29 April 2007

Let them eat...


This week my kitchen was a little cuppycake-making factory. Well...okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I did make many little cakelettes...all destined for the office.

This week a very wonderful person decided, after 30 years at the company, it was time to retire. We'll miss her wisdom, sense of humour and down-to-earth nature--any woman (of a certain age) who still harbours lusty thoughts for men in uniform (specifically motorcycle cops' jodhpurs and "fantasy boots") is a gem.

As a special thank you for everything she's done, I whipped up a bunch of my
vanilla cupcakes, topped them with pastel-tinted royal icing (pale rose, blue and lavender) and sprinkled rose petals, sugary flowers lavender on top.

The other cupcake event was my sixth anniversary at my current company. Our tradition is that we bring in the treats (unless it's a surprise or a major milestone). Given the recent warm weather, light and sunshiney lemon poppyseed cakes came into fruition.

The texture is a cross between an angel cake, a regular cake, and a meringue. It's almost snow-white crumb was light and refreshingly lemony. One of my colleagues said it was the perfect after-lunch sweet because it wasn't too sweet nor too heavy. After the cakes cooled, I spread some blueberry butter (akin to jam) on each one, and then topped them with cream cheese icing.

Lemon Poppyseed Cupcakes
adapted from an Anna Olson recipe

Yield: 24 cakelettes

6 large eggs, separated
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
225g vanilla sugar
200g cake flour
1/4 tsp salt
125ml lemon juice
3 Tbsp poppyseeds

Preheat oven to 325F/170C and line cupcake pans.

Whip egg whites, cream of tartar and 75g sugar to a glossy, soft peak stage and set aside; in a second bowl mix the yolks and lemon juice. Whisk together the sugar, flour and salt, then mix in the lemony-yolky mixture and beat until thick. Stir in the poppyseeds. Fold in the whites, being careful not to deflate the mixture. Spoon into cupcake liners and bake for 40 minutes or until done (a skewer will come out cleanly and the tops will be a pale golden).


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26 April 2007

Beanie gets his chicken

A few weeks ago a certain little kitty of mine posted a plaintive request for some chicken. He can be rather obsessive when it comes to poultry in general. He just *knows* when there's a chicken in the house: KFC (yuch), leftover Buffalo wings, frozen homemade pot pies cause him to gallop around and miao, chirrup and paw incessantly.

Normally I don't give in to such things, but I "accidentally" roasted "too many" chicken pieces (lemon, butter, rosemary, salt and pepper). I held back a couple of drumsticks for the dear cat, and put them in the fridge for his later munching.

I snapped these photos (action shots, surely!). The first picture was his expression when I told him that he was getting some chicken...you can read the disbelief on his fuzzy little face. I also caught him in his after-snack grooming. The last photo is what I call the "Oh, I'm so full" shot.

And in other news...I've finally updated my blog links. As usual, these are blogs I visit on as regular a basis as I can (I may not comment all that often, but they are in my RSS reader). Most of them are ones you may already know, but there may be one or two new ones for you to explore:

Bread, Water, Salt, Oil...
Cooking by the Seat of My Pants
Culinary Concoctions by Peabody
Dorie Greenspan
Humble Pie
Jumbo Empanadas
Kitchen Wench
La Mia Cucina
My Kitchen in Half-Cups: Second Helping
Once Upon a Feast
Table d’Hôte
Taste TO
Urban Pedestrian
What's For Lunch, Honey?
Winter Skies, Kitchen Aglow
Writing at the Kitchen Table


23 April 2007

International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day

Thanks to the exbf I found out about International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day (which coincidentally is both St. George's Day and William Shakespeare's birth and death day), a day to embrace your inner technopeasanthood. What's it all about? Read Jo Walton's post here and the post that started it all here.

So what am I doing participating in this event? Well, I'm not a SFWA member, but I have had several pieces published hither and yon (far too dull to talk about so I won't). Besides
this comment (and response) is all I needed to delve into the back-up discs to participate.

For those of you who know me in real life, you know that I've been tinkering away at a novel. Bits of it have been posted on-line, but I thought this snippet would be fun to bring back. Yes, for those of you who are fans of my conversations with my mummy will recognize Sophia and her mum, Mrs. K...not a verbatim of a conversation with my dear Mummy, but, you know, it's awfully close to something that happened several years ago. Enjoy!

Cakes were not Mrs. K’s strong point, so she always ordered them in. At first there was quite the variety: vanilla, chocolate, lemon, pound cakes and the rest. The year she discovered black forest cakes was one that everyone remembered as the year that all other cakes ceased to exist to the family. At every opportunity Mrs. K served one: birthdays, holidays, shopping days.

Unfortunately her enthusiasm for what was supposed to be cream and cherries sandwiched between layers chocolate crumb was not shared by her daughter. Sofia hated them: slabs of chemically-induced “chocolate” cake, swirls of saccharine-ladened edible oil product and sugary, sticky cherry preserves of a colour not known in nature. If she were truly unlucky, the cake would be a day or two old, cherries hidden between each layer and on top of a cloud of cream and the entire cake would be covered in waxy chocolate curls. It was enough to put her off of all cakes and pastries.

Previous requests for a plain chocolate cake resulted in a white-swathed tower, sometimes with chocolate shavings, sometimes with toasted slivered almonds. After the off-key singing ended and candles were blown out, Sofia drew her knife through gateau layers, disappointed to find an almost glutenous cherry filling oozing out from between the cake layers, and puddling onto the plate.

"What is the matter, Honey? Is there something wrong?" Her mother would ask.
"No, nothing's wrong."
"But you do not look happy."
"Well, I thought I'd get a regular cake. That's all."
"But it is a regular cake. It is a chocolate cake. In fact it is much better than a chocolate cake...it is a black forest cherry layer cake...you do not like it?" Mrs. K. would ask with a hurt tone in her voice.
"Well, I really don't like black forest cake, and I thought that you’d get me something different this year."
"No. You told me that you love Black Forest Cherry Layer cake. That is why I ordered it for you."
"No, Mum. You like Black Forest cherry layer cake. It's your favourite cake."
"You asked for one."
"I asked for a chocolate cake, mum."
"And that is what I got you."
"Okay, fine”
“See, there is cake and it is chocolate.”
“Yes Mum.”
“And look—it is covered in whipped cream. You like whipped cream—that is why you are so fat.”

“Yes, Mum. I like whipped cream, but no…I’m not fat.”
“And look. There are cherries. You used to dig through the fruit cocktails for the cherries when you were little.”
“Yes Mum.”
“So, this is all of those things in one cake.”
“What “but?” You just said you liked all of these things.”
“It's great. I like the cake."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
"As long as you like it."
"Yes, I like it."
"See, I told you Black Forest Cherry Layer cake was your favourite."

here for the event round-up.

Thanks Jo!



logo credit:
John Scalzi
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22 April 2007

I bought a packet of biscuits...

...and they gave me this beautiful pair of shoes, which are magically in my size!

Well, that's what I'm telling people anyway. As part of their opening week enticement, a new shoe shop gave away a packet of biscuits with every purchase. I also got a gorgeous pair of black boots.

Anyway, apologies for my short absence. I thought it would only be a day or two...If you've been reading me for the past few months, you know that I've been having computer problems. Well...basically as soon as I got my last assignment off to my prof, my laptop decided that it really didn't want to connect to the Internet anymore. I packed Zippy off and TFE poked and prodded it and then decided to wipe it clean and start fresh.

Zippy came home on Wednesday or Thursday. It was scary how much mail built up in those few days--20 minutes of download time...on highspeed...I'd hate to think how long it would take to do that on my dial-up connexion. I've been slowly restoring my files (if you haven't purchased Norton 360 yet, you should look into it--very nice), debating whether or not I really need this or that...a bit soul-searching in its own way.

I will say this...being without a home Internet connection was like a little vacation. I didn't feel the urge to check my email, new sites and whatnots--yes, I missed dropping in on your blogs and emailing you--but it was nice being partially incommunicado. I didn't do a lot of exciting cooking, but I did give the kitchen a good clean (quite therapeutic) and did some fun reading--a contrast from what my professors assigned :) I'm even in the beginning stages of planning a 2008 European vacation :)


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14 April 2007

A little treat for me

45 minutes ago I submitted my final assignment for the term. Ethics courses are fun but a bit draining.

To celebrate this little milestone, this is what I'll be tucking into:
Dufflet's key lime tart. It's amazing what ends up in your basket while stepping out for a litre of milk...


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13 April 2007

Poor Yolkie..

...we knew him well.

Behold, the last Cadbury Creme Egg from my office's tuck shop.

He will be put out of his misery soon...probably on Sunday, after I've submitted my final assignment for this class.



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09 April 2007

Feast: Easter Supper

Every Easter supper I try and go for something different, something I've never tried before. This is usually the time for first: the first roast chicken, the first leg of lamb, the first prime rib (etc). This year I was truly at a loss as to what I could do. No, I'm nowhere close to have cooked everything at least once, but I was looking for something a bit more fun than normal.

Then I remembered Meeta's Monthly Mingle theme: Arabian Nights. Apart from the "usual suspects" -- hummus, tabouli, baba ganouj--I've not really done a lot with Arabic-inspired foods. Well, one thing led to another, and I ended up with a hodgepodge of dishes from--or at least inspired from--various areas of the Mediterranean. These ideas and recipes were gleaned from a number of sources--Nigella Lawson, Claudia Roden, Nigel Slater, Delia Smith and a number of web searches:

My version of Jazar Bil Camoun Wal Toum (Carrot salad with Cumin and Garlic) used parsnips and carrots. Given my recent Savour the Season post on parsnips and the surprising lack of carrots in my fridge, I decided to make this Moroccan dish using the two veg. Simply blanch 600g of julienned veg, then saute in olive oil, garlic and cumin. Season with salt and pepper and squeeze some lemon over top. Serve cold.

This Lebanese spinach with chickpeas and onions (Sabanekh Bi Loubia) dish is normally made with either black-eyed or haricot beans (and caramelized onions), but I had a tin of chickpeas on hand. Soften an onion in olive oil, then saute garlic in olive oil and add a thawed packet of chopped spinach. Tip in the onions, season with salt and pepper, add the beans and squeeze some lemon over top. Serve cold.

I suppose the lamb is what started things off for this meal. I didn't want to do the standard rosemary-garlic version, but I saw a recipe for a date and mustard-glazed rack of lamb in The Toronto Star. The rub is made with rosemary, cinnamon, salt, pepper, cumin and coriander seed. The glaze used honey-dijon mustard, mashed dates, rosemary, cumin and garlic.

This aubergine and tomato curry is a cross between the most delicious dish my mummy makes and Lebanese aubergines with tomatoes and chickpeas (Mussaka'A Menazzaleh). Toast some black mustard seeds, cumin, coriander, tumeric, chilli pepper and garlic in olive oil and then tip in an onion sliced in half-lunettes and three chopped Chinese eggplants. Saute until soft. Add three or four chopped, very ripe tomatoes and add some water, a pinch of curry leaves, and salt and pepper. Stir in a tablespoon each of red current jelly and rice wine vinegar. Cook, stirring occasionally until it's all soft and oozy. Serve hot.

Possibly one of my favourite potato concoctions. I originally thought of it as Greek, but I found a Lebanese version of Roasted potatoes with lemon and coriander (Batata Bel Lamou Wal Cosbara). Boil a kilo of potatoes, chop into a very large dice, toss in olive oil, salt pepper and garlic. Roast at high heat (240C/475F) for about half an hour, or until crispy brown. Squeeze a couple of lemons over top and serve immediately.

I used this meal as the excuse to try Nigella's Turkish Delight Syllabub. I tried it before TFE and the exbf showed up and decided it was too rich for us...so what did I do (after I took this photograph)? I dumped everything into the ice cream maker and turned it into ice cream. Still too rich, but at least it's now frozen and buys me some time to figure out what I can do with it...right now I'm thinking of turning it into a frosting for a sponge cake.

And yes, here is the 2007 Easter Beanie picture. He wasn't pleased, but he forgave us...and no...he's not usually wall-eyed...I have no idea where that came from.



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07 April 2007

Happy Easter!

Yes, these are probably the funniest-looking hot cross buns around, but they are also pretty tasty.

I guess I applied too much pressure while cutting the "x" into the buns...oh well. TFE looked at the picture and thought they were what was left after the alien face-hugger escaped. Thanks, Dear.

I'll probably make them again this week and, if I do, I'll let you know how they turn out. Anyway, don't let my knife-happy ways put you off
this particular recipe by Delia Smith...my previous (pre-digital camera) versions were nice and round, and had a nice little indent for the cross...

For another recipe, and a bit of a history lesson on these spiced buns, try
this link at Eras of Elegance.



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05 April 2007

Feast: The exbf's birthday supper

I suppose it's not a bad thing to start off with dessert, but I suppose it's only fair to share what the exbf wanted for his birthday supper.

Normally we head out to the restaurant of his choice, but this year he wanted barbecue. Unfortunately, neither one of us could think of a barbecue place that's in town. The closest thing we could come up with were some really, really mediocre roadhouses.

After some though, he realised what he really wanted were ribs...and my mum's corn fritters (sorry, can't share that recipe).

Before January, I'd never made ribs before in my life. Cravings for such meaty morsels were rare and satisfied with by ribfests or some mid-ish priced restaurants, usually on road trips.

What got me making ribs (the first time, at least) was a sale--a great culinary motivator, I think. I took home a slab or rack or a ribcage or whatever they call them and did some research and experimented with making a spice rub, based on a couple of recipes I found online.

Well...if I do say so myself, those were mighty fine ribs. All juicy and spicy and saucy (saucy thanks to Canadian Club barbecue sauce). Apparently the exbf like them too, because he asked for those ribs again.

This time, instead of going to the bigscarymegamart for the meat, I went to my favourite butcher. What a difference. There was meat on them there bones. I let the dry rub sit on the meat for about six hours before boiling them for an hour. After patting them dry, I put more of the rub on and then poured the barbecue sauce on and baked them, basting with more sauce every 10 minutes or so.

The ribs were even better than before--which I attribute to the meat. My bf, TFE, was at the little get-together and he thought they were amazing--very juicy, nicely spiced, almost mahogany in colour and very addictive.

In fact, TFE liked them so much, he's requested them for Easter supper...as has the exbf...isn't it funny how their two votes don't add up to (let alone surpass) my one vote in such matters?

Anyway, here's what I put together for the rub. I'm sure it could be used on chicken as well:

8 Tbsp smoked paprika
4 Tbsp granulated sugar
4 Tbsp brown sugar
4 Tbsp ground cumin
4 Tbsp black pepper
2 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp chilli pepper
2 Tbsp oregano
1 packet chili seasoning mix


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01 April 2007

Big white fluffy clouds

I'm not much of a cake decorator. The vast majority of gateaux I make keep unadorned until they are served and then they are accompanied with a scoop of ice cream, some chocolate or caramel sauce, or a big dollop of flavoured whipped cream. Cupcakes usually meet a similar fate.

I find cake decorating frustrating. I know about crumb-coats and all that, but I just am not good at dolloping and smoothing. i end up with mounds of crumb and cream which, in frustration gets showered with coloured sprinkly bits.

I know it's a matter of patience and practice (both qualities of which I'm in short supply) so generally the only time I attempt frosted frippery is when there's a reason: a birthday, an anniversary or, well, I get inspired.

I'm always in awe of the talents some people have when it comes to edible artwork. They don't have to be as ornate as the ones
Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes makes, they can just be very simply frosted.

So...when it came time for the exbf's birthday a few weeks ago, trepidation trotted across my toes. His first request was a shoo-fly pie...which I had to veto (things that sweet will set off a migraine)...then was the request for a Cadbury Creme Egg cake (no, not a cake decorated with creme eggs, but the a large mound of fondant enrobed in couverature), which I talked him out of. He finally settled on Dorie Greenspan's White-Out Cake--yes, the one that's on the cover of her Baking tome.

The cake itself was no problem whatsoever: slabs of chocolate chocolate chunk devil's food cake. YUM. It was the frosting that cowed me. I've never made a boiled icing before. I had visions of getting distracted and instead of white, marshmallowy goodness magically appearing, a hardened lump of carbon would be formed at the bottom of the bowl. I am very happy to say that the frosting came out beautifully and reminded me of big white fluffy clouds, all satin-sheened, luminous and (well) gorgeous...if I do say so myself...

Unfortunately, those billowy soft mounds eventually fell prey to my inability to assemble anything close to an elegant cake. All I have to say is thank goodness the recommended decoration was cake crumbs.



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