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Monday, December 29, 2008

Vive les Daring Bakers!


Oh la la, this month's challenge was a doozy.

Oodles of cream, chocolate, nuts, more chocolate and more cream. The Daring Bakers kept the festive spirit alive and well with a gorgeous and cheery challenge direct from France.

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand. The original recipe can be found on their blogs.

First of all, kudos to the hosts Hilda and Marion this month for kindly advising all of the Daring Bakers on the forum. It's a big job each month. Not only did Hilda and Marion actively listen and answer all questions, but they deserve extra credit for translating everything into English from French. This month's challenge turned into a virtual cultural exchange and I loved the openness that it encouraged.

This picture is a shot of my -20 degrees Celsius light box.... it was a lot of work but I pulled a few strings and managed to have white snow cover everything. Those beach chairs belong on the Mediterranean coast but they have shivered their way through 17 Canadian winters.


In the spirit of cultural openness fostered by the French connection I decided to decorate my Yule Log with a lovely flowing Noel written on top. My son was a bit puzzled that I didn't chose Merry Christmas or the Italian "Buon Natale".

Well honey, mommy is only so talented and Noel is a lot shorter. Joyeux didn't even make the cut. But, I covered all my cultural bases by .... "posing my Yule Log on Italian beach chairs outside on a freezing Canadian winter day."

Try writing that sentence on the top of a cake.


The cultural exchange on the forum provided a lot of discussion and the liveliest discussion concerned measurements. Measurements are an exercise in the theory of relativity because they are neither universal nor clear to everyone.

Each of our gorgeous bakers comes from a different measurement tradition. Metric fluid measures, metric weight measures, British imperial, and American imperial were flying around the forum like an explosion in a physics lab. Every month, this hot topic needs to constantly be clarified. Luckily, we have some of the best and most helpful bakers in the entire world (no exaggeration) who patiently explain conversions and direct bakers to great resources.

Lessons Learned

1) There is such a thing as too much chocolate. I almost didn't have a second helping of my Yule Log.

2) This is the second time I have made a frozen creme brulee and each time it was a little too frozen for my taste. Even though there was plenty of fat and I had no problems making or cooking it, I would omit the creme brulee portion as the flavour was frozen and the texture was disappointing.

3) The mousse was gorgeous and silky but a fruit flavour for the mousse would offset the overwhelming chocolateness of the dessert. Not that I'm complaining about the chocolate, but one member of my family barely finished their dessert and (gasp) didn't want seconds. That's just not natural. My flavour choice would be different the next time... or I have to choose chocolate over my hubby.

I am in so much trouble.

4) I enthusiastically over worked the ganache so it was the same colour as the mousse instead of a dark chocolate layer. The subtle caramel flavour from the caramelised sugar was lovely but I have to learn to lay down my beaters at the end of a task.



Would I make this again? Yes, with a few changes of flavour and omitting the creme brulee. This challenge scored a solid nine out of ten for my family so it goes into our family recipe box.

Scroll through the Daring Baker's blogroll and look over the other Yule Log creations.

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Gluten free conversion will follow later this week.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cold Weather

Sometimes I sound a little whiny about longing for a tropical climate and sunny days but I absolutely LOVE cold weather in Canada. It heralds the season of hot chocolate, gorgeous coloured leaves rustling their way down the street giving way to blowing snow and frosty clean air. But best of all...

...it freezes all the bugs.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Caramel Cupcakes

Since the recipe for the signature Caramel Cake by Shuna Fish Lydon is posted here, I did not post the original recipe in my Daring Baker challenge. However, a successful gluten free conversion should have the information posted to help other bakers because gluten free baking requires more tweaking and adjusting. So here it is....

CARAMEL CUPCAKES WITH CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING

10 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (recipe below)
2 extra large eggs, room temperature
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 cups Gluten Free Flour Mix*
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 & ½ tsp xanthan gum
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 375F

Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners or butter and dust them with gluten free flour mix. Knock out the excess.

In a large bowl, cream butter until light in colour and smooth. Add sugar and salt; then cream until light in colour and fluffy. This works best with a hand mixer as opposed to a mixing stand as the mixer blades cut and incorporate more air.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. The dough may look a little curdled but it will come together. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour mix, xanthan gum, and baking powder together. Sift it two or three times. This will incorporate more air into the mix, create a lighter cake, and mix the ingredients more evenly.

Add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.

The xanthan gum will start to work and the mix will feel a little “gluey” and sticky.

By hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Dollop batter into prepared muffin tins. Fill right to the top but do not mound them.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cupcakes completely before icing it.

Cupcakes will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

*Gluten Free Flour Mix (Makes 3 cups)
2 cups extra finely ground brown rice flour
2/3 potato starch
1/3 tapioca starch


CARAMEL SYRUP

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water for "stopping" the caramelization process

In a small bowl, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Pour into stainless steel saucepan. Mixing the sugar and water in a bowl first, then pouring into the saucepan, eliminates the need to brush down sugar from the sides of the saucepan with a pastry brush.

Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly - dark amber.

When color is achieved, put a piece of tinfoil with a small hole in the middle, over the saucepan and very carefully pour in one cup of water. If you don’t have tinfoil, parchment paper will work. A sieve placed over the sauce pan will damper the splutter too.

Do not take a chance on pouring water into an uncovered pan! Caramel will jump and sputter about therefore it’s very important to cover the pan first! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on if the pan is not covered and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
¼ tsp finely ground Kosher or sea salt, or to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool. Pour cooled brown butter into a mixing bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. The icing should not be pasty and thick otherwise you'll split your icing bag if you try to pipe it!

Add salt to taste.

Pipe, dollop or spread icing onto cooled cupcakes.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month. To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Licked It!

This months Daring Baker challenge was so sweet, it made me lick my camera!

We had an embarrassment of riches this month with three, count 'em, three hosts stepping into the fray. And they in turn recruited another baker to assist in the gluten free conversion. As part of an ambiglutenous (or would that be biglutenous?) family I am in their cheering section forever with this thoughtful gesture.

How can you not succeed with such a great team rooting for you?

Our hosts this month were Alex of Blondie and Brownie, Jenny of Foray into Food and Dolores of Culinary Curiosity. They twisted the arm of Natalie from Gluten-a-Go-Go as the resident gluten free expert and she certainly stepped up to the plate.

But these talented thoughtful bakers hadn't finished their recruiting drive quite yet. They contacted the chef, Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater about the recipe and... and... and... she offered to answer some of the Daring Baker's questions!!!! Forget about doing the wave in a sports stadium, Daring Bakers, stand up with your spatulas held up high and wave for this team!

Whew, too much excitement....

Now on to the challenge. Our hosts choose Shuna Fish Lydon's signature Caramel Cake as published in Bay Area Bites.

There was alot of buzz on the forums about this cake and I dragged my feet until the very last minute. I was waiting for someone to share a successful gluten free cake experience, then I was waiting for someone to successfully make the caramel syrup, then I was waiting for the icing..... it went on and on.

Shuna Fisher Lydon warned us in the most explicit and heinous terms, about the danger of cooking caramel. When we stopped the caramelisation by adding cold water, the caramel would sputter and burn a hideous path toward us if we weren't careful. It scared me into waiting a little longer.

But we have some geniuses in this group (if the geniuses are reading this, stand up and take credit because I couldn't find the posts again) who pointed out that pouring the water through a screen mesh would dampen the sputter but a piece of tinfoil with a small hole in the middle would solve the problem completely.

Armed with that information and the backing of a solid team, I finally went to work the day before the challenge due date.

Taadaa!

Gluten free baking requires a little more science and attention. Since many Bakers posted that the cake was dense, I knew a gluten free cake would have an extra hurdle to remain light. So I beat the butter and sugar until it practically floated out of the bowl it was so light. I triple sifted the dry ingredients to incorporate even more air. Instead of a cake, I choose cupcakes to provide more structure to the sides.

Lo and behold, the Caramel Cake was light with a tender amazing texture. I really felt like this was the first gluten free Daring Baker challenge that I licked.

I nailed it, completely, to the wall.

Little wave for me.

I jostled the cupcakes around and split my icing bag trying to squeeze the viscous icing onto the tops. Somehow the caramel on my fingers got onto the camera and I absentmindedly licked it. That's right, I licked my camera! Good grief. Guess it was pretty successful if I licked the camera.

Lessons Learned

1) For a light cake, beat the butter and sugar for a very long time.
2) Sift the dry ingredients to incorporate more air.
3) Wash your hands before you pick up the camera.
4) Success is built on the shoulders of many bakers.
5) Cameras taste better in caramel.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Independent Munchkins

There is a brief time as a parent when you are a god to your children. The sun rises and sets on us because our children are completely dependent. Feels kinda nice.

It's a blessing to see our children become more independent but my heart contracts a little as they venture further and further from our arms. I try to keep in mind that it's my job as a parent to raise independent and responsible thinkers.

However proud I am of my children, I'm never completely prepared for the next step. Sometimes the next step seems like a leap into the abyss and sometimes they have reached the other side shockingly quick. It's an endless tug of war with my heart. Fortunately my husband rolls his eyes at me and supports the little munchkins to spread their wings and think for themselves.

The godlike adoration phase passes quickly, sometimes a little too quickly and we never know the direction their growing awareness will travel.

Years ago, when my oldest was in grade one I was helping him with homework. He asked me yet again, "What is the answer?"

My reply was a consistent and thoughtful "Hmmm, I don't know. What do you think?"

After weeks of this and yet another evasive reply my son turned to me. His eyes were full of a mix of adoration and pity as he politely stated....

"Mom, you're really nice but you're not very smart."

Oh.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Tropical Sorbet

A tropical sorbet is as close as I'm getting to a balmy location these days.

Hunting the produce aisle for fruit from sunnier climes, closing my eyes, clicking my heels and wishing I were on a beach. Maybe wishful thinking will bring the tropics closer. Oops, not working ... and the people in the supermarket are no longer making eye contact as they reverse their wonky carts back up the aisle.

The package of mangoes that I bought for my planned sweet mango sorbet turned out to be mango skins with brown stuff inside. Not sure what type of trip they had on their way up to Canada but it wasn't good. So I switched to the good old tropical standby fruit - bananas.

Bananas are so common place in supermarkets that we don't appreciate their presence enough. My neighbour confided to me that when he was young, a banana was never seen in the markets during the winter. Now, we toss them into our carts without a second thought to the amount of time and distance they have travelled.

We always have a stash of super sweet frozen bananas on hand for smoothies, for shaving onto peanut butter sandwiches, and for eating straight up. You haven't lived unless you had a cold treat of sweet banana slivers and chocolate sauce.

My children have an aversion to artificial banana flavour since a lot of medicine for kids would have this doubtful additive. But the pure sweet flavour of ripe bananas churned into sorbet or smoothies... well, that's something else entirely. They have no qualms slurping up banana flavours like this.

Bananas, lime juice, coconut milk and a simple syrup are churned into a smooth creamy sorbet. Lime juice prevents the sorbet from turning into a "tan banana slime" so it's rather important. A strong muscle bound blender or ice cream maker is required to make this sorbet.


Banana Coconut Sorbet

About 3 very ripe and frozen bananas
1 cup simple syrup, cooled and refrigerated*
3 tablespoons lime juice, cold
1 can unsweetened coconut milk, cold (400 mL or 12 oz)

Serving dishes should be refrigerated to keep the sorbet cold since it is very soft and melts quickly.

Add the frozen bananas, cold simple syrup, and lime juice to the blender. Shake the canned coconut before opening and pour into the blender. Whiz everything until smooth. If you don’t have a strong blender that can crush ice cubes, use fresh fruit and puree the ingredients in the blender before transferring to an ice cream maker.

*Simple Syrup

2 cups sugar
1 cup water

In a medium saucepan over high heat, cook sugar and water stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves and mixture reaches a full rolling boil. Immediately remove from heat and cool to room temperature. If you are making it ahead of time, store it in the fridge.

Simple right?

A lighter (less sugar) syrup intensifies the fruit taste but will yield a grainier sorbet and a heavier (more sugar) syrup yields a sweeter smoother sorbet.

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You can freeze this sorbet in serving dishes but they will require a bit of warming before consuming. Unless you like chiseling away at your food; then by all means serve rock hard and frozen.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lime Chiffon Cake

The days are getting shorter and a little greyer with each passing week. The forecast is calling for freezing rain, something that we are all too familiar with in this part of Canada.

Our meals are a little heartier, warmer, and comforting at this time of year. They often need a high note to round out the presentation. Fortunately, this is also the time of year when seasonal citrus fruits start arriving from our neighbours to the south. There is something sunshiny about grating the zest of limes, lemons or oranges and filling the air with a citrusy tang... and we need all the sunshine we can get at this time of year.

This recipe for a Lime Chiffon Cake originally came from a Lemon Olive Oil cake recipe on the Epicurious web site. Like all chiffon cakes, it relies on eggs for the structure thus making it a perfect candidate to convert to gluten free. Olive oil makes a fruity side note (and perfect if you can't eat dairy). This cake has all the things I love - melt in your mouth texture, outstanding flavour, simple ingredients... and lack of a million dishes to wash.

That said, this is a three bowl cake. One for whipping egg whites, one for sifting dry ingredients and one for whipping the egg yolks. But three bowls to wash is a small price to pay for a sunshine flavoured cake.

Lime Chiffon Cake
¾ cup Extra virgin olive oil
6 limes
3 tsps of lime zest
1 cup gluten free flour mix*, sifted
1&1/2 tablespoons lime juice
5 extra large eggs, separated
½ tsp salt
¾ cup white sugar
1&1/2 tablespoons white sugar to sprinkle on top of uncooked cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil springform pan, line bottom with parchment and oil parchment.

Finely grate lime zest to obtain 3 teaspoons.

Beat egg whites with salt until foamy. Add ¼ cup sugar a little at a time and continue to beat until the egg whites hold soft peaks. (If you beat the yolks first, you have to wash and dry the beaters in between. Save time, beat the whites first since yolks don’t mind a little white.)

Beat yolks and drizzle 1/2 cup sugar into the eggs at high speed until thick and pale. Reduce speed and add olive oil, lime zest and 1&1/2 tablespoons lime juice. Beating until just combined – mixture may look separated. Use a wooden spoon to fold in the flour mixture until just combined.

Gently fold one third of egg whites into yolk mixture to lighten. Then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Transfer batter to springform pan. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 1&1/2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until puffed and golden and a skewer comes out clean, about 45 min – 40 min in 10 inch springform pan.

Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 min, then run a thin knife around the edge and remove from pan. Cool cake to room temperature, about 1&1/4 hours. Remove bottom of pan and peel off parchment, then transfer to serving plate.

Cake can be made one day ahead and wrapped well or stored in a cake keeper at room temperature.

*gluten free flour - 2 cups extra fine brown rice flour, 2/3 cups potato starch and 1/3 cup tapioca starch from Annalise G. Roberts Gluten-Free Baking Classics

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The combination of a grassy fruity green extra virgin olive oil and lime zest gives this cake a gentle green hue. If green is not your preferred colour palette, oranges or lemons can be substituted for a fabulous citrus cake of a warmer colour.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Team Laugh

A recent conversation between my dear husband and I went something like this.

Husband
I don't understand it; we lose every game, even when we play the worst team in the league.

Wife
Honey, you can't play the worst team in the league.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pizzaiolo

When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that's amore...

....or it's the sound of a pizza dough slapping onto your face when you fail to catch it! Did you hear the sound of slapping across the globe? This month the Daring Bakers are up to the challenge of tossing, spinning, and slapping down the best pizza you've ever eaten. This month our Daring Baker Challenge was to make pizza like a real pizzaiola.

Our lovely hostess, Rosa at Rosa's Yummy-Yums certainly set the bar high for us. Rosa chose the Basic Pizza Dough from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart.

We love pizza at our house. Every Friday we make pizza so this challenge was a welcome one. It also marked the first time I've made a challenge both gluten free and "glutenated" or straight from the original wheat flour recipe.

Original Pizzaiola PizzaThis pizza dough is made the day before and rests in the refrigerator to develop its' flavours. The dough is divided into six portions and spun crazily above your head to gently stretch it out. It is cooked in a very hot oven on a preheated pizza stone. The result is a lovely light crisp dough that is an absolute joy to eat.

Gluten Free

Gluten free dough doesn't have the elasticity of wheat dough. When you are making a gluten free bread, the dough is the consistency of cake batter. Any tossing of a gluten free pizza would be one big splat! Instead the dough is gently spread out between two layers of parchment paper.

For the gluten free pizza, I decided to recreate a family favourite Tuscan Schiacciata in a gluten free version.

The first layer of dough is gently spread out on parchment paper and covered with thinly sliced mozzarella cheese.

The cheese layer is covered with a layer of thinly sliced ham.

A second layer of dough is gently spread over parchment, then flipped over to cover the ham and cheese. (It pays to have a helper do the flipping with you) The parchment is gently peeled away. Some olive oil is spread on top and coarse salt is sprinkled over it.The schiacciata and the parchment paper are gently lifted and put onto the heated pizza stone. This will not work without the parchment paper underneath because the gluten free dough will not hold together.

The result is....

Gluten Free Tuscan Schiacciata

Lessons Learned:
1) Pizza Tossing is fun and should be considered a party activity.
2) Pizza Tossing really does stretch the pizza beautifully.
3) Pizza Tossing will never happen with gluten free dough.


Thank you Rosa for making us toss our pizzas and stretch our knowledge!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Say Cheese

I adore trying different types of cheese but I didn't always.

I grew up in a household of Kraft cheese. Singles peeled back from clinging plastic, whizzy stuff slapped onto bread, a block of orange coloured cheddar, and a dash of stringy mozzarella on pizza for good measure. Even when I was young, the orange jar and slices weren't considered real cheese. But I was used to the gooey salty texture.

My husband and I met in high school. He was the most exotic person I had ever met. How and why he came from Italy and landed in our town is another story. But his wild fashion sense, big grin, and goofy sense of humour endeared him to all the natives. I affectionately call him my "leetle immigrant".

We were sorting out our dating priorities one day when he asked me what type of cheese I liked. To which I replied, "I don't like cheese".

He patiently asked again and slightly rephrased the question, "What type of cheese don't you like."

"All types."

"All types?" He looked very puzzled. This was a new concept for him. "What do you mean, all types?"

"All of them, you know, mozzarella and cheddar."

He burst out laughing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Regular Pancakes


Pancakes smothered in warm maple syrup are the ultimate in breakfast comfort food.

We've been through a few attempts of gluten free pancake making. We didn't realise how much we would miss the taste of wheat until we tried a white rice flour pancake mix. The pancakes looked gorgeous and rose beautifully to give us the fluffy light pancakes we were used to eating with wheat flour pancakes. But the taste... there was no taste. It was a fluffy bland sponge for maple syrup.

Those spongy pancakes led me on a quest to reproduce their lofty lightness and add some flavour and nutrition. So we scrutinized the ingredients.

White rice flour and methyl cellulose...

The white rice flour was pretty apparent as the bulk of the sponge but what was methyl cellulose?

This was the magic fluff ingredient that gave the pancake mix it's loft. It turns out that methyl cellulose is a chemical compound derived from cellulose (plant walls if you remember your biology). It forms a gel when combined with water.... and the easiest way to get my hands on some was to buy some.... laxatives!?! No way.

Gluten free was getting weirder by the minute.

The gluten protein in wheat forms the structure for pancakes. It provides an elastic matrix or sponge for baked goods. Without gluten, there is nothing to hold onto the air and it just bubbles out of solution. In order to trap the bubbles, something else needs to be added to provide structure. This is where a gelatin's binding properties come into play. Without structure, you end up with a rice mud.

It turns out that gluten free cooking relies on a lot of different "gelling substances" to provide structure. Some of these gelling agents are a little more interesting than others. No, I wasn't about to slip laxatives into our food.

There is no getting around the fact that gluten free baking requires more flours and ingredients to replicate the products we love to eat. And we love to eat pancakes! After a few attempts, we finally came up with a mix that earned two thumbs up from the family.

For our pancake mix, flax seed meal gives a slightly nutty wheaty taste that just teases our taste buds while xanthan gum recreates the fluffy lightness of great wheat pancakes. The yellow corn flour lends a gorgeous golden hue and subtle taste that earned a thumbs up from the family. Brown rice flour imparts a nice taste and texture without being overwhelming. Both the brown rice flour and corn flour are flours, not starches. They don't squeak when you pinch 'em!

I think we have a winner for a gluten free breakfast. These are the monster pancakes my daughter whipped up for herself.Pancakes
1 cup of dry pancake mix*
2 eggs
1 cup warm milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla

Note: The warmer your wet ingredients, the thicker the batter and the fluffier your pancake. Just don't have them so hot that you cook your eggs.

Place the dry mix into a medium sized bowl. Add the wet ingredients, in order, directly to the dry ingredients. Mix well. It will be lumpy but will smooth out as you keep mixing. If the mix is too runny, add a tablespoon of dry mix. If the mix is too thick, add a bit more milk. The mix can be thinned with milk to make crepes. However, the batter should be thick if you really want big fluffy pancakes.

Cook over a hot griddle greased with unsalted butter. If the griddle is not hot enough, the pancakes will fail to rise in an impressive way.

This recipe makes 15 mom sized pancakes or 5 monster teenager pancakes. Even my hungry teenager eats only 2 monster pancakes.

*Pancake Dry Mix
1 & ½ cups yellow corn flour
1 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup potato starch
1/6 cup tapioca starch
6 tsp baking powder
6 tsp flax seed meal
3 tsp xanthan powder
3 tsp white sugar
3/8 tsp salt

Sift all ingredients together and put in an airtight container. Store the container in the freezer to extend the shelf life. This is not a very sweet dry mix; if you wish a sweeter mix, double the sugar.

When you choose a flour for the pancake mix, be sure to choose one that has a taste that is appealing to you.

This can be your regular pancake mix.... bad bad pun.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Daring Bakers Go Crackers

This month we are making Daring Bakers history as our September challenge is vegan and/or gluten free. For the first time ever, the torch has been passed to Alternative Daring Bakers, Natalie from Gluten A Go Go, and co-host Shel, of Musings From the Fishbowl.

Many of the Alternative Daring Bakers must change a recipe to fit dietary restrictions or lifestyle decisions. They are a pretty smart bunch. They can take an egg laden, glutenized, nutty, sugar loaded concoction and transform it into a masterpiece. My hat is off to every alternative baker for educating us.

Our hosts chose something savory this month, the recipe for Lavash Crackers from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice .

This challenge allowed for large helpings of creativity and personality. Free range was given in flavour choices for the crackers and dip/spread choices. You could make the Lavash Crackers either with wheat flour or we could make them gluten free. All the dips had to be vegan and gluten free.

This challenge was much less time consuming than some of our past ones. Because it was a relatively quick challenge, I made it three times. Each time I tweaked the recipe flavouring and finally, I adjusted the liquid to yield a better gluten free cracker.

The first time, the crackers barely rose and they were the hardest gluten free Frisbees to take to the air. It wasn't a fault of the original recipe. Gluten free recipes need more liquid because the xanthan gum competes with the yeast and the yeast loses. It can't grow, bubble and lift the dough without more liquid. My next attempt doubled the liquid of the original recipe and there was a much better result.

Each cracker attempt had different flavours of flour and spices.

#1 Millet based flour with cinnamon and sugar
#2 Garbanzo flavoured flour with oregano and thyme
#3 Teff/sorghum flour with caraway and fennel seeds, sprinkled with coarse salt

We paired the crackers with hot pepper jelly and hummus because I have no imagination when it comes to vegan dips...

...but I make an amazing pate!Thank you Shel and Natalie, this quick recipe allowed me to experiment a little more with my gluten free side. Much much appreciated!

You can check out the other Daring Baker exploits by clicking on the Daring Bakers Blogroll.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Coffee Maker

I do not make a good cup of coffee. In fact, I don't even own a coffee maker. Whenever we have a gang over I have to go begging for a coffee maker to serve up the brew. At my house it's never a BYOB, bring your own booze but a bring your own (coffee) brew.

Each time I borrow a coffee maker the owner has to patiently explain how many scoops, how much water, this button, that plug... the whole shebang. I always aimed for the black tar look myself.

The reason I don't make a decent cup of coffee is because a good friend gave me a little Bialetti stove top espresso maker. It's perfect for my one cup a day habit.

Stove top espresso makers are simplicity in themselves to use. The bottom is filled with cold tap water to the level of the safety valve, the funnel is placed over the water and packed with coffee grounds. Then the top part of the espresso maker is screwed into place. When the coffee pot is placed on the stove top, the heat forces the water and steam to expand. Hot water shoves its way through the coffee grounds and rains into the top part as a perfect brew.

In Italian, this is commonly known as the Vesuvio method. Before yesterday, I thought this referred to the explosion of good coffee streaming upward into the upper chamber of the espresso maker. But now I know better.

Mount Vesuvius is an active volcano in Naples, Italy and it's famous eruption in 79A.D. destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. This volcano is considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

Back to my coffee maker. I love my Bialetti and I take very good care of it. I regularly take it apart to rinse out all the stray grains of coffee. It's been good to me and I've been good to it. But I did discover how important the little filter plate over the coffee grounds can be....

Without the top filter plate, the Bialetti explodes coffee grains all over the kitchen like Mount Vesuvius seeking Pompeii.

There are no words.

The bottom part was completely blasted clean of every coffee grain.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Allspice Teff Muffins

Gluten free cooking has been quite an adventure for our family. Last night I announced that I was serving Indian food. Since we've tried Indian food at different restaurants, we were confident we would like this theme. I had picked up a korma spice mix that was wheat free and looked delicious. A spice mix seemed the easiest route to a fine meal for this neophyte Indian cook.

My eldest son took one bite and was gasping for water. My family has a very low spicy heat tolerance and a flair for dramatics ... or so I thought. But when I bit into the korma, I grabbed that water jug like a drowning man grabbing a life saver. Holy moly, it was spicy.

Generosity should have been the brand name of that spice mix because there was twice as much spice mix as labelled on the original box. I missed the little sticker that said "an extra 50 g included". The instructions stated to mix one package (50g) into yogurt. Only when our tongues were hanging out and we were panting for relief did I read the instructions more carefully.

What did I learn from this?
1) Read instructions carefully.
2) Treat your family nicely.
3) It's a great bargain and I'm going back for more.

After that debacle, my family deserved a little relief. I've been experimenting with different flour mixtures to recreate some of the whole grain taste and mouth feel of wheat. These muffins are light if you follow the instructions to sift your dry ingredients and whisk the wet ones. Ironic that I would insist on that.

Allspice Teff Muffins
1&3/4 cup teff flour mix*
¾ cup white sugar
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp xanthan gum
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp allspice (mixture of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg)
2 tbsp flax meal

Sift together dry ingredients. If you use a sifter it will aerate the dry ingredients and give more loft to the muffins. Set aside dry ingredients.

2 extra large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup pureed prunes (baby food)
1/3 cup warm water

½ cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare 12 muffin tins by oiling them lightly.

Whisk the eggs until they are light coloured and foamy. This works more air into the batter. Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking all the time to form an emulsion. When the oil is incorporated fully, whisk in the pureed prunes. Once they are thoroughly mixed, whisk in the warm water. The mixture will be viscous but light.

Carefully fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients along with the raisins. Spoon the fully mixed batter into the muffin cups.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

This recipe could be improved with molasses and if it had been in the cupboard, I would have used it.

*Teff flour mixture

2 cups teff flour
2 cups sorghum
1 cup rice flour (glutinous, very white, squeaky when pinched)
1&1/2 cups cornstarch (again, white and squeaky)
1&1/2 cups tapioca starch/flour (white and squeaky)

Starch “squeaks” when pinched or rubbed between two fingers. If you’ve never tried this, take cornstarch and pinch between your fingers. Then try it with corn flour – which is yellow, fine but won’t squeak.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Scientific Experiments

Some things are just harder than others.

Last spring I decided to perform scientific experiments on my children. There were reasons besides mere curiosity. Anywho, the experiments I perform on my children always follow the Hippocratic Oath - cause no harm. But I'd like to update that to "cause no harm, learn something and make it fun." I'm sure in Greek it sounds fabulous.

Back to the experiment. We had a month of a gluten free diet that just about killed me. There was no more thunking down to the jumbo wheat-a-palooza cereal and mindlessly shovelling it into sleep dazed faces. This required planning.

No problem I thought. I'll just buy rice palooza or corn palooza since there are so many other cereal types on the market. No dice. Each one of them contained a gluten bearing ingredient like malt barley syrup or the like.

Next thought. I'll just buy gluten free cereal even though it's a tenth the size and ten times the price. Bland wasn't the first problem, especially with the cocoa versions. I became enlightened as to how enriched our breakfast cereals are these days. Gluten free cereals are not enriched. In fact, without milk, most of them are a big nutritional zero.

Third thought, uh, fourth thought. We'll have oatmeal. Nix that. There was no solid guarantee that this would be feasible and tolerated well. Sooo, I was baking gluten free muffins, making gluten free pancakes, preparing fruit, doling out yogurt... all in an effort to make sure my children were eating a healthy breakfast.

I bribed them with every gluten free treat I could find. My children thought this would be heaven if only it included real pizza.

But that month was only a trial run. Turns out that mother's intuition is right on the money. Celiac is officially here to stay.

I'm not worried about giving up gluten. I could care less. It means more planning and less garbage that is eligible to be in our diets. I will miss baking and working with yeasty springy flour dough. Sigh, anybody want a monster flour tin that doubles as an end table?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sadie

It's been a busy time for all of us. School, appointments, rearranging... I welcome the all the changes and busy-ness of this time of year. There has been quite a bit of painting this summer, most of it on the walls but I managed to sneak in a bit for my own pleasure.

There is an energetic happy dog that lives in our neighbourhood. She chews pink feather dusters, barks at the squirrel zipping along the fence, and constantly seeks the elusive chipmonk that burrows under the patio stones. Her name is Sadie, which means princess.This is my painting of Sadie surrounded by her family and a few furry friends. Who's who in the painting? That's a good question. There is a little of each person in everyone and a lot of joy throughout.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mon Petit Choux Pastry

Taaa daa!

The Daring Bakers are up to it again. This time with Chocolate Eclairs from the fantabulous book Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme written by Dorie Greenspan. Our enthusiastic hosts this month were Tony Tahhan and Meeta of What's For Lunch Honey. You can check out their blogs for the recipe.

The Daring Bakers have been abuzz with rave reviews about Pierre Hermes' work... and I have to admit I'm pretty impressed with this recipe. There seemed to be a lot of fussing with chocolate BUT each chocolate component was an absolute eleven on the scale of one to ten. The chocolate pastry was silky smooth and the glaze had a lovely pronounced cocoa flavour.

The chocolate needed to be well whisked to be smooth for the sauce and pastry cream. It was well worth the effort.

The pastry was another story. It presented many problems and generated a lot of discussion on the Daring Baker forum. Many bakers stated the eclairs were very eggy. With those comments in mind, I followed the recipe faithfully. Most of mine collapsed, were too moist in the centre, and smelled very eggy. I'm not sure if the recipe originally uses smaller eggs or the number of eggs stated were really too many. As my son stated, the pastry tasted of scrambled eggs. It was a little less eggy the next day but not enough to be acceptable.

Changes I Would Make
1) Use fewer eggs and use some egg whites to give the pastry strength or switch back to a more reliable choux pastry recipe.
2) Flavour the pastry cream with vanilla if using straight chocolate.
3) Flavour the choux pastry.
4) Don't let the cream puff get frisky with the eclair.

Ahh, mon cherie. What an elegant figure you have. So slim, so petite. I am intrigued....
.
.
.
Oh la la, you play coquette and turn your back. Never mind, a little taste of your lovely shiny chocolate. No one will notice...
.
.
.
Yes, mon petit chou, I am almost there...
.
.
.
Mon dieu, you 'ave egged me on most 'eartlessly. You 'ave seduced with the most amazing chocolate but you 'ave a heart of scrambled eggs!

Verdict
Absolutely a make again for all the amazing chocolate components. Definitely not a make again recipe for choux pastry!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Men!

I like men.

Since I’m a woman, admitting I like men isn’t an earth shattering revelation. Even though it’s tempting to explain this statement away by nature, that explanation does not do justice to the why and how I like men. And from what I’ve seen and heard, not every woman likes men.

Someone told me once that if something happened to her husband she would never want another one. How sad I thought. But I would never want another one either… I would want at least two!

I love watching my sons at Scouts. They run around and play with expressions of wild delight mixed with terror when they are in danger of being caught in the game. I am so grateful for my husband and the other men who create that energetic space for young boys. It is a privilege for me to occasionally be a witness but never a participant. If I were their leader, they would all have their shoes tied properly, warm sweaters and they would walk, not run.

When I was in a student council office at university, a group of male students spoke about their sports injuries. Around the room the stories spiraled, each one potentially more gory than the previous one until one young man stated solemnly, “Rips and tears are more manly than breaks.” I realized at that moment that I was not going to be a mom who took away her son’s stories.

Today my husband has been showing me how much he loves me by mowing the lawn and doing various household fixes. I’ve discovered that the more manly and potentially dangerous an appliance, the greater a chance that it will be used. What man would chose a Swiffer over a shop vacuum? How many men will grill slabs of meat over hot coals and potentially exploding grease but rarely boil an egg? It also helps to say machine or tool, not appliance. Women buy appliances. Men use machines.

I admit I have never changed a tire and I don’t hold doors so that men can walk through before me… unless they are escorting an elderly grandparent or fractious young child. I appreciate when the door is held open, the chair is pulled out for me or a gentleman stands to greet me. Every small courtesy builds my case for men.

I am not naïve. I have had encounters with men who were clearly less than gentlemen. But I have to thank my father for being a gentleman and a loving father. Anything less than the standard my father set I gave a very wide berth. My sister and I discussed how we like men and we assume that they will like us. How can you not like them? They are so endlessly fascinating and fun.

One of our friends dropped by while my husband was using the shop vacuum and according to my husband, being seen using a shop vacuum is cool. I hugged my husband with a big affectionate smile. He grinned at me and said “I like my shop vac.” Yep, that’s one more reason to like men.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Olympics

We are all watching the Olympics with an eye to cheering on our athletes. One in particular that we have been watching is Nick Tritton of Perth, Ontario. He conducted Judo workshops to fund raise for his training, tournaments, and all the other expenses that go into being an elite athlete. Our son loved learning from him and just being in the same space. We happily drove through snowstorms to participate in the training sessions.

Nicholas raffled off his old gis (judo uniform) with his name embroidered on it to raise money. My son was lucky enough to win one. Someone from this family will be wearing it when we watch him fight!

If you want to know what an Olympic athlete is doing and thinking leading up to the games, check out Nick Tritton's blog. Very cool.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Daring Flan

The Daring Bakers strike again! Once again, this growing group of enthusiastic bakers has tackled another challenge. This month the gauntlet was thrown down by Chris of Mele Cotte. She chose Filbert Gateau with Praline Butter cream from the book Great Cakes by Carol Walters.

I'm starting to get the hang of organizing these multi step challenges. This cake recipe had five distinct components to assemble.

1) Hazelnut Praline
2) Sugar Syrup
3) Butter Cream Icing
4) Cake
5) Chocolate Glaze
6) Apricot Glaze

Did I say five? I meant six. Yep, that organizing thing is coming along nicely.

The praline was the most worrisome component for me. Sugar is slowly melted in a pan until golden; then toasted, skinned hazelnuts are added to the hot sticky mixture. I watched this like a new baby taking his first steps. It took time but the result was worth it. Chris warned us how hot the mixture would be... but I wasn't expecting a stickiness that grabbed my spatula in a tug of war.My personal goal was to make a great looking cake and I let nothing stand in my way. Look carefully at the picture - see anything? From the top, there is the apricot glaze on top of a lovely layer of hazelnut genoise followed by some hidden whipped cream, a layer of butter cream icing and...... a flan?

Yep, my cake was augmented with a store bought flan. Due to extenuating circumstances, my cake did not have enough height to divide into three layers. I desperately wanted three layers so I rushed out to buy one "peel from the package and slap down" flan. A slap down flan has the texture and taste of a kitchen sponge. But... if a kitchen sponge is soaked in orange sugar syrup and it's rubbing elbows with enough butter cream, hazelnut, apricot, chocolaty goodness to sink a ship, the kitchen sponge taste and texture fade to the background.

No one really needs to know ...

Butter cream icing is much easier to make in cool weather. I beat the tar out of my butter cream but the heat constantly worked against me. The butter cream kept melting and sliding around. Since I've made buttercream before, I just shrugged it off as a learning experience.

This cake was devoured (kitchen sponge and all) in two days with the help of friends and neighbours. My mistakes with this cake were eclipsed by the sheer quality and taste of the ingredients. Would I make this cake again? Yes, but in cooler weather.

Thank you Chris for providing another great learning opportunity! The full recipe can be found at Chris' site Mele Cotte.

Check out the other Daring Bakers and their lovely creations.

NB. My genoise was gluten free but alas the flan was not...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gardening

I am not a gardener.

My mother has beautiful flowers and plants. People stop to take pictures of the cascading flowers in her planters. She is forever explaining to me how to take care of this plant or that plant. Unfortunately, talking to me about gardening is like the adults talking in a Peanuts cartoon. There is a garbled noise that I don't quite understand.

My approach to my garden is a more Darwinian type philosophy. Throw it in and see if it survives. Many plants don't survive but the ones that do, boy they're tough little suckers.


Take rhubarb. Rhubarb is not my favourite plant but I inherited a huge specimen when we bought this house. I know nothing about rhubarb except that it requires copious amounts of sugar to render it palatable. I divided the huge root, parcelled it out to friends, and relocated parts of the plant to other areas of the garden.

My mother offered this nugget of wisdom this summer. Rhubarb is apparently a heavy feeder; I should fertilise to keep it strong and healthy. Frankly, I don't know what I would do with a healthier plant. I just dig it up and move it every once and a while.

My mother was shocked... but then she burst out laughing.

The apple fell sooo far from that tree.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

To Bake or Not to Bake?

Summer is the season of weddings.

My wedding is long long past. In fact, we will be celebrating our 20th anniversary this summer. We were married at 12 years of age, in case you're wondering about our ages.

Wedding planning and decision making are fascinating dynamics to watch. There are a couple of promising trends that have sprung up over the years.

The dresses are much more elegant and streamlined. I remember dresses dripping with lace, exploding with ruffles, and bows popping out everywhere. The bridal party would glide down the aisle like a portable notions rack. Youthful exuberance without restraint is charming but revisiting the pictures years later ... it's just painful.

People are making their own wedding cakes. More power to them! Many weddings I attended had rented fake wedding cakes. It was the fashion then, but now I snicker a little bit. Some of the rented cakes appeared like tired tarts circulating the endless rounds of the wedding season.

Wedding cakes were hideously expensive and no one ate the real ones. There was one exception that stood out. It was the multi-tiered-chocolate-chip-cookie-cake made by the groom at our best friend's wedding. That was just delicious fun; it begged for shots of milk for toasting.

(Think of overgrown tuxedoed cookie monsters as groomsmen. You know you're going to have fun with that bridal party.)

Of all the weddings I have attended, the one that was the most relaxed was a potluck. That's right, potluck. The bride and groom were heavily involved in the community but their budget would not stretch to fit all the important people in their lives. "Why not a potluck?" I asked. The bride looked at me as if I sprouted horns but her mind was whirling around the idea.

But it made sense. This couple was well loved; their friends wanted to contribute to their special day. A good friend offered her house and garden for the reception. Another friend offered to coordinate all the food. We all pitched in to make it a success. It became a cooperative community wedding with fabulous food.

More power to the wedding party!

....that crack about being 12 years old, shame on you if you believe it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What would a Daring Baker do?

What do Daring Bakers talk about when they get together?

You would think that we would be spinning sugar from the roof top, kneading dough, or reviewing the latest culinary hot spot...

Instead, it went like this...

Hmmm, that wild giggling means they're up to something.... There's a wasps nest in the play house!!? ..... and you did what to the wasps nest? ... I think it's time to play inside.... No, you're not allowed to lock yourselves into the trunk....say please and thank you...

Jenny of All Things Edible and I got together for a fun "play date". No pictures, no fabulous food, but a lot of fun.

It's summer time and the kids are home.....
____________________________________________
Oops, I owe someone a Mr. Freezie.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Danish Braid

The Daring Bakers strike again! The Daring Bakers started as a small intimate group of supportive baking enthusiasts who wanted to share their challenges and triumphs tackling a chosen recipe each month. The group is growing like wildfire and we number over 1,000 members. There is never a dumb question, never a disaster we cannot learn from, and never a success that we do not celebrate.

This month the Daring Bakers are tackling a Danish Braid. Our hosts, Kelly of Sass & Veracity, and Ben of What’s Cookin’?, picked “Danish Braid” from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking.


First a little history and information from our hosts....

History
“Danish” was born when Danish bakers went on strike, and Viennese bakers were brought in to replace them, creating what is referred to as Vienna Bread. Conversely, it is also said that Danish bakers went to Vienna to learn the techniques Viennese bakers employed, and Danish dough was created there. In the early 1800’s, C.L. Olsen spent time in Germany, believing in the idea of gaining inspiration from bakers of other countries. He brought knowledge back to Denmark to introduce “foreign” breads to his country, also hiring people of other nationalities to bake in his family bakery.

Why Danish Braid?
Danish dough is in the family of butter-laminated or layered doughs with puff pastry being the ultimate. Danish dough is sweet and is yeast-leavened, however, where as puff pastry is not. The process of making Danish dough is less complex than that of puff pastry, but equally as important to achieve best results, and a great starting place to begin to learn about laminated doughs in general. Danish dough is extremely versatile, and once made can be used for a variety of baked goods. The possibilities are endless.

Now, a little feedback from me...

I loved, just loved this challenge!!! To tell the truth I relish every challenge because I learn so much from the other lovely bakers. Every challenge reveals something about myself too - following directions is a discipline I have yet to master .... but... I can trouble shoot like no one's business.

Rolled Dough Ready for Filling

This baby was filled with a homemade almond pastry cream and a drizzle of raspberry coulis. If I had followed all the directions, I would have braided my first attempt more evenly, oh well....



Lessons learned:

1) Room temperature has a different meaning depending on where you live. In Singapore, it meant melting butter. In Ottawa (Canada) we had a wave of cold weather; my "beurrage" was a hard lump of shivering butter.

2) All the instructions are important, not just the ones I remember.

3) Making two braids helped me use those instructions I omitted on my first attempt.

4) This was the sexiest Daring Baker challenge ever. Without exception, every picture from the Daring Bakers made me want to lick the screen.



The recipe can be found at the host's websites. It was loooong but filled with important information that should not be skipped. (sigh) Thank you to our lovely hosts for picking this challenge. We all appreciate the time and effort you have put toward making this experience fun.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Delinquents

Shove over juvenile delinquents, grandma and grandpa are moving into your territory.

Every time there is theft or vandalism in my neighbourhood everyone bobs their head while sighing about the state of youngsters today. Where are the parents? Children learn at the knee of their parents so the parents are obviously derelict in their duty.

Parents? Are you sure that's the example youngesters are following?

The most brazen examples of theft I've witnessed are from the seniors in the neighbourhood. I live in a place blessed with gorgeous gardens. Little did I know that the price of a garden was paid in contraband.

I stopped one senior in her tracks as she bent over to pluck plants from my garden to add to her already generous bouquet. "What ARE you doing?" She jumped back, apologized profusely and went on her way. I wish that had been the only time I'd seen illicit harvesting, but it wasn't.

From the little old lady skipping along the path with a fistful of daffodils from the city garden to the grandparents accompanying their grandchildren as they strip flowers off the plants, each one seemed to think gardens were public property to be plundered at will.

Gardens ARE publicly provocative in displaying their glory. Maybe it's the equivalent of wearing a short skirt and having a dirty old man sneak a little pinch on the crowded bus. Shame.

I am doing my part to combat this grey crime wave by growing a brazen carpet of dandelions in every spare nook and cranny of my garden. I'm pretty proud of my success.

So far, not one dandelion is missing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Excellent Pain


Do you slather on the sunscreen after seeing this?

(This is a loaf of bread with "Excellent Bread" written in French. "Pain" is French for bread and excellent is the same in both languages.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Spectacular Camouflage

My children think I'm nuts. To tell the truth, they are probably not the only ones. There is a certain game we play called fetch and it goes like this...

"Mommy can't find her glasses, has anybody seen them?"

"No... no... no..."

"Does anybody know where they are?"

Another chorus of "Nos"

The glasses are the lovely seamless type. Seamlessness allows my husband to focus on the loveliness of my eyes without being distracted by clunky frames. Anything for romance... The drawback becomes apparent when the seamless frames blend into every piece of furniture that we own.

Since my eyesight isn't perfect, I can't find the glasses without, well, the glasses. There's nothing romantic about a squinty-eyed hunchback rooting through the couch cushions for her glasses. Therefore, I rely on younger eyes... (which is the whole reason we reproduce in the first place)

The next step is the reward.

"One dollar to whoever finds my glasses..." The kids are getting more savvy; it used to be 25 cents.

But now the game has evolved to a whole new direction. I asked my oldest if he knew where my glasses could be. He pointed to his head. Immediately, I felt the top of my head (it's happened before that they were on my head and I completely forgot) They weren't there. He burst out laughing.

I think he was circling his ear with his finger in the "you're nuts" sign.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Gluten Free Opera

The Daring Bakers strike again!

The Daring Bakers' group consists of bakers united around the globe with the goal of furthering our baking education in a supportive fun environment. If we don't succeed at the challenge, we must at the very least, share our disasters for the benefit and belly laughs of all... and we have some doozies from time to time. But, if you don't succeed, embellish the tale and live to bake another day

This month's wonderful challenge was Opera Cake chosen by Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice and Lis of La Mia Cucina. Their cohorts were Shea of the blog Whiskful and Fran of the blog Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie.

This recipe is based on Opéra Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

When I first looked at this challenge I hit the back button so fast my keyboard flinched. It took me three days to stop acting like a chicken baker and go back to the challenge post chanting

"I am a Daring Baker... I am a Daring Baker... "

A traditional Opera Cake has chocolate flavours but the Daring Bakers have no qualms about elbowing tradition out of the sandbox. We were instructed to have a light coloured cake. The flavours and combinations among the bakers were dizzying - green tea, mango, pistachio, passion fruit... Each choice was more inspiring than the next. So what did I choose? Almond and orange. I wanted to really bump up the flavour of the almond meal and balance it with citrus. It worked - it wasn't exotic but it worked!The Opera Cake consisted of 5 components that were prepared separately, then assembled for the final product.

1) Joconde - Sponge cake made with almond meal
2) Almond flavoured sugar syrup
3) Buttercream flavoured with orange zest and vanilla bean
4) Ganache or mousse flavoured with orange zest
5) White chocolate glaze

My joconde turned out perfectly thanks to advice and experience from the other bakers. I watched it like a hawk so that it didn't burn. I substituted the wheat flour for a rice flour combination with xanthan gum. No one would know the difference. I love sponge cake and this was my first gluten free sponge cake.

The sugar syrup was simple and straightforward.

The buttercream worked beautifully but I beat the eggs for at least twice the time required. It wasn't my intention. However, I couldn't hear the timer buzzing over the sound of the mixer. This mistake contributed to my success.

The ganache went grainy. An executive decision was made to brazen it out and use the grainy ganache. Coulda fixed it. Shoulda fixed it. Didn't.

My generous nature acted up and doubled the cream in the glaze. The glaze was a thin shellac that tried to slide off the cake and puddle on the plate.

Despite my snafoos, it was absolutely delicious! Because this was such a generous cake, I made it in two parts and froze half. It freezes beautifully. There is nothing like a shaved frozen slice of cake. Yum.The full recipe can be found at the host blogs.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Let's Play Tag

Graduate Knits has tagged me for this meme, which is the Peeps I Want To Know More About meme. Here are my responses.

The rules: Each player answers the questions about themselves. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5-6 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

1) What was I doing ten years ago?

Studying biology and chemistry, thinking about med school, playing soccer, mom to two, choosing to be mom to three and dropping the med school idea.

2) What are five (non-work) things on my to-do list for today:

Pick up my two sons from camping and sleepovers, cut grass, make sure my children bathe today - especially after camping, take a long walk, and set mouse traps.

3) Snacks I enjoy:

Chocolate, but only really great chocolate.

4) Things I would do if I were a billionaire:

Have plastic surgery to make me taller... If that's not possible buy a lot of totteringly high heels. Then "Giorgio" my cabana boy would carry me around because I'll never be able to walk around in them. Giorgio can chase my children too because, frankly, I would look ridiculous chasing children on the playground in Jimmy Choos.

Fly my friends into an exotic locale for a girl's away long weekend. We would coauthor a cheesy bodice-ripper romance novel full of all the schmaltzy lines we have read over the years. Then we would self publish and give copies to all the adults in our family. This would set a new standard for the family authors that I don't think anyone would surpass, er subvert, for a long time.

5) Places I have lived:

Sault Ste. Marie ON
Mississauga, ON
Toronto, ON
Kingston, ON
Florence, Italy
Ottawa, ON

6) Jobs I have had:

Babysitter & Petsitter
McDonald's Manager
Assistant Art Curator at an art gallery
Residence Don at University
Slide Librarian
Coordinator of Special Events for an arts festival
Researcher for Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee
Chocolate Truffle Maker
Property Manager

7) Peeps I want to know more about:


Take the Cannoli - I love that name. She is opening up a baking business!

Semi di Papavero - Poppy Seeds

So Many Flavours, So Little Time - A New Daring Baker this April

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pancake Fake

These gluten free pancakes looked gorgeous, cooked beautifully, and soaked up maple syrup like nobodies business but tasted, well, they had no taste. They were from a mix. This mix was an educational experience because I now know it is possible to have the fluffy consistency I love in a gluten free pancake. But, I crave a little more taste...

I will keep plugging away....

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Going Gluten Free

Going gluten free has been a real challenge and I wasn't sure how my munchkins would view a gluten free lifestyle. Except for a few wishing moments, they have taken to it like ducks to water. I resorted to a well-tested parenting ploy - bribery.

Oh, you can call it anything else that you want: setting a context, supportive environment, organization.... but we know it's real name.

I am not making light of a gluten free lifestyle. Not everyone in our family needs to adhere to this way of eating but everyone will be strictly gluten free for a month. This time has given us a new appreciation of the family members who must adhere to a gluten free diet.

Back to the bribery. La Famiglia would be so proud.

I purchased small stackable shelving containers of three different colours and labelled them with each child's name. This is called the "snack" stack. Each child has their own supplies of snacks and they are allowed one snack per day. They could trade with each other if they didn't like a particular snack.

The only criteria was that the snacks were gluten free, not healthy, gluten free.

Snack food in this house meant fruit, vegetables, and generally healthy unprocessed food. I'm a bit fanatic when it comes to food ingredients. Any food product over five ingredients is slung back onto the grocery shelf. This was a stretch to choose products solely on a gluten-free basis.

A really big s-t-r-e-t-c-h.

Gluten free gum, candy, chocolate, chips... the list of gluten free garbage is endless. I had to balance it with healthier options of dried tropical fruit, nuts, applesauce cups. I couldn't help myself.

My children think this is an adventure. They love the idea of choosing their indulgences. They think their mother is the greatest. They have no idea.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sharp Objects are Larger Then They Appear

A clean bandage is a fashion accessory.

Paper cuts have nothing on me.

Right now I'm typing with bandaged fingers and trying to hit the right keys.

I'm the only person I know who has cut her finger with a butter knife... cutting butter.

I'm the only person I know who has cut her finger with tongs... tongs!

Sheer necessity has made me use this product. But I couldn't help giggling the first time I saw a package.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Great Balls of Cheesecake!

Another month and another great Daring Baker Recipe Challenge!

The Daring Baker principles have always remained the same - to test our baking skills on the same recipe every month in a friendly supportive environment. There is a lot of lively discussion and some consoling over baking snafus. The great range of expertise among the bakers makes everything seem possible, even jumping over mounds of cream cheese in a single bound! It's been a great learning experience for me and I love - just love - the fact the recipes chosen are always ones that broaden my experience.

The recipe this month was Cheesecake Pops from the recipe book Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor. Our gracious hostesses this April were Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms and Deborah at Taste and Tell. The full recipe can be found at their blogs.

What did I learn from this challenge?

1) Cutting a recipe in half that calls for 5 packages of cream cheese is a very good idea. My family, my neighbour's family, and my neighbour's family's family wouldn't be able to eat that much cheesecake in a month of Sundays. With the knowledge that we could die trying to eat that much cheesecake, I cheerfully cut the recipe in half.

2) The baking time indicated in the recipe was very short. Even with half of a recipe, my baking time was over an hour. I've put the time variation in bold brackets for future reference.

3) Smashing peppermint candies for coating is fun, therapeutic, and mildly violent.

4) Little children will eat the chocolate outside and leave the cheesecake.

5) Have an eight year old "sous chef assistant" creates a chocolate coating on everything!

6) This is a great recipe for feeding a crowd. The portion of cheesecake is perfect for dessert and the serving utensil is tossed after the last lick. What more can you ask for?

7) I used Callebault dark chocolate chips and tempered them instead of adding shortening. The chocolate was fantastic!

Thank you Elle and Deborah. My children thank you, my neighbours thank you, and my neighbour's children thank you.

Cheesecake Pops

The cheesecake is New York style, the pops can be jazzed up with different toppings, and they are FUN…just right for a party. They are from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor. Isn’t that an alluring title for a cookbook?

Makes 30 – 40 Pops
5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature 2 cups sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour ¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs 2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract ¼ cup heavy cream
Boiling water as needed 30-40 8-inch lollipop sticks
1 pound chocolate, finely chopped 2 tbsps vegetable shortening

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, coconut) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a spring form pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, (one hour and....) 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth.

Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionery chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

For a gluten free version subsitute sweet rice flour instead of wheat flour. Carrie at GingerLemon Girl made successful gluten free cheesecake pops.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Not Quinoa on this Breakfast

Yep, my children were not quinoa (pronounced Keen-wa) on this breakfast. They weren't sold on the nutritional value, cinnamon, chunky applesauce, brown sugar, shredded coconut, or the fact that the quinoa was organic. Maybe sprinkles would have helped but I think it would have tipped the nutritional balance right into the abyss.

On the other hand, their mother thought it was great!


Quinoa is a grain that originates from the Andes Mountains of South America. Quinoa needs to be rinsed thoroughly to remove any residue of bitter tasting saponins. In order to do this rinse Quinoa in the pot with plenty of water and agitate well. Rubbing the seeds together will help remove the any saponin residue. Pour the water off and put quinoa in a fine mesh sieve. Rinse again with running water.

Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

Quinoa
1/2 cup Quinoa (125 mL)
1 cup water (250 mL)
bit of salt
Rinse quinoa thoroughly before use (3 minutes in agitating water, drain, rinse again) Place quinoa, water, and salt in small saucepan. Cover and simmer 7-10 minutes.

Open a jar of applesauce or...

Chunky Applesauce
2 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 tsp cinnamon (5 mL)
2 tbsp brown sugar (30 mL)
Adjust sugar according to the sweetness/tartness of apples.

Place apples, sugar, and cinnamon in a microwave safe dish. Cover and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Check. If apples are soft, chop roughly. If they are still very firm, microwave for another minute. The apples can be cooked on the stove top but add a dash of water and cover pot tightly.

Add Ins
raisins, shredded coconut, chopped fresh or dried fruit, nuts

Mix cooked quinoa, chunky applesauce, and any other fruit/nuts that appeal to you. Serve topped with a sprinkle of coconut. Serve warm.

Serves 2-4 depending on serving size.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Let Them Eat Cake for Breakfast

We've been searching for gluten free recipes and we have decided that this is breakfast food at our house. A thin slice of this Rice Cake, a few slices of fruit, and a glass of milk or freshly squeezed orange juice and we're good to go.

The original recipe is from the British cookbook Italian Cooking by Robin Howe. Italian Cooking was first published in 1956; I'm lucky enough to have the 1979 edition because a quick search on Amazon revealed only used copies.

The cookbook is a charming quirky mix of metric, British Imperial, weight measures, pinches, and volume measures all rolled into each recipe. I've converted the measures to be more consistent but don't obsess over the measures. Judge by look, feel and taste. I bet that rice cakes started out as leftovers that a clever Nonna reinvented for the family. So be a clever Nonna and cook the rice the day before.

This recipe does not turn out a typical North American fluffy cake. Instead it turns out a substantial moist dish that is fantastic for breakfast. You can drizzle a bit of maple syrup for an added bonus but the cake is great straight up. The orange sauce gives cheery good morning dimension to the cake.

Rice Cake (Torta di Riso)

1 litre milk (4 cups)
100 g sugar (4 oz, 1/2 cup)
grated rind of three oranges
pinch of salt (1/8 tsp)
225 gr Italian/Arborio short rice (1/2 pound, 1&1/3 cups)
5 mL almond extract (1 tsp)
100 g natural almonds, blanched, skins removed and chopped (4 oz, 2/3 of cup before chopping)
4 eggs

butter to grease pan
30 mL/2 tbsp ground almonds for dusting the pan
aluminum foil or heat proof lid for glass casserole dish

Orange Sauce
freshly squeezed orange juice from your three oranges
15 mL cornstarch (1 tbsp)
125 mL sugar (1/2 cup)

Put rice, milk, sugar, orange rind, salt, and almond extract into large saucepan. Cook over moderate heat until all the milk is absorbed. Mix often otherwise the rice will burn on the bottom. Once all the milk is absorbed, remove from the heat and let cool completely. Stir from time to time to make sure it doesn't congeal into a solid clump.

While the rice is cooking, squeeze the oranges for the orange sauce. Combine orange juice, sugar, and cornstarch in small saucepan. Stirring constantly, heat the mixture over a moderate/high heat. When the sauce thickens and clarifies, remove from heat. The sauce will solidify as it cools but a vigorous mixing will make it pouring consistency.

When the rice is cool....prepare your glass baking dish by rubbing the inside with butter and sprinkling with ground almonds.

Separate the eggs. Beat the whites until they are stiff then beat the yolks until they are a light yellow. If you mix the yolks first, you will have to clean and dry the beaters. Otherwise the fat of the yolks will prevent the whites from whipping. Who wants more work? Not me.

Mix the egg yolks into the rice until thoroughly combined. Fold in the egg whites. Turn the mixed rice into your prepared pan and cover with aluminum foil or a heat proof lid.

Cook at 180 C/350 F/Gas Mark 4 for 30 minutes. Remove the lid/foil after 30 minutes and cook until the top is golden and a skewer comes out clean. If your cake is golden but seems undercooked, you can microwave the cake on high for a few minutes to cook the inside without burning the outside....

... I know... from experience... I'm a careless cook but a great trouble shooter. If you chose a metal dish you are regretting that decision right about now.

When the cake is cool, pour a puddle of orange sauce onto a cake plate and turn out the cake onto it. If you forget the orange sauce puddle, pour it on top. Total baking time is about one hour.Substitutions and Experiments
Try any type of nut that appeals to you, except your husband. If you cannot tolerate nuts, substitute raisins for inside the cake, rice flour for dusting the interior of the dish, and a different husband.... I'm kidding, I'm kidding.

Experiment with the flavourings. Try grated lemon rind and omit the almond flavouring. I'm not sure a lemon sauce will work unless you really bump up the amount of sugar to combat the sourness but go for it anyway. Try vanilla bean and extract.

Omit the orange sauce and drink the freshly squeezed orange juice. Quick - before anyone notices.

Disclaimer
My husband is not a nut. Well, not any nuttier than I am and I love him dearly.