Monday, July 8, 2013

Still Alive!

Yeah, yeah, so I started this blog with delusions of grandeur and the hope that I'd get off my ass frequently enough to post at least once every week or two. Funny how life gets in the way. Expect some new posts soon(ish)!

In the meantime, here is a picture of two corgis on a dinosaur. Possibly the most compelling photo ever taken.


Until next time!
-M

<script type="text/javascript" src="//assets.pinterest.com/js/pinit.js" data-pin-hover="true"></script>

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Science Project #1: The Conclusion

Alright, so last weekend was the wedding, where I got to show off the finished cake. Each tier was gluten-free, using the cake mix I was experimenting with previously. The top was vanilla with jam filling (homemade chokecherry jam courtesy of my mum), the middle was marble cake with chocolate filling, and the bottom was dark chocolate with vanilla filling.

 I'm still not entirely happy with the results, but most of that is due to being overly critical of myself. The bride and groom were happy (my cousin is the most laid-back, anti-bridezilla I have EVER met and I will forever adore her for it), the guests drunkenly devoured the cake, and all was well in the world. Here's a picture!


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Flaugnarde Flop

What is a flaugnarde, you ask? If you've ever heard of its cherry-studded partner, clafoutis, it's essentially the same thing but made with different fruit. It's a hybrid of cake, custard, and Yorkshire pudding, baked in a cast iron pan until puffed and golden brown.

This recipe is going to deviate slightly from the others, in that I'm going to make it on the barbecue. Nobody is quite sure when clafoutis/flaugnarde was first made, but it hails from Occitania, a region of Europe that is mostly in southern France but also spreads into parts of Italy and Spain. It is the homeland of many historical greats such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Jean-Fran├žois Champollion, and Henri de Toulouse-Latrec, as well as being the land of the medieval troubadours, wandering minstrels espousing courtly love and chivalry.


Lots of courtly love happening at this feast!

Occitan cuisine has a definite Middle Ages feel to it, and while the origins of flaugnarde are unknown, it's a safe bet that people were making something similar many centuries ago. This is the reason I'm making it in a big heavy iron pan and cooking it over a fire. Granted, I'm using propane instead of wood, but fire regulations don't allow me to build a wood-fired brick oven on the balcony!

ANYWAY. This flaugnarde uses nectarines and raspberries, with a batter containing buttermilk, so it should be lightly sweet with a little bit of tartness to it. If you don't have a barbecue, this can easily be done in an oven.

1 tbsp butter
2 cups diced fruit
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp flour
pinch of salt
powdered sugar for dusting

- Preheat the barbecue to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and place a large cast-iron skillet on the grill to heat as well.
- Toss the fruit with the lemon juice and set aside.
- Combine the remaining ingredients into a smooth batter, and let rest for 5-10 minutes.
Thin, eggy batter.

- Once the barbecue is fully heated, place the butter into the hot pan and swirl to coat the bottom and sides. 
- Add about half the fruit to the pan, then pour the batter over top and sprinkle with the remaining fruit. 


The puffening begins!

- Turn down the heat to low, and bake until puffy and golden brown, about 30 minutes (if you're doing this in the oven instead, keep it at the same temperature, it won't burn like it would on the barbecue). A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.
- Let rest for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Ta-daaaaah!

- Cut into wedges and serve.

OKAY. Pretty straightforward, right? So here's where this went wrong: the serving stage. I had this beautiful, fluffy flaugnarde ready to serve, then decided "hey, why don't I turn this out onto a nice serving plate?" Aaaannd it collapsed into a heap. Thankfully it was still incredibly delicious, but if you're making this, keep it in the skillet for serving. 
Delicious fail.

Until next time,
-M

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Brief Note

Can we all agree that the most cringe-inducing word ever to be applied to food is "slurry"?

As in, "The fish are deboned and processed into a slurry".

That's all. 
-M

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

BEANS!

Not this kind of bean.

Ah, the humble bean. Easy to grow, cheap to purchase, efficient at causing flatulence. Aside from the latter, beans are one of the best things to cook. They have lots of fiber and protein, and are versatile as all heck.

Sure, you COULD buy canned, pre-cooked beans. Dried beans, however, are at least half the cost and require minimal effort to prepare. That's not to say canned beans aren't useful, though...sometimes you need insta-beans, for impromptu nachos or tacos. 

Still, if you were to throw a couple handfuls of dried beans into a bowl, cover them with water and leave them to sit overnight, by the time you drag yourself out of bed in the morning you'll have a bowlful of beans that are mere minutes away from being ready to eat. 

Next step: boil those beans! Most bean varieties have a toxin in them that will give you serious indigestion if they aren't cooked out. Drain your soaked beans, throw them in a pot with enough fresh water to cover them, and boil for at least ten minutes (soaking, rinsing and boiling the beans will help to reduce their gas-producing effects somewhat, too).

So now you've prepped some beans. Here's my vegetarian chili recipe...it has as many veggies crammed into it as possible. Meaty chili is a project for another day, this is cheap and tasty and edible for everyone!

(Makes a very large pot of chili)


THE BEANS:
3 cups dried beans (I usually do a mix of pinto beans, chickpeas, and black beans)
6 cups water

THE VEG:
2 tsp salt
1 large onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 green pepper, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced (keep the seeds in if you want it spicier)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet potato/yam, peeled and diced (can substitute diced pumpkin or other squash)
1 small zucchini, diced
1 can of baby corn cobs (or 2 cups frozen corn kernels)

THE SPICE:
3 tbsp ground cumin
3 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp cocoa powder 
Salt and pepper, to taste

THE WET STUFF:
2 large cans of tomatoes, chopped
A bottle of your favourite beer (dark beers like stout or porter are perfect for this)
3 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup ketchup
Juice of 1 lime (or 2 tbsp vinegar)
Canned chipotle peppers, finely diced (if you can't find these, just add more spices, or use chipotle chili powder if you can find it)
Your favourite hot sauce, to taste

Alright. First off, the day before you plan on making chili, throw the beans into a big bowl or container and cover with the water.

The next day, drain and rinse the beans and pour them into a pot with enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil and cook for about 10-15 minutes until they've softened up slightly. Drain and set aside.

In a large stock pot, add a little bit of cooking oil and bring to medium-high heat. Add all the vegetables except the sweet potato, zucchini and corn. Saute until the vegetables begin to soften up.

Add in the beans and the spices, and cook, stirring often, for another minute or two. Then add the wet stuff and reduce the heat to medium-low.

Simmer for at least 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally and tasting often (add more spices if desired, and keep tasting the chili until you're satisfied with the flavour). Once the beans are cooked to your liking, add in the remaining vegetables and simmer until they're fully cooked.

Top with sour cream and shredded cheese if desired, and enjoy!

Keep an eye out for more bean recipes...trust me, there will be many more!

-M




Thursday, May 2, 2013

Science Project #1: The Cupcake Experiment

Alright, so I got my hands on some gluten-free cake mix from the bulk food store. Before I make the wedding cake, I figured it made sense to do a few test runs. The boyfriend and my co-workers agreed to be my test subjects, so today I'm baking chocolate cupcakes.

Normally, cupcakes (and cake in general) are on my list of foods that get a resounding "meh" from me. Don't get me wrong, I like sweets, but anything cake-based just doesn't do it for me. Give me a pie, or a cheesecake, and I'll happily dive in face-first. Cutesy cupcakes, or those nauseatingly sweet cake pops, will never be as satisfying to me as a slice of lemon meringue pie.

ANYWAY. So I decided to bake cupcakes, because despite my opinions on the matter, the rest of the world seems to like the damn things.

I used the recipe here, but with a couple modifications because I can't leave well enough alone. Instead of oil I used melted butter (because I will use ANY excuse to incorporate melted butter), instead of water I used milk, and I reduced the amount of cake mix by about 5 tbsp to incorporate that amount of cocoa.

A quick whiz through the mixer resulted in a smooth batter that was unbelievably sticky. I assume that has to do with the tapioca and xanthan gum. I poured it into a non-stick muffin pan that was greased up with some butter, because I didn't have any frilly cupcake liner things. Getting the batter into the cups was a challenge, and as you can see from the picture it was a bit of a mess. OH WELL, that's the dishwasher's problem, not mine.

Goopy!

Approximately twenty minutes later, I checked on the cupcakes as they were baking. They had pretty much doubled in size and looked like giant chocolatey mushrooms, which was promising. While they were in the oven, I contemplated the frosting over a glass of whiskey.
It's alarming how often liquor is a factor in my decision-making.

I decided that a coffee-flavoured frosting would be great for these cupcakes, since I'd be taking them to a morning meeting full of caffeine fiends. 

The cupcakes came out of the oven after about 35 minutes, and I let them sit for about 5 minutes before popping them out of the pan. After lifting out of the pan without the slightest resistance (a moment I was NOT expecting), I proclaimed myself a culinary sorceress and put them on a rack to cool off. 

These puffed up REAL good, uh huh.

Next, I whipped up a quick batch of frosting (use your favourite recipe- I frequently just make things up as I go along so I can't recall specific measurements), substituting strong coffee for the liquid and adding about a 1/2 cup of melted chocolate. 

That's a cupcake, all right.

I foisted one of these onto my ever-willing partner, and he proclaimed them as tasty. SUCCESS!

Until next time,

-M

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Science Project #1: Wedding Cake, plus some ramblings about gluten.

So I've been asked to bake the cake for my cousin's upcoming wedding. I've made dozens of fancy-ass cakes before, including a Super Mario-themed wedding cake a couple years ago for a friend of mine (which was easily one of the most stressful culinary projects I've ever embarked upon).

However, this is going to be a first on two levels: A) it's going to be a very traditional 3-tiered cake with flowers and royal icing and all that, and B) it must be gluten-free. This second part is much more of a challenge, as my experiences so far with gluten-free baking have yielded mixed results.

One of my coworkers has a gluten intolerance, so I've brought in various gluten-free treats that have passed the taste-test. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the results myself, but I'm a harsh critic of my own work.

Over the next few weeks I'll be experimenting with gluten-free cakes, and documenting the results. Luckily I've got plenty of people who heard about this project and immediately asked (er, demanded) to be guinea pigs, so I'm not gonna end up with a fridge full of cake.

Stay tuned- next up will be a trip to the bulk food store to scope out ingredients!

-M

Monday, April 1, 2013

Hector's Favourite Dog Biscuits

Shortly after we got our dog Hector, I started making homemade dog biscuits. They cost practically nothing compared to store-bought treats, plus you can control what goes into them. My recipe varies a bit depending on what I've got on hand, but here's what I did this time around.

I made turkey stock last night from the remains of the Easter-bird. Once all the stock had been strained out, I was left with a bunch of bones with a ton of meat still stuck to them. That meat is perfect for dog biscuits, because it's fully cooked and soft.

I separated the cooled meat from the bones and threw it into the food processor along with the carrots and celery that had been in the stock pot (Dogs and kids alike can always benefit from the sneaky addition of vegetables).

I ground up the meat into a fine paste, and added some leftover mashed potatoes along with a couple of egg whites. To make it less sticky, I added some brown rice flour until the consistency was like soft cookie dough.
Mmm, meat paste.

Next, I added a healthy sprinkle of fennel seed, because Hector has been tormenting us with his toxic dog breath lately and fennel seed has a pleasant licorice flavour and scent, in addition to being good for digestion. I gave him some of the raw dough and he nearly took my fingers off, so I took that as a "yes" to the question of whether or not dogs like fennel.
Hector patiently waits.

I rolled the dough into 1-inch balls and flattened them, then baked them in a 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes.
Ready for the oven.

These take a lot longer than people-cookies, as there aren't any fats or sugars in them to promote browning.
Depending on how soft you want the cookies to be, check on them every ten minutes or so until they're done to your dog's satisfaction. Hector's all about the crunchy stuff, but older dogs might want something softer.
Little crunchy biscuits!




RECIPE: Hector's Breath-Busting Dog Biscuits

(All measurements are approximate, as ingredients can vary)

3 cups cooked lean turkey or chicken
2 egg whites
1 small carrot, cooked until soft
1 stalk celery, cooked until soft
1/2 cup mashed potatoes
3/4 cup brown rice flour
6 tbsp. fennel seed

OVEN: 400 degrees Fahrenheit

- Grind up everything except the rice flour in a food processor, until mixture forms a soft paste.

- Gradually stir in flour until mixture becomes doughy enough to roll into balls.

-*NOTE* If you want to get fancy and use a cookie cutter, just add more flour until the mixture is strong enough to be rolled out and cut into shapes.

- Roll into 1-inch balls, flatten slightly, and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.

- Bake for about 30 minutes, turning and checking every ten minutes or so, until done to your dog's liking.


VARIATIONS:

- In place of mashed potato and fennel seed, use mashed sweet potato and rosemary.

- Omit carrot, celery and fennel seed, and add 1/2 cup natural peanut butter (chunky of course)

- Use lean cooked beef instead of poultry, and add grated parmesan cheese instead of fennel seed (parmesan is great for adding cheesy flavour since it's very low in moisture and fat but high in flavour, so a little goes a long way)

- For dogs with extra-bad breath, add 4-6 capsules of activated charcoal. This can usually be found among the herbal supplements, and is good for digestion (it's also a great way to prevent a hangover!). Pop open the capsules and add the powdered charcoal to the mixture. Finely chop a large handful of parsley or mint and add it as well.


-M

Friday, March 15, 2013

Outside the Comfort Zone

Down the street from where I work is a fantastic Asian supermarket called Sun Wah. This place has basically everything one could ever need, it's reasonably priced, and a great opportunity to try new things. If you've never gone shopping anywhere but the big-box chain supermarkets, you're missing out on an entire world of ingredients.

This list is more of an introduction to the world outside Safeway, rather than a "hey look at this weird shit I found" list. If you've tried any of these foods or have a suggestion for others, let me know!

1. Pandan extract:
 
This is a neat alternative to vanilla. It's a bright green syrup that gives food a nutty, sweet flavour almost like toasted marshmallow. Pandan extract comes from the leaves of a tropical plant, and when I say bright green, I mean BRIGHT green, as in it will turn anything you put it in a delightful lime colour. It's great for cookies, cake, puddings, and so on.

2. Sweet soy sauce (kecap manis):
This is probably the least-unusual item on the list. It's a sticky, sweet soy sauce that's good for marinades, stir fries, dips, and so on. I like mixing it with sriracha for dipping potstickers, or just using it on rice instead of regular soy sauce.

3. Konjac jelly shrimp:
These things are just straight-up cool. They're made from konjac, which is similar to a yam, made into a jelly-like substance which has a texture similar to cooked shrimp or squid (a little rubbery, but not in an off-putting way). These are vegan-friendly, and like shrimp they can be seasoned in a ton of different ways. Konjac jelly is also made into other shapes, including noodles, and the texture is really a love-it-or-hate-it deal. It's inexpensive and worth a try.

4. Mochi ice cream:
Ice cream, in a chewy rice wrapper. The texture of the rice cake exterior is like cake fondant or marzipan, plus these are bite-sized and addictive enough that you'll probably eat a whole box in one go. I've never looked at the nutritional information to see exactly how unhealthy these are for you, and I probably never will, because deliciousness trumps nutritiousness in this case.

5. Banana leaves:
If you've got a barbecue at home, get yourself some banana leaves and start wrappin' shit up. I've used these to hold rice, fish, chicken, and so on. The leaves themselves aren't really edible since they're pretty tough, but they give the food a subtle flavour while providing a biodegradable wrapper. They hold together even after they've been charred a bit, so they can handle relatively high heat. If you don't use it to wrap individual portions, consider something like this instead. 


Bottom line is...grocery shopping shouldn't be a chore, it should be an adventure! Think of yourself as a culinary Joseph Banks, braving uncharted territories for the sake of knowledge and new experiences. Trying foods you've never had before is such a low-risk way to broaden your perspective and your tastes, it would be foolish not to. 

-M



Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pizza the Hut: Part Two


Alright, so yesterday you successfully made a batch of pizza dough, and now you're ready for phase two. This post will cover the next few steps involved in dough-preparation, then we move on to toppings. 

- Pull your dough out of the bowl, and plop it onto the counter (you shouldn't need flour at this stage, the oil will keep the dough from sticking). With a sharp knife or your mighty axe, cut it into 4 equal pieces. Each chunk of dough will make one sheet pan-sized pizza.

- Form each piece of dough into a ball. Each one of these balls will double in size, so once they've been formed, place them a few inches apart on the countertop and cover completely with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel. 

SIDE NOTE- If you aren't planning on making all four pizzas, you can freeze the extra dough balls! Just toss them in individual freezer bags with a little extra oil, and when you finally stop being a one-pizza wuss who knows what "moderation" and "sensible portions" are, you can thaw them in the fridge a day ahead before continuing with the steps below.

- Let those bad boys rise at room temperature for 2 hours. What are you gonna do with those 2 hours? Get your toppings ready, duh.

HINT! Depending on your oven, it could take a while to reach 550 degrees Fahrenheit. Start pre-heating at least half an hour before you're ready to bake.

We'll talk about toppings next, but first a few pointers on shaping your crust. 

- Don't use a rolling pin unless you've tried and failed to stretch the dough by hand! You don't have to toss it in the air and whirl it around, you just have to gently ease it into the shape you want.

- Ideally, you would shape your crust, top it, and slide it gracefully off a pizza peel or floured sheet pan onto the hot pizza stone already waiting in your oven. Well, if I ever manage to do as such, I'll make sure to photograph the event. If it doesn't come off the sheet pan, don't fret!

- Generously dust the back of a sheet pan with flour. 

- Pick up a ball of dough and gently pull and stretch it in all directions, turning it in your hands until it's almost the same size as the sheet pan. Gravity is your friend here...properly-made pizza dough should slowly droop out of your hands like a clock in a Dali painting.

- Place it on the pan and continue stretching it until it's thin and evenly distributed across the pan. Don't worry about making a "rim" around the edges, it'll form on its own as the pizza bakes.

- Once the dough is flattened to your satisfaction, it's time to dress it up!

Because I the photos I usually try to take of food generally do not do it justice, and because I'm usually more concerned with cooking and eating said food, don't expect any shots of glistening pepperoni or oozing cheese. Instead, here's a chart I made with a few different pizza topping combos you might like! (I make a lot of charts and spend a lot of time thinking about pizza.)


- When you're ready to bake your pizza, if you have a pizza stone then slide it directly onto the stone. If you're me, the pizza will stick to the back of the sheet pan despite all the flour, and you can just shove the whole thing in, pan and all, onto the bottom rack of your oven.

- In such a hot oven, your pizza will only take about ten minutes to bake. Set a timer for 10 minutes, then check it every minute or so after that. 

- When the cheese is bubbling and the crust is golden brown, the pizza should be done! 

- Even though it's tempting to cut into it immediately, BACK AWAY. Let it sit for a couple minutes before slicing, because otherwise the molten cheese will puddle all over the place and possibly fall into your lap. 

Enjoy your homemade pizza! That wasn't so hard, was it?  

*crickets*


Until next time, pals!

-M

Pizza The Hut: Part One

Making fantastic pizza at home is pretty simple. We live across the street from a pizza place and could easily just order up some greasy, cheesy stuff on a whim, but considering the cost of takeout vs. homemade, it's worth a little extra effort to make it at home.

It starts with the dough. You'll need to make it a day in advance, because this will allow the yeast to chill out in the dough and very slowly ferment, creating flavour that only comes with time.

Next, you'll need either a stand mixer with a dough hook, or the ability to spend ten minutes or so punching the shit out of some dough without breaking a sweat or getting sore arms. There's a technique to kneading which I'll explain as we go, but if you can do twenty push-ups no probs, kneading by hand will be easy. (We've got a KitchenAid mixer, and I can't think of anything I'd rather do less than push-ups, so I'm gonna wimp out and use the mixer.)

How hot does your oven get? You're going to want to crank it up as high as it'll go. Most home ovens will make it to 550 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn't as hot as a commercial oven but perfect for cooking at home (especially if you're anything like me and occasionally forget that you've got something in the oven because you've been looking at pictures of squirrels on the internet).

Last, but not least, the toppings. Don't overdo it! Making a pizza with six kinds of meat, five kinds of veggies,  globs of sauce and enough gooey cheese to drown an infant sounds great in theory, but your pizza will fall apart into a sloppy thing that you'll have to eat with a knife and fork (not to mention trying to scrape all the bubbled-over burnt toppings off the bottom of the oven). Further on I'll share a few topping combos that I really like.

Alright. Enough rambling! Let's make some pizza. Today's post is all about dough.


Neapolitan Pizza Dough: (from Peter Reinhart's most excellent tome, The Bread Baker's Apprentice)
*Note: this recipe makes enough for about 4 pizzas.

4 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 3/4 tbsp salt
1 tsp (or one packet) instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups cold water


- Stir together the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
- With a wooden spoon, gradually stir in the oil and water until the dough clumps together into a rough ball and the ingredients are evenly distributed.
- If you're using a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and let it do all the hard work for you, on low speed for about 7-10 minutes.
- If you're kneading the dough by hand, you're about to be rewarded for your work by my crudely-drawn diagrams!

Step 1: Place the ball of dough on a flour-dusted countertop.
Step 2: With the heel of your palm, use your left hand to push down and forward at the same time.
Step 3: Grab the far end of the dough and pull it back over itself, back into a ball.
Step 4: Repeat step 2 with your other hand, pushing it away from you then pulling it back.
The key is to alternate your arm movements, moving your left hand to the right and your right hand to the left.
When you knead dough this way, you'll end up with a heart-shaped area in the flour from moving the dough back and forth in a V-pattern.
Aww. How nice. Now keep going! You're not done kneading yet! Beat the hell out of that dough!

After about 7 or 8 minutes of kneading the dough, it should start to get softer, smoother and easier to manipulate. 

- Take a large mixing bowl and lightly oil the inside of it. 

- Take your dough and form it into a ball. Rub a little oil over it and pop it into your oiled bowl. 

- Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge until tomorrow. 


Until next time!
-M