Category Archives: Homemade

Summer, strawberries, pie and ice cream (oh my)

You know what I love about summer? It’s not the endless days, the sun, the vegetables growing in my garden—though those are all wonderful things. No, what I love most about summer is the smell of it. It comes in my bedroom window in the morning, a round warmth that smells vaguely like hot concrete. It’s a city smell, but I’ll take it.

Summer heralds the beginning of berry season, and as if on cue, the first BC strawberries made their appearance this week. I picked up two flats of them at the Main Street farmers market, along with some scandalously red rhubarb, and ta-da! we have pie. And by we, I mean me. And all of my best friends who have suddenly crawled out of the woodwork, pleading for pieces of pie.

If I could somehow manage to stop eating strawberries (seriously now, my fingers and kitchen are stained irrevocably scarlet), I would make strawberry ice cream.

What’s that, you say? You’d like a recipe for strawberry ice cream?

Conveniently, you can find my recipe for egg-free strawberry ice cream in the Summer 2011 issue of Edible Vancouver. Furthermore, it runs alongside a recipe for kick-ass chocolate wafer cookies, and then, if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can put the two together and make ice cream sandwiches. And, because I’m pedantic that way, I’d like to point out that said ice cream sandwiches appear on the cover of said magazine. You can pick up a copy at various points in Vancouver, but if the magazine goblins have stolen them all away—or you’re not in Vancouver—here’s the electronic edition.

Edible Vancouver Summer 2011

Photo and styling by Bambi Edlund

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Christmas cookies

I’m such a delinquent blogger. But see, I have excuses. I disappeared to Portland for a week, which was lovely and glorious and relaxing. There was lots of chocolate. As much as I love these mini-trips across the border, I’m always a bit relieved to get back to Canada. This informative sign was at the Seattle train station. Just in case you wanted to know what you can and cannot bring across the border.

And then I got back and this craziness we call the holidays came at me, starting out like a wee snowball at the top of a mountain. And by the time it got to me, well, it was a not-so-wee snowball.

Mostly, I’ve been drowning under kilograms of flour, sugar, eggs and stuff that needs to be piped. I’ve been making the same two cookies (gingerbread and cranberry shortbread) every year for twelve, count ’em, twelve years. You’d figure I could get the recipe right, especially having gone to Le Fancy Culinary School. This year, the part of my brain responsible for reading and following instructions just wasn’t working. I have one batch of dough in the fridge that was supposed to be gingerbread. However, it has twice as much butter as it’s supposed to, and no ginger. I’m afraid to bake it. Maybe I invented molasses shortbread?

Speaking of shortbread, I forgot the cornstarch this year but made up for it by putting in twice as many cranberries as I was supposed to. They’re, erm, festive.

At least the macaroons turned out. Oh, and chocolate caramel. The wonders of caramel never cease to amaze me. You can put bacon in it and it’s all wacky and weird and delicious. But chocolate caramel, with its classic simplicity – it hides in dark corners and gives you that look, and before you know it you’re in over your head with dark, delicious chocolate mingled with smoky caramel, and just a hint of salt.

All of these things combine to form Christmas Goodies Fantastico, which contains:

  • “Economic downturn” gingerbread, which feature sad faces and fancy suits. Because, well, we’ve got to keep up appearances in these tough times. But in the crazy market this year, some of these gingerbread folks lost an arm, or a leg…or, a head.
  • The aformentioned cranberry shortbread, looking very festive indeed.
  • Chocolate macaroons, beautiful and classic. In my original plan, I was going to make a rainbow of these (espresso, pistachio and raspberry) but then I snapped back to reality.
  • The much sought-after chocolate caramels. For those of you lucky enough to receive these, you may want to hide these. I don’t want to have to say I told you so.

As I probably won’t be posting before Christmas, have a safe and happy holiday. I hope there are cookies in your future.

Peanut butter and chocolate

I apologize to everyone who is allergic to peanuts. Partly because this post is all about peanut butter, but mostly because it’s just so damn delicious.

Every year for the past three years, I have made a peanut butter banana chocolate pie on March 14. For you folks who aren’t math geeks, that’s pi(e) day. As in, 3/14 and 3.14. And really, an excuse to make and eat lots of pie.

Really, it’s an exercise in taking something that’s pretty cool, and making it extravagantly over-the-top. I looked at a recipe for peanut butter mousse pie in a chocolate crumb crust and thought, “you know, what that needs is some sliced bananas in the bottom of it, and maybe a layer of chocolate ganache on top for good measure.” And thus, the peanut butter banana chocolate pie was born. Next time around, I think I’ll take it further and caramelize the bananas in rum.

~~Science interlude~~

Peanuts are not a nut, they’re a legume. Ergo, people who are allergic to peanuts can still eat nuts – unless, of course, they’re allergic to nuts.

Peanuts are rich in an amino acid called arginine (arr-jin-een). Foods that are rich in arginine have been associated with higher likelihood of outbreaks of cold sores and, erm, outbreaks that are like cold sores. To be precise, it’s thought that an imbalance in the levels of two amino acids, arginine and lysine, is responsible for cold sores. (Outbreaks, that is. There’s a cute little virus that causes cold sores and the like in the first place.)

Incidentally, chocolate is also quite rich in arginine. Hrm. Arginine sure is tasty.

~~End interlude~~

There’s just something about peanut butter. It’s rich and luxurious, and that stick-your-tongue-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth feeling is comforting. It reminds me of being an awkward kid with pigtails. I’m pretty sure that when I was a kid, my parents gave me a spoonful of peanut butter just so I’d stop talking.

And peanut butter and chocolate? Divine. Baskin-robbins ice cream, all melty chocolatey with a ribbon of peanut butter stickiness? Yes, please.

I picked up some peanut buttery chocolatey things while in Seattle last week. It’s all research, you see. In my head, I’m creating the world’s best peanut butter and jelly bonbon. It’ll be one part peanut butter praline, one part grape jelly, and all kinds of grown-up, nostalgic tastiness.

…I’m back!

Huzzah!

Hello, lovelies. Thanks for your patience while I took a bit of a break. It was a case of life spinning madly out of control, and something had to give. While I’m sad that it was this blog, I’m glad to be back and writing. I’ve had a good think about how to balance the things I need to do with the things that I want to do, and I’ve come to a decision.

I’m going to post, at minimum, once a week. Yes, that’s significantly less than the daily posts that I started with. However, seeing as how I started this blog while I was delightfully unemployed, I think that a weekly post is a happy compromise. It’s a case of quality versus quantity. This way, I can have a week to think about what I want to say, and make it count. [So she says hopefully.]

Yup. And now we return to your regularly scheduled programming.

I’ve started working with chocolate again. I’ve been writing about it and tasting it for nearly a year now, but I really needed a break from working with it. It didn’t occur to me how much I missed it, but I’ve been experimenting for the past couple of weeks. And, I’m pleased to report, I love it again. LOVE. IT. There’s something about watching chocolate melt, playing with the temperatures, tempering it, and inspecting the final products. And, of course, eating it.

In honour of International Bacon Day, I made a batch of bacon caramels and dipped them in chocolate. Dipping the caramels was surprisingly tricky. They were softer than caramels that I’ve worked with before, so I had to work quickly before they relaxed into limpid pools of caramel goodness.

And, each caramel donated a bit of bacon fat to the bowl of chocolate. It was exceedingly generous of them, but by the end of the batch the chocolates were looking like they weren’t setting as well. I panicked a bit (oh noes! have I lost my tempering touch?) until I realized that it was a layer of bacon fat on top of the chocolate. Hrm. They did set in the end, and they were delicious, but this is a logistical detail that I’ll have to work out.

This weekend, when gifted with some fresh basil from a friend’s garden, I made some lemon-basil truffles. They’re more basil than lemon, but they taste bright and summery and delicious, and I’ll take it.

In culinary school, I always emerged from chocolate classes looking like I had taken a bath in it. I was notorious for getting two horizontal streaks, one each at chest-level and waist-level. Chest-level corresponded to the rim of the giant bowl of chocolate that I was tempering, and waist-level corresponded to the height of the granite counter.

Thankfully, I work cleaner these days. The kitchen is spotless and I didn’t get anything on my apron – though, I confess that on my evening run yesterday, I found a  streak of chocolate on my high-tech, air-wicking running shirt. The chocolate pixies must be after me. It only makes me run faster.

Mexican chocolate fudgesicles

I was all a-twitter (get it? get it?) last week about Mexican chocolate fudgesicles. It started with an insatiable craving for fudgesicles, and then my pastry brain kicked in and wondered how I could turn something lovely into something stupidly extravagant.

Now, I haven’t done any market research. Heck, I haven’t even googled the term. But I’m going to say that in my humble kitchen, on Thursday August 30th, when I was supposed to be writing a proposal, Mexican chocolate fudgesicles were born.

I started with Alton Brown’s fudge pop recipe (thanks to Lorna for the link), but made a few changes. To make it Mexican, I infused the cream/milk mixture with cinnamon and ancho chiles. I also tried it with two kinds of chocolate. The first batch used a mixture of chocolate (mostly dark, but some milk) that made me sad: samples that I picked up that just weren’t tasty or subtle or, if you’ll excuse the snobbery, worth my time eating. The second batch used one bar of Theo 84% Ghana chocolate.

Also, I added a pinch of salt – because salt makes everything taste perkier and happier.

Observation 1. The recipe, which calls for mostly cream and a little bit of milk, is too rich for my liking. When I think of fudgesicles, I think of melty, slightly icy popsicles. The high proportion of cream in this recipe means that you get a really rich, full-flavoured popsicle that isn’t very icy. I’m going to repeat this with more milk, which has less fat and more water than cream – and thus, should result in an icier fudgesicle.

Observation 2. The mixture of sad chocolate actually produced a nicer, meltier fudgesicle. The final mixture was probably about 60% cacao content, which qualifies as dark (and perhaps as bittersweet, depending on who’s doing the marketing).

The 84% chocolate was just too much for this recipe, and I should have known it. Chocolate with more than 70% cacao content usually isn’t good for putting in recipes, because it’s just too much cacao. The actual reason depends on what you’re making, but in this case the high cacao content made the end product less melty. Which is fine, but isn’t what I was going for.

Observation 3. Work-in-progress fudgesicles are delicious. As far as starting points go, this is a good one.

Alton Brown’s Fudgepops recipe (reproduced from the Food Network website)

[My edits are in square brackets.]

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
  • 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) heavy cream
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • [2 cinnamon sticks]
  • [1 dried ancho chile, seeded and lightly toasted]
  • [1 pinch of salt]
Directions
Special Equipment: Icepop molds

Place chopped chocolate into a medium glass mixing bowl. Set aside.

[Take the heavy cream and milk and heat in a medium saucepan over medium heat with two sticks of cinnamon and one dried ancho chile that you have seeded and lightly toasted. Bring just to the boil, pop a lid on it, and let it sit at room temperature for 20-60 minutes.]

Combine heavy cream, milk, and cocoa powder [and a pinch of salt] in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk constantly until cocoa is dissolved and mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from the heat [then strain out the cinnamon and ancho goodies] and pour over the chocolate.

Let stand for 2 to 3 minutes and then whisk gently until all chocolate is melted. Whisk in the vanilla extract.

Divide the mixture evenly among the molds and place in the freezer. Freeze for at least 4 hours or until solid. Fudgepops can be held in the freezer for up to 1 week in an airtight container.

[Yeah right, one week in the freezer. I dare you to make these and leave them for one week. DARE YOU.]

Happy pi(e) day!

Happy pi(e) day, everyone! The anticipation almost killed me, but it’s finally here.

Last year’s pie was so delicious that I’m repeating it. It’s a chocolate cookie crust, sprinkled with toasted peanuts and caramelized bananas, covered with cream cheese peanut butter mousse, and topped with dark chocolate ganache.

Also in the works is a deep-dish, double-crust apple pie. Just because. It’s classic, it’s delicious, and who doesn’t love apple pie?

Happy eating!

Pi(e) day: 1 day to go!

One last tip for perfect pie: don’t fuss with it. When you’re incorporating the fat into flour, do it gently. Whether you’re using a pastry cutter or your hands (my preferred tools), you’re aiming for a sandy looking texture. There should be some pea-sized chunks, some smaller chunks, and some even smaller bits. The mixture should still be loose. Trust me, it’ll all come together in the end.

And after you’ve incorporated the cold water and made a beautiful dough, let it rest in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes. This cools the fats back down, relaxes the gluten you’ve developed, and makes the rolling process much easier.