No tricks today, just a treat

October 31, 2008

Halloween is about kids and this video is about a kid. Other than that, there’s not really a connection at all. Despite that fact, I hope you’ll enjoy this little video that reminds us that organic bananas and fair trade bananas are not one and the same.

(Warning: there is a swear word in this video).


Bakeware clutter

October 30, 2008

After all these years working as a professional recipe developer, I’ve acquired one of almost every kind of pan. They take up a lot of space and always seem to need to be restacked or organized in some way. Yet, every once in a while I find a recipe that calls for a shape or size I don’t have on my shelf. (Hard to believe when you see these stacks of pans, I know. Even harder to believe when I tell you that I have a shelf half that size again with glass baking dishes on it.)

The good news is that if you paid attention in grade six math class, then you can usually solve most pan problems. Think about it. If you have a 7 x 11-inch pan you can substitute a 9-inch square pan of similar depth. Or, you could use a 10-inch round pan. Confused?

It all comes down to area. A 9-inch square pan is 81 square inches (9×9=81) which is only slightly larger than 77 inches (7 x 11 = 77) which is the area of a 7 x 11 pan. Likewise, 78.5 square inches is the area of a 10-inch round pan (remember πr2? 3.14 x 5 x 5 = 78.5).

So, next time you feel the impulse to pass up on a recipe because you don’t have the correct baking pan, do a little ciphering. Unless the recipe is an angel food cake – which does need a specific pan shape to succeed – you may be able to make that cake after all.

How many different baking pans do you have? Do you find them hard to keep organized?


Daring Bakers: Pizza Party

October 29, 2008

This month’s Daring Bakers challenge was chosen by Rosa, who writes one of the blogs I visit on almost a daily basis.

The recipe for October was for a two-day pizza dough.  Although I love my own pizza dough recipe that takes only about 30 minutes to create from assembling the ingredients to popping the pizza in the oven, I accepted this challenge with enthusiasm.  After all, that’s what being a Daring Baker is all about, right?

My pizza was topped with my own homemade pizza sauce (you can get the recipe on Charmian Christie’s Blog) and Oliver’s favourite topping combo: golden pineapple and bacon.

The resulting pizza made a good Sunday afternoon lunch but to be honest, I won’t use this crust recipe again. My own faster-to-make dough is  more delicious (or maybe just more familiar and therefore more accepted by my little family?).

What I will do is participate in next month’s Daring Bakers challenge and I will check out what all my fellow Daring Bakers from around the world thought of this recipe by visiting this website. I hope you will, too!


Best buttertart quest: part three

October 28, 2008

I’ve made it to the end, gentle readers. I’ve created what is, for my merry band of tasters at least, the ULTIMATE BUTTER TART!

What makes this tart worthy of such a moniker?
• The pastry is ultra flaky and completely unsweetened so that it’s a perfect foil for the very sweet filling.
• The filling is gooey but softly set so that there is no dripping.
• The filling has a buttery but nuanced flavour with a positive, non-sugary after taste.
• The tarts are bigger than most so they fulfill a craving completely (after all, if you’re going to eat a tart, make it worth your while!).
• They freeze beautifully so that you can always have them ready and waiting for your next craving!

My recipe does have one flaw that I’ve decided to accept since the end results are so delicious: the recipe below makes enough filling to make a baker’s dozen (that’s 13 tarts). I recommend using a ramekin to make that baker’s tart for yourself from the pastry scraps.

Dana’s Best Butter Tart

Pastry:
ice cubes
water
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) all-purpose flour
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1 cup (250 mL) cold lard or shortening (8 oz/250 g)
1 tsp (5 mL) white vinegar or lemon juice
1 egg, beaten
Filling:
1 cup (250 mL) each softened unsalted butter, lightly packed dark brown sugar and Lyle’s golden syrup
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tsp (10 mL) pure vanilla extract
11/2 tsp (7 mL) fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
1/16 tsp (pinch) grated nutmeg
1/2 cup (125 mL) soaked, drained dried currants

Pastry:
Place three ice cubes in a measuring cup and add enough water to cover. Set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour and salt. Blend well. Cut the cold lard into cubes and add to the food processor. Use the pulse button to cut in the lard just until the mixture resembles large flake oatmeal.

In a glass measuring cup, whisk the vinegar and the egg. Add enough of the reserved ice water to make ½ cup (125 mL). With the motor of the food processor running, pour in the egg mixture. Blend until the mixture forms a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap. If necessary, knead to make a smooth ball. Press into a disk and wrap tightly. Refrigerate for 45 minutes. Roll out dough to 3/8-inch thickness adding extra flour to prevent sticking. Cut to fit 5 oz (125 mL) muffin tins using a 6-inch (18-cm) cutter. Refrigerate until ready to fill.

Filling:
Preheat the oven to 450°F (225°C). Beat the butter until light; beat in the brown sugar until fluffy. Add the syrup and beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs, lemon juice, vanilla and nutmeg.

Divide the currants evenly between the pastry cups. Spoon in the filling, adding just enough to each cup that it is filled but a band of pastry still shows around the edges (you should have enough filling left over to fill a 13th tart).

Bake on the lowest oven rack for 10 minutes; reduce the temperature to 350°F (180°C) and bake for 20 to 25 minutes longer or until pastry is golden and the filling in each cup has bubbled and darkened.

Remove pan from oven and use a skewer to remove any overspill that will harden as the tarts cool. Cool tarts in pan for 15 minutes. Gently remove from pans using a palette knife and cool on a rack for at least 2 hours (the pastry needs to fully set). Makes 12 (4.5 to 5 oz) tarts.


Hanging out with the Grand Crew at Grand Cru

October 27, 2008

Although being married to one of Canada’s best chefs delivers perks on a daily basis (for instance I often get pretty tasty samples of his new recipes!), every once in a while, I get a big pay off. Such was the case on Friday night when I got a last minute call to join Martin at one of the parties that was part of the fourth annual Grand Cru Culinary Wine Festival that’s held to raise money for the Toronto General and Western hospital. He and Daniel Boulud had cooked at the $12,500 a plate Chateau Le Pin luncheon earlier that day (that’s one of the courses in the picture above) and Martin called to see if Oliver and I would like to meet him at Todd and Ellen Halpern’s Grand Cru team thank you party.

The party, held at the Halpern’s gorgeous house in Forest Hill, was easily one of the most elaborate house parties I’ve ever attended. It literally humbled my status as a Perfectionista

When we arrived there was an Asian elephant in the driveway to greet us (turns out I’m allergic to elephant spit; after feeding her, my hand broke out in a itchy rash – good thing I’m too old to run away and join the circus).  The backyard was swathed in black canvas and red carpet and, to make room for all the guests to dance to the tunes being played by the four piece band, the underlit pool was covered in plexiglass. To say no detail was spared would be an understatement.

Besides getting to hob-nob with philantropists and celebrity chefs, the party was also a great experience since it reminded me that even when you hear doom and gloom economic news all day long that you can’t  place your own acts of charity on the back burner. In fact, many Canadian food banks report lacklustre donations during their Thanksgiving food drives and other charities are concerned about the impact the current economic changes will cause as well.

While I certainly can’t host a lavish event where roses pave the guest tables and glasses are filled with first growth burgundies, I can still volunteer some of my spare time and remember the same charities I’ve supported in other years with a donation of some kind.  After all, when times are tough our donations and support are more necessary than ever.

Will you be changing your charitable habits due to changes in the economy?


Halloween treats

October 24, 2008

Many of you will be buying costumes, candy and decorations this weekend for Halloween. I love trick-or-treating –- it’s so fun to see all the houses decorated and to have kids come to the door in costume. That said, while I love a yearly binge on little chocolate bars and mini bags of chips, every year my son’s bag of loot always contains far more than anyone in our household needs or even wants to eat. In fact, usually sometime around December 1st, I throw away half a bag of stale treats that are still hanging around the house. What a waste!

I’m guessing we aren’t the only family who finds Halloween treats too much of a good thing so I urge you to pick up non-edible treats this year. Looking for ideas?

Make a trip to the dollar store for:
• Pencils
• Stickers
• Card games
• Self inking stamps
• Erasers
• Beads and string
• Crazy straws

Or go to the garden centre and buy:
• Seed packets for growing flowers in pots
• Tree seedlings (fall is the perfect time to plant!)

From the grocery store:

• Packets of raisins or Craisins 100 calorie packs

Single-serve fruit cups

• Cheese strings

• Juice boxes


Would you date a gastrosexual?

October 23, 2008

Okay, now that we’ve discussed economical cooking and ethical meat choices, let’s turn our attention in a more frivolous direction today.

Remember how Mr. Big used to cook for Carrie on Sex and The City? Remember how more than just the dim sum got hot and steamy in those scenes? Turns out that products aimed at affluent men who use their cooking skills to woo women are being launched left, right and centre to capture the cash of real life ‘Mr. Bigs’.

Of course, every marketing demographic needs a name and a European marketing group has suggested that these shoppers be dubbed gastrosexuals.

The name leaves much to be desired if you ask me (it sounds like something you need medication to prevent!) but regardless, it’s an interesting demographic, one that likely needs someone like me to create recipes that reflect their core values and needs (marketers – call me!). While I wait for the phone to ring, let’s check out some products being marketed to these so-called gastrosexuals:

Porsche Designed Kitchens
Jamie Oliver Video Game
Hell’s Kitchen Video Game
Robust Relish for Gentlemen