Sunday, September 14, 2014

Organized Culinary Divo (OCD)

Yesterday was a cold, damp and grey day, which was perfect weather for having the oven on.  I was going to a dance party and there was a request for some baked goods, so I decided to make a couple of old standbys - Turtle Bars and Banana Bread.

Turtle Bars (adapted from Bon Apetit)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature
3 tbsp whipping cream
1 cup toasted pecan halves
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix flour, 1 cup brown sugar and 3/4 cup butter in a food processor and blend until crumbly.  Don't worry if it doesn't all come together, just tip out into an ungreased 9x13x2-inch metal baking dish and gently mix together.




Press evenly into the pan and bake for 15 minutes until the crust is golden.  While the crust is baking, bring the remaining 3/4 cup brown sugar, 3/4 cup butter and cream to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.


Continue boiling for a minute then remove from the heat.


Remove crust from oven and sprinkle pecan halves on top - I always add a lot as I LOVE pecans! Pour the caramel over the pecans and bake for another twenty minutes.


Remove from the oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips, let stand for 5 minutes so the chocolate melts, then use a spatula to spread the chocolate evenly over the top.


Let set in a cool place, then cut into squares or bars.  Just try and have one!



N.B.
1) I usually put parchment paper down in the pan, which makes removing the bars much easier later on.
2) Please be careful with the hot caramel as it can cause nasty burns!
3) I toast the pecan halves in a cast iron skillet, but be careful not to burn them.


4) More chocolate chips can be used for a chocolatier taste, and milk chocolate chips would be okay, but I find the dark chocolate chips help balance the sweetness of the caramel.

Banana Bread (adapted from Martha Stewart)

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 mashed very ripe bananas
1/2 cup plain yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
freshly-grated lemon zest
1 cup toasted walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 350 F and butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.  Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.


Add the eggs and beat well.


Sift the dry ingredients together, combine with the egg mixture and blend with a wooden spoon.


Don't over mix! Add banana, yoghurt, vanilla and lemon zest mixture and stir well.


Stir in nuts and pour into prepared pan.


Bake for 1 hour. Turn out onto a rack to cool.




N. B.
1) This is a great way to use up old bananas. When they get brown, smelly and disgusting (ech!), just store them in the freezer until you're ready to use them.  Let them thaw slightly and you'll find the peels and strings (double ech!) come away easily.  Mash the banana goo with the yoghurt (I like to use Astro Balkan style, full fat of course!), vanilla and lemon zest and allow the flavours to combine while the mixture comes to room temperature.


2) I usually add about half a lemon's worth of zest because the smell and taste are wonderful. Adding it to the butter allows the essential oils to flavour the butter.
3) Use as many nuts as you like, but do make sure you toast them first (see N.B. 3 above). Pecans would also work well, and I have even added dried cranberries.

Remember, recipes are just a starting point, so feel free to play around with them a bit to make them your own.  Baking is more of a science than cooking, so certain, fundamental principles need to be followed, so change things gradually until you're more comfortable.

The above is not representative of how I do things.  I am a multi-tasker extraordinaire, so I did not prepare one recipe then move onto the next.  I did them both concurrently and used any free time to clean, dry and put away.  CC is always amazed when I cook because it looks like no one has been in the kitchen. Here then is an account of how yesterday really panned out...

Awake to miserable weather and after shopping at the farmer's market, return to a freezing cold kitchen, so I decide the oven needs to be on to help keep my extremities viable.  Hmm, how about Turtle Bars? Hey, if I'm going to make them, I better take some butter out of the freezer (we buy bulk when butter is on sale and store it in the freezer). Well lookee there, we have some frozen bananas in there too, so I might as well make Banana Bread as well.  That requires eggs, so I'll bring them out of the fridge so they can come to room temperature, which at this point, isn't much different from the fridge! Okee-dokey, better figure out what ingredients I need to go out and get to make these recipes - chocolate chips, pecan halves, dark brown sugar and whipping cream.  While I'm out I may as well pick up some milk as we're out, so I think I'll walk to the grocery store.  Look outside at the hideous weather. F--K that! I'll go to the local, downtown, much closer bulk food store and get milk at a variety store. <Time passes> Well, that was easy, now I'm ready to begin.  Oh, the butter is still a block of ice. So, I'll have to resort to some creativity.  First, I'll cut (saw?) the needed amounts of butter for each recipe, then cube  each into oven-proof bowls and pop them into a warmed oven.  Now I'll measure out all the needed ingredients for both recipes and place them in separate stainless steel bowls - can't have too many of those folks - next to the recipes themselves, so I don't mix things up (I never do). Eew, the bananas are thawing - thank god I put them on the stainless steel daring board next to the sink. Well they thawed a little too much so the skins are (gag) coming off in (gag) pieces.  Let's just put those in a bowl with the yoghurt and vanilla extract.  Hey there's a lemon, so I'll add some zest while I'm at it.  Better mash that together now and let the flavours combine. Oh yeah, the nuts need to be toasted - I'll do pecans for the Turtle bars and Walnuts for the Banana Bread. Okay, the caramel requires butter, so I'll just add that to a pot with the brown sugar and cream and melt it on the stove. Hmm, the butter's not rock hard but it's not exactly softened either, so I'll increase it's exposed surface area by mashing it with a fork.  May as well add the sugar while I'm at it, and, hey, lemon zest!  Can't have too much lemon zest. Now, where was I?  Oh yeah, Turtle Bars. Butter's okay for combining with the sugar and flour in the Cuisinart. Better cut some parchment for the pan as the caramel can make it hard to get them out later on. Dumping the crust ingredients into the pan.  Damn! It didn't mix thoroughly.  No worries, I'll just add that to what's already in the pan and mix it together.  There. Perfect. Now while that's cooking, I'll prepare the caramel and clean the dishes I've used so far. Caramel's done. May as well dry these babies and put them away. Ooh, crust is done - isn't it pretty? Pecans, meet crust.  Caramel, meet crust and pecans.  Back into the oven with you.  May as well mix the butter, sugar and zest for the Banana Bread and sieve the dry ingredients together. Wow, look how warm and bubbly the Turtle Bars are.  I'll just add these chocolate chips, hmm, maybe some more, hell, I'll add them all. <5 minutes later> That chocolate spreads so easily and smells so heavenly! Better lick the remaining chocolate off that spatula - waste not, want not. Now I'll just move that downstairs where it will cool and carry on with the Banana Bread. Well that didn't take long - into the oven with you my pretty. Might as well do these dishes while I'm waiting. May as well dry them and put them away too. Done! Mmm, smells so yummy. Now that it's flipped out onto the rack to cool, I better cut those Turtle bars into pieces.  <Time passes> Ah the Banana Bread has cooled, so I'll cut that into slices then strips and set up some plates of both to take with me later on. And that folks, is how I multi-task.


Sunday, September 07, 2014

Dinner Party

Last night, we had our friends, Mr. and Mrs. P, over for dinner.  We hadn't had them over in some time and wanted to make it special, so we both went into high gear.  Luckily, our cleaning lady came in the morning, so we didn't have to clean the house.  I tried to do as much as possible beforehand, so we could spend the maximum amount of time with our guests.  I decided to make Zucchini Fritters as an appetizer:

2 medium sized zucchinis
2 large eggs
2 green onions, chopped finely
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup flour (or gluten-free flour Mrs P!)
1/2 tsp baking powder

Shred the zucchini in a food processor fitted with a shredding disc then squeeze out as much liquid as possible with your hands before adding to a bowl along with the other ingredients.


Heat a few tbsp of olive oil in a cast iron pan until quite hot, then add large spoonfuls of the mixture to the pan and flatten with back of the spoon.  Cook until nicely browned then flip and repeat.  Add a small amount of oil to the pan before adding fresh batter.


Allow them to cool on paper towels to soak up any excess fat.  They can be served warmed or at room temperature with any sauce you fancy.  I served them with homemade peach chutney for a savoury flavour.


In addition to the fritters, I put out a bowel of olives and an assortment of Goudas (aged, smoked and spiced) with a selection of crackers (Lavash, Sesame rice crackers and Finn Crisps).


For them main event, we had a roasted, flattened chicken flavoured with lemon and Rosemary.  I had never prepared a flattened chicken before but it was dead easy, especially when we purchased an already flattened bird (poor thing).  I seasoned it with good olive oil, freshly ground salt and pepper and  the juice and zest of 1 lemon.

She looks coy, no?
I used our biggest cast iron pan, heated some olive oil on high and then seared the chicken, breast-side down, for about 10 minutes.


I then flipped the chicken, added some fresh Rosemary leaves and popped it into a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes.  I removed it to a platter to rest and covered it in foil to keep the juices in. To utilize the oven efficiently, we also roasted potatoes and carrots (par-boiled first) and onions tossed in olive oil and fresh thyme.


In addition, we served cooked green beans tossed with Dijon mustard and sliced, fresh tomatoes, served with homemade mayonnaise (dead easy and very tasty).  Of course, CC likes to fuss with the table setting and flowers, especially as we don't entertain too often.


For dessert, CC made lemon curd which he added on top of whipped cream and stewed fruit - scrumptious!


It was a lovely, lively dinner party which began with G and Ts, moved onto white wine and finished with decaf coffee.  I played some jazz records on my new record player which helped set the mood for the whole evening.

Honesty

I'm talking the plant, not the facet of moral character. It's also called Lunaria, which means "moon-like" in latin and which refers to the decorative seedpods.  It's a biennial, so it flowers every other year, in the springtime.



Once it finishes flowering, it forms flat, silver dollar-sized seed pods, which eventually dry out.  At this point, we harvested the plants, pulling them up by the roots, and hanging them upside down from the rafters of the garage until they were completely dried out.


Today, CC removed the papery "shells" from either side of the the silvery membranes that hold the seeds and I swept up the shells and seeds and spread them throughout the garden for next year's crop.  We then brought the dried plants inside for arrangements.  They are quite simple and elegant and monochromatic, so they look good in a wide variety of containers.  Once you start them in the garden, you will have them for a very long time, as long as you remember to cast the seeds around at the end of every summer.



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Redstone Lake

The Main Cottage
CC and I are very fortunate to have friends who have a cottage on an island on Redstone Lake, and were even more fortunate to have had an invitation to stay with them this past weekend. We both needed an escape from G-town, not having had a vacation this year.  It was a restful weekend with lots of food, drink and great company.  I spent a lot of time in the water and CC spent a lot of time sleeping.  It was a bit cool and overcast, but the air and scenery were perfect for recharging our batteries.


There are are two outbuildings for guests to stay in, so we had some privacy, much needed for CC's many naps! I'm not much of a napper, myself, so I spent my time swimming and walking around the island (it only takes about 15 minutes).  I took lots of pictures as there are many good photo-ops available.



Although it was cloudy and cool on our first day, there was a lovely sunset that night.





After a restful night's sleep, we made our way to the main cabin and had breakfast. The day was even more overcast, and there was quite a bit of rain throughout the day, but at least we had expansive vistas to look at and the air was incredible. There was also lots of good food and conversation to keep us occupied.  I took the opportunity to explore the island in more detail when the chance arose and was especially interested in the plant-life that ekes out an existence on seemingly barren landscapes.




The next day was much the same to start with, but then we happily spotted a thin blue line of sky on the horizon and prayed to all the gods we could think of to reward us with some sunshine. The water was quite frigid, but once I was in for a while, moving constantly, it didn't feel at all bad. Getting out was, shall we say, refreshing, especially when the wind blew in.


What I couldn't get over was the many interesting colours and textures of the live and fallen trees.  Their importance to the environment is evident when you get a good look at the multitudes of lifeforms that they support.  Even as driftwood, trees belie a beauty that is hard to match.





Well, the gods must have been happy with us and our sacrifices (kidding!), because we were rewarded with an afternoon of glorious, Vitamin D-providing, soul-warming sunshine, and took full advantage of  being outside, in the water and on the water.






Even a mother dock spider decided it was time to sun herself on the rocks while her many spiderlings hatched and clustered in a dense web-cum-nursery.


We had another extraordinary sunset for our last night, and were feeling sad that we would be heading home the next morning.



We were up bright and early the next morning and I took a final tour around the island with my camera to catch the rising sun and the mists on the water.





I then had a quick dip to wash away the night's sleepiness.  The sun had not yet come around onto the diving rocks, so my feet were in for a chilly surprise when I exited the lake!  We had a big bacon-and-eggs fry-up for breakfast, packed up our things and got a boat-ride to the mainland and headed back to G-town.  It looked like it was going to be another beautiful day, so we were sad to leave, but thankful we got a chance to enjoy our time with our friends and their hospitality.