Monday, October 31, 2011

A Helping Hand and Blueberry Muffins

It’s amazing how fast time seems to fly: in a blink of the eye, it’s already the end of October. We’re already halfway to the winter holidays, which is one-third to the end of the school year. It seems that just last week, school had started and I had walked into my new biology class, wide-eyed and excited at the mention of an overnight camp field trip.

A month later, I went on the trip. In the days leading up to the trip, I was quite stressed, unsure of what to do first, how to prioritize. I had homework that I wanted to complete before I left and completely forgot about it; I needed to watch a three-and-a-half hour long movie (I should have checked how long Ben-Hur was before choosing it...) and answer questions for my history summative; and I had an article due for the school newspaper. I hadn’t finished packing by Tuesday night; I wanted to take a nice, long, hot shower (in case the overnight camp I was going to didn’t have accessible showers); and somehow, I still wanted to get my eight and a half hours of sleep.

On top of all that, I had promised to make eighty Crepes and a hundred and fifty Blueberry Muffins for a school fundraiser. A couple months ago, Rui, who is the vice-president of one of the largest councils at our school, asked me to help bake for one of their events during the weeklong fundraising campaign for a charity. At our school, we don’t have typical stereotypes. First of all, there are no cheerleaders and we play rugby, not football. There are no “nerds,” or “goth” kids, or “dumb jocks.” If I had to put a label on myself, I would probably be that skinny girl who bakes. I guess my reputation preceded me (or at least my blog did) because Rui mentioned that she had found out about my baking hobby through my blog. I was extremely flattered that Rui asked me and I replied that I would be delighted to help out.

In addition to making the crepes and muffins, I also needed to buy napkins, plates, drinks for two hundred, and twelve pounds of strawberries (for the crepes). Monday after school, I rounded up all my strongest friends to help carry two hundred juice boxes and twelve pounds of strawberries. After the cash machine guzzled a hundred dollars worth of birthday money, I was in such a flustered state (a hundred dollars is a lot of money to an unemployed teenager) that I forgot to grab the receipt.  

Ten minutes later, when we had arrived back at school, I realized that I had forgotten to take the receipt. At our school, we need receipts to apply for reimbursements for club activities and without that little slip of paper, all my birthday money were as good as gone. Luckily, Alex and Wilny and the others went back to the supermarket and badgered the cashiers until they printed out another copy. All of you guys (Raymond, Matthew, Wilny, Daniel, Alex, and the other Alex) are awesome and that awesomeness will be handsomely rewarded in the form of cookies, just saying.
The weekend before, I made the crepes and froze them, unfilled. As I flipped the crepes, I watched Ben-Hur and answered the questions for my history summative. Okay, that isn’t entirely true; I was actually more focused on not burning the crepes and Ben-Hur was merely playing in the background. But I must be better at multitasking than I give myself credit for because I managed to finish the assignment. (Okay, so I actually ended up Wikipedia-ing it and then watching fast-forwarded clips of parts of the movie to get the general gist of it; at least I’m resourceful and honest.)

Luckily, some other friends agreed to take care of the strawberry filling for the crepes, so all I had to worry about were the blueberry muffins—all a hundred and fifty of them. At one time, I make two dozen muffins, at most. Even with the help of my two awesome friends Hasia and Hillary, it took us four hours to bake a hundred and fifty muffins. It was pretty crazy, but in the end, it was really cool to know that I could make a hundred and fifty muffins if needed. I definitely couldn’t have done it without their help or my mom’s help either. She was the one who supported me in this baking endeavour whole-heartedly, buying ingredients as I requested them.

the blue gorilla (muffin).

It really warms my heart to know that so many people are willing to donate their time and effort to fundraise money for charity. In addition to the wonderful people who helped me out, all the members of the council were able to band together to plan and carry out successful fundraising events. Others who weren’t even officially in the club had no qualms about helping either. The world is a large and lonely place and I’ve learned that a helping hand will always be welcome.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Daring Bakers Challenge: Apple Butter Povitica

Blog-checking lines: The Daring Baker’s October 2011 challenge was Povitica, hosted by Jenni of The Gingered Whisk. Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Dessert Bread that is as lovely to look at as it is to eat!

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Whenever I bake, there is almost always a story behind it, whether it be a love for croissants or a best friend’s birthday or just baking because I want to eat. But today, there’s no reason and there’s no story. I made this Apple Butter Povitica for no reason other than to participate in the Daring Baker’s October Challenge. As I struggled to come up with a witty story or double meaning for this post, I realized that the Daring Baker’s challenge was a wholly valid reason to bake something.

I participated in the DB baking challenge last month and I have to say that I loved it. The challenge required me to step outside of the comfort level and actually try something new. Heck, I love croissants and I’ve devoted a lot of time to eating them. During the summer, I wanted to try to make croissants, but I just never got around to doing it. The DB challenge was just the kick I needed to get in the kitchen and actually attempt to make croissants.

As a young person, I’m not quite as knowledgeable about the world as I’d like to be someday in the future. For now, I see everything as a learning experience; from the classes that I take at school to the people I meet to the delicious desserts that I learn to bake through challenges like the DB challenge.

This month I made two loaves of povitica. Because I had never tried povitica before and I wasn’t sure if my family and I would like it, I halved the recipe and made two loaves instead of four. Oh, how I wish I went with four. The two loaves disappeared almost as soon as I had finished snapping pictures. The bread was light and tender and the apple butter added the correct amount of sweetness. 

Maybe my loaves don't have that characteristically swirly look of traditional povitica loaves, but hey, I'm still learning. 

Click below for the recipe.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Bean Coconut Peanut Butter

Hi, I'm Kyleen, the girl behind sixteenbeans and today I'm guest posting on Lauren's amazing blog, Lessons in Food.

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Last Christmas, my parents bought me a food processor. To other high-school juniors, this might sound like an kitchen appliance masquerading as a gift (how often have you seen your parents buying each other toasters), but I was ecstatic because the acquisition of a food processor meant that I could forgo the box-graters and knives when I baked or cooked.  Enthusiastically, I used the processor to grate carrots for Carrot Cake and to process butter for Thyme, Cheddar, Ham Biscuits.

Besides the odd carrot cake or lasagne, I haven’t used my food processor much, mostly because it’s stored in the bottom of my baking cupboard (yes, there is a whole cupboard devoted exclusively to the storage of baking supplies) and I hate bending down to lug the various parts out. Also, I’ve found that making a pie crust or grating cheese with the processor might require less physical effort up front, but washing the container, lid, push-stick, and blade kind of negates the convenience. I guess I’m a minimalist.

Whether I used to swear by my food processor or not, this Homemade Vanilla Bean Coconut Peanut Butter won me over. I love, love, love peanut butter—I’m the kind of girl who eats peanut butter by the spoonful—so I’ve always wanted to try making my own, long before I owned a processor.

This peanut butter includes coconut oil, which adds even more richness and an undertone of coconut that compliments the nuttiness perfectly. Beautiful specks of black vanilla are suspended throughout the creamy, thick, rich nut butter. What can I say? I’m a convert; homemade peanut butter puts store-bought to shame.

Click below for the recipe.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chocolate Carbonation Peanut Butter Cup Surprise Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

I’m a peanut-butterist. I’m that kind of girl who dips a spoon into the peanut butter jar and scrapes the sides of the jar in an attempt to get as much peanut butter on the spoon. It’s actually kind of strange that I’m not allergic to peanut butter, seeing as I’m allergic to walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts (I wish I could try Nutella...), and basically every other kind of nut. Maybe I’ve outgrown my allergies and I just don’t know because I haven’t tried any of those nuts in such a long time.

Either way, I count my blessings that I’m not allergic to peanuts. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to enjoy Boiled Peanuts with Chinese Five Spice or these scrumptious Chocolate Carbonation Peanut Butter Cup Surprise Cupcakes (oh no, I just gave the surprise away) with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting.

I made these for the Have the Cake November challenge, which was to make a carbonation cake. After some research, I deduced that any box mix could be made into cake using pop instead of butter and eggs. I decided to use my chocolate cake recipe and just replace the liquid ingredients with soda water (who needs all that extra sugar from soda). Although I was skeptical, I have to admit that these cupcakes don’t taste half-bad, considering that they were made with just soda water and one egg. Butter is butter and it can’t be replaced, but these low-fat cupcakes were passable.

If you’re not into the whole no-butter or oil low-fat cupcake, then make regular cupcakes and hide peanut butter cups in them. Of course, I think almost anything with peanut butter tastes good, so I’d give these cupcakes two sticky, peanut-buttery thumbs up.

Click below for the recipe.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Apples with Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Dip

Caramel and apples are one of those classic flavour combinations, the kind of pairing that so many recipes feature because they just taste so good together. When Sheryl of Lady Behind the Curtain invited me to participate in her new Improv Cooking Challenge and announced that the first challenge combination would be caramel and apples, I knew that I would have a hard time deciding between all the different variations of caramel and apples. I vacillated between an apple pie, an apple gallete, a French apple tart, apple turnovers, upside down caramel cake, caramelized apples served with ice cream or crepes! With mounting frustration, the only thing that I could conclude was that I just couldn't decide.

Finally I settled on a slightly different caramel and apple combination. I decided to make Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Dip, a simple snack delicious enough to satisfy one’s sweet tooth. The rich, thick, sinfully delicious caramel/peanut butter dip is served with slices of apple, but you can trust me on the fact that this dip is so good that you might even forgo the apples and just start eating it by the spoonful.

I used the Homemade Coconut Vanilla Bean Peanut Butter I had made previously instead of regular peanut butter in this recipe. My brothers claimed that the coconut flavour didn’t pair well with the apples, but I thought it tasted great. I have to admit that I’m probably a little biased, since I love anything with peanut butter or caramel sauce in it. So I would advise using regular peanut butter unless you also tend to eat Homemade Coconut Vanilla Bean Peanut Butter by the spoonful.

Click below for the recipe.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies

It is amazing what a difference a single year can make, especially if you are in your formative years. When I entered sophomore year last year, I felt as clueless as I had as a freshman. I had no idea which clubs to join or what activities to involve myself in. I knew that I definitely without a doubt wanted to go to university after high school, but I had no inkling of what I was going to major in or where I wanted to go.

But over the past year, I learned to see myself in a more positive and confident light. I joined as many clubs as I could; I volunteered; I started thinking about university. I started figuring out what I enjoyed doing; I pursued my passions; I started a blog. Now as a junior, I’m finally starting to feel sure of myself and my ability to accomplish tasks.

This year, I decided to start a baking/cooking club at school. When I first entered high school as a freshman, I had my heart set on joining the baking club. I was pretty disappointed to discover that not only was there no such thing, but our school didn’t even have a kitchen or culinary arts program. But to my joy, it was announced at the end of my freshman year that there would be a culinary arts course the following year. I grappled at the opportunity to take the class, trading in grade ten business for the grade ten culinary arts course.

I really enjoyed taking the culinary arts course. After a long stressful day, culinary arts was a tension-reliever. However, the whole program was so brand-new and we didn’t even have a kitchen to use; we did our lessons in a drama room and then borrowed the oven in the cafeteria kitchen. The talk of building a kitchen floated around for several months and finally commenced towards the end of my sophomore year. The kitchen wasn’t completed in time for last year’s culinary arts students to use and unfortunately, I didn't have enough space in my schedule to take the grade eleven course this year.

The idea of starting a baking/cooking club at school had imbued in my mind during the summer. While everyone groaned about going back to school, I was excited at the thought of starting the baking/cooking club that I had so desperately wanted to join as a freshman. And because two heads are always better than one, I asked my friend Suzy to start the club with me. We spoke to our former culinary arts teacher and he agreed to be the staff advisor for the club.

After working out the logistics of our club, like how often we were going to meet and how we were going to accept members, Suzy and I got down to the nitty gritty issue of what kinds of foods we were going to make in our club. We decided to begin with simple recipes and to work our way up from there. The first recipe we are going to make in the club: Chocolate Chip Cookies. Chocolate Chip Cookies are about as simple as baking gets. But just to be sure that the recipe wasn’t a dud, I knew I just had to make these at home at least once. These are the most delicious cookies I’ve ever had, hands down. They are crisp around the edges and slightly chewy around the middle and golden brown all around. My friends The focus group seemed to enjoy them as well and agreed that the cookies would be the perfect kick-off to our new baking/cooking club.  

Click below for the recipe.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chicken Zucchini with Creamy Mushroom Sauce À La Kyle

In my family, everyone except my younger brother cooks. My mom is the one who prepares most of the family dinners while my dad is that creative kind of chef who makes lunch from anything and everything in the fridge. My older brother doesn’t “cook” per se, but he knows how to bake frozen pizzas, fry bacon and eggs, and barbeque. His favourite food is processed hot dog sausages. Me, I guess I’m a dabbler of cooking whose real passion lies in using the dry heat of the oven to make scrumptious sweet treats. I know how to make pasta and risotto and how to sear a steak, but that’s about it.

My younger brother Kyle is the one whose culinary knowledge consists of making instant ramen noodles and pouring milk over cereal. Over the years of living with me and my foodie-ness, he’s learned how to distinguish certain flavours like dill and garlic and different meats (“This is beef, right?” “No, it’s  pork...”) As the baby of the family, Kyle has had the privilege of rarely ever having to cook since there is almost always someone else who can feed him.

It’s finally happened; the cooking bug has bit him. A couple nights ago, while our parents were out at a wedding reception, Kyle cooked dinner. Granted, dinner comprised of a bed of leftover rice and a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, but hey, dinner is dinner, whether the sauce comes from a can or not.

I actually didn’t believe that Kyle had cooked dinner for us at first. I heard the usual cooking noises—pans clanging, the fridge door opening and slamming shut, the kitchen fan running—but I attributed them as phantom noises of what I usually heard at that hour. When Kyle called “Dinnertime!” I smirked, expecting a bowl of instant noodles. To my surprise, my brother had cooked Chicken Zucchini with Creamy Mushroom Sauce.

“Doesn’t it look like barf? It’s yellow and green and chunky all over.” Kyle said proudly. “Look I took a picture of it with my iTouch.” Kyle was right; the dish did resemble vomit under such low resolution. It's hard to get sauce-y dishes to look good.

I took a tentative bite and my taste buds were hit with one sensation: saltiness. Apparently, Kyle didn’t know that condensed soups contained more salt than usual so he had added extra salt. Besides the overly salty sauce, the dish tasted pretty good. The chicken was flavourful (because my mom marinated it in advance) and the vegetables were cooked through.

Cooking is a learning process, from day one to the very end. Kyle has a long way to go, but so do I.

**Any tips on how to style food that has sauce so that it doesn't look sloppy?** 

Friday, October 7, 2011

New Kitchen Gadgets: Pasta Machine, Donut Maker, Mini Tart Shells

I love getting new kitchen gadgets; it’s like getting new toys to play with. A couple years ago when I got my blender, smoothies were all the rage in our house and the most popular choice of dessert. Come to think of it, I haven’t used the blender in a while because I lost that one plastic piece that attaches onto the blade... Anyone know what they’re called and where I can get a new one (since without it, my blender is rendered useless)?

My newest acquisitions, which include a pasta machine that makes five different kinds of pasta, a donut maker, and some tart shells, were given to me by family friends. Thanks Hasia, Auntie Phoebe, and Uncle Lawrence! You guys should probably expect some pasta in your near futures... (:

Although the pasta machine is probably around thirty years old, it is of high quality and complete in the five different attachments. I have made pasta at school before and I must say that the taste of fresh and dried pasta is very similar. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the pasta-making process and I can’t wait to make it at home. 

The donut maker is basically portions the donut batter for frying. In theory, it would be a handy device, but I don’t eat therefore have never made donuts. I just can’t get over the fact that the donuts are deep-fried. Of course, now that I have a donut maker, I will have to try making donuts at least once in my lifetime.

I’ve already used the mini tart shells to make Mini Strawberry Chocolate Tarts. Although pressing the pie dough into individual shell and lining them with tin foil is cumbersome, I love the presentation of mini tarts. Mini things are just so cute.

With school starting up again, I am pressed for time and have not had a chance to use my new kitchen toys. But I’m really excited to see how the pasta will turn out and a tad bit apprehensive about deep-frying donuts.

What are your newest kitchen gadgets?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Yogurt with Strawberries and Fig Cabernet Jam

With school back in session, my days of waking up whenever I want and eating breakfast as I pleased are restricted to the precious weekend days. Instead, I’m forced, headfirst, into a routine of rushed mornings, heavy backpacks (four textbooks on one day?!?), and other miscellaneous things. Between slapping together a roast beef and mozzarella sandwich on whole wheat bread (I eat them dry), breakfast time is limited.

A super simple breakfast food that I always have on hand for the weekdays is plain yogurt. I like plain yogurt because I can change yogurt flavours from morning to morning depending on what kind of fruit I have on hand. Plain yogurt is a canvas, waiting to be mixed with apple butter, speckled with jam or drizzled with maple syrup. Any fruit can be diced and stirred in: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, apples, bananas etc. Granola, muesli, or any other kind of cereal can also be added for an instant fibre boost. Yogurt is only the beginning.

Today, I diced strawberries. To sweeten up the yogurt, I topped the fruit with a generous spoonful of Fig Cabernet Jam. I love this jam; it’s sweet and fruity and... it tastes like wine. It’s as delicious in yogurt as it is smothered on a Whole Wheat Roll.

I can’t eat breakfast at my preferred leisurely pace, but at least I can make the most of the time I do have by getting my yogurt fix.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Boiled Peanuts with Chinese Five Spice

I used to run cross country in the fifth grade. I went to a smaller alternative elementary school where there were only ten kids in each grade, so anyone who wanted to join automatically made it on the team. But by the time I made it to middle school, I realized that I actually wasn’t that good at running (or any sports for that matter) and that I didn't actually enjoy it, so I stopped. I still go for a quick jog every now and then, but besides that, I’ve never looked back.

This summer, I realized that I needed to participate in some sports, since I had dropped physical education after freshman year and had basically stopped exercising except when during the winter when there was snow to go snowboarding on. I considered all the sports teams that my school offered and realized that: I couldn't hit a baseball (or softball) to save my life; I couldn't get a basketball into the net without a ladder; and that I didn’t even know what field hockey was. My options were slim. I decided that the only teams I had a chance of joining were cross country, dragonboat, and ski/snowboard alpine team.

Cross country is a sport which doesn’t require skill per se, bur relies completely on endurance. The first practice I went to was pure torture since I hadn’t ran for months. I knew a couple girls on the team and attempted to run with them, but even in their state of headaches and period cramps, I couldn't keep up. I felt out of shape and slow, but at least I had an excuse: I have asthma, so running or any kind of exercise makes it difficult for me to breathe.

The second practice wasn’t much better. It was raining and chilly and I felt a cold coming on even as I ran towards the park, trailing the group. We were supposed to run laps around the park, the more experienced runners running five laps and the beginners running three. I ran with as much conviction as I could muster, telling myself that the rain was more refreshing than hot air and that I wasn’t completely out of my mind to join cross country even though I couldn’t run. I stopped so many times to catch my breath that the other runners managed to lap me multiple times and finish all their five laps before I did three.

I went home, exhausted and starving, and peeled my damp clothing off. I took a hot shower and went to the kitchen in search of something to eat. A plate of Boiled Peanuts caught my eye. I grabbed a bowl and a handful of peanuts and set off to my room. As I shelled the peanuts, I reflected upon whether or not I should continue cross country. My legs were sore and I felt lightheaded from all the rigorous exercise. And it sucked that I was always, always last, so far back that I couldn’t even see the rest of the group. But quitting after only two practices would just proved how unfit I was. I decided to stick it out a couple more weeks, with the hope that I would improve.

So I went to another practice and to my dismay, it was raining again. The drizzling turned into droplets which became sheets of rain, blanketing our heads and bodies and limbs. By the time we had ran to the park, it was raining so hard that I had to stop running every few paces to wipe my face; the water was getting into my eyes and I couldn't see. Before I even completed my second lap around the field, I realized that my white t-shirt was plastered to my chest and that I was completely drenched.

Even though the conditions had been unfavourable during the third practice, I felt invigorated. I could already tell that my body was getting stronger because the running was becoming slightly easier. I’m definitely not fit enough to race in any meets this year, but hopefully cross country will prepare me for dragonboat.

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