Sunday, September 18, 2011

Behind the Times

I like to believe that I'm not so easily susceptible to fads; I'm definitely not the first one to jump on every trend bandwagon that comes along, preferring to stick to classics (and this is true for many things - fashion, books, food!). Of course, this also means that when a "fad" is clearly not going away anytime soon and I eventually succumb, I'm left wondering why on earth I held back for so long on something that is so awesome. This happened with Harry Potter, leggings (don't laugh) to name a few....and no-knead bread. 

The first no-knead recipe was published by the New York times in 2006. Yea, It's been FIVE years. When it came out, I was totally of the "why wouldn't I just knead my bread? I LIKE kneading bread" argument so didn't bother trying out the recipe. Also I find stirring a stiff batter way more difficult than kneading dough so I didn't really see how this would be easier. I was also turned off by the VERY long rising time since I'm not really a "plan my recipes ahead" kind of girl. But parts of the recipe did appeal to me - the long rising time would develop more flavour and complexity in the bread and also require less yeast, and the very moist dough baked in a dutch oven produces a "steaming" effect which leads to light, holey bread with a crackly crust. So I've used recipes in the past the borrows from these techniques but have never actually tried the REAL no-knead recipe.  

Then last weekend I knew I wanted to bake some bread on Sunday and had some time to plan in advance. And to be honest, now that I make bread and pizza that much more often sometimes all that kneading does get a bit tiring. So I decided to finally try it out....and? I really seriously cannot believe I have waited THIS long to make no-knead bread. It actually makes me sad. SO easy and SO good! The dough is actually so wet that you have none of the problems with stirring it, and the flavour and texture really IS amazing. So light and fluffy on the inside with a super crackly crust. Yum. Adam tried a slice and immediately started chanting "MORE BREAD, MORE BREAD" which shows just how good this is since he is not the carb-obsessed bread lover that I am. So anyway. Please, if you haven't made it yet try it. It is definitely worth the time and planning ahead!

No-Knead Bread
Adapted from the New York Times
Total time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours for rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
½ tsp instant yeast
1½ tsp salt

1¾ cups water (I'm going to note here that the original recipe calls for 1 5/8 of a cup which is a very specific amount. I ended up using a little more so I'm just rounding to 3/4 here...just use as much water as you need to get the consistency as described below)
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed (I used cornmeal)

1. In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt. Add water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. It shouldn't be batter-like but you definitely shouldn't be able to knead it at all with your hands. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and let dough rest at least 12-18 hours at warm room temperature. When dough is ready, the surface should be dotted with bubbles. If you don't want to bake the bread for a few more days, keep it in the fridge and let it get back to room temperature for a couple hours before you continue to Step 2.

2. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover the ball loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your work surface or fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball (I used more flour than I thought I would in this step; this dough is REALLY sticky). Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) or a silicone baking sheet with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on the towel and dust it with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let it rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Farenheit, 232 degrees Celsius. Put a 6 to 8 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic - I used my dutch oven) in the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from oven. Slide your hand under the towel or silicone baking sheet and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. I probably won't look very nice or much like a loaf of anything but don't worry too much about that. Shake the pot a couple times if the dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake for 30 minutes, then for another 15 to 30 minutes with the lid off until your loaf is browned and delicious looking! Cool on a rack and try to let it rest for about 20 minutes before you cut it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cinnamon Rolls!

Anyone that follows the Pioneer Woman knows her cinnamon rolls are kind of a big deal. She talks about them alot. People seem to like them. And most importantly, they look delicious. Tons of butter and sugar and cinnamon...all good things. Now I have to admit, I didn't use quite as much butter or sugar. I am not by any means the type of person that counts calories or uses non-fat ANYTHING but there is a LOT of both in the recipe and it scared me a little. And more importantly, I didn't really believe I needed it to make delicious rolls. And I was right! These still contain plenty of fat and sugar and are defintely not good for you. I also halved the recipe but it still makes a lot of cinnamon rolls. I made these for Mother's day and still have a bunch saved in the freezer. Yay!

Cinnamon Rolls
adapted from The Pioneer Woman

2 cups milk (I used 2%)
½ cup canola oil
½ cup sugar
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast
4 cups (1 cup separated) all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tbsp salt

½ softened butter
¼ cup sugar
genereous sprinkling of cinnamon

½ bag icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla or maple syrup (I used vanilla but will try maple next time)
¼ cup milk
⅛ cup melted butter
⅛ cup brewed coffee (I used instant)
dash of salt

1. Mix the milk, vegetable oil and sugar in a pan. Heat until the mixture is just about to boil, turn off heat and leave to cool 45 minutes to 1 hour. I'm not going to lie, I cheated a bit here...I think I let it cool for about 20 minutes and stuck it in the fridge for about another 5....basically let it cool until it's warm to the touch but NOT hot anymore or it will kill the yeast! Sprinkle in the yeast and let sit for a few minutes, until it starts to bubble. Add 3 cups of all-purpose flour and 1 cup of whole wheat flour. Stir mixture together. Cover and let rise for at least an hour in a warm place.

2. Once the dough is doubled, add 1 more cup of flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir together. Refrigerate if you're not using immediately for up to a day.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit, or 205 degrees Celsius

3. When ready to prepare rolls, take the dough and form a rough rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough thin, trying to stay in a general rectangular shape. I tried to roll the dough to about 1 cm thick but you're just going to have to go with your gut here. I think I rolled the dough too thick in the middle so my rolls had a pretty big range in sizes but they still turned out yummy :)

4. Spread the softened butter over the dough. Now sprinkle sugar over the butter (you can use more than I did...the original recipe calls for half a cup) followed by a generous sprinkling of cinnamon.

5. Begin rolling the dough along the long side in a neat line toward you. Keep the roll relatively tight as you go. Next, pinch the seam of the roll to seal it (umm...I JUST read this. I did not do this step. My rolls did not collapse but it's probably a good idea in retrospect)

6. Grease a few pans with butter. I used one 9x13 pan and two round cake pans. Cut the rolls about 1 inch thick and place them in the buttered pans. Let the rolls rise again for another 20 to 30 minutes.

7. Bake for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until lightly golden.

8. While the rolls are baking, make the frosting: mix together all the ingredients listed and stir until smooth. It should be thick but pourable. Taste and adjust as needed. Generously drizzle over the warm rolls. Use more than you think you need, because the rolls will soak up the icing and the icing is GOOD. I don't even really like icing. Just trust me on this.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Eat Your Heart Out, Galen

This is actually the first lasagna that I've ever made. I'm not a huge fan of traditional lasagna - I generally prefer a simple bolognese with noodles, and to be honest lasagna has always seemed like too much work to bother. But veggie lasagna...yes, it could be worth it! Especially if it was modeled after the PC Vegetable Lasagna with 7 Cheeses. SO good. This stuff is like crack. I was introduced to it by a couple of roommates in university. We'd buy the Club Pack size and go through it within a day. You could delude yourself into thinking this stuff is healthy (there's VEGETABLES in it!) but it's also 25% cheese according to the product page. That's a LOT of cheese.

I think I went in originally with the mentality that I was somehow going to make this healthier than the PC version. But as I starting putting the ingredients together I moved to a different mantra: Even if I use the exact same ingredients, it should be a LITTLE better just because it's from scratch, right? And doesn't include the preservatives at the very least? Anyway, I have no idea how the calorie count on this thing compares to PC's but I can guarantee it still doesn't fall into the "low-fat" category. It's not a weeknight dish, but perfect for a rainy Sunday at home!

(proof that there were, in fact, a LOT of veggies used in the making of this recipe!)

I was actually surprised that I couldn't find a copycat recipe online. Everyone I know loves this lasagna. But I guess most people don't spend their time trying to replicate their favourite frozen foods from scratch, and really it's probably cheaper to just buy it at the grocery store. So this did mean that I had to make up my own recipe.

While I cook a lot, I'm a baker at heart which means I like to follow recipes. It was a bit tricky to write my own so I used a few similar lasagna recipes to form a "base" and then used the ingredient listing from the PC page to help me out!

According to the PC product page, the ingredients are:

Lasagna noodles (durum wheat semolina, water, dried whole egg), water, seven cheeses [white and yellow cheddar, part skim mozzarella, ricotta, asiago, swiss, romano and parmesan (whole and partially skimmed milk, bacterial culture, salt, microbial enzymes, rennet and/or pepsin, whey, white vinegar, colour)], seven vegetables (broccoli, carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, corn, onions, spinach), cream, palm oil margarine, bread crumbs (contain soybean oil), modified corn starch, skim milk powder, cheddar cheese base [cheddar a
nd blue cheese (whole milk, bacterial culture, salt, microbial enzymes), water, sodium phosphate, white vinegar, salt], lactic acid, flour, sugar, salt, spice, garlic powder, onion powder.

I tried to stay pretty true to these ingredients, obviously without the preservatives and a few very small additions. I added some roasted red pepper because I love red pepper and I had some in the fridge. And I used *gasp* SIX cheeses instead of seven! Blasphemy!

Anyway, this recipe is a bit of work but well worth the effort. And it makes a pretty big lasagna so you can always freeze some for leftovers another day! Enjoy.

Cheese and Veggie Lasagna

1 lb cauliflower (about half a large head), washed and cut into bite sized pieces
10 oz broccolli (2 small heads), washed and cut into bite sized pieces
2 red peppers, washed and seeded, halved
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 cup corn
2 medium zucchini, washed and sliced into 1 cm half discs
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups sharp white cheddar
1 cup asiago
1 1/2 cups mozzarella

1 bunch spinach, washed and trimmed/2 cup flour
15 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups sharp white cheddar
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
50 g blue cheese
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp red pepper flakes

1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

10 lasagna sheets

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit or 190 degrees Celsius

1. Place cauliflower, broccolli, corn and zucchini on a large cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in preheated oven about 20 minutes or until veggies are soft but not mushy. While they are roasting also throw in the red peppers (you can do this directly onto the rack) until they are somewhat charred and soft. When you remove the peppers, place them onto a plate and cover with saran wrap for about 15 minutes. When they're cool, remove skins and dice. Add these to the other cooked veggies and set aside.

2. In a large sauce pan or wok, saute onions in olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add grated carrot and cook for about 5 more minutes. Add garlic and cook for one more minute. Remove from heat and add to the other veggies.

3. Saute spinach in the pan until wilted. Lightly beat the egg and combine with spinach and ricotta. Set aside.

4. In the same pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and cook together until it's a golden brown colour. Slowly whisk in the milk a little at a time until it's fully incorporated and smooth. Add in 1 1/2 cups cheddar, 1/2 cup parm and blue cheese bit by bit, mixing as you go to make sure it blends in. Stir in herbs and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add veggies to the sauce and stir to cover.

5. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook lasagna sheets 2 or 3 at a time until al dente. I used fresh pasta so this only took about 3 minutes per batch. I also did these as I layered because I was scared of sticking, but this didn't really seem to be a problem so you could probably do this all at once before you start assembling your lasagna.

At this point, if you've turned your oven on put it back to 375 degrees Farenheit, 190 degrees Celsius

first layer: veggies in cheese sauce

6. Assemble the lasagna! Start by spreading some of the cheese sauce/veggie mixture in the bottom of your pan. Lay down 2 1/2 sheets on top to cover, then spread with 1/3 of the ricotta mixture, 1/3 of the remaining cheese/veggie mixture, then 1/3 of the remaining cheese. Repeat twice. Lay down the last noodles then sprinkle with the breadcrumb/parm topping.

Note: I think that if you had a "real" lasagna pan you could get four noodle layers in. I maxed out at 3 so I actually made a second smaller lasagna in a small pan and froze it, but I'm leaving this recipe as it is.

7. Bake lasagna for about 35-40 minutes until it's bubbling and the top is browned. Try to let it cool for about 10 minutes before cutting because it will really help it stay together when you slice.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Get 'em While They're Hot!

I'm such a sucker for traditional holiday foods. And I don't mean meals and dishes that are tradition for my own family or culture. I love scouring the internet and my cookbooks for recipes that are traditionally made and consumed on any holiday or season, even if it isn't one that I happen to celebrate (which might help explain to my coworkers why I have a Jewish cookbook at my desk...). So I spent a few hours this morning looking up recipes to different breads that are traditionally baked for Easter and Passover such as Challah, Tsoureki and Italian Easter Bread. I still may try one of these over the weekend (seriously that Italian Easter Bread is gorgeous) but I really wanted something to do today while I was at home and nothing was open. So Hot Cross Buns seemed like the perfect thing! They commonly pop up in bakeries and grocery stores around Easter and are traditionally eaten on Good Friday, with the white cross on top being a symbol of the Crucifixion of Jesus.

Since it WAS Good Friday I was basically stuck with what I already had in the kitchen so I had to make a few substitutions and changes. I was light on yeast so I had to let the bread rise a little longer than usual (but I left the recipe as the "normal" amount). I also didn't have an orange but saw quite a few recipes using fruit peels or orange zest so I left it out but I also included in the recipe because I think it the citrus would add a really nice flavour. I definitely will include it next time! And I randomly added apple cider because my dough turned out a bit drier than I expected and I thought the apple flavour would go nicely with the spices.

Now I've never actually had a Hot Cross Bun. It's one of those things that always sound really good but when I see them in person I find I don't really want it. And I guess it's because they sound like they should be a sweet, sticky bun but really they are closer to a cinnamon-raisin bread in bun form with a glaze on top. I think the name is a bit deceiving. But you know what? They're really delicious! I can't believe I've held out so long. Slightly sweet and full of yummy spices, these are totally the kind of thing that sneak up on you. You might think they're "just ok" at first but pretty soon you're sneaking bits off the plate and can't stop. A little bit of work since there are a few glazing/icing steps but totally worth it, and the end result is so pretty! Good Friday might be over but there's still time to make these for Easter or really any other day of the week :)

So you may be wondering what I was doing baking Hot Cross Buns today when Lent isn't technically over until Sunday and as previously noted, I gave up baked treats for Lent. Yes, I cheated. But it was PLANNED! Adam and I spent the last week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and I never intended to try and keep it up while we were on vacation. And since I'm not actually doing it for religious reasons anyway, what does it matter right?? Anyway there's my excuse. I know it's pretty sketchy but at least I have something to write about!

Hot Cross Buns
adapted from the Guardian
200ml milk, plus a little more for the egg glaze
50 ml apple cider (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups bread flour
½ cup butter
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground ginger
2 eggs
125 g mixed dried fruit (I bought a mix that had california raisins, sultana raisins and dried cherries)
Zest of one orange

3 tbsp flour
1 tsp icing sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Sugar Glaze
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbsp boiling water

1. Bring 200ml milk to a gentle boil with the cinnamon stick, then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for up to 1 hour. I didn't actually have the patience to wait so I only let it sit for about 20 minutes, which is also why I added some more cinnamon to the recipe. I'm not really sure you *need* to infuse the milk but it's probably a nice touch if you have time. Heat back up until it's warm to the touch and mix the strained milk with yeast and 1 tsp sugar. Set aside.

2. Measure out AP and bread flours into a large mixing bowl and grate butter into the bowl. Rub the butter in with your fingers until it's well combined and then add the rest of the sugar, spices, salt and orange zest if you're using it. Stir until well mixed.

3. Separate one egg and set aside the yolk for the egg glaze. Beat the white and other whole egg slightly.

4. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture, and add the beaten eggs and the yeast mixture. Stir in, adding the milk mixture and enough extra liquid (I used apple cider, you can use either water or more milk) to make a soft dough - it shouldn't look or feel dry. Knead for about 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface until the dough feels smooth and elastic, then lightly grease the bowl and put the dough into it. Cover and leave in a warm place until it has doubled in size – 1.5-2 hours.

4. On a lightly greased counter top, punch down dough and and knead for a minute or so and then flatten it out and scatter the fruit mix on top. Roll up like a cinnamon roll and knead again to spread the fruit around evenly. This might be a bit tricky so don't worry too much if the fruit keeps falling out of the dough...just push it back in!

5. Divide dough into 16 equal pieces and roll into bun shapes. Place on a greased cookie sheet and score a cross into the top of each with a sharp knife. Cover and let rise again in a warm place until doubled in size - about 40 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit or 220 degrees Celsius

6. Make the egg wash: Beat together the reserved egg yolk with a little milk. Make the icing: Mix the reserved flour with sugar and salt and enough cold water to make a stiff paste. Spoon icing mix into a piping bag or sandwich bag and cut a very small bit off the corner to make your own piping bag.

7. Paint buns with egg wash, and pipe a cross on top. Bake for about 25 minutes or until tops are golden.

8. While the buns are baking, mix 1 tbsp icing sugar with 1 tbsp boiling water. When the buns come out of the oven, brush them with the sugar glaze before transferring to a rack to cool.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Foil Packets, Improved

Growing up, I was a Brownie, Girl Guide and Pathfinder which meant a lot of camping and more importantly, campfire food. There were s'mores, hotdogs and even cupcakes baked in an oven made with bricks and foil. And many foil packets. Now these always seemed like a fun and convenient meal but almost never turned out well. Most of the time the packets broke in the coals, or the veggies were raw by the time the meat was cooked. And even in a rare perfectly-cooked packet, they just didn't have a whole lot of flavour. I hope the Girl Guides have moved on to better meals by now!

Anyway, foil packets may not have worked out well at a campsite, but they're an easy and delicious way to cook some fish in the oven. I added some tomato sauce here and served over some fresh pasta from the market (YUM) but you don't need to...just cook with the veggies. You can use whatever vegetables you want but make sure they either cook quickly or have been pre-cooked to ensure they will cook through while in the oven.

Fish in Foil Packets

2 white fish filets or one large piece of fish (which is what I usually do)
1 handful of fresh spinach leaves
1/2 zucchini, sliced
1/2 lemon, cut into 2 wedges
olive oil
salt and pepper

1 can San Marzano tomatoes
1 small onion, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp red pepper flakes

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees or 204 degrees Celsius

1. Make the sauce: cook diced onions over medium heat in the olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Add tomatoes, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer over low heat while you prepare the foil packets. Don't worry so much about the tomatoes completely breaking down it will be a bit easier if they still have some shape later.

2. Lay out one or two sheets of aluminum foil depending on how many fillets you're using. Make sure they're large enough to wrap the fish with some extra room. Place fish on the foil and top with spinach and zucchini, and any other veggies you are using.

3. Carefully spoon tomato sauce over the fish. I added mostly tomato chunks to the packet and reserved the rest to add later.

4. Season well with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.

5. Fold up the short edge of the foil first and then roll up the long edge to create a sealed packet. Bake on a cookie sheet for about 20 minutes or until the fish is opaque. Serve over pasta or rice with the remaining tomato sauce, as needed.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Exercising some Self-Control...

So, it's Lent. I was raised Catholic but am not particularly religious these days; however I usually give up something for Lent using it as a good opportunity to test my willpower. It's also convenient as I tend to have a trip of some sort planned in April so I like to give up some sort of food in an attempt to get myself ready for bathing suit weather.

In past years I've given up all sorts of things from ice cream to eating out, fried foods and beer. This year I decided to give up baked treats so all pastries, cookies, cakes and sweet breads are off-limits. I couldn't quite fathom giving up baked goods altogether so this was my compromise (though I may try next year...). Anyway, it hasn't been too bad so far but there have definitely been more than a few temptations especially at work (there was a bake sale on Friday! Torture). Since this also means I am not baking much these days, I thought I would share a recipe I've been meaning to post from a few weeks back.

I'd been wanting to try making whoopie pies for awhile now. I admit, I wasn't really on the whole whoopie pie bandwagon for a long time but then I tried this amazing pumpkin whoopie pie with cream cheese filling and it completely changed my mind! I decided to try these out for an Oscar party I went to (I had to bring a Toy Story 3 themed I
went with "Jessie's Yeehaw! pies". Get it??).

Since one of my friends happens to have a severe milk allergy I decided to make these dairy-free. I was a little nervous about it as I have never cooked with lactose-free milk and anyone who's close to me know that I am a hard core butter advocate and NEVER use margarine. But to my surprise they turned out delicious and you couldn't even tell they were dairy free! I used a marshmallow frosting which was really tasty and made the pies much lighter than they appeared. So try them out and enjoy (since I can't!)

Whoopie Pies

adapted from Epicurious

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup soy milk
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup margarine or butter (I used Earth Balance margarine)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350°F.

1. Mix together vinegar and soy milk in a cup and leave to the side for a few minutes. You can also use buttermilk, or regular milk and vinegar. Stir in the vanilla.

2. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl until everything is combined and the cocoa is well distributed.

3. Cream the margarine and sugar in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. The recipe says to use an electric mixer but I used my immersion blender for a couple of minutes and then a wooden spoon. Add the egg, beating until combined well.

4. Stir in the flour mixture and milk in batches, beginning and ending with flour and mixing until smooth.

5. Spoon 1/8-cup mounds of batter about 2 inches apart onto parchment-lined baking sheets. (Note: I never ever actually use measuring cups with batter, but since I needed these to actually be similar sizes I used a dry measure and scraped out in mounds using a teaspoon). Bake in upper and lower thirds of the oven, switching the sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 10 to 12 minutes. I actually only had one baking sheet available at time so I baked these in three batches on the middle rack and they were done in 10 minutes.

6. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

7. Once cool, match up the cakes in twos of similar sizes and fill with marshmallow topping. I think I used about a heaping tablespoon per cake but you can obviously use more or less. The recipe I used for filling made a bit more than I needed but not a ridiculous amount. Let the cakes sit for awhile before storing or packing away so the filling kind of sets (I did not do this and I made a bit of a mess in the tupperware containers!)

Marshmallow Topping

1 1/2 cups sugar (I was running out of sugar so ended up using a combination of white, brown and icing sugar. It didn't seem to affect the final product)
1 tbsp white corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
2 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Place sugar, corn syrup, salt, water, and egg whites in the top of a double boiler or a heatproof bowl on top of a pot of boiling water. Beat with a handheld electric mixer (I used my immersion blender with the whisk attachment) for 1 minute.

2. Place the pan or bowl over the boiling water, making sure that the boiling water does not touch the bottom of the top pan. (If this happens, it could cause your frosting to become grainy). Beat constantly on high speed with electric mixer for 7 minutes or until stiff peaks form (I think mine took closer to 10 minutes).

3. Fold in vanilla. Let cool to room temperature before filling cakes.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How to Make your own Tater Tots!

When I see Tater tots, the first thing that comes to mind is Gilmore Girls. Lorelei and Rory would have these ridiculous junk food gorge sessions which would always feature Tater Tots and Pop Tarts. Watching these episodes would always give me a craving for super processed frozen food and junk but always with the knowledge in the back of my mind that I would probably take two bites and then realize how bad the stuff tastes. Regardless, ever since I saw this Tater Tot recipe from Pennies on a Platter (via the Kitchn) I've been wanting to try them. And then I had some leftover potato from some potato skins I made for the Oscar party I went to on lst weekend so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try them out!

Now, I saw that the original poster tried a few variations using bread crumbs and corn flake crumbs before finding success with crushed potato chips. BUT I still wanted to try my own topping experiment so I made two different kinds. I made half following the original recipe which is very straightforward so I am not going to re-post the recipe. Also since I was using already mashed potatoes I just kind of eyeballed the measurements to the amount of potatoes I had (guessing it was about half the recipe). The other half I coated with a mixture of the remaining potato chips, panko crumbs, corn flake crumbs and freshly grated parmesan. They did look fancier and quite pretty, but in the end I do have the say the pure potato-coating definitely had more of that potato flavour which made it truly a tater tot. The "fancy" tots were nice and crunchy, but ended up tasting a bit stale (which is, incidentally, exactly what the original poster claimed).

So I can confirm for a fact that the recipe over at Pennies is pretty damn good and probably doesn't need any adjustments. I might try using a baked chip in the future (I used Original Lays) but other than that I see no reason to mess with a good thing. Next up...homemade Pop tarts?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Favourite Things

For someone who spent the first six years of her life with basically zero dairy consumption, I sure love cheese. It's pretty funny that the first time I tried pizza ("real" pizza, not roma pizza) I thought it was absolutely disgusting. Oh, how times have changed!

Anyway, high on my "favourite foods" list is macaroni and cheese. I'm pretty obsessed and probably eat some form of it at least once a week. And I'm no snob - Kraft dinner is included in this category. At any given time we always have at least one "emergency" box in the cupboard, but usually (like now) it's more like three. Of course, I do usually end up doctoring up the KD at the very least with some extra sharp cheddar but I appreciate the convenience of the box.

Some days though, only the real thing will do. Gooey, rich and cheesy with the crunchy baked topping? You can't beat it. I came across this skillet mac and cheese recipe about a year ago and have been using it in variations ever since. I love the fact that it's basically a one-pot (or skillet) dish and goes straight from the stove to the oven (seriously this is 99% of the reason I love both my cast iron skillet and dutch ovens. It's genius, really). I have had to toy with the measures a bit, as I found the original recipe a bit drier than my liking and I rarely have cream in the apartment. But I think I've finally got the recipe just the way I like it - creamy and saucy but not soupy and full of cheesy goodness. Yum.

I added spinach and cherry tomatoes this time in an attempt to "lighten" the dish up aaand maybe because I ate next to no fruits or veggies this weekend (who wants scurvy? Not me!) Anyway, turns out it was a good call as it was DELICIOUS. I may go as far as saying this was my favourite mac and cheese. The pasta to cheese sauce ratio was just right, and the added ingredients helped to keep the dish from feeling too heavy and rich. Not to mention the fact that it just looked nicer with the added colour in the dish.

The best part about this recipe is that it's so versatile - you can add herbs, meat or whatever vegetables and any other additions that you like or just go for the straight-up macaroni and cheese. It's delicious either way and great for leftovers or freezing afterwards.

Note: So I just realized this picture doesn't really look anything like a macaroni and cheese. But I swear it is! And it's delicious! Try it!

Skillet Mac and Cheese

adapted from Serious Eats

1/2 - 3/4 lb dry short pasta* (I used penne but usually go with the traditional elbow macaroni or sometimes bow ties)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp mustard (whole grain or something good if you have it, but plain old yellow works too!)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (I actually used whole wheat because I'm out of AP, sometimes I used bread flour. Meh, it's just thickener. You can't tell the difference)
2 cups milk (the recipe says whole, but who actually keeps that around the house? I just use 1 or 2% depending on what I have)
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/4 cup for topping
1/2 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs
1 bunch spinach
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
A hunk of Boursin (optional!)
Fresh ground pepper

*The amount of pasta you should use depends on whether or not you're adding extra ingredients. If you're a purist and making straight up mac and cheese, you can use more pasta. I tend to almost always add something or the other so half a pound is usually sufficient.

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Farenheit, or 190 degrees Celsius

2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until somewhat al dente (i.e. should be soft on the outside but have a tiny bit of bite still to it) but not fully cooked. Basically you want it slightly less cooked than you would like to eat your pasta, as it will continue to cook in the oven. Drain it and rinse with cool water.

3. While the pasta is cooking, melt 1/4 cup of the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet (OR a dutch oven OR any sort of oven-safe skillet/pot that seems the right size) over medium heat until the foam subsides and add the flour, whisking to remove clumps and prevent burning. Slowly add the milk in small amounts, whisking as you go to get all the clumps. Whisk in the mustard and 1/2 tsp salt.

4. Set aside about a 1/2 cup between the Parmesan and Cheddar cheeses. Add the remaining cheeses a little at a time while stirring the whole time until they are melted into the sauce. Taste for salt and season with pepper as needed.

5. Turn off the heat, add the pasta and stir to coat. Add in the spinach and tomatoes and whatever else you're adding to the dish, and stir until it's all nicely coated in the sauce. Combine the breadcrumbs, the rest of the cheese and some salt and pepper, and sprinkle over the top.

6. Bake until the top is nicely browned and the sauce is bubbling, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Okay so I've got it narrowed down to two cooking classes at Dish and I need some input as to which class I should take. The choices (with the class descriptions) are:

Good for What Ales You Cooking with Beer
According to an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription, the mouth of a perfectly contented man is filled with beer.

Curried cauliflower fritters
Spicy brown ale brined chicken wings
Pear and Walnut Salad with Wheat Beer Vinaigrette
Dill And Beer Quick Bread
Beef Carbonade
Guinness brownies with raspberry -lambic ice cream

Boot Camp Super Natural Baking
Indulge without the guilt. Ditch the artificial sweeteners, processed flours and fat replacers and discover how you can create wholesome, (and more importantly, delicious) baked treats made with whole, fresh, and healthy ingredients.

Biscotti al Pistacchio Marathon cookies
Chocolate cherry brownies
Fig and buckwheat scones
Supernatural carrot cake
Maple and wild blueberry coffee cake

Thoughts? Opinions? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What I Did Last Month

Ever since I moved to Toronto, I've wanted to take a cooking class. There are so many great schools and classes available in the city it was actually kind of overwhelming trying to decide on one! Finally, in December Adam and I took an Indian cooking class at the Calphalon Culinary Centre. It was actually my birthday present from a few months ago but it took us awhile to actually get around to looking at the class options and signing up for something.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the class. This was my first cooking class ever so I really didn't know what to expect. I had read more than a few positive reviews about Calphalon and even heard some good things from friends and acquaintences, but still in the back of my mind I wondered if it might be more of a demonstration or not as hands-on as I would like. Fortunately this wasn't a problem! The classroom setup was incredibly professional and well set-up with an individual countertop and stove for each student. We did most of our own prep work though the spices were blended for us; this being an Indian class, I would have loved to learn more about the different spices used to make Garam Masala. I felt rather spoiled after experiencing all the Calphalon pots and pans in the kitchen as well as the gas-range stovetop.

Indian cuisine has always fallen into the category of "seems way too complicated to try at home" so it seemed like a good class to try in a controlled environment where all the right ingredients would be available. And the dishes were actually pretty straightforward; the key is really just having the right spices and from there it's easy going!

This Rice Pulao was my favourite recipe that we made in the class. I made it again the other night and although it was a bit difficult finding some of the spices in Sobey's (I'll be making a trip to the market this weekend where I know they have a larger assortment) it turned out pretty well. The recipe is actually pretty heavily modified as the emailed instructions didn't necessarily match the steps we followed in class. We made it in class along with some Aloo Gobi (a chickpea and potato curry dish), Chicken Tikka and homemade Naan. At home we just added some chicken (with some Tandoori paste I got in my stocking) and it made a great dinner/lunch leftovers.

Next up...going to do a class at Dish Cooking Studio. Haven't chosen one yet so please feel free to comment on any recommendations/suggestions!

Basmati Rice Pulao
Recipe adapted from Calphalon Culinary Centre - Indian Cuisine

2 cups basmati rice
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds (or ground cumin which is all I could find at home)
4 tbsp chopped almonds
4 tbsp raisins
1 large onion, finely sliced
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods (or ground cardamom...the conversion suggestions out there seem to vary widely, I used about 1/2 tsp at home)
2 Indian bay leaves (I used regular bay leaves...clearly I need to make a trip to an Indian grocery store)
1 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp. grated ginger
1 cup peas
1 tsp. saffron (optional)
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro (optional - I am on the "tastes like soap" side of the Great Cilantro Debate so I left this out both times)
4 cups chicken stock

1. Rinse rice well under cold running water. Place the rice into a bowl with 1 tsp salt and let soak. Set aside.

2. Heat a sauce pan over medium high heat with 1 tbsp of the oil. Add cumin seeds and toast if using seeds....otherwise skip this for now. Add the almonds and raisins and brown lightly. Remove from heat and keep to the side.

3. Add remaing oil and onions to the pan and cook until medium brown, about 4 minutes.

4. Add saffron, ginger, bay leaves, cardamom pods, and remaining spices (including cumin if using the ground version) to the pot and coat. Add coconut milk and stir until all ingredients are coated well.

5. Add rice to pan and stir. Add enough stock to cover the rice by about 2 inches (I realized that this is pretty arbitrary depending on what type of pot you're using...if you're unsure, add less not more and you can add more stock as the rice cooks)

6. Bring rice to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook until all the liquid has been absorbed - about 7 to 10 minutes. If you're finding that this is happening before the rice is finished cooking add some more stock or water.

7. Once the rice is cooked through, add peas, almonds and raisins. Heat through and serve.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Happy New Year! Our resolution is to blog more!

lOVE, Laura & Jess