Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Black and White Cheesecake Squares

It’s that time of year again: the days are getting shorter, the nights are becoming cooler, and an unknown impetus is looming over the care-free days of summer. It’s time for school again. After two glorious months free from the burden of classes and homework, it’s time to go back.

I’m feeling ambivalent about the upcoming school year. On one hand, I love seeing all my friends again and I look forward to participating in some new clubs, but on the other, I feel as though my summer hasn’t been long enough. One week just isn’t long enough for me to get bored and look forward to going to school again and learning. One week isn’t long enough for me to really unwind and relax when I have so many places to go and people to see.

The reality of September hit me full force when I went to pick up my schedule at school today. This is it: in a week, I will walk these halls as a junior, older than the majority of the other students at school. I will be halfway through my high school career, closer to the end than to the beginning, on the homestretch. Even to my ears I sound overly melodramatic, but I can’t help it. In a blink of an eye, I’ll be a senior, heading off to university and to the rest of my life.

I’m not the only one on this boat; seeing all my friends again reminded me of just how much we’ve grown up in the last two years. It’s hard to imagine that the short, skinny boy I knew in ninth grade is tall and muscular now. Or that the face of the girl I met during freshman year has evolved and become so lovely. In a blink of an eye, all those little things will be gone, forgotten.

After I picked up my schedule, we went out to eat lunch in celebration of my friend Rebekah’s sixteenth birthday. In true Kyleen fashion, I offered to bake something for Rebekah. And as requested, I made a pan of Black and White Cheesecake Squares. A twist on the classic cheesecake made with chocolate cookie crumbs and garnished with a drizzle of melted chocolate.

As we lunched, I couldn’t help but wonder how old the waiters and other patrons of the restaurant thought we were. Do we look sixteen or maybe we look twenty? Is maturity and perception of maturity based largely on looks or poise? We definitely look our age or older, but perhaps we don’t conduct ourselves with the grace of an older young adult.  
We don’t go to school solely for the academics, but also to grow up and become who we are going to be. As much as I love going to school and learning and becoming, there are moments when I think everything is moving too fast. Sometimes, I wish I could hit the pause button and just stay the same for a little while longer.

for Black and White Wednesdays.

Click below for the recipe.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Easy Honey Honey Melon Sorbet

Honey honey melon sorbet: the easiest sorbet you will ever make. It’s light and refreshing and the very epitome of summertime. Think lazy summer night, post barbeque, stomachs bursting, and kids running around in the backyard. That’s when this sorbet is best enjoyed.

Unlike the grocery list of ingredients I can’t even pronounce on the back of an ice cream carton, this sorbet has only two ingredients: honey and honey melon. I freeze blocks of honey melon and then process them in my food processor until smooth. Then I drizzle in some honey for sweetness, pulse, and serve. The perfect end to the perfect summer night.   

Friday, August 26, 2011

S'mores Bars

Some days, I love volunteering at a summer camp. It’s a great way to involve myself in the community and to gain work experience. And it’s definitely more productive than staying at home all day (although, in all fairness, I would say that I’ve been overly productive this summer with Summer Co-op).

Most of the kids at camp are so amiable and fun to be around and seeing their faces light up makes me want to give them the world.Of course, there are always a couple troublemakers in the group who try to push boundaries. Disciplining kids who don’t listen or keep forgetting is frustrating at times, but I take it as another life experience. I’m practicing for the real world, where I’ll encounter the grown-up version of these kids.

On Monday, my group went to Edwards Gardens to enjoy and photograph the variety of nature there. As we hiked through the trail, we admired various trees, plants, and bugs surrounding us. After lunch, we stopped at a creek to collect some clay. My heart warmed as I saw everyone wade into the water excitedly, jabbering about the clay they were going to collect. It is moments like those that remind me of what it is like to be a kid and to just lose oneself at the task at hand. I may be the older and wiser one (apparently to some of the kids, I look like I’m twenty-eight years old) to these eight to ten year olds, but every now and then, I learn something from them as well.

Another thing that I love about the summer camp I volunteered at is the wonderful atmosphere. Interspersed with all the duties and tasks are fun contests and mock awards and staff socials. One of the contests in this session was the Bake-Off, which happened on Tuesday. Coincidentally, it was also my older brother’s birthday on Monday, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and to divide a batch of S’mores Bars.

Everyone has heard of the classic s’mores sandwich and S’mores Bars are comprised of all those essential components: the graham crackers, the marshmallow, and the chocolate. In this rendition, chocolate chips are stirred into a bar batter made using graham cracker crumbs. Halfway through baking, marshmallows are placed on top of the bars and they melt and brown in the oven. Although these bars do not contain a lot of sugar, they come out ooey and gooey with all the deliciousness of a s’mores sandwich. 

These were a hit with the family and judging by the empty container I retrieved at the end of the day, the people at camp liked them as well. No matter how delicious these bars are, I still think that nothing beats the tried and true childhood classic of fire-roasted marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate.
Click below for the recipe.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Seven Links

Seven links is a blogger game in which you list seven of your favourite posts and tag five other bloggers to do the same. Ryan, of Ryan Bakes, tagged me, and I must say that I was really excited to be included. Ryan’s blog is chock full of great recipes and beautiful pictures so you should definitely go check it out.

So there are only two simple rules to this game:
  1. Link one (and only one) of your posts to each of the seven categories
  2. Tag five blogger friends

Most Beautiful Post: Lattice-Top Cherry Vanilla Pie

Banana Bailey's Chocolate Ice Cream isn't a controversial post in itself... It's only slightly off-center because I'm only sixteen and not of legal drinking age yet.

Most Helpful Post: Cinnamon Rolls

Surprisingly Successful Post: Bread Pudding

Most Humble Post: Sausage Pasta

This isn’t any old sausage pasta where there is sausage in the dish, but literally pasta in the sausage. It’s just that much more fun to eat.

Most Pride-Inducing Post: Jenny’s Chocolate Cream Cake

Tag, you’re it!

Stephanie, greenthyme
Emily, Dish & Tell

Monday, August 22, 2011

Avocado Tuna Salad

Waking up at 6:15AM really isn’t my thing. Neither is wondering what I should eat for breakfast so that I would have enough energy to get through the day. You can also cross walking/bussing/and subwaying halfway across town to volunteer for eight consecutive hours and repeating the same set of actions, but in reverse off the list as well. No matter how “independent” I like being, it’s nice to have someone else take care of me for a change.

Lately, I’ve been eating a lot of avocados. Instead of butter or mayo, I sandwich half an avocado along with a slice of mozzarella cheese and some roast beef cold cuts in between two slices of dark rye bread and call it lunch. And breakfast. And sometimes dinner. And I don’t even like sandwiches; they’re just the easiest thing to make when I’m really hungry and don't want to cook. 

This Avocado Tuna Salad takes a bit more time, but it’s just that much more satisfying. The tuna and hard boiled eggs provide protein and are complemented with the rich avocado and sweet and juicy cherries. Sprinkled with finely diced shallot and dressed with fresh thyme leaves, lemon juice, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, this salad hits all the taste buds. The best part is that it is filling and tastes delicious. Served with some soup and bread, the salad makes for a light lunch or dinner.

Click below for the recipe.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Garlicky Spinach Zucchini Carrot Gratin & Roasted Chicken Thighs with Potatoes

When I was younger, I used to watch quite a bit of TV. Every day after school, I would watch Food Network or Family Channel as I fixed myself a simple snack.

These days, I find that watching other people on TV shows just isn’t as fulfilling as living my own life. In the last couple of years, I’ve realized that I have other hobbies and passions and friends to occupy my time. I still watch the occasional TV show and when I do, it’s usually on my younger brother Kyle’s computer. He’s an avid movie and TV watcher, so he’s got seasons and seasons of TV shows downloaded on his computer. 

This summer, I haven’t had much time to watch TV. Since Summer Co-op ended last week, I’ve been volunteering at a summer camp. I wake up at around 6:15 AM each morning and by the time I get home at 6 PM, I’m exhausted. After such a long day, I don’t feel like doing anything. 

Unfortunately, this was the week that my parents and other various relatives decided to go on vacation, leaving me and my older brother to fend for ourselves at home. This isn’t the first time that my brother(s) and I have stayed at home alone and I love that my parents trust us enough to let us stay by ourselves. Granted, my brother is almost nineteen, but in reality, he’s never really aided me aside from squashing the occasionally bug in my bathroom (and that’s only when it’s late at night and I’m too tired to take care of it myself).

I miss my parents when they are not here, but I really enjoy the taste of independence. At sixteen, freedom is a privilege that most parents don’t give gratuitously.

I relish the fact that I can take care of myself. The biggest part of “taking care of yourself” is definitely eating proper meals. Eating out every night certainly is not as healthy or economical as cooking, but making a proper meal from scratch (and washing all the dishes involved) drains so much time and energy. And after a long day, there’s nothing I dread more than having to cook dinner, so I try to compromise. My brother and I take turns cooking and washing the dishes and we have take-out half the time. 

On Wednesday, I was feeling particularly inspired to cook, since I wanted to eat the leftovers for a hot breakfast the next morning. After a long look in our the rapidly diminishing food supplies in the fridge, I decided to make a Garlicky Spinach Zucchini Carrot Gratin and Roasted Chicken Thighs with Potatoes in order to use up the vegetables that had been sitting around too long. I specifically designed the recipes so that they would bake at the same temperature and for around the same length of time.

The Roasted Chicken Thighs, which my brother marinated with salt, black pepper, sugar, and paprika, turned out way too salty, but it was delicious with the lightly seasoned potatoes. The Garlicky Spinach Zucchini Carrot Gratin tasted great right out of the oven, but in my humble opinion, it tasted even better the next day, when all the flavours had time to marry. The addition of a whole clove of roasted garlic (which my brother had roasted the last time he had barbequed) lent a garlicky and subtly rich flavour to the gratin.

Leftover gratin reheats beautifully and can be sandwiched between two slices of dark rye for a light lunch or dinner. I added half an avocado, which adds richness and healthy fats to the sandwich. 

Click below for the recipes.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Spaghetti Pie

I hate throwing out food, especially if it’s food that I made myself. Heck, I can’t even throw out the strawberry mash that results from making Strawberry Sauce. It ends up in a Strawberry Banana Muffin. So when I had leftover Sausage Pasta, I decided to make a pie the next day. I could have definitely reheated the pasta and eaten it as is, but the golden exterior of the pie is too delicious to pass up.

All I did was mix the leftover pasta and pasta sauce (which I stored separately to prevent soggy noodles), a couple tablespoons of cheese, and an egg together. Then I poured the mixture into a buttered and floured pie plate and sprinkled some more parmesan cheese over top. I baked it for about twenty or so minutes at 400F (the baking time will vary depending on how much leftover pasta you have; adjust accordingly). The pie is done as it is golden brown on the top and bottom.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sausage Pasta

So I know this really cool girl named Myera. She’s the girl with the mischievous half-smile perpetually on her face, the one who knows something is awesome when she sees it. And let me tell you, this is awesome. 

A couple months back, Myera showed me a picture of a Sausage Pasta. It was any old pasta dish where there was sausage pasta, but literally, pasta in sausage. I remember laughing out loud when I saw the picture. It’s the oddest looking thing: the pasta is just hanging out of the sausage like it was always there and we didn’t break strands and strands of pasta trying to get them in there. 

I decided that it was time to inaugurate my cousins, one of whom is visiting this summer and one of whom is staying with us to study in Canada, to the kitchen. The look on their faces when I told them to take the dry spaghetti and poke it through the sausage was priceless. Just as we were finishing up, my younger brother Kyle pranced into the kitchen. When he saw what we were making, he washed his hands and insisted that he join in on the fun.

I tried to hide my disbelief; this was the first time, ever that Kyle had volunteered to help with anything in the kitchen. Usually, it requires a lot of cajoling on my part and the temptation of a tasty snack at the end (Scooby Snax, anyone?) to persuade him do anything. Shockingly, he also volunteered to do the dishes we had used during the prep.

So spearing pasta through sausages doesn’t make this pasta dish any tastier, but it does make a little more fun to eat. Even my dad was impressed by the fantastic sauce and amusing presentation and went back for seconds. To me, this is the epitome of a family dinner. The food should taste amazing, be fun to eat, and inspire people to help. That’s the magic of good food. 

Click below for the recipe.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Summer Co-op (Part 3)

I’m starting to think that it’s a good thing that I don’t work at a bakery full-time. No matter how guilty I feel for eating cake for breakfast, I can’t resist having another slice. Really, it’s not my fault; the cake is just sitting in the fridge calling my name.
from left: sammy. praline,
(and my favourite) peanut butter.
from top: chocolate chip, double
chocolate chip, oatmeal cranberry.
With the end of summer co-op on Friday came a bittersweet goodbye. The pizza party and thank you card were touching, but the cake, pie, and two boxes of cookies they sent me home with was too much. Honestly, I was already in a sugar shock, even though I hadn’t ingested anything yet. 

Immediately after I got home, I began to divvy up the goods. A plate of cookies and a slice of Lemon Blueberry Loaf for my uncle, a generous slice of Vanilla Cake with Raspberry Buttercream for my dad’s friend who had dropped by, and a small bag full of goodies for the hungry friends I was going to see later that night. Then I sat down and tried a little some of everything. Even though the cookies were small, there were six different kinds to try. And then there was the lemon blueberry loaf and the peach blueberry pie. Delicious, every last bite.

The only thing I didn’t like was the fact that the cake decorator had spelled my name wrong. In retrospect, I really can’t blame her since I’m still not sure whether her name is Shelley or Shirley. 

All in all, I would say that my experience was better than most. Besides a few embarrassing slips (like that time I spilled a bucket of apples on the floor and the former-co-op-student-turned-employee –for-the-summer rushed to my aid; or on Thursday when I gave my supervisor a thank you letter and she showed everyone and then proceeded to tape it on the notice board, whence on Friday, another co-worker noticed that I had put my address on the letter—the people are work are nice, but I don’t really think I want them to know where I live...), I had a great time working at the bakery. The experience was anything but magical, but it really helped drive the point home that baking is my hobby, my passion, my obsession, but not my career. Sometimes doing something you love on such a big scale takes all the romanticism out of it.

peach blueberry pie.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Chocolate Cream Cake for Jenny

Never judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins. Or in my case: three-and-a-half-inch heels—the girls know what I’m talking about. Wearing high heels is about as comfortable as strapping on a pair of shovels on your feet, and even though I know that from painful past experiences, I still choose vanity over comfort sometimes. My Michael Kors shoes are just so... pretty.

On Thursday evening, a few of my friends and I went to eat dinner at a Korean restaurant to celebrate my best friend Jenny’s sixteenth birthday. I decided to wear my heels because I wanted to dress up a little bit. I never had the cause to get dressed up to go to work, so any outing with friends was a good excuse as any to wear pretty shoes.

As the baker of the group (besides Jenny herself and Suzy), I volunteered to make a cake. I haven’t really felt inspired to bake at home lately, since I spend the majority of my waking hours working at a bakery, but I was feeling motivated to bake something for Jenny. Originally, I had said that I would bake mini cupcakes, since they are smaller and more portion-size-friendly. And then I thought about the fact that making cupcakes would required me to scoop the batter into each cup (as if I don’t do that at work enough already) while to make a cake, all I had to do was pour the batter into pans. 

After a lot of thought, I decided to make a zebra cake, inspired from the recipe book that Jenny had found at the library. The night before, I baked the cakes, let them cool, and stored them in the fridge. This worked out really well, because the cake layers are much, much easier to work with when they are cold. On Thursday, I went home immediately after work ended and chopped the chocolate for the white chocolate ganache, as according to the book. 

The book suggested melting the chocolate, allowing it to cool a bit, and then folding it into whipped cream, so I went ahead and did that. Big mistake. The cream was still cold (because the book didn’t specify whether the cream should be cold or at room temperature; I, along with most people, tend to beat cream while it is cold because it whips better) and the chocolate solidified the mixture into a grainy mess. 

In an attempt to revive the ganache, I melted the chocolate/cream mixture over the double boiler again and then tried to rewhip it in an ice bath. The cream thickened slightly, so I figured that it would be fine to use because that it would continue to set once it chilled in the fridge. I filled the cake with the ganache and spread it over the cake layers and plopped the cake into the fridge. To my dismay, the ganache began to run off the sides the instant I took the cake out to finish decorating.

At this point, I was beginning to panic because I was running out of time. Hastily, I scraped all the melting ganache off the cake and whipped up some stabilized cream. Oh, how I love stabilized whipped cream (and luckily, so does Jenny). The only part in which you can truly mess up (besides beating the cream into butter) is if you don’t beat continuously while you add the melted gelatine. I frosted the cake quickly and went to meet my friends.

In our group, I’m also the one who’s always holding the camera. I usually give the cake/backpack/bag/book/whatever else I don’t want to hold to a friend and he holds it for me (works like a charm until he realizes that he’s still holding my bag). I gave the cake to Shaun so that I could take pictures and he passed the box around to all the other guys so they could have a turn holding the cake. 

Dinner was lovely. I had homemade noodles with black bean sauce and some kind of vegetable fried rice. After we all finished eating, it came time for the cake. As the waiter cut the (poorly designed) box open, he sighed a sympathetic sigh and left abruptly. When I saw the cake, I understood why he’d left in such a hasty manner: the entire top half of the cake had slid off the bottom and no waiter wants to have that blame fall on his shoulders. Everyone attributed the damaged cake to one of the cake-holder’s faults for banging the cake around, but I ventured a guess that it was that melt-y white chocolate ganache in the middle which had caused the second layer of cake to slide off.

I was disappointed that after all the hard work I had put into frosting the cake, it looked like this when Jenny got to see it. In fact, I had been in such a rush that I didn’t even take a picture of the cake when it was intact. Somehow, Jenny managed to slide the entire cake layer back onto the other one with a butter knife. We gathered for pictures and lit the sparklers (because Jenny likes sparklers) and sang happy birthday, in all cheesiness. It didn’t even matter what the cake looked like anymore; it was the thought that counted.

Happy Sixteenth Birthday, Jenny!

Click below for the recipe.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Twice-Baked Blueberry Crumble Pie

Ah, summer. I love you and your fresh, local, seasonal fruit. Crumbles, pies, jams, cakes; the possibilities are endless. Choosing what to make with the huge box of blueberries in my fridge is the hardest part. Torn between a crumble and a pie, I decided to make a blueberry pie with crumble topping. 

Nothing smells quite as good as a Twice Baked Blueberry Crumble Pie when it’s baking in the oven (except maybe, maybe cinnamon rolls). As the crust browns and the fruit bubbles away, the house is filled with the delicious scent of rich, buttery pastry and sweet blueberries. 

Topped with crumble, the pie is a delicious meld of textures. The crust is crisp because I prebaked it and the filling is just thick enough to hold its shape after being cut. The crumble topping is actually cooked through, unlike some of the double crust pies I’ve made in the past. I think I have finally gotten over the soggy pie rut.

This is the kind of pie that you eat for dinner (because your whole family was out for the day and you are too lazy to cook). This is the kind of pie you eat for breakfast lunch the next day (if there's any left after said family comes home and eats your pie) when you're sick and decide to stay home for work. It's that kind of pie.
Click below for the recipe.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Marshmallow Brownies

My opinion about working at a bakery vacillates every day. Each morning, I dread the car ride there, anticipating another hot and tiring day standing in the kitchen. But by the end of the day, I feel free and refreshed at the prospect of not having to return until the next day. Okay, so it sounds like I don’t enjoy working at the bakery, but every time I take something home, I change my mind. 

Since my co-op began six weeks ago, I’ve brought home a LemonPoppyseed Loaf, some Rugalach, a Pumpkin Loaf, a Marble (Vanilla and Chocolate) Loaf, Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry and Caramel Buttercream, Peanut ButterCookies, Blondies, a Chocolate Loaf, a strawberry rhubarb pie, a blueberry divine, and now: Marshamallow Brownies. 

On the hottest of days, I am jealous of my fellow summer co-op friends who get to sit in an air-conditioned office.They get free hand lotion (they work in a dermatologist's office) and I get free treats; I think we all know who has the better end of that stick.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Herbed Yogurt Crackers

I’m a relentless kind of person. Once I get the idea in my head, I’m behind it a hundred percent, through health and sickness. 

I’m not at sickness yet, but my right wrist does hurts a little bit whenever I use it to hold a spoon, open the door, unscrew the cap of a water bottle, lift heavy textbooks, or pretty much anything else. My wrist has been hurting for a while now, but I guess the pain wasn’t really noticeable enough until yesterday. 

I’m right-handed, so I rely on my right hand for nearly everything. The only things I do with my left hand are: cut food when I’m using a knife and fork (why do people insist on using their left hands to hold the fork when they usually hold it in their right hands...?); deal playing cards; and play floor-hockey (everyone else in my grade school gym class was right-handed and I was that one awkward leftie...) 

Besides all the regular everyday things that my right side has to suffer through (like brushing my teeth, buttoning my shirt, reaching for a bowl, pouring cereal, using a spoon, opening the door, grabbing my backpack, kicking open the door...), I also use my right-hand for all things baking-related. Lately, I’ve been using my hands in the bakery to scoop batters, carry cake pans, and lift boxes. 

Today I decided to give my right hand a break and get my left hand to start picking up some of the slack. Have you ever tried feeding yourself cereal with your weak hand when you’ve only every done it before with your dominant hand? I never, so it shouldn’t have surprised me how unnatural it felt, not to mention frustrating. Even the simple action of lifting a spoon from the bowl to your mouth can be tiring if you’ve never practiced before.

Despite the fact that my wrist was in slight pain yesterday, the idea of buttermilk crackers consumed me. I was craving something rich, some salty, some crisp, something flaky; only homemade crackers would satiate the craving. I reasoned I could just use my left hand to cut the butter into the flour. Of course, after a few feeble attempts of using the new pastry blender my mom had bought me, I gave up. My left hand wasn’t as strong or practiced as my right hand; I could barely cut through the cold butter without losing grip.

It was too late to turn back at that point so I soldiered on and finished making the crackers. Because it was Civic Holiday, the stores were closed and I had to make do with what I had in the fridge. There wasn’t any buttermilk, but there was a tub of yogurt, which my mom had bought after I had mentioned that I needed some for the OrangeBasil Olive Oil Bundt Cake (not that I needed it anymore because I had already made the cake).

These little crackers are delicious on their own, but what made them so delectably delicious were the herbs and seeds sprinkled on top. I used an assortment of poppy seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, and coarse salt.

Click below for the recipe.
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