Sunday, July 31, 2011

Orange Basil Olive Oil Bundt Cake

The most basic rule of baking (or life for that matter): mise en place—everything in place. Measuring and setting all your ingredients out before you start mixing ensures that you never have to run to the fridge in the middle of mixing to grab some milk, only to realize that the milk is suppose to be at room temperature. It’s happened to me more than I can count. Thank goodness the microwave was invented. 

The only time I follow the rule is when I grease or flour my cake pan before I start mixing ingredients. I hate stopping at the end, my beautiful cake batter waiting impatiently while I’m squandering time buttering the pan. At that point, all I want is for the cake to bake so I can eat it already. So the first thing I did before mixing any ingredients together for the Orange Basil Olive Oil Bundt Cake was look for a bundt pan in my cluttered pan cupboard. Yeah, we have two entire cupboards dedicated to the various cookies sheets, muffin tins, cake pans, pie plates, and ramekins I’ve amassed over the years. As it turned out, I didn’t have a bundt pan, a disappointing fact, since the reason this cake is called a bundt cake is because it is baked in a special kind of pan. I used a tube pan instead, figuring that the hole in the middle at least resembled that of a bundt pan.  

Obviously, I need to read the recipe more thoroughly and check for necessary equipment and ingredients before I start mixing ingredients because the cake pan wasn’t the only substitution I had to make. After beating the egg yolks until they were thick and ribbony, I reached into the cupboard to pull out the cane sugar. I only had ¾ cup left, but luckily, I found some brown sugar that I could use. Immediately after the under-sweetened bundt cake brick crisis was averted, I realized that I also didn’t have yogurt. Okay, I thought, it’s okay because I have just enough milk left and some lemon juice to make sour milk. 

My planned addition (unlike all the last minute substitutions) to the bundt cake was basil-infused olive oil. My inspiration was drawn from Elissa’s post about a Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake, something so deceptively simple, yet delicious. How often is basil paired with olive oil, in omelettes, salads, soups, and the like? To infuse the olive oil in this cake with a handful of fresh basil leaves is a clever way of adding subtle flavour. The basil perfumes the oil with its sweet essence and brings out the citrusy notes of the orange zest, lending a mysterious undertone to this Orange Basil Olive Oil Bundt Cake.

Click below for notes on the recipe.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Broccoli Cheese Quiche

Quiches are the ultimate something-awesome-from-something-else snacks. Got leftover cheese from making pizza? Throw it in the quiche. Leftover broccoli? Again, into the quiche. This something-from-nothing snack is one of the better-tasting ones; how could it not taste good when a flaky and rich pie crust is holding it together? 

Prebaking the crust and sealing it with some egg white ensured that it stayed crisp and flaky. If I could, I’d prebake every pie crust to maintain that texture, but in lattice top and double crust pies, it’s just not possible. After the Lattice-Top Cherry Vanilla Pie made me question soggy crust bottoms, this Brocolli and Cheese Quiche reaffirmed that pies are still awesome. There’s a method to attain crisp lattice-top/double crusts with fruit fillings; I just need to figure out what it is.  

Click below for the recipe.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Beef Short Ribs with Corn on the Cob and Steamed Garlic Broccoli

I love eating all kinds of food, but my true passion lies in baking, not cooking. Fortunately for me, my mom rocks at cooking so I don't have to be good at it out of necessity (just like how she doesn't have to bake because I do it). This is one of my favorite meals, ever: Beef Short Ribs with Corn on the Cob and Steamed Garlic Broccoli.

The meat is extremely tender and full-bodied and the potatoes are cooked to perfection. The steamed broccoli is appropriately garlicky and the corn on the cob is sweet and buttery. This is probably the most delicious home-cooked meal I’ve had in a while.

It’s times like these that I wish I knew how to marinate short ribs and cook potatoes and steam broccoli and boil corn on the cob to produce such a delicious food. Cooking isn't like baking, where there's a specific formula or ratio of flour to butter to eggs to sugar. I know the basics of cooking and I can (probably) reproduce this meal, but not nearly as well as my mom.  I'd be missing that dash of salt in the boiling water for the potatoes; the cloves of garlic in the steamed broccoli; the measurement of marinade ingredients by the practiced eye. It's all those little things that can only be learned through experience that make any meal a great one.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Peanut Butter Cookies

I am in love, I think, with these scrumptious Peanut Butter Cookies. They’re slightly crunchy and crispy, but still chewy in the center—perfect for dunking into milk. And so peanut-buttery. Oh, how I love peanut butter.

So unfortunately, I don’t have a recipe for these because I got them from work. But, alas, don’t fear, because I will make Peanut Butter Cookies one day. They’re on THE LIST.  

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lattice-Top Cherry Vanilla Pie

I love pies. Cream pies, chocolate pies, chestnut pies, sweet potato pies. Can anything be more indulgent than a rich buttery crust which holds a rich flavourful filling?

The one kind of pie I can’t stand making is a fruit pie. In theory, I also like eating fruit pies, but so far, I haven’t been able to make one that tastes as good as it should. The pie crust isn’t the problem—I’ve been using the same recipe for awhile now and it always yields rich, flaky results. It’s the fruit filling that has shaken my faith in the awesomeness of pies.

Whenever I try making a fruit pie, the filling produces so much water that the bottom half of the crust doesn’t even cook properly. And usually, the filling is way too sweet. The filling is made with fruit after all, and fruit already contains a lot of natural sugars, so it’s justified that I don’t understand why I have to add an extra 2 cups of sugar into the filling. 

Whenever I decrease the amount of sugar in a filling, I always increase the amount of thickener because sugar plays a role in thickening the filling. I’ve just about mastered the ratio with my Apple Pie, but it seems that it’s going to take a couple more pies before I can say that I know how to make a good Lattice-Top Cherry Vanilla Pie. The bottom crust was soggy (as predicted) and the filling was overly sweet (also as predicted).

After researching about different thickeners and their pros and cons (Google is a lifesaver sometimes), I’ve learned that acidic liquids diminish the thickening ability of cornstarch. Hmm, obviously, this recipe I’m using is no good...

Next time I make another cherry pie (which is in the unforeseeable future since it’s not every weekend that my uncle goes cherry picking and gives us his excess of six pounds of fresh cherries), I am going to use a different thickener and even less sugar.

Click below for the recipe.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry Buttercream

Last week, it was one of my best friend Jonathin’s Jonathan’s sixteenth birthday. We've had our ups and downs but in the end, I know that he’s a good kid who doesn’t mean to do half the things he doesn’t know he’s doing.

So yesterday, a group of our friends went to Pan, which is a small Greek restaurant in the heart of Greektown, to celebrate. Unfortunately, I don’t have non-blurry pictures of the food we ate because the lighting was so dim (I’m starting to really dislike dimly lit restaurants...) 

As usual, I had intended to bake something for Jonathan. After eating a delicious Vanilla Cupcake with Raspberry Buttercream cupcake from work, I knew that I wanted to bake him some cupcakes. The cupcake was pretty common, but the frosting was unbelievably light and rich and flavourful and not overly, overly sweet. It was the combination of the two that left me smiling for a full five minutes afterwards (although that might have been just a sugar high). The cupcakes were so delicious that I mentioned to one of my supervisors that I wanted to bake cupcakes for Jonathan’s birthday. To my surprise, she offered to let me make an extra dozen cupcakes to take home. Ah, the perks of the job... 


Happy Birthday Jonathan!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tomato, Basil, Bocconcini Salad

I love mini bocconcini. Bocconcini, for those who don’t know, is an Italian semi-soft unripened cheese which can be found in varying sizes. It has a very mild taste and a spongy, slightly cheesy texture. Paired with grape tomatoes and basil leaves, the trio create a balanced, colourful salad. It’s a really simple notion, but believe me, it tastes pretty darn good.

This is one of those dishes which don’t have a specific formula or recipe. In a small bowl toss the same amount of grape tomatoes as mini bocconcini. You can cut them in half if you like. Rip a small handful of basil leaves over top and drizzle some olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and enjoy immediately.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pomegranate Lime Lemonade & Pumpkin Walnut Loaf

On a perfect summer day, the sun is shining, the breeze is whispering, and the air smells of sweetness and freshness. It’s warm, but not too warm, and the bugs are at bay, hiding until the sun goes down at evening’s call. It was unfortunate that I had to spend the first six waking hours of this perfect summer day in a bakery, but even the kitchen wasn’t quite as hot as usual.

The afternoon light is what I like best. As my brothers and mom and I sat on the backyard deck, we enjoyed the light the vibrant sunshine casted. From the other side of the fence, a neighbour’s tall evergreen tree loomed over us, providing shade. Perfection, elevated by the fact that we were viewing such a scene with a glass of Pomegranate Lime Lemonade in hand and a slice of Pumpkin Loaf set on the deck table in front of us. Tea-time at its best. 

The Pomegranate Lime Lemonade is inspired by a drink that we had had at a Mexican restaurant in New York City a couple weeks ago. It’s deliciously sour and sweet, a tease on the taste buds. 

The Pumpkin Loaf is another treat from my co-op placement at a bakery. It’s got that hint of cinnamon and spice and is as moist and flavourful as they come. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me before I cut the first slice, the loaf contained walnuts, which I am mildly allergic too. My mom loved the loaf, because she likes walnuts, and even my older brother, who was wary of the walnuts at first, ate the whole inch-thick slice I placed in front of him. 

Me, I just picked out all the walnuts and ate the pumpkin loaf part (which I really should not have done because my throat swelled up afterwards...)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Chicken Vegetable Quinoa

Working at a bakery is a really tiring job. As the co-op student, I want to experience the bakery life as much as I can. One way for me to do that is to show that I can work hard and that I’m willing to learn. I finish my jobs as quickly and precisely as I can and I volunteer to do other things.

By the time lunch time comes around, I’m pretty tired. It’s strange; I don’t feel sleepy, as I would at school, but it’s more of a physical exhaustion. Lunch is that one time during the day when I get to sit down and refuel. For the past week, I’ve been eating sandwiches, but today, I ate Chicken Vegetable Quinoa, which I had made the day before.

I like quinoa not only for its taste, but because it’s a healthier substitution for white rice and relatively easy to cook. And because all the vegetables I used were the already half-chopped toppings from when I made Whole Wheat Pizza, this Chicken Vegetable Quinoa was a breeze to throw together.

Click below for the recipe.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Whole Wheat Pizza

I love going grocery shopping with my mom. Not only does she buy almost everything that I say I want to eat, unless the traffic is really heavy I also get to drive to the supermarket. It’s motivating to have a destination when you’re driving; who likes going around in circles?

Yesterday morning, my mom and I went grocery shopping. We were picking up some toppings for the pizzas that some friends and I were going to bake in the afternoon. 

bacon, red onion, mozzarella pizza, with a smattering of fresh oregano leaves over top.

The first time I had ever made pizza was in culinary arts class a couple months earlier. It wasn't such a good experience because somebody took half my pizza while I was doing dishes the oven had not been hot enough, with the constant openings and closings, to promote a crisp crust. At home, I tried to make pizza with a whole wheat crust, but I found that the crust turned out dry and flat. Discouraged, I temporarily abandoned the idea of yeast breads.

I found a new recipe, from Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day, and immediately, I was inspired to try his pizza dough recipe. It was a hit among my friends and I because of its crisp texture. The thing I love the most about this recipe though, is the overnight method which makes it possible to make the dough the night before for convenience the next day. This pizza crust is definitely going to become a regular around here. 

Tips for Making Pizza:

Even if you like really thin crust pizzas (like I do), make sure you fold a bit of the edge of the crust over itself to create a border. This will help all your toppings stay on top of your pizza and prevent them from spilling out.

Use as little tomato sauce as possible. The tomato sauce helps the toppings adhere to the crust, but if you use too much, the crust may get soggy.

If you are using fresh herbs, sprinkle them on top of the pizza after it comes out of the oven. This way the herbs won’t wither or burn.

You need more cheese than you think. Shredded cheese really melts down. 

Flour the bottom of your pizza crust before you set it on top of the oiled baking sheet. This will ensure that the pizza doesn't stick to the pan when you bake it. 

Click below for the recipe.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Summer Co-op (Part 2)

I’m a pragmatic person; I can see the black, the white, and all the gray in between. I like thinking things through and reflecting upon the consequences of each different course of action to determine the best solution. I (kind of) know what I want and I know what I have to do to get there. One thing I want is to be good at baking. It’s my passion and dare I say it, my obsession. I love baking and I do it all the time, but I’ve never seriously considered baking as a full-time profession in my future. 

lemon poppyseed loaf.

My first day at summer co-op confirmed that notion. I came into the bakery, fully prepared to endure the constant standing, the heat of the kitchen, and the menial tasks that I would have to perform as the new co-op student. What I didn’t expect was that my feet would start to hurt after three hours. Or that my back would follow in suit an hour later. Well, I did expect it, I’m just bad at dealing with pain (I’m that one sixteen-year-old who can’t do blood tests without screaming and cutting off circulation to my mom’s arm.)

left: chocolate apricot rugalach; top/right: apricot raisin rugalach.
The rugalach is so deliciously rich and buttery. Now that
I know how good it tastes, I want to try making it myself.

I literally stood 7.5 of the 8 hours I spent at the bakery. Of course, so did all the other full-time workers. I don’t know how they do it. It’s pretty amazing that they can stand for such long periods of time, go home, just to wake up and do it all over again the next day. And the next day after that. I’ve never doubted that working a job isn’t easy, but now I have firsthand knowledge of that fact through a job that isn’t at a summer camp (though running around and trying to keep the kids in line is a pretty exhausting job in itself.) 

My second day at the bakery was as good as I figure this job will get. Not only did I get sent home an hour earlier (shh, don’t tell my co-op teacher or I won’t get the credits), but I got sent home with some rugalach and a small lemon poppy seed loaf. I had helped roll out the rugalach (my inconsistent rolling probably explains why they gave it to me) and fill the loaf pans with the batter among the long list of different things I’ve already done in my two days at the bakery.

These two days have been such eye openers. Before setting foot in the kitchen, all the goods that I saw at grocery stores or cafes seemed so detached, as if they just magically fell out of the sky and ended up behind a display counter. Seeing all the back-breaking work that goes into preparing such luscious treats helps me realize that underpaid as the bakers already are, there’s a reason that a cookie from Second Cup is $2.00.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sesame Edamame

It’s surprising how shaky your handwriting is after you stop writing for two weeks. I haven’t written much since exams ended so all my summer co-op assignments feature my messy scrawl. After scrambling to finish said assignments, I handed them in to my summer co-op teacher.

I will admit that I really didn’t want to go to school yesterday. After two weeks of freedom, I had finally adjusted to spend-your-day-outside-and-get-bitten-by-mosquitoes/sleeping-in-late-and-eating-breakfast-at-noon vacation mode. When I came home yesterday, I was feeling exhausted and bedraggled. And, of course, I was hungry, a deep head-pounding, stomach-gnawing kind of hungry.

I looked into the fridge and besides the cold-cuts I had used to make my lunch this morning, there wasn’t much else to eat. I decided to make some edamame beans, which I had in the freezer. I love edamame beans, but I hate shelling them. I know going the freezer route isn’t exactly the freshest, but it definitely is more convenient, especially when you’re really hungry.

Click below for the recipe.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Strawberry Banana Muffins

I hate throwing food out, especially food that can still be eaten. Such was the case after I strained the Strawberry Sauce I had made the other day (for the Angel Food Cake). After the ruby red strawberry sauce strained through the sieve, I was left with some vaguely pink strawberry mash. I have no other way to describe it than “mash.” I didn’t want to throw it out, so I decided to stir the strawberry mash into some Banana Muffins to make Strawberry Banana Muffins.

there aren't actually any blackberries in the recipe; I just like eating
my muffins with fruit and jam.

To deal with the extra moisture, I added an extra ¼ cup of flour. The muffins were super moist, but the strawberry flavour didn’t ring through. It wasn’t such a disappointment though, considering that I had used cooked strawberry mash.  It was a great way to use up leftover fruit that would have otherwise been destined for the green bin.

Click below for the recipe.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Angel Food Cake with Strawberry Sauce

To celebrate my grandmother’s birthday, we had her over for dinner on Friday night. My grandmother isn’t one to care much for sweets or anything too fattening. She’s pretty careful about her sugar intake and she has reason to be: everyone in her family, with the exception of herself, is diabetic.

I decided to make an Angel Food Cake with Strawberry Sauce. The white of the cake and the red of the sauce seemed fittingly patriotic as Friday had been Canada’s Day. I was slightly apprehensive about making an angel food cake because it was a cake I had never succeeded in make before. Every time I tried (okay, I only tried once but even one failure is enough to set in a fear so deep that it takes months before another attempt), the cake didn’t rise properly, sinking in the middle, instead of puffing up to its renowned airy stature.

Of course, I had forgotten to check how many eggs were left in the fridge the day before so when I rolled up my sleeves to start making the cake, I realized that I only had eight eggs and not twelve. Instead of attempting to make two-thirds of the recipe, I halved it and just used six eggs.

I’m not sure which factor accounted for the success of the cake: that I had used less eggs and had more room to stir or that I had used a different recipe. The cake turned out light, moist, and perfectly airy, albeit not quite as regal or tall as a regular twelve-egg cake.

I paired the cake with a homemade strawberry sauce. The strawberry sauce is beyond amazing: it’s thick (I hate runny sauces which just end up drowning the cake), slightly sweet, and full of strawberry flavour. My brother Kyle ended up dripping the sauce onto the floor as he licked the bowl clean and I, of course, ended up stepping in the sauce. But I didn’t mind. I’m willing to ruin a pair of socks for this sauce.

Click below for the recipes.

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