I’m sure you’ve noticed that Christmas is coming– and fast. I’m also sure that you’re more organized than I am. You probably purchased all your Christmas gifts months ao, and you’ve got them stored in a box in the closet, wrapped and tagged and provided with thoughtfully written Christmas cards, full of love and good cheer. Me… well, I’ve been waiting. Now, less than two weeks from the day, I’m ready to start preparing. Thank goodness for internet shopping (to those of you who will be receiving gifts, please don’t take this as a sign that we don’t care. We very thoughtfully clicked on the “add to cart” button).

Now, though, the best part of preparation is upon us–the recipe reading, and the food choices, and the cooking, and the baking.  I hope you’re having a wonderful time thinking about Christmas eating, whether you’re planning to make what you always make or whether you’re branching out and trying new treats.

If you’re thinking of trying something new, the Supper in Stereo test kitchen has something wonderful to offer. I think this is a perfect dessert. First, it’s perfectly pretty and Christmassy, with the rich, cream-white of the meringue complemented by the regal magenta of the cranberry curd. Second, it’s a medley of textures. The meringue is crisp on the outiside, velvety smooth and slightly chewy in its middle; the cranberry curd accents the slight chewiness of perfectly baked meringue with smooth, chilly, perfection. And that’s before your tongue even starts registering flavour: you’ll taste sweetness with a hint of vanilla before the astringent, rich curd hits your tongue to offset the sugar rush. These disappear quickly, so light that you register only delicious without noticing that you’re already full from dinner.

I made a variety of meringue shapes for this– it worked well in a meringue pie crust, which I created by spreading a smooth layer of meringue into a greased and lightly floured pie tin. I was worried about the runniness of the curd for serving, so I actually popped the meringue pie, complete with curd, into the oven at 350 F for 10 minutes, to set the curd a little more. That worked great, and though the pie collapsed into shards a little when I cut into it, it held its shape well, and made for easy serving.

I also made mini-pavs with a top that popped off easily after cooking, so that I could hide a velvety surprise of curd in the meringue’s bellies. This was my favourite serving technique, pretty and individually sized, so you could even set out a bunch of these on a platter. They’d still need napkins, though, as they’re two or three bite treats. To make a top that comes off easily, I made a smooth round of meringue and than dollopped an extra pyramid of meringue on top. When I baked them, the meringues split slightly at the edges of the top dollop, which then pulled of really easily, leaving a curd-holding crater in the middle. Put some curd in, put the top back on, and you’re ready to go!

You could also just make smooth circles of meringue, making the edges slightly higher than the middle so they can hold a tablespoon or so of curd, like pretty costume jewellery. It’s up to you.

Cranberry Curd
I was pleased to find this recipe in Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess,” as when I had the original idea for cranberry curd, I thought I’d have to make my own recipe. I followed Nigella’s recipe exactly, and it turned out perfectly. I’m providing volume conversions, but can’t guarantee them as I followed the weight measures provided in the cookbook. The only other change I made was to scale the recipe for the size of the bag of cranberries I bought, which was 350 grams, unlike the 500 called for in the book.

350 grams cranberries, fresh or frozen (this is the size of a package of cranberries in my supermarket–probably about 3 cups)
140 mL water (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon)
70 grams unsalted butter (5 tablespoons)
350 grams granulated sugar (1 1/3 cups)
4 large eggs
a food mill or, if you’re me, a fine-mesh strainer

1. Combine the cranberries and water in a saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat until the cranberries split open.
2. Push the cranberries through a fine-mesh strainer with the back of a wooden spoon, or if you’re lucky and have a food mill, pass them through that. Return the seedless puree to the saucepan.
3. Add the sugar and the butter, melting them into the puree at low heat.
4. Next, add the eggs, which you have beaten in a separate bowl. Make sure the sugared puree isn’t too hot, so you don’t cook the eggs on contact (it’s a good idea to remove the cranberries from the heat to cool slightly while you beat the eggs).
5. Cook slowly over low heat, stirring constantly. Do not allow the mixture to heat up too quickly, and never allow it to boil, or your eggs will curdle. Your curd is ready when it coats the back of a spoon. Cool slightly before transferring to jars to keep in the fridge. This recipe makes about 3 cups of curd.

Meringue for Pie Crust or Mini-Pavlovas
This is another Nigella Lawson recipe, for which I changed temperature and time settings slightly. My meringues didn’t come out perfectly white, so if you’re after that, go ahead and lower the temperature and lengthen the time in the oven (eg. 1 hour at 225 F, followed by several hours drying time). Other than those time considerations, this recipe is fantastic. The vinegar really makes a difference for texture, as does the cornstarch. I used the weight measurements, so I can vouch for those, but like above, I’m also providing volume conversions. This recipe made one pie crust and 18 good-sized (about 3 inches wide) meringues.

8 large egg whites
pinch of salt
500 grams granulated sugar (3 cups)
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1 scant teaspoon vanilla extract (optional– omit if you want snow-white meringues)
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar (white vinegar also works)

1.Preheat the oven to between 250-275 F. My oven runs a bit cold, so I went with 275. Remember you can go cooler and extend the cooking time if you wish. Prepare a pie pan by greasing and lightly flouring it if you are making a meringue pie crust. Line baking sheets with parchment paper for the mini-pavs.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with a hand-held mixer) whisk the egg whites until they hold peaks, but aren’t stiff.
3. Add the sugar by spoonfuls while you continue to beat. When the sugar is added, continue beating until the meringue is stiff, glossy. A good test is that a bit of meringue pressed between your fingers no longer feels grainy from the sugar.
4. Dust with cornstarch, and sprinkle the vanilla and vinegar over the meringue. Gently fold to combine.
5. For pie crust, gently spread a thin layer of meringue into the pan, building it up along the edges, taking care not to overlap the edges of the pan (remember it will puff slightly). For the meringues, use a spoon to smooth out 3-inch circles on the parchment paper.  If you’d like a cap that pulls off easily, dollop a bit of meringue on top of your smooth circles. The meringue should crack at the seams between the round bottom and pyramid top.
6. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, then turn off heat, stick a wooden spoon in the oven door to hold it slightly ajar, and allow meringues to “dry” in the oven for several hours or even overnight.

TO ASSEMBLE CRANBERRY CURD PAVLOVAS

-to make a cranberry-meringue tart, spread curd about a centimetre deep in prepared meringue pie shell. Bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes to set the curd a bit more
-for capped meringues, gently pull or cut off the top of your meringues, dollop a few tablespoons of curd inside the belly of the meringue, and replace the cap
– for smoother buttons of meringue, spread a layer of curd over the top of the meringue, and top with a swirl of whipped cream, if desired

Yes, it’s true. Things have been pom-centric around here lately. But I promised in my last post that I’d tell you the method I used for juicing a pomegranate. Here it is. I borrowed the basic idea from All The Marmalade, who has a great explanation and grenadine method.

Open a pomegranate and release the arils, in whatever is your favourite way (here’s ours). Once the arils are released, you need to crush them up with some sugar to macerate (think of what happens when you toss frozen berries with a bit of sugar– all that juice? Same idea.). My first attempt at this was a disaster: red hands, shredded saran wrap, and a stained potato masher was all that I got.

Then I had an inspiration– my potato ricer! It has holes larger than the seeds, so none could escape, and I could control the pressure so as not to crush the seeds with the juice and make it bitter*.

I scooped the seeds into the ricer, squeezed them gently over a bowl, then dumped the whole, crushed arils in with the released juice. A stay overnight in the fridge, and everything was ready to go.

One thing– if you’re making grenadine from this, you will still need to add more sugar to the reduced juice, but not as much as if you were starting with bottled pomegranate juice– the sugar maceration ensures that.

Technique and recipe:

To Juice a Pomegranate
I haven’t tried it yet, but I have a feeling this potato ricer technique would still work well without the sugar if you’re just going for the juice and don’t want any sweetness. Just skip the sugar/overnight maceration step. It’s a good alternative if you don’t have a juicer and don’t want any of the bitterness of the seeds in your juice.

1. Open a pomegranate and release the arils any way you find convenient.
2. Toss the arils with half their volume of granulated sugar (eg. 1 cup pomegranate=1/2 cup sugar)
3. Place the pomegranate/sugar mixture in a potato ricer and squeeze gently over a bowl to crush the arils and release some juice.
4. Toss the crushed arils in the juice, cover the bowl with cling wrap, and leave bowl in fridge to macerate overnight.
5. The next day, remove the bowl from the fridge and strain the mixture into a new bowl, crushing the arils gently to be sure you’re getting the most possible juice. Go ahead and use a potato ricer again if you want.

To make grenadine from your fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice

1. Measure the volume of juice that you’ve obtained.
2. Place the juice in a small saucepan and bring to a bare simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer until reduced by half.
3. Taste the syrup (cool it on a spoon first) for sweetness and check consistency. Add sugar if desired (I added approximately another 1/4 of the original volume). Bring back to a boil.
4. When the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and cool. Add a dash of vodka for preservation purposes and store in the fridge or freezer.

*On a side note, I got a great comment today on our grenadine post. Chelsey said that she’s made grenadine from fresh pomegranate before, and she juiced it by whirling the arils quickly through a food processor, another technique I’ve seen online (which has the benefit of being nice and simple. I must try this.) She said she liked how she got some seed flavour in the juice that way, but she noticed a bit of a similar “musty” flavour in her finished grenadine. So my conclusion is this: the reason the fresh pom grenadine I made tasted so much better to me is that it had NO seed in it. I assume that industrially-produced pomegranate juice is crushed to smithereens, and a huge amount of the seed goes into the juice, thus imparting that flavour that we both noticed! Something to think about.

I promised a grenadine recipe to my food writing class almost a month ago. Here it is, finally. When I first made the promise, I’d never made grenadine before, so I was far from an expert. When I set out to get the formula, I immediately turned a simple recipe into a complex test of techniques and flavours. That’s the history of the Great Grenadine Experiment. The result was five different grenadines, all of which are sitting in my freezer (GGE tip#1- the syrup has a high sugar content, and that along with a dash of vodka for preservation means that it won’t freeze solid in the freezer. It’ll last forever stored this way).

When I started reading about grenadine, I found that most of the syrups you buy in the store are unlikely to contain any pomegranate at all. They’re all corn syrup, artificial flavouring and red dye. A traditional grenadine is made from pomegranate (grenade is pomegranate in French–isn’t that a beautiful word? Then again, so is pomegranate) juice that is combined with sugar to make a thick syrup. I also found a few sources that mentioned cherry juice and orangeflower water as other possible ingredients. I thought I’d play with the cherry flavour, but I didn’t try any grenadine with orangeflower water. Next time. Or if someone gives it a shot (just a dash per 1 cup should do… it’s strong stuff), please  let me know what you think!

So sugar and juice– that’s all right, easy to handle. Next step–technique. I found two basic techniques online, one “cold” and one “cooked.” So I tried them both. And I also discovered that some people juice their own pomegranate while others used prebottled juices. So I tried that too. All those techniques equalled the following combinations: pom/cherry juice cooked, pom/cherry juice cold, pom juice cooked, pom juice cold, and finally, fresh pom juice (which I cooked, as I didn’t have enough juice to try the cold… I know, serious scientific method failure).

GREAT GRENADINE EXPERIMENT

Hypothesis: I can make grenadine at home.

Method: The following two recipes, which can easily be doubled or tripled.

Cooked Grenadine

1 cup pomegranate juice (or pomegranate-cherry blend)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vodka (optional)

Bring the juice to a simmer over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Simmer it until it is reduced by half, then mix in the sugar, continuing to cook until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, cool, add vodka, then refrigerate or freeze.

Cold-Method Grenadine

1 cup pomegranate juice (or pom-cherry blend)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vodka (optional)

Combine juice and sugar in a lidded jar, and shake until sugar is dissolved. Let the jar sit for a while, then shake again. Allow to sit once more, then shake again to finish. Honestly, all this shaking may not be necessary. I just really wanted to make sure the syrup was all un-sugar-crystallized. When the sugar is fully dissolved, add a dash of vodka, then refrigerate or freeze.

Conclusions:

Pomegranate/ Cherry juice cooked: This is a dark syrup with a definite cherry flavour. Though the cherry juice was organic with no preservatives, Carlo felt that this had a “preserved” flavour that he didn’t find appealing. I liked the cherry flavour all right, but I felt that the cooked syrup tasted, for lack of a better word, a little musty.

Pomegranate/Cherry juice cold-method: This syrup was thinner and brighter flavoured, but tasted too much of cherries for me. The shaking left a bit of froth at the top of the juice, and the sugar concentration is obviously lower, as the syrup turns to slush in the freezer. I found I needed more of it to add enough flavour to the drink, but I much preferred its flavour to the cooked syrup.

Sub-Conclusion: Pomegranate/Cherry might be okay, but the proportions need to be adjusted so that it’s somewhere more like 3/4 pomegranate and 1/4 cherry juice.

Bottled Pomegranate Juice Cooked: This tastes dark and just slightly tangy. In my taste-testing, however, I found it very unpleasant. Like the cooked pom/cherry, it was musty tasting. It was actually my least favourite.

Bottled Pomegranate Juice Cold-Method: Like the cherry/pom combo, this was bright-tasting, but the lack of cherry made it a little heavier. I’m starting to think that maybe my pomegranate juice was at fault. (GGE hint #2- try a different bottled juice than President’s Choice brand)

FRESH pomegranate, juiced and Cooked: The most beautiful colour of the five, this syrup is candy-pink, thick and smooth, but it has the brighter, sunnier taste of the cold-method syrups. I’m sorry, dear readers, because this is obviously also the most labour-intensive syrup. But it really is the best. And I’ll tell you how I juiced the pomegranate in a separate post. It’s not really THAT hard to do.

FINAL CONCLUSION: Fresh pomegranate juice is the best! What do you think? Have you made grenadine before? What technique did you use?

Just for colour reference, here’s that picture from the top of the post again. It’s just grenadine in soda water. From left to right, the syrups are: cooked pom/cherry, cold pom/cherry, cooked fresh pom, cooked pom, and cold pom.

In which I meet someone who knows a lot, learn interesting things, and then do the Scotch connoisseur’s equivalent of a face-plant. Not literally. Though given the Scotch drinking part, that might also have been a possibility.

A couple weeks ago I posted about tasting a $660 bottle of Scotch with Peter Gordon, the chairman of the company that makes Glenfiddich (William Grant & Sons). That interview was one of the highlights of my November. The article I wrote about the experience of tasting Scotch with an expert just came out and I’m pretty proud of it. If you want to know what I learned about Scotch, or how I totally embarrassed myself at the end of what was mostly a great interview, you can check it out here.

When I was a little girl, my best friend always came to school with fancy lunches full of things that were unheard of in my household:  fruit roll-ups, sliced apples wrapped in saran wrap to keep them from browning, white bread. I was, I admit, jealous. From the vantage point of a 10-year-old raised on home-made whole wheat bread, apples peeled and browning in tupperware, and (okay, so I never minded the cookies) chocolate cookies made from scratch, my friend’s lunch was already pretty enviable. Then one day she showed up with a pomegranate.

I may have been bragging a little before (come on, as if homemade whole wheat bread did me any long-term damage), but I can tell you this humbly– I had never in my life seen nor heard of a pomegranate. Honestly, I don’t even know where her mom found it back then. I remember her nonchalantly pulling it apart, popping those brilliant red seeds in her mouth as if they were nothing, as if they were something she had every day, like ramen noodles or teddy grahams. She let me taste it, and I remember I was fascinated by the burst of juice as I bit into the seeds (now I know they’re called arils) and flummoxed by the little seed in the middle, which I spit out and dropped on the playground.

After that time, I never saw another pomegranate for years. Now, of course, pomegranate is everywhere. Those juicy little rubies jazz up every dish imaginable, and bottles of pom lurk in fridges across North America. But isn’t there still something impossibly exotic about a pomegranate?

Well, impossible, maybe. When I started buying pomegranates and trying to eat them with the nochalance of my old friend, I discovered one thing I hadn’t realized back then. That beautiful red? It’s really red, and it gets EVERYWHERE if you don’t know how to get into the fruit to release those little arils. Luckily, I’ve discovered a fool-proof (or at least juice-everywhere-proof) way to get into a pomegranate.


First, I cut a little cap off the top, like cutting a cap off a pumpkin. I do this at a shallow depth, to avoid cutting into the arils (see above). Once the top is off, I cut the pomegranate into quarters (like the photo at the top of this post), just scoring the skin (with the cap off, you’ll get an idea of the depth you need to cut so that you don’t cut into the arils). I pull the quarters apart, then submerge them in a bowl of water, gently pulling the little seeds away from the membrane. Actually, I’m not very gentle about it, to be honest, but with the pom underwater, there’s no danger of getting squirted with juice anyway. The arils will separate and fall to the bottom of the bowl, while the papery membrane will float to the top. When your pomegranate quarters are all emptied of seeds, just skim the floating membrane bits off the surface of the water, then drain the arils in a strainer.

Once you have the arils separated, you can store them in a bowl in the fridge, or do something crazy with them, like juice them to make homemade grenadine. Oh yes, that post is coming soon.

So much for finishing NaBloPoMo strong. Last night, I started feeling an ache in my chest, and I woke up this morning with a full-blown, throat-searing, nose-plugging cold. Okay, so it’s just a cold. But I feel sorry for myself, unhappy, and weak. But with this post, we will have completed a post a day for a month! So at least there’s that.

My other comfort today has been Greek Mountain Tea, a recent purchase from the Greek Market. What a great discovery that place has been!

The Mountain Tea was dried but still green in its cellophane bag, and only $2.25. After sampling it today, I’m so glad I took it home with me. I thought I’d brew some up today because I read that it’s considered a cure-all in Greece, and Wikipedia claims that it “is traditionally used to fight the common cold, flu and allergies. Other traditional uses are for soothing respiratory problems, aiding digestion, strengthening the immune system, and calming mild anxiety. It is also used to relieve sinus congestion.”

Sounds like just what I need! I brewed it up and added a bit of honey as a sweetener. I was please to discover that the tea isn’t just healthy, but pleasant. It has a a lemony, thymey, chamomile-like aroma, and a mild flavour.

GREEK MOUNTAIN TEA

-a handful of Mountain tea, both leave and stems (1 to 2 tablespoons)
-one cup of boiling water
-honey to taste, if desired

Pour water over tea and allow to steep for about 10 minutes. The tea will have a light yellow/tan colour. I used my french press for this, because the herbs were buoyant and popped up above the level of the water. The french press let me keep them down.

This month, the Daring Bakers took on a super-caramel cake, a recipe from Shuna Fish Lydon.that was originally published on Bay Area Bites.

I say super-caramel, because it really was. Caramel cake, caramel icing, and in my case, caramel drizzle. This cake was moist, and I think probably in my case, too dense. I’m not a cake-lover or a cake baker, and it seems that more often than not, my cakes are heavy. Why? I don’t know. I guess because I don’t adore cakes, I’m not putting the love into them that they deserve. They fall flat out of resentment. I did, however, adore the icing. With browned butter and dark caramel and a pinch of salt, the icing was rich, sweet and delicious. If it weren’t totally inappropriate, I could eat this icing straight out of a bowl. Of course, then I’d probably end up very, very sick.

This wasn’t my first time making caramel, so I didn’t have any problems with it, though I’ve ruined many a caramel to get to this point. What I love most about making it is the suspense– standing over the pot watching the sugar syrup boil in thick bubbles that look like alien eyeballs, and worrying as it gets darker and darker that I’ll wait too long, just a second too long, and I’ll end up with burnt muck instead of dark, rich, bittersweet syrup. I feel so accomplished when I don’t ruin it. I love any opportunity to make a caramel!

So, that’s my caramel cake report. The cake itself was nice but I probably won’t make it again. The icing… that I can’t wait to recreate. Maybe on top of carrot cake next time!

Thanks to Dolores at Chronicles of Culinary Curiousity and her co-hosts Alex of Blondie and Brownie,  Jenny of Foray into Food and gluten-free adapter Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go for a fun caramel-laden challenge. For the recipe, please see the above Bay Area Bites link. And if you want more caramel cake (I know you do!), check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll!

After coming home from the gym (Tip: procrastinating by doing virtuous things makes you feel better), I broke out the leftovers. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce. Now, I’m not one for gussying up turkey leftovers. I like my leftovers to be a continuation of the feast, a little echo of the day before. So I piled a mound of stuffing, topped it with turkey, then microwaved. I finished it with a dollop of cranberry.

Almost as good as yesterday! The secret to my mom’s stuffing is home-made whole-wheat bread. Seriously. Real bread makes all the difference, but I think part of the secret is the whole wheat, which adds some extra depth and nuttiness to the flavour. I suppose this secret is a day late. Ah well. Keep it in mind for next stuffing-required celebration.

I know the photo’s not beautiful, but hey. Neither was the real thing. Didn’t make it any less delicious.

Today is not an exciting day, but it is a big one. I’ve got 50 papers to grade (hooray for my MA, side projects, and profs desperate for grading help), a birthday cake to bake (Happy Birthday, Steven!), and of course, blogging to do. We’re almost through NaBloPoMo!

I thought I’d start with breakfast today (start blogging, not start eating. I eat breakfast every morning. I am obsessed with food after all, and NEVER miss a reason to eat). Please excuse the glamour photo. Given that I started my day with papers, I thought it would be appropriate to photograph my eggs with  one of those essays. But then I realized that I didn’t want you to be able to read any students’ work, so I soft-focussed it. Of course, these eggs deserve a glamour shot. That’s home-smoked salmon perched on top of soft, silky, creamy, slow-cooked scrambled eggs. Isn’t that salmon a beautiful colour? My dad just bought a smoker, so that salmon was part of Thanksgiving dinner last night. Thank goodness there were leftovers. We smuggled home two big chunks. It’s salty and smoky and sweet, and I can’t wait to go over my my parents’ again. I was thinking maybe smoked tofu would be a worthy smoker experiment. What do you think? Anything else I NEED to try?

As far as the eggs go, I cooked them over low heat for about 10 minutes. As I was beating them with a fork, I thought “you know, this breakfast is going to be pretty virtuous.” So I added a couple tablespoons of cream. And there you go! Breakfast to go with “”Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens, which is a good example of a Bildungsroman. Bildungsroman is defined as….”

I’m having Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house tonight.  I’m lucky to celebrate twice, thanks to living in Canada but being a child of American parents.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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