22 December 2009

While I had my pre-, on- and post-Christmas nightcaps...

...Hagia settled, nose-first, for a long winter's nap.

Keep warm.
Share a meal or two.
Make and keep a new friend.
Be kind.

I'll be pottering about, enjoying the loveliness of the season, but will be back in January. Sorry--as much as I'd love to have it done, this month's Daring Baker Challenge shall be like sugar plums: only a vision, dancing in my head...

All the best to you and those you hold close.


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13 December 2009

Menu for Hope 6: Comfort and Restoration

Menu For Hope has reached out help to the world's needy since 2004. What started as a relief effort by
Pim of Chez Pim to help those affected by the devastating South East Asian Boxing Day Tsunami, has grown to an annual fundraiser, raising more than a US$250,000; in recent years the funds have been given towards the United Nations World Food Programme. These six years food and drinks bloggers worldwide have rallied together to provide prizes for the annual online raffle ranging from coffee with Thomas Keller to dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants to neighborhood food tours to boxes of cookies made by food bloggers.

In 2006 I was privileged to serve as the Canadian Prize Coordinator--my fellow Canadian foodbloggers generously provided a slew of amazing prizes. People all over the world responded eagerly, earmarking their ballots for prizes from the Great White North.

This year, when the lovely
Tara of Seven Spoons contacted me to donate a prize, was happy to help in whatever way I could.

My regular readers know that I christened 2009 as the Year of Comfort and Restoration. I've posted about foods that make me feel better--physically and emotionally. From the healing powers of Nanaimo Bars to Steak and Guinness Stew's clockwork appearance on my table every St. Patrick's Day, food is integral to my overall well being. With this in mind, I decided to tie my entry to this theme.

CA11: Comfort and Restoration
This package contains:
-1 new, lidded Paderno 33cm x 23cm/9"x13" non-stick oblong baking pan
- the dry ingredients needed to make one tray of Nick Malgieri's Supernatural Brownies
- 2 50g packets of tea from Distinctly Tea (Evening Fireside and Chocolate Supreme)

We've all had those days when all we want is a cosy little spot to relax and and regain our energies. I think this package would be a welcome treat if you want a little restorative comfort in your life.

The powers of a good brownie are known far and wide. I'll put together the dry ingredients for his chewy brownies along with the pan. all you need to do is add butter, eggs and vanilla (and of course heat). Depending on your day, it can be a single serving or you can cut it into 24 pieces--it's up to you. The full recipe and instructions will be provided.

Many people reach for a good cup of tea after a long day. Evening Fireside featuring notes of chamomile, mint and orange--perfect when you need a little bit of tender loving care. Chocolate Supreme contains real cacao bits, cinnamon, cardamom and a number of other spices and is utterly soothing when your nerves are frayed and your passions are a little too close to the surface. Both are caffeine-free, Rooibos teas.

Shipping: worldwide: There are no restrictions as to who can mark their ballot for this package as I will ship it to anywhere in the world.

You can find the rest of the Canadian prizes on Tara's site. To peruse the global list of prizes, please visit Pim's site.

To buy a ballot, here's what you should do...

1. Go to the donation page at (http://firstgiving.com/menuforhope6) to make a contribution.
2. Each US$10 donation will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize or prizes you'd like by entering the prize code in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your contribution. E.G: A US$50 donation may be two tickets for UW99 and three tickets for CA11.*
3. Some companies will match personal charitable donations made by staff. If your company has such a program, please remember to mark the appropriate box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
4. Please also check the box to allow us to see your email address. We need this so we can contact you in case you win a prize. If you do not do this, we will be unable to contact you. Please be assured that we will not share your email address with anyone.
5. Raffle results will be announced on 18 January on Chez Pim.

* N.B: Canadian tax laws prohibit charitable donation receipts to be issued by registered Canadian charities for raffle or lottery tickets. The UNWFP is a U.S.-based charity; should any donation receipts issued, you will need to seek professional advice regarding applying them to your Canadian income tax return.


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06 December 2009

20 years...

...and not forgotten

Geneviève Bergeron
Helene Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte

Montreal Massacre events mark 1989 shootings and Montreal Massacre victims


26 November 2009

Daring Bakers: Cannolo

Recipe origins: Italy (UK)
Inspirations and References: Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, Allen Rucker, Michelle Scicolone
Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

If you want me to giggle, all you have to say is the word "cannoli."

I blame a misspent youth watching American sit-coms. In this case, the Golden Girls.

For those of you who've been fortunate enough to avoid the show (really, it hasn't aged well). Three senior women all live together in Florida. One is an aging Southern Belle who's retained her vixen-like qualities; one is a slightly ditzy but sweet grandmotherly type from Minnesota, and a divorced teacher who's brought her slightly senile mum named Sophia with her.

I don't recall the entire episode, but I recall Sophia talking about her (dead) husband and the game of "find the cannoli."

So when I read this month's challenge was cannolo, well...my mind immediately went there...but with 90 year olds.

Now, I'm going to be a good girl and not draw any symbolism between cannolo-making and playing hide the cannoli. Really, you know. And if you don't, well...I've been told there are books and even DVDs you can get a hold of.

Regardless of such associations, cannoli are a treat. My occasional Saturday shopping at the swankychichifooderie will have my nose plastered to the cold case window spying the pyramid of cannoli--chocolate chip, vanilla and banana (with banana being my favourite).

Normally when I find food I like, I figure out a way to make it at home, but for whatever reason it never occured to me to do the same with cannoli. I'm not afraid of deep fat frying (although, truth be told, I don't like the smell of frying oil). I'm not afraid of sweetened cheese or cream. The pipine bag thing does concern me as it schmecks of foofy cake decorating--something I generally avoid.

I'll tell you something. This was probably the most fun DB challenge I've done in ages. Maybe as fun as the bagels from a couple of years ago.

I quartered the recipe--I didn't want to end up with 40 of these things, because I'd wind up eating 40 of these things. The dough was a little raggedy, so I added more oil and water. I let it rest about 2 hours before rolling and frying.

That's when I felt like one of MacBeth's witches. The violent bubbling from my cauldron as I lowered the dough-wrapped metal cylinder was jolly fun. I loved the warty toad-like appearance of the finished pastry...I really loved how easily the pastry released from the tubes. I shouldn't have worried about the piping--althought I could have probably done something fancy that peeked out the sides, I didn't need to: a simple vanilla swirl was all that was needed.

The finished product was crispy, with a relatively light pastry and filled with creamy sweet goodness. My friends and I were quite happy with them. Thanks Michele!

Click here for a list of participating Daring Bakers.


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22 November 2009

Comfort & Restoration: Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies

Stress eating.
If stress eating were a military rank, I'd be the Commander-In-Chief.
If stress-eating were a popstar thing, I'd have a fragrance, cookware set and shoes baring my signature.
If stress eating were an Olympic sport (a real Olympic sport--not one of those namby-pamby ones where artistic merit marks are bought/sold), I'd be a platinum medallist.
Yeah. I'm *that* good.
Stressors come in all forms. Some of them are environmental like the street urchins' thumpathumpa music at 2:30am. Some of them are situational like the final throes of a relationship where you know you need out, but haven't admitted it. Some of them are imposed like the wall of lava-like deliverables and deadlines emitted from volcanoes of projects. Some of them are biological, caused by rampaging hormones of puberty, PMT, pregnancy or menopause. Some of them are accepted like knowing the lectures you're in for from well-meaning elderly relatives about how the the way you're living you're life is just plain wrong (but you put up with it because they are well-meaning elderly relatives).

Yes. I know some stressors are actually good for you, but really, if you're in the thick of it, stress is just...stressful.
I also know there are some who espouse exercise or meditation as means of dealing with the emotional nasties of life.
There are few things that will keep me on a somewhat even keel when life overuns life. Long drives, preferably on the 401. Loud music--lately The Cult and QOTSA. A thorough toothbrush to the grout type of cleaning. Food.
My foodish comforts come in two categories. The first are the foods whose processes lean towards stress release. Kneading bread doughs and tenderising meat with a mallet offer an obvious outlet through pushing and pulling, smacking and pounding.
The second are the foods I gravitate to for sheer physical comfort. Sweet hot milky tea. Steaks with a trickle of blood. Greasy cheeseburgers with rashers of bacon. Poutine, weighed by thick, salty gravy and gooey-from-the-heat cheese curds. Chocolate so dark the cocoa content is in the high 80s and 90s.
Sweet, fatty, salty and deeply flavoured.
Sounds like a gosh-darned good brownie to me.
Normally I'd go for a chocolate brownie, perhaps flavoured with mint or espresso, but I've not fully regained a reliable chocolate tooth. Right now, for me to enjoy it, my chocolate needs a bit of a crutch, and lately that crutch of choice is peanut butter.
I've never had luck baking with peanut butter--the cakes always come out very dry. My Google-fu turned up this well-rated peanut butter brownie recipe, which is the peanut butter component of this swirly brownie. The chocolate component is a combination of a few recipes, but with a bit of chilli pepper in for a bit of interest. Chocolate, peanuts and chillies...lovely stuff.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies
Peanut Butter Batter
140g ap flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
110g peanut butter, softened
75g butter, softened
125g sugar
85g brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate batter
110g butter
55g Dutch processed cocoa powder
100g sugar
85g brown sugar
1/4tsp salt
1/4 - 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
100g flour

Butter a 23cm x 33cm (9"x13") baking dish. Preheat oven to 170C (350F).

Prepare the peanut butter batter by sifting together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Cream together the butter and peanut butter. Add the sugars and continue creaming until light and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down between each addition. Mix in the vanilla.
Blend in the flour mixture in two batches and incorporate well. Set aside.

For the chocolate batter, brown the butter until it has a nutty fragrance. Stir in the cocoa, sugars, salt and pepper. Stir until smooth. Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the hob.
Beat the eggs and vanilla until foamy. Temper the eggs by beating in a couple of spoons of the hot cocoa mixture. Incorporate the flour mixture and the rest of the cocoa mixture in alternate additions (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry).

Dollop in the batters in a checkerboard pattern in the buttered dish and marble them together.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until dense crumbs cling to an inserted skewer. Let cool thoroughly in pan before turning it out to cut into as many pieces as you see fit.


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08 November 2009

Granola-topped pumpkin bread

For years I thought pumpkins were only good for two things: Jack-o-lanterns and halva. Eventually soups and pies were added to the list.

There it stood for years: four uses, take 'em or leave 'em.

That is, until this year.

Mum handed me a 796ml tin of pumpkin purée, with the expectation of a Thanksgiving pie. The pie (well, tarte, if we want to be all foofy about it) was made...but that left about 2/3 of the purée unused. You see, she thought that entire tin would be used for one 8-inch pie. Umm...no.

I wasn't in the mood for a soup and I didn't have the energy or the time to make halva (even my easypeasy version). I didn't want more pies. Without the carcass, I couldn't make a jack-o-lantern...and if I did have it, it doesn't help me with the purée issue.

I've known for a while about pumpkin cakes and cookies, and after some research I found some ideas. Unlike some other ingredients, my instincts told me to trust home cooks (as opposed to FoodTV or cookbook writers) with this one. And I was right. In my dog-eared book by the good people at Harrowsmith, I found the recipe..which, true to form, I didn't follow exactly (grin).

I was very pleasantly surprised about how good it was.

It was like a a pumpkin pie had a love child with a poundcake...and the progeny had a thing on the side with some granola-loving hippies.

A nicer autumn breakfast (smeared with sweet butter, of course), I can't think of.

Pumpkin loaf
adapted from Pumpkin Yoghurt Cake from The Harrowsmith Cookbook Vol III, p252

350g ap flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp cardamom
90 ml flavourless oil
200g sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
250ml buttermilk
220g pureed pumpkin
a few handfuls of granola

Preheat oven to 170C/350F and line a 1-lb loaf tin with parchment paper.

Sift together flour, bicarb and spices.

Mix sugar and oil together, then beat in eggs and vanilla.

Mix in flour and yoghurt mixtures alternatly into the egg mixture (flour-yoghurt-flour-yoghut-flour), scraping the bowl's sides down as needed. Give everything a good mix and then pour into prepared loaf pan. Top with granola.

Bake for about 55-65 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Related post:
Pumpkin Bread and Butter Pudding


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03 November 2009

Comfort and Restoration: Chicken Broth

School's back in, the weather's turned cold and sniffles are everywhere. Add the current H1N1 meme to the mix and people are queued for injections, emptying shop shelves of antibacterial everything and screens of e-mails proffering "helpful hints" as to how to spot and avoid the 'flu, including giving up hugging and handshaking in hopes of "staying healthy." (Bah to that I say. Bah)

Watercooler talk has turned from the latest political discussions on pensions, media ownership and why Canadians didn't show up to greet Charles and Camilla to whether or not we'll be jabbed, whose child has been bedridden and what our individual bits of preventative and/or curative voodoo we each practise.

Regardless, when illness hits--whether it's a cold or a flu--many people turn to the revered chicken soup to, at the very least, make one feel all warm inside. Granted, some people grab a tin off the shelf and simply heat what marketers, bean counters and dieticians have dictated. Others zhuzh it up with bits of this and that. Others make it from scratch.

Me, I'll waver. If I happen to have any homemade stock in the freezer, I'll use that as my soup base, otherwise I'll doctor up store-bought.

Even though homemade soups are, I think, non-recipe recipes, mine generally start off the same way: chopped onions, sweated to translucency, garlic and then when it perfumes, add liquid, veggies, whatever meats, spices and herbs and then simmered until ready. That's what I call a "normal" soup.

Unsurprisingly, my curative broths contain a mélange of various peppers, seeds, herbs and roots. Little doubt remains of the South Indian under-, mid-, and over-tones in each spoonful. Veggies are whatever I have on hand, same for starches (noodles or rice), meat is (really) optional...but poaching a chicken breast or thigh in cartoned broth to give the illusion of a home made soup isn't unheard of.

Every once in a while, when I've collected enough chicken bits--wing tips, bones, bits of carcass--in my freezer, I'll start a stock.

No. I don't pretend to be some domestic goddess clad in a gingham dress feigning some ill-placed sense of moral superiority.

Stockmaking: It's easy. It basically looks after itself. It tastes better than what's found in tins or cartons. It's time consuming. It's cheap.

Stocks are also non-recipe recipes too. Put veggies, animal bits, and basic spices in a pot and more than cover it all with cold water. Heat, scum, heat some more, scum some more. Let it simmer until the veggies and bones have had all their innate goodnesses extracted...or as much as you want extracted. Strain, if desired. Use what you need within a few days; freeze the rest.

The recipe below is essentially the above, but quantified to a certain extent. I must admit to being sheepish about finished quantities, because of the variables of the amount of cold water you start off with and how long you let it boil (and, as a result, evaporate). Regardless, it's a worthwhile exercise, on a cool autumn night, before flu season sets in.

Golden Chicken Broth
yields 3 or more L of finished broth

1.2kg chicken, washed and jointed
2 medium cooking onions, skin on, quartered
3-5 garlic cloves, halved
1-2 carrots, cut into big chunks
1 celery rib, cut into big chunks
1 leek, cut into big chunks
2 sprigs parsley
1.5 tsp black peppercorns, crushed

Place all ingredients in a stockpot or a Dutch oven and cover with 4-6 litres of cold water, depending upon the volume capacity of your pot. Set the hob to medium-low.

After about 30-45 minutes, a layer of scummy foam will set itself on top of the water. Remove and discard as much of it as possible, while trying to keep as much of the schmaltz in the pot. Increase the heat to medium and continue removing scum every 30 minutes, until there's no more to be scummed.

Let boil, uncovered, occasionally and lazily stirring whenever the mood strikes. From time to time slurp some from your tasting spoon checking not only for salt, but also for desired depth of flavour. By my books, the stock is done when all the veggies yield to the slightest pressure of tongs, a spoon or fork. The total cooking time could be anywhere from four to six hours, depending upon your kitchen gods and how deeply flavoured you like your stock.

When done, remove the chicken herbs and veggies from the pot. If desired, strain through cheesecloth to clarify the broth.


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27 October 2009

Daring Bakers: Claudia Fleming's Macarons...or is it macaroons?

Recipe: Macaroons
Recipe origins: Claudia Fleming's The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy TavernHostess:
Ami. S of Baking Without Fear

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Hosting a Daring Bakers' challenge is not an easy thing. Trust me, I know.

There's a wide range of abilities, experience and attitudes. From those who've never stepped foot into a kitchen (I could comment, but I won't) to those who probably own a professional kitchen. From those who try and keep to DB origins and follow a recipe exactly as written (unless there are financial, ethical or health reasons that force otherwise) to those who think of themselves as the sparkliest snowflakes of all, believing rules do not apply to them and will present a chocolate sponge as a completed challenge when the host called for a lemon meringue. metric vs Imperial, weights vs. volumes...it can be quite the tempest in a teapot.

Whenever I've come across a recipe I wasn't sure of I've done my best with it and have tried to post an accurate account of my adventures. Sometimes they are straightforward and produce fantastically tasty treats, sometimes as convoluted as Suicide Squid's origin story that sometimes produce the same fantastically tasty treats...but sometimes not so tasty treats.

When the results are good, they are very good. When they aren't, well, I try not to be unduly spiteful...quite honestly, I don't know how succesful I am at the not being unduly spiteful part.

So when it came to this month's DB challenge...well, I wasn't sure what to expect. Partly because I didn't know if I was making macarons...or macaroons. The write-up said "macaroon" but as the accompanying photos didn't look like the coconutty mini-mountains, and looked like a cross between 19thC nightcaps and happy little jellyfish, I assumed they were macarons.

Semantics, yes...but it's important.

Anyway...I've never made either before. I've eaten macaroons. I've never eaten a macaron.

I'm going on blind faith that whatever this recipe produces is a macaron.

The batter came together well enough, I suppose. I was a little concerned after the first third of the whites were incorporated as it just seemed too crumbly. By the final third, it looked good.

Which was probably the last time it actually looked good.

The first baking seemed okay...they were round and poofy, but rather lacklustre.

By the time the oven came to temp for the second baking the round, poofy lacklustryness collapsted into themselves...they kind of looked like a beanbag chair that lost the essence of being a chair.

When I took them out of the oven...they looked...rumpled. Like punching bags that had been punched one time too many.

Not all of them turned out--and that is, I think a fault of Beelzebub--of the 20 blobs (I scaled the recipe down to 40 per cent), 10 had charred bottoms: a hazard of using a stove possessed by the spirit of a lazy food-hating daemon who'd rather see me reliant upon big-box processed microwavable fud than...well...bake.

I will say of those that survived the baking process, most of them had the little feet or jellyfish skirt that I've seen in photos. For that I'm rather tickled.

So that left me 10 blobs, enough for five sandwich cookies. Given there's only one of me, five cookies are absolutely fine. Part of the challenge was to fill them and quite honestly, I wasn't very imaginative and reached for the last of the raspberry jam. Almonds, raspberries--very Bakewell Tart-like.

What did I think? Well, I'm not sure if they came out as they should. I'm also not entirely sure of the texture. I thought they'd be light and crisp not light-ish and chewy.

I've read a few Tweets by more experienced bakers than I voicing concern over the recipe, so maybe they're a better judge of this recipe than I.

But I do know I want to try my hand at macaron-making, but perhaps with a different recipe.

Click here for a list of participating Daring Bakers.


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25 October 2009

Pumpkin Bread and Butter Pudding

I was checking out email
When out the corner of my eye,
I saw a pretty little thing miaoing at me.
She said I never seen a gal,
Who looks so overworked,
Could you use a little small yummy?
In the office they'll suffice
Your kitchen it entice
Or you can sit here and give me no sway,
I said you're such a sweet young thing,
Did you think of this yourself?

She looked at me and this is what she said.
Oh, there ain't no rest for the wicked,
You need to stow their needs,
You got cakes to bake,
You got yeast to feed,
There ain't nothing that beats lychees.
I know you must whisk eggs,
I know your cookbook stack
Though I know there's somthin' you should,
Oh yes there ain't no post for the potluck,
And we need to bring something good.
--with apologies to Cage The Elephant

Okay...Hagia didn't exactly sing this...but when I looked over and saw her squirmy with glee over this month's Chatelaine Nigella feature, she reminded me that I've not yet been able to submit one post for the weekly Nigella event at I Heart Cooking Clubs (Yeah, Workasaurus and Deadlinadactyl take full credit). Add a tweet late last week from Mel of Bouchon for Two asking for pumpkinny baking and I knew I had a post that fit both bills.

My Dear Little Cardamummy handed me a 796ml tin of pumpkin purée for the Thanksgiving tarte, which left 550+ mls of purée in my hands. I made a granola-topped pumpkin loaf with some of it, cookies with the rest (yes, I realise I'm being mean and not giving you those recipes yet).

Unfortunately, and I don't know how I did this, I only ate two slices of the bread all week. Trust me, it was delicious, but I just didn't eat it. Even though it was a bit stale by the time I realised this, I knew it was more than salvageable.

Just as the bread was made because I had good food that needed to be used up, this bread pudding was made because I had good food that needed to be used up. Bread puddings are a time-tested way of stretching stale baking. Take scraps of not-the-freshest baking, give it a good soak in custard and pop it into the oven. And *poof* (literally and figuratively) you've got a good wintery dessert.

This recipe is done in the spirit of Nigella's Grandmother's Ginger-Jam Bread and Butter Pudding. I don't spice the pudding as La Lawson did, as the pumpkin bread is quite flavourful from the spicing and a bit crunchy from the granola I baked onto it, but I did take a cue from the ginger jam and used orange marmalade. The result is a lovely, soft, eggy sweet and spicy pudding. Quite honestly, I think I'll make the bread again, just so I can make this pudding.

Pumpkin Bread and Butter Pudding

1 loaf (or as much as you have of) pumpkin bread that's been hanging about a bit longer than you'd wish, sliced
Orange marmalade
3 eggs
2-3 Tbsp sugar
250ml heavy cream
375ml table cream
raisins, dried fruit, nuts (optional)

Butter a pudding dish large enough to hold the pudding and custard.

Make marmalade and butter sandwiches with the bread. Cut each sandwich in half to form triangles or squares, whichever you prefer. Arrange the little sandwiches in the buttered dish.

Whisk the eggs with the sugar and then add the milk and cream and mix well. Pour over the sandwiches. Strew whatever dried fruit or nut you wish on top of the pudding.

Let the bread soak up the custard for at least 10 minutes. This is a good time to set your oven to 350F/180C.

When your oven is to temp, pop the bread pudding in the oven for 45 -60 minutes, depending upon your kitchen gods' moods. The pudding is ready when the custard has set and is poofy.

Related post: Granola-topped Pumpkin Bread


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19 October 2009

The "You know I usually don't like Brussels sprouts, but I love these Brussels sprouts" Brussels sprouts dish

Many things don't make any sense to me.

Fahrenheit temperatures.
Directionals (as in North, South, West and East).
American football.
Trooper's Raise A Little Hell used to sell saltines*.
The apparently 6'3" non-cook who designed my kitchen.
Dan Brown's literary career.

For years I never understood how people can *not* like Brussels sprouts (or brussel sprouts). I mean really. They're cute and leafy. They're teeny little cabbages that grow on sticks...and we all know foods on sticks aren't just fun, but they taste better.

The first time I had Brussels sprouts they were curried--very simply done--lightly steamed and then sauteed with onions and masala. How anyone could not like that was unthinkable. A bowlful of those spicey sphere-ishes and I'd be as happy as Beanie with a turkey leg. I thought everybody liked Brussel sprouts.

Then I started hearing stories about slimey concoctions whose funk would make a grizzly bear in heat reach for the Febreeze. Tales about the little tiny cabbages boiled for an hour or so were enough to send me screaming out of a room in the same way as I would should Celine Dion magically appear, offering to sing me any stanza from her screechy songbook.

Who would ever treat such vegetably emeralds with such disdain?

When the exbf told me that one of his online followers uploaded a post about beautiful green orbs that beckoned him/her at the grocer...and then taunted him/her in the fridge because...well...he/she doesn't actually like Brussels sprouts, I knew I had to upload this post sooner rather than later.

This is the "You know, I usually don't like Brussels sprouts, but I love these Brussels sprouts" dish.

This is the dish that's won converts every time it's served to new people who theoretically don't like Brussel sprouts.

This is the dish that My Dear Little Cardamummy tries and tries again to replicate, but can't somehow do it (here's a hint: follow my instructions...but then again, she's not online so that bit of advice won't really help her)

It's a variant of my earlier dish made with sausage and potatoes, and makes good use of a leftover boiled potato or two. It's not an incredibly labour-intensive dish. Really: sitting at a table discarding yellowed leaves and slashing the stem ends really isn't onerous and allows for a good think or chat. Frying bacon and potatoes...that's nothing. And the veggies just steam themselves.

Even though you can make with two pots -- one to steam the veggies and one to do up the bacon and potatoes -- I do the entire dish in one vessel (my wok, to be specific). The trick to this dish is to not over cook the sprouts. Apparently this is easier said than done. The embryonic cabbages should be a bright green and still firm to the tooth with a little bit of give...I suppose slightly crunchy, but not squeaky, if you get the nuances. Once the leaves yield too easily to the tooth, you know you've cooked a bit too far.

Brussels Sprouts with bacon and potatoes
serves 4-6

500g Brussels sprouts
3-4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
cooking fat (butter, oil, bacon fat)
300-400g cubed potatoes, steamed or boiled and cooled
1-2 cloves minced garlic
Black pepper
1 onion, julienned
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (or to taste)
Chilli pepper flakes (optional).

Clean and trim the sprouts by removing any yellowed outer leaves and slashing an "x" the stem end (if the sprouts are small) or slicing in half (if they are large).

Fry the bacon until crispy. Remove the bits, leaving the fat in the pan.

Tip in the potatoes (in batches, if necessary), adding more fat if necessary. Add onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Fry until browned and crispy and remove.

Pour about 60ml (quarter cup) of water with a healthy pinch or two of salt into the pan. Tumble in the prepared sprouts, cover and let steam for a few minutes until the sprouts are vibrant and barely cooked. Drain the water and add the cooked bacon and potato-onion mixture.

Pour in the balsamic vinegar and a splash or two or three of Worcestershire sauce and give everything a good stir. Adjust seasoning to taste, adding chilli flakes if desired.


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*Really. What part of this song says "crumbling crackers in soup is a rebellious and uber-kewl thing to do"?

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12 October 2009

My own causality dilemma and bacon-wrapped asparagus

Do I eat asparagus because it's wrapped in crispy bacon or do I eat the bacon, because it coddles roasted asparagus?

Granted it's not a question on Aristotle's scale but it is a question I ask myself every time I reach for a bundle of spears.

I was never really a fan of asparagus. My first exprience was not hopefull--overboiled to waterlogged flacidity, each stringy and bitter and acrid bite worse than the last. The next time was as a creamed soup, a palid greyed green that only hinted at its once vital jade,. The taste was no better than my introduction.

For year my culinary life was spent avoiding asparagus. I was mostly successful--the only times it appeared on my plate was when I went to fundraiser some other gala-like celebratory dinner.

Don't ask me exactly how I was introduced to bacon-wrapped asparagus. In all likelihood it was a fingerfoodish appetiser. Those pancetta-wrapped spindly spears opened my eyes to the vegetable. But it also opened my eyes to the fact that often, disliked foods can be transformed by pairing them with different flavours and/or cooking techniques. It also helped me realise that, as far as asparagus is concerned, girth does matter...and with these, the thinner, the better...for dinner at least.

Yes, I hear some of you...it's not the asparagus you like: it's the bacon.

Well, there's little doubt that bacon (in whatever form) makes many otherwise revolting foods a lot more palatable, and if all it takes is a rasher to help me vary my veggie intake from time to time, that's not really a bad thing, is it? As with many vegetables, roasting asparagus carmelises its natural sugars, which plays well with the strip of streaky, salted, smokey goodness.

Over the years I've prepared this dish many, many times--sometimes as a side dish, sometimes as an appaetiser, sometimes with roasted potatoes as a dinner on its own...but dipped into the squidgey yolk of a poached egg, these roasted, baconed roasted spears are simply delicious.

Bacon-wrapped roasted asparagus is another non-recipe recipe. Simply wrap trimmed spears in the bacon of your choice and roast in an oven until the bacon is cooked to your liking. Depending upon your particular kitchen gods (and your oven's temp), it could take 15 minutes or 25.

Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus
Serves up to 4

16 asparagus spears, washed and snapped of their woody ends
4 rashers of streaky bacon or slices of pancetta
freshly-ground black pepper

Divide the spears into bundles of four, wrapping each one in a rasher.
Place on a foil-lined baking tray and pop into a medium-to-hot oven--350F-400F (170C-200C) for about 15 minutes or until the bacon is cooked.
Dust with freshly-ground pepper before serving.


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04 October 2009

Happy Cinnamon Bun Day!

When our darling Glamah of Coco Cooks Tweeted today is Sweden's National Cinnamon Bun Day, I grabbed hold of this opportunity to coax my latent (and totally fictitious) inner Swede out and celebrate with the rest of my bun-baking brethren and my sweet-toothed sistren.

No...I didn't start playing dollies with a root veggie...nor am I part vegetable (regardless of the quality of my writing some days).

It's been a while since I've had a cinnamon bun. Why? I must admit I've gone off them. Wherever I go, coffee shops and cinnamon bun emporiums try to convince me that insipdily sugary, tar-sticky, bready turbans mortared with icing so thick, one could restore parts of Hadrian's Wall with them.

Don't get me wrong, the first time I had one of those mall kiosk cinnamon buns, I was quite enamoured. Time passed and doughnut and coffee shops, grocery stores and cafeteria versions popped up and morphed what was a happy little swirly pastry into a Frankensteinesque Type-Two Diabetes inducing meal of a snack just put a bitter taste into my mouth.

Swirls of golden dough, filled with cinnamonny-sugar and dried fruit or nuts, glazed with a brushing of butter-dampened sugar. That's the kind of cinnamon bun I prefer.

What better to celebrate Sweden's foodie feast day than to remind myself of the buns I'd happily come home to?

I've written about cinnamon buns before, but I thought a new version was called for. This one's a little more straightforward, but easily adaptable --change the almonds to the fruit or nut (or combination) of your choice. Glaze the top with any flavour or any toffee or icing.

I must admit I wasn't fully paying attention to the buns as I cut them. Sometimes counting to 12 is beyond me. Sometimes 14 is easier than 12. I quite like the effect, away from the ordered three by four order these things usually demand. Instead there's an organic movement borne of living yeast pushing the dough to fill every possible nook of the pan. Some big. Some small. Deeper golden flecked with spots of bright slivers My tray of buns is, hence, oddly reminiscent of
van Gogh's Starry Night.

It's a good version, with a slighty marzipan-ish flavour, adapted from Anita Stewart's The Flavours of Canada. Absolutely easy, yet takes much of an afternoon to make--most of that time taken up with proofing. A trifle, really, given you are returned with a house filled with bready and cinnamony scents.

Almond Cinnamon Buns
Adapted from Mrs. Peterson's Cinnamon Sticky Buns from The Flavours of Canada by Anita Stewart
(yield 12)

To bloom the yeast:
2 Tbsp hand-hot water
1/2 tsp sugar
1 dspn active dry yeast

For the dough
2 eggs, well beaten
100g sugar
110g butter, melted
pinch of salt
150ml hand-hot milk
420g ap flour
canola oil (or other flavourless oil)

For the filling
75g brown sugar
1tsp cinnamon
1dspn butter, melted
100g flaked almonds

For the glaze
2 Tbsp butter, melted
3 heaping Tbsp icing sugar
splash almond extract
2-3 Tbsp milk or cream

Bloom the yeast for 10 minutes or until a healthy, frothy head develops.

Whisk together the sugar, melted butter, salt and milk; add the eggs and bloomed yeast. Mix well. Add the flour, in thirds, beating well and scraping down the bowl between additions.
When all the flour is incorporated, lightly dust your counter with bench flour and knead for about 5-10 minutes or until the dough is elastic and as soft as a baby's bottom. Place in an oil-slathered bowl, cover and let double in size in a warm, draft-free place...about 90 minutes.

Mix the cinnamon and sugar together.

Line a 23cmx35cm (9"x14") lasagna pan with parchment paper. Butter the parchment.

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface. Knead for about five minutes and let rest. Give it the two-finger poke test*. When it passes, roll the dough into a 20cmx35cm (8"x14") rectangle.

Brush the dough with the melted butter. Sprinkle with spiced sugar and strew with almonds.

Roll up the sheet, so you have a fat, 35cm log. Cut into 12 pieces and place roughly 2.5 cm (1") apart in the prepared pan. Cover lightly and return to the warm, draft-free place until doubled in size...about one hour.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until the buns are golden.

Brush the tops with melted butter, while the buns are still hot.

When the buns have cooled a little, but still warm, mix the melted butter, icing sugar and almond extract together. Add a little cream to thin it out. Drizzle over the warm buns.

* Two finger poke test: Poke the dough with your index and middle fingers to a first-knuckle depth. If the dents fill in, let the dough rest a little longer and try again. If the dents keep, you're good to go.


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27 September 2009

Elvis has left the building: Meet my nemesis

Meet my nemesis: Tamias minimus.

Yes. You read correctly. Nemesis.

Many of us have one. Heck. Some of us have more than one.

It could be the guy who always gets the last double chocolate doughnut with the sparkly sprinkles on the rack leaving you with the stale unglazed-because-they-forgot-to-ice-them generic-things-that-could-be-better-used-as-hemorrhoids-cushions doughnuts; the woman who, regardless of which store she's in, can always get an eager and helpful sales clerk, while you've an armload of items to try on and the clerk guarding the changerooms is too busy texting her friend to bother unlocking a door for you, or the gal who can always get the cutest pair of shoes in her size, at 60 per cent off regular price because her feet are just so dainty. (Umm...yeah--I'm the one who usually gets the last good doughnut, sales clerks (and waiters) fawn over me and umm...I have teeny feet).

I hear you cooing over the cute, fuzzy wittle woodland cweature above. "How could such an adorable little thing be a nemisis?" you ask.

Trust me. They're only cute and fuzzy when they're in a woodland setting. They are NOT cute and fuzzy when they're running through and hiding in your main floor. When they are running through and hiding in your main floor, they are what I call "vermin."

And while I've not had dealings with this particular chipmunk before, I've lived the main points of this tale before. We have a history.

I had a rotten morning, punctuated by miscommunications and my jumping to conclusions; by noon I was hoping for a do-over. Since I don't have a TARDIS, my next best option was to ponder my stupidity by planting some lovely violet and plum coloured icicle pansies and assess the bunny damage to my plants. The front doors were wide open, so I could traipse in and out as my little bewildered heart pleased.

That's when the little begger decided to stage a home invasion.

Sure...strike when I'm down. I expect that from my enemies.

Admittedly, I didn't notice anything was wrong at first. I cleaned up from playing in the mud continued my contemplative therapies, this time armed with bucket, broom and mild abrasives.

And that's when I saw him...standing all cock-of-the-walk-like on my credenza. Sure he could have been mistaken for a stuffed animal (my little stuffed
Cthulhu does live in the dining room), but really given my B&E history with others of his ilk, I have no desire to keep reminders around.

Insert monosyllabic expletive *here.*

It scampered into hiding, behind the stack of cookery books I have yet to review.

Insert monosyllabic expletive *here.*

There's poo and pee all over the credenza. There's poo and pee all over a shelf I've set up for food photography. A teak shelf. A teak shelf that's now chipmunk pee stained.

Insert monosyllabic expletive *here.*

I clean it up and go into the kitchen. There's poo in several places...including the cat's water dish and my aprons' tails.

Insert monosyllabic expletive *here.*

Darn you, you little cute furry little woodland creature who's out of his element!

I summoned the cats.

The cats did not come.

I went to look for the cats.

Hagia was on in the TV temple, snoozing on the couch. She opened her big pumpkin eyes.

"Hagia. Time to earn your keep. Go stalk and eat the chipmunk."

She closed her big pumpkin eyes and went back to sleep.

Zeus was in the carton behind the fireplace, willing himself to be invisible...or so I think...I couldn't see him.

Insert monosyllabic expletive *here.*

After almost three hours, camped out in the dark, eyes trained on the open kitchen door, ironically quiet as a mouse (well, not so quiet--I was occasionally updating
my Twitter feed about this), the chipmunk exited my condo.

Yes, after a few false starts, Elvis has left the building...

...but not before helping himself to the cats' food and water. The door was closed after him.


I went into the dining room to take a look at whatever damage the critter caused.

I might as well have not cleaned up the dining room after lunch. I'd heard little animals void their bowels while running, to make them lighter, ergo, faster. Apparently chipmunks are poo-propelled as its output rivalled that of a bull moose.

I even found poo in the bowls of my mini muffin tin.

Insert monosyllabic expletive *here.*

A few hours later, my fingers wrinkled from rinse water and the air pungent with bleach and other cleaners, and every surface Elvis obviously touched, ran over or simply looked at was scrubbed within an inch of their anthropomorphic lives, I was in need of a bit of sweet solace.

I've been preoccupied with chocolate chip cookies as of late. It's very much unlike me--to crave chocolate chip cookies, that is. Growing up, My Dear Little Cardamummy baked the occasional batch, but returning to a cookie-perfumed house was not the norm.

My little kitchen must have churned a score or two of chocolate-studded biscuits since the end of August. The main problem being I've misplaced the slip of paper that holds my favourite chocochip cookie recipe. I've tried several recipes and while I've not replicated the *one,* This version by Alton Brown is a step in the right direction.

Unlike most other cookie recipes where you start by creaming butter, sugar and eggs and then add the dry ingredients, this one is put together as you would muffins: sift the dry ingredients together, then mix the wet ingredients, tip the wet into dry, give it a stir and drop onto the prepared sheet.

The number of cookies you get are entirely dependent upon the generosity of your cookie spoon. I used my 1.5 tsp sized spoon and could get about five dozen cookies.

The result are lovely chewy-crisp flat cookies, perfect with a cup of coffee.

Even more perfect after yet another run in with your nemesis.

Chocolate Chip Cookie No. 10
I'm Just Here for More Food by Alton Brown (opens into my Amazon.ca shop)

150g ap flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
150g sugar
145g brown sugar
225g salted butter, melted
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla
300g chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 180C/375F; line baking sheets with parchment.

Sift dry ingredients together.

Mix wet ingredients together; Tip into dry and stir until combined. Fold chocolate chips into batter.

Drop by spoonful onto prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2.5 cm between each blob. Bake for 6-9 minutes or until golden brown.


Chipmunk photo credit:
Douglas Haase, via Flickr.

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17 September 2009

Guest post by Mr. Bean: My Humman Cat is bizy

Hallo all my luvelly humman cats!

Did you miss me? I missed you! You all look so pretty!

Oh look there are new hummin cats here! Halloo to you too! Am I not handsum and cute?

You don't know hoo I am?

My name is Mr. Bean (my frendz call me Beanie). I used to live with my humman cat but I don't any more. I live with Gramma and Grampa. It's nicer here. They feed me chicken all the time and they cuddle me all the time and I get to help Grampa fix things. Last week I soopervized cuz he had to fix the water pipes. It's so hard making shure he does a good job. He doesn't listen to me at all. I keep rolling the pipes to make shure they roll good and he takes them away from me. But Gramma sometimes gives me something called "pork" and it's gud. She puts lots of nice things on the meat to make it taste yummy!

Bestest of all iz there's no Hagia and Zeus here and I gets all the chicken and cuddles. I'm NOT greedy. I deserve it all and more!

My humman cat (she will always bee my humman cat) told me that when she was on hollydaisies her friend told her that she liked it when I writed to all you nice peepuls. She aksed me if I could write today because she is so buzzy.

I don't no what she does all day. She was never there when I lived with her. So if I can't see her she can't be doing anything? Rite? She told me she has to be gone at sumthing called a Ree-treat. She said it was three daise of meetings for a course she's taking. She says she will be working very hard.

A ree-treat? It sounds like all she will be doing is geting lots and lots of treats! Like cakes and cookies and roast beef and chicken. Imajine three days of eating all them lovely fuds! That's not hard! That's FUN!!!!

I don't know if you know but Jasmine had a burthday a foo days ago. She always has yummy things with Gramma and Grampa and I hoped there would be some yummy things for me to eat too.

There wasn't. She asked for fish.

I don't like fish.

I like chicken. If she loved me she would have asked for chicken so I could have some. She can keep her yukky fish.

I didn't get any yummy food for supper. Lookit how mean she is!

I thought I might have some yummy cake and icing. I like icing. But it was chocklit.

I asked for some and she said "No Beanie. You can't have any. It's poysunus for pussycats."

But she's a humman cat! If I can't have any, she shouldn't have any.

It's not fair. I'm a good boy and I give nice hugs and I purr. I should have some cake. I looked sad at her with my speshul look that says I'm a good boy who has never eaten anything in my whole entire life. She's so mean. I didn't get anything good to eat. Only cat fud.

I wasn't allowed to have any of the burthday yummys she made for her frenz at wurk. I didn't even SEE the yummy things...except for theese pictures. They are Peanut Butter Chocolate Tartelettes. See? They have chocklit and I can't eet them too.

Why couldn't she make chicken tartelettes? Then I could have one. But I don't want the chicken with peanut butter. I don't think I would like that.

She got the recipe from that funny humin cat on the TV with the funny head fur called Alton Brown.

She gave me the recipe to give to you. She puts everything on a waying machine and cooks that way. I don't like waying machines. Whenever I get on one the the numburs say 21 or 22 sometimes 24 and then Gramma says I have to loose weight and stops feeding me chicken. That's not nice.

So here is the way Jasmine made those tartelettes. She said they were yummy and her wurk friends gobbled thems all ups.

I'm tired now and I'm going to have a sleep. I hope you all have a good day! If you like it when I rite to you please let my humman cat no and maybe she will let me rite to you again.

Alton Brown's Peanut Butter Pie
(makes 15 tartelettes)

180g chocolate cookie crumbs
1 Tbsp sugar
85g salted butter, melted
335g peanut butter (200 crunchy, 135 creamy)
55g soft salted butter
85g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
55g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
75ml heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Mix together the crumbs, sugar and melted butter. Press into tartlette tins and bake for about 5 minutes and let cool completely.

Cream together the butter and peanut butter, then sieve in the icing sugar and blend well. Mix in the vanilla extract. Divide peanut butter filling between the shells, smoothing the tops as carefuly as possible. Return to the oven and bake for about six minutes. Let cool.

Make a ganash by scalding the cream and then tipping the chocolate pieces into the hot liquid. Let sit for a couple of minutes. Stir carefully until the chocolate and cream combine. Spread the over the peanut butter filling and cool for at least an hour before serving.


What I'm reading:
Rex Stout's Fer de Lance (opens to my Amazon.ca associates store)

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