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?

Advertisements

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.


Topline Trends Tuesday: Butterscotch

November 10, 2009

butterscotchmeringue

Fancier. Butterier. As yummy as ever before but just more (deservingly) popular. Butterscotch is trending up and that can’t help but be good!

From butterscotch desserts appearing on more fine dining restaurant menus to a twitter chat I had with @finecooking a couple of weeks ago, it seems like I can’t pass the day without hearing a butterscotch reference.

It’s even on sitcoms: on a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother, it was declared that “Butterscotch is Canadian women’s chocolate.”

While I can’t speak for the entire Canadian female population, I can say that chocolate is my chocolate but butterscotch is my butterscotch. Confused? It’s the same as how silk is silk and wool is wool. Both are great but they’re different. And, like a wool sweater over a silk shirt, they’re often fantastic together!

That said, one of my favourite childhood desserts is Butterscotch Meringue Pie; it’s a study in soothing dessert goodness.

What about you? Butterscotch or chocolate? Canadian or American? Fess up!

Dana’s Definitive Butterscotch Meringue Pie

1/2 cup (125 mL) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 mL) dark brown sugar
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) hot milk
4 eggs, separated
3 tbsp (45 mL) butter
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
1 pre-baked pie crust, 9-in (23 cm)
1/3 cup (75 mL) granulated sugar

Stir the flour with the brown sugar in heavy saucepan. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth. Cook, stirring almost constantly, over medium heat, for about 5 minutes or until thick and smooth; reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes longer, stirring often.

Beat the egg yolks and stir a little of the hot milk mixture into eggs. Pour the egg mixture into pan, stirring constantly and cook for 3 minutes longer. Stir in the butter and vanilla. Pour into pie shell. Cool completely.

Beat the egg whites until foamy; gradually beat in granulated sugar until soft peaks form. Mound on top of custard, spreading meringue out to edge of crust. Bake in 350°F (180°C) oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until golden.

Tips:
• Because this pie and topping are so sweet and rich, use a lard or shortening-based piecrust to ensure that the crust is a foil to the other elements.
• To pre-bake the piecrust, prick the raw shell all over with a fork; line with foil and pie weights or dried beans. Bake in a preheated, 400 F (200 C) oven for 20 minutes; remove foil and weights; bake for 10 minutes longer or until golden. Cool on rack.


Frozen fun

November 9, 2009

Sooshi-05Whether it’s in a bowl, a cone or just out of the carton or ice cream maker, I think ice cream is a fun food. Others (who likely lead more exciting lives) don’t agree. The evidence is all around in the ever  exciting ways people keep finding to make ice cream surprise and delight:

Sooshi: This New Zealand product (pictured here) combines ice cream, candies and fruit to resemble maki rolls that will please even the fish phobic.

Icecreamists: Dragging ice cream by the hair out of childhood and into the counter culture is this pop-up restaurant in London’s Selfridges department store. Its menu features alcohol-spiked ice cream concoctions (the word “sundae” just doesn’t fit) with names such as Axl Rose-water and The Sex Pistol (laced with absinthe) that kick conventional ice cream treats in the teeth.

Dippin’ Dots: These pebble-shaped ice cream orbs are sold in mall kiosks and vending machines so that you can enjoy an unusual ice cream treat any time.

Dibs: These frozen snacks are like ice cream M&M’s; they feature vanilla ice cream enrobed in a crunchy chocolate shell. The idea is that you can eat just one but in reality, you’re likely to keep grazing once you open the package.

Beyond the usual cones, sundaes and shakes, what’s the ‘coolest’ ice cream novelty you’ve seen or tasted?


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?


Kids stuff

September 23, 2009

caramel appl

The wonderful autumn tradition of caramel apples brings out the kid in all of us. After all, who hasn’t sunk their teeth into a sticky, gooey, messy caramel apple at least once in their life?

I created the following recipe years ago for Gardening Life magazine and it’s still a favourite I pull out and use once every autumn, usually right after Oliver and I get back from Pine Orchard Farms where we pick apples every year.

Caramel Apples

6 unwaxed small granny smith, royal gala, Macintosh or other apples
Popsicle or lolli sticks
1 cup (250 mL) each granulated sugar and light brown sugar
3/4 cup (175 mL) 35 % whipping cream
1/4 cup (60 mL) corn syrup
2 tbsp (30 mL) butter
pinch salt
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
Chopped nuts such as pecans, almonds or peanuts, chocolate sprinkles, etc

Polish the clean apples with a clean, dry dishtowel until completely dry and smooth. Insert a popsicle or candy stick into the stem end of each apple. Place a parchment lined baking pan in the refrigerator.

In a medium, deep, dry saucepan combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, whipping cream, butter, corn syrup and salt. Place pan over medium heat and stir often until sugar is dissolved and caramel is bubbling. If necessary, brush down the sides of the pan once or twice with water to dissolve any sugar crystals clinging to the sides.

Place a candy thermometer into the saucepan and increase the heat to medium-high. Boil caramel, without stirring, until the temperature reaches 240 F (115 C).

Remove the pan from the heat. Shielding hands with oven mitts, stir in vanilla. Let caramel stand with the thermometer in the mixture until the temperature falls to 200 F (100 C), from 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the baking sheet from the fridge. Place over a baking pan filled with ice cubes.

Dip and slowly turn the apples in caramel until coated all over. Transfer to the chilled baking sheet. Let stand while you dip remaining apples. Fold any caramel that pools under the apples. Dip coated apples into chopped nuts or candy sprinkles, pressing the garnished lightly into the bottom and up the sides of the apples; chill until set. Makes 6 servings.

When’s the last time you had a caramel or candy apple?