Sunday, August 31, 2008

Chocolate Éclairs by Pierre Hermé

This Daring Bakers entry, Chocolate Éclairs by Pierre Hermé, is my first, and it was almost my last. All because of choux pastry, that vexing yet tantalizing dough first concocted in my country of historical origin, France. I say historical because I'm half-French Canadian, which means I had ancestors in France about, oh, 400+ years ago? Can't I still call myself half-French?

Anyway, let me explain. Choux pastry is supposed to be smooth, glossy, and pipeable, forming "ribbons" when falling off a wooden spoon back into your mixing bowl.

That is to say, choux pastry is not supposed to look like this:

Curdled and goopy. No, thank you. It's very rare these days that I fail completely in the kitchen. I think the last time I screwed up so badly was when I tried to make meringues as a 10 year old. They formed pools of sugary egg whites and baked in one wide, thin layer. My first adventure in choux pastry felt sort of like that. I think I was most upset about wasting the ingredients.

So, what happened? I forgot to add the butter to the original mixture. The biggest problem? I should have just thrown out the butterless dough which was an inexpensive mixture of flour and water. Instead, I thought I'd try adding the butter to the wrecked dough after it already came together. Even as I dumped half a stick of butter in, I thought, "Oh, this isn't a good idea." So instead of wasting flour and water, I wasted half a stick of butter and two eggs! Oh, well. I scrubbed my badly-burnt pan clean and tried again.

And here is what I came up with:

Compared to making the dough, baking it was a snap. It did seem to brown a lot faster than I had expected, but I slid a sheet of aluminum foil on the rack above (I didn't want to accidentally deflate the choux) and that worked nicely to keep my eclairs and cream puffs from burning.

Now, I should mention that I recently bought a real pastry bag, but neglected to buy a wide plain tip. I have a star tip and a very tiny plain tip (about 2 mm), but 2/3 of a centimetre wide? Nope. Sorry. So my eclairs were not the prettiest, but I think the mounds of dough I piped into cream puff shapes turned out quite well.

I made a basic vanilla pastry cream and a chocolate glaze for the top. If I make this recipe again, I'd like to experiment a little more. Maple pastry cream? Cinnamon pastry cream? So many options. For my first Daring Bakers attempt, I just wanted to keep things simple.

Now that I know how not to make choux pastry, I realize how easy it really is to make. I'm excited to have expanded my baking repertoire just a bit further into French territory. Why not try choux pastry sometime? C'est bon.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Four Foods on Friday: All About Potatoes

It's time for another edition of Four Foods on Friday!

#1. Potato Chips. What kind of chips are your favorite?

Miss Vickie's Sea Salt and Malt Vinegar, hands down. I used to eat them until my mouth hurt from the saltiness and sourness.

#2. What’s your favorite thing to dip chips in?
Artichoke and asiago dip. It's terribly bad for you, but it tastes amazing! Hot spinach and artichoke dip is wonderful, too. I guess I have a thing for artichoke dips.

#3. What’s your favorite way to eat a baked potato?
With lots of sour cream and some kosher salt baked onto the outside, like they serve it at Red Lobster. When I was in England a couple of years ago I also grew to appreciate jacket potatoes, which are essentially baked potatoes with a pile of toppings (tuna, mushrooms, curry, etc.). Restaurants sell them for few pounds each, and for something so simple, they're very tasty and filling. I guess I can't pick just one best way to eat a baked potato!

#4. How do you make mashed potatoes?
I love red potatoes mashed with the skins on. A healthy dose of garlic -- roasted garlic, if you can swing it -- and some butter and heavy cream round it out.

Alright--now I want potato chips. Enjoy your long weekend, everyone! I have scheduled posts coming up on Sunday (my first Daring Bakers entry!) and Tuesday (Tuesdays With Dorie), but I'm actually taking the whole long weekend off, plus Tuesday, to spend time with my family in Windsor. I'll be heading into the States Sunday for -- what else -- American groceries I can't get in Canada. Monday my boyfriend finally gets back to Canada, with lots of photos of Italian food in hand.

Whatever your Labour Day plans, I hope you enjoy them.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pub Food at Home: Cheese, Ranch and Bacon Oven Fries

Perhaps to compensate for my love of baking, I try to eat healthily most of the time. But every so often I get a craving for something greasy and really bad for me. If I can make it at home, it's even better. Last week I crisped some bacon, made some oven fries out of new potatoes, and threw them together with some cheddar cheese and ranch dressing. The result was spectacular, and the fact that the potatoes were baked in my oven made me feel a little less guilty about the fact that this dish is almost devoid of nutritional value.

I meant to pair the fries with a salad, but I didn't. And I didn't feel that guilty, either. Approximate recipe after the jump!

The dish was a hodgepodge of a couple of recipes.

I modeled the fries loosely on this Food Network Recipe, forgoing the herbs and sprinkling the fries with salt and pepper before baking.

The ranch dressing is a Top Secret Recipe version of the Outback Steakhouse's ranch dressing. It elevated the dish into restaurant-quality territory.

I sprinkled cheddar cheese over the cooked fries and popped them in the microwave until the cheese was melted. Then I drizzled the ranch on top and topped it with the crispy bacon -- about half a strip for me.

Then it was ready to serve!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Barefoot Contessa's Parmesan Chicken

When I got home from work yesterday, I just wasn't in the mood to cook. I sat there doing a whole lot of nothing for a couple of hours, and then suddenly realized it was 7 o'clock, and I was hungry. I considered whipping together a box of macaroni and cheese, but luckily I had a boneless skinless chicken breast thawed in the fridge. It saved me from a processed, albeit tasty, boxed dinner.

Instead of KD, I made something almost as easy to put together: Barefoot Contessa's Parmesan Chicken. The entire meal came together in less than 15 minutes, and when you consider how elegant it is, and how perfect it would be for entertaining, it makes KD almost not worth considering. Almost. The crust was flavourful and crunchy and the chicken cooked up in less than 10 minutes. I wasn't a huge fan of the lemon vinaigrette, but there's plenty of room to experiment with that.

Click here for the recipe.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Four Foods on Friday

I thought I'd do something a little different on Fridays so that I can still post but take it relatively easy. This is especially helpful this week, when I'm sick with a sinus infection that has devolved into a coughing fest. So I've decided to participate in Four Foods on Friday, and this week's questions couldn't be better, given my circumstances. They're mostly about health.

#1. What do you drink to rehydrate in the heat or after working out?
In the summer heat, I love to drink iced tea. I make my own for when I'm at home; my three favourite varieties are plain iced tea, green iced tea, and raspberry iced tea. But when it comes to working out, I stick with water. I worked out today, and figured I might as well take it as an opportunity to also keep fluids in me to help myself get better. In fact, I drank the full 8 glasses that doctors are always recommending. We'll see if it helps!

#2. What do you eat to help boost or create energy?
Even though I'm a sugar fiend, I try to stay away from sugary foods when I'm trying to get energized, since I've read that it just leads to a crash and burn effect. Instead, I'll eat eggs or even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A banana does the trick for me, too.

#3. What’s the healthiest snack you eat?
When I snack, it's rarely healthy! I'm all about white cheddar covered popcorn and nachos and cheese. At work, my habits are a bit better. I'll pack a Cheesestring or an apple instead, mostly because they're more portable than my preferred snacks. Clearly, I'm no health nut.

#4. Share a recipe or instructions for your ideal three course meal.
Oh, this is hard. I love so many foods! Well, if money and calories were no object, I think this is what I would choose:

1. A really decadent Lobster Bisque for an appetizer, and, while I'm at it, some baked brie on the side with sliced baguette rounds.

2. For the entree, Spago's Quattro Formaggi pasta. I've never tasted anything better.

3. For dessert, a smorgasbord of all of my favourite desserts: crisp meringues, creme brulee, fudgy brownies, maple fudge. Paired with some Cattail Creek Barrel Fermented Vidal Icewine, which I fell in love with on a trip to the Niagara Region earlier in the summer but, unfortunately, never bought.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

TWD Granola Grabbers-finally!

I finally made them! This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, Granola Grabbers. I think I added a bit too much homemade granola, so they were a little dry, but other than that, the flavour was top-notch. I'm not a fan of nut or dried fruits in baked goods, generally, so I skipped the nuts and raisins and went straight for the chocolate chips. I loved how these cookies were like oatmeal cookies taken to the next level.

I'm going to freeze some and bring them with me to the airport when I pick up my boyfriend in a couple of weeks. Yum.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wednesday Roundup: Foodie stuff from around the web

In lieu of a Winning Wednesday this week, I've decided to do something a little different. Here's a roundup of some great blog posts and food news I've discovered over the past couple of weeks.

The ever-so-creative Shari of Whisk finds a way to make Granola Grabbers fun. Here's a hint: it involves ice cream cones. I made granola for my Grabbers tonight, so I'll be fixing up the cookies tomorrow..2 days late. Better late than never, as one benevolent commenter told me.

Jennifer @ The Toddler Cafe made Boba with her daughter earlier this summer for an Asian-style dinner. It looks so colourful! I'm almost tempted to make my own bubble tea again, even though every time I seem to fail miserably.

Foodbeam's Fanny explains the key to her fabulous photographs. Sadly, for this basement-dwelling foodie, the most important factor is natural light. If you're contemplating buying a DSLR, Fanny's photographs just might convince you.

New York's new calorie displaying bylaw is causing calorie sticker shock among its citizens. New York fast food restaurants must now display the calories of their menu items. 600 calories for a Starbucks muffin? I'd be shocked, too.

Ariela from Baking and Books makes me drool with her Cardamom Iced Coffee. I want to make some right now!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

TWD: My lack of attention to detail strikes again!

I had a really wonderful weekend. I drove down to London (Ontario) to say goodbye to my boyfriend, who left for Italy very early Saturday morning. Then I headed over to my oldest brother's house to meet up with my family, who I have seen pretty infrequently since I moved to Toronto for my internship. My second oldest brother brought his two children, two year old Julia and almost-six month old Noah, who are, I'm pretty sure, the sweetest kids in the history of the world. No exaggeration. As a group, we all went to a farmer's market on the outskirts of London Saturday morning, where Julia flirted her way into a free plum from a mesmerized vendor. Then she grabbed a sweet potato from a different vendor and hugged it like it was a teddy bear, posing for the camera like she was squeezing her new best friend. Adorable. I'll be turning that sweet potato into sweet potato corn chowder later in the week. Hopefully my niece will forgive me!

That night I barely slept at all -- no more than 2 hours at a time, and no more than 4 hours in total. Sharing a basement with a baby will do that to you. So I've been having a hard time thinking clearly and rationally today, to say the least. The simplest concepts at work were well beyond me.

Which brings me to this week's Tuesdays With Dorie.

After last week's forgetfulness, you would think that I would have learned my lesson and paid a bit more attention to this week's recipe, Granola Grabbers. Uh, not so much. I bought rolled oats thinking that, since the recipe called for granola, it was perhaps an American way of saying oats. Had I known that Dorie actually meant granola, I could have made some, but since I only discovered that yesterday afternoon at work, I didn't end up having time to make the granola for the cookies. I blame my lack of sleep. Rather than risk wasting the ingredients by using the plain oats, I decided to make the cookies later. Hopefully I can make and post them tomorrow! In the meantime, here are photos of last week's ice cream, finally, blissfully frozen.

I had read some complaints that the ice cream tasted too strongly of sour cream. I love sour cream, so maybe I'm biased, but to me it tasted like blueberry cheesecake. Definitely a unique and delicious ice cream, and it was a nice (dare I say healthier?) change from typical custard based ice cream.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A very soupy Tuesday With Dorie: Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream

Dear Dorie:

I really tried to make you a part of my life this week. My ice cream maker was still at my boyfriend's house (new readers: we lived together until this May when I left town for a 16 month internship over 200km away), so I asked him to bring it to me this weekend. But we were leaving for a wedding, Dorie, so I couldn't make the ice cream on the weekend after all.

I thought it would be ok. I thought I could make your delicious-sounding Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream on Monday after work, instead. And I did Dorie, I really did. You have to believe me. But then there was one teensy, tiny mistake that I made: I forgot to freeze the ice cream maker's canister. Yep. And I only realized it after I made the custard.

Oh, and Dorie? It gets worse: I couldn't even take good pictures of the custardy mess I made because my boyfriend's leaving for Italy for two weeks, and he needed his camera back to take great pictures of his vacation and the food he eats abroad (that bit is on my behalf, of course). But I used my crappy Canon PowerShot anyway, and I promise I'll freeze the custard and post the pictures of actual ice cream next week, ok?

In the mean time, you can visit Dolores, who chose this week's selection, and the rest of the lovely Tuesdays With Dorie bakers.

Lots of love and a million apologies,


(More soupy photos after the jump)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Breakfast on the Barbecue: Baked Apple Pancake

Despite my profound love of cooking and baking, there is one essential culinary task that I absolutely detest: peeling. I'm painfully slow at it -- we're talking 3-5 minutes for one potato. The good news is, I bought myself a peeler which rests in the palm of my hand and shaves at least a minute off of each potato, apple, carrot, whatever. The bad news? My boyfriend and his roommates only own a dollar store quality peeler--and we were planning on making a baked apple pancake for breakfast two weekends ago.

There's something else: I'm not the most patient person in the world. So when it took me 20 minutes to peel three apples, I was on the verge of tears. We slept in, so my hunger wasn't helping, either. Irrationally frustrated, I was relieved when I finished the apples and walked over to the oven. I was about to preheat the oven when I remembered -- my boyfriend's oven is broken.

Oi. Luckily, I thought to use a cast iron dutch oven and try to barbecue breakfast instead. I am happy to say that my barbecued breakfast turned out beautifully.

The brown sugar forms a bit of caramel on the bottom, while the batter is like clafoutis -- firm, but custard-like. Served with a drizzle of maple syrup, it's a very decadent breakfast that's also perfect for brunch.

I've included oven instructions for the recipe, because for most of you it's probably easier to pop it into the oven than to stick it on the grill. But the barbecue modifications are very simple, and you can find those at the very bottom of the post.


1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter (or margarine, if you're at your non-baking boyfriend's house)
3 medium baking apples (I used McIntosh), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tbsp. maple syrup

3 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Melt butter over medium-high heat in an ovenproof frying pan or dutch oven. Add apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples begin to brown and most of the juices have evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

2. Whisk together eggs, milk, flour, and salt until smooth.

3. Spread apples evenly across the bottom of the pan or dutch oven. Pour the batter over the apples. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the pancake is golden and puffed, 18 to 20 minutes.You can also put a knife into the centre of the pancake; if the knife comes out clean, it's done.

4. Remove the pan from the oven and cut into wedges. Serve immediately with a drizzle...or a big splash...of maple syrup.

Serves 4... or 2 really hungry people.

Note: if you do want to barbecue the pancake--say, if you're camping, or your oven's on the fritz--heat the barbecue to 425F as well, and just watch it closely after 15 minutes. Just as with the oven method, when a knife or toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean, you'll know it's done.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Winning Wednesday: August 6, 2008

Before I dive into this week's contest roundup, I have a question: would you prefer a list of interesting food related links instead of a list of contests every week? Contests can always be incorporated into a link list, but not so much the other way around. Please let me know what you think in the comments.

Alright, on with the show:

Food Network Canada is giving away a slew of cooking related books, including a book by one of my favourites, Chocolate & Zucchini's Clotilde.

Diets in Review is giving away a copy of Eat, Shrink, and Be Merry. It looks like that Canadian cookbook's publisher is making a push into the States.

The Crispy Cook is giving away a copy of a 1989 relic, Light and Spicy.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie: Black and White Banana Loaf

I'm back from a holiday weekend away in time for the latest round of Tuesdays With Dorie.

This week's recipe is Black and White Banana Loaf, chosen by Ashlee of A Year in the Kitchen.

Although I love the fruity recipes we've been trying lately, I definitely welcomed the chance to make something a little more basic and less expensive, and a banana loaf sounded perfect when Ashlee's decision was revealed.

And other than my dismal marbling effort, the loaf pretty much was perfect.

My black and white banana loaf was more like a brown smudgy mess, but the taste was wonderful. I've never had chocolate in banana bread before, but I loved the combination. I even went against my disdain for rum in baked goods and added it anyway, and liked it.

But I do wish Dorie's marbling instructions were a little more clear. I used the spoonful at a time technique she discussed, but maybe I was supposed to use huge spoons? I'm not sure. I do know that it took me forever to load up my loaf pan, and by the time I finished the six short zigzags she recommended, I kind of had a bad feeling about just how "black and white" my black and white loaf was going to be. Here's what it looked like before I popped it into the oven:

I think that I should have followed my instincts and used my normal, plain Jane marbling technique. But I can always try it next time. If you have any marbling tips you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them in the comments.

As always, you can head over to TWD to check out the rest of the bloggers. Thanks for stopping by!

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