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.