August 30, 2007

Don't Call Me Ordinary


va·nil·la [vuh-nil-uh]: Lacking adornments or special features; basic or ordinary.

The dictionary tells me that vanilla is basic. Often you’ll hear something simple or plain described as vanilla as well. I have trouble understanding this. Why would anyone do such a disservice to the great vanilla bean? It’s not plain or boring or ordinary, it’s exotic! It comes from places like Madagascar, Mexico and Tahiti and has an aroma that’s as intoxicating as any tropical umbrella drink.


It doesn’t come cheap either, real vanilla beans are expensive! You’d think that would garner them some sort of respect, but no. In comparison, you don’t hear people calling caviar or truffles ordinary, do you? If you think vanilla’s so plain, why don’t you try growing it in your backyard? It’ll fit in perfectly next to your caviar pond and truffle garden. Call me when it’s ready. I won’t hold my breath. I’ll be at home making vanilla bean ice cream, and possibly drowning some of it in brandied cherries…



And I can do that with vanilla, (add other foods to it), because far from being ordinary, vanilla is the biggest complementary flavour in the world. It’s got versatility that you can only dream of. Oh, and it’s been around. I’ve seen vanilla hook up with fruits, nuts, coffee, tea, ice cream, yogurt, candy and I can’t even tell you all of the baked goods she’s been with. She’s not easy though. Most certainly not. First you have to get a hold of her, don’t fall for the imitation stuff. There are tons of imposters but only one vanilla. She’s long and lean, flexible, full of goodness and a touch mysterious. And although her scent is available to anyone who passes her by, to get a taste will take time. You’ll have to coax it out of her gently. But when you finally do, it will be worth it. That vanilla is quite the catch so treat her well! And don’t ever think she’s ordinary.



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August 29, 2007

More Proof that Going Big is the Only Way to Go


When Veron of Veronica’s Test Kitchen and Patricia of Technicolor Kitchen announced that the recipe for this month’s Daring Baker challenge was a Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart, my thoughts went something like this: Yay, there’s chocolate! Boo, it’s milk chocolate, no dark. Yay, there’s caramel, I love the taste of caramel! Boo, I hate making caramel, it always tries to attack me and my kitchen. Yay, I have a family reunion coming up that I can bake this tart for! Boo, I have to work that day so I’m going to have to send the tart with my parents for everyone to devour but me. Yay, it’s sunny outside! Boo, there’s something sticky on the bottom of my foot, ew, what is that? Yay, I like the colour blue. Boo, I distract easily and have no clue where I was going with this.


Anyways, I made this tart without too much sweat and without dropping any curse words either, which generally isn’t the case with a Daring Baker Challenge. I had no trouble rolling out the crust, but I heard the crust drove some of the other Bakers to the brink of insanity, or as close to the brink as a failed crust can drive someone. The caramel process went smoothly, quite the opposite of most of my caramel making ventures, I didn’t even scald myself with the hot sugar like normal. The chocolate mousse was apparently without incident because all I can remember about making it was licking the bowl. And yet, despite the relative ease with which it was made, I wasn’t overly impressed with the end result. I made two tarts, one regular sized that was shipped off to my family reunion and one baby tart that I kept for myself. I only tasted the baby and I don’t think this tart worked well in the mini version. There was too much crust and not enough filling. And the filling was what this tart was all about. It claimed to have a chocolate crust, but with a measly 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder in the crust, it was hardly chocolately. With such an uninspired crust I should have known all along not to make a little tart that was dominated by crust.



This just proves my ‘Go Big or Go Home’ theory because from what I’ve been told by those who sampled it, the results of the large tart were quite fantastic. Although I didn’t get to witness this myself, Mom tells me they were lined up for a slice of tart and there wasn’t a crumb left on the plate. You’ll have to take this with a grain of salt though as Mom has a tendency to exaggerate, and by exaggerate, I mean she makes stuff up. I often tell her I’d rather be criticized than receive false praise, but I don’t think she believes me because even when I make something I don’t like, she still tries to tell me it’s great. And then I feel like bashing my head into a wall out of frustration. I almost want to feed her something that’s purposefully bad, that’s simultaneously too salty, sour, sweet and hot all at once just to hear how she’ll try to describe what she thought of it without offending me...


Don't forget to check out all of the other Daring Bakers' posts, links can be found from the DB Blogroll and the original recipe will be posted on either Veronica's or Patricia's blogs.



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August 28, 2007

Pretend Like It's the Weekend


Food for Thought is the Foodtv Canada blog and each month it hosts a Cooking Club whereby a different Foodtv recipe is selected for everyone to make and compare notes on. For August, the recipe of choice was Batter Be Good to Me Pancakes from Janet and Greta Podleski, (of Eat, Shrink and Be Merry fame). The Podleski sisters are known for slimming down recipes and upping the health factor, supposedly without losing any taste. After wolfing down a few pancakes, I can vouch for their tastiness so I’d be interested in seeing what else they can do. The only downside to this recipe was that my pancakes didn’t turn out very well in the aesthetics department. This could have been entirely due to a user error, but as you can see in the photos, I’ve had to hide the pancakes underneath a mango fan to distract from their ugliness. I don't think I suffered any because of it The mango is replacing the strawberry sauce that was supposed to top the pancakes but since I had a case of ripe mangoes sitting on the counter, it was mangoes and maple syrup all the way. And as if that wasn’t good enough, I made a side of Mango lassi, (just mango, honey and plain yogurt) with a few blueberries thrown in to look pretty. My breakfast was coordinated as it was tempting.



Although I called this my breakfast, it was probably afternoon before I ate it. It’s not that pancakes are difficult to make but somehow the act of making them seems to imply a lazy day, doing everything at a snail’s pace. Who cares about the rest of the world, you’re having pancakes! Ideally you shouldn’t even bother getting out of bed before noon. Once you do get up though, don’t shower or get dressed just put on a soft and worn old housecoat and make your pancake breakfast at leisure. When the last pancakes are plated and the syrup is poured, feel free to crawl back into bed, there’s no shame in that. Put the Jack Johnson cd in the stereo, cue up the song Banana Pancakes and indulge.


“This song it's meant to keep you

From doin' what you're supposed to

Like wakin' up too early

Maybe we could sleep in

I'll make you banana pancakes

Pretend like it's the weekend now”


It doesn’t have to be banana pancakes though, mango works quite well too, or chocolate chip, or apple, or cinnamon… whatever you want. Just wake up slow, wake up slow.




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August 26, 2007

Paralyzed By Too Many Decisions


I understand it must be hard for some of you to select a single Dorie recipe to make when they’re all so amazing. I’ve already given you over 50 to choose from and today I’m giving you five more. In the face of so many possibilities, it’s easy to become paralyzed by choice. Do you start with an ice cream? A cake? A tart or pie? It’s simply too hard to choose. All decisions come with positives and negatives, (although in the case of choosing one Dorie recipe over another, even the negatives aren’t actually bad) but which one will make you the happiest? And how do you go about weighing the options? Do you take a baking approach and measure everything out exactly, weighing each detail to the decimal point? Or do you take a more free form cooking approach where you can add and subtract values like spices.

A few days ago I posted a story about a girl who has a terrible time making decisions. That same girl has an even more difficult time making decisions when too many of them come at her at once. Making a chart and comparing one option to another isn’t so bad, but once you get up to five or six options you practically have to be an engineer to figure out how everything works. It gets even more difficult when certain decisions are dependent on factors that are out of your control. It really does become a math equation. Unfortunately, my decisions are quality and not quantity based so there’s no exact resolution to my problem, er, I mean, that other girls’ problem. I couldn’t possibly be talking about me… If your only problem is choosing which Dorie recipe to make, I’m happy to tell you, you won’t be disappointed with any of them. Close your eyes, open the book and make the first thing you see. Maybe it will be one of these:

Berry Surprise Cake pg. 273 Of course, if you go and decorate the cake with berries like I did, than it’s really not much of a surprise cake, now is it? It does hide my shaky icing job though.

Creamiest Lemon Cream Meringue Pie pg. 337 This page actually has the recipe for a lime meringue pie, but I’ve already made it once with limes, so I opted for lemon this time around. The creaminess makes it unlike your ordinary, run of the mill lemon meringue pie, and a million times better.


Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake pg. 200 I bought a case of figs and had no clue what to do with them. Ordinarily I probably wouldn’t have bought them, but they seem to be in the ‘in’ thing right now, so I hoped on that bandwagon, (they’re not in the title, but they’re in this cake, in case you were wondering). I’ve since also made fig brownies and I highly recommend it, you should also add a little balsamic vinegar, it adds a nice depth.



Crunchy and Custardy Peach Tart pg. 346 Why isn’t there a quaint country saying like “They go together like almonds and peaches”? Cause there should be. They’re a fabulous combination.


Blueberry Crumb Cake pg. 192 I had a pint of blueberries that needed to be used or frozen, so I opened up the book and scanned for blueberry recipes, this was the first one I found. I love the crunchy crumb topping.



Unlike myself, Valli of More Than Burnt Toast and Jaden of Steamy Kitchen are able to make decisions, they handed out Droolworthy and Thinking Blogger Awards respectively and I was the lucky recipient of one of each. Thank you girls! Now if you could solve my other problems, that would be great…




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August 24, 2007

Dorie's Delights Disguise Disasters


It was barely past noon and I had already made two kitchen disasters instead of delights. You would think that a White Chocolate Cappuccino cake would be fantastic. It was to be layered and sandwiched with luscious coffee infused whipped cream, all covered in a white chocolate frosting. What could possibly go wrong? Well nothing at all, it turned out perfectly if this were a recipe for glue. A very strong glue. I overcooked the batter, (who’s ever heard of cooking a batter stovetop anyways?) so much so that it wouldn’t spread between two pans so I lumped it all in one and tried to ignore the monstrosity it was becoming. The batter was thicker than glue, it was like melting pavement on a hot summer day. Granted, it was somewhat tasty pavement, (it was full of eggs and sugar after all) but I really couldn’t get past the fact that I thought I could spackle my wall with it. Nevertheless, I tucked it into the oven and hoped for a miracle. Twenty minutes later, it emerged looking exactly as it did when I put it in, although the texture was slightly more dense and rubbery, (I contemplated bouncing it off the ground, just to see if bouncing it were possible). Given the fact that I hate to waste food, I aim to salvage kitchen disasters whenever possible. If I’ve learned anything of late, it’s that all disasters can be saved by churning them into ice cream. This cake is going to join undercooked brownies and a soup of a strawberry mirror cake on my list of baking disaster ice creams. I’m not sure when that will happen though, so in the meantime it’s wrapped tight and resting comfortably in the freezer.



But I had to make a cake, (for a co-worker’s birthday that he failed to inform me of until the actual day, so it was late as it was) so I set about trying another recipe. There doesn’t seem to be any method to my madness. Some days I’ll barely follow a recipe, other days I’ll follow it almost to a T, even if I know it doesn’t seem right. I have a stubbornness that makes me follow through with certain things even when I can see that they won’t turn out, (uh, I think that explains my 4 year university degree that’s gotten me nowhere). Since I followed a recipe for the first cake, I was going to wing it for the second, (although not quite completely). The second creation began with two vanilla cakes that I made from a Dorie recipe because I wanted to guarantee that I would start out on a positive note. And those cakes were a breeze and came out of the oven smelling wonderful. Then I decided to put a layer of homemade peach-nectarine-vanilla jam in the middle along with a layer of white chocolate whipped cream. I didn’t whip the cream enough though so it wasn’t as thick as it should have been and when you combine that with a layer of jam, those two layers did NOT want to stay together. Of course, instead of addressing the issue at hand, I decided to simply coat the entire thing in chocolate ganache and hope for the best. Much to my surprise, it looked good!… for about 5 seconds. Then whipped cream began oozing out of the middle, breaking through the ganache layer. This caused the ganache to weaken and both the whipped cream and ganache pooled at the bottom of my serving plate. I hastily threw the whole thing into the fridge in an attempt to stop the melting process. Damn global warming! The fridge helped somewhat and in the end the cake was fairly edible, though not very attractive.



Seeing as though neither of those cakes turned out to be a showstopper, I figured I’d post pics of cheesecake from Dorie. I started with her recipe for Chocolate cheesecake, (do I really have to repeat that it's coming from Baking From My Home to Yours?) and then decided I wanted it to be marbled so I only added the chocolate to half the batter. This also gave me an opportunity to use my brand new mini cheesecake pans, courtesy of a very thoughtful friend, (thank you!). Aren’t they adorable? Like puppies? Don’t you just want to take a bite out of them? Ahem… Anyways, just because I love the mini cheesecake pan, don’t expect this blog to become Mini Empanadas anytime soon. I’ll be busting out something supersized for you in the very near future, and it may or may not rhyme with Eumbo Jempanadas…



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August 23, 2007

Real Food


Recently I was contacted by the Hellmann’s marketing team, who asked if I’d like to participate in a discussion about ‘Real Food’ as part of their new campaign on Yahoo! Food. The In Search of Real Food campaign tracks Dave Lieberman via blog posts and video episodes as he travels across the USA in search of “real food”. In addition to Lieberman’s posts, a number of bloggers have also been asked to write about “what real food means to real people (you)”. And so, without further ado, I give you my thoughts on ‘real food’.


Real food is subjective. Would you call a cheese sandwich made with processed cheese slices, (you know, the ones that taste the same regardless of whether or not you remove the plastic coating) and Wonderbread real food? It’s not something I’d ever crave anymore even if it’s something that brings back memories of eating at the long wooden table at my Grandpa and Grandma’s house when I was little. Since my tastes have changed, I would no longer call that good food, but it’s real nonetheless. All food is real. The fact that you put it in your mouth makes it real. That doesn’t make it good, healthy, tasty or satisfying, but it does make it real. So perhaps a better question would be, what do you consider good food, (and perhaps this is what was implied all along)? Good food is what comes out of your home kitchen, it’s whatever makes you feel good, it’s what brings people together, it’s what stands in the background of memories. Food is inextricably woven into our lives and with nothing more than a rich aroma or little nibble, food can transport me to a different time or place.


A real, fresh strawberry can take me all the way back to being a toddler when Mom would plunk me down in the dirt in the middle of the strawberry patch, usually wearing little more than a pair of summer shorts, while she weeded. I would emerge hours later, sticky and red and covered in strawberry juice. When I eat a real strawberry now, one that’s bumpy and lumpy and tastes like the sun, I can still recall those early times. In contrast, one of those genetically modified strawberries that are the size of my fist, perfectly coloured, free of blemishes and utterly tasteless, do not arouse the same feelings.


What other memories can food elicit? The smell of baking bread reminds me of Mom and her big bowl of dough that would sit and rise in the sun. My Mom makes the best bread in the world, but unfortunately she baked most of it before I was born. After I came along, the bread baking continued, but dwindled significantly and then drastically when I started school and Mom returned to work. After that, it seemed as though the only time there was bread baking was when my older brother came home from University. This is despite the fact that I was around all the time and would plead for some of Mom’s delicious homemade bread. Eventually I accept the fact that my brother has special privileges and there would only be bread if he was coming home to visit. I’m still bitter about that, but I’ll try to keep going. The mention of fromage blanc takes me back to my time in France. It’s been years since I’ve been and since I had some but I can still remember it so clearly. That’s the way with quite a few tastes from France, even though at the time I didn’t realize all of the new foods I was trying and loving, I now wish I could get them back. Today when I think of fromage blanc, it’s not only of the taste but of a place I’d love to return.



Family traditions are also bound up in food. Sweet and sour spare ribs give way to thoughts of an enormous pot bubbling away on the stove at Grandma’s every Christmas Eve. Homemade pierogies remind me of my other Grandma and the blue plastic pierogi press she used to use. Angel food cake is always served on Dad’s birthday, black forest cake is served on mine. Mom’s zucchini relish is the only reason I eat hotdogs. Although it was just this year that I found out that the recipe Mom follows for her famous Zucchini Relish, does not even call for zucchini. It was an overabundance of zucchini, (that persists today) that necessitated a change in the recipe that has been duplicated ever since. Zucchini is tricky that way, it’ll find its way into all sorts of recipes, like Mom’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake, (pictured above). That’s another food I associate with growing up. Chocolate and zucchini was a normal combination in my house but I recall numerous occasions when I would share my chocolate zucchini cake with friends and they would always be shocked to learn what was inside it. I can’t tell you how many people claim to hate zucchini but will gobble up a piece of this cake. Real food has that power though, it can change minds and win friends.


For me, real food is also a creative outlet. I like to play with my food and combine unusual flavours and textures. I like the challenge of making a new dish. I like being able to use fresh ingredients from my garden or the local market. And I like to create for other people. I cook and bake for others because it makes me happy to make others happy with food. It’s how I share best. Simply put, Real Food is good food, good friends and good memories, no matter how you make it.


If you’d like a little taste of my memories, then give Mom’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake a try:


2 ½ cups flour

½ cup cocoa powder

2 ½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

¾ cup oil

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

2 ½ tsp grated orange zest

2 tsp vanilla

2 cups grated zucchini, (or more, it generally depends on the size of zucchini I have)

½ cup milk (I’ve also used sour cream)

1 cup nuts (walnuts work well)

1 cup chocolate chips


Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

In a large bowl, combine oil and sugar, then beat in eggs. Stir in rind, vanilla and zucchini. Stir in dry ingredients alternately with milk, nuts and chocolate chips. Pour into a large greased bundt pan or a 9x5 pan and 12 muffin cups and bake at 350F for 1 hour, (less for muffins) until tester comes out mostly clean.

Icing is optional, Mom’s original recipe calls for ¾ cup icing sugar mixed with orange juice and ½ tsp orange zest. A chocolate glaze works well too.



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August 21, 2007

Storytime


Quite often I’ll ask people to tell me a story. I usually ask this randomly and without any sort of lead up. Generally when I do this I’m met with a blank stare, followed by a mumble of “I don’t have any stories, you tell me a story.” But I asked first! You would think they’d be able to come up with something, anything. I don’t ask for a specific story; it needn’t be true, about you or rhyme with blue, it just has to be a story to keep me amused. Sometimes people surprise me and come up with a fantastic tale of wonder and excitement, other times it’s like pulling teeth and they refuse to part with more than a few sentences. Today I’m going to tell you a story in the hopes that the next time someone asks you to tell them a story, (particularly if that someone is me) you will indulge them and tell them a story as though your life depended on it.

Once upon a time there lived a smart but indecisive young girl who could never bring herself to make any decisions. Every day was a struggle as it’s awfully difficult to go through life without making choices. From the time she woke up in the morning to the time she went to bed she was constantly agonizing over even the most mundane of decisions. What would she eat for breakfast? How should she prepare it? What recipe, if any, should she use? Often times, she would spend so long trying to make a choice that the window of opportunity would pass her by, effectively making a decision for her, to do nothing. Sometimes this meant that it would be lunch time before she had breakfast, or that she would nibble and fill up on premade items before ever getting around to cooking, simply because she couldn’t decide what to make. Her lack of ability to choose was paralyzing this poor girl. She was a like a deer caught in headlights; scared, but unable to move. On the rare occasion that she actually made a decision, instead of embracing her choice and moving on, she would brood over it, wondering if it was the right thing to do, usually deciding that it wasn’t. At restaurants, selecting from the menu was always an exhausting affair. It seemed that no matter what she picked, she inevitably should have chosen something else. The grass was always greener on the other side and she was never satisfied with what she received, no matter how good it was.



This smart but indecisive young girl was not ungrateful though. On the contrary, she was fully aware of her fortunate circumstances and was thankful for them but sadly this only added to her decision making problems because it made her feel guilty for not being happier with the choices she made. Every so often this unhappiness and frustration at not being able to make decisions would culminate in a burst of spontaneous decision making. During one of these bursts, all sorts of choices would be made while throwing caution to the wind. These bursts of decisions could be small such as determining exactly what to make for dinner and how to do it or they could be large such as quitting her job and moving to a new city or country even. These outbursts were unpredictable and uncontrollable and usually resulted in feelings of uneasiness at the rashness of her decisions. Every now and then however, an outburst would result in a stroke of brilliance and a decision would be made that would help reset her course in life… or at least provide her with a delicious meal such as pretty tasty porky dumplings. These strokes of brilliance, when they occur in the kitchen, are unfortunately not marked with accurate measurements or attention to detail.


The smart but indecisive girl suggests that to create your own pretty tasty porky dumplings, you combine: ground pork, ginger, water chestnuts, lime juice and zest, tamarind sauce, egg yolk, onion, various spices and mushrooms. She suggests that you mix all of these ingredients, (and more if you’d like) by hand until it smells good. Then simply fill wonton wrappers and steam to perfection. If you end up having more filling that wonton wrappers, it would be a wise decision to fry the leftovers and roll them up in a tortilla with lettuce for lunch.

The End.



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August 20, 2007

Wishing I Could Do More than a Virtual Tag


I’ve been creatively tagged by Minh of Couture Cupcakes. The rules seem to be something along the lines of using the world’s natural wonders to tag 8 fellow bloggers. I think that’s pretty open to interpretation so I’ve decided to do a collage of one of my favourite places, accompanied by the dishes of 8 fellow bloggers who make some equally wonderful things. Ideally I would have had pictures of natural wonders from each of the countries represented by the bloggers here, instead, I'm reminiscing about my last big travel adventure and looking for the next one. If I ever manage to snag myself a life sponsor who can support my desire to travel, there will be pics from each of these countries and then some...

Minh of Couture Cupcakes

Lyra of Rice and Beans

Valli of What Geeks Eat

Deborah of Taste and Tell

Patricia of Technicolor Kitchen

Anne of Simply Anne’s

Mercedes of Desert Candy

Kelly-Jane of Cooking the Books

August 18, 2007

The Jumbo & Jaden Project Returns


You didn’t think I was serious about the Jumbo & Jaden Project, (and I probably wasn’t) but every time I visit Jaden’s site I can’t help it, I want to make what she’s making. If her drool inducing photos aren’t enough to convince you that you’re missing out by not being a guest at her table, her words certainly will. So even though I was sort of joking about the whole Jumbo & Jaden Project it seemed as though fate had other plans for me when Lynnylu of Café LynnyLu announced that the theme for this round of Hay Hay It’s Donna Day would be gnocchi. Well that just settled things, I would have to make gnocchi and I would have to use Jaden’s recipe for Pan Fried Lemon Ricotta Gnocchi, the Project required it.



Much to my surprise, it was easy too. Dad walked into the kitchen as I was setting up, asking what was for lunch because he was hungry. I said I was making gnocchi and he looked at my inquisitively, asking “for dinner?” No, I replied, for lunch. He seemed unconvinced that I could make gnocchi quickly enough to quell his hunger and wondered aloud whether or not he should make himself a chicken sandwich. I told him it would be ready soon. He grabbed a piece of bread and some cheese and lumbered off to the garage to occupy himself while I finished making lunch. Dad wasn’t the only one who had doubts that gnocchi could be made with relative ease. I had previously thought about making this gnocchi one night when I was making dinner with a friend. We were in the grocery store, puttering around, looking for nothing in particular when I suggested we made gnocchi, (I was also planning on making Jaden’s salmon that night so I figured I couldn’t go wrong with two Jaden recipes). His response was to look at me skeptically and say that he was really getting hungry and didn’t think we had time to make gnocchi. On that particular day I gave in without a fight and we ended up having pasta with our salmon, which was good, but gnocchi could have been great. Although I should have known better than to let this friend influence my decision making in any way, he’s the same person who ordered his lamb medium-well done the last time we ate out, (and in a very nice restaurant no less). I almost ended the friendship right there. Medium-well? Lamb? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m still struggling with this one, but he does like ice cream and chocolate so I guess he’s not pure evil.


Much to Dad’s surprise, the gnocchi didn’t take an eternity to make and the end result was worth it. The gnocchi were cute and pillowy and filled with flavour and just a hint of spice. To get the recipe, visit Jaden’s site, I copied it exactly: Pan Fried Lemon Ricotta Gnocchi. The Jumbo & Jaden can’t be stopped now, it’s full steam ahead. Who knows what we’ll make next? (Possibly me, but I’m not telling.)



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August 17, 2007

Icy and Sweet


It’s time for another round of Browniebabe of the Month, an event that was started by Myriam of Once Upon a Tart and that has really taken off. Brownies are just so likeable and the fact that you have a chance to win the coveted title of Browniebabe has made everyone want to participate. I for one, would love a title, any title… A friend of mine is in Korea right now, teaching English. The kids call her Pretty Snowman or Teacher Barbie. I was telling this to some of the people at my work, saying I wish I had such a fun name. They decided I could be called Brilynn Cooking Barbie. I like it. But I would like Brilynn Browniebabe even more.

For this third round of Browniebabe of the Month, with my sights set on taking home the browniebabe crown, (or apron as the case may be) I decided it was time to bring out the big guns. Although my first two efforts resulted in some pretty tasty brownies, (Banana for round 1 and Rhubarb Urfa-Biber for 2) it was time to stick it to the competition with a pair of brownies from Dorie. How could you refuse naturally sweet Honey-Nut brownies or minty cool Brrrrrr-ownies? Oh, oh, I know the answer to that one! You can’t! You can’t refuse these brownies! You want them. You must have them. You must crown me Browniebabe of the Universe…er, Month. Obviously, both recipes can by found in my Baking Bible, on pages 102 and 103 respectively.



For the Honey-Nut brownies, the honey flavour takes centre stage, so make sure you use one that you love. I get mine from local producer Chatsworth Honey, so my brownies were guaranteed to be fantastic. As for the Brrrrr-ownies, my favourite way to eat them is straight out of the freezer. They become firm but never freeze solid and the cool chocolate combined with the icy peppermint bits makes for a chillingly pleasant experience.


Brrrrrr-ownies (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)


5 T unsalted butter, cut into 5 pieces

3 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped

3 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped

2/3 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1 cup (6 oz) York Peppermint Pattie Bites (or an equal weight of patties), chopped into bits



Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the foil and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Put the butter in the bowl, top with the chopped chocolates and stir occasionally until the ingredients are just melted- you don’t want them to get so hot that the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the pan of water.

With a whisk, stir in the sugar. Don’t be concerned when your smooth mixture turns grainy. Whisk in the eggs, one by one. Add the vanilla and whisk vigorously to bring the batter together and give it a shine before gently stirring in the salt and flour; stir only until incorporated. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the peppermint pieces. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with the rubber spatula.

Bake the brownies for 30-33minutes, or until the top is dull and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out almost clean. (The tip of the knife may be a touch streaky.) Transfer the pan to a rack and cool to room temperature.

When they are completely cool, turn out onto a rack, peel away the foil and invert onto a cutting board. Cut into sixteen 2-inch squares.



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August 16, 2007

Magnificent Muffins


Do you like things that are magnificent? Do you like muffins? Do you like me? If then answer to any or all of those questions is yes, then you should hop on over to Just Baking where I wrote an article about all three.

August 14, 2007

Give Me Lemon Chicken or Nothing at All


About a month ago I wrote a post about a quinoa salad that I had made. Or more accurately, within a rambly post about nothing, there existed a quinoa salad. Also in that jumble of a post I mentioned that one of my favourite dishes was lemon chicken but out of sheer lunacy, when I had tried to make lemon chicken on that particular occasion, I ended up with lemon pork and quinoa instead of lemon chicken and rice. It was still good, but it just wasn’t the lemon chicken that I know and love. My lemon chicken is a dish that I don’t really play around with and that’s rare for me because I’m always adding new things or mixing and matching ingredients. But not with my lemon chicken. Every time I try to change an ingredient or add something new, the end result is always disappointing. That’s not to say I don’t make small substitutions like using sherry vinegar instead of rice vinegar, but I’ve learned that it’s best not to mess with the fundamentals of the dish. I like my lemon chicken to be made almost exactly the way it is supposed to be. The only good change I can make to this recipe is increasing its quantity, which I do with reckless abandon.


I make this dish quite often for friends because I want everyone to love it as much as I do. I also give this recipe out to people on a regular basis in the hopes that they’ll make it in their own kitchens even if I’m not around. This is an easy recipe to follow, but having the right ingredients is key. If all you’ve got is pork and quinoa, don’t bother. If you haven’t got a clue where to find ingredients and you’re about to eat boiled hot dogs on wonder bread for dinner then call me and I’ll come over with the proper ingredients and a pie, because what kind of guest would I be if I didn’t bring pie?


Lemon Chicken (Adapted from Chinese Cookery by Rose Cheng and Michele Morris)


Marinade

1 tsp salt

4 tsp rice wine or dry sherry, (I’ve also used rice wine vinegar)

2 tsp soy sauce

1 egg yolk

Freshly grated pepper


Lemon sauce

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup chicken broth

2 T water

½ tsp salt

1 T cornstarch

1 tsp sesame oil

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Zest of 1 lemon


Coating

6 T cornstarch

2 T all purpose flour

1 lb skinned, boned chicken breasts, cut into strips



Combine chicken and marinade in a medium bowl and mix well. Cover and let stand 30 minutes.

Combine the ingredients of the lemon sauce in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally and more often when nearing the boiling point. Once sauce has thickened, remove from the heat and cover.

Mix together the flour and cornstarch for the chicken coating and pour it into a clean plastic bag. After the chicken has been marinating for 30 minutes remove the pieces of chicken from the bowl and place them in a plastic bag with the flour and cornstarch. Gather the top closed and shake the bag to coat the chicken strips.

Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a large heavy bottomed saucepan over medium high heat and then drop in the coated chicken strips. They will only take a couple minutes to cook and you should flip them over half way through. Remove the chicken from the oil and drain on a paper towel.

Once you have cooked all of the chicken, transfer it to a serving bowl and coat with the lemon sauce. Serve over rice with any extra lemon sauce poured on top. Toasted sesame seeds and lemon slices are optional garnishes.



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August 13, 2007

It's Like Christmas in August


This is my third time participating in the world wide version of Blogging by Mail, organized by Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness and once again, I couldn’t be happier with the treasures I’ve received. After shipping a package full of some of my favourite things to Cookworm’s kitchen in Pittsburgh, USA it was just a matter of time until I found a parcel on my doorstep from South Carolina courtesy of none other than Helen of Tartelette. As soon as I saw her name on the box I knew it was going to be good. I’ve been reading Helen’s blog for what seems like an eternity now, she’s a fellow Daring Baker and is constantly making sweets that look so good they haunt my dreams. She’s a constant source of inspiration and I marvel at her ability to churn out macarons like they’re no big deal.


Helen packed me a box filled with her favourite goodies from both France and South Carolina and it included:



Pecan pinches

Vanilla mousse sprinkles

Benne wafers

Tea towel with a pumpkin cookie recipe and cookie cutter attached

Silicone pot holder

Caramels

Cinnamon and brown sugar spoons

Charleston chew

Le Petit Ecolier cookies

Dagoba Superfruit chocolate bar


I’ve already had some of everything. There was no rationing involved, I just sampled one thing after another and then went back for seconds. The cinnamon and brown sugar spoons made me think that combo would make a pretty tasty ice cream, I will definitely have to give that a try. And I’m looking forward to using my vanilla mousse sprinkles. I don’t know what they’ll be used for yet, but I know it’s going to be good… Thanks a million times over to Helen and Stephanie, BBM has been fantastic yet again!

August 08, 2007

Taking Iced Tea to a Whole New Level

You’re sitting motionless on the front porch but sweat still rolls down the back of your neck. Your clothes cling to your damp skin and the humidity shrouds you like a blanket. All is quiet save for the occasional passing truck and the constant hum of the fan which serves only to blow the hot air around but not to cool you down. Even the cat can’t be bothered to raise a paw and swat away the flies that buzz lazily about. It feels as though you’ll never be rid of this oppressive heat. Nothing is cold enough. The ice cubes in your lemonade dissipate as soon as they hit the glass and leave behind a watery residue as the only clue that they ever existed. You can actually see the heat waves shimmering on the horizon. It’s enough to drive a man crazy. If only there was something that could take away this fever, something to soothe your parched mouth. If only you had me to make you lemon iced tea sorbet.


Lemon Iced Tea Sorbet


3 cups water

1 ½ cups sugar

4 bags of Earl Grey tea

Juice and zest of 2 lemons


In a medium pan bring water and sugar to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the tea bags and lemon zest, cover the pan, remove from heat and let sit for 20 minutes. Strain the mixture, add the lemon juice and chill until completely cold. Freeze according to your ice cream machine’s directions.




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August 07, 2007

The Jumbo & Jaden Project

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the story behind the Julie & Julia Project whereby Julie Powell ended up becoming an internet celebrity of sorts and subsequent author when she blogged about her yearlong adventure of cooking every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but have you heard of the Jumbo and Jaden Project? No? Well then allow me to elaborate. I, of course, would be Jumbo and Jaden would be Jaden. Still not clear enough? If you’ve ever visited Jaden’s Steamy Kitchen you would know that the girl makes food that jumps off the screen and tucks it in between writing that reads like a conversation with a best friend. Her blog is fantastic. So I figured if I started recreating everything that Jaden makes, doing my very own version of Mastering the Art of Jaden Cooking, I could become an internet celebrity and subsequent author too. Make sense now? Excellent. I got a head start on this project when I made Super Matcha Jumbo Raspberry White Chocolate Ice Cream Supreme which was simply Jaden’s Matcha White Chocolate ice cream updated to include raspberries. Given the mass quantities of ice cream that I make, I know a good ice cream when I taste it and that one remains one of my favourites. But that was just a warm up recipe before I began my full fledged attempt at Mastering the Art of Jaden Cooking.



Today, I present you with my first official copycat recipe; Jaden’s Tropical Island Salmon. Just like the ice cream, this salmon has quickly developed a special place in my heart… and stomach. The texture is silky smooth and would you look at the colour? Come on people, the colour alone is worth the price of admission. Using Jaden’s slow cooking method retains the salmon’s beautiful bright colour and produces a gentle mouth feel that’s to die for. Topped with a mango salsa, this dish creates a rainbow on your plate that’s almost too pretty to eat. Almost. As soon as you take a bite you’ll realize you’d have been a fool to pass up something this tasty. For the salmon recipe and a variety of ways to spice it up, check out Jaden’s Tropical Island Salmon post. For more exciting adventures with the Jumbo and Jaden Project, stay tuned, I think Pan Fried Lemon Ricotta Gnocchi is next. If you’re just so excited about this project that you can’t wait to see what’s next, I think the gnocchi will be followed by Coconut Prawns with Cognac, or maybe Firecracker Shrimp or Baby Back Ribs, or, or, or, it could be anything really, all of Jaden’s recipes will be stolen, er, I mean recreated eventually. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? So long as you keep that in mind, I don’t seem crazy and can therefore continue to imitate Steamy Kitchen recipes. And as long as she’s flattered, Jaden won’t think to take out a restraining order against me, everybody wins!


Bri’s Mango Salsa (that I made up after drooling over Jaden’s Mango Melon Salsa, so she should probably get credit for this one too)


1 mango, peeled and diced

Zest and juice of 1 lime

¼ red onion, diced

A few dashes of paprika

A handful of cilantro, chopped

A few sprigs of mint, chopped

Salt and Pepper



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August 05, 2007

Lavender: Pretty and Tasty

Every year there’s a huge patch of lavender in my garden and I never do anything with it. Mom takes bunches of it and puts in vases around the house, but that’s about it. I’ve been hesitant to use it in cooking or baking before because I’m never quite sure if I like lavender. Sometimes I find the smell to be overwhelming and I feel like I’m being suffocated by its perfume. But it looks pretty and I decided I should at least give it a try before dismissing it entirely. I’m glad I did. Searching online for recipes revealed that a few bloggers have been playing with lavender but the site that had the most recipes was the Happy Valley Lavender and Herb Farm. With a name like that, I had to make one of their recipes. And so my first attempt at using lavender in the kitchen produced Lavender Lemonade. To my surprise I liked it, a lot. As good as it was on its own though, I couldn’t help but tinker with the recipe. I thought my addition of mint, 7up and rum was worthy of winning an award, but I’ll let you give it a try and get back to me.



For my second lavender recipe I turned to my favourite Baking book which didn’t actually have a lavender recipe but that didn’t stop me from using it to create one. I’ve learned that I can play around with any of Dorie’s recipes with excellent results and this was no exception. I simply made her Perfection Pound Cake and added in ¼ cup of fresh lavender flowers to the sugar right at the start. The result was a lavender pound cake that I think could have been made better only by serving it with some crème fresh or vanilla ice cream. For my next lavender adventure I’m thinking of making sables or possibly ice cream, you know how I love my ice cream. Whichever I decide, I’ve got no shortage of lavender with which to do it.



Lavender Lemonade (from Happy Valley Lavender and Herb Farm)


1 cup sugar

1/4 cup (a generous handful) fresh or 1 tablespoon dried lavender blooms stripped from stems

1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained

5 cups water

Ice cubes

Lavender sprigs for garnish


Combine sugar with 2 1/2 cups water in a medium pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Add the lavender blooms to the sugar water, cover, and remove from heat. Let stand at least 20 minutes (and up to several hours).

Strain mixture and discard lavender. Pour infusion into a glass pitcher. Add lemon juice and another 2 1/2 cups water. Stir well and watch lemonade change color.

Pour into tall glasses half-filled with ice or refrigerate until ready to use.

Makes: 6 cups

**I also discovered that muddling some mint into this drink and adding 7up instead of the second 5 ½ cups water makes a lovely drink as well… rum optional.



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August 04, 2007

What Do You Like More...?


I’ve had family visiting all week, one of those family members being my 3 year old nephew Alex. The kid is a genius as far as I’m concerned and he’s my back up plan if finding a life sponsor fails. Dougie Howser has got nothing on this Alex, he’s going to be champion or president or king of something and I expect it to be happening soon. In the meantime however, he’s an inquisitive 3 year old who’s got answers for all of your questions. My brother thought it would be fun to put this theory to the test and began asking Alex some ‘What do you like more?’ questions. He thought the answers were pretty funny but they made me realize that I had some work to do if I had hopes of Alex sponsoring me. The questions were asked by my brother, the answer of Auntie Brilynn or the other was given by Alex and then the explanation is my own.


What do you like more… Dragon flies or Auntie Brilynn? Dragon flies. They’re dragons and they fly, can you do that? I didn’t think so.

What do you like more… Bear or Auntie Brilynn? Bear and Auntie Brilynn. I was surprised at this one, Bear is Alex’s favourite stuffed animal who knows all of Alex’s secrets. I felt very privileged to be on his level.

What do you like more… Bug Bites or Auntie Brilynn? Bug bites and Auntie Brilynn. Bug Bites are like animal crackers, but shaped like bugs, they’re a potent combo of snack and entertainment source rolled into one, perfect for car trips.

What do you like more… Mosquitoes or Auntie Brilynn? Auntie Brilynn. Those pesky mossies aren’t loved by anyone, especially an itchy 3 year old.

What do you like more… Cookies or Auntie Brilynn? Auntie Brilynn. Who knew? I’m better than cookies!


What do you like more… Ice cream or Auntie Brilynn? Ice cream. I can’t fault him for this, I think ice cream is a million times cooler than I am too. Not quite as clever perhaps, but certainly cooler. And tastier. And more wonderful in every possible way. Yes, ice cream trumps everything.

What do you like more… Spiders or Auntie Brilynn? Auntie Brilynn. I don’t think I had too much competition here, although had the question of been ants or Auntie Brilynn, I may have been in trouble. A little while earlier an ant had been crawling all over Alex and he just sat and watched it and laughed when it tickled him.

What do you like more… Kishu or Auntie Brilynn? Auntie Brilynn, because Kishu swats at me. I would like to defend Kishu (the cat) here and say she’s very nice but she doesn’t like strangers, children or loud noises and Alex tends to be all of those things rolled into one as far as she’s concerned.

What do you like more… Dump trucks or Auntie Brilynn? Dump trucks. Clearly dump trucks are much more interesting than I am. Alex has an obsession with garbage. Kids are funny.


I’ve accepted the fact that there are some things I just can’t beat; like dump trucks and dragon flies. But it’s my hope that if I make enough ice cream, my nephew will learn to associate me with the ice cream so that if he’s ever asked again, what do you like more, ice cream or Auntie Brilynn, I’ll at least tie with ice cream. To enhance my odds of reaching the coolness level that ice cream has obtained, I decided to triple my chances by making three different ice creams: Unbelievably Good Chocolate Blueberry, Honey Peach, and Auntie Brilynn’s Maple Roasted Banana Brownie Ice Cream. The last one is clearly my own creation but the first two are from Dorie Greenspan and by making them I have now made all of the ice creams in Baking: From My Home to Yours. What this means is that I think Dorie needs to get to work writing an ice cream book. I’d be first in line to buy it and I know you’d all be right behind me. The last two of Dorie’s ice creams were fabulous. But as good as they were on their own, I discovered that they were even better swirled together. I know blueberry-chocolate-honey-peach may sound like somewhat of an odd fusion but it worked out spectacularly well. It wasn’t on purpose either, I just threw one scoop on top of the other in a bowl to eat as I made them both on the same day and discovered that the two flavours together were meant to be like apple and pie, rock and roll or Brilynn and A Life Sponsor.



Auntie Brilynn’s Maple Roasted Banana Brownie Ice Cream


1 ½ cups milk

1 ½ cups heavy cream

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup sugar

¼ tsp salt

3 bananas, sliced lengthwise into strips

¼ cup maple syrup

½ pan of brownies, slightly underbaked and then frozen and cut into bits, (I used some raspberry, white and dark chocolate brownies for this, a modified Dorie recipe…)


In a saucepan, combine the milk, cream, eggs, sugar and salt. Cook and stir over low heat until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from heat. Preheat the oven to broil. Lay the bananas on a baking sheet and coat with maple syrup. Put the tray into the oven and broil until the maple syrup bubbles and starts to brown. Remove from the oven. Combine the custard and bananas and blend until smooth. Place in the fridge until completely cool. Freeze according to ice cream machine instructions. Just before the end of the freezing process, mix in the brownies.



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