Thursday, December 31, 2009

Where Did 2009 Go??

Where does the time go?? It's always hard to believe that another year has blown by. Well it has happened again, and here are a few photos from this past year to say goodbye to 2009. We are very lucky to have such a wonderful life........ to get the opportunity to see and do the things we do, and to know the people we know. Sometimes life happens so very fast, and it is good to take a moment to slow down to reflect and remember the good things, and the beautiful things that we so easily forget about in our daily rush.
We've had quite a few nice trips this year with the 'new to us' Westfalia which does lend itself to a meandering and slow holiday....hopefully next year it will see even more use.......before Ike gets old enough to think it's not cool to travel with us:) I think the plan is to travel through Vancouver Island or the Oregon coast, maybe we'll do a bit of both......
We are having such lovely winter weather now...............we really aught to get out and enjoy it more. This thought has prompted snowboarding lessons for Ike and a new set of cross country skis for me.
Christmas Holidays saw us driving through some gorgeous scenery with ample time to spend time with friends and family. When we complain that those darned mountains are in the way.....we need to remind ourselves that many people travel 1000's of miles just to see and experience them......
Goodbye to 2009..........I hope to make even better use of 2010. Best Wishes to everyone for a Happy and Healthy New Year:)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Ginger Bread House

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes. To see some beautiful Gingerbread Houses go to the Daring Kitchen Blogroll and check some out!
This month's challenge had to be done on the road as we were away for the Christmas holidays. After reading numerous comments concerning difficulties with the recipes provided I started to worry about a failed attempt. As it turned out, Lee had a recipe and pattern already tucked away from making Gingerbread Houses with her kids when they were younger. I decided immediately that I would use her recipe and pattern rather than taking any chances. I really liked how her pattern had next to no waste. I also liked that the cookie was baked in one piece, and the house pieces were cut out immediately after removing the cookie from the oven. No worries about pieces shrinking in the oven and not fitting properly. Although this recipe is very similar to one of the provided recipes....I liked the scaled back size of the recipe as I was not so interested in using 8 cups of flour. It all worked perfectly....thanks to Lee! I used only the royal icing to glue the building pieces together and could have made a 1/2 batch and it still would have been plenty......and I let Ike do the decorating.......so really this is part Ike's challenge too:) He had a lot of fun!!


Auntie Lee's Gingerbread House

2 3/4 cup sifted flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
2/3 cup molasses
1/8 tsp cloves
1 egg
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamom
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oil

Mix thoroughly and chill for several hours (overnight or longer). Roll dough onto an oiled piece of foil to fit the pan. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 300F for 20-30 minutes. Place pattern pieces on hot bread and cut immediately. Lift out carefully and cool on a cake rack. The gingerbread should be very hard when cool (if necessary, the pieces can be laid back on the cookie sheet in the oven for five or ten minutes longer). The roof sections will break off if the dough is not thoroughly baked.


Royal Icing

3 egg whites at room temperature
1 lb (4 cups) icing sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar


Beat thoroughly in a mixing bowl until the icing stands in peaks, then keep the bowl covered at all times with a damp cloth, as this icing dries very quickly and becomes very hard.
Decorate with a variety of hard candies.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Make Salt Dough Ornaments With the Kids

Earlier this year Ike made a batch of salt dough ornaments to enter into the local fall fair. They turned out to be a perfect addition to the packages of homemade candy and baking mixes that we had prepared for family and friends. This year we made up Ginger Sparkle Cookies, Almond Roca, and Ike's Special Brownie Mix. I found these cute gift bags and the ornaments were perfect to finish them off. The salt dough ornaments are a nice easy craft for the kids to cut out and paint. They make a nice gift for teachers, and family too. Ike brought in one of these bags with a dozen Ginger Sparkles and his favourite ornament to gift to his teacher before Christmas break.

Salt Dough Recipe

2 cups flour
1 cup salt
3/4 cups water

Mix all ingredients and knead to make a pliable dough. If the dough is too sticky...add more flour. If it seems crumbly....add a few more drops or water. Roll dough to desired thickness and place on cookie sheet to bake. I found it helpful to put a layer of parchment under the cut outs. Push a wire loop into the top of the ornament to use for hanging. We took a paper clip and cut it into a U shape 1/2 inch long to make the hanging loop.

Dry in oven at 170F. Allow one hour or drying time per 1/4 inch thickness of dough.

Once cooled, paint and varnish.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Knitting To Go

Since the weather turned cold this season.....I've had the urge to knit. To knit something......well to knit anything. So after quite a bit of internet searching for just the right pattern......I found this cozy looking knit cowl pattern........ And decided that I would crank out copious amounts of this pattern. I liked that it was quick......because I have limited attention span for projects that might take too many days to finish, and I liked the overall squishy softness of it....plus with the cold weather we've been having....there have been quite a few days where I would have enjoyed one myself. So for this project, you can top it all off with fabulous practicality. Not too much better than that! You will require one ball of Lion Brand Wool Ease to make this project or any other soft to the touch bulky class yarn with 98m. I end up with less than 10m left in the ball. It's a very quick knit which you can easily finish in an evening of tv watching. The pattern is repetitive and easy enough to memorize after your first one.....so you may as well keep making more:) The perfect quick knit gift. I'll be knitting up a few more on our drive home for the holidays......Who know...you might be getting one.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

You Really Can't go Wrong with Christmas Baking

Baking is always a reliable Christmas Gift. Almost everyone appreciates the time and hopefully quality of home baked goodness. Especially for those friends that would never make it for themselves. This year I ended up making a ridiculous number of Ginger Sparkle cookies for gifting and for donation to our school bake sale. They are generally well liked and even by kids which surprised me as I don't know if I would have liked them as a kid.........You know what.....I take that back......I must have liked them when I was a kid because I asked for the recipe from my friend Luanne's mother when I was growing up. I went through quite a few years of not making them and then a few years back now....I had a craving for them and made them again for the first time in a long time. Now it seems I make them through the fall and winter every year. The recipe is enormous in that it makes about 100 cookies. Well at least it does if you make them with a #60 scoop like I do. That makes each ball a little over 1 1/4 inches in diameter. I found the dough scoop to be an invaluable time saver when it come to cookie baking. Who has the time to roll 100 balls of dough???? So if you know someone who likes to bake....get them a few dough scoops.....it's a perfect stocking stuffer.
Another old reliable recipe for Christmas Gift giving is Almond Roca. I've made three batches so far this year and it is another recipe of universal yumminess. It's quick to make up and requires few ingredients.......most of which you probably have on hand. You can find the recipe in this post along with a few others.
Package it all up in a gift tin or on a pretty thrifted plate with paper doilies and cellophane and you are good to go. Easy Peasy!
Wishing you all a very sweet holiday:)

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Wellington Challenge

The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online.


It should be no surprise at all that this month I chose to make the alternate Beef Wellington. Although I do have a whole salmon sitting in my freezer right now.....I also have several hundred pounds of beef and just last month I had noticed one small brown package labeled 'tenderloin'. When I noticed that package....I decided immediately that it would be set aside to make the Wellington. The tenderloin package contained three pieces of tenderloin weighing in at just over 500g in total......so I made three small packets. With left over puff pastry, and a freezer full of beef this Challenge turned out to be not that intimidating at all. And I must mention that making a Beef Wellington has also been on my to do list for many years. I'm pleased to say that now it can be crossed off my list........and even more please to tell you that it was OMG delicious. That was a remarkably tender piece of 4H beef.

I followed the recipe as outlined below using herbs de Provence in the crepe, adding some minced onion and garlic to the pan fried mushroom filling as well as some thyme. I also did not have any English mustard...so I used some Dijon which is always a nice pairing with thyme. It was ridiculously delicious. So much so that I will most definitely be making it again. Again I used my meat probe to measure the temperature of the meat while it cooked....LOVE that tool! It would be a wonderfully dependable recipe to serve for company, and I would have no reservations trying to make it for company. The recipe lends itself well to preparing ahead. If you think you'd like to try it yourself.........wait no longer.......it was dead easy! I hope you'll try it. It would make a beautiful holiday meal.
Instructions for Beef Wellington (serves 4)


Button mushrooms - 17.6 ounces/500gr (stalks removed and finely chopped)
Olive oil - 2-3 tbsp
thyme - 1 sprig
Beef fillet, center cut piece - 21.16 ounce/600 gr
English mustard - 1 tbsp
puff pastry (all butter pastry pack) - 17.6 ounce/500 gr
parma ham (prosciutto) - 3 slices
egg yolk - 1 pcs, beaten

For the herb crepes:
plain (all purpose) flour - 0.3 cup/1.76 ounce/50 gr
milk - 0.5 cup/125 ml
mixed herbs - 1 tbsp (chopped, use herbs such as cervil, chives and tarragon
butter - 0.5 tbsp

Instructions:
1. To make the crepes, whizz the flour, egg and milk with a pinch of salt in a blender or processor until smooth. Pour into a jug and stir in the herbs and some seasoning. Leave to rest.
2. Fry the mushrooms in a little oil until they give up all their moisture and it has evaporated, leaving you with a thick paste. Add the thyme leaves and some seasoning and keep cooking for a few minutes. Cool.
3. Stir the melted butter into the crepe batter, heat a 15 cm crepe pan and oil it lightly. Pour in enough batter to make a thin layer on the base of the pan, cook until the top surface sets and then turn over and cook briefly. Remove and repeat with the rest of the batter. This will make a couple more than you need so choose the thinnest ones for the recipe.
4. Sear the beef all over in a little oil in a very hot pan. Brush with the mustard, season and allow to cool.
5. Lay a large sheet of cling-film on a kitchen surface and put two crepes down on it, overlapping a little. Lay over the parmaham (prosciutto). Spread the mushroom mixture over the ham and put the beef in the centre. Roll the cling-film up, taking the crepe with it, to wrap the beef completely into a nice neat log. Chill for 1 hour.
6. Heat the oven to 200°C/390F. Roll out the pastry, remove the clingfilm and wrap the beef in the pastry like a parcel, with the ends tucked under. Trim to keep it nice and neat. Brush with egg, score with shallow lines across the top and chill for 20 minutes.
7. Cook for 20 minutes. The best way to test if the meat is done to your liking is to neatly and carefully stick a skewer into the beef, count to three and then test it against your inner wrist. If it is cold, the beef will be raw, if it is warm then the beef will be rare and if it’s hot, it’ll be cooked through. Leave to rest for 20 minutes before carving.

For a look at some more Daring Wellingtons look here. Thanks for stopping by:)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Handmade Holiday Gift #2 Knit Cloth

Knitted Dish cloths can be the perfect quick make for the holidays. If you know of someone who likes to use them, there is an abundance of free patterns available over the internet. I was looking for a holiday themed pattern and liked this one so much that I broke down and purchased the pattern here. It was quick (I received the PDF file within a minute) and pretty inexpensive (only $2) After I got into the payment process, which was very simple, I discovered that the pattern was coming from my home town across the country and from a woman whose husband had cousins that I grew up going through grade school with. It is amazing how small the internet makes the world isn't it? If you can knit, even a bit, these knit up pretty quick (two lazy evenings watching tv) and even if you chose to purchase an online pattern like I did you could be knitting away in just a few moments.
If you have only 20 minutes to spare, you could make some of these swirl scrubbies in a festive green and white mix or an equally delicious looking red and white mix. I have listed the link for the swirl scrubbies pattern on knitability on the older post as well.

Monday, November 30, 2009

More of those little Felt Birdies....

It's that time of year again already. Time to step it up and finish up projects for Christmas. I think it's nice for kids to have their own ornaments that have meaning to them. Ike already has a little collection of ornaments that he has made over the years in school and at home and every year when we put up the tree he loves to take them out, retell how and when they were made, or who gave them to him and to find just the right spot for them on the tree. This year I think I'll make an ornament just for him, and these felt ornaments are quick, easy and cute to whip up. They also make for worry free shipping if you are making it for a friend far away. The one pictured here arrived last week at it's new home in Minnesota. It is similar to one I made here, and hopefully it is the second of several that I'll make this year. The first one is pictured here. If you need a quick little something to give in the holiday season these are certainly quick, easy, and cute. Stay tuned for more gift giving quick crafts as my count down to the hectic holiday continues..........

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cannoli for the first time:)

It's Baker's Challenge time again.

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

There was an added challenge for me with this challenge as I had no access to cannoli forms other than through the internet which would have been unnecessarily expensive due to the postage. Fortunately, my father was coming out for a visit and my hometown is filled with Italian grocers and stores. It timed out perfectly and dad brought me out a package to try the challenge with. After reading the recipe, the dough and deep frying reminded me very much of something my grandmother and mother made on special occasions when I was growing up. They made Khrustyky a few times per year and it was always a special treat. While Khrustyky dough contains egg and has no filling, the pastry was somewhat similar. So it seemed natural to use up the dough scraps in the style of a Khrustyky.
While I am not a fan of deep frying...partly because it seems so terribly bad for you....and partly because since I don't deep fry very often....it seems like such a waste of oil.....I don't have issues with trying something deep fried now and again. I was pretty interested to try this one out. It was not difficult, but with all the fillings and preparation....it was time consuming. Will I ever do it again??....probably for some special occasion, maybe even the neighbourhood Christmas dinner.
The recipe is provided below, plus a delicious sounding Pumpkin filling that I will try in the future.........for now, I chose to fill my cannoli with English custard using eggnog and rum flavouring rather than milk and vanilla, and omitting the sugar as the eggnog was more than sweet enough. I found the small amount of cocoa in the recipe below was enough to make the dough quite chocolaty in colour and you did need to be careful not to brown them too much. So far the Khrustyky have two thumbs up from the boys and the verdict is still to come back from the neighbours on the filled cannoli. If you'd like to see the results of some other Daring Bakers, have a look here, there are lots to choose from.

CANNOLI SHELLS
2 cups (250 grams/8.82 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar
Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand
1 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres)
1/2 cup (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces) toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish
Confectioners' sugar

Note - If you want a chocolate cannoli dough, substitute a few tablespoons of the flour (about 25%) with a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process) and a little more wine until you have a workable dough (Thanks to Audax).

CANNOLI FILLING
2 lbs (approx. 3.5 cups/approx. 1 kg/32 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained
1 2/3 cups cup (160 grams/6 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon (4 grams/0.15 ounces) pure vanilla extract or the beans from one vanilla bean
3 tablespoons (approx. 28 grams/approx. 1 ounce) finely chopped good quality chocolate of your choice
2 tablespoons (12 grams/0.42 ounces) of finely chopped, candied orange peel, or the grated zest of one small to medium orange
3 tablespoons (23 grams/0.81 ounce) toasted, finely chopped pistachios

Note - If you want chocolate ricotta filling, add a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder to the above recipe, and thin it out with a few drops of warm water if too thick to pipe.

DIRECTIONS FOR SHELLS:
1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.

2 Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.

3 Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, oiled..lol). Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.

4. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer's directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

5. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.

8. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.

9. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.

DIRECTIONS FOR FILLING:
1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

2. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and stir in chocolate, zest and nuts. Chill until firm.(The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

ASSEMBLE THE CANNOLI:
1. When ready to serve..fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip, or a ziplock bag, with the ricotta cream. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side. You can also use a teaspoon to do this, although it’s messier and will take longer.

2. Press or dip cannoli in chopped pistachios, grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips, candied fruit or zest into the cream at each end. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.

PUMPKIN FILLING
1/2 cup (123 grams/4.34 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained
1/2 cup (113 grams/4.04 ounces) mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup (122.5 grams/4.32 ounces) canned pumpkin, drained like ricotta
3/4 cup (75 grams/2.65 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 to 1 teaspoon (approx. 1.7 grams/approx. 0.06 ounces) pumpkin pie spice (taste)
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 2 grams/approx. 0.08 ounces) pure vanilla extract
6-8 cannoli shells

1. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta and mascarpone until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl, cover and chill until it firms up a bit. (The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

2. Fill the shells as directed above. I dipped the ends of the shells in caramelized sugar and rolled them in toasted, chopped pecans.



Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pudding Time!.....Yorkshire that is.

Tonight we took the opportunity to try yet another recipe from America's Test Kitchen. It had been on the list for quite some time and tonight since we were having roast beef....it was the right time for us. Pretty much any time we have a roast beef of any cut.....we have Yorkshire Pudding. I have had some batches turn out well and others not so much.....no consistency in quality....so I was not opposed to trying what America's Test Kitchen promised to be perfect Yorkshire Puddings or Pop Overs. I must say that I did enjoy them and will definitely try them again......hopefully next time with a proper pop over pan. I have a very oddly shaped muffin pan with straight up sides which are also very short.......so probably not the right shape for a proper pop over. They did rise up well as promised, and also had a lovely moist interior almost like a cream puff. The recipe makes enough batter to make 6 pop overs....but in my oddly shaped muffin pan it made 12 filled straight up to the top of the cups. I did not take into account that I probably should have had a slightly decreased bake time since my pop overs were much smaller. Never the less...while their shape was not quite what it should be......they were quite good. If you are looking for the recipe to try.... here it is.

America's Test Kitchen Yorkshire Puddings

3 large eggs beaten well
2 cups low fat milk warmed to 110F
3 T butter melted and set to cool

2 cups bread flour or all purpose
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Preheat oven to 400F.
In a medium bowl, beat eggs well and then beat in the milk and melted butter. In a separate bowl, mix all the dry ingredients. Add 3/4 of the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well with a whisk to remove the lumps. Add remaining egg mixture and stir till smooth. Cover bowl and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Stir batter before using. Pour batter into 6 greased and floured pop over pans, or 12 muffin cups.
Put pan in oven for 20 minutes at 400F....then reduce heat without opening the door of the oven down to 300F. Bake an additional 30 minutes. Remove from oven and poke a hole down through the top of each pudding with a skewer. Return to oven for another 10 minutes until nicely browned.

Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Artist: Ike

Ike was pretty excited this week as he was lucky enough to be one of three children chosen from his class to display a piece of his artwork in a children's art showing at the university. After a bit of poking around at the showing, we found Ike's art. The tag beside is read, 'Artist: Ike'........and we figured there would only be one Ike there. Ike chose to send in his 'Pumpkins and Ghosts' picture done in wax crayon resist. He did as very careful job colouring in his ghosts with white crayon on white paper before covering it all with black paint....... (Very hard to see where you have coloured).....and it turned out beautifully! And Grampa thinks so too! Congratulations on your first art showing Ike:)


Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Sushi Roll Party

Another Cooks Challenge is out of the way! The November 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was brought to you by Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The Bite Me Kitchen. They chose sushi as the challenge.
This month I enlisted the participation of one of my neighbourhood friends to help me with the challenge. When I mentioned to her that I would be making some sushi rolls this past week she asked if she could take part.....and since cooking is always more fun with friends...I did not say no. I have made California type rolls before, but had never tried to make any inside out rolls or nigiri sushi either....so I was interested to try this challenge. I am a big fan of bento box meals and do like the ones with some rolls included, but am not a big fan of sashimi. I have found that I most appreciate the flavour of raw tuna.....but never raw salmon. With that in mind I decided that my inside out 'dragon roll' would be based on a spicy tuna roll, my nori covered roll would be essentially a California roll using shrimp rather than pollack, and that my nigiri would be topped with shrimp.
We ended up making the 'sushi' on Remembrance Day and to my surprise, my local grocery store carried sashimi grade tuna....complete with instructions on how to slice it. Christine made rolls with California type fillings, and some with smoked salmon mixed with a bit of mayonnaise. The rolls all turned out well, but I found that forming the nigiri is a skill that I need a little practice with. Never the less, the rolls and nigiri were consumed without complaint. If you would like to see some other Daring Cooks and their creations check them out here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Work in Progress

I have had the compulsion to start a knitting project ever since the weather turned cold. Well, I found a quick little one skein project that I think will fill that need to knit. The lack of knitting supplies in Prince George has been more than a little frustrating, and while there is no way I was going to be able to find the yarn called for in the pattern..........I grudgingly settled on a yarn with some alpaca content to give me the softness I was looking for. My replacement yarn was not the size requested by the pattern so an adjustment in needle size was needed to knit the required gauge. After a cranky bit of swatch knitting (I hate knitting swatches) to confirm I wouldn't be making anything giant...........I was on my way.
I have not knit much in my life........and certainly not much since I was little. All I knew were the few stitches my grama had taught me. I remember sitting in her rocking chair knitting mittens in the round without a pattern many times with all her left over balls of colourful acrylic yarns. Grama was thrifty about many things and practical too, and without a doubt one of the most interesting people I've had the privilege to know (although I bet she never knew it). No doubt, for her, acrylic yarn offered a good long life to her many projects. I wonder if she would find my attraction to wool yarns wasteful. With this project I did manage to learn a new cast on and a new bind off and it's the first time I've used the technique of holding stitches by knitting them onto scrap yarn, so it has been a learning experience as well. Thank goodness for utube! So helpful to see a stitch being done....much more so than reading about how to do it.
Soon my little project will be done and I can show you the finished product and stop taunting the cat with what appears to be a delicious ball of yarn!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Back into School Mode

Order is returning to my daily schedule now and I am starting to think about some new lunch options for Ike. Currently his favourite lunch is just cold cuts, cheese, crackers, sweet pickles, fruit and a cookie or something for dessert. ( today dessert is ginger sparkle cookies and a few Halloween treats) There are so many options when filling a bento box for a kids lunch......I think it might be time to try some new ones. We have tried boiled eggs with ranch dip, avocado salad, potato pancakes and ham, pikelets and fruit and cheese, and small finger sandwiches. I would like to try mini quiches or a frittata slice too. If you have any ideas...please let me know....we'd like to try something different too!
Since being home from work, I have missed the occasional trip to Vancouver and the trip to Daiso that came with it. Fortunately for me a coworker still makes these trips and he has been patient enough to fill my shopping list at Daiso for me. If only I could have a live camera to walk through the store with him. But of course that would only lead to spending more money......But come on.....this stuff is so cute....so kawaii....who could resist. And since it's a $2 store......it's pretty affordable....right?
Aren't those panda bento belts adorable??

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Goodbye Halloween....See you next year!

We are just settling down from Halloween now. It was a busy weekend with lots of trick or treating for Ike. Ike has very much missed trick or treating with his friends Rhys and Jasmine since they moved away. This year we were a little more prepared and asked a friend from school if Ike could come along. Trick or treating is always more fun in a group, and more so if there is running and screaming involved. The number of kids out for treats was way down in our neighbourhood this year....much more than expected. Lots of kids have been home sick, as it is flu season,.......plus I think this neighbourhood is growing up. This has left us with 70 left over chocolate bars. I wonder how long they will last??? Plus the two bags of candy that Ike brought home. I'm thinking this should last us right up until next year. I'm actually tired of looking at all the candy....how crazy is that?? Well, with all the decorating, costumes, running and fun and candy and fireworks it was definitely a memorable evening for Ike. What's not to like about Halloween?

This was the second year that Ike has shown interest in carving a pumpkin.......and since he was lucky enough to win one at the Halloween party......He had one all to himself. He picked out his pattern and with help from Dad to make sure he cut out the right areas....this is what he made.


With Halloween behind us......maybe I can be a little more productive now:) Off to start my day now. Have a great day and I hope you enjoyed your Halloween weekend as much as we did!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

Halloween is finally here! Ike was so excited....when he woke up he said 'It's time to get up....it's a big day today' Ike waits all year for Halloween with just as much anticipation as Christmas. Last night was the big Kids Halloween party put on for children of the Pulp Mill employees. There are always carnival type games to play, inflatables to jump in, and treats and drinks to be had. Each year one of the most exciting carnival games for Ike is a chance to win a pumpkin. Each child takes a seat on one of 16 numbered chairs....and a wheel of fortune is spun to see which chair is the winning chair. Ike spent an excessive amount of time trying to win a pumpkin this year and finally got one to take home:) He is carving it up with dad right now.....picture to follow.

Well Ike was right....it is a big day with lots to do. After pumpkin carving, there will be some baking to do, supper to make, a big clean up from sewing and cooking projects, house and yard decorating, dressing up time, trick or treating with friends in a new neighbourhood this year.......followed up by fireworks at another friends home. Good thing it's on a weekend this year! Happy Halloween everyone:)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pilaf, Pork Chops and Snow

When I got up this morning....I was in for a bit of a surprise! There was snow.......falling.......and the clusters of snow flakes (snowballs if you will) that were falling were 1/2 inch across. At that rate we'd have 6 inches of snow by noon. It is unusual here to have snow here on the ground on Halloween. Some years we do.....but most years we don't. Our snow doesn't tend to come to stay until much later though and I am hopeful that this crop will melt off before we are fully committed to winter.
The snowy walk into school with Ike this morning was gorgeous....I should have brought my camera and you could see that all the kids were super excited to be playing in the snow. Halfway there I called back to Ike...."Do you think the snow is damp enough to be good for snowballs???" My answer grazed off my shoulder and rolled to the ground in front of me. Perfect snow for snowballs!
It has been a busy time here getting Ike's costume ready, finishing swaps, and keeping up with the usual home and school commitments. Last night had to be a quick supper and I decided to make the America's test kitchen pork chop recipe I posted about here. Again they turned out fabulously and are now a family favourite. To go along with them I made auntie Lucille's Rice Pilaf and although I thought that I had previously posted the recipe......I could not find it here....so here it is in case you'd like to try it.

Aunt Lucille's Rice Pilaf

1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 envelope (about 2 tsp) of chicken soup base
2 1/2 cups water
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp sage
1/4 tsp thyme
1 cup rice (uncle Ben's Converted)

Melt butter over medium heat and cook onions, celery until translucent. You may also add in chopped peppers and mushrooms as I did this time if you like. Add all remaining ingredients except the rice. Bring to a boil. Add rice, stir and turn down to a simmer and cook with the lid on for 20 minutes. Remove lid, stir and cook about 3 minutes further with the lid off.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween.....BOO!

Halloween is sneaking up on me again......Just like it does every year. Today I simply must finish sewing my son's top and bottom for his Halloween costume in order to not get too stressed out over the whole thing. He has instructions to give me hell if it's not done when he comes home from school.....which is appropriate since he will be a little devil this year:)
Yesterday, I finished up the Baker's Challenge just in the nick of time so at least that is out of the way. Now, two more quick swaps to get in the mail and I'm done for a bit. Anyway, here is a photo of the Annie doll......well part of her anyway. She has now arrived to my partner in Brasil just in time for Halloween! She is dressed up for Halloween this year as a black cat. She has a warm fleece black top and bottom with tail attached....because Halloween is a bit chilly here. Hmmm she may be a bit over dressed for Halloween in Brasil.
The Halloween apron swap arrived back in Ontario for my partner as well....now if I can only figure out how to turn the photo right side up........I'll have to come back and fix this.....but you get the picture!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Macaroons

When I quickly glanced earlier this month and saw that Macaroons were on the agenda..... I said 'Yum...nothing wrong with that' . Some time after, I purchased a big bag of coconut in anticipation of the challenge. A little after that, I sat down to read through the instructions and discovered that the recipe this month was actually for French Macaroons which contain no coconut, but instead contain powdered almonds. After looking at the photos as well, it dawned on me that I had just seen these pretty little cookies on someones blog just a few weeks ago in beautiful tinted shades filled with delicious looking filling. Now I wish I could just find that blog again. Oh well, I'm sure in a few days I'll find it again. Well, now I am really intrigued to try these cookies which according to the ingredients seem to be a version of an Italian wedding cookie or Ameretti cookie a little more leaning towards the meringue though. Since I love almond flavours and especially Ameretti cookies (it's the best part of an Italian wedding in my books) I was very much looking forward to this challenge, I was not disappointed......not at all:)
Without more delay......The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe. Have a look here to view other challenge results......and yes that is a new cup and saucer.....I realize I have a problem:(
My attempts yielded some experimental mishaps and unintentional snacks as I figured out the proper size and spacing required for the given baking times. The time required until beginning to become golden was a little more difficult to judge as I had added cocoa and vanilla bean sugar to the batter. A quick filling with some milk chocolate ganache and they were complete. In the end it was not as time consuming as I has thought it would be, but for the next go around, will definitely get the proper size piping tip and go with parchment over silpat. After several batches....some of which had a bit of sticking issues, I discovered that it was the undercooked batch that stuck, and that the silpat offered no real advantage over the parchment in this application. I eventually did learn to identify the slight browning called for as a signal that they were done....and at this point in baking....no sticking issues. After all that trial and error...and eating my mistakes....I can say that I enjoyed each and every degree of doneness.....whether over or under baked....and with all the limitless flavouring options....I will most certainly be trying these again. Next time I may look for the almond flour rather than processing my own as it might just give them more height. The recipe that follows is quite simple and really worth giving a try!

Macaroons

Ingredients
Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t over fold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Vintage Teacup and the Texas Sheet Cake

Things have been busy...yes they have. But not so busy that there is no time for Ebay, Etsy, and baking. Yesterday I got a sweet package in the mail. It was a lovely cup and saucer I purchased to give to a friend. This friend likes black cup and saucer sets and when I spied this one on Ebay I knew it would be perfect for her. And if it isn't....then it's perfect for me. There is always a moment of trepidation when you unwrap china that has come by post. You have to hope that the seller has truly inspected the item for damage before shipping, and that Canada Post has not dropped the item 16 times on the way to the door. As I pulled the cup from it's bubble wrap coat, and gave the edge a little tap.......it made a beautiful pinging sound telling me that it was perfectly fine. Sadly the saucer made a dull thud when I tapped it..... Well.....I spent the better part of 30 minutes trying to find the crack that I knew must be there.......and eventually I found it. The seller refunded me 50% of the sale price of the set....and none of the shipping. I'm not certain how I am supposed to feel about that, as I would not have bought the item if it was described as having a crack.....but from the sellers perspective, he is taking my word that the crack exists, and it is better than nothing. Now I have another set to add to my damaged collection which is good for kids tea parties at least.......or it could become a pin cushion like this one:) I really wish sellers would take the second it takes to ping their china before wrapping it up to send. It would save everyone a lot of grief:(

As I mentioned, I also made time for some baking as well. I had received a recipe from a recipe swap that I wanted to give a try and last night was the night. I found it to be an interesting method, and really liked the cake it produced. Very moist and fairly dense cake. Very delicious with a glass of cold milk or a cup of hot tea.....or even coffee if that's your thing. Give it a try....I think you'll like it!

Texas Sheet Cake

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda

Sift all the above together and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan place:
1 cup water
1 cup butter or margarine

Bring water and butter to a boil and remove from heat. Add the sifted flour mixture to the pot and stir well.

Add to the pot:
1/2 cup buttermilk or sour cream
2 beaten eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat thoroughly and bake in a greased sheet cake pan (10" X 15") for about 25 minutes at 350 F. (Until toothpick in center comes out clean)


Icing

1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup cocoa
6 tbsp cream or milk

Heat above icing ingredients in a saucepan to simmer. Remove from heat and add 1 lb of icing sugar (confectioners sugar or powdered sugar). Beat smooth with mixer. Spread on hot cake and sprinkle with 3/4-1 cup crushed pecans if you like. My husband won't eat them so I didn't put them on...but I would like them I think.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mom & Dad Make Sauerkraut

The fall is one of my very favourite times of the year for many reasons.........................and one of those reasons is Sauerkraut. Mom and dad were busy making a big batch which they will freeze up in margarine containers or freezer bags to put up Sauerkraut for the year to come. Home made Sauerkraut has to be one of the very easiest things to make so it should not intimidate you at all. And if you like Sauerkraut................home made is miles and miles better that anything you'll find in the grocery store. I'm looking very forward to a few bags of Mom and Dad's best.......making it out this way on Dad's visit next month. There always seems to be food in dad's suitcase on every visit. It must be a mom thing:)
Very few simple ingredients make it nice and easy and of course it's nice to have someone to help and make it. Having a proper slicer makes the work a little quicker.....but it isn't absolutely necessary.
Once the cabbage and onion are grated, it's a simple process to layer them up the crock with some salt and seasonings. Give it a little pressing and continue on.
Once you've finished you'll need a small plate and a heavy weight to keep it all submerged. Then it needs to rest and work its magic. See....easy as Sauerkraut........which is much much easier than pie:) If you'd like to give it a try you can try the recipe below which was graciously provided by mom and dad. Once this is done, it makes a fabulously easy meal baked in the oven with pork chops or sausages buried in Sauerkraut.....Yum! Thanks for the recipe MOM!

Mom's Sauerkraut

1 4 gallon crock, rinsed carefully in warm water and dried, must be clear of any soap residue
1 sturdy glass pint or preserving jar for pressing kraut
10 lbs mature, firm cabbage (winter or summer) fine shred (about 8 med solid heads)
8 medium size cooking onions, fine slice
1/2 cup coarse pickling salt
2 tablespoons pickling spice in cheese cloth pouch, prep, set aside
2 tablespoons whole allspice in cheese cloth pouch, prep, set aside
3 whole bay leaves, interspersed through crock

Method:

Choose mature, firm heads of cabbage. Remove two/three outer layer of leaves down to a clean cabbage head. Quarter cabbages and cut out core. Shred cabbage finely on a large old style grater (see photo) or put through processor if you have the kitchenaid (fine) shredding disc. This disc is a separate purchase and does not come with the appliance. You will be shredding cabbage intermittently as you layer it in the crock.
Fine slice the onions, set aside on a tray.

Begin by putting down a 3 inch layer of shredded cabbage. Place both pouches of pickling spice and whole allspice on top. Sprinkle sliced onion, add a three inch layer of cabbage, sprinkle a tablespoon of salt over top, then apply pressure and twist the bottom of your jar on the cabbage to create moisture (see photo) you will see the cabbage is moist on the surface.

Repeat this process with sliced onion, another 3 inch layer shredded cabbage, 1 tablespoon coarse salt, and then firm pressure on the cabbage, push and twist the bottom of the jar. You may have about 7 to 8 layers which should end at about 4 inches from the top of the crock. (be careful with the salt as it has to last through all layers. Lay the bay leaves randomly at different levels as you fill the crock.

When crock has been filled, invert a heavy plate over the cabbage and fill and cap a gallon glass jar with water to be placed over the plate. Cover with a clean tea towel over top. The water jar will hold the cabbage down and allow the fermentation process to release water up and over the cabbage. For safety, place the crock into a large tray to catch any spill (which is not too likely). The water may climb close to 1 inch from the top but at this point will begin to recede down slowly until you do not see liquid from the top at all. The crock should be kept in a room at about 60 degrees F. or even a few degrees lower. At a higher temperature the sauerkraut will ferment sooner, but the quality will be inferior.

During the fermentation process, residue will form on the surface for the first week. It should be removed with a clean spoon every other day as needed. Gradually there will be less and less residue. The cabbage will require 2 to 4 weeks for fermentation depending on room temp. When fermentation has ceased (approx 3 weeks) you will notice that the liquid has descended down below the cabbage. This sauerkraut can now be consumed. Even though it is very fresh, it makes a nice side salad with a few drops of oil and a splash of vinegar.
To store simply fill a plastic container (e.g. clean margarine container) fit securely with lid, label the year and keep in the freezer. Stored this way, they have have kept very well for four years without any appearance of freezer burn.

Hint: when using one container from this batch, place it in the saucepan, cover kraut with water and bring to a boil. Drain off this water which will remove any excess salt and it is ready for preparing a meal.

As sauerkraut is so complementing to pork, you can brown up a few fresh pork chops or some smoked spareribs, lay the meat singly over oblong bake ware, spread the sauerkraut over the top of the meat, sprinkle two/three tablespoon water over, cover with foil. Bake 350 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hrs. till fork tender. This is delicious comfort food along with some crusty fresh bread. I can almost taste it as this was a family favourite as a child growing up.

Note:
Also forgot to mention that a tried and true tradition in the Ukraine is to put about 7 whole apples randomly through out the layering. I wish I had remembered in time. Maybe I can sneak a couple carefully in. The apples pick up amazing flavour and are used as a side with the sauerkraut meal. I neglected to do this. I remembered as an after thought.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fall Sewing Projects

These are two of the crafting projects that left house this week. Being out of commission for a week sort of created a bit of a panic as many project deadlines were coming up......but I managed to get them out in the mail....just on time....I think. Above is a felt ornament for an outdoor themed swap, and below is a peak at a Halloween Apron swap that should now be at it's new home.

The Halloween apron swap turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than I had anticipated as we have no more major fabric store in town. In the end I had to go with Halloween colours and a little applique to convey the Halloween theme. I also got to use my A is for Apron pattern book one more time. So now I've tried two aprons from the book. I really liked this particular pattern and really liked it in these Halloween colours......so much so that I may make just one more:) There is also a Halloween themed Raggedy Ann doll on it's way to Brasil now which was more fun than I'd thought it would be......it's been pretty busy here....that's for sure!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chicken Pho Challenge


The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. I ended up running late on this month's challenge mostly because of an terrible sinus infection that is now considerably better, and then might have just squeaked the challenge through on time were it not for the fact that I could not find star anise seed here in any of the grocery stores. It took a trip to the Chinese Store to accomplish that task....so here we a little late....but better late than never. Please take a moment to check out some other Daring Cooks.

I was interested by this month's challenge as I really like Vietnamese food. I liked the idea of the 'noodle bowl' assembly of the soup, and liked all of the ingredients. In the end I will say that it was OK...but not my favourite soup. I found it to be not as flavourful as I had hoped....and this may be due to the fact that I did not start from scratch to make my own chicken stock. I also could not find the wider rice noodle that was called for in the recipe, which would have given the soup more bite, and I may have added too much cilantro. Although I love cilantro, I even found the flavour too overpowering. Now I am curious to try this soup in the Vietnamese restaurant so I can figure out what went wrong for me so I can try it again.

Ingredients:

For the Chicken Pho Broth:
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 quarts (2 liters/8 cups/64 fluid ounces) store-bought or homemade chicken stock
1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)
½ onion
1 3-inch (7.5 cm) chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
1 to 2 tbsps. sugar
1 to 2 tbsps. fish sauce

1 lb. (500 grams/16 ounces) dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch/6 mm wide)

Accompaniments:

2 cups (200 grams/7 ounces) bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off
Fresh cilantro (coriander) tops (leaves and tender stems)
½ cup (50 grams/approx. 2 ounces) shaved red onions
½ lime, cut into 4 wedges
Sriracha chili sauce
Hoisin sauce
Sliced fresh chili peppers of your choice

Directions:

  1. To make the Chicken Pho Broth: heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning.
  2. In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.
  4. Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts.
  5. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids.
  6. Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package.
  7. Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl.
  8. Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

To Get to the Other Side of Course!

Yesterday was a busy day here as I had some errands to run down town and a school assembly to attend after lunch. As I scurried to finish my errands to be back in time for school, I did stop here and there to admire the scenery on the way. This little fellow was on the side of the road....patiently waiting to cross. I pulled over, backed up and snapped a photo from the safety of my car. He had a bit of purpose to his gate, so this was the best I could do.
A few minutes later, quick walk into the school yard showed more evidence of fall in the air. The leaves are turning and beginning to pepper the ground.
Kids are still out enjoying the fall play time...but it is getting close to the time to haul out the winter wear. My next project on the list is to knit Ike some mittens. He has requested some wool ones as his winter ones are a bit too heavy for this time of year.
I found Ike and some friends gathered around this brash little guy who was pecking at all the dandelion seed left on the ground. They have named him Boo.......I think because all the kids have Halloween on the brain now. Now I need to seriously begin thinking about Halloween too........lots to do....lots to do!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fall is Here and it's Fabulous

It's amazing how quickly the weather can change.........I guess it is fall already........and we have been very lucky this year with the best summer I have ever seen here in 16 years. So I cannot complain. Plus I LOVE FALL. It's gorgeous colours, it's interesting smells, it's fresh brisk temperatures, and of course it offers a backdrop to cooking soul warming family recipes to be enjoyed by the fire....it's all good. The above photo was taken last week in the heart of another unusual warm spell (28C) and a few short days later............temperatures are dropping and leaves are turning like crazy.
It's starting to look like fall.......and in no time at all it will be time to start preparing for Halloween. For me this means making a Halloween costume for Ike (he'll be a little devil this year...watch for it soon), making some new tombstones to add to our collection, and replacing all the chocolate bars that have mysteriously vanished from those purchased last month for Halloween treats..........(32 full size bars and counting......shhh....don't tell my mother) I hope you are enjoying your change in seasons as much as I am:) If you'd like the experience the Fabulous Fall Feeling that we are check out this video ........it pretty much sums it up. If you notice the little girl in the video with the pig tails..........I had pig tails like that when I was little..........and my brother used to grab hold of them and try to drive me around the house like a motor cycle. That's right BROTHER..........I remember........and when you least expect it.........I'm just saying........watch your back!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Puff Pastry Challenge

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.
Without a doubt, this has got to be my favourite challenge to date. Thanks so much to Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon for coming up with a truly challenging and interesting challenge. This recipe is taken from the cookbook Cooking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan and was created by Michel Richard.
Puff pastry is just the kind of recipe that has been on my mind as something I'd like to try some day for more years than I care to confess......Well that some day is now here! It was pretty straight forward and not really intimidating at all to my huge and happy surprise. The very moment I saw what this months challenge was......I knew straight away what I would fill mine with......Chicken a la King. It is the only recipe that I serve in Vols au Vent. Sorry if it seems a little lack luster......but my boys would have cried if I'd made anything else.

It is one of my DH's VERY favourite recipes and I always make them in Vol sau Vent Shells. I'm happy to be able to say that he prefered the homemade ones to the usual 'Tenderflake' brand we usually have by a mile........and I'm sure I must have some in the freezer right now too. so I could have done a side by side comparison. The recipe for Chicken a la King that I use is from the cook book above which was given to me by my MIL with the addition of a stick of chopped celery, and 1/2 cup peas, and sometimes but not this time 1 chopped carrot. It is a staple recipe here and is often the recipe I turn to when there is left over chicken or turkey to use up. It's dead easy, tasty, and super quick to boot. If you click on the photo you can see the recipe right in the book. Well now, I'll have to cut up and freeze the remaining dough so it is ready to go the next time I need some Vols au Vent in a hurry.
The shells puffed up nicely, even in the center where I didn't want them to........and they could not be coaxed down by gentle poking. I baked them as suggested with a silpat sheet on top of them to keep the rise even. I was amazed that they rose with so much weight on them.......and after removing the silpat it was entertaining to watch them 'breath' as they baked.......inhaling and exhaling their beautiful buttery breath. (I should mention that I used regular salted butter rather than the unsalted butter called for. Sorry not willing to pay $6.50 for a pound of butter..........and it turned out fabulously anyway. Next time I will make a point of going to Costco to get a pound of unsalted to try it again, but for a savory filling....I just used the regular salted butter and omitted the salt called for in the recipe. It was perfect! ) The silpat was responsible for the uneven rise of one othe puffs though........as the curved under end of the sheet would not straighten and subsequently caused a crooked puff. No one seemed to complain....so no harm done. They were delicious and I will most definitely make them again. Now I just need to find a reason to make some more;) I did find the link to the video to be very helpful in explaining the finer details of the process. Time well spent if you intend to give it a go......and you really should! To take a look at some fabulous daring baker's click here!

Just in case you'd like to give it a go too.........here is what you'll need to do.

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

Steph’s note: This recipe makes more than you will need for the quantity of vols-au-vent stated above. While I encourage you to make the full recipe of puff pastry, as extra dough freezes well, you can halve it successfully if you’d rather not have much leftover.

There is a wonderful on-line video from the PBS show “Baking with Julia” that accompanies the book. In it, Michel Richard and Julia Child demonstrate making puff pastry dough (although they go on to use it in other applications). They do seem to give slightly different ingredient measurements verbally than the ones in the book…I listed the recipe as it appears printed in the book. http://video.pbs.org/video/1174110297/search/Pastry

Ingredients:
2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.


Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent

Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent

In addition to the equipment listed above, you will need:
-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)
-egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
-your filling of choice

Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.

(This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d'oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)

Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.

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Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.

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Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)

Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)

Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.

Fill and serve.

*For additional rise on the larger-sized vols-au-vents, you can stack one or two additional ring layers on top of each other (using egg wash to "glue"). This will give higher sides to larger vols-au-vents, but is not advisable for the smaller ones, whose bases may not be large enough to support the extra weight.

*Although they are at their best filled and eaten soon after baking, baked vols-au-vent shells can be stored airtight for a day.

*Shaped, unbaked vols-au-vent can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month (bake from frozen, egg-washing them first).