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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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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!
-2 slices of beer bread
-Carnation instant breakfast
-beef jerky (teriyaki flavour)
-a handful of almonds
Not necessarily in that order. NaBloPoMo combined with lack of time and inspiration makes for exciting blogging.
Today’s recipe is a previously mentioned gift from Farhan at happygrub. When she sent me a package of amazing goodies from Singapore, she wasn’t allowed to send the tin of cardamom milk that she had planned to include. However, it made the 10 000 km journey anyway, straight from the note Farhan tucked into the package into my idea bank. As soon as I read about this milk, I was intrigued, so I asked for more details. Farhan told me “masala tea is made by boiling cardamom pods which are crushed with the tea and milk, then strained before serving. The cardamom milk is just a shortcut and can be poured straight into the mug from the fridge. It’s nice. You should make a large batch and store it, have it with Indian tea and condensed milk. That’s how tea/coffee is drunk all over Asia. No one drank fresh milk in coffee or tea till Starbucks came.” (Hope it’s okay that I’m quoting you, Farhan!)
Today was particularly gloomy in Edmonton, without even a hint of sun from morning till night. Just varying shades of grey. Not to mention the abbreviated day–sunrise at 8 AM, sunset at 4:30… and it’s only getting shorter. If ever there was a day that needed spicing up, it was today. So I decided to make a batch of cardamom milk. I added it to Indian tea (straight out of my Singapore package, and brewed strong), and it was lovely. I made a big batch, just like Farhan recommended, so I’d have more on hand. When I was recipe planning, I thought a bit of sugar added to the milk would be a good idea, to help with preservation (does that make sense at all? I don’t know, but it tastes good!) The milk added to tea gave a hint of the exotic without being over-the-top complex, like chai is. It’s a perfect antidote to winter cold.
I didn’t have a recipe for this, so I winged it. Feel free to experiment with your own proportions. And let me know if you come up with something divine!
3 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
10-15 green cardamom pods*, slightly crushed
Combine all ingredients in a saucapan, and warm over medium-low heat until milk seems like it’s going to start boiling any second. Remove from heat and allow the cardamom to steep in the milk for 20 minutes. Strain cardamom seeds and pods out of milk and store your finished product in the fridge.
To use this milk with tea, I brewed strong tea and filled my cup 3/4 with tea, topping up the rest with cardamom milk. Next time I’ll try some condensed milk, although I found this mixture to be plenty sweet for me.
*if you’re looking for cardamom, try finding it in an Indian market, or the “ethnic” aisle of the supermarket (in Edmonton, Superstore has it cheap). Cardamom is WAY cheaper there than in specialty markets. By cheaper, I mean $5 compared to $13, at least in Edmonton.
Today I have a series of photos for you in the style of Betty Crocker, circa 1965 (at least I think that’s what they look like. Sunsets at 4:30 kind of interfere with natural light). The recipe isn’t circa 1965, though. With its chipotle barbecue sauce, it’s more of a 2003 kind of thing.
I decided today that Carlo should come home from work to a nice meal today, the kind of meal that he loves. Luckily its a new job and he’s on good behavior and won’t be online, so I can tell you without ruining the treat for him.This is a recipe we’ve had before, an introduction from our best food friends who made it for us back when we lived in Montreal (hi B + G!).
While I love pork and I love ribs, this is definitely a Carlo recipe. The ribs, first marinated in a dry rub, cook slowly at low heat until they’re tender, glistening in fat, and then they’re wrapped in a tomato-chipotle dress and put back into the oven until the sauce has sunk in. I like fat as much as anyone, but not as much as Carlo. It’s impossible to love it as much as Carlo does.
I’m roasting a couple sweet potatoes and some brussels sprouts to go on the side, and I think those two will help me feel that this meal is virtuous.
Carlo’s going to sit down to this meal and when he takes a bite, his forehead will furrow at a small point between his eyebrows, and his eyes will almost-but-not-quite close, and he’ll be very quiet for a second, and then his face will clear and he’ll look up from his ribs and say “wow.” And that will be the sign that I look for, that combination of actions meaning that he’s happy and completely content. And that’s why I’m making ribs.
Baked Pork Ribs with Chipotle Barbecue Sauce
Adapted from Bonnie Stern
4 strips of back ribs (I used about 2 lbs, but more would be better), shiny membrane on backside removed
2 Tbsp. smoked paprika (regular is fine too, but smoked adds some heat and interest)
2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. dry mustard
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
2-3 chipotle peppers
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Combine spice rub ingredients in a small bowl and rub them into ribs. Put the ribs into a shallow dish, cover, and set aside to marinate at room temperature for an hour.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a baking sheet/pan with foil. Place marinated ribs in a single layer on pan, cover with more foil, and cook for 1 1/2 hours.
While ribs are cooking, assemble your barbecue sauce by placing all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pureeing.
When 1 1/2 hours is up, remove ribs from oven, pour off the fat that has collected at the bottom of the pan, and then pour barbecue sauce over them, turning them over in the baking pan to ensure that they’re well-coated. Be generous with your sauce! Turn up the heat to 400 F and put ribs back in oven, uncovered, cooking for another 1/2 hour.
I’m nothing if not a project-lover. As if NaBloPomo weren’t enough, I decided at the beginning of November that this would be a great month to commit to working out. I’m trying to exercise every day this month. Before you start cautioning me and advising Carlo to have me committed, no, I’m not running every day, or even lifting weights. I’ve got a wonderful yoga class once a week, and I count a good walk as exercise, and I’ve got a free month-long membership at the Y, so I can branch out a bit. I’m being smart about it. Yesterday, my plan was to go down to the Y and try out their yoga class, see if it was as good as my regular one.
Only… I decided I needed to make fudge. This urge was so strong, I couldn’t possibly wait until after the course. The sugar, the milk, the cream, and the cocoa were screaming to be tossed into a pot right now, and who am I to refuse? So instead of yoga, I made fudge. I wish I could direct you to the site that inspired me to do this, but alas, I can’t find it and can’t remember it.
Once my ingredients were simmering, and I was practicing patience and wielding my thermometer, waiting for soft ball stage (234-240 F), I started thinking– is fudge really worth skipping yoga for? If this particular fudge wasn’t spectacular, I was obviously going to feel guilty all afternoon. In self-defense, my mind started reeling through possible fudge-fudging possibilities, searching for something to add value to my candy. And then I remembered a chocolate bar that intrigued me recently: the Chocophilia Fleur de Sel chocolate bar that a fantastic local chocolatier, Kerstin’s Chocolates, makes. I thought about my fudge, and thought about how fudge is always so rich, and (if you do a good job, anyway), so smooth. And I thought, yes, salt in my fudge is a great idea. It would cut the richness of the fudge a little, add a bit of crunch to contrast the smoothness, and as we all know, a pinch of salt in sweets always ups the flavour.
My experiment was a success, the salt giving the fudge just an extra pop of flavour and a welcome bit of texture to what turned out to be a lovely, smooth confection. Of course, not just any salt will work for this. You really need a large-crystalled, pure-flavoured salt, something that won’t disappear into the fudge but will maintain its own character even swathed in chocolate (try fleur de sel or Maldon salt). And of course, you don’t need a lot. A little salt goes a long way. I used a little fleur de sel mixed into my fudge, but I found it had the most impact sprinkled on top.
I enjoyed my fudge, and then I went for a walk. Cooking and exercise. My projects are fulfilled.
Fleur de Sel Fudge
This recipe is easiest with a candy thermometer, but if you’re comfortable without, look for soft ball stage by dropping fudge into a glass of cold water. If it forms a soft ball, you’re ready to go.
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. fleur de sel, divided
1. Grease an 8×8 square or 9-inch round cake pan with butter. Set aside.
2.Place milk, cream, sugar, and cocoa powder in a heavy-bottomed pot, and bring to a boil on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. When the mixture is boiling, turn it down to medium to prevent it from boiling over. Monitor with a candy thermometer, stirring occasionally if necessary.
3. When mixture reaches soft ball stage, or 234-240 F, remove from heat and beat vigorously until the mixture has lost its glossy appearance. Stir in butter and vanilla, then gently stir in 1/2 tsp. fleur de sel.
4. Pour fudge into prepared cake pan, and sprinkle remaining fleur de sel on top. Leave to cool before cutting into small squares.