pour the mixture into the bucket along with the remaining 14 cups water per gallon. Remove the turkey from its packaging and remove any giblets. Gently add the turkey to the bucket, breast side down. If necessary, place a heavy object on top to keep the turkey completely submersed.

Let the turkey soak for 8-10 hours, in the refrigerator. If the turkey is not completely submerged, flip it over half way through the brining process. Return the turkey to the empty bucket and store it in the refrigerator until ready for cooking.

Cooking Directions

Thoroughly rinse the turkey, inside and out, to remove any salt deposits on the skin. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels.

Line the bottom of the roasting pan with a rack or with root vegetables. Place the turkey in the roasting pan and let it sit enough to remove any remaining surface moisture (~ ½-1 hour).

Preheat the oven to 500°F.

Tuck the turkey’s wings behind its back and tie its legs together with twine or tuck them through the tail fat.

Insert the probe thermometer into the deepest part of the breast meat. Mold an aluminum foil triangle to the breast area of the turkey and remove for later use. Brush the entire turkey with a small amount of vegetable oil.

Roast the turkey for 30 minutes to brown the skin.

Return the aluminum foil triangle to the breast area of the turkey and drop the oven temperature to 350°F.

Cook the turkey until the probe thermometer reaches a temperature of 165°F (~1½-2 hours). Check a second location in the breast meat to verify temperature.

Remove the turkey from the oven and let it sit, covered with aluminum foil, for 15 minutes.

Carving Directions

Using an electric knife (preferably), cut the thighs to the joint, break the joint manually, and then continue to cut through to sever the leg. Cut the thigh from the drumstick.

Cut into the breast meat at the wing and follow in and up to the ribs. Slice the breast meat off in thin slabs.


If the turkey is done too early, tent with foil and let it sit in a 200°F oven until ready.

Sample timeline for a 6:00 PM dinner:

2:30 PM Place turkey in roasting pan at room temperature.

3:10 PM Turn on oven. Prep turkey.

3:30 PM Broil turkey at 500°F for 30 min.

4:00 PM Roast turkey at 350°F until done.

Nutrition (per 1 cup)

Calories 238

Total fat 7 g

Saturated fat 2.3 g

Cholesterol 106 mg

Sodium 98 mg

Carbohydrate 0 g

Dietary fibre 0 g

Sugars 0 g

Protein 41 g

Vitamin A 0 %DV

Vitamin C 0 %DV

Calcium 4 %DV

Iron 14 %DV

Original Source: Me! Compiled from a dozen cooking shows and books.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

One pot dinner, fast

I'm still struggling to finish my thesis, so I'm very appreciative when I find a dinner recipe that doesn't take long to prep or make or have many dishes. I've had this recipe, which I pulled from an issue of Kraft's What's Cooking magazine, in my "to try" folder for over three years now. I can't believe I didn't try it sooner. It makes four servings, which means Gabriel and I both have lunch for the next day. It's perfect

P. S. - I'm trying out a new recipe format. Hope you like it.

Cheesy Chicken Noodle Skillet

Ingredient List
egg noodles (3 cups)
chicken breasts (450 g, approx. 3)
broccoli heads (2 cups, approx. 2)
chicken broth (1/2 cup)
cream cheese spread (1/2 cup)
mayonnaise (1/4 cup)
cheddar cheese (1 cup, shredded)

Fill largest stock pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Cut 450 g chicken breasts into bite-size pieces. Remove florets from 2 heads broccoli and cut to same size as chicken. Shred 1 cup cheddar cheese.

Add 3 cups egg noodles and chicken to boiling water. Cook for 6 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and the noodles are tender. Add broccoli and cook for another 2 minutes.

Drain the noodle mixture and return it to the pot.

Stir in ½ cup chicken broth, ½ cup cream cheese spread, and ¼ cup mayonnaise. Simmer over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until cream cheese spread is melted and sauce is well blended.

Add cheddar cheese. Stir until cheese is completely melted.

Makes 4 servings, 1¼ cups each.

Substitute 2 cups of any frozen vegetable on hand, and/or light or flavoured cream cheese.

Nutrition (per serving)
Calories 525
Total fat 28 g
Saturated fat 13 g
Cholesterol 155 mg
Sodium 550 mg
Carbohydrate 28 g
Dietary fibre 3 g
Sugars 3 g
Protein 39 g
Vitamin A 25 %DV
Vitamin C 45 %DV
Calcium 25 %DV
Iron 10 %DV

Original source: Kraft Canada - Cheesy Chicken Noodle Skillet

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bear with me

No excuses, I know. But I'm in the last days of finishing my Masters thesis so please, just bear with me. I have two posts to make as soon as I'm done this infernal thing. Thanks for understanding.

- Diana

Friday, August 28, 2009

Millions of peaches, peaches for me . . .

. . . Millions of peaches, peaches for free.

This is one of the great things about living in the fruit belt -- the fruit. Our friends Dave and Laura own a farm and they brought us a BOX of peaches. Well obviously we couldn't eat them all before they would go bad so we had to find a way to preserve their golden deliciousness.

I first thought about canning them. I'd bought Mason jars months ago with the hopes of making my own strawberry jam but that didn't happen. Canned peaches or peach jam sounded like a good idea. But apparently the peaches lose their brightness and flavour when cooked so that was a no go.

Enter Alton Brown with his suggestion: Freeze them.

By surrounding the peaches in their own juices, you create a protective layer that prevents freezer burn and the formation of large ice crystals. Perfect.

Freezing peaches
  1. Bring a LARGE pot of water to a boil. Have an ice bath standing by in another LARGE bowl.
  2. Crush two tablets of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid, 500 mg) and dissolve in 2-3 tbsp water.
  3. Drop in 2 lbs of peaches (approx. 5-6, pre-disassembled) into the boiling water and blanche for 30 seconds.
  4. Immediately transfer the peaches to the ice bath, submersing each peach.
  5. Wipe the skin off with a paper towel (yes, it's that easy).
  6. Remove the pit and cut up the peaches. I did half of the batches into 1 inch cubes and the other half into thin wedges.
  7. Move peach pieces to a third bowl and coat with ascorbic acid.
  8. Add 1/2-3/4 cup sugar, mix thoroughly and let sit for 10-15 minutes.
  9. Transfer to a labelled freezer zip top bag. Remove all the air (I like to do this using a straw), seal.
  10. Freeze flat.
  11. To use, let thaw in refrigerator and use as you would "peaches in syrup" from a can.
Next weekend I plan on using some of my preserved peaches in a peach upside down cake recipe. Expect a post to follow.

Original Source: Good Eats - Peachy Keen

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

You pinhead!

Everyone loves oatmeal, especially on a cold, winter morning. Most people, though, settle for the Quaker instant oatmeal variety which Alton Brown claims he "wouldn't feed to (his) horse" because it's so low in nutritional value and is not very satisfying.

The best oats to eat would be steel-cut, or pinhead, oats. Unfortunately, because they consist of the inner part of the oat kernel, they take forever (45 minutes) to cook. Who wants to stand over a pot, stirring, for 45 minutes on a lazy Sunday morning?

Not I, says the Diana. So we tried the Good Eats recipe for Slow Cooker Oatmeal. In the morning, we were greeted by burnt oats. Yum.

Luckily, Gabriel found another way of quick cooking the oats:

"Quick" Oatmeal
(makes four 1 cup servings)
  1. Boil 1 cup steel cut oats in 4 cups water for 1 minute.
  2. Cover and let stand overnight at room temperature.
  3. Next day, uncover, bring to boil.
  4. Reduce heat, simmer, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Season to taste with salt.
  6. Top with favourite fruit, maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, etc.

Original Source: The Bitten Word - Overnight Oatmeal: Steel Cut Oats in 10 minutes

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Work BBQ and Nanaimo Bars!

Friday was our big work BBQ. We have over 20 people from work come over for a BBQ. It went relatively well, all things considered. But let me let you in on a little secret: When the hostess asks you to bring a appetizer, side, or dessert, she usually doesn't want bags of chips, store bought salads or prepackaged pies. This is your chance to show off. Put a little effort in. For my part, I made one of each and my homemade caesar salad was the first to go. For dessert, the only homemade things were my supervisor's wife's chocolate chip cookies (yum) and my Nanaimo bars, which, surprise, required no baking at all. Anyone can do it. So next time you're invited somewhere, give these babies a try.

Nanaimo Bars

Shopping List:
• Semi-Sweet Chocolate (6 squares)*
• salted butter
• egg (1)
• vanilla extract
• graham cracker crumbs
• medium flaked coconut
• chopped walnuts (optional)
• custard powder
• milk
• icing sugar

* Can substitute 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips for every 2 squares of baking chocolate.

Divide the butter into ½ cup, ¼ cup, and 1 tbsp and let it come to room temperature. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil for easy removal of squares.

Partially melt 2 squares chocolate in the microwave, and then stir until completely melted. Add to a medium bowl containing ½ cup butter and stir until butter is completely melted and mixed.

Blend in 1 egg and 1 tsp vanilla extract.

Stir in 2 cups graham cracker crumbs, 1 cup medium flaked coconut, and ½ cup chopped walnuts (if using).

Press mixture evenly into the bottom of the baking pan. Refrigerate until next step is ready.

Whisk 2 tbsp custard powder with 3 tbsp milk in small bowl. Beat in ¼ cup butter followed by 2 cups icing sugar in four installments. Spread over bottom crust and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Microwave 4 squares chocolate with 1 tbsp butter until completely melted and mixed. Spread quickly over the custard layer using an off-set spatula.

Refrigerate for 1-2 hours, and then score the top chocolate layer with a knife for easy cutting later (4x8=32 bars). Refrigerate for several more hours or overnight before cutting into bars, using the thinnest blade possible.

Original Source: Kraft Canada - Nanaimo Bars

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bananananana muffins

As the title suggests, I'm going to share my recipe for a yummy banana muffin with a cinnamon sugar streusel on top. But first, I would like to explain a thing or two about bananas first.

I'm sure you all know that, when you first bring your banana's home from the store, they're very stiff and green and don't taste all that great. That's because the majority of the banana is filled with starches that actually aren't broken down very well by the human body. I imagine if you had a very unripe banana, you'd get some real stomach problems. You have to wait until the banana starts to turn slightly brown to eat them because, at that point, the starches are converting to delicious sugars which, obviously, your body can handle and your taste buds love.

By the time you get down to that last one or two bananas in the bunch, though, they're way too ripe and ready to turn south on you. So what do you do? You freeze them! Yes, you read right. Freeze them. Toss them in a freezer ziptop bag, one at a time, until you have enough to make banana muffins. That's what I do. Once you have enough, nuke them in the microwave until thawed (use your 50% power option), then snip off the end with scissors and extrude the banana into a bowl just like you would with toothpaste. Waste not, want not. :)

So with no further ado, onto the muffins!

Banana Crumb Muffins

Shopping List:
• flour
• baking soda
• baking powder
• salt
• bananas (3)
• white sugar
• egg (1)
• butter
• brown sugar
• ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease muffin tin or line with cups (makes 12).

In a small bowl, mix together:
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

Cut in 1 tbsp butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

In a large bowl, mix together:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

In a medium bowl, beat together:
3 bananas, mashed
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup butter, melted

Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture until just moistened. Spoon batter into muffin tin. Sprinkle crumbs evenly over muffins.

Bake in preheated oven for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick, inserted into the center of a muffin, comes out clean.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sugar and spice and . . .

. . . oh my god, that's an amazing cake!!!

That was my reaction to this incredible from-scratch spice cake I made over the weekend. It was amazing. I mean, incredible. I want more. Problem is, I was smart and gave away half of the cake (gotta watch my weight, after all). Oh well.

I saw it on this weekend's episode of America's Test Kitchen on "Snack Cakes". This is apparently what you call the one layer cakes that used to be made before cakes were made structurally sound enough to support multiple layers (e.g. carrot cake, etc.).

A couple notes. I couldn't find pre-ground cardamom so I bought the pods and ground them myself (everyone should have a coffee grinder dedicated for spices). After thoroughly grinding the cardamom, I still sifted it to remove the pod shell pieces which didn't break up so finely. You also will have to grind your own cloves but be careful, the oils in cloves will eat through plastic so, if you have any left over grindings you want to keep for next time, wrap it in some paper towel first.


Spice Cake

Shopping List:
AP flour
ground cinnamon
ground cardamom
ground allspice
ground cloves
ground nutmeg
unsalted butter (2 5/8 sticks), divided
baking powder
baking soda
table salt
large eggs (5)
vanilla extract
granulated sugar
fancy molasses
fresh ginger
iciing sugar
brick cream cheese (1 pkg = 250g)
walnuts & raisins (optional)

Mix well in a small prep bowl:
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
¾ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg

Reserve ½ tsp of spice mix for the iciing.

Melt 4 tbsp unsalted butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Continue to cook until the butter starts to darken and smell nutty, swirling the butter in the pan as it starts to brown, careful not to burn it. Add the spice mix and cook for 15 seconds, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat and let cool for 30 minutes.

Prepare one 9” x 13” baking pan. Place remaining butter and cream cheese on counter to warm to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Finely grate 1 tbsp fresh ginger.

Combine in a medium bowl:
2 ¼ cups AP flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp table salt

In a smaller bowl, whisk:
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract

In bowl of stand mixer, cream together:
12 tbsp unsalted butter
1 ¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp fancy molasses

Incorporate in at medium speed:
  • the spice and butter mixture
  • the fresh ginger
  • the egg mixture (in two halves)

Mix in at low speed:
  • 1/3 of the flour mixture
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • second 1/3 of the flour mixture
  • ½ cup buttermilk (to a total of 1 cup)
  • remaining 1/3 of the flour mixture
  • if desired, 2 cups raisins

Transfer batter to the pan, running a spatula through it to remove any air bubbles and to spread it out. Also lightly tap pan on counter several times.

Bake for 32-37 minutes, until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool to room temperature before iciing (~ 2 hours).

In the bowl of stand mixer, combine:
5 tbsp unsalted butter
1 ¼ cup iciing sugar, sifted if necessary
reserved spice mix

Beat at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add 1 brick cream cheese, one piece at a time until well incorporated. Add ½ tsp vanilla extract and beat until no lumps remain.

Run a knife along the edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Spread iciing over top of the cake. If desired, top with ¾ cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted.

The cake can be stored for up to two days in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Original Source: America's Test Kitchen - Old-Fashioned Snack Cakes - Spice Cake

Our chance to be unboring

Ikea is having a contest for a $15,000 room renovation. Gabriel and I thought we'd throw our hat into the ring for a new kitchen because gods know we need it. So please, go ahead and vote for our crappy kitchen. It will improve my cooking and baking immeasureable, I promise.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

One skillet beef stroganoff

This is one of my all time favourite recipes. It's relatively simple (it still takes a bit of time), it only uses ONE skillet, and it impresses every time. I made it a couple weeks ago for two of our guy friends and they were amply impressed. You can't do this in a non-stick skillet. You need a metal one mostly for the fond that forms, but also because it'll be hot for a long time and that non-stick coating isn't really heat proof (NOT good eats).


Skillet Beef Stroganoff

Shopping List:
• sirloin tip steak (1.5 lb/0.68 kg)
• vegetable oil
• kosher salt
• pepper
• onion
• mushrooms (10 oz/283.4 g)
• AP flour
• chicken broth (1 can)
• beef broth (1 can)
• brandy
• egg noodles
• sour cream
• lemon juice

Remove any fat and/or gristle from one 1.5 lb/0.68 kg steak. Cut the steak into 1 by ¼ inch pieces and pound each piece to ½ inch thickness. (Alternatively, pound the steak first and then cut into 2 by ½ inch pieces, whichever is easiest.)

Dice one medium onion and slice 10 oz/283.4g mushrooms (approx. 2 cups).

Pat beef pieces dry with paper towel and season with kosher salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in large skillet on medium-high until oil just begins to smoke. Sauté beef in single layer for 2-3 minutes per side until brown (does not have to be cooked through). Remove beef from heat and store in a bowl. Repeat with an additional tbsp vegetable oil until all beef is browned.

Heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil in the pan. Add onions and mushrooms and ½ tsp kosher salt. Cook for approximately 8 minutes, until onions are translucent and mushrooms are soft. If the bottom on the pan begins to get too dark, add the juices from the bowl in order to release the fond.

Add 2 tbsp AP flour. Toss to coat and cook for 30 seconds.

Pour 1 can chicken broth and 1 can beef broth into the pan with enough water to equal 3 cups of total liquid. Add 1/3 cup brandy. Return the browned beef back into the pan. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 30-35 minutes until the beef is tender.

Stir in 1/3 lb egg noodles (approx. 3 cups). Recover the pan and cook until the egg noodles are done (approximately 10-12 minutes).

Remove pan from heat. Add 2/3 cup sour cream and 2 tsp lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's BBQ time!

So we all know that the weather hasn't exactly been cooperating but that doesn't mean Gabriel and I haven't been making full use of our wonderful new BBQ which my parents bought us for a house warming gift (THANK YOU!). There have obviously been the tons of burgers that have passed over the grill but our favourite so far has to be the BBQ pork tenderloin that we've made twice so far: once for Father's Day, and once for our friends, Dave & Andrea. It's been adapted by an America's Test Kitchen's/Cook's Country recipe for Classic BBQ chicken which is no longer found online (I have it, if you want it). According to ATK's taste tests, the best BBQ sauce is Bullseye's Original. In Canada, I have only seen Bold Original, which is what we used and we LOVE it. I don't know why more people don't eat pork tenderloin. It's such a lean meat and I find that it's always on sale for $2/lb. Can't beat that!

BBQ Pork Tenderloin

Shopping List:
• pork tenderloin
• table salt
• ground black pepper
• cayenne pepper
• Bullseye Bold Original BBQ sauce

Begin by removing the silver skin and any excess fat from the tenderloin. Let it rest on the counter until it has come up to room temperature.

Pat the tenderloin dry with paper towels and sprinkle on the spice rub made with:
1 tsp table salt
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper (may adjust according to tastes)

Rub the spices evenly all over the meat.

Heat all of the burners on the BBQ on high with the lid closed for 15 minutes.

Turn all burners off except for one. Position the pork over the cool side of the BBQ and cover for approximately 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the tenderloin.

Move the meat adjacent to the “on” burner and brush all the exposed surface area with BBQ sauce.

Rotate the tenderloin every 5 minutes as if it had four sides (20 minutes total), recoating with sauce every turn.

Move the meat directly over the heat and continue to coat and rotate until the tenderloin reaches an internal temperature of 145°F.

Wrap the mean in aluminum foil and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Oh, and, by the by, I'm still having problems solving my Apple Pie dome dilemma. If anyone has any suggestions, they would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Strawberry Pickin' Time!

Not for me, but for the hard working farmers of Ontario. I'll just pay to enjoy their yummy goodness. I think it's very appropriate that strawberries come into season just around Canada Day because they're red and make a great summer dessert.

For my family's Canada Day BBQ I made the recipe for Angel Food Cake with Strawberries and Lemon Cream that I found in the summer issue of Canadian Living magazine (I really am going to have to get a subscription). Anyway, it turned out pretty well (as evidenced by the picture AND by the fact that there were no left overs). I made the cake part from scratch, following the recipe, because I happened to have cake flour and cream of tartar on hand, but really, I think using a box mix produces just as good a cake (if not a taller one) and saves a bit of time and ingredients/dishes. My dad swears by the Robin Hood brand boxed angel food cake mix, if you're interested.

Also, the recipe calls for a teaspoon of lemon zest. This is non-negotiable. If you don't already have one, pick yourself up a Microplane grater (I found mine at Fortino's). They're cheap and great for things like zest, nutmeg, frozen ginger (my favourite way to use it), and parmesan cheese.

Anyway, check out the recipe and try it soon, before all the fresh, local strawberries are gone!

Happy Canada Day!

P. S. Some good friends of ours are getting married on Canada Day and I'm making five or six pies for the occasion so check back soon after for pictures, recipes and general tips on the pie making proccess!

Friday, June 12, 2009

That's the way the cookie crumbles

I'm sure no one's noticed my absence these past few weeks so I won't apologize for not posting. But I will give you a bit of an update.

1) Gabriel and I bought and moved into our first home. It's been a bit hectic, to say the least. My biggest problem is the crappy kitchen. Noo counter or shelf space, so it took a little "finagling" (a la Chad) to get the room into something I could actually work it.

2) I started a weight loss study. Oh boy for me, right? Ha. No food of any kind, really. Which means that my forays in the kitchen will be limited but, never fear, they will still happen. (btw, I've lost almost 10 lbs in four weeks)

So I'm going to ease back into this with a short, quick post. For Mother's Day, I made my mom her favourite cookies -- peanut butter. But, silly me, I tried to forgo the tried and true recipe from Kraft and try a new one out of the Joy of Cooking. As a result, I had to bake two seperate types of cookies which equated to around 8 dozen individual cookies.

Here's the breakdown:
  • The Joy of Cooking's recipe was very peanuty and not very sweet. My friend, Leo, who had never had sweetened peanut butter before he came to Canada, liked this recipe best. It was also VERY loose and crumbly and made for a very difficult squish.
  • The KRAFT Old-Fashioned recipe was very moist and sweet and made very thin cookies. These are still my mom's favourite.
  • A variation on the KRAFT recipe is to not hatch them with a fork, and let them rise in the oven. Then, after they're baked, press a hole in the center and fill it (while still hot) with strawberry jam. Yum.
  • The picture below shows the Joy cookies on the left and the KRAFT cookies on the right.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Omigod! Frozen herbs!

I noticed the frozen herbs from President's Choice being advertised around Christmas time but, at first, wasn't able to find them, and then, didn't bother looking. This weekend I bought some and I am so very looking forward to the expanded repetoire of recipes now available to me since I have "fresh herbs" on hand at all times. I bought dill and basil, the two herbs I use the most. They also carry cilantro, though I've never cooked with it myself.

Anyway, I used my new found kitchen powerhouse in a Baked Ziti (pasta) dish. Instead of using crushed tomatoes, I used a can of whole tomatoes (something that I ALWAYS have on hand in my pantry) which I simply pureed in the can before hand. My sous-chef, Chad, was on hand to tell me that he thought I shouldn't cover the dish and, instead, let some of the water evaporate. I'm glad I agreed with him. It turned out AMAZING and, between Gabriel, Chad, and I, there were no left-overs. We all agreed that this recipe could benefit from the addition of meat, so next time, I will try this with some cooked Italian sausage added in.

Baked Ziti

Shopping List:
• vegetable oil
• cloves of garlic
• red pepper flake
• 796 mL can of crushed tomatoes
• ziti or penne pasta
• kosher salt
• 35% cream
• Parmesan cheese
• fresh basil
• pepper
• mozzarella cheese
• Italian sausage (2) (optional)

Place in a cold skillet:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
½ tsp red pepper flake, crushed

Heat skillet over medium-high until contents become fragrant and begin to foam.

1 796 mL (28 oz) can of crushed tomatoes
3 cups water
½ tsp kosher salt
340 g ziti or penne pasta

Bring contents to a simmer.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Reduce the heat and cook, stirring often, until pasta is al dente and liquid is mostly absorbed/evaporated (approximately 15 minutes).

Stir in:
½ cup cream
½ cup Parmesan cheese
¼ cup fresh basil, diced fine
pepper to taste

(Optional: Add 2 Italian sausages, removed from casings and cooked.)

If skillet is not oven-proof, transfer pasta to a casserole dish. Top with 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded.

Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes, until cheese melts and browns.

Original source: America's Test Kitchen - Skillet Baked Ziti

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Left over rice? No problem!

Everyone almost always has leftovers when they eat rice. Whether you made it at home or ordered it with some Chinese food, there's usually a cup or two left over afterward. Sure you can refrigerate it and reheat it later, but then it's even more bland than it was initially. My solution: rice pudding! Since I discovered this stove-top recipe, I make a point of making sure I always have left over rice!

Rice Pudding

Shopping List:
• cooked white rice
• milk
• sugar
• raisins
• salt
• butter
• egg (1)
• vanilla extract
• cinnamon (optional)
• nutmeg (optional)

Combine in a heavy saucepan:
1 1/2 cups cooked rice (short grain sticky rice works best)
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp table salt

Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture becomes thick and creamy (approximately 15-20 minutes).

Whisk together 1/2 cup milk and 1 egg and stir into the rice mixture.

Add 1/3 cup raisins and cook for 2 minutes.

Add 1 tbsp butter and 1/2 tsp vanilla and stir until butter is melted.

Sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg if desired.

Serves 4.

Original source: Rice Pudding Recipes

Friday, April 17, 2009

Zombie Jesus Day Wrap-up

Without a doubt, I would have to say that this was the most successful dinner I've pulled off yet. The food was all ready on time and I wasn't running around the kitchen trying to get things together at the last minute. It's partially thanks to the menu I chose, but it's also due, in part, to my time management skills. Do as much as you can ahead of time and then you can actually greet your guests when they arrive.

The day before:
- I started my "No Knead" bread dough and let it rise overnight
- I baked the pecan tarts and prepared the pudding eggs

The morning of:
- I baked the lemon tower cake and the breads

The afternoon of:
- I scored the ham and started it cooking

An hour before:
- I finished the ham
- Chad peeled and diced the sweet potatoes
- I roasted the asparagus (it kept well in the toaster oven on "warm")
- Gabriel prepared the salad
- I cooked the sweet potatoes (done in 10 minutes thanks to the pressure cooker)

The ham was incredible! We chose a pre-cooked (always choose a pre-cooked ham), 7.635 kg (that's 16.83 lbs for you imperialists) shank cut of ham. There were so many left overs that I sent doggie bags home with each of the diners! I would definitely do a ham again, as it was much less work than a turkey and much more yummy. There's also the added benefit of a pre-dinner snack when you remove the rind from the ham (tastes like bacon).

Once I've typed up the ham recipe, I'll post it. In the mean time, here is the chocolate pudding egg recipe I promised.

Jell-O Pudding Eggs

Shopping List:
• Jello-O Instant Pudding (chocolate or vanilla)
• butter or margarine
• boiling water
• Baker's semi-sweet chocolate (8 squares)
• Baker's white chocolate (4 squares)
• icing sugar

Place 1 package of Jell-O Instant Pudding in a large bowl with 1/3 cup softened butter.

Add 1/3 cup boiling water to the bowl and stir until butter is completely melted and mixture is well blended.

Gradually add in 3 cups icing sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition and until the mixture forms a ball.

Shape small tablespoonfuls of the mixture into small egg shapes and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until eggs are firm.

Heat 8 Baker's semi-sweet chocolate squares in a double boiler or in the microwave until almost melted. Stir until completely smooth.

Dip eggs into the melted semi-sweet chocolate and completely cover. Place on waxed paper or on draining rack.

Melt 4 Baker's white chocolate squares in squeeze container and drizzle over top.

Allow eggs to cool and harden.

Original Source: Kraft Canada - JELL-O Pudding Eggs

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Slow cooker chicken

Anyone who owns a slow cooker knows what a lifesaver it is in terms of the time it saves you to make dinner. Just put your food in in the morning, turn it on, come back 8 hours later and . . . voila! you have dinner. But is that really dinner? Just because the chicken is cooked through, doesn't mean its tasty. I like to take an extra 5 minutes in the morning to add a flavour base. The result is infinitely better.

Disclaimer: I use a 3 quart slow cooker which really does effect how what I'm about to describe turns out.

In the pot goes: 2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery and 1 onion, all cleaned and cut up into chunks (no need to peel). I also dump a tablespoon or two of whole black peppercorns.

Next goes the chicken. Something new I've discovered is wrapping the chicken in a single layer of cheese cloth before cooking it. It keeps the chicken in tack and makes it easier to serve. I only started doing this when I discoverd Dollar Store cheese cloth -- otherwise this is an excessively expensive habit.

All slow cookers required some liquid (NEVER run a slow cooker dry!), so why not add some flavour while you're at it? 1 can of vegetable or chicken broth is all you need to get things started.

Because of the size of my slow cooker, everything just barely fits and, after 8 hours, I have a chicken that has been boiling away in flavourful liquid all day. As a result, I not only have tonights dinner but I have tomorrow night's dinner as well: Wonderfully flavoured chicken stock which is perfect for chicken soup! Waste not, want not!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Apparently Perfect Scrambled Eggs

Gabriel just sent me this. It's Gordon Ramsey (of Hell's Kitchen fame), at home, cooking what he calls "the perfect scrambled egg." This is not quite how I like to do it, but I feel he's hit on some important themes:

  1. DON'T overcook the egg. If you overcook a scrambled egg, you're going to end up with water on your plate and some really dry, unpalatable eggs. And don't tell me you've never noticed this phenomenon - if so, you probably eat your eggs before they've had a chance to visably seperate, that's all. Golden rule: If it's done in the pan, it'll be overdone on the plate.
  2. Don't whisk the eggs. You want to keep some of that previously existing structure. It'll help give you scrambled eggs instead of mushy eggs.
  3. Don't season the eggs until afterward. If you really must, add the salt just before you start heating the eggs. NaCl does nasty things to eggs.
  4. Ramsey uses butter and creme fraiche - I use a smaller bit of butter and cream, but the point is: Scrambling plain eggs does not great scrambled eggs make. (I could take or leave the chives.)

I will be posting my marginally famous Jell-O (Chocolate) Pudding Egg recipe soon. Something to look forward to. It will be one of my many desserts in my yummy Easter dinner. Here's the menu:
  • Baked ham with mustard glaze
  • Roasted asparagus
  • Mashed sweet potatoes
  • Homemade, no-knead bread
  • Mixed green salad with Italian dressing
  • Lemon Tower Cake
  • Jell-O pudding eggs
  • Pecan tarts

Monday, April 6, 2009

My first attempt at a dry curry

I'm a big fan of Indian cuisine and my favourite dish of all time is the potato and mushroom curry from the Modern Indian Buffet (any Hamiltonians will have been there at least once). It seems silly for me to go to a buffet just to enjoy one dish so I'm endeavouring to reproduce it at home. Sunday night was my first attempt. It turned out alright – it had the heat but not the spice. I'll let you know what I did and I would appreciate any and all suggestions as to what I was missing. Gabriel and I both think we forgot the ginger. What else?

Step 1: I prep'ed 4 red-skinned waxy potatoes, 1 medium onion, 4 cloves garlic and 250 g of mushrooms.

Step 2: I sautéed the onion in 2 tbsp oil until soft and translucent. Next I added the mushrooms and cooked them until they gave up their liquid and reduced in size.

Step 2a: While the mushrooms were cooking, I started cooking the cubed potatoes in the microwave for 4 minutes.

Step 3: I added the spices (1 ½ tbsp curry powder, 1 tsp chili powder, and a dash of crushed red pepper flake), the potatoes and 1 cup of water. I stirred the mixture to evenly distribute the spices, put on a lid and let the potatoes finish cooking for about 5 minutes.

Step 4: I removed the lid, added a dash of garam masala, and let the remaining water evaporate.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Curried Split Pea Soup and Chocolate Chip Biscotti

I'd had the bag of split peas sitting in my cupboard for months and my stock of homemade chicken stock was sufficiently large (thank goodness we bought a deep freeze a month ago!) so I decided to finally get around to making some homemade pea soup.

I used Alton Brown's Curried Split Pea Soup recipe. There's not much to report on this endevour. It went over well but I'm not 100% sure I'd make it again. Gabriel claims it was too salty but both Chad and I were of the opinion that it wasn't. Dinner was saved by my delicious garlic butter cheese biscuits. I will blog about them another day (I must leave you in suspense of something) but I have to say that they taste really good and quite close to the all-you-can-eat Red Lobster biscuits.

Dessert was chocolate chip biscotti served with vanilla ice cream. Yum yum. Easy to make and definitely a great accompaniment for coffee or tea.

Chocolate Chip Biscotti

Shopping List:
• white sugar
• salted butter
• eggs (2)
• vanilla extract
• chocolate chips
• AP flour
• cocoa powder
• baking powder
• table salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream 1 cup sugar with ¼ cup butter, softened until light and fluffy. Add 2 eggs, one at a time, beating to combine. Add 1 tbsp vanilla extract.

In a second medium bowl, whisk together:
2 cups AP flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
pinch table salt

Slowing add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir to combine. Stir in 1 cup chocolate chips.

Shape the dough into a 1 inch deep rectangular loaf on a Silicon baking mat on a baking sheet.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove loaf from oven and cut into ½ - 1 inch thick slices as soon as it is cool enough to handle.

Rearrange slices, sides up, on the baking mat and bake again for approximately 10-15 minutes, until the cookies dry and brown slightly.

Flip the cookies over and bake for another 5 minutes.

Cool and enjoy with espresso covered ice cream.

Original Source: Chef at Home - Chocolate Chip Biscotti

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Beer beef stew and double corn cornbread

What with buying the house and all, I have been completely swamped and unable to blog but I have still had the time to play in the kitchen. So this update will be in two installments, one each for last weekend's and this weekend's cooking adventures.

Last Sunday, I made a beef stew based off of Michael Smith's Beer Stew recipe. I say based on his recipe because I actually made the stew from notes I made while watching the show. See, I like to keep a notebook and pen by the TV so I can write down ideas and suggestions while watching cooking shows. This way, I don't have to watch the show twice and, if I need to, I know exactly where to find the full recipe should I want to see exact measurements and timings.

Getting back to the Beef Stew, however, it turned out fine. Except that I was using a tougher stewing meat which probably would have benefitted more from cooking for 4 plus hours (i.e. the beef was a bit tough). I also used red wine instead of beer because that's what we had around the house. If you look at the recipe, there's no veggies in it. I would add some carrots, I think. But I did like the idea of serving the stew over some fresh baby spinach. The heat would be just enough to cook the leaves. As it was, we didn't have spinach so Gabriel served his over some frozen peas and declared it good.

We served the stew with some yummy cornbread. Gabriel managed to sneak a little extra hot sauce in but forgot the salt entirely. :) Here's the recipe we used. We used fine cornmeal, and we will continue to do so until the bag is done, but I would suggest a coarser grain cornmeal for a more rustic texture.

Double-Corn Cornbread

Shopping List:
• cornmeal
• all-purpose flour
• sugar
• baking powder
• baking soda
• salt
• frozen corn
• sour cream
• eggs (2)
• hot sauce
• vegetable oil
• unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 450°F.

In a large bowl, whisk to combine:
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt

In the food processor, combine:
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs
½ tsp hot sauce

Pulse until finely ground.

Pour 2 tsp vegetable oil into an 8 inch cast-iron skillet and heat on stove top.

Fold liquid ingredients into dry.

Melt 4 tbsp unsalted butter and add to mixture.

Once oil is hot (just as whisps of smoke are seen), remove skillet from heat and immediately add the batter. Push the batter out to edges and immediately place in oven.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Check at 18 minutes.

Remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes.

Original source: Double-Corn Cornbread - America's Test Kitchen

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pi Day Pie Party wrap-up

After suffering through a sugar coma, I am now recouperated enough to post on what I learned yesterday. But first, a word about the party:

First, thanks to everyone who came and brought pie. Koodoos to Leo for being the only other person besides myself to actually bake a pie. There were games of RoboRally and Star Wars Trival Pursuit (a game involving pie pieces!). I think we all sufficiently demonstrated our geekiness.

Now onto the pie! The pie crust was flaky but hard. This means that it had large amounts of air pockets but it was still very stiff and hard to cut (yet surprisingly easy to chew). Anyway, I accredit this to the large amounts of additional water I had to add to allow the flour to bind and the extra bit of kneading required which produced gluten (desired stuff in breads and pizza dough). I will continue to search for a better/easier pie crust recipe. In the mean time, my advice would be to stick to frozen, pre-made pie shells.

As for the filling, my mom's fluff pie came out great. Since it is made mostly for a packaged lemon Jell-O mix, I won't post its recipe here. But I WILL post the pecan pie recipe which, aside from the crust, turned out yummy as ever.

Oh, and a quick note about pizza: We used our pizza stone for the first time yesterday. It prevented the pizza from coming out soggy on the underside but its tricky business. You can't build your pizza on the stone since it needs to heat up with the oven. Instead, you need to build your pizza on a peel. This is what we learned: USE LOTS OF CORN MEAL. Really. It prevents the pizza from sticking to the peel because it doesn't easily soak up water the way flour does. So, once you've stretched the dough to your satisfaction, switch to the corn meal and be generous!

Pecan Pie

Shopping List:
• pie crust
• eggs (5)
• brown sugar
• corn syrup
• unsalted butter
• vanilla extract
• salt
• pecans (2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Glaze the crust of 1 unbaked pie shell with 1 egg yolk. Dock (perforate) the bottom of the pie shell with a fork and blind-bake for 15 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F.

Whisk in a large bowl:
4 eggs
1 cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup corn syrup
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla
½ tsp table salt

Stir in 2 cups pecans.

Pour the filling into the baked pie shell and bake until the edges of the filling are firm and the center is still slightly wobbly, approximately 35-45 minutes.

Let the pie cool for at least 1 ½ hours before serving. The pie can be stored for up to 2 days in a refrigerator but should be brought back up to room temperature or warmed in a 275°F oven for 15 minutes before serving.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Not as easy as pie . . . crust

It's now 11:30 PM. I started making pies around 7:00 PM (probably earlier). I am exhausted but, I suspect, it was worth it.

Tomorrow is our Pi Day Pie Party (3.14 . . . get it?) and I decided to make two new pies: my mom's yummy Lemon Fluff Pie and a Pecan Pie. I also decided that I would take the extra effort and make my own pie crusts. Ha.

Michael Smith, from Chef at Home, had a recipe for "easy" pie crust. It involves shredding frozen, unsalted butter directly into the flour. You see, pastry gets it's puff when the water inside the butter turns into steam. So, the more evenly you can distribute smaller pieces of butter, the more puff you get and the more tender the pastry. (Side bar: pastry is also more tender the less you handle it, i.e. keep gluten production to a minimum.) This method avoids using a pastry blender so you'd think it would be easier, but YOU try shredding two sticks of FROZEN butter and see how easy it is . . . or rather, isn't.

After shredding the butter and gently tossing it in the flour, I tried to bind it with water. I, of course, used ice water (in keeping with the theme of keeping the bits of butter distinct and cold) but the recipe called for 1/2 cup and I swear I added more than 1 cup before it finally came together.

Anyway, long story short, I blind baked the shells and they, at least, smell great. Here's what I learned:
  • You really do need pie weights when blind-baking a pie shell to keep the bottom from puffing.
  • As a consequence of the above, the crust pulled away from the edge of the pan during baking, but I might take out extra insurance next time by letting the dough poke out over the edge a little more.
  • There are a gazillion different ways to deal with the edges of the crust. For my time, I like just trimming it and crimping the edge with fork tines. (On the second pie, I folded the lip under and crimped it with my fingers. Looks nice but took too long.)
We (the nerds) will feast on the pies tomorrow and I will report on how they taste. Unless the crust is heaven in a pie tin, I plan on continuing my search for an easier/better recipe. For now, I think I should get to sleep . . . our party begins at 1:59 PM, don't you know?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Not so speedy lasagna

Gabriel's parents came for lunch today. And it's not that I don't want to make my best stuff for them, but, considering that their our parents, they're the perfect test subjects because they'll love us even when we serve under-cooked chicken (don't worry, no one got Salmonella).

That being said, I decided to try lasagna for the first time ever. I chose Michael Smith's "Speedy Lasagna". If there was ever a misnamed dish, this was it. Don't get me wrong, it tasted AMAZING (hence the need to blog it), but it took an hour and a half to prepare and another hour to cook. So there's your warning: Good eats are ahead but they take a bit of time to get.


Shopping List:
  • olive oil
  • onions (2 medium)
  • garlic (1 head)
  • ground beef (500 g)
  • Italian sausages (4)
  • tomatoes (796 mL can)
  • tomato paste (156 mL can)
  • condensed beef stock (284 mL can)
  • dried oregano
  • dried basil
  • bay leaves
  • salt & pepper
  • eggs (2)
  • 35% cream (½ cup)
  • ricotta cheese (475 g)
  • Parmesan cheese (2 cups, divided)
  • mozzarella cheese (6 cups, divided)
  • oven-ready lasagna noodles
Shred enough mozzarella cheese to measure 6 cups. If Parmesan cheese is not yet grated, do so now.

Whisk together 2 eggs and ½ cup cream.

Stir in:
475 g ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
4 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
to taste salt & pepper

Store the cheese mixture in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Prep work:
  • Peel and chop separately 2 medium onions and 10 cloves garlic.
  • Purée canned tomatoes.
  • Remove 4 Italian sausages from their casings and break up meat.
  • Add enough water to the beef stock to total 2 cups

Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in an extra large saucepot and add the onions. Sauté the onions until they soften and turn golden brown (approximately 5 minutes). Add the garlic and sauté for a few more minutes.

1 can puréed tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
2 cups beef stock
3 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp dried basil
3 bay leaves
to taste salt & pepper

Stir well and heat until entire mixture is simmering and heated through. Add more salt & pepper as needed and remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Layer ingredients in a 9” x 13” x 3” baking pan as follows:
  1. 1½ cups meat sauce
  2. noodles
  3. half of cheese sauce + 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  4. noodles
  5. 1½ cups meat sauce
  6. noodles
  7. remaining half of cheese sauce + 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  8. noodles
  9. remaining meat sauce
  10. 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.

Remove foil and top with additional 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded and bake for another 15 minutes.

Let lasagna sit for 15 minutes before serving.

(Original Source: Chef at Home - Speedy Lasagna)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

. . . When it's bad, it's still pretty good. (Pizza - Part 3 of 3)

Step 3 of 3: The pizza

The dough is ready, the sauce is prepared, it's time to assemble the pizza!

But wait! There are a few things you must first consider:

  1. What are you going to cook your pizza on? You can use pizza pans (reusable or disposable) but the bottom is usually undercooked and moist. Your best bet is a pizza stone. Proper ones are cheap (PC sells one for $10) or you can just used an unglazed pottery stone from a garden centre. Either way, it goes in the bottom of your oven during the preheating stage.
  2. Did you preheat your oven? Set it as high as it will go (my oven only goes to 500 F). If you turn on your oven when you start stretching out the dough, the oven and the stone should be sufficiently hot by time your pizzas are prepared. If using a pizza stone, place it in the cold oven before preheating!

Assembling the Pizza

Shopping List:
  • olive oil
  • tomato sauce (see step 2 of 3)
  • shredded mozarella cheese
  • additional toppings

Work the dough on a floured surface, keeping it in a roughly spherical shape, until the dough springs back when pulled like an elastic band. Then begin stretching the dough, working from the center, out, to produce an even thickness. Use extra flour to keep the dough from sticking.

Place the dough on the peel or pizza pan. (Optional: use corn meal to keep the dough from sticking.) Brush the crust area with a thin film of olive oil. Next, ladle a small amount of tomato sauce into the center of the pizza and use the back of a spoon to spread it out to the crust. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese and other toppings (optional).

Slide the pizza from the peel onto the pizza stone in the oven. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, until the cheese melts and the crust begins to brown.

Some notes from experience:
  • When it comes to toppings, remember KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Repeating after Alton Brown, "Toppings do NOT great pizza make." The best pizza is made with only tomato sauce and cheese. If you must, pepperoni and mushrooms. But quit while you're ahead . . . and while the structural integrity of the crust remains intact.
  • Be gentle but firm while stretching the dough. If you're meek with the dough, you won't actually stretch it. If you're too hard on it, you will tear it and you cannot mend a tear in the dough (just fold it over and hope no one notices).
  • Don't try to be a proper pizzeria owner by tossing the pizza up in the air. Sure, it looks cool and the physics actually works, but you're either going to end up with a torn pizza or one that's fallen on the floor . . . NOT good eats.