Here we are at the end of another month and posting another Daring Bakers Challenge. It’s the first time that I haven’t procrastinated on doing the challenge, but I’d never let that stop me from posting late. It’s still February 28 for a couple more hours, though, so here you go!

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.
We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

We served this cake as dessert at a semi-impromptu dinner party we hosted last weekend (more on that tomorrow). While we’re on the theme of lateness, I will admit to you that we served this cake at midnight (gulp) because I didn’t start making it until after dinner. It did, however, come together very quickly, and it’s totally possible to throw this together at the last minute.

I used Green and Black’s Maya Gold chocolate for the cake, pairing it with a David Lebovitz-recipe coffee ice cream. The ice cream was fantastic (it’s Carlo’s favourite). The cake tasted like– well, it had 4 and a half chocolate bars in it. It tasted like chocolate. Carlo and I found the cake to be a bit too heavy and rich for our tastes, but then we’re not big cake fans, period. Our guests went back for seconds, though, so I think that means it was a success!

Thanks to Tony for taking the cake photo. Considering that it was taken at midnight (=NO LIGHT), I think it looks pretty great.

If you’d like the recipe, check out Wendy or Dharm’s blogs (links above).

I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t even had time to get my usual winter blahs. Maybe they’re still coming, but I don’t know. I don’t know much of anything anymore, not having any time to stop and think.

But there. Complaining over. After all, I’m at home today on a beautiful sunny afternoon, trying to enjoy sitting around. One of the side effects I’ve noticed of being super-busy is monkey mind. It’s a Buddhist term that I learned from reading Nathalie Goldberg, who used it to talk about that restlessness of mind that makes it difficult to slow down, concentrate, and write. Well, in case you can’t tell by the previous awkward sentences, I am having difficulty with that writing part. But beyond that I’ve gotten so used to running around that I’m having a hard time staying put at home and just appreciating my leisure time. I keep looking around for something to clean, something to panic about, something to put on my to-do list. When I find something, I do it halfway and then get distracted by another thing that I really should be doing instead.

I thought I’d pin myself down at home for a while by focusing on  monkey bread. This is a long overdue recipe preparation, as it’s from a blog I was paired with a long time ago for a taste & create event: The Vegetarian Hausfrau. She writes twice a week from Germany, and her site offers many wonderful, healthful recipes,  so of course when I was browsing through it, I got fixated on something unhealthy. Monkey bread has sweet dough, slathered in butter and heavily layered with sugar and cinnamon. Just what I need to calm (or, um, sedate) my monkey mind.

This is a lovely old-fashioned recipe that’s easy to assemble. The only time-consuming part is the rolling of little dough balls, which must then be dunked in melted butter then coated in a sugar/cinnamon mixture. It’s like mini cinnamon rolls when it’s baked. And it’s so good that my monkey hands couldn’t resist pulling pieces out to put in my monkey mouth before I even finished photographing. Take that, monkey mind! Thanks to The Vegetarian Hausfrau for a great recipe!

I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ve been wide awake since 4 this morning. I gave up on sleeping an hour ago and snapped my headphones on. Thought I’d share one band in particular with you: The Rural Alberta Advantage.

This one’s called Frank, AB:


And this one’s called Edmonton:


Leave it to a bunch of Albertans living in Toronto to make me wax post-nostalgic for our time in Montreal from where Hanne and I would think about all the good bits of our hometown. And sure, now we’re back and there are… good bits. North America’s northern-most city will have an unseasonable high of plus-11 C today. The past few days have been/will be a brief respite from the cold — these  few days count as a good bit of a long brutal Edmonton winter. A spring-tease before we’re plunged back  far under zero until April. Or will it be May? Winter here seems both colder and longer than I remembered…

Hi. Remember me? I’m priding myself on the fact that I now consider going missing for two weeks a real “blog hiatus.” Remember when we left for six months without giving you any notice? Yeah.

The biggest reason SiS is MIA is this: I have a new job! If you’re keeping track, this makes FOUR jobs for me. I swear, I’m only doing it to see how many I can juggle. For the first time in my life I’m going to be able to say that I’m busy. Though  I think that at some point I might have to start dropping commitments when I take on new ones.

My new job is at the Legislative Assembly Office of Alberta. I’m working for Hansard, which is the office that transcribes and edits everything that is said during House sessions and committee meetings. So far, a week and a bit into the training, I’ve learned that this involves the judicious use of a lot of commas. Other punctuation too, but especially commas. I am simmering in a stew of commas. You should see the size of our style manual. Good thing I love love love good punctuation. Not that you can always tell around this blog.

What does this mean for you? This blog is going in one of two ways. Maybe you will enjoy a punctuationally pristine  pavlova of perfect paragraphs. Or! I will, be venting; my unused-punctuation mark rebellion — in! all! entries, making an over-salted mess of: unecessary; incorrect; and irritating commas/ellipses-colons and semicolons… you get the idea.

Have I stretched the punctuation-as-cooking metaphor far enough? I do think it’s an accurate one. A good punctuation mark is like the perfect amount of salt. Too much, or in the wrong place, and it makes things unpleasant or even incomprehensible. Used well, both salt and commas just make everything make sense.

Okay. Since Carlo and I made some resolutions this year that didn’t have anything to do with “stop procrastinating” or “make sense on the blog,” I will not apologize for my hiatus or for the above lack of sensicality. I’m working 12-hour days, okay?  Finally getting to the point of this post, I present:

Supper in Stereo’s Food-olutions

-Memorize a new cocktail recipe that we love each month
-Cook a new fruit or vegetable every month (first up… rutabaga)
-Master pie pastry (I need to catch up with the rest of my expert family here)
-Learn to fry things
-Make soy milk
-Make ricotta
-Find some new things to do with lentils (hey, we like our bank balance going UP, not down)
-Cook more with our favourite girls (aged 6, 3, and 2)
-Try not to put bacon into EVERYTHING
-Grow tomatilloes
-TBA

 

I love a good resolution, but I hate to be tied down. The above is a start, but I hope this year will be FULL of great food discoveries and adventures. That’s if I can find time between jobs to get into the kitchen.

So… does anyone have any advice about what to do with rutabaga?

Now that the celebrations (and thus the expectations) are over, I can tell you that I love New Year’s. Sure, I understand that it’s a totally arbitrary celebration, that the difference between December 31 and January 1 is nonexistent, that all those ambitious resolutions we make are a little bit silly, and getting blotto just because one day turns into another one is stupid.

Minus the getting too drunk to think part (which is never a good idea), though, I don’t think the ritual is dumb at all. Okay, so it’s arbitrary and it fakes a pattern onto what is essentially randomness. But that’s our whole lives, isn’t it? I love how people  make order out of chaos, I love that people make the effort to mark the passage of time, I love the ambition and hope of resolutions. Even if they’re unattainable, they’re sweet, don’t you think? I (or you, or that armchair explorer who decides this is the year he’ll run a marathon) love believing that I can fix the things that are wrong, that I can wipe the slate, start something new, be better faster stronger.

So Carlo and I had a good New Year celebration, just the two of us at home, and I made him talk about 2008 and all the good things that happened/we did during the year, and we made some plans for the next year too (a lot of them blog- and food-related–hold on to your hats!). And I decided that the ritual needed some tradition, so we ate 12 grapes at midnight. Arbitrary choice, yes, but I made it mostly because I had a recipe I wanted to use. It’s all random anyway, so who cares if it’s not our tradition? The act matters less than its symbolism. Plus I really wanted to make these grapes.

Of course, because I am who I am, these were no ordinary grapes. This is a recipe from Michel Richard’s “Happy in the Kitchen,” a whimsical book with lovely ideas. Richard says  that when you offer these grapes to people, they invariably say “‘No thanks, I’m full already,’ no doubt thinking that you are presenting a dense chocolate bonbon. Then, when they bite in and get a juicy, tart squirt of flavour, they always reach for another.” Sounds perfect, right? This description is right on. The finished product looks like craggy little truffles, and the combination of the sweet juicy pop of grape and the smooth richness of dark chocolate is fantastic. It was a great first food for the new year, but don’t let the New Year stop you. Like any good resolution, these grapes shouldn’t be tied to a particular moment. They’re so easy to make and so charming, I think you should have them anytime at all! I know I’ll be eating more of them very, very soon.

Chocolate Grapes
Adapted from Michel Richard

1 pound cold firm seedless grapes, stemmed
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (I used 70%), melted and slightly cooled (Richard advises checking the temperature of the melted chocolate by touching it to your lip. If it feels the same temperature, it’s a good temperature to be used)
1 to 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Rinse and dry the grapes well, then place them in a large bowl. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Add the chocolate to the grapes a spoonful at a time, tossing the grapes to coat them evenly (I used my spatula both for tossing the grapes and for adding the chocolate).
3. The chocolate will begin to set and harden a bit. When this happens, use a small fine-mesh strainer to sprinkle cocoa powder over the chocolate-coated grapes. Gently toss/stir the grapes so that they’re evenly covered in cocoa powder (be sure to do this step after the chocolate has sufficiently cooled, or else the cocoa will just be absorbed into the chocolate instead of coating it).
4. When the grapes are all coated and separated, remove them to your waiting baking sheet and place them in the fridge to cool until the chocolate is set. When you want to eat the grapes, leave them out to sit for about 10 minutes or so before you eat them, or else the chocolate is too cold and doesn’t taste as good.
5. A final note–the bowl you used for your grapes will be coated with cooled chocolate. Don’t waste it! I scraped it out and saved it to melt for hot chocolate.

New and old, here’s what SiS listened to in 2008. List will be updated until… I lose interest.

WSiSL2in2008 playlist will show up on your right side after the jump.

PLAYLIST HERE

And whatever you’re listening to tonight, your playlist ought to end here:


Hi! How are you? I hope you’re already out at a New Year’s party, or that you’re settling in for a cozy evening in. Carlo and I, we’re staying in. About four hours ago, when we came home from a shopping trip, our door broke, and we were stuck OUTSIDE for an hour and a half (or longer, I’m not sure. My brain froze.), in -22 C (-32 C with the wind chill!) while we waited for a locksmith. We were so happy to get into the apartment, we decided we weren’t leaving it again tonight. So here we are. If you’d told me five years ago that I’d be content, even happy, washing dishes and rearranging my apartment on New Year’s Eve, I’d… well, I’d have done something… laughed, cried, I don’t know. But right now we’re happy, cozy, and warm. And we’ve got a bottle of bubbly chilling in the fridge for later, so don’t feel sorry for us.

If you’ve got some champagne/cava/prosecco/other sparkler laying around that you’re not sure what to do with (besides drinking it the way it is, which is of course nice too), my latest article in Vue Weekly has a couple ideas. Nothing ground-breaking, just some nice, simple cocktails.

Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had a wonderful year.

Here we are at the end of another month, which means another Daring Bakers challenge.

This month’s challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

Now, before I start showing you pictures or talking about what I did, let me tell you first that I have utterly failed this challenge. Really. Think of a way I could mess things up, and I did it. The planning: first fail. You see, I didn’t actually read the recipe until December 26, at which point I and everyone I know had been stuffed so full of sweets and rich food that I wondered whether I could really eat or find anyone else to consume SIX layers of richness ( mousse, praline,  ganache, dacquoise, creme brulee,  icing). This is not the fault of the recipe, which is decadent, and produces a gorgeous final product, as you’ll see on all the non-failure Daring Bakers’ blogs. If I’d started thinking about this earlier, I’d have had a wonderful dessert to wow the family at Christmas dinner. After Christmas, however, no one wanted to even hear me talk about six layers of chocolate. So… I cheated. I made only the dacquoise, mango mousse, and a chocolate sauce to pour over the top. I layered the mousse and the dacquoise in little cups, and that’s all. So I guess I made 3/6 elements, which technically isn’t failure. That’s fifty percent!

Next failure was my dacquoise. It has almond meal mixed with beaten egg whites and a touch of flour. This combination makes a thin, chewy biscuit. But, um… my thin chewy biscuit tastes a little bit like cumin. Oh dear. My almond flour, of which I had just exactly enough (this made me happy, as I didn’t want to trudge through the snow to the supermarket), was stored in a not-airtight container in a mess of a drawer that has a bit of everything in it, including, unfortunately, a very fragrant bag of cumin. So, housekeeping failure=cumin dacquoise.

Next, my mango mousse. I was drawn to this alternative offering in the recipe because I thought it would be a good alternative to chocolate. Problem is, I didn’t have nice mango, so I substituted some canned mango in syrup that was nearly completely flavourless. This wasn’t exactly my fault, as I just couldn’t find anything else that would do. So my mango mousse turned out super sweet with very little mango flavour (or colour… I used some food colouring, but that didn’t really help either). I added a bit of lime juice to the mousse to up the tang, which made it turn out… well, honestly, it was disgusting. Carlo took one bite and said “I can’t eat this.” And fortunately for him, I agreed.

My chocolate sauce, on the other hand, was fine. I used the chocolate icing recipe provided and just didn’t include the gelatin. It was, as you can expect, rich and unctuous, the way chocolate sauce should be.

That’s my not-a-yule-log epic. Failure in planning, preparation, storage, and commitment. Final product: inedible. I highly recommend you check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll if you want to see what the challenge was supposed to be. Me, I’m going to hide my head in shame and plan to do better next time. Please check the above links if you’d like the recipe.

One of my talents (if you can call it that) is my ability to synthesize. I notice things here and there, collect ideas all over the place, and then they marinate in my brain until two or three things connect and suddenly I have a new idea, argument, thought, or, in the case of the kitchen, recipe. Now, you can call this stealing, if you like. I prefer to think of it as borrowing, or on those days where I’m really full of myself, a really derivative form of genius. Okay, I’ll be the first to admit it, I’m not the most original thinker in the world.

Anyway. That idea-marinating is the source of these crispy, buttery, not-too-sweet, slightly herbal little cookies. I recently spotted a recipe for rosemary cookies at ellenfork. This idea popped into my mind when I was contemplating our indoor rosemary bush, which I’m trying to take advantage of now, before it dies (every year we try to winter our rosemary indoors, and every year it makes it to January before dying. I’m hoping for a change this year, but I’m not too hopeful). So, that’s the first bit.

As I contemplated rosemary cookies, I remembered a Laurie Colwin recipe for rosemary toasted walnuts that I made  (and Carlo loved) last year. When I was thinking about those walnuts, I remembered that Tim at Lottie + Doof recently posted a rosemary cashew recipe. Thinking about Tim reminded me of another recipe he posted recently, for walnut sandwich cookies. Thus: rosemary–>cookies–>nuts–>walnut cookies–>rosemary walnut cookies. A perfect recipe for cookies that, though they might be a bit derivative, are super- pleasant. Call me a genius, or call me a slightly boring thief. It’s up to you. Either way, I do suggest you try these. They’d make a lovely accompaniment to tea, or a nice simple addition to a holiday cookie platter.

Rosemary Walnut Butter Cookies
Adapted from “The Sweet Life” by Kate Zuckerman

1 cup walnuts
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (to taste, or use 1 tsp. dried, crushed rosemary)
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, at room temperature 

1. Combine the walnuts, rosemary, and 1 tablespoon of flour in the bowl of a food processor, and grind until the walnuts are a fine powder.
2. Combine the rest of the flour (2 1/2 cups minus 1 Tbsp), the salt, and the walnut powder in a small bowl. Set the bowl aside.
3. Cream the butter at medium speed with a paddle attachment in the bowl of a stand mixer. You can do this by hand as well, if you use some elbow grease.  Add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. Next, beat in the egg, mixing until the batter is smooth.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, folding them together with a spatula. Mix slowly in the stand mixer or stir with a wooden spoon  until ingredients are combined. 
5. Scrape cookie dough into a piece of plastic wrap, wrapping it tightly and then pressing it into a 1-inch-thich rectangle. Refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
6. When you’re ready to bake, line baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350 F. Slice the chilled logs of dough into 1/8-1/4 inch thick squares and arrange them about a half inch apart on cookie sheets. 
7. Bake until the cookies smell toasty and they’re golden on the bottom, about 12 to 15 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on the sheets. These cookies store well in an airtight container, and I have a feeling they’d freeze beautifully too.

I’ve been baking out of control the last few days–clearly I am on holiday, as my kitchen fills up with floury, sugary concoctions. But Christmas dinner is more than just bread and cookies, as much as I’d like to pretend otherwise. I took a break from the flour yesterday to throw together this charming salad.

This salad looks like any other– pretty because of its colourful ingredients, but nothing out of the ordinary. The leaves are bright green, the mandarins glow orange, the red onion offers some purple, the goat cheese matte white, and the whole thing glistens thanks to the dressing. A salad is always welcome on my dinner plate, but especially at a holiday meal, where things tend to get a bit heavy. This one is secretly special, though, thanks to its fantastic dressing, scented with Earl Grey tea to give a hint of bergamot and herbs. Honestly, it looks like any other salad, but it’s not. In fact, after I photographed it, I wolfed it down in the space of a minute and had to go back for another, bigger, bowl immediately. It’s that good. As far as the ingredients go, I used boxed mixed greens, some thinly-sliced red onion , nodded to the citrus notes of the bergamot with supremed fresh mandarins (which offered a welcome mellow sweetness), and finished the whole thing off with some salty goat’s milk feta (I think that blue cheese would also be fantastic with the bergamot dressing).

It’s a great holiday meal salad, something pretty but familiar, with just enough added “special” to make it right at home among all those carefully-laboured-over dishes you’re serving.

BERGAMOT DRESSING
Adapted from an ATCO “Blue Flame Kitchen” holiday cookbook. This recipe makes about 1 cup of dressing, which should last 4-5 days in the fridge.

1/3 cup white wine vinegar
2 Earl Grey tea bags
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried Herbes de Provence, crushed
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
a few grinds of pepper
2/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil

1. Bring vinegar to a boil over low heat. Remove the vinegar from the heat as soon as it begins to boil and pour it over the tea bags in a small  bowl. Cover bowl and allow tea to steep for 30 minutes. Remove the tea bags, squeezing them a little to get the last drops of vinegar out of them. Discard tea bags. (Just a thought: at this point, the vinegar could be bottled in a pretty glass bottle and given as a gift. It’s pretty fancy!)
2. For dressing, combine vinegar, mustard, Herbes de Provence, sugar, salt, and some generous grinds of pepper in a small bowl. Whisk them all together.
3. Add oil in a slow drizzle, whisking constantly to emulsify.
4. To serve, toss with mixed greens and your choice of salad ingredients (see above for some ideas).

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