Sunday, December 12, 2010

Recipes galore!

A few notes to update on an old and new post.

First the new post - macaroons!
It's a recipe I've made many times in a flash - they are super easy and quick to make an are always a crowd pleaser.
The rough recipe = 2 egg whites whipped to soft peaks (you can do this by hand) + 1 teaspoon vanilla + 1 can of condensed milk + 14oz unsweetened shredded coconut + pinch of salt. Mix well, mold into shapes (I use a small ice cream scoop), bake for 25-30 minutes in a 325F oven (or until golden).

Let cool, decorate as you like!

(Psst! Are those candy melts? :P Real mini chocolate chips though.)

The old post - the recipe for the Maple Pecan Sandies:

2 cups flour
1 1/2 cup toasted & ground pecans
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup maple syrup

Sift flour, ground pecans, and salt in a small bowl.
Beat butter and sugars until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and maple syrup.
Add the flour mixture and beat until incorporated.
The dough will be a bit wet, but still holds together. If it is too wet or gloppy, add up to 1/2 cup of flour.

Separate into two disks and chill until hardened.

Roll out each disk in between two layers of plastic wrap or parchment - cut out shapes and chill them in the fridge while you work with the rest of the dough. Remember to collect the scraps to make more cookies!
When you're about done your rollin' and chillin' - get your oven ready by preheating to 350F.

Bake the cookies on a prepared cookie sheet until golden brown on the edges, about 15 minutes.
Let cool completely.

Feel free to brush some maple syrup on the top and sprinkle with sanding sugar for an added touch.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Moral of the story: bring extra butane when torching a meringue topping.

Cardinal sin, right?

But yes, I ran out of butane during the laborious torching of the meringue topping of a cake! I had tentatively (by this, I mean that I was nervous and tentative while filling the torch, not "unsure of time" in filling the torch) refilled my creme brulee torch and hoped for the best. And clearly - it was not enough because I could only get about 1/3 cake "moderately" torched!

So apologies to the birthday girl!

So yes, it was a Baked Alaska - a cake base topped with ice cream and then entirely covered with meringue which is then quickly baked or torched to get that lovely (and tasty) brown finish! The base was a chocolate chip butter cake and then layered (in a dome) with strawberry, mint, and caramel swirl ice creams (all homemade) with a layer of chocolate wafers between the layers (not homemade). I regret not taking any pictures of the cross section, but to be honest - my slice was melting!

I think that's one of the biggest pros/cons of homemade ice cream - the nature of the recipe I use yields a soft ice cream. Not soft-serve tender, but definitely scoop-able right out of the freezer! As a result, it's always ready to serve but tends to puddle quickly, unless you eat it fast. This made the ice cream very easy to mold, but it also meant that I had to work extremely fast both in the molding and the torching of the meringue. I won't mention again to bring extra butane when torching a sizeable amount of meringue, unless you've got a really professional-grade torch! (not like my little home cook Typhoon one purchased for $10)

The cake was delicious - the base was a little frozen and made it a bit difficult to cut - note for potential bakers: make a dense but thin layer. The ice creams were a good choice and the mint was a delicious twist on an after-dinner treat.

I'm ramping up for holiday project (no cards this year) and I really only have this one last weekend to get everything together - watch out for sneak peeks!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Maple Pecan Sandies

Yes, I'm still around! Apologies for the delay between posts and thanks for continuing to check in! I was commenting to a fellow blogger at work that it can be so difficult to continue regular blogging. My weekly blogging was nothing compared to her 5-days-a-week blogging! But at the end of the day - it all comes down to commitment and allocating time to do it. For me - a lot of it comes down to whether or not I can whip something up worthy enough to post. I post the fails too - but I like to post things that I hope readers out there can learn from. Like chilling your dough. VERY important. Especially if you have a warm kitchen like I do!

I made sure to dedicate some baking time this weekend, because my Brigitte cookie cutters have arrived!! All the way from Germany, these cookie cutters are a simple fluted rectangular square, but come with a complete set of interchangeable letters! So you can personalize your cookies or decorations with messages and other sweet sayings! But what to make....what to make?

When making very shape-defined cookies (like sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies) keep in mind to use cookies that are low on leavening agents such as baking soda or baking powder and has a fairly sturdy dough (not too wet = substantial amount of flour and binding agent). A weaker dough can be reinforced with some creative rolling (between plastic wrap or parchment) and lots of chilling, which should firm up the butter enough to hold the shape. Some good recipes include sugar or gingerbread cookies or simple chocolate wafers. Shortbread, if you can roll it out, is also quite good, if you can cut out the shapes. I decided to do an interesting twist on one of my favourite cookies - Martha Stewart's Maple Leaf cookies.

I came up with the name and concept first - maple cookies....with pecans! Ground pecans! Maple Pecan Sandies! (believe me, it doesn't always come to me so easily) I substituted half of the flour with toasted and ground pecans and used an entire egg instead of just the yolk. The dough was a bit wet, so I added in another 1/3 cup of flour to bring everything together.

But to the really good part (there's more? :D :D) - the cookie cutters! I ordered a set of Brigitte cookie cutters all the way from Germany and I couldn't wait to break them in. So without further ado...

Recipe to follow!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy birthday Liz!

It was a night that had been carefully orchestrated for weeks - a surprise (early) birthday dinner for a friend! My contribution was as driver of the unknowing birthday girl and supplier of cake. Mmmm cake. If you're wondering - it all worked out beautifully! It was so wonderful to see such genuine emotion for the guest of honor and friends - true joy, surprise, and happiness on everyone's faces! :D We had a delicious dinner (go team Left-Side-of-Table!!) and it was topped off with a surprise birthday trifle.

I'm not sure what comprises a 'true' trifle, mine was more like cake-in-a-bowl. I think I may try this concept again as it was:
1) Extremely easy to transport.
2) Saved me the trouble of icing & decorating the sides.
3) If layered well - extremely beautiful.
4) Scooping is fun!

I made additional berry sauce to top off the cake - apologies in advance for the blurry photos - I was in a bit of a rush and took it whilst sitting on my living room floor!

I kept in mind that Liz adores my zuccotto - so the 'white' filling is comprised of whipped cream with fresh raspberries, toffee candy bits, and whole toasted hazelnuts folded in. The over-powering brown layer is an orange chocolate mousse (I didn't realize I had made so much & didn't want leftovers!). The layers are alternated with dark chocolate and vanilla cake. The whole shebang is topped with more whipped cream filling, raspberries & some decorative writing.

I had some great feedback from the writing - and here is my secret: it's candy melts. Dark chocolate flavoured.
Candy melts are amazing to use in an aesthetic setting - it flows like chocolate, tastes like chocolate and hardens in a flash. Also - it's much less sensitive to temperature! So while it does melt in your hand, it's not going to disintegrate or sweat at the thought of hot lights. Even though they are an amazing medium to use - do not use them in cookies! Let me rephrase that - they are not suitable for cakes or cookies or to melt to be used in brownies (or cake). There is a reason why they are called 'candy melts'! They are not chocolate! So if you need to make some decorations for cakes or pastries, I highly recommend candy melts. They also come in a variety of colours too (you can tint the white candy melts, but sometimes they come out a bit chalky, so if it matters to you - try and source the coloured melts).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back to Baked Goods

In case you're wondering - yes, I still have a ton of turkey left over. A hefty freezer bag full, actually! Also about 3 pints of turkey stock. Oh man. Turkey. Make it for one night - eat for a month!

But enough about turkey - back to baking! I hosted Koi at my place and she kept me company in the kitchen, always staying close to clean up any bits that would fall on the floor. Unfortunately I had a little mishap with some brown sugar and she licked up quite a few crystals! Not too many though - but enough to make her rather hyper for our evening walk! I think next time she is over while I'm cooking, I'll have to set up a gate so she stays out. Won't stop her cute little face from poking in. Awwwww....Koi. Yes, I'm a proud mum.

I've been trying to develop some recipes of my very own - yes, my own recipes! Baked good recipes! Not the "uh...what am I going to eat for dinner" type of recipes, but methods and ingredients that I know would work. The idea I had in mind was a simple twist on the whoopie pie - a chocolate chip variation! My particular twist would be to brown the butter beforehand and mix in dark brown sugar for a nutty twist.

Without further ado, I present - chocolate chip whoopie pies!


1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup brown sugar (gently packed)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
3/4 cup chocolate chips


Preheat your oven to 350F.
In a small saucepan, brown the butter over medium heat.
When the butter has browned, take off the heat and mix in the sugars, stir to combine, let cool about 5 minutes.
In the meantime, sift together the dry ingredients, set aside. 
Transfer the butter & sugar mixture into a mixing bowl and beat for about 2-3 minutes or until fluffed.
Add in the egg and vanilla, mix until incorporated.
Slowly add in the dry ingredients, alternating in 3 portions with milk. Mix well.
Add chocolate chips.

Prepare your cookie sheets - scoop out about 1 tablespoon (for small whoopie pies) or 2 tablespoons (for regular whoopie pies) about 2 inches apart. For a standard 1/2 sheet pan, this would yield about 12 - 16 cookies comfortably. With wet hands, gently shape the cookies (if needed) into even and round portions to ensure even cooking.

For small whoopie pies, bake for about 12-15 minutes. For regular whoopie pies, bake for about 15-18 minutes. Check about a minute before baking time to ensure that the cookies are browning nicely and evenly. The tops should be golden but light and the bottoms should be browned. Let cool.
Frost & sandwich!

*will follow up with seven minute frosting recipe

Monday, October 11, 2010

Turkey Tales Pt 5 - The Aftermath

All in all - we ate about a third of the bird, which is pretty good for 5 1/2 people! (the 1/2 person was a late arrival)

I had a mini turkey dinner for lunch and then a delicious open-faced turkey sandwich for late dinner - what did I use?

Rye bread topped with mayo, cranberry sauce, caramelized onions, warmed turkey. Mmmmm. It was awesome.

Unfortunately I didn't make my zucchini & carrot pasta, but I'm looking to recover this week with some veggies! Perhaps with some turkey soup? Hahahaha! I did save the carcass of course and I have about 3 cups of drippings (I used a premade restaurant gravy mixed with some fresh drippings) that I can make gravy with. After reserving 7 turkey lunches for tomorrow, I don't actually have too much leftover! I pretty much managed to use up all the sides and have just a bit of onions and brussel sprouts left. It's mostly the 'post' turkey preparations - making stock and gravy really. And finishing up the rest of the turkey meat - but it's terrific protein, so I'll probably be happily snacking on it for the rest of the week.

So did I learn anything? Oh yes. Don't use 2 cups of salt in your brine. Even if the recipe says so. The meat was a touch salty (but then again, I find most things oversalted) so I would also recommend a very thorough rinse. If you can - empty your brining container and fill with fresh cool water for maybe a quick 10 minute soak/rinse to get all the residual salt off. A meat thermometer is key. An instant read for insurance as well. I don't cook large pieces of meat without both. As I mentioned previously - try to integrate as many 'make ahead' dishes as you can - the turkey is work! You don't want to be fussing over your carrot gratin while your "main attraction" is needing some TLC! I purchased a gravy separator and a baster just for the occasion, they definitely came in handy, although not completely essential.

So would I make a turkey again? For sure! But...maybe not a 20lb one. For those who are a little intimidated of making a turkey - don't be! If anything, start small with a chicken and work your way up. A chicken is a perfectly good small-scale test for a turkey - it's basically the same - but a lot (a LOT) smaller. The cooking time is shorter, there's less meat to carve, less juice to process and less leftover to worry about. If there are any leftovers at all!

Thanks for reading!

Turkey Tales Pt. 4 - The Big Day!

They came. They saw. They ate.

It was goooood.

The bird was lifted out of the brine at around 9am to chill in the fridge uncovered until it was stuffed & loaded into the oven around 11:30am for 6pm eat time. I always underestimate how awesome my oven is. It's gas - btw, top AND bottom, so yes, it's a little frightening to hear the "click click" of the ignition, but once it gets to a certain temperature, it STAYS there. Only one mishap to report too - so with an oven thermometer, I've had very good luck. I mention this because even at 375F, my turkey cooked exceptionally fast - and browned nicely about halfway, so it was tinfoil tented for the rest of the time. I had some leftover stuffing, so it got put into a loaf pan as a side.

 (Skin splittin' good!)

My side dishes didn't get started until about 4:30pm - potatoes (whole, unpeeled) were put in a large pot and boiled until tender and them mixed with cream cheese, butter, and cream. My onion bake was assembled and heated up in the last 45 minutes and I decided to skip the zucchini & carrot dish altogether as it would have been too much. Another guest brought a delicious brussel sprout dish and J (of T&J) prepared some roasted butternut squash.

What was served:
Cider brined turkey with stuffing (2 ways)
Dried cherry & cranberry sauce
'Big Martha' mashed potatoes
Roasted onion, crouton & gruyere bake
Brussel Sprouts with bacon & walnuts
Roasted butternut squash

Oh, and gravy too. Not homemade though. More on that tomorrow!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Turkey Tales Pt 3 - The Day Before

So. The big day is tomorrow!

I gave in last night and let my turkey soak in a 'pre-brine' - still in the package, but floating in a cool bath in the fridge to speed up the thawing process. It worked because the bird was nice and squishy the next morning - ready for the final brine! I had a couple extra things to pick up, so I joined the hordes of people at the local grocery store to pick up some last minute items. The mothership graciously picked up all the items on my list (that I had meticulously itemized by department and then specified quantity & size with descriptions to aid her) and had packed it all up in my fridge, but there were a few things I wanted to pick out  myself. Or that I knew she would have some difficulties finding. I made it home and started the process for my brine - here's what it looked like in the stockpot:
Included in this brine are: 1 sliced apple, 2 sprigs fresh sage, 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 5 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, 3 sticks of cinnamon, 2 cups of coarse salt and 2 litres of apple cider.

After bringing this to a boil, I added about 3L of cool water to bring down the temperature. After about 30 minutes, I transferred it over to my brining tub and added more water. You must not soak your turkey until your brining liquid is cool - I forgot why, but it's got something to do with bacterial growth I think. I'll be sure to do some research and update this post.
(below - brining tub with brine, turkey in brine in fridge!)

So fingers crossed it will work out. I'm taking it out at around 8am to dry and chill. At around noon it should be stuffed and ready to be cooked! I also worked on the cranberry sauce - which is super easy. It's basically a cranberry jam. I've done it in the past with dried cherries and it worked out really well so I made it again, although I don't remember which recipe I used so I had to kind if improvise a bit. Here's a picture of it in the saucepan with all the key ingredients:
Included is - 1 package of cranberries, 1 cup dried cherries, 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 cup of water.

Let cook, enjoy hearing the cranberries pop and smush away! The cranberries should release all their wonderful juice and let reduce, like jam! I still had the entire day ahead of me, so under Koi's supervision I also prepared the 'onion part' of a roasted onion/gruyere dish I'm adding tomorrow. It's pretty much different kinds of onions, lightly seasoned and then roasted until soft. Prep some croutons & sprinkle on top and then add gruyere cheese and bake until bubbly! I decided to get ahead of the game and roast the onions, which will save me a lot of time tomorrow. It will reheat in the oven while the turkey is resting before carving.

So T-minus 19 hours until eating time!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Turkey Tales Pt 2

The turkey continues to thaw in the fridge - on the label it stated that a bird weighing 20 lbs should take about 4-5 days to thaw. I'm cutting it close - his/her fate is a lovely spiced brine bath where it will sit overnight. If it's still pretty solid on Friday night - it's getting a nice lukewarm bath in the sink to speed up the process.

So the menu for Sunday is pretty simple - turkey & stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and maybe a side. I explicitly explained to my guests that this is going to be a pretty casual dinner and most of them have generously volunteered to bring sides. When planning a big dinner like this - and with limited resources - it's best to think ahead and consider what dishes you can make ahead and heat up last minute. Or have friends you trust to bring dishes!

Step 1 (a): Set Your Menu

Technically, you should really do this first, before buying your turkey. But heck - it takes 4 days to thaw anyway!

Turkey with Sausage Stuffing Two Ways
Cranberry & Cherry Chutney
Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes
Zucchini and Carrot 'Pasta'

Tomorrow - let's discuss all the frilly fun stuff :P

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Turkey Tales Pt 1

So yes, it's been a long time since I've posted on el blog - sorry to let anyone down!
I've been busy! A 17lb fur baby named Koi has taken up most of my days and nights, and whines incessantly in between. I went road tripping for a weekend and then it was a week of 1:1 dog care (Koi stays at the mothership's full time, I alternate walks and drop by at least once a day for some cuddles) which pretty much ate up my time until now.

Which brings us to this weekend - Thanksgiving!

I am attempting to make a turkey dinner on Sunday for family and friends - my first real foray into turkey! This Spoon's family is quite small, so we've always eaten chicken on holidays or gone to friends' houses for turkey - I've never hosted a real traditional Thanksgiving. Until now!

So join me, dear readers as we count down to turkey day!

Step 1:

Buy turkey - start thaw.

Yes, I bought it frozen. Since it's my first turkey, I opted for the good ol' Butterball variety - I didn't want to do too much research for fresh turkeys and the politics that go into it, as well as the extra hassle in securing a fresh one for the big day! I picked out a nice fat 20lb turkey and it's sitting in my fridge thawing away.

The plan of action is for it to finish thawing by Saturday morning - at which point it will sit in a spiced brine bath until Sunday morning, sit out for a bit and then go in the oven promptly at 11-11:30am to be ready for 6pm. Yes, it will be stuffed - so I'm allotting some extra time and anticipating a 7pm eat time.

So I guess that's it for now. Nothing else to do really until Friday/Saturday. Tomorrow - I'll discuss what is on the menu!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

First Birthday Cake of the Season!

I think I mentioned a few posts ago about ramping up for the fall, or in my life, "birthday cake baking season". It's a long, long season - very sweet, of course - and very rewarding! It's also a great opportunity for me to put some new recipes to use and rethink old classics. Sometimes, it doesn't work out - but hey, even the scraps are delicious!

I was a bit squeezed for time for this particular cake, but it all managed to turn out. Kind of. At least I didn't drop it! :P (if that is any clue as to who the recipient was) The cake itself turned out great, but I didn't plan very well in terms of transporting the cake throughout the various steps of preparation. Basically - once you bake, cool & trim the cake, get it on the final base/plate. Don't move it around like I did! I think for me, I didn't have a premade board ready nor was my cake stand small enough to fit in my fridge! Looks like I'm in the market for a cake plate! (I'd love to get an antique glass one!!)

The cake: Yellow Butter Cake c/o Martha Stewart (I added in the chocolate chips)

The filling: Seven Minute Frosting

The icing: Whipped Dark Chocolate Ganache

The decorations: Novelty Marbled M&Ms

Lessons Learned:
- Cake, although rich and butter was too dense for the filling - a sponge would have been more appropriate.
- The filling would ooze out at the slightest pressure, in retrospect, I would have used the ganache as a filling instead.
- The ganache was too sturdy! It spread too thin and crumbled during cutting in a really unattractive way.
- I think I would have switched the filling and icing - the Frosting would have added a lot of drama and volume and the richness of the ganache would have been a nice contrast.

The decorations were some marbled M&Ms I received a while ago from my brother. I think you can buy them in some stores now, but aren't they beautiful? I actually wanted to tile the entire outside with the candies, but I'm not sure I would have had enough. I decided to go with a freeform pattern on top and on the sides. Although the final product lacked that polish, I am still pretty pleased with the results. There are definitely lessons I learned here that will probably come in handy for the rest of the season!

Stay tuned for the next cake!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Learning to Work with Chocolate

This year for my birthday I decided to do something special for myself - to take a class in chocolate-making! I think the term "chocolate making" is a little deceptive. If you are in the chocolate industry to 'make' chocolate is to take it from the plant, extract the bean, roast, pulverize and blend. However, in this class we took already 'made' chocolate and coaxed it into the more traditional forms of truffles and mendiants. I actually took a vacation day from work to take this all-day class: 6 hours of stirring, marbling, piping, dipping and tasting chocolate from cocoa butter to 80%.

In other words - it was a truly magical day.

I feel like I learned so much - not only about HOW to make chocolate but the science and sense of making chocolate. We spent a significant amount of time smelling different 'scents' found in chocolate and tasting different kinds of chocolate (single origin and blended) and that process made me appreciate the quality chocolate I have had the pleasure of eating in the past. And how complex! Wow, how complex... I really had no idea chocolate had so many subtle layers, tones and notes. Kind of like coffee - I suppose. It was amazing how the ORIGIN of the bean would affect the flavor of the coffee! My favourite? Peruvian and Ecuadorian - the ones we tried had more distinct floral and sweet flavour, even though both were equally 'dark' chocolate.

 A picture of the mirror above chef Marco. If you can see those green ramekins in the reflection, we got to taste ALL of those chocolates! Yes, we worked hard. Very hard.

A couple of snapshots of our work area. Under our Boos counter? Beautiful Kitchen Aid Pro 6s ready to be put into action! Yum! 
A chocolate 'tumbler' and a line of induction stovetops for heating up our saucepans to melt chocolate (a la double boiler) and also the heat up cream for the ganache. They worked SO well - I am almost tempted to shell out the dough for a stovetop. Seriously - the induction stovetop works with the magnetic element in cookware to heat up the vessel - so much of the residual heat is eliminated, as well as any messy scalded-on foodstuffs. It heated up the cream and water SO fast - I can see why they are used in candy making!
Chef Marco Ropke speaking to the troops and dispensing his wisdom! I have to say, if there was one major reason for me to take another class, it would be because of him. Chef Marco was professional, helpful, funny, and a terrific teacher - I highly recommend being under his tutelage!
(above) Marbled-whipped and piped dark chocolate ganache. These would later be dipped in tempered chocolate and rolled in cocoa powder. (below) Lime & coconut white chocolate ganache is piped into premade truffle shells (my god! no one told me these existed!). Unfortunately we didn't have time to finish them (closing off the top & another coat of white chocolate) but no matter - they were still delicious!

The bounty. Oh yeah.

I was blessed and cursed to be the odd person out in the 7-person class. I didn't have to work with a buddy which meant double the work - but double the goodies to take home! And take home I did! Two chocolates seen above, I did not document - the hazelnut nougatine and chocolate mendiants. The nougatine was divine - a whipped milk chocolate ganache with crunched up caramelized hazelnuts dipped in tempered dark chocolate and rolled in icing sugar. Amazing. The ganache was fluffy and soft and the caramelized nuts added a depth of texture and flavor that was mind-blowing. I will definitely be making those again! The dark chocolate mendiants are tempered chocolate piped into molds and topped with nuts and dried fruit. So simple, yet so delicious.

Two main things I learned:

1) Quality of chocolate COUNTS. One prime example of this are the chocolate mendiants. By themselves, they are a very simple confection. Tempered chocolates piped into molds and studded with fruits and nuts. But the usage of high grade dark chocolate works with the toppings to create a layered and lush experience that cannot be replicated with generic store-bought chocolate. The break of the chocolate is crisp - it doesn't melt into your hands and the flavour is savored not only with your tongue, but your nose and throat - the scent and texture of the chocolate create an experience that is unlike any other.

2) Making chocolate is damn hard. My biceps HURT the next day. Fold chocolate over and over on a marble slab is hard work. Stirring to melt chocolate is hard work. Whipping chocolate is hard work. Dipping and rolling chocolate is hard work. Making chocolate is hard work.

I would love to take more classes in the future - and luckily they are starting a batch of evening classes to accomodate those who work full-time - now to start saving up!

There is something to be said about actually taking a hands-on class like this. Yes, it is expensive; yes it is labour intensive - but there are tips & tricks conveyed here that you cannot get through a cookbook or TV show. We stuck our hands IN the chocolate (and yes, it was amazing) to feel the temperature of chocolate. We let pure cocoa butter crumble in our mouths. We watched our ganaches split (not mine, tee hee) and worked hard to bring them back to life again. These are the real lessons learned in the class - not just how to follow a recipe.

Thank you Marco & the Vancouver Pastry School!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Meet Koi!

I haven't had a lot of time to bake or cook recently - our family recently adopted a dog! This is our family's first dog - her name is Koi and she's an 8 yr old Shiba Inu and totally adorable and cute! The Mothership is her primary carer and Koi lives with her. The Mothership does all the daily care, but I stop in every day after work to take Koi for a walk and on the weekends, I spend a bit more time with her and thus, the baking has taken a backseat to the newest member of our family. But it's worth it!

I've only made one thing notable recently - just a twist on the blueberry lemon bundt - I mixed it up by baking with some fresh blackberries I picked and it was a great success! I am trying to ramp up my energies for the next couple of months because birthday season is LITERALLY just around the corner! I have my first cake next week! I am actually thinking of making a "Koi" cake - kind of like a tiger cake - a combination of black, white, and brown/orange elements. This is generally a combination of different flavours of those colors - whether it is chocolate, vanilla, caramel, orange, etc. I have a couple of ideas floating around the ol' noggin, so let's see what I can conjure up.

I also have an exciting story about something I did yesterday - a day-long chocolate making class! WOW! What an experience. My arms are still sore from mixing, folding, stirring, and working chocolate for the whole day. If the classes weren't so expensive, I would do the entire 6-session course, but for now, this was my birthday treat.

Thanks, Spoon - I had a great time and now have enough chocolate for the next few months!

(Koi relaxing in her bed)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

This Pizza's Made for Grillin'!

I'm trying to maximize every sunny evening by getting out the BBQ and grilling! I know I will really miss it when October and November roll around and it gets chilly by 7pm. Ah, those summer nights.

I suppose this summer I have really attacked grilling big pieces of meat. Big. Pieces. Of meat. Which has been fun, and let me tell ya - really tasty! But one thing I've really wanted to try is to grill pizza! So the challenge was set - I'd find a recipe for an appropriate dough, gather some ingredients and friends and grill away!

Luckily the mothership and I had visited a produce market earlier that day and I was loaded down with fresh veggies - including some beautiful baby eggplant and zucchini. They made a wonderful accompaniment to our pizza and an even more delicious antipasto-inspired salad for the next day.

(Right on the grill; 10 minutes on the grill)

But the pizza, ah yes, the pizza. It was good. Really good. The recipe can be found here - on the amazing Kitchn site. The link is for the entire dissection on grilling pizza, which includes a recipe for the thin crust dough. If you're interested in grilling pizza, I highly recommend following their instructions. I amped up the crust a bit by adding some fresh and dried rosemary and thyme and of course, a generous pinch of lemon salt and freshly ground pepper. It made a world of a difference! The herbs infused their delicious oils and aromas into the dough which created the most delicious base to some summer fresh toppings and buffalo mozzarella! The herbs also add an extra element to the crust - making it less pizza and more like flatbread. I would be totally comfortable topping this with little oil and salt, cutting it into strips and serving it with some dip.

It was THAT good. The top and bottom were crispy with that slight chewiness and bite. Yum. And it took about 5 minutes to cook. Granted, they were small pizzas - but this is a manageable enough feat that you can eat a pizza while your next one cooks!

One tip the Kitchn site encourages (and I do too) is to push your dough out on an oiled surface. I used a cutting board and it made it easy to push out into shape and much easier on the grill. So have some olive oil and a brush handy.

Some of our goods:

(grilled peppers, fresh stripped corn, pesto, green onions, buffalo mozzarella)

In case you're wondering, I was using the mothership's awesome pimp camera. Oh yeah.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Dream of Ice Cream

After months of dreaming of this idea and procrastinating - it's finally done!

My ice cream labels!

I had wanted to do custom labels and containers for a while now. I finally sourced a great company that sells small quantities of cardboard pints (Sweet Bliss Containers) and it was really up to me to  make up the labels. I struggled to think of a name...I mean - this is IT! Well, not exactly, but I wanted to pick one theme and stick with it. Then it came to me, "I dream of ice cream" (which I do!) - in pink and brown, of course. Each container has the "i dream..." label and then their "fanciful flavour:" complement.

A couple of shots of my new labels - post-print & cut and pre-stick! Let's hope the glue is good enough to adhere even in the freezer! 
Check out the awesome selection in my deep freeze! It really looks like I have my own operation now...

My latest creation, "Sweet Cookie Caramel Swirl"...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dinner in a Flash

Ever had one of those weeks that practically crawl by? Mine was the complete opposite! So much seemed to happen and in such little time - and I still had things I wanted to do! As a result, a lot of my dinners were crammed into pockets of the evening - usually between the gym and running out the door again or right when I walked in and back out 20 minutes later. I am still trying to keep up with my Kitchen Resolutions and make-what-I-buy-and-eat it! As a result, I've taken to keeping an inventory of what is in my fridge - and it's worked! I usually try to plan in advance (based on what I have)  my meals for the week, lunch and dinner.

The topic for this post is based on one of these recipes - a spicy tofu salad made from some pantry staples and whatever was lurking in my fridge.

Spicy Tofu Salad

2 cups of tofu, cut into bite-sized pieces
(I used the deep-fried tofu 'pop', as I like to call it, but I think this would work very well with a pressed tofu as well)
1/2 cup sliced sweet pepper
1 green onion, chopped fine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon cooking wine
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon chili oil

Toasted black sesame seeds to garnish

In a medium bowl toss all the wet ingredients together until integrated. Grind a little fresh pepper into it if you like as well. Add in the tofu, peppers, and green onion and mix until all the dressing has been soaked up by the tofu.

Serve as a side, main, or as a salad topping!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

So I suppose photos would help.

Haha, it's Thursday and I just realized that I might not have included any photos in the last post. I tried to snap a few during the process too.

 My pie post-press. I had to go around and crimp the edges with a fork anyway. Those lattice holes? Not easy to remove.

My new tortilla press put to good use pressing out ALREADY CUT pastry rounds. In the next picture, you'll see that the edges of the pastry don't quite meet the edge. As you can see, I am really packing in the fruit as well!



My adorable pocket pies ready to be egg-washed and baked.

The finished product! Delicious - but a lot of work.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

P-p-p-p-pocket pies!

I am a sucker for kitchen gadgets. Not a big surprise to anyone, I know - but I can never pass up the coolest and latest epicurean toy to hit the market! One new (to me) toy is the pocket pie mold/press from Williams Sonoma. From what I gather, they have had this product out for a few seasons now and introduce different shapes every once in a while. I have a gyoza mold/press (works horribly - as all good Asians should know - gyoza skins should be pinched, not pressed!) so I know how the concept works. Basically two shell molds are joined with a hinge. The centres of the mold sides are concave (or convex depending on the angle, I suppose) to leave room for the filling and the edges are flush so that they will 'press' together and seal.

So here is my combined review/recipe for the Williams Sonoma pocket pie press:

Monday, August 2, 2010

My Own Full-Time Kitchen Duties

I get asked every once in a while, "why don't you work in a kitchen?" My answer is honest - it's a tough life with long hours, high demands, and in many environments - very creatively stifling. Obviously there are examples of the complete opposite where people have made it happen and still wake up inspired. I'd still like to be there in 10 years. But this long weekend, something dawned on me - I work full-time in my own kitchen! That's the thing with long weekends (or weekends in general) when you've got no set plans - all I have is my own hands with devices and a kitchen coyly inviting me to spend some time exploring some new ideas - and let's face it, I don't have someone to cook for me - so if I want lunch, I've got to work for it! Yes, I can go out and pick up something quick, but I have all week to eat out - and I like to control and observe what goes into the gullet.

I'm posting a recipe I made last week - but I was definitely busy these past three days. I told the mothership that even when I have a quiet weekend where I rarely see anyone, it's a nice change from the people-people-people work environment I spend 40+ hours a week in. I like the quiet (or BBC Radio 1) as I shuck summer peas or roll out pie dough. It's contemplative, and I like it. I've always been a spoon that needed a fair amount of personal time just to reflect.

I recently read an article (or saw something on TV, I dunno - on some medium!) where a family decided to relocate themselves in the country (from their city lives). The mother noted the satisfaction and contentment she had watching a roast on a rotisserie for 5 hours (hey, I'd be happy too!) - she actually had a moment of stillness, of doing 'nothing'. I'd like to be able to do that one day - but even on my 'quiet' weekends, I feel the need to pack in as many activities or projects as I can - and in the summer I'm busy harvesting all the goods to be found!

Anyway - the recipe this post is for japchae! "What's japchae?" you ask! It's a Korean noodle delicious, and it's absolutely delicious! It's on par with a typical Chinese chow mein - noodles mixed with meat and veggies. But the real kicker is the noodles - when they are cooked, they are almost transparent, but in fact they are purple! They are made of sweet potato starch which gives them their distinctive color and taste (not too noticeable, really). But when you add in the sauce, they become brown-ish, but still fairly transparent. They are also a bit...jiggly, which I admit can be a bit off-putting. Did I mention that they can get kind of slimy and difficult to pick up? (LOL) Don't let this scare you! The dish is very easy to make - although depending on how many veggies you decide to add in, it could get a little labour intensive (as it did for me). I opted with:
  • snow peas
  • red peppers
  • zucchini
  • onions
  • mushrooms
  • green onions
  • carrots
  • beef

After soaking the noodles in boiling water for about 15 minutes they become really soft and workable. Stir fry some protein in the marinade (recipe to follow) and then the veggies and then add in the noodles. That's how I did it at least - I'm sure everyone has their own method. Anyway - if you're looking for a nice side dish or noodle alternative, I recommend japchae as an option!

(adapted from original from Epicurious)

12oz sweet potato starch noodles
(soak for 15-20 min until soft)
1/2 lb lean sirloin cut into strips
*veggies - julienned*
(I am leaving this up to interpretation, the original recipe only had about 1/3 of the veggies I used! Go crazy!)

3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon chopped garlic

Combine all the ingredients!

Noodles Method:

In a wok add 4 tablespoons of the sauce and fry the beef. Remove
Add another 5 tablespoons of the sauce and 1/4 cup of water and add the noodles. Set aside
Cook the veggies in batches and combine with noodles and beef.

Garnish with green onions & sesame seeds - bon appetit!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Old Ideas, New Theories

Ah, another hectic few weeks in the can. I wish I could update more - honest! But there doesn't seem to be enough time in the week to actually think about what to write about. And that I don't have time to conjure something up on the weekends. Last weekend I took the ferry over to the 'local' island to visit a friend with another friend (confusing enough for you?) and took in some local sights and eats. Had my first ever neapolitan pizza! Yes, you read that right. I have never had neapolitan pizza. Doesn't mean that I am clueless to the mystery of that hallowed tradition - I'm totally down for the 00 grade flour and everything that is involved in a certified neapolitan pizza, and I have to say, it was great! However, I still have weakness for the less-than-traditional pizza pies, namely - Domino's thin crust Hawaiian. Or sausage and mushroom. Mmmmm.

Anyway - moving on - to today's post! As it is the summer time, it means that it is ice cream season! Admittedly, it is always ice cream season - but the summer, of course, is a perfect opportunity to whip out some frozen treats. I came across this recipe for EGGLESS ice cream that was supposedly as creamy and rich as their traditional French counterpart! "Impossible!" I thought to myself, "egg yolks give ice cream their silky richness, no egg yolks and you'd be left with a soft serve-worthy mess!" But I was intrigued, and inspired to give it a go. I followed the recipe for the basic vanilla - but amped it up with a ton of vanilla beans (gratefully given to me by a coworker), frozen blueberries and "pie". I had a few ideas last year about ice cream concoctions and one that always hung over me was "blueberry pie" ice cream - not just straight blueberry ice cream, but a flavour that would encapsulate the entire 'bite'. I tried to replicate this with a rich vanilla ice cream with a frozen blueberry coulis swirl and crust-like cookies mixed in.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Celebrating Summer's Bounty

One of the many things I love about the summer is the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables at the local markets - and for cheap! I love checking out the local farmers markets - whether it is the one 10 minutes away or an hour - each one offers something special and unique. This weekend I went to one fairy off-the-beaten path for me. Usually the one I go to is about a 25 min run away (hey, gotta get your exercise!) but this one is about...a 35 min transit ride away - and on an express bus at that! But it was worth it!

I had indulged a bit too much at the end of the week - with too many meals out and felt like something fresh and whole and loaded with some seasonal goodies!

My buys:
-two bunches of locally grown 'baby' carrots
-one bag of yellow and orange peppers ("all you can pick" for $4/bag)
-three bags of assorted spices

Not a ton of stuff, but definitely enough to kick off my dinner of "Summer Panzanella." This summer salad is a great way to use an abundance of leftover or plentiful veggies - namely, tomatoes! This Italian salad is also more commonly referred to as a 'bread salad' - with stale chunks of bread tossed with veggies and a vinegar-based dressing. What is really terrific about this salad is that it is so..."what you make it". I went more traditional and used tomatoes, bread, and fresh herbs - but why not add some fruit to the mix? Peaches, strawberries, and oranges would complement the salad well, as well as some grilled asparagus, grilled  peppers, or cucumbers. I actually wanted to do a side raw carrot salad, but ran out of time (shaved carrot strips tossed with lemon juice & olive oil, with lots of salt & pepper!). I came up with a basic panzanella on top off romaine lettuce and avocado.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Happy 30th Anniversary Spoon Parents!

It was the 'Pearl' Anniversary of this Spoon's parents! Yes, yes, I know. Spoons can't exactly have 'parents' now, can they? But let's just play along.

It was also their combined birthday parties - with the event being fairly spaced between their respective birthdates. The Mothership took it upon herself to cook for the entire crowd - something that even I would not undertake!

An occasion like this of course, calls for a special dessert; a special challenge fit for 30 years of marriage. A coworker suggested, "why don't you make them a 3-tiered cake? One for each celebration!" Yes! Genius! Why hadn't I thought of that?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Last Bite Is the Greatest

I JUST finished the last remnants of that giant lasagne. No worries, readers - I made a 'mini-lasagne' from the leftover fillings & pasta and froze it to bake later.

Later happened late last week, and I just finished the last bite.

Dare I say it was more delicious than the very first bite?

However - although I am not in a rush to replicate it - I am sure another 22-layer monstrosity is in my future!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Burn baby burn!

This Spoon should be tucked away in the night-time drawer already, but because dinner was served super late - I've got a sudden burst of energy! Not enough to bake something new, but to upload some stuff from the weekend. THE WEEKEND OF EPIC BAKING FAIL. Hey, it happens. And I was due for a real dud of a day anyway, I had been having too much good luck, what with the macarons actually turning out the first time they were made!

Anyway, as I mentioned in my last post - I had to salvage together a dessert for dinner at T&J's - I smushed the graham cracker crusts into glass ramekins, topped them with some lemon curd and meringue and torched away! I saved the meringue making for T&J's as they have a gorgeous onyx stand mixer themselves and I was dying to fondle another sexy kitchen gadget (don't worry Daisy, I still love you...but I wanted something with...MORE POWER!). The T&J are also my torch buddies - they were there when I opened my new blowtorch and T was the one who bravely filled it with butane. The torch actually needed a butane top-up actually and she was more than willing to put on a repeat performance!

Have I mentioned that I love torching things?

(as you can see - the glass ramekins show off the three layers extremely well!)

(closer shot of the top - meringue piped with a fat star tip)

 I'll post the recipes for the three components shortly!