September 29, 2007

Baking Requires Attention

As much as I love to cook and bake, sometimes it’s simply not a good idea. The day I decided to make these cinnamon buns was one of those times. My concentration was particularly low, and for me to be saying that is not good news. My mind was wondering to all sorts of things but baking didn't seem to be one of those things. When I'm that inattentive, mistakes are bound to be made, and they were. And that's too bad because I’ve wanted to make cinnamon buns for a long time so when Marce of Pip in the City announced Cinnamon and/or Sticky Buns as the recipe for this month’s Daring Baker Challenge, I was looking forward to it. Marce selected a recipe from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker´s Apprentice and allowed us to make quite a few modifications, including whether or not we wanted to make cinnamon buns, sticky buns or both. I decided to start with the cinnamon buns and the only thing I changed was to use maple sugar along with the cinnamon for the filling. This recipe was really easy to work with, the dough came together easily, (even in my sketchy state) and the buns went into the oven without too much difficulty. I had to reread all the directions five times because I forgot what I had read by the time I walked from the recipe to the mixer, but other than that, it went alright.

Once the buns were in the oven, that's when my problems started. You see, I was making the cinnabuns for Mom to take to a meeting the next morning and so I was starting them late at night. I was also supposed to make some muffins and scones for the meeting as well, so that meant that I had been multitasking, which apparently, I may not be overly good at. To start with, I should have only baked one tray at a time, but oven space was at a premium because I still had to bake scones and muffins, so I shoved both trays in at once. Once I had them all in there, I should have rotated the trays part way through because I know that my oven runs hot and cold and in spots and if I don’t rotate trays, something always gets burnt before the rest is done. I could have gotten away with this if not for the fact that I forgot about my poor cinnabuns and they ended up in the oven much longer than they should have been. You’d think the wonderful smell of baking cinnabuns would have alerted me to their completion, but no, it was the smell of burning that made me jump out of my chair and rush to the oven in a panic. I pulled the buns from the oven and really should have taken a picture at that point so that you could have seen the outer ring of burnt buns with two pretty ones in the middle of each tray. Those four buns you see in the pictures are the only four that I managed to save. If this had of happened at another time, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but it was already the wee hours of the morning and the lack of buns meant that I had to bake something else for the meeting.

It wasn’t the recipe that I was angry at, just myself for making a stupid mistake. It seems to be a trend as of late. I also managed to stick my hand into the oven a couple days ago to retrieve a hot pan, sans oven mitt. Ouch. Another stupid decision was not to remake the cinnamon buns or attempt the sticky buns when I was in a more sane state of mind. I suppose I haven’t quite reached that point yet, but when I do, these buns are on my “to-make” list. Thanks for passing along a great recipe Marce! Which, by the way, can be found on Marce’s post about this month’s challenge. Also, make sure to check out how all the other Daring Bakers fared by checking out the Daring Bakers Blogroll, which is growing larger every month and thus requires its own site.

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September 28, 2007

Happy Birthday to Baking From My Home to Yours!

According to my favourite baking book has just turned 1 year old! To celebrate, Dorie Greenspan and her publisher Houghton Mifflin are giving away 10 autographed copies of Baking From My Home to Yours. To enter this fantastic giveaway, simply visit this post on Dorie’s site and leave a comment with the name of the person you’d like your copy addressed to by October 10th. After you’ve done that, come on back here to have a look at some of the amazing goodies you could soon be making if you happen to be chosen as a lucky winner.

Toasted Coconut Custard Tart page #344 Isn’t this one pretty? I made it for a friend of the family who had asked a local Pie Shop for if they could make him a coconut cream pie and they said no! They specialized in fruit pies only and wouldn’t fulfill his request. I thought that was ridiculous so I decided to make him Dorie’s Coconut Custard Tart as a delicious substitute for his Cream Pie. Of course, I wanted some for myself too, so I made this mini version to go along with his regular sized tart. What Pie Shop refuses to make pie?

Chocolate Spice Quickies page #140 These come together in minutes in the food processor and are then chilled before slicing and baking. The dough is also perfect for freezing and can be pulled out at a moments notice when company’s coming over or when you crave a cookie at midnight. I’m sure the spices could also be varied with great success. I sprinkled the tops of some of mine with vanilla mousse sugar and that was a great idea.

French Yogurt Cake page #224 I just love the way the top of this cake cracks. It’s like it’s inviting you inside. And when it tastes this good, how could you refuse? I couldn’t. To me, this cake begs to be served as a 3pm snack with tea, but I’m sure it would be just as good at any other time of day too.

Oatmeal Nutmeg Scones page #30 Scones are so quick to make, I don’t know why I don’t bake them more often. They actually thrive on a minimal of mixing so the less time you spend on them, the better they taste. I thought these were especially good with some homemade fig jam.

Rugelach page #150 I made a few non life threatening changes to the filling and opted to swap dried mango for currants and use a homemade peach-vanilla jam instead of raspberry or apricot. Don’t worry if the rugelach seems a little messy when you’re rolling them up and it’s ok if the filling spills out the sides; that makes them extra tasty.

Chocolate Pudding page #383 Chocolate pudding doesn’t elicit childhood memories for me, but somehow, eating this pudding made me feel like a kid again. Well, it did before I decided to add cognac to it… In any case, this is pure comfort food. And since I was making it more adult with cognac, I also topped it with cocoa nibs.

On an unrelated note, does anyone know where I can win a new digital camera? Because mine has kicked the bucket. I’m currently borrowing one but I have no idea how it works and that’s resulting in a lot of blurry pictures, frustration, cursing and an excessive amount of time in Photoshop,(which subsequently leads to a whole lot more frustration, cursing, mouse throwing and keyboard smashing).

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September 27, 2007

Baking in Exchange for Free Rent

If the answer to everything were truly brownies like I said in my last post, then I would be one happy girl. If baking could solve all of my problems, I wouldn’t have a worry in the world. If everyone could be won over with a treat from the oven, I would have people begging me to ask them for a favour just so that I could repay them in baked goods. I was thinking about this last weekend as I looked for an apartment to rent. They say that if you’re trying to sell your home, you should put a batch of chocolate chip cookies in the oven before an open house because it will make the place smell like home for potential buyers, but what about doing things the other way around? What if I showed up on the doorstep of a potential apartment, bearing a tin of homemade cookies or perhaps a puffed plum tart? Could I get a reduced rate? Would they love me so much that I wouldn’t have to pay rent? Maybe utilities could get added into the rental fee at no extra charge? How about some free cable TV and high speed internet? A weekly maid? A dish washing pony? Something? Anything? Throw me a bone here people.

Sadly, none of those things were offered to me. Instead, I arrived at one apartment to meet with a potential roommate, only to be told by the smart friend I took with me that they would never come visit me if I rented this place because the potential roommate was the creepiest person they had ever met in their lives. I agreed and left that place without thinking about it twice. Another apartment that I went to see looked promising from website pictures, but unbeknownst to me, the pictures were from a different apartment owned by the same landlord. What was supposed to be a spacious, recently renovated bachelor, turned out to be a fourth floor walk up with stairs so narrow it seemed like I would have to learn to live with inflatable furniture. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the shower was suitable only for people under the height of four feet as the walls were dangerously slanted and the oven looked like a 1940’s relic that belonged in a museum. I scampered back down those stairs as fast as I could safely do so, but not before the landlord politely asked me to change a lightbulb for her, as she was probably one of the few people who could comfortably shower in that bathroom. Ah, the joys of apartment hunting… I’d rather be baking.

What better reason to bake than for Hay Hay it’s Donna Day? Sarini of Trini Gourmet has chosen Tarts as this month’s theme for HHDD#15, which was originally started by Barbara of Winos and Foodies. Tarts were actually the theme of the first Donna Hay event that I participated in, way back in September of last year. Not only was it my first Donna Hay, but it was my first blogging event as well. I made a Shrimp and Scallop Tart, it was my own creation and I was really happy with the way it turned out. That reminds me, I should make that again. But I digress, the difference between this tart theme and the last one is that it was restricted to savoury tarts, whereas this time any kind of tart is permitted, be it sweet, savoury or some combination thereof. My contribution to this round of HHDD is a Puffed Plum Tart by, (who else?) Dorie Greenspan and like all of Dorie’s recipes it turned out wonderfully. It’s also super easy to make since the base is made with store bought puff pastry. Dorie’s recipe calls for both dried and fresh plums, but since I had a very large basket of fresh plums straight from my Grandma’s plum tree and no dried plums, it was made entirely with fresh. If you also have a basket of fresh plums and are so inclined to make this tart, it’s on page #378 of Baking From My Home to Yours. If you don’t already own this baking bible, I’m going to tell you tomorrow how to win yourself an autographed copy, you certainly won’t want to miss that.

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September 23, 2007

Brownies Are the Answer to Everything

Sugar High Friday #35 is being hosted this month by Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, and she chose figs as the theme. I wasn’t sure what to do with figs as I’d only ever bought them once before. Consequently, after buying some for SHF, they sat on my counter until it got to the point where they had to be used immediately. But I still didn’t know what to do with them. So I chopped up the figs and threw them in a pot to simmer. I added a little sugar and cooked them until they looked like jam. But I still didn’t know what to do with them. So I added some balsamic vinegar and cooked the mixture little longer. I tasted it and decided I was happy with the flavour, removed the figgy jam from the stove and let it sit while I tried to figure out what to do with it. My Dorie book was sitting close by so I flipped through the pages trying to figure out what recipe could benefit from the addition of figs. Brownies. Tribute to Katherine Hepburn Brownies. Brilynn’s Remixed Tribute to Katherine Hepburn Brownies with Figs. Done.

Tribute to Katharine Hepburn Brownies (From Baking From My Home to Yours)

Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 25-30 minutes
Cooling time: at least 30 minutes
Makes: 16 squares

¼ cup all purpose flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter cut into 8 pieces
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp finely ground instant espresso (the book called for coffee, but….)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup, coarsely chopped pecans
4 oz/112 g bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1. Place the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°F/170°C.
2. Butter an 8”x8” square ovenproof cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust with flour. Tap out excess.
3. Whisk the flour, cinnamon and salt together.
4. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed medium saucepan over low heat. When the butter starts to melt sift the cocoa over it and add the instant espresso. Stir and continue to cook until it’s all well blended (a couple of minutes). Remove from heat and cool for 3 minutes or so.
5. Using a whisk or rubber spatula, beat the eggs into the saucepan one at a time. Next, stir in the sugar and vanilla – be gentle when adding – don’t beat too vigorously – you don’t want to add air to the batter. Add the dry ingredients, nuts and chopped chocolate. Scrape the batter into the pan.
6. Bake for 30 minutes, at which point the brownies will still be gooey but the top will have a dry papery crust. Transfer the pan to a rack and let the brownies cool for at least 30 minutes.
7. Turn the brownies out onto a rack, peel away the paper and invert onto a cutting board. Cool completely before cutting them into squares.

**For my figgy remix, cook figs as above, and then when scraping batter into the pan add a layer of the fig jam and top with the remaining batter.

To see some other bloggers who have made these fantastic brownies, click here, here, or here.

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September 22, 2007


Some things are always dependable; the sun will rise, the moon will set, I’ll be late, (but with good intentions) koalas will be cute and these puffy appetizers will be tasty. Call them Cheese and Sausage Medallions, Puffs or Scrolls, the name doesn’t matter. They’re easy to make and always help to quash some pre-dinner hunger pangs. And as much as I don’t like to make the same thing twice, this appetizer is one that I’ve returned to again and again. I pretty much stick to the same filling too, despite the fact that you could vary it infinitely. I combine chorizo sausage, old cheddar, smoked paprika and an egg to make the filling and then I roll out some store bought puff pastry- Gasp! Yes, store bought puff pastry. I’ve made the stuff before and that was enough for me to realize that although I’m capable of making it, it’s much easier to buy. I then spread the filling all over before rolling up the puff pastry like a jelly roll. You could slice it into rounds right then, but I like to stick it in the freezer for about 20 minutes to firm up a bit first. While your roll is chilling, preheat the oven to 400F, then simply remove the roll from the freezer, slice it, place it on a baking sheet and pop it into the oven for about 15-18 minutes or until golden. If you want to be fancy you can brush the rounds with an egg wash before their trip to the oven. Call them what you want, these sausage and cheese puffs are always dependable.

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September 21, 2007

Gettin' My Grill On

I was in the kitchen with a friend once, making dinner and throwing this and that into the pan when while she stared at me incredulously before asking “how do you know you can put those things together?” Simple, I replied, it tastes good in my head. Regardless of whether or not I’m cooking from a recipe I usually have a pretty good idea of what the final dish will taste like long before it’s on the table. I know what flavours I like so I figure I can’t go wrong by putting those together. That’s what happened when I made up the marinade for these ribs. Originally I was planning on making honey garlic ribs, (because anyone who’s anyone likes honey garlic ribs) but then I wanted to jazz them up a bit so I started rummaging around in the fridge to see what else I could add to honey garlic.

Well I found all sorts of stuff and as I sloshed more and more into the marinade, I could taste the flavours coming together. You can too if you combine all of the ingredients below and pour them over a rack of pork side ribs. Turn to coat the ribs and then let them marinate for at least 3 hours or preferably overnight. Remove the ribs from the marinade and reserve the liquid. Put the leftover marinade into a small saucepan and bring to a boil for at least 5 minutes. Then heat up your grill to low and let the ribs cook low and slow, basting periodically with the marinade, particularly at the end of the cooking time. These ones took almost 4 hours.

Usually when I make up my own marinade I don’t measure or write down ingredients but I had a feeling that this would be a good one and it was. I will definitely be making it again, especially for a honey garlic rib lover.

Bri’s Super Honey Garlic Ribs

  • 4 T honey
  • 4 T ponzu sauce
  • 2 T black bean sauce
  • 1 T oyster sauce
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 inch of garlic, grated
  • Pinch of garlic pepper
  • Pinch of Chinese 5 spice

**This article can also be seen on the Well Fed Network and Get Your Grill On.

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September 20, 2007

Defying Logic

For illogical and unknown reasons, I sometimes let myself slip into a state of mind where I assume something will be hard to do before I even give it a try. I can almost convince myself not to do something because I’ll certainly fail. And if someone comes along who helps to make things easier, I don’t trust them. Why? I don’t know, I told you it didn’t make sense. If someone wants to make my life a little bit easier, that should be a good thing. But instead of embracing it, I fight it. I already had it in my head that things were going to be difficult and couldn’t possibly be made easier and that’s just the way it’s going to be. This problem extends to many areas of my life, the kitchen included. If I can convince myself to get over my uncertainty however, good things usually result. Like risotto. Before I had ever made risotto, I assumed it was hard. It seemed like something I could only ever order in a restaurant. I was mistaken. Risotto is infinitely adaptable and once you know how to make it, you’ll never need a recipe or measurements again. It’s a dish that I like making for other people because it’s not as common as something like pasta but it’s just as versatile. If your guest likes shrimp, then make them a shrimp risotto. If they don’t like shrimp, they’re foolish, but you can still make them happy with a risotto of their choice.

The Baker and the Curry Maker are hosting their first blogging event, which they’re calling the Risotto Relay. They’re Aussies and are generously offering up Tim Tams to the person who comes up with the best risotto, so I hope they like my Prawn and Pea offering… cause I like Tim Tams.

I suppose you want a recipe as well, of course I didn’t use one, but here’s what I did this time around: To start, I combined shrimp with a splash of white wine, some orange zest and a couple cloves of garlic, smashed. How much shrimp you ask? I was making it for two people so as much shrimp as the two of us wanted to eat. How much wine? Enough to coat the shrimp. How much orange zest? How orangey do you like your shrimp? I used the zest of one orange. Let sit for 20-30 minutes. Heat up some butter and oil and when it’s hot, throw in the shrimp and cook until pink 2-3 minutes. How much butter and oil? Meh, enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Remove the shrimp but keep any remaining butter/oil/sauce in the pan. Chop half a red onion, (more if you want) and toss it into the pan, cooking about 3 minutes until it starts to look translucent. Add in your Arborio rice and stir. How much rice? Once again, it depends how many people you’re cooking for, I used about a generous half cup. I think you get the picture, measurements really don’t matter. When the rice is completely coated and is starting to give off a nutty aroma, add white wine. Once that’s absorbed, add chicken stock, stir, stir, stir, add chicken stock, stir, stir, stir, add chicken stock… oh you know the routine. When the rice has absorbed all it’s going to absorb and is still slightly al dente, add in a generous helping of freshly grated parmesan cheese and stir some more. Then add peas and shrimp, some ground pepper if you’re feeling lucky and, wait for it… stir. Hey, guess what? You just made risotto! And it tastes really good so enjoy it.

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September 11, 2007

A Change of Scenary

Are you tired of reading what I write here? Would you like a change of scenary? Then go check out what I wrote for Paper Palate or Just Baking.

There you'll find recipes for these cherry tarts and angel food cake. Don't abandon me completely, but go have a look and then come right back.

It All Adds Up

This was my second attempt at working with fondant. I made the Lightning McQueen cake as a warm up for this cake. I wanted to get a feel for working with fondant before I used to it to make a cake for someone else. When I made the Lightning cake, the fondant was tricky and a little sticky, but I survived. This time around my circumstances conspired against me as I was under time pressure and the temperature exceeded 30°C, (over 90°F). To begin I made another Dorie Greenspan cake, (Cocoa Buttermilk Birthday cake with Chocolate Malt Buttercream icing and my own fruit compote in the middle) to build my fondant upon because previous experience told me that the inside had better be good to make up for fondant’s less than desirable taste. The cake making went well but the fondant and I did not enjoy the heat and both felt as though we were melting. What made it even more difficult to work with was that once again I had a lofty, unrealistic vision of what my Batman cake was supposed to look like. I wanted it to be perfect; with a flat, ripple less surface, a little Batmobile, ruler straight edges on the buildings, an elaborate skyline and a happy birthday sign. As you can see, the end result was far from what I had imagined.

However, this is one of those rare situations where I suppose I can live with less than perfect results. I wasn’t asked or paid to make this cake and I wasn’t expected to either. I was making this cake because I wanted to, because I wanted to make someone happy. I don’t want to use the expression “it’s the thought that counts” because I really hate how that sounds, but essentially that’s what it comes down to. Some people are impressed by things that cost a lot of money, (and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t to some extent as well, I mean I wouldn’t turn down a trip to Fiji) but little thoughts and gestures add up in ways that big things rarely do. That’s why we remember the small things that make our day, random stories that other people wouldn’t appreciate nearly as much as we do. In a world that’s increasingly automated, doing things for people that make them feel like an individual means something. Facebook will tell you when someone’s birthday is but it won’t make them a Batman cake. An email can tell a friend you’re thinking of them, but a handwritten letter does it better. Sharing your candy will make someone happy, but picking out their favourite flavour means you’ve been paying attention. Doing things that you haven’t been asked to, these little acts make a world of difference. At least they do for me.

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September 09, 2007

He's Just Too Pretty to Eat

Lightning McQueen was not at all what this cake was supposed to be. I had planned to make a plain rectangular cake that would be easy to cover with fondant as this was my first time using the stuff. But somewhere in the process I got carried away and decided I would make a car cake. Actually, I can pinpoint the exact point where I started to veer off my charted course. I was standing over my cake, looking at it quizzically when Dad walked in. The cake was supposed to be three layers but I am not the best at cutting in straight lines so it ended up being two and a half layers as the third one fell apart and I could only salvage half of it. Dad looked at the cake and cautiously asked me what I was making in the same way you would ask a three year old to tell you about their drawing so as not to offend them when you say they’ve drawn a beautiful horse and they say it’s actually a tractor. I replied that I wasn’t exactly sure. This gave Dad the green light to tell me that he thought it looked like a car. And you know what? It did. If I squinted really hard I could imagine a polished race car. Of course the end result was far from what I imagined, but it was still kind of cute.

Working with the fondant was tricky business, or more accurately, sticky business. Once you laid it down, changes were not to be made. And the more I worked it between my hands, the warmer and stickier it got. Also, the more red my hands got. The red dye was quite good at spreading itself everywhere but into the fondant. Actually rolling out and shaping the fondant wasn’t much easier. See, I often have lofty visions of what I think something should look like but I don’t have the ability to execute my visions. This leads to a lot of frustration on my part because of my poor memory which prevents me from remembering that my imagination exceeds my ability. In my head, I’m Duff Goldman. Reality disagrees.

As neat as fondant looks, I can’t say it stands up in the taste department. This pains me because that fondant exterior is hiding Dorie’s Dressy Chocolate Loaf cake and Chocolate Malt Buttercream icing. The cake and icing are rich, chocolaty and certainly worthy of being served on their own but can anything really compete with Lightning McQueen? Given the choice between a brown loaf cake or a jazzy red Lightning McQueen cake, it’s hard to pick the former. In order to satisfy both looks and taste, we enjoyed Lightning as long as possible and then peeled off the fondant exterior to reveal the cakey goodness inside. Some brave souls attempted to pick at the fondant but in the end I was left with a crumpled and deflated Lightning McQueen and not a crumb of Dorie’s cake. The final picture was just too sad to post, I want you to remember Lightning in all his glory, supported by cake and so those are the only pictures I’m sharing.

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September 05, 2007

Another Reason to Buy Vanilla Beans

When I posted about the virtues of using real vanilla beans, one of the comments I got intrigued me. It came from Cindy of Where’s the Beef? who directed me to a vegan vanilla cashew ice cream that she had made with vanilla beans that, (as she put it) really knocked her socks off! I went and immediately had a look at the recipe and as soon as I saw that the sweetener used wasn’t sugar but maple syrup, I was sold; vanilla beans, cashews and maple syrup? Heck yeah!

I made a few changes to the recipe and decided to call it a Vanilla Cashew Sorbet, to trick more people into making it. Sometimes the word vegan can throw you for a loop but this ‘ice cream’ is easy to make, doesn’t require any weird ingredients and tastes so amazing you’ll forget it’s not full of animal product goodness. Even though I will never give up bacon or cream or eggs, those crazy vegans are onto something with this recipe. If you’re unsure at all of my devotion to meat, then you should check out this post that I wrote for Get Your Grill On, it's steak-errific.

Vanilla Cashew Sorbet (Adapted from Vegan Vanilla Cashew Ice)

2 cups roasted, unsalted cashews

3 cups water

1 cup maple syrup (none of this "maple-flavoured syrup", you need the real Canadian thing!)

2 vanilla beans,

In a medium, heavy bottomed pot, combine the cashews, water and vanilla beans, (which you should first slice in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds out of, adding them as well) and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and let sit for about 2 hours.

Add maple syrup and blend, preferably in your super strength K-Tec blender under the mixture is completely smooth. If you don’t have a K-Tec, (I pity the fool who doesn’t have a K-Tec) you can do this in a regular blender or food processor, but I don’t think you’ll get the same smooth results, I could be wrong though, so please do try it and let me know, (regardless, it’ll be delicious).

Once everything is blended, just put the blender container right in the fridge to chill completely, preferably over night. Before pouring into your ice cream machine, give it another little whirl in the blender and then proceed as per usual. It will get quite hard in the freezer, but if you let it soften for ten minutes on the counter, the creaminess comes right back.

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Fire and Ice

This isn’t for everyone. I love it though. It will send your senses into a tailspin of confusion. At first all you can taste is rich, smooth and cool chocolate, then the heat of the chili pepper hits you and it’s hard to understand how something so cold can set your mouth on fire. It’s a confused sorbet. I know how it feels. And so, to avoid my confused ramblings, here’s a poem by Robert Frost:

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I've tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

Mercedes of Desert Candy recently challenged herself to 20 days of 20 different ice cream flavours. You know I’m a sucker for ice cream so all of them looked amazing. A recipe for chocolate sorbet caught my eye for two reasons; the first being that it looked mouthwateringly good, the second being that at the end of the recipe she listed a few add ins that you could use for a change up. One of them was red pepper. A while ago I had a chili chocolate ice cream at an ice cream shop, (sacrilege! I know, but when they offer chili chocolate ice cream, I think it’s acceptable) and ever since then I’ve wanted to recreate it. I decided this chocolate sorbet was the perfect opportunity to give it a whirl, or a churn so to speak. Instead of the ½ tsp of red pepper that Mercedes suggests, I used two small chili peppers, (that I received from the wonderful Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict) which I seeded and finely diced. Check out Mercedes’ post for other flavour options and just to see her 20 different ice creams flavours.

Chocolate Sorbet (from Desert Candy)

2 1/3 cups water
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup good quality cocoa powder

2 small chili peppers, seeded and finely diced
3 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 T instant espresso powder (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Place the cocoa powder and sugar in a saucepan. Slowly add the water in a stream, whisking until there are no lumps. Add in the diced chili pepper. Place the pan on the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. When it has come to a full boil, lower the heat slightly and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
2. Remove from the heat and immediately add the chopped chocolate and espresso powder. Stir with a whisk until the chocolate is melted and combined (you can also put the mixture into a blender and blitz). Add the vanilla, cover, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (at least 3 hours).
3. Give the mixture a good stir, then churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Store in the freezer.

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September 03, 2007

The Bigger They Are the Harder They Fall

I know some people look forward to the arrival of fall, (a certain Peabody, for instance) and can’t wait for the change of season. Now, I have nothing against the season itself; I like the cooler weather, I like when the leaves change colour, I like pumpkin pie. But I don’t like fall. That’s because fall has always signified the start of a new school year, new beginnings and changes. I was never one of those kids that looked forward to school, quite the opposite, I dreaded it. The last couple weeks of August were always bittersweet. On the one hand, it was usually gorgeous weather and there was lots of fun to be had. But on the other, it was the end of summer and that meant saying goodbye to freedom. Overnight I would go from playing outside all day and staying up late, to getting up early and being stuck at a desk doing mindless drudgery. It was a shock to my body every year. And somehow, the arrival of September still has a negative effect on me even though I’m no longer returning to the classroom. When the back to school ads start coming out, the mall becomes packed with moms frantically trying to find their kids a new pair of gym shoes and the big yellow buses can be seen creeping around, I get a little queasy. My heart beats faster, I sweat even though it’s not hot and I’m constantly looking over my shoulder, just waiting for the school year to jump out of nowhere and shock my body into a new and uncomfortable schedule. I can see it happening to others and I walk on tip toe, trying to hide from it. Even though I’m not going back to school, fall still brings changes and new beginnings. But what gets me the most is that I don’t know what they’ll be and that makes me suspicious of everyone and everything. If you see me walking around with shifty dog eyes, it’s because I’m still waiting for the changes to hit me, out of nowhere, just like the new school year always did.

One thing that I know will stay the same is my Go Big or Go Home motto. And in order to ensure that, I thought it was about time to remake my namesake: Jumbo Empanadas. It’s been over a year since I made them last and that’s far too long ago, so when Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness announced that the theme for this month’s Blog Party was It’s What’s Inside, I knew the time had come. As if that wasn’t incentive enough, the September issue of Gourmet magazine is a showcase of Latin American food, including empanadas.

Beef Empanadas (adapted slightly from Gourmet, September 2007)

2 hard-boiled large eggs, cut crosswise into 10 thin slices.
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 small dried chili, seeded and finely chopped
3/4 pound ground beef chuck
2 tablespoons raisins
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped pimiento-stuffed olives
1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice, drained, reserving 2 tablespoons juice, and chopped
1 ball of empanada dough, (see recipe below)

Cook onion in olive oil in a heavy medium skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened. Add garlic, cumin, oregano and chili pepper and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in beef and cook, breaking up lumps with a fork, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes.

Add raisins, olives, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and tomatoes with reserved juice, then cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced but mixture is still moist, about 5 minutes. Spread on a plate to cool.

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle.

Lay a large sheet of plastic wrap on a dampened work surface (to help keep plastic in place), then roll out an empanada disk on plastic wrap to measure about 10 inches. Place meat mixture on disk and top with 2 slices of egg. Moisten edges of disk with water and fold over to form a semicircle, then crimp with a fork. Make more empanadas in same manner.

Combine an egg yolk and a little water and then brush this mixture over each empanada before putting it in the oven for about 20 minutes or until empanadas are golden brown.

Empanada Dough:

6 T Butter
2 T Olive Oil
1 T Vinegar
1 C Water
1 t Salt
4 C Flour

Bring all incredients except flour to a boil. Add wet ingredients to flour and mix to incorporate. Knead to a firm dough. Divide into 2 disks and refrigerate 2 hours.

Serve with homemade salsa. I whipped one up that consisted of avocado, tomato, lime zest and juice, white vinegar, red onion, garlic, salt, hot chili pepper and cilantro.

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September 02, 2007

Roasted and Smokey and Just Plain Good

It’s time for La Festa Al Fresco! This annual event is co-hosted by Lis of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, who ask that everyone make a dish made with fresh, seasonal ingredients to share with the world. Usually at this time of year my garden is overrun with tomatoes of all shapes and sizes, the vines are usually weighted down to the ground, but this year I’ve got nothing. Luckily, I’m pet sitting for friends of ours who have a large garden as well and theirs has something that mine does not: tomatoes. Lots of them. They’ll never even notice the few baskets full that went missing… And if they do, the conversation will go something like this:

>>Bri, what happened to all our tomatoes?

>>>Ummm, the dog really seems to have taken a liking to them and those crazy cats were batting a few around. Oh, and I saw your neighbours slinking away from the garden as I pulled in one day… I’d definitely suspect the neighbours. Or it could also be that tomato grub, haven’t you heard? It’s been all over the news, apparently there’s a tomato eating grub that’s sweeping the province, sounds like they’re killer for home gardens.

>>Just bring us some leftovers of whatever you’ve made with our tomatoes.

>>>No problem.

So what did I make with the tomatoes? Among other things, this smoked tomato risotto. I smoked the tomatoes myself with the help of my beautiful smoker by simply drizzling them in olive oil, salt and pepper and letting the smoke do the work. And they pack quite a punch. On their own, they’re almost overpowering, but when you mix them into creamy risotto, the flavours blend perfectly. The risotto was made in typical risotto fashion, (seriously, once you’ve made one risotto, you can make a hundred) the only difference was that I also added some oyster, shiitake and maitake mushrooms, (courtesy of my mushroom growing friend) and instead of using only white wine and chicken stock, I added some milk to make it extra creamy. I didn’t follow a recipe and you don’t need to either. But if you’d like some extra tips and direction, go check out Meeta’s post on Risotto with Creamy Red Pepper, she does a fabulous job of explaining how these things work.

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September 01, 2007

I’m Not Letting You Go Just Yet

I don’t care if it’s September and the weather is getting colder, I’m still going to make ice cream. If I have to eat it wearing mittens, I will. Besides, how could I let the summer pass me by without making one of the most talked about flavours around. Yes, that’s right, I mean David Lebovitz’s Salted Butter Caramel ice cream. It’s the perfect balance of salty and sweet and delicious, all churned into one flavour of ice cream. I put off trying this recipe for too long because it required making the dreaded caramel. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why some days my caramel turns out, and others days it doesn’t. The days when the caramel doesn’t work for me are so disappointing that they usually overshadow the days when it does. And so despite the fact that I had bookmarked this recipe, (twice!) I was still hesitant to make it because I didn’t want to fail the caramel making step. Then a friend of mine made this ice cream and it didn’t work out for him. He grumbled about the recipe and that’s where I had to step in. Excuse me, this was a David Lebovitz recipe, it works, YOU don’t. Simple as that. I had to make the ice cream to prove my friend wrong and uphold David Lebovitz’s good reputation. Besides, I had already seen numerous food bloggers make this ice cream and sing Lebovitz’s praises, so I knew the caramel Gods would smile upon me for this one day so that I could create some outstanding Salted Butter Caramel ice cream. And they did, it turned out wonderfully. Don’t let go of what you love, go make some ice cream!

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream (Straight from David Lebovitz himself)

Makes one generous quart (liter).

For the caramel praline (mix-in)

½ cup (100 gr) sugar
¾ teaspoon sea salt, such as fleur de sel

For the ice cream custard

2 cups (500 ml) whole milk, divided
1½ cups (300 gr) sugar
4 tablespoons (60 gr) salted butter
scant ½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cups (250 ml) heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. To make the caramel praline, spread the ½ cup (100 gr) of sugar in an even layer in a medium-sized, unlined heavy duty saucepan: I use a 6 quart/liter pan. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or brush it sparingly with unflavored oil.

2. Heat the sugar over moderate heat until the edges begin to melt. Use a heatproof utensil to gently stir the liquefied sugar from the bottom and edges towards the center, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved. (Or most of it—there may be some lumps, which will melt later.)

Continue to cook stirring infrequently until the caramel starts smoking and begins to smell like it's just about to burn. It won't take long.

3. Without hesitation, sprinkle in the ¾ teaspoon salt without stirring (don't even pause to scratch your nose), then pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet and lift up the baking sheet immediately, tilting and swirling it almost vertically to encourage the caramel to form as thin a layer as possible. Set aside to harden and cool.

4. To make the ice cream, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl about a third full with ice cubes and adding a cup or so of water so they're floating. Nest a smaller metal bowl (at least 2 quarts/liters) over the ice, pour 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk into the inner bowl, and rest a mesh strainer on top of it.

5. Spread 1½ cups (300 gr) sugar in the saucepan in an even layer. Cook over moderate heat, until caramelized, using the same method described in Step #2.

6. Once caramelized, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt, until butter is melted, then gradually whisk in the cream, stirring as you go.

The caramel may harden and seize, but return it to the heat and continue to stir over low heat until any hard caramel is melted. Stir in 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk.

7. Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, stirring constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard using a heatproof utensil, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read 160-170 F (71-77 C).

8. Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath, add the vanilla, then stir frequently until the mixture is cooled down. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or until thoroughly chilled.

9. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

10. While the ice cream is churning, crumble the hardened caramel praline into very little bits, about the size of very large confetti (about ½-inch, or 1 cm). I use a mortar and pestle, although you can make your own kind of music using your hands or a rolling pin.

11. Once your caramel ice cream is churned, quickly stir in the crushed caramel, then chill in the freezer until firm.

Note: As the ice cream sits, the little bits of caramel may liquefy and get runny and gooey, which is what they're intended to do.

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