Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gardening: A Beginning


Looks like Giz is protesting my lack of blogging by not blogging. Ok. She wins. I'll post.

It all started with a massive post about a crazy day of food. Then, I got tired of the post and lost my blogging mojo. Do long, overwhelming posts ever do that to you?

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Let me start with something simple.

See that little patch in the corner of my backyard?


Here's a closer look...


That's the "before" shot. I'm going to document my first real attempt at gardening (not including the 3 cucumbers I managed to grow a few years ago).

Step 1: Go to Ottawa is Blooming to see what I can learn about gardening. COMPLETE

Step 2: Win a book about gardening that will take me from pathetically ignorant about gardening to slightly less pathetic. COMPLETE

(Yes - I actually won something else! My unlucky streak is officially broken)

I won Mark Cullen's new book, The Canadian Garden Primer.


It's a clearly written book that cover many aspects of gardening. It's the perfect book for me.

Step 3: Convince my dad and stepmom to come to Ottawa to help me enlarge and plant a garden (yes, Dad...I'm putting you to work...no, you cannot pretend to work by reading the paper all afternoon.) COMPLETE

Note to self: don't alienate parents with snarky comments.

Step 4: Do the actual work to plant and maintain a vegetable garden. I'll keep you posted

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I also wanted to mention a new film that may be particularly interesting for Canadian bloggers. It's called Poor No More.

Here's the short synopsis:

Poor No More is a feature documentary that offers Canada’s working poor a way out. Mary Walsh takes some hard-working Canadians to see how poverty has been reduced in Europe and how it might be reduced here. They discover that the countries with the least poverty have affordable housing, strong unions, free university and childcare -- and enjoy successful economies. It’s a road movie with lots of tears and passion that will appeal to the millions of Canadians who are worrying about how to make ends meet.

The film is well done and will definitely get you thinking about poverty, the working poor and the influence of big business in Canada.

You can find screening information on the website's main page. StumbleUpon

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lamington Cupcakes


Through the BloggerAid-Changing the Face of Famine View and Review program, I was delighted to receive a book called The Craft of Baking.



This really beautiful book, inside and out is truly a divine piece of work by Karen DeMasco and Mindy Fox. (can you tell I really love this book) Appreciation goes out to Clarkson Potter/Publishers and Random House Canada who have made this book available to us. The authors are both very accomplished; Karen DeMasco is known as the pastry chef of Tom Colicchio's Craft, Craftbar, and "witchcraft restaurants" from 2001 - 2008 and also a James Beard Award winner. Mindy Fox is the food editor of the magazine La Cucina Italiana and a former editor at Saveur.

.... and so starts my story of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

During the BACFF Culinary Olympics I was very drawn to Adele of Will Work for Biltong's Lamington Cupcakes. Typically an Australian cake I had starred it for "must try" and in cupcake form - oh yes. Well...when I received The Craft of Baking and saw the very same cupcakes on the front cover it read to me like a romance novel.

The book is really well laid out and offers a good amount of information and tips on ingredients and how to use them for maximum result. The recipes are truly easy to follow with photography by Ellen Silverman that is nothing short of brilliant.

I was fixated on trying the Lamington Cupcakes. And so started my journey of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.



Well, the day did start off on a very happy note - I had the recipe, the ingredients and the time to prepare. These three things are not always lined up.

Cupcake Lamingtons

Coconut Coating
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut

Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups cake flour, plus more for the muffin tin
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, very soft, plus more for the muffin tin.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out, bean and seeds removed
1/2 cup whole milk
4 large egg whites

Chocolate Glaze
1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp water

Preheat oven to 300 F
Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and bake until it's lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, let the coconut cool completely and then transfer it to a wide shallow bowl.

Increase the oven temperature to 350 F. Butter and flour a standard 12 cup muffin tin.

For the cupcakes: In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, granulated sugar, vanilla extract and vanilla bean and seeds on medium-high speed until light and fluffy - about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

With the mixer on medium speed, add the milk and the flour mixture alternating in three additions each scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary to ensure that the mixture is well combined. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the batter into a large bowl. Remove the vanilla bean from the batter, and rinse and reserve it.

Clean and dry the bowl of the electric mixer well. Add the egg whites, and using the whisk attachment on medium speed, beat to soft peaks, about 4 minutes. In three additions, fold the whites into the batter.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling the cups about three-quarters full. Bake rotating the tin halfway through until the cupcakes are lightly golden and a tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Invert the cupcakes onto a wire rack, turn them top side up, and let them cool completely.

For the glaze: set a wire rack on a baking sheet
In a medium bowl, sift together the cocoa powder, confectioners' sugar and salt. Add 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp water and the vanila, and whisk to combine.
Dip 1 cupcake into the glaze turning to coat the entire cupcake. Immediately roll the cupcake in the toasted coconut, covering the entire cupcake. Transfer the cupcake to the wire rack to let the glaze set up; this will take about 10 minutes. Repeat with remaining cupcakes.

The cupcakes can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days
The recipe is good - I must have been seriously distracted when I made them (the first time)

HERE COMES THE BAD.....



UGH...not very impressive but at least I know what I did wrong.
My bads:
1. I had both cake flour and all-purpose flour on the counter - I accidently mixed the two together.
2. My egg whites were from a carton that I use for my egg white omelettes in the morning and a little on the cool side. The soft peaks never materialized and was more watery than peaky (I should have known better)
3. When I was setting up my stand mixer I accidently fitted the whisk attachment instead of the paddle attachment so the whole cupcake batter was whisked and not paddled. Now that was dumb of me. I realized it too late and thought - well maybe it'll work .... NOT

I was determined and decided to remake the batch and this time focus on what I was doing. This part is:

THE GOOD



Looking better already wouldn't you say.... et voila....success



These are out of this world delicious and have the "Teenage Seal of Approval" from my niece and nephew who made sure that there were no leftovers - not even crumbs.

Then came THE UGLY

While glazing the second batch I could hear water running. I had easy listening music on and just thought it was a waterfall spa type song. When I walked into the other room, it was no song... my bedroom and entire 50% of my condo was raining from the inside.

Apparently a water pipe burst one flight up from me with nobody at home and really, where is water to go but down. Although these aren't wonderful pictures, I guess you can get an idea. I'm not thrilled, have no control over it, will simply have to go with the flow - or take off to visit Psychgrad in Ottawa.



How interesting - it's raining through the light fixture in my shower.





It's a little tough to see but there's a fair amount of water on the laminate flooring and it's now starting to buckle. Charming.

This is the ceiling that runs across my bedroom - the texture is more on the floor than the ceiling now.





So, not knowing whether to laugh, cry or just throw up, I ate a Lamington Cupcake and decided that this too shall pass. All is good with the world. Get the cookbook - it's so worth having in your collection. StumbleUpon

Sunday, April 4, 2010

President's Choice - Healthier Options


I recently received some samples of the new Healthier Options promotion released by President's Choice



It's refreshing to see that the larger grocers are listening to their customers and paying attention to the potential health risks associated with poor diet and lifestyle. The marketplace is changing and producers as well as providers are having to think about how to stock shelves with thoughtful, health promoting foods at price points that don't kill the wallet.



I looked at the PC personal water filter bottle - great idea - instant filtered water with a replaceable filter that could reduce the number of plastic water bottles that end up in the environment. The bottle is plastic and intended to be reusable; I'm just wondering how safe the plastic is.

I put the sample of the unsweetened apple blend applesauce (apple cherry) to good use and added it to my morning smoothie. It was a great addition and and showed that it's more than just a portable snack. This one is a keeper for my fridge.



On movie night we popped up the butter flavoured mini popcorn that has only 100 calories. I admit, it's not replacing my favourite microwavable popcorn but the whole thing was eaten.



I'm a bit of a sucker for high protein granola bars and like to carry them with me in my purse. It's nutrient rich and really delicious.

The Blue Menu vegetarian chili, although lower in sodium than most packaged products is still too high in sodium for me. I shared this one with a neighbour who tells me that this was a find for him. He loves chili, doesn't cook, lives alone and has a microwave - what a perfect match that is.

This was a sampling and intrigued me to want to see more of the new options. How fortunate that a gift card was included.



I think I need to try the PC Blue Menu yogurt smoothie bars.

My experiences with President's Choice have, for the most part, been positive. From a consumer's perspective I see the company overall as forward thinking. Today I received an email several times over addressing the possibility of a particular independent store boycotting products from Israel. Since I live not too far from this store, it's something I plan to check out this week. Have any of you heard anything? I'm having a really hard time believing this is company based. StumbleUpon

Friday, April 2, 2010

Passover Popovers and Potatoes - The 3 P's


I think I mentioned previously that I found some interesting recipes on the King Arthur Flour Blog . I mean who knew that a flour company would provide such incredible recipe for flourless baking. Pretty impressive, n'est ce pas? I decided to try their Passover Popovers that I have to tell you are both easy to make and really far lighter than I ever expected them to be. Passover is all about using eggs as a leavening agent so don't go into cardiac arrest at the number of eggs in this recipe.




2 cups water
1 cup vegetable oil
1 to 1 1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
1 cup cake meal
1 cup matzo meal
12 large eggs

1. Put the water, oil, salt and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
2. Stir in the cake meal, then the matzoh meal; the mixture will be very stiff. Set it aside to cool to lukewarm, about an hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Use shortening or non-stick vegetable oil spray to grease a standard muffin tin; a standard 6-cup popover plan; or a 12-cup mini-popover pan.
4. Crack the eggs into a large measuring cup. With your mixer running, gradually pour them into the bowl. Beat till smooth; scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, and beat till smooth again.
5. Scoop the stiff batter into the prepared pan, filling the cups about 3/4 full. You'll need to bake in batches; this recipe will make 28 muffin-size popovers; 15 standard popovers; or 30 mini popovers.
6. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven heat to 325 F and bake for an additional 35 minutes (mine took 30 minutes) (for the muffin-pan popovers); 40 minutes (for the standard popovers); or 25 minutes (for the mini-popovers). Popovers should be a medium-golden brown. To check if they're done, pull one out of the pan (they come out really easily) and break it open; the interior should be mildly moist, but not soggy.
7. Remove the popovers from the oven, and tilt them in the pan to cool. (I didn't do this part and they were still great)

Passover isn't the same without a Norene Gilletz recipe. This year we chose her Duchesse Potato Mounds with Mushroom.



10-12 large potatoes, peeled & cut up (about 4lb./2kg)
2 eggs plus 2 egg whites
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth (approximately)
2 Tbsp tub margarine, divided
salt and pepper to taste

Mushroom Filling


3 cups mushrooms, coarsely chopped (I used baby bellas)
2 onions, coarsely chopped (I used one large and was happy I cut it back)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
paprika, to garnish

1. Cook potatoes in lightly salted water until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain well. Place pan with drained potatoes over high heat for a minute to evaporate excess moisture. Mash potatoes until smooth.** Add eggs, egg whites and just enough broth to moisten. Beat well. Add 1 Tbsp. margarine and season with salt and pepper. Mixture should be firm enough to pipe through a pastry bag. Amount of broth used will depend on the size of potatoes and how dry they are when you mash them.

2. In a non-stick skillet, saute mushrooms and onions in remaining margarine on medium-high heat until nicely browned. If necessary, add a little broth. Season with salt, pepper and thyme.

3. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray. Place potato mixture in a large pastry bag fitted with a large star tube. Pipe potatoes into mounds onto prepared baking sheet, leaving a small opening in the centre of each mount. Spoon in some of the mushroom filling. Sprinkle lightly with paprika. (Can be prepared ahead of time) Bake uncovered at 400 F for 20 minutes, until golden

** - making sure the potatoes are mashed well is critical; if you have any lumps they'll get stuck in your tip when piping.
This will yield about 12 servings depending on how large you make them.
Reheats really well. Do not freeze

Verdict: I would make these over and over again. Everyone thinks it's magic when it's really so simple, pretty and delicious.

Easter and Passover usually fall around the same time. We'd like to wish all of our friends who celebrate Easter a soulfully enriching and joyous time with your families and friends. StumbleUpon
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