Cool Yule, volume 2

December 2, 2009

Struggling with gift ideas for the cooks on your list? Here are two great ideas — one a bit extravagant and one less expensive -– that are sure to make the grade and not likely to be in their cupboards already:

‘I like you!” gift idea: Cupcake pens can be used to decorate all kinds of baked goods whether you’ve got artistic flair or two hands worth of thumbs.

“I love you!” gift idea: Yogurt makers aren’t just for people who wear sandals and socks (They used to be but things have changed now – I checked.) and this one is the Mac daddy of them all offering flexible timing options and the ability to make up to 8 flavours at a time! Seriously, 8 flavours.

If you’re an avid cook, what’s on your wish list this holiday season?


Judgmental

November 18, 2009

Peanut ButterI’ve always thought of myself as an open minded person but obviously, the rest of the world doesn’t see me that way.  Somehow, I’ve become known as as judgemental. In the last month I’ve been asked to judge everything from cookies and cooking to beer pouring.

First I participated as a judge along with Elizabeth Baird and Stephanie Pick at the Gay Lea Shortbread Contest. The winning recipe was not only delicious but technically interesting as well. (The recipe is below if you’d like to try it.)

Then, I was off to New York to be a judge at the international Stella Artois Draught Master challenge where the world’s best draftmaster was crowned. And, lastly I joined the chefs from the Delta Grandview Hotel as a judge in an Iron Chef style competition between 8 teams of Kraft employees.

I’m both full and exhausted! Seriously, it’s much harder work to judge other people than I anticipated. It’s been a true test of my attention span.

Fortunately, the next contest that I’m involved with requires me to be a host and not a judge. On January 22nd, I’ll preside over the first ever Canadian Pillsbury Baking Challenge ! There’s still time to vote on your favourite recipes so make sure you visit the contest website to find out more details!

Have you ever entered a food or beverage competition? If so, was it fun or frightening?

Peanut Butter and Jelly Shortbread Bars

Shortbread:
1 cup unsalted Gay Lea Butter, softened 250 mL
1 cup granulated sugar 250 mL
1 egg yolk 1
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional) 2 mL
2 cups all purpose flour 500 mL
1 tsp baking powder 5 mL
1/4 tsp salt 1 mL

Filling:
3/4 cup blueberry jam 175 mL
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter 125 mL
1/2 cup icing sugar 125 mL
2 tbsp unsalted Gay Lea Butter, softened 30 mL

Instructions:

In a large bowl, beat the butter with the sugar and egg yolk, using an electric mixer, for 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl blend together flour, baking powder and salt until well combined.

Divide the dough into two equal portions and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for 1 to 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a 9 x 13-inch (3 L) baking dish with parchment paper; reserve. Remove dough from fridge. Shred dough using a coarse grater or food processor, fitted with a metal shredding blade; replace one portion of shredded dough to the fridge.

Arrange remaining dough in an even layer in the prepared baking dish; lightly pat the dough down. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden around the edges; cool for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend the jam with the icing sugar and butter until smooth and well combined. Spread the peanut butter over the shortbread base in an even layer. Drop spoonfuls of the jam mixture over the peanut butter and gently spread in an even layer.

Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and scatter over the jam layer. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is set and lightly golden brown. Transfer pan to a wire rack and cool completely; cut into bars.

Makes 24 bars.

Tip: Try grape jelly or strawberry jam in place of the blueberry jam for a fun twist.


I could go for a ginger cookie…

November 6, 2009

gingersnaps

If you read yesterday, you know that I’m taking the easy way out to end the week by recycling some of my favourite cold weather comfort food posts.

On the list today are recipes from my sweet kitchen:
Microwave butterscotch pudding
Tarte Tatin
Super crisp ginger cookies
Butter Tarts

What sweet treat epitomizes warming comfort for you? Again, feel free to link to your site or recipes that we can all bookmark for a day when we need an indulgence.


RIP Soupy Sales

October 26, 2009

pieface

Good ole Soupy Sales. What a life he lived! He almost single handedly supported the cream pie industry. By the comics own count he was hit in the face with at least 20,000 pies – almost all of them filled with creamy, custardy goodness.

Friday night, driving to the Chocolate Ball, I heard an archive interview between Soupy and the late, great Canadian journalist Barbara Frum where Soupy admitted that there was, even for him, always a moment of pure humiliation when you’re hit in the face with pie.

Inspiring words that had me making a mental list of the people I’d like to hit in the face with pies…

  1. Lady Gaga who is so over played on Toronto radio stations that I want to scream. (Seriously. If I hear that crappy Papparazi song one more time, I’ll start whipping cream and rolling out pastry!)
  2. The dude too busy talking on his phone while he drove to take a moment to wave when I totally went out of my way to let him in on Saturday.
  3. Every air-duct cleaning company owner that calls me – despite being on the do not call list – while I’m watching Jeopardy! or eating my dinner. (For them, I’ll use salt instead of sugar in the pie since I really want them to suffer.)

I’m sure there are more but I don’t really want to dig too deep into my bitterness reserve. Soupy likely wouldn’t approve. He was a man who devoted his life to making people laugh after all.

But, I will ask you these questions before I sign off for today:  have you ever been hit in the face with a pie?  If so, what was it like?  And, if you could wallop someone with a cream topped pastry crust, who would it be?


The right stuff

September 21, 2009

Monday apple

Welcome to apple week! I don’t usually write about one topic five days in a row, but I’m making an exception for this wonderful fruit – after all, who doesn’t like apples? Seriously, after all the debate caused by Friday’s post, I’m looking for a bit of consensus building!  So, let’s see if we can all agree that apples are delicious and share our tips, recipes and stories. Enjoy!

Of the seven thousand plus known and catalogued apple species, only a couple of dozen are well known, widely cultivated and sold in significant numbers in Canada. And, of this small number of apples, only a handful has the right texture and consistency to be good for use in recipes. Although many people define a cooking apple as one that’s used primarily for cooking rather than eating fresh, many of my favourite cooking apples are also my favourite eating apples. For instance, I treat apples such as the Granny Smith, Cortland, Spartan and McIntosh as dual purpose fruits.

In a nutshell, by my definitions, an apple qualifies as good for cooking if it has a tangy flavour and a firm flesh that softens but doesn’t break down too much when cooked. For applesauce and apple butter, I have another category that I call sauce apples; apples in this category have great flavour and cook down to a pulpy consistency.

To ensure that you have the right apple for the right usage, simply cut a wedge of apple and place it in a small saucepan. Cover the fruit with water and simmer it until the apple is tender. If the piece stays intact when pierced with a fork and still has a true, desirable apple flavour, then it’s good for skillet cooking and apple desserts where firm pieces of apple are desirable. Use this chart to help you to choose the best apples I’ve found for each type of culinary use:

Good for cakes, pies, crisps, skillet cooking Good for baking whole Good for sauces
Northern spy Granny Smith Empire
Idared Jonagold McIntosh
Granny Smith Northern spy Royal gala
Spartan Mutsu/Crispin Greenstein
Cortland Cortland