Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Daring Bakers: Dutch Crunch Bread Topping

Images lie, images lie all the time. Take, for example, a ten-minute French skit which my group and I filmed and played in front of the class in lieu of presenting live. Sure, it looks like we’ve memorized our during the shooting scene, but what they don’t know is that I was holding the script up for my fellow actor to read just outside of the frame.

Just this once, just this one time, one of my photos will deceive you too. Looking at the image of the loaf of bread I baked with Dutch Crunch Topping, one may assume that it browned beautifully all over and was delicious too boot. Total lie: the crunch topping was delicious, but the bread itself was somewhat of a failure. It stuck to the pan with no hope of removal in one piece and was deflated.

In hindsight, I should have used fresher yeast and probably should have put less topping on. A disappointment, but it was no matter because not twenty minutes later, Jenny dropped off a couple boxes of raisin bread which she’d made for me at our bread baking lessons (because I had been absent from that class). Beautiful, no doubt, but stale and hard as a rock.

Some things are just better left for decoration in the kitchen.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Waffle Frolic

Do you ever begin your weekend, vacation, or temporary break from the insanity of life with steel-willed determination that you’re going to use the next two days, week, month catching up on all the things that you’ve been meaning to do? I, for one, often tell myself that the week off would be the perfect time for me to finally deal with that heap of laundry on the floor, the stack of pleasure reading books on my desk, and all the assignments currently taking up space in my Moleskine. I always begin the break with the utmost sense of purpose and determination, only to be thwarted by one of humankind’s worst afflictions: procrastination.

It happens to the best of us. We sit down, tell ourselves that we’re only going to watch one episode, just one episode of Lost and suddenly the whole day is gone. We tell ourselves that seeing old friends is a valid excuse for forfeiting an entire afternoon’s worth of homework. We tell ourselves that sleep or even just lounging around on bed is a luxury that we won’t be able to afford once school starts up again and that we should take advantage of sleeping in until noon while we can.

That, my friends, was pretty much my March Break in a nutshell. I also went on a road trip with my parents, one of my brothers, and my cousin, but that was definitely all play, no work. We went down south to the United States to go shopping to visit Cornell University, in Ithaca. Bucketlist, 16, Kyleen 2.

While we were staying in Ithaca, my brother, my cousin, and I woke up early one morning so we could check out the waffle place we had walked by the night before. Oh gawd, I really love waffles, almost as much as I love bread. It’s one of my guilty white-carb pleasures. After visiting this place, I’m convinced that I need to move to Ithaca get a waffle machine.

I got the breakfast waffle, which consisted of a large 8-inch square buttermilk waffle, tangy and slightly sweet, topped with two fried eggs and a couple slices of crispy, salty bacon. My cousin, being a big eater, opted for the fried chicken waffle, which was literally a waffle with three pieces of fried chicken on top, served with a spicy sauce. Kyle, who has a huge sweet tooth, decided to skip the breakfast (and fried chicken) route entirely and chose to get a dessert waffle served with fried bananas maple syrup, and whipped cream.

Because procrastination doesn't apply when it comes to waffles.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Double Crust Parmesan Spinach Pie

A couple weeks ago, my friend Tammy and I went to Canadian Tire. We had been studying slash illegally eating Parmesan Thyme Sundried Tomato Pumpkin Seed Pesto Shortbread at the library and since it closed, we were needed to kill a couple hours. It had just snowed and a thick blanket of powdery, white snow ensconced the greyness of the city blocks. Inspired by the swirling snow, I decided that it was as a good a time as any to go to Canadian Tire to pick up a few plastic mats for tobogganing.

So, before I continue that story, let me tell you another one. It begins many years back, when I was but a child. I had gone tobogganing with my family on a huge hill nearby my grandmother’s house one winter. Since my grandmother had moved, we had never gone back to the hill, even as kids. Last year, in the February of my sophomore year, I finally went back to that park. It was a Wednesday afternoon; the second snow day I had ever experienced in my life. It was bitterly cold, but the excitement of finally going back to the tobogganing hill was enough to drag my brother and I out of the house.

First, we ate a light lunch at the crepe place and then we headed to Canadian to buy a couple mats for tobogganing. It turned out that we weren’t the only brilliant kids who had decided to use the snow day to embrace the snow; the toboggan aisle was bare. The only remaining “toboggan” (I use this term lightly) was a blow-up Dora the Explorer mat, intended for children under the age of five.

We bought it anyways.

After several near faint spells suffered from hyperventilation, we finally managed to blow the mat up. Self-consciously (would all the other cool kids point and laugh at our childish mat?), gingerly, I sat down and rode the hill. It was fun. Or at least it was until my brother used the mat for the second time and ripped the thing.

Oh no, but that was fine because the Dora the Explorer mat manufacturers obviously foresaw this problem because they were thoughtful enough to include a small square of tape in the package. But then the mat ripped again. We threw it out.

Which leads me back to why I had to go to Canadian Tire to buy toboggan mats: so I could go tobogganing for real and finally cross that item off my bucket list. With a couple hours to kill, hanging out in Canadian Tire in the warmth was a much better option than wandering aimlessly outside. Tammy and I began to comb the cooking section of the store, admiring pans and flipping through the racks of kitchen tools. We came upon a miniature whisk, and I mentioned offhandedly that I had always wanted a mini whisk because it was so adorable.

A week later, I turned seventeen. The next day, Tammy presented me with a card and a long pen-shaped object wrapped in newsprint. It was the mini-whisk, something that I wanted, but would never buy for myself. Tammy knows me too well.

Immediately that weekend, I made a Parmesan Spinach Pie. The mini-whisk, as turned out, was perfect for breaking up an egg for the eggwash. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Gluten-Free, Guilt-Free Brownies

During the Christmas break, my family and another family went skiing in Quebec for a couple days. For those who have the winter blues, this might not sound like a vacation, but I’m a winter baby who loves the snow.

As a present to C- and B-, the kids of the other family, I decided to make them a jar of brownie mix so they could make brownies for me we could make brownies together while we were staying at the house our families rented in Quebec. Of course, it turned out that we had forgotten to buy butter at the super market, so making brownies was out of the question.

But I was inspired by the cute presentation of the brownie mix and I realized that we could potentially sell brownie mix at school to fundraise for the baking/cooking club. Since the school board passed the new policy stating that only “healthy” baked goods could be sold at bakesales, our club had had to revert to baking brownies made with black soy beans and cinnamon streusel coffeecake made with applesauce.

But, technically, because brownie mix in a jar isn’t a baked good (yet, anyways), it would not have to comply with the sugar-cannot-be-the-first-ingredient and must-have-less-than-five-grams-of-fat-and-more-than-two-grams-of-fibre rules. The more I thought about it, the more appealing the idea of brownie mix became.

A couple days after we began our fundraising endeavour, I talked to the staff advisor of Food For Life, another club which holds bakesales to fundraise money for charities. She’s an avid baker and suggested that I check out the recipe for guilt-free brownies in the February issue of Chatelaine recipe.

As luck would have it, Chatelaine is one of the two magazines that my family actually subscribes to. I found the recipe and baked the brownies. Instead of using ground almonds (as I am mildly allergic), I used whole roasted cashews which I grounded myself. I also reduced the sugar by half a cup and added a teaspoon of instant coffee powder, which I add to all chocolate desserts, to amp up the chocolate flavour.

Guilt-free brownies? Yes, please.

Click below for the recipe.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Butter-Crusted Cheese Rolls

Everyone has guilty pleasures.

I have three: butter, freshly baked bread, and Lost. You know it’s a good day when you get to indulge in all three. I can’t help but feel a little guilty, since instead of researching for my history paper, or studying for a certain test, or memorizing a monologue from Macbeth, or studying for a biology quiz, I’m sitting in front of the computer, gorging myself on Butter-Crusted Cheese Rolls, warm from the oven, and watching episode after episode of Lost.

Whatever, I tell myself, after I click on the next episode and the next. I figure that since watching all six seasons of Lost is on my bucket list, it’s higher up on the list of priorities, than say, homework. On a more legitimate note, I feel like I deserve a little treat because something that I’ve worked really hard on for months and dreamed about since last summer is going to become a reality. Guilty pleasure or not, I totally deserve it. Or so I tell myself.

Eating cheesy, yeast-y, carb-y white bread is another one of my guilty pleasures. I normally prefer whole wheat or whole grain (after years of the only choice of bread in the house being anything but white), but homemade white bread, like homemade cinnamon rolls, is my weakness.

Since I’ve started my bread-bakingclasses, I haven’t baked any bread at home. But the fresh yeast that I was able to take home from class this week was definitely motivation to bake, since I’ve never been able to find fresh yeast at the grocery store. I decided to make cheese rolls and chocolate ganache filled rolls.

The cheese rolls turned out totally cheesy and delicious; they were so good that... my entire family ate all of them before I had a chance to snap photos. Most of the ganache of the chocolate rolls oozed out of the center of the rolls while baking and ended up burning on the sheet pan, but the rolls themselves were fine.

The absolute best part of this bread is that it’s brushed with melted butter before baking and liberally doused with it after baking. Ah, bread and butter, my guilty pleasures.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Lamp Chops, Steamed Ribboned Zucchini and Snow Peas, Orange Mushroom Sauce, and Wild Rice

Dear Winter,

I have to be honest: I’m quite disappointed with you this year. Where are the wind chill factors of negative twenty, the thick blankets of white snow, the wet sidewalks? Where are the slippery roads, the bare trees coated in ice, the stinging sensation of cold air? Where are you, Winter? I mean, it's really cool to say that I'm so Canadian that I wear skirts, sans stockings, home from school because that's just how warm it was that afternoon when there were kids on the fields in shorts and t-shirts playing frisbee. But really, all I want is one big snowstorm before Spring arrives so that I might be able to go tobogganing and cross it off the list. Just think of how unhappy I'll be next year if it doesn't snow enough and I'm forced to slide down a grassy hill on a plastic mat. 

I’m a Winter baby, born and bred in the cold weather. I live for snow days and hot chocolate. I want to go tobogganing and skiing and snowboarding. But there’s nothing, not even a light dusting of that magical white stuff on the floor. It’s bare, wet, muddy, gross.

Why wasn’t there snow on the ground the night I went to semi formal? If there had been snow, you can bet your icicles that I would have worn my combat boots. Instead, it was a balmy plus five degrees that night, so I decided to wear my killer three-and-a-half-inch heels. Like all the worst injuries, I’m not even sure how, but I managed to twist sprain hurt my ankle. Thanks a lot, Winter.

And then I couldn't go snowboarding with the family (my dad still likes to pretend that there is snow, but I’m on to you, Winter) the next day. It was already a sad fact that there was no snow on the ground, but hey, I’ll settle for the fake stuff that the machines spew out on the ski hill if it means I can snowboard. But to twist my ankle as well? Winter, you haven’t been very good to me lately.

No matter, I forgive you, Winter, because since I had to stay home, I got to cook Lamp Chops, Steamed Ribboned Zucchini and Snow Peas, Orange Mushroom Sauce, and Wild Rice for dinner. It was so, so good, Winter, and we didn’t save any for you. But don’t worry, I’ll make you some hot chocolate next time you decide to grace us with your presence.

Hurry up, it’s almost Spring.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Chocolate Walnut Dacquoise Cake with Chestnut Mousse

So, I turned seventeen a couple weeks ago.

I used to love birthdays when I was a younger. But for the last couple of years, birthdays haven’t held the same allure. With each passing year, I’ve become a little older, a little harder, a little more realistic about life. I just don’t feel it anymore.

I think it’s because I’m too romantic; I expect too much. Last year, the pressure of trying to appease everyone else on my “special” day left me feeling empty and disappointed. Not so much sweet sixteen as it was choke-down-bitter-tears-of-frustration.

This year, I stopped expecting anything from anyone. (Although I did expect the decorated locker, courtesy of Jennifer, who repeatedly asked me what my locker number was, lest she decorate the wrong locker. Thank you. I didn't expect the birthday card though, thanks Shannon; or the mini whisk, thanks Tammy.) Instead, I tried to plan various little celebrations, which all revolved around the consumption of delicious food.  

The first one was to go out for dinner with a small group of my favourite people. I thought it was reasonable to expect that my closest friends would be able to all band together and spare one evening to celebrate my seventeenth, but obviously that wasn’t the case. I have a very... busy... group of friends.

On the day of my birthday, I went out for lunch with my mom. I love my birthday lunches with my mom; I don’t really get to eat out with her often so it’s a real treat. After picking me up from school, she let me drive to my favourite bakery/cafe, where we proceeded to split a bacon, ham, and emmental quiche, a pistachio Danish, and a salted caramel macaron. Then we bought a cake for dessert later that night.

After the last school bell rang that afternoon, a couple of my friends and I went down to our favourite crepe place for birthday crepes, just like last year. It’s nice to keep a tradition going, even if it’s only two years old. For dinner, my mom prepared a delicious seared duck breasts with a brandied fig sauce and steamed buttered asparagus.

Then the cake was brought forth. Layers of walnut dacquoise, chestnut mousse, flourless chocolate sponge, and chocolate mousse sandwiched together were topped with a light dusting of cocoa powder. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I honestly think that this was the most delicious cake I have ever eaten. This cake is perfection on a plate.

The best part of any birthday, in my opinion, is definitely the food.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Parmesan Sundried Tomato Pumpkin Seed Pesto Shortbread Cookies

Long weekends are like lighthouses during a dark, stormy night. They’re beacons of relaxation and salvation during the school year during which I renew and recharge my batteries. In the Toronto District School Board, we get a four-day weekend off in the middle of February for Family Day.
Every year, our school’s semi formal is held on the Thursday before the long Family Day week. Last year, my friends Huilin and Christina, and I had decided to go to semi. As it turned out, my dad decided that we should go skiing in Quebec instead. So Huilin, Christina, and I made a pact that we would definitely go to semi in junior year.

This year, I bought a ticket. I went shopping in my best friend Jenny’s closet and borrowed with one of her never-seen-the-light-of-day dresses. I chose heels out of my current collection of two pairs. I even painted my nails a bright, dark pink, despite the fact that nail polish is quite impractical for a girl who compulsive washes her hands because they just feel “sticky, who as a baker sticks her hands into bread doughs, who has to wash the dishes from her baking adventures.  

And then Huilin said she didn’t want to go to semi formal. And my friend who was supposed to be my date bailed on me. As disappointed as I was, I decided not to let anything ruin my night. I danced until I felt wobbly from the three-and-a-half inch heels and sweat poured down my face. I danced until I felt exhausted from the school day and the lack of sleep the night before. I danced until my head and heart pounded in rhythm with the bass.

After two hours, I was wiped and ravenous. I spent the next hour swaying half-heartedly to the music and checking the time on my phone every ten minutes. A group of my friends was going out to eat dinner after the dance and suddenly I couldn't wait for it to be over. While waiting for the rest of my friends to retrieve their jackets from the coat check, I sat down and took my heels off. Upon stretching my feet, I discovered that my right ankle was throbbing. Oh, fun, I thought drily. These heels are my shoes home. As everyone speed-walked to the subway station, I hobbled along the wet streets, each step a little more painful than the last. At last, I made it to the subway station and we went to eat a 2AM snack dinner at a hot pot restaurant. 

The next morning began the long weekend. I tried to sleep in, but the sunlight filtered through the blinds and awoke me. I cleaned my room, went to get my health card replaced, and watched a movie with a friend. Then I baked these Parmesan Sundried Tomato Pumpkin Seed Pesto Shortbread Cookies.

These savoury cookies and tangy and nutty, salty and cheesy, and pack a flavour punch. Like all shortbread cookies, they’re subtly addictive. They are the cookies you’d risk getting kicked out of the library for (Hi Tammy), sneaking surreptitious bites of buttery goodness.

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