Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Lemon Crepe Cake

It's almost Christmas.
If your life is even a bit similar to mine, you have probably already say 'yes' to as many holiday-functions as your calendar can comfortably fit, which probably means that you've said 'yes' to bringing as many meals/desserts/appetizers/drinks/etc as your budget can comfortably (uncomfortably?) manage.

As much as I love the class Christmas dishes (mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, loads of cookies, spinach dip), sometimes it gets a little boring and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who feels this way. SO. If you're on dessert-duty for a function and have a wee bit o' time, I present to you the crepe cake! I've made this one a couple times, and it's been a big hit (not to mention delicious!). It is not hard in the least, but it does take time, so read the recipe fully. You can prepare almost everything ahead of time, so plan for that if you can.

This recipe is actually a spin-off from the legendary Mille-Crepe Cake (Thousand Crepes... don't worry, you only need 15), which I have also been longing to try. It's simply crepes with beautiful pastry cream in between the layers. But this lemon one is so fantastically decadent, and somehow light and rich at the same time.

Go ahead, try it! Bring it to one of your Christmas parties and you will be famous forever. I promise.
Click here to link to the recipe, from Martha Stewart.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Sauces, Part II - Hollandaise

Here, as promised, is the start of posts featuring sauces that are made from scratch, without the help of roast drippings or what-have-you - sauces like Hollandaise, Buerre Blanc, and Bechamel. I thought I could do all three in one post, but there are a lot of awesome 'basics' that can be learned from each one, so I'll have to separate them. I feel I should warn you though - I'm a Trial & Error cook - I've never actually been trained... I just read recipes and use my judgment. I may not be explaining things in a very scientific (or altogether correct?) manner, but it works for me so maybe it'll work for you too!

We'll start with Hollandaise - it's my favourite. Lemony, buttery - mmmm....
This sauce is formed by emulsifying (binding) melted butter to egg yolk, plus a few other flavour enhancers (PS, this is kind of how Mayonnaise is formed too - just a different kind of fat added to egg yolks). It's very important that you start out by adding the butter a few drops at a time while whisking as fast as you can. You can slowly start to add more at a time from there, but it should never be faster than a thin stream - your whisking should keep up with the additions.
*If you like to eyeball amounts like I do, it's better to melt more butter than you think you'll need, just incase you end up with a sauce that's too thick. In reverse, if your sauce is really thin, you can warm it slightly, and slowly whisk it into another yolk or two*

Eggs Benedict from Milestones - still the best restaurant version I've found!
Hollandaise - modified from Julia Childs Mastering version (she's still the best!)
3/4-1 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 egg yolks
1 Tbsp lemon juice (more can be added after, if desired)
Pinch of coarse salt
Pinch of cayenne
1 Tbsp cold unsalted butter

1) In a small saucepan, beat the egg yolks vigorously until they start to look thick and sticky. Add the lemon juice and seasonings and beat to combine.
2) Add the cold butter, and set over very low heat and stir gently with the whisk until the butter is melted (the right heat is very important here! you do not want to cook your yolks!) and the mixture begins to thicken again slightly. If it's not thickening and you're impatient like me, move on. What's the worst that could happen?
3) Remove from heat and, whisking away, slowly pour the melted butter in drop by drop at first, and then increasing to a very thin stream. If the sauce reaches the consistency you want before you run out of butter, just stop! No need to use it all.
Taste for seasoning, adjust, and try to serve as soon as possible. If you have to wait a bit, keep it on the stove at as low a temperature as possible.

Serving Suggestions:
- Poached eggs (obvious)
- Lightly cooked asparagus
- Poached white fish
- Chicken, poached or panfried
- Beef, but not like a steak - thinly sliced, roulade, etc.
- Potatoes, boiled or roasted

.... it's so delicious, go ahead and put it on anything. It's guaranteed to taste good!!! There are also a lot of variations on Hollandaise - you can add chopped herbs, trade the lemon for orange, or whisk in cream if you don't think butter is enough!

What are you waiting for?? Get cooking??

Thursday, 24 November 2011

My old-lady hobby

Alright, so maybe crocheting isn't so old-lady anymore... but when I'm in my easy-chair with a blanket over my legs, slippered toes pointing out, and hunching over a ball of yarn counting stitches, I feel pretty old! However, I realize the whole knitting/crocheting/original-clothing-and-accessory thing is really coming into its own again these days. I haven't ventured as far as clothing yet (I just don't know if I trust myself to go to the trouble of crocheting a sweater, and then actually wear it!) but I'm having fun with the accessories. I've made stuffed animals for a few baby cousins and a baby nephew (amigurumi, very fun!), as well as slippers (not worth the effort in my opinion), and my favourite - this lovely headwarmer/head band! I thought the pattern was so cute that I wanted to share it with you. It's very customize-able (it's a word now!) and, in BC, totally wearable.
This is what the colour is really like - a beautiful soft beige

(I thought this a good time to let you know that while my primary focus with this blog is cooking/food, I am certainly hoping to incorporate other "housewifely" things - like cleaning tips, gardening, chickens, and fun crafts like this)


(Her blog pictures are WAY better than mine, but I'm quite proud of the job I've done)

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Dutch Babies... whaaaat???

Yeah - not really sure who came up with that name... and I'm not sure I want to know! But for those who are still in the dark (heehee... funny if you read my previous post!) a Dutch Baby is essentially a delicious, fluffy, eggy, baked pancake, I assume invented by the Dutch!

I came across a recipe for this pancake in the memoir book of one Molly Wizenberg, author of Orangette (the Martha Stewart of food blogging, I'm told).

Anyway, I'm a sucker for pancakes, especially the soft kind that feel like a really thick crepe so I had to try it out. Following the mouth-watering pictures is the recipe, with a few minor adjustments. The recipe has you douse the thing in lemon juice and then dust with icing sugar. The only problem I found was that, because the side puffed up so much it was almost impossible to get THEM with the lemon juice (which, lets face it, was the best part) so I thought it would be nice to add a touch of sugar to the batter itself so the edges had a bit of sweetness to them. I would also recommend adding lemon zest to the batter if you're a huge lemon freak (I say it with love!).

Dutch Babies - serves 2 (seriously, don't feel guilty. actually, eat it with a fruit salad and some bacon, too)

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (unbleached)
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp salt
Topping: juice of 1-2 lemons, and sifted powdered sugar

As I learned the hard way, these puff up BEAUTIFULLY in the oven and fall completely flat by the time you take  them out. If you want a picture, you have to brave the oven-shot. 

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Power-Outage Short Ribs

That IS me, holding the flashlight - it's not a floating flashlight.

Friday was a holiday, that wonderful day off between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I decided it was a good opportunity to have my family over for dinner so I could try one of the many recipes I've been sighing over recently. Coffee + Chocolate Braised Short Ribs, with Smashed Fingerling Potatoes + Truffle Oil, and a Hazelnut Torte. YUM! (from one of my favourite cookbooks The British Columbia Seasonal Cookbook)

Everything was going rather swimmingly - I had prepped and chopped in advance, the cake was baked, and the house was spotless! I was sitting on the couch counting down the minutes before I could start searing my short ribs, when the lights flickered once! They stayed on, and I breathed a sigh of relief. They flickered twice, and a third time, and then - darkness. Well, it was still the afternoon, but it certainly wasn't bright outside. "But I have to start my short ribs in 10 minutes! They need to be in the oven braising for 2 hours!" I decided to wait a little bit longer, but it was in vain.

I was comforted slightly when I remembered that my clever dad had put in a gas stove when he built our suite - at least I could start the stove top stuff. Unfortunately, do to daylight savings and a gloomy day, it got dark FAST. I wasn't even finished searing my short ribs when Dave had to dig up the flashlight for me. That worked just fine, I am a fan of mise en place (more on that another day) so all I had to do was throw everything in the pot at the right time.

The cake, however, was going to be a problem. The middle layers consist of whipped ganache. Whipped. Well, here goes nothing! My dad brought up a gas lantern, and Dave and I took turns whipping the ganache by hand, in the dark. Stopping now and then not just to shake our arms out but to hold the bowl up to the light to see if anything was happening! (I feel I should mention here that the cake was frosted on the outside with pure Nutella. It was basically a Hedgehog cake!)

In the end, the lights went back on 1 hour before dinner, and everything turned out fine - but there was certainly some suspense involved! Needless to say I realized how very fortunate we are in North America to have something as simple as electricity whenever we want it.

Now for the bad news - we were so excited about the lights going on, and so content with each others' company that I forgot to take pictures of the finished product! Everything was fantastic, and I can guarantee I'll be making that one again!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Quick Chicken + Veggies

Another recipe in a series of "budget meals" that will no doubt appear on this here blog of mine! Weighing in at 5 ingredients, this afterthought may turn into a weekly staple! I think if nothing else, this blog will be a good way for me to keep track of recipes like this that sort of get formed out of nothing. After eating a successfully cheap and delicious meal, my first thought is not usually "I should write this down and make it again," it's "Wait! I gotta get the camera." Now I can actually use these pictures for something - to tempt you, and to jog my memory!

BBQ Chicken + Veggies
1 red onion, cut in wedges
2 cloves of garlic (optional), minced
3 tomatoes, cut in wedges
2 green peppers, cut to stubby spears (see left)
1/4 cup BBQ sauce or salsa
3 chicken breasts

1. Seasons chicken breasts and sear on both sides until golden. Set aside, and cut into chunks (it's fine if it's not cooked through at this point).
2. Sautee onion (and garlic, if desired) in the same pan until just soft. Add peppers and tomatoes, and cook on medium low for 5-10 minutes, until tomatoes start to break down.
3. Add sauce/salsa and chicken, and cover. Keep temperature at a simmer until chicken is cooked through, and a sauce is formed.
Serve with potatoes, rice or any other carb you can think of to soak up the delicious sauce, and enjoy!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Sauces, Part I

To quote the lovely Julia Child “there is nothing secret or mysterious about making sauces.”

There are always a few simple things that can make a good meal great. Things like proper seasoning, excellent ingredients, and…. Sauces! One of my favorite things. I have always loved a good sauce, especially when accompanied by something wonderful and carb-y to soak it up with! If you’ve ever been to a fancy restaurant (or seen one only on the Food Network) you may have noticed that they often plate their meals with a flourish of sauces, drizzled over the top or streaked on the side of the plate.

What makes a sauce the perfect thing to elevate a meal into the realm of mouth-watering heaven, is the concentration of flavour. The best sauces are almost always simmered for hours, reducing and strengthening the flavors by evaporating all that taste-less water, or their base is made from drippings or left-behind bits of something that has already been cooked, like meat (juices, sometimes the tastiest part!) or vegetables (all the sugars release and caramelize on the bottom of that pan!)

Now, certainly sauces can be made completely from scratch with no prior cooking on the agenda (like hollandaise and b├ęchamel – I will definitely be addressing those at some point!), but what I’m talking about this time is when your dish just needs a little something extra – a flavorful sauce is often not that far away.
Take a look at the previous post, Chicken in a Cream + Shallot sauce, to see first hand the technique for making a sauce post-cooking. I will also outline it below:

If you’re cooking meat or veggies and they've left little 'burnt' or caramelized bits on the pan, take the meat/veggies out along with any existing liquids/juices. Deglaze* the pan with a little liquid (it can even be water, but something already flavored will obviously be better). If you’re planning on cooking any aromatics like garlic or onions, you want just enough liquid to make them soft. Add any other herbs or liquids (cream, butter, wine, beer, previous pan juices) at this point and simmer until it has sufficiently reduced to meet your saucy needs!

*Deglaze: pouring liquid into a hot pan causes it to boil, lifting all the flavorful coagulated cooking juices and bits off the bottom (you may have to do some scraping) and kind of dissolving them into the liquid. This incorporates the flavor of the meat or vegetables into the sauce that is being served with them, tying the flavors of the meal together.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Chickens + Eggs

I thought today would be a good day to introduce my small flock of chickens... since this was the day we got our VERY FIRST EGG! YES!

Early this year we decided it might be nice to keep a few chickens for egg purposes (we really love eggs and eat a lot of them) and, you know, the eat-local-eat-well thing. So my husband Dave and his best friend Graham (who lives across the street from us, married to my cousin, Jenna!) set about building a chicken coop in the backyard. Graham and Jenna were also interested in the idea of having fresh eggs so we went in on this adventure together! Graham and Dave did all the hard work, while I researched chickens and breeds and all the fun stuff ;)

We got our chickens as pullets (teenagers) near the end of August, and have been waiting patiently (and impatiently!) since then for our first egg. From my studies I learned that chickens need a certain amount of daylight per day to trigger the hormone that causes the egg to start forming and therefore be laid, so egg production decreases/leaves all together in the winter. I was starting to get worried that they wouldn't start laying soon enough, and we'd be stuck without our eggs until spring!

The breeds we have are: 1 Rhode Island Red, 1 Buff Orpington, 1 Lace Wyandotte, and 2 Araucanas (a smaller breed, but with blue/green eggs!).
Little Jerry Seinfeld, the Rhode Island Red (pictured below to the right of Dave), was the one to give us our first egg. A beautiful brown egg.

Feeding our chickens for the first time... Dave's face is awesome here
Left to right: Little Jerry Seinfeld (butt pictured), Little Foot, Lucy, Turkey, Big Momma (again, mostly butt)

Me + the egg!