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Monday, October 29, 2007

...and I felt like the Queen of the world until..

Project Bostini day was a gorgeous sun filled time to tackle the latest Daring Bakers challenge chosen by Mary at Alpineberry. The sun was shining. Hubby was doing house fixes - his way of showing me that he loves me. The kids were running in and out and all over the neighbourhood. Perfect day to get down and bake...

... and I felt like the Queen of the World until the wind blew my muffin cups all over the kitchen.

I cracked the windows open to let the breeze ruffle my long Kate Winslet-like locks. *snort*

In my hard won wisdom, I've learned never to mix dry ingredients or sift flour in front of an open window on a windy day. But, I left the paper lined muffin tins basking in the sunlight ready to rock and roll.

After mixing the chiffon I went to fill my cups but they were gone. The wind blew the paper liners all over the kitchen. I panicked thinking that the air would leak out of the batter while I scrambled for more liners. Can't use the ones on the floor; that's just nasty.

I bet Kate Winslet never blew off her muffin cups.

Not a problem. I quickly filled the small cake pan and shoved it into the oven. Then I replaced and filled the muffin cup liners. Holy Batman, there was a lot of batter. Ha, I am not defeated yet, I snatched the hot cake pan from the oven and put more batter into the tin. Not something I'd recommend but if it doesn't work, I'm eating the evidence.

I forgot the directions to strain the custard as I put it into the glasses and dish. But in my top of the world mood I could leap over tall buildings and catch a vanilla bean and I did... catch the bean.

(We offer a reward at my house to the person who gets the "treasure" of the forgotten bay leaf, bean or whatever. It's not much, but the kids don't complain anymore when some detritus shows up in their dish. They just hold out their hands for the cold hard cash reward of two bits.)

However, the straining was really good advice because I wasn't expecting a few little egg curds to plop out at the end. Oh well, protein builds muscle.

Speaking of the eggs, mine seemed to have runty little yolks. It took 5 yolks to make 1/3 cup and only 7 egg whites to make 1 cup. There must be some unhappy hens in this world. Since there wasn't enough yolk or cornstarch to make a firm custard, it was more like a delicious creme anglais. In the future I would tweak the recipe to have a firmer custard. My youngest described it as A drink with a muffin dunked into it.

The orange chiffon "muffin" was delicious. The texture was fantastic and the orange taste sharp enough to stand up to the creamy custard and chocolate sauce. The juicy fragrant oranges were from South Africa (they are better travelled than I am). They zested and juiced beautifully for a perfect pairing of orange and chocolate.

The cake that I snatched out of the oven worked because I poured the excess batter in a circle around the middle and left the cake in the oven a bit longer at a lower temperature. But I still don't recommend doing this because I think it was really luck.

Thank you Mary from Alpineberry. You're building a better baker, one lesson at a time.

Bostini Cream Pie
(from Donna Scala & Kurtis Baguley of Bistro Don Giovanni and Scala's Bistro)
Serving Size: 8 absolutely gigantic servings! Easily makes 16 normal servings.


3/4 cup whole milk
2 3/4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 whole egg, beaten
9 egg yolks, beaten
3 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar

Chiffon Cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 1/3 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup beaten egg yolks (3 to 4 yolks)
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup egg whites (about 8 large)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Chocolate Glaze:
8 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces unsalted butter


To prepare the custard:
Combine the milk and cornstarch in a bowl; blend until smooth. Whisk in the whole egg and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into the egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard and pour into 8 large custard cups. Refrigerate to chill.

To prepare the chiffon cakes:
Preheat the oven to 325°. Spray 8 molds with nonstick cooking spray. You may use 7-ounce custard cups, ovenproof wide mugs or even large foil cups. Whatever you use should be the same size as the custard cups.

Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and vanilla. Stir until smooth, but do not over beat.

Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten whites into the orange batter. Fill the sprayed molds nearly to the top with the batter.

Bake approximately 25 minutes, until the cakes bounce back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Do not over bake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When completely cool, remove the cakes from the molds. Cover the cakes to keep them moist.

To prepare the glaze:
Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat until it is just about to bubble. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir to melt. Pour through a strainer and keep warm.

To assemble:
Cut a thin slice from the top of each cake to create a flat surface. Place a cake flat-side down on top of each custard. Cover the tops with warm chocolate glaze. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rush Hour

Homework. Time management. It's a tussle that every parent loves. I've discovered how my children multi task when they shower by practicing their cursive writing... and some of them practice more than others.

Everyone in the house wants the maximum amount of sleep in the morning. The result is that the shower is in high demand first thing in the morning. We all listen for the squeak of the bathroom door and spring into action to be the next one sliding into the shower.

You would think that there wouldn't be much time to do homework in the bathroom since this is our rush hour.

With a few teenagers in the house, the result of a few long showers at prime time is a steaming bathroom with fog billowing out under the door. The mirror is unusable. Even if you dry it off, the fog in the bathroom rushes to coat the newly cleared surface.

But my children make the best of the situation. They practice their script in big loopy letters all over the mirror. When you take a shower beautifully written words such as "So and so was here" magically appear. I don't want to discourage this practice since I think they're on to something and their script is really gorgeous.

Tomorrow I'm going write on the mirror before they get out of bed "If you can see this, your shower is too long"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Little Bit of Sunshine

Ta da ...

I'm feeling much fonder of my Teflon Canary paint job. It's a little bit of sunshine on this rainy day... but the flashback from the camera will kill ya' if you're not careful!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Teflon Canary to the Rescue

That Teflon Canary paint is amazing. When I impatiently tried to deglaze a smoking hot pan, I had a red wine explosion in the kitchen. The red wine spatter came off the Teflon Canary walls without a backward glance.

It took a little longer to wipe the red wine off the vent hood, tiles, stove and counter.

Oh, shoot. I forgot the floor.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Schiacciata Toscana

When were in a little seaside town in Tuscany, a restaurant at the beach made a flat bread with ham and cheese cooked into the center. The crunchy top was fragrant with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Everyone would eagerly wait for the lunch time batch to be ready. Slices wrapped in paper would be handed out and we would gingerly hold the hot bread while nibbling at the cooler edges.

It took a long time to recreate this dish to our satisfaction. The dough has to be rolled thin so the crust is thin and crunchy. The ham that works the best is a black forest style ham that is thinly sliced. The cheese can be thick and ooze out to greet you or thin and subtle. A baking stone works best to give a crunchy bottom crust but it isn't really necessary. Sea salt wasn't easily available years ago so we substituted coarse pickling salt.

Schiacciata Toscana
(skee-ah-chat-ah - means flattened)

1&1/2 cups warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1&1/2 tsp instant yeast
3&1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp Extra Virgin olive oil

3/4 lb thinly slice Black forest style ham
3/4 lb thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil for top
1 tsp coarse salt for top

1 large baking sheet or pan 9x13 to 10x15. A baking stone makes the baking time longer and a tin sheet makes the time shorter. Check the Schiacciata after 15 minutes. The top and bottom should be a nice golden brown when it's time to remove it from the oven.

Mix water, sugar, salt, 1 tbsp of olive oil and 2 cups of flour until it forms a smooth paste. Mix in the yeast. Let the mixture sit until the yeast is bubbling. This will take about five minutes, but if you're busy and you give it more time, don't worry about it.

Mix in the rest of the flour a little at a time. Mix and knead until the dough is a soft and slightly sticky. The dough will pull away slightly from the walls of the bowl but will not form a solid clump. The dough will stick to your finger if you poke it. You may need to add a bit more flour.

Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to grease the sides of the bowl. Scoop the dough from the bowl and roll it around so it is covered in oil. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. (You can make the dough the day before and put it in the fridge. Just bring it to room temperature before trying to work with the dough.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease the baking sheet. Divide the dough in half and carefully roll out to form a thin sheet. Place the dough on the baking sheet. If the dough over hangs the edges or is too thick, trim carefully. Place a layer of the thin slices of ham followed by a thin layer of cheese. Roll out the other half of the dough and place carefully on top. Trim any thick or overhanging edges. Pinch the edges together to keep the cheese from oozing out of the Schiacciata.

Pour 1 tbsp of olive oil on top and spread smoothly. Sprinkle the coarse the salt over the top. You can let it rest at this point for 15 minutes or pop it directly into the oven.

Cook on center rack for about 25 minutes.

* Prosciutto does not work well in the Schiacciata because it becomes tough when cooked.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Teflon Canary

Did you ever notice that a popular colour for kitchen walls is yellow?

Finally, I moved from white walls in my kitchen to a colour. I selected a vibrant yellow but I thought I'd add a twist to my ordinary kitchen. I would fresco it with white and work it into an inviting subtle pattern. Boy, this was going to be sophisticated.

The previous paint was oil base so we went with another oil base paint. Semi gloss. A little bit of sheen but not too much shine... I thought. At least that is how it works out with latex paint. Besides, I pointed out to my hubby, oil paint is much easier to clean.

Did you know that oil paint has a much higher shine facter than latex?

I can't help running my hands along the wall when I enter the kitchen since I've never felt such a smooth shiny wall. The fact that I can check my makeup in the reflection is just an added bonus.

We call that yellow oil paint the Teflon Canary because nothing will ever stick to it.

We have a lot of leftover Teflon Canary if anyone is interested.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Creamy Celery Soup

Celery is one of those ubiquitous vegetables that is the understudy in a meal. Celery builds a base for dishes but it doesn't often take center stage. This soup takes advantage of the profusion of celery at the market. Cream isn't necessary to give this soup a smooth texture.

Creamy Celery Soup

3 tablespoons butter (45 mL)
6 cups thinly sliced celery (1.5 L)
1 cup minced onions (250 mL)
1&1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds (8 mL)

Celery leaves
2 cups sliced potatoes, peeled (500 mL)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
6 cups GF chicken broth (1.5 L)

Salt and pepper.

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add celery, onions and fennel seed. Cover and cook until very tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Stir in celery leaves, potatoes, and garlic. Add broth; cover and simmer until all vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes. Puree in blender in batches. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

* Optional: Add cream to thicken or add more broth to thin if necessary. Serve with a dollop of heavy cream, sour cream or croutons on top.

This recipe can be made 1 day ahead.

Cover and chill.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pumpkin Custard

When I discovered the Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks, it was a revelation. I didn't know anything about vegetarian cooking but I easily followed the recipes. The food was delicous. This recipe is from the award winning recipe book Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favourites. My family loved the creamy consistency of the custard.

Pumpkin Custard

This recipe does not unmold easily so it's better to serve it straight from the ramekin.

2 cups cooked pureed pumpkin, (1/2L)
1&1/2 cups evaporated skimmed milk (375 mL)
2 eggs
3 egg whites
3/4 cup maple syrup or brown sugar (185 mL)
1 tsp cinnamon (5 mL)
1/2 tsp nutmeg (2.5 mL)
1/2 tsp ginger (2.5 mL)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prepare eight 6 ounce baking cups with a light coat of cooking spray. (oh oh, I think I just understood why it wasn't so easy to unmold) Place cups in shallow flat bottomed pan.

Whirl all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Pour into cups. Pour boiling water around the cups into the shallow pan. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool to room temperature then refrigerate.

Serve chilled.

Monday, October 8, 2007


Today is Canadian Thanksgiving and our family has a tradition of giving thanks before every meal.

At the beginning of a meal the French say Bon Appetit. (I can't think of that phrase without hearing Julia Child's voice in my head)

The Italian say Buon Appetito and everyone responds Grazie, altre tanto which is Thanks, and back at ya'

But what do we say in English? In English we have choices; but Rub a dub dub, dig into the grub doesn't seem very sophisticated. Our English speaking family would say grace at large holiday gatherings but it didn't always fit every situation. Saying grace didn't translate well when we had friends or colleagues over for a meal since more often than not, they were of different faiths.

When it was just my husband and I breaking bread and beaning each other over the noggin with it, we would use Italian. Ahhh, the joy of newly weds. But that didn't work for non Italians. It also didn't work well when we had children since all the food fight fun had to be curtailed.

We needed something that would involve and teach our children the habit of being thankful that we could use in every circumstances and in every language. So every evening before we begin supper we say grace. Our grace includes everyone saying two things that they are thankful for. We have to limit it, otherwise the youngest goes on... and on... and on.

He has a pretty great life.

This Thanksgiving I am very thankful for two things. I am thankful for good friends. Good friends who have rescued my family from the turkey curse by inviting us over for a Thanksgiving meal. I'm thankful for my newly painted kitchen that was totally out of commission so I did not have to cook this weekend.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


One day I was at a friend's house that was decorated in black and white, chrome and glass. It was a striking gorgeous decor. Furniture and art were artfully placed to create a calm energy. Fabulous wine was poured and contemplated.

This was a very different aesthetic sense to friends in Italy. Their house was an old converted farmhouse with exposed beams, tiled floors and family around every corner. The kitchen had open cupboards. The center island had focaccia with rosemary under tea towels. The stove top was full of simmering pots as the dishwasher relentlessly chugged away to provide the place settings for the next meal. We were expecting 15 to 20 people for supper. Grandchildren peeked around the corner and were welcomed with open and floury arms. The smell of cooking, herbs and puffs of flour were in the air. It was a striking earthy atmosphere.

These two scenes crossed my mind when I was photographing some of the food I had made. If you look closely at my pictures, the full blown photo shows scratches on the wooden bowl, bumps on the apples and marks on the tabletop.

I aspire to the first style but my life gives me the second style. One style inspires me and the other comforts me.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Barbarian Torte

My children love this Apple Bavarian Torte. When my daughter was little she couldn't get her tongue around the name, so she dubbed it Apple Barbarian Torte and that is the dessert's affectionate name in our house. The recipe originally came from a Kraft cheese pamphlet that has disappeared in the mists of time.

There is a creamy thin layer of cheesecake between the buttery shortbread crust and the overlapping cinnamon sugared apples. The crisp Autumn apples are at their peak right now and this dish plays up their taste.

Apple Bavarian Torte

Serves 8 to 10.

1/2 cup butter (125 mL)
1/3 cup white sugar (80 mL)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla (1 mL - don't worry about adding a little more)
1 cup all purpose flour (250 mL) (0 type)

1 package cream cheese at room temperature(250 gr or about 1/2 pound)
1/4 cup sugar (60 mL)
1 egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (2.5 mL)


1/3 cup sugar (80 mL)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (2.5 mL)
4 cups peeled sliced apples, depending on the size - about 3 apples (granny smith, MacIntosh - tart firm apples that hold their shape work best)
1/4 cup sliced almonds, optional (60 mL)

Combine butter, sugar & vanilla. Blend in flour. Spread and press dough on bottom and 1 inch up the sides of 9 inch springform pan.

Beat cream cheese & sugar until well blended. Add egg and vanilla; mix well. Spread evenly over the crust.

Combine sugar and cinnamon. Toss apple in sugar mixture. Place in pinwheel pattern over cream cheese layer. Sprinkle with almonds.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes then reduce heat to 375 F and continue baking 25 minutes longer. Cool on wire rack. Chill 3 hours before serving.

Note: This torte freezes well and the recipe is very forgiving. Friends have used low fat cream cheese or marscapone. I've used different sized pans and I'm very casual about the exact measurements. So, don't worry how big your egg should be ... unless it's a quail egg...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Last Turkey Stand

...did I mention the time we had to order Chinese takeout because the turkey wasn't ready for hours... and hours...?

The guests left with fresh turkey takeout at 11:00pm.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Turkey Tales Two

The last time I attempted turkey was a over year ago on the eve of my sister in laws wedding. We were on a rotating cook schedule devised by my mother-in-law. Since I have experience in cooking for crowds, I grabbed the wedding eve spot.

Turkey was the decision.

The night before turkey day, we pulled the semi frozen turkey out of the bar fridge to assess the state of thaw. It was still solid so we left it on top of the fridge for a short time.

Everyone was in a tizzy of activity and I forgot to check the turkey. In fact, everyone forgot the turkey. Until the next day when it was time to put it in the oven.

The house was deserted. One of my mother in laws friends was with me when we realized that the turkey had been left on top of the fridge...

all night...

all day yesterday...

half the morning...

The outside of the turkey was room temperature. The inside of the turkey was room temperature. Our eyes met. Oh fudge!

It was a perfect set up to kill the wedding party and half the family. I was finally going to kill someone with a turkey! I am in so much trouble. (This is an Italian family I married into.)

I panicked and sent my husband out shrieking "Buy chickens, buy chickens!"

This was the final revised menu.

Oven Roasted Chickens
Hazelnut Cranberry Wild Rice
Scalloped Potatoes with Cream
Green Salad dressed with EVOO and Balsamic vinegar
Marsala Poached Pears with Cinnamon Stick, Vanilla and Orange

No one was the wiser except my mother-in-law. Thank goodness I have an understanding Italian mother-in-law.

She really appreciates when someone doesn't poison her.

...and I make a mean roast chicken.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Turkey Curse

Canadian Thanksgiving is looming over my family and I am in a panic. I am a turkey impaired cook.

I've made several attempts to cook a turkey and I've never succeeded beyond edible.

My history is not promising.

My first attempt to cook turkey was initiated as a ploy to create a homy meal for my (then) boyfriend and a bunch of friends. We were at university and in my naivete' I thought a turkey supper was just the thing to have us all feel at home.

It would be a breeze.

After all, what did my parents do? They woke up at some ungodly hour, stuffed a turkey and shoved it in the oven for endless hours.....

No problem.

My boyfriend bought the turkey. We unwrapped it, shoved in the oven and left. For hours... just like Mom.

When we returned there was an eerie turkey skeleton in the oven surrounded by chunks of stringy meat. All the meat had fallen off the carcass in a desperate attempt to escape the heat of the oven. There wasn't even juice for gravy. My room mate saved the day and scavenged some bouillion cubes to make desperately needed chicken/beef gravy. Without grease for our gullet that turkey lodged in our throats.

I'm not one to shy away from a challenge and I realized that I didn't have the knowledge to tackle turkey. My next attempt was with my mother at hand. I was a newlywed in a new apartment and I offered to host Thanksgiving. This didn't seem too ambitious since my mother was with me and she would be guiding my every attempt. We prepped and stuffed the turkey and put it in the oven. Smug was how I felt. Nothing could go wrong.

Soon the smell of turkey was wafting through the apartment. Ahh, bliss.

Soon after that, the smell of burnt turkey was wafting through the apartment. We rushed to the oven and snatched the burnt/raw turkey out of the oven's maw. After some desperate consultation and problem solving we lowered the oven temperature by 100 degrees and shoved the half and half bird back into the oven. We crossed our fingers. That night, we scraped off the edible turkey portions and discarded the carbon at the bottom of the pan.

The oven was calibrated 90 degrees too hot.

For years afterward, I foisted myself on various relatives for my turkey fix and I practiced on chicken.

Until I had children.

Once again I invited family to a Thanksgiving feast. I asked someone to put the turkey in the oven while I was out of the apartment. Could they put a little salt on the turkey? Salt created a lovely crisp skin for chicken and it would be my crowning glory to have a crisp lovely brown skin on my turkey. Brilliant idea I thought.

Handfuls of salt were generously applied to the turkey.

The result was another mummified turkey. There were no OXO cubes to save me and we were in desperate straits... That year we resorted to buttering the meat in order to swallow it.

What followed were years of so-so turkey suppers at my place and really great ones everywhere else.

I'm nothing if not persistent. Stubborn even.

I invited friends over for a Monday Thanksgiving brunch. I would cook the turkey the day before and lay the slices on platters for the buffet. All of my attention was focused on cooking the perfect turkey on Sunday... and I did it! The turkey was perfect. Juicy, tender. It was absolutely lovely. Sunday night my family had a few measley turkey scraps because I saved the prime pieces for my platters.

I was so proud. Every once and a while I would peek under the foil to gaze upon my turkey platter perfection. This felt just great.

Monday morning dawned and I sighed in pleasant anticipation. One last peek at the platter before my guests arrived in 45 minutes. What's this? There were silver speckles all over the turkey. The foil was pitted and had disintegrated over the slices.


I had polished some silver the day before and a bit of polish must have gotten on the wet counter. The foil sheets I had laid out for the platters must have had touched the water.

One. Entire. Turkey. In the garbage.

This Thanksgiving weekend my family is hoping to eat chicken.