27 April 2009
• Recipe's orginator: Abbey T.
• Our hostess: Jenny of Jenny Bakes
The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
One of the lovely things about being a Daring Baker is I normally have at least one "real" reason to bake. It could be a friend's birthday or a fancy dinner party. This month is was my work anniversary.
Eight years. Good gravy.
I've developed a bit of a reputation of bringing in foods people would actually eat. Funny how there's a correlation between edibility and (as I deem it) "real" cooking/baking--as opposed to boxed cake mixes and Timbits from our office Timmy's. I don't know if this is the norm for the rest of you, but in our office, if it's your day you have to bring in the treats.
When I found out this month's challenge was cheesecake, I knew it would do well. When I found out we could play with the flavours I was torn. Do I do something "normal" -- fruity or boozey -- or do I do something that's a bit beyond normal?
Why be normal? It is my day after all, is it not?
After some thought and a bit of a consult with a colleague who's got a fairly good palate, I decided upon vanilla-lavender.
A bit daring, given many people don't think of lavender as a flavour, or if they do their only exposure was Thrills (aka: the gum that tastes like soap...and yes...I know it's supposed to taste like rose, but all the ones I had tasted like lavender) and they'd run screaming.
The cheesecake itself was easy to put together, but I felt some of the weight measurements were a titch off--for example, I thought the crust was far too oily so I added a couple of handfuls extra graham wafer crumbs, which helped to build "walls" of crust. The cheesecake itself was 2/3 vanilla and 1/3 lavender and I decided to not do a topping because I didn't want to overwhelm the delicate flavours. The flowers didn't impart much colour, so I added some hydrangea food colouring.
I've made many, many cheesecakes and most haven't cracked. I don't do a water bath normally--the one time I did it, it was...bad and it cracke. I didn't go back. But this challenge involved a water bath and well...I had do it. I swaddled the pan in tin foil, put it in my lasagne dish and poured in the boiling water. And hoped for a good result.
I am quite happy to say that the cheesecake turned out lovely. It was creamy and light and the flavour was so very, very good. Well...it must have been good. It disappeared within 40 minutes.
Here's the recipe, as I prepared it
Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:
225g graham cracker crumbs
125ml melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.
Mix together the crust ingredients and press into a high-sided 20cm (8") springform pan. Press the crust just into the bottom and up the sides of the pan too. Set crust aside.
750g softened cream cheese, divided
210g sugar, divided
3 large eggs, divided
250 heavy cream, divided
1 tbsp. lemon juice, divided
1dpsn (10ml) vanilla bean paste
1tsp lavender buds
Cream together 500g cream cheese and 140g sugar until smooth. Add two of the eggs, one of a time, scraping down the bowl in between each addition. Add 160 ml heavy cream, vanilla and 1 dspn lemon juice, and blend until smooth. Set aside.
Steep the lavender buds with the remaining 90ml cream for five minutes. Decant the to a bowl, keeping the buds in the cream for another five minutes; strain out the buds (or you can do what I did and put the buds in a tea ball at the very beginning...much easier). Set aside.
Cream together 250g cream cheese and 70g sugar until smooth. Add the remaining egg and scrape down the bowl's sides. Blend in the lavender-flavoured cream and 1tsp lemon juice.
Pour the vanilla batter in the prepared crust and then dollop in the lavender batter. Take a skewer or a teaspoon's handle and swirl together the two batters. Tap the filled pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.
Bake 45 to 55 minutes, or until the sides are set but the centre is very jiggly. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.
To see what the other Daring Bakers did, please visit our blogroll.
21 April 2009
Yup, I'm one of those people who is only still when she's bubbling snot, setting decibel records for sneezing and quite undecided if her vocal chords have taken a turn towards Demi Moore, Joss Stone or Bonnie Tyler. Heck, I've been known to put in more than a full day's work while bubbling snot, setting decibel records for sneezing while her vocal chords have taken turns at mimicking Demi Moore, Joss Stone and Bonnie Tyler.
I gravitate towards garlicky and peppery soups (tomato or cream of mushroom) and buttered toast. Easy, quick and pretty much instafood that still gives me the illusion of "cooking"--which is good, because I generally don't feel like eating. For the most part colds and flus leave me devoid of useful tastebuds. The only ones that seem to function are those that tell me everything tastes like the underside of a soap dish.
But I know I must eat, so whenever possible I gravitate towards the non-cooking option and order in. Chinese food, usually--hot and sour soup, pan-fried dumplings, General Tsao chicken, extra spicy kung po broccoli and beef, thick noodles with veggies, and mushu veggies...Vast quantities of food--far too much for one person who has no interest in eating--prepared in a not so far off kitchen are temporarily stored in the fridge, steadily consumed over the course of a week.
I'm a firm believer that food is healing. Garlic, pepper, ginger--all good and good for you. When I'm snuffling, the hotter, the better. Which is probably the basis of one of my foodish superstitions: I won't begin to feel better until I have one of my special sandwiches, Death Rain potato chips, a bottle of Jones Blue Bubble Gum soda and a Nanaimo bar.
This combination evolved over time--Death Rain and Jones sodas weren't around when I started this little ritual--but the sandwich and the Nanaimo bar remain.
The sandwich, which has been referred to by friends as "Jasmine's special sandwich" is, by most accounts, inedible. The ideal sandwich was first perfected at a now defunct local build-your-own sandwichery. I think my most successful version was roast beef, turkey, cheddar, lettuce, onions, hot peppers, spicy mustard, horseradish, onions, dill pickles and butter on an onion bun. Now I have a version made at the swankyfoodery: shaved rare or Angus roast beef, cheddar, lettuce, onions, pickles, horseradish, "the bomb" (a house blend of predominantly red, hot and oily things), roasted peppers, aubergines and sundried tomatoes on the bread of the day. It's not quite as good but it usually works.
But I think the key is having a Nanaimo bar as my sweet. More often than not, if it's missing the cold will drag on...and on...and on.
So when I endured the never-ending cold I went in search of the sandwich, the chips, the soda and the sweet. The iconic Canadian bar cookie was nowhere to be found. Not at the swankyfoodery, the mediumscarymegamart, any of the Tims on my way from the swankyfooderie to the mediumscary megamart (four), nor the sub shop that used to sell Nanaimos as big as my face. So I didn't have the Nanaimo bar. And the cold took up residence for nearly two months.
When I felt well enough to face pulling ingredients together, I made a batch. It's easy and mostly no-cook. Within a day or two I was less snotty, emitting the daintiest of lady-like sneezes and my voice...well, my voice has alwasy elicited certain comments from men...
Nanaimo bars: the miracle cure for the uncommon cold.
110g unsalted butter
1 egg beaten
150g graham wafer crumbs
50g finely chopped almonds
75g desiccated coconut
Melt butter, sugar and cocoa in a bain marie. Add the egg and stir until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased brownie pan (20cmx20cm/8"x 8").
110g unsalted butter
4dspn (40ml) heavy cream
2 Tbsp vanilla custard powder
250g icing sugar
Cream all the above together. Spread over the cocoa layer.
100g semi-sweet chocolate
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Melt chocolate and butter overlow heat. Cool. Once cool (but still liquid) pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator. Once set, cut into as many pieces as you wish.
18 April 2009
As some of you know, I've dipped my toe back into fetid waters known as "dating."
I've never been "good" at it and really didn't know what to expect. Which is why, as incredulous as it sounds, in September I actually met a very dear, sweet man who not only interested me, but he seems to have taken an interest in me. We had a lovely time together, but long story short, his life imploded a few weeks ago and he asked for time to deal with what The Fates dropped on him. We have left each other messages and spoken to one another in these few weeks, but still...it's a little bruising...at times it feels more than a little bruising.
Of my many wonderful friends is a phenomenal woman. I've mentioned her family before--remember Baby Bella's ice cream extravaganza? This is mummy of Baby Bella. The family was in what turned out to be the first couple weeks of an extraordinary six week boiling season, and she invited me up to her sugar shack to have a tramp through the woods, take in the heady aromas of boiling maple sap, clear my head and have a good think about life, the universe and everything.
The sugarbush is about an hour north-ish of here, and although she suggested I wear my woolies...Well, I didn't wear enough of them and my cold revisited for (thankfully) a short duration.
Really, it's a magical little place--a virgin maple bush where the summer sees it carpeted with green, including ramps and wild trilliums. That day there were no wildflowers or onions, but the remnants of winter were still on the ground, but you could smell the cedar smoke in the air and see the plumes of steam and smoke ascend above the tree tops. It's quiet--far enough from larger towns to remind you of what tranquility really is.
Inside the sugar shack are whorls of maple and cedar-scented steam. Above a three-channel evaporator, heated by cedar wood fresh sap is poured into the beast at one end, and boils, bubbles and makes patterns vaguely reminiscent of satellite images of great water-born storms. I was able to capture a very short (five-ish second) video of it...really, it was quite like those dances where lasers illuminated the swirling wind currents evidenced by dry ice fog (gosh...am I dating myself with that reference)?
I helped bottle about two gallons of syrup (and I have a quart of the special Jasmine bottling, as I'm calling it--yes, it's the bestest syrup ever), we sat in the little cabin next to the sugar shack (no: no hydro or water their either, but there is a wood stove which kept things mighty warm) sipping warm, fresh syrup from china teacups while discussing the recent turn in my life. Baby Bella's grandfather believes maple syrup can cure anything...and for a few hours that day, I certainly felt a lot better.
The sugar shack was built in the late 1800s by one my friend's ancestors and the property has stayed in the family throughout (except for a few years). Back in its family's hands, it took a few years to recover from the logging its temporary owners indulged in, with last year being the first year the remaining trees started giving sap. This year they truly made a go of it.
The nights have to be below freezing and the days just above to get the sap flowing from spiles into buckets. She and her family then collect the clear, sweet liquid by hand (none of that intravenous-like rubber tubing you see at some larger sugar bushes) and then is poured into a century's old evaporator. The sugar shack itself is quite rustic--no electricity, phone or running water (there's an outdoor privvy, when needs must)--when they are in the throes of "midnight boils", they work by candlelight wrapped in old quilts. Thus far, she and her family have produced more than 40 gallons of syrup. (update: by season's end they produced more than 50 gallons of syrup)
What I think makes it special--well, apart from it being made by friends are a couple of things. The first is how they fire the evaporator. Instead fuelling the fires with maple or old tires (as some producers do), they use cedar which imparts a bit of its flavour in the syrup. The other thing is, this is a way of life which is slowly disappearing from the area. These small family sugar bushes are dwindling, making way for what someone somewhere designated as "progress," leaving larger, more corporate producers to streamline procedures and do what corporate types do to things that are just simply...good. You can read more about sustainability and maple syrup production here.
My friend's family is continuing to make maple syrup in the way it was done more than a century ago, as part of the farm enterprise. Back then sugar was an imported expense and maple syrup, in its various strenghts was a local and affordable natural sweetner that could last a year or longer.
They've decided to bottle syrups highlighting the seasonal variances of the sap, including an unusual "Sharp Frost Amber": an especially caramelly syrup which followed a sharp freeze. Rather than homogenizing syrup in vats (by mixing sap harvests from several days) - to reduce the daily and seasonal variations - they've specially preserved the individual characteristics of the batches as the season progressed.
If you're interested in getting some syrup, let me know (the email address is on the side) and I'll pass on your request, they are selling it at reasonable prices ($10 for 500ml).
Each bottle comes with one of four family recipes--I've selected one to prepare and share with you.
recipe courtesy Kim Love
7/8c (220ml) milk
5Tbps (75ml) melted butter
1/3c (65g) brown sugar
1c (130g flour
1 Tbsp (heaping) baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1c (160g) cornmeal
Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Butter a brownie pan (20cmx20cm/8"x8") or a cast iron pan of a similar proportion.
Lightly whisk together the egg, milk, vanilla and melted butter. Stir in the brown sugar.
Sift together the remaining ingredients. Form a well, so you have a hollow that's protected by a mountain range of the cornmeal-flour mixture. pour in the wet mixture and mix until just combined. uyour wet ingredients well.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean and the top is slightly dappled with brown.
Serve hot with butter and maple syrup.
"This is Grandpa Love’s favourite way to enjoy fresh maple syrup."
13 April 2009
Gale Gand’s Brunch!: 100 Fantastic recipes for the weekend’s best meal By Gale Gand with Christie Matheson
Clarkson Potter/Random House Canada
208 pages; $32
Each meal comes with its own baggage. Formal dinners evoke multiple courses of sometimes stodgy preparations, complete with esoteric place settings. Normal dinners—created under time constraints—may rarely see the entire family, together, at one sitting. Weekday lunches more often than not can be microwaved leftovers or unidentifiably consumables lifted from a frybasket hastily, wolfed in a cubicle while finishing up that report or this presentation. Breakfast (for those of us who care to break the fast) may be a quick pre-packaged grab-and-go affair or simply a highly caffeinated liquid meal.
And then there’s brunch.
Brunch: the hybrid early-ish meal that’s neither breakfast nor lunch. It combines languidness with occasion. Yes, I fully realise the oxymoronic overtones I imbue the meal, but it is a repast that can incite contrary behaviours. At a time when meals are increasingly solitary events, brunch gathers a crowd—whether it’s a crowd of two or 12. It’s celebratory and social. Those whose first instinct is to avoid a proper morning meal and quite possible treat the mid-day break as an opportunity for errand-running or brisk-walking will make time for a table featuring waffles and poached eggs, brown sugared bacon, tartlettes, light soups, pastries and grilled sandwiches.
It is, quite possibly, one of my favourite reasons to eat. As if I ever really need a reason to eat.
Gale Gand, James Beard Award-winner pastry chef, restauranteur and American TV personality, takes on brunch in her sixth cookery book Gale Gand’s Brunch! 100 Fantastic recipes for the weekend’s best meal. Her inspirations come from travelling Europe and the US, taking with her ideas rooted in “a hot milky cup of coffee served with warm butter pastries and intensely flavoured jams.” She presents it as a near-perfect entertaining meal, one that’s sweet and savoury, easy and relaxed.
Her recipes cover a number of topics, including drinks, eggs, breads, savouries, salads and condiments. Not all her recipes are photographed—and Ben Fink’s images are quite lovely—but as someone who rarely allows fripped imagery to sway a cooking decision, this doesn’t bother me (yet I suspect those who use images as a crutch to preparing new-to-them foods may see it as a detriment).
Apart from generally being clear and accessible, the recipes can offer inspiration beyond the same-old same old. Gand helps home cooks go beyond traditional and sometimes predictable flavours to delicious and sometimes inspired combinations, from ginger scones with peaches and cream to roasted pears and rhubarb with orange to watermelon gazpacho.
I think her strength is her ability to take something simple and with a little bit of zhuzhing, turn it to something slightly out of the ordinary. For example, from her basic omelette—seasoned eggs cooked in a pan—to easy and elegant fillings including tri-colour bell pepper, ham and cheddar; oven roasted tomatoes, scallion and goat cheese, and caviar with crème fraîche.
I tried to choose wisely in my recipe selection, by varying dishes as a good representation of what she offers: easy and involved, food and drink, as well as differing main focal ingredients. In general, the recipes I tried produced tasty foods, but in a couple of instances I thought were a little too fussed for me, or could have grabbed me more. I suppose if you are cooking to impress, then a certain amount of extra steps are necessary, but if I’m inviting you for brunch, my goal is not to impress. My goal is to visit with you and have a meal at the same time.
Baked eggs in ham cups (p68)
This is a fancy way of doing oeufs en cocotte. Here, I didn’t follow the recipe exactly as written: the ham I had wasn’t big enough for the muffin bowls I think Gand called for, so I prepared them in cupcake tins, which means I could only break one egg into the hammy bowl. I also didn’t have little tomatoes, so instead used a sundried tomato pesto, instead of basil pesto. It was tasty and relatively easy, but I think I’d prefer to do them in little ramekins and not deal with removing them from the cupcake tray.
Cranberry-Almond Granola (p102) This was a perfectly adequate breakfast cereal, but it was slightly lacking—I would remove some of the oatmeal and introduce sunflower seeds and perhaps some flax seeds to the mixture. I’ve had it for breakfast every day for a week, either with warmed milk or vanilla yoghurt, and haven’t tired of it.
Torta Rustica (p65)
Augh. Maybe it was my mood, but this was fussier than it needed to be. AND it seemed to take a full afternoon to assemble. AND I could have done it with one sheet of puff pastry instead of two. It was very pretty when sliced—with strata of ingredients nearly perfectly set—and quite the tasty main dish. It would pair nicely with a green salad with balsamic vinaigrette.
Gand takes the home cook from basics and then with a few switches leads them through deliciously simple variations that will satisfy both the cook and guests alike
So how does it rate?
Recipe Selection: 4/5
Ease of use: 3.5/5
Yum factor: 4/5
Table-top test: Lies flat
Kitchen comfort-level: Novice-intermediate
Pro: Solid basic recipes that can be tweaked to taste or adventure level.
Con: Just thinking of that torta makes me tired.
10 April 2009
As many of you know, the Abruzzo region of Italy is sorting through the aftermath of an earthquake that struck. Joanne and her family have a number of friends and family in the area and although they are fine, the region is just devistated. Her family here in Canada is involved in relief efforts, and asking for donations. You can read her post here. No pressures, no worries.
As it's Easter weekend, I'm keeping this post short and sweet (all together now: Just like me). I'm still sorting out what I'll be putting together for Easter dinner--it won't be as foo-foo as previous years, but I feel a little ham and corn pudding are in the works.
So for the final Fishy Friday post, I'm offering a recipe I first tried as part of a cookbook review I did in September. Ingrid Hoffman's brandied shrimp is one I absolutely love. I've had it over pasta, rice and potatoes, but my favourite is with a good bit of bread. It's fast easy and quite yummy.
Have a lovely weekend all!
adapted from Ingrid Hoffman's Simply Delicioso
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
500g shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 dspn Worcestershire sauce
chilli sauce, to taste
1 tsp dried oregano
125 ml tomato ketchup
2 Tbsp brandy
Heat the fats together. Stir in the garlic. When the air is nice and garlicky, add the shrimp, Worcesterhire, chilli sauce, oregano, salt and pepper. Combine wella and let the shrimp simmer until they are partially cooked and beginning to curl. Add the ketchup and continue simmering until the shrimp are cooked through. Add the brandy and parsley. Give it a good stir and serve.
06 April 2009
Some things I can understand--apples that look as if they were stuffing from Muhammad Ali's punching bag, capsicums so wrinkly no amount of Botox would save them, bags of salad greens that look as if they were dredged from the local patch of wetlands.
Last week I rolled by the rack--they usually have giant bags of still-good mushrooms begging to be sent to a good home. No mushrooms, but four containers of absolutely lovely and almost blemish-and-fuzz-free blackberries (no, not the RIM crackberry). It could have been a mistake--whether "on purpose" (as in staff trying to get cheap food for friends who show up at the *exact* right time), or overzealous stockers trying to get rid of them for whatever reason (really, let's not guess)). But they had the neon pink triangular stickers screaming their affordability...I couldn't say "no" to that, so I bundled four containers into my trolley and went on my merry way to ponder the universes of sweet potatoes, roasting chickens and freezer bags.
Apart from nibbling on them here and there, or tumbling them on ice cream, I realised that I was a greedy guts and bought more than I could realistically finish before they really deserved to be on the discount rack. What to do what to do...
I suppose I could have frozen them, but nah. I came up with something better (well, for me at least)
Pan jam, that lovely makeshift jam perfect for small batches of fruit. I suppose you could sterilise a bottle or two and properly preserve them, but when you only have about a cup or two's worth of jam, it's just easiest to keep it in the fridge and have it with your morning toast, on ice cream or enrobe it in bits of leftover pastry (waste not, want not, I suppose).
And yes...whenever I think of or make "pan jam" Ram Jam starts running through my head...always Black Betty...which then makes me crave apple brown betty...with dollops of jam.
The recipe is rather loosey goosey. It is done to taste and is totally based on the sweetness of your fruit. My ratio of fruit to sugar is 10:1 by weight. So, in other words, for 100g of fruit, add 10 g sugar and then adjust if you want it sweeter.
03 April 2009
Even though my mind still feels winter's chill, my gullet says warm weather is coming.
I'm still grabbing for my wool coat and pashmina every few days but my little plaid trenchcoat is getting more and more wear. I'm still drawn towards roast chicken and beef with loads of gratin potatoes and veggies. The idea of leafy salad meals just hasn't taken hold of my imagination...yet.
But today my tummy decided that perhaps it would only be sated by a salad. Not a leafy salad with frissée this and hand-torn that. It wanted a hearty and warm salad. The kind of salad that doesn't wilt in the heat. The kind of salad that those who pretend to eat won't go near (because those who pretend to eat wouldn't have the combined tensile and compressive strengths necessary to lift a forkful of food). The kind of salad that that make my tummy feel both full and happy.
This salad is based on my love of warm potato salad, akin to the kind put together by Jamie Oliver in his series where he cooked in his garden--hot potatoes slurping up olive oil and lemon juice--along with a not-so-latent and constant desire to be near the Medeterranean Sea. It's relatively quick to put together and quite satsifying on its own or with a piece of bruschetta.
Warm tuna and potato salad
One boiled potato, cubed
squeeze of lemon juice
half a onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
two sundried tomatoes, chopped finely
1 tsp capers,
1 roasted pepper, chopped
2-3 Tbsp chopped black olives
.5c canned chickpeas, drained
1 tin chunked tuna, drained