Thursday, December 30, 2010

Volk/Watson Christmas Extravaganza 2010: Heavenly Hosts

The Spread

"Heavenly Hosts", aka the 3rd Annual Volk/Watson Christmas Extravaganza can be described as follows:
A selection of dishes with divinity in mind. From the angel food cake to Philadelphia cream cheese sundried tomato spread, each recipe has heavenly associations (ex: the Philadelphia cream cheese commercials) and is fit for angels. Of course, not all angels can digest dairy, so there are always alternatives, even healthier alternatives for all those eco-friendly angels. The "raw" dips are not heated above a certain temperature, are vegan, and are made with nuts soaked in water to remove digestive enzyme inhibitors, for any inhibited angels. Then there are the "Land of Milk and Honey" dishes (ironically, naturally dairy-free) - the Prosecco zabaione (Italian custard) and melomakarona (Greek semolina cookies soaked in honey syrup).
The other dishes are the personal heavens of the Volk/Watson family.

My dad's heaven: pork vindaloo
My mom's heaven: dairy-free, gluten-free dark chocolate hazelnut torte
My brother's heaven: Well my brother likes most things, and I refuse to make sushi with farmed antibiotic-laden Atlantic salmon (unsustainable, at that) so I've created a heaven for him of baguette (the manna of heaven) with Quebec Oka cheese, caramelized onions, smoked herring, crab, and fig jam. That way he can mix and match.

My heaven? Saag. Indian spinach. It's sweet and slippery and delicious. The onions, mustard seeds and asafoetida are amazing, and wrap it up in a fermented rice and lentil dosa and I'm a happy, happy person.
Here are the pictures. The rest of the food included daifuku (Japanese red bean desserts that I broiled), chicken mochi with a sweet soy-sesame dipping sauce (soy and szechuan peppercorn studded meatballs wrapped in savoury rice pastry), frozen grapes (what's heaven without branches of grapes?), home-made caramel (life - and death - are not worth living without caramel), and bottles of natural wines (again, grapes). I think that was everything? Here's most of it in pictures:
Sundried Tomato Cream Cheese Spread, Quebec Oka Cheese, grapes and pistachios

3 "Raw" Dips: Macademia Nut Ricotta, Basil Walnut Dip, Sundried Tomato Macademia & Pecan Dip with a selection of Gluten-Free Breads

 Caramelized Onion, Encircled by Home-made Fig Jam, and Smoked Herring

 Lentil and Rice Dosa with My Heavenly Dish of Choice: Saag

 The Land of Milk and Honey: Melomakarona Greek Honey Cookies with Walnuts

My Dad's Heaven: Slow-Cooked Pork Vindaloo

Raspberry-Blueberry Compote

 Almond Angel Food Cake with Honey Icewine-Soaked Figs, Maple Honeywine-Soaked Apricots, and Home-made Ginger Confit

The Zabaione was incredible...mmm...prosecco foam. The intense sugar of the dried fruit sauces and honey sauces, and caramel...and the mild sweetness of the saag with the chew of the dosa...the crunch of the dips, the sweetness of the fig jam with the caramelized onions and macademia nut ricotta, the basil walnut...the Szechuan peppercorns. Oh I love Szechuan peppercorns.
Setting up

Couldn't have done it all without some great help. Thanks to everyone involved, and thanks to everyone who came and enjoyed the party. Merry Christmas. Recipes to come.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sourdough Disaster and Killing Little Bettie Sue Rice Culture Watson

Well, I tried. I gave it my all. I even used two different recipes: One for a no-knead sourdough (Figured I couldn't mess that one up...right...), and one for a traditional kneaded sourdough. Despite the fact that this is loaf-ish thing is obviously burned (why do I keep burning things? I swear I follow directions well more often than not) the bread was just not great. For the kneaded bread I even pre-heated my eternally frigid hands in hot, hot water and immediately dove in to the dough before they time to cool off (after proofing the sourdough starter and all, as per the instructions). I kneaded and kneaded and kneaded and it sort of seemed like it got to the right doughy consistency...and then I left it to rise.

The no-knead one I touched as little as possible and left to rise.

...Except neither dough rose. I covered them in tea towels and left them undisturbed in the same place I'd had the sourdough cultures growing in the first place, so I figured if the temperature was good for the cultures it'd be good for the bread, but alas, no. I waited, and waited and waited. They just never doubled in bulk. In fact they got a dry crust on top and when I finally took the dough out of the bowls and put them in pans to re-rise ("Re-" being a joke, and punching them down being ineffectual) the underside was soft and happily doughy, but I had to tear off half the hardened top.
This is probably why my bread burned. I effectively ended up baking only half a loaf since I'd thrown out so much hardened crust. So the baking time should have been less. Anyway, I'd ended up leaving the bread to rise for much, much longer than it was supposed to, hoping in vain that they would rise, and if you leave them that long the tangy, lemony flavour of the sourdough becomes very strong. So when the loaves baked up they had a VERY strong sourdough flavour, which I liked at least, but eating a knob was like eating half a loaf, and it just sat in my stomach, despite sourdough's wonderful digestive properties and bacteria. I'm also not sure if there's a point where it's not safe to let the bread sit and kind of ferment anymore...Help?

I tried maybe 3 or 4 more times over the course of the next few days, and my last loaf was almost passable. Dense, but much better than the first few, mostly because I started feeding my gluten-free sourdough culture red fife wheat flour in the hopes that it would help the proofed starter rise better. Nope, didn't work...Lets just say I'm on the verge of murdering my babies, or just letting them starve which I suppose equates to the same thing. Thank goodness I didn't name them. It'd be harder to kill little Bettie Sue Rice Culture Watson.
God I miss my baker, Guillaume. There's something nice about being a mom to sourdough babies, but there's something to be said for expertise. Who am I to think I can do this bread thing better than a seasoned professional? I'll stick to things like angel food cakes with cinnamon figs and ginger confit, logs of sundried tomato cream cheese slow-cooked logs, zabaione al prosecco, pork vindaloo, saag, dosa, caramelized onions, blueberry compote, basil-walnut spread, macademia nut ricotta, daifuku, Szechuan peppercorn-studded chicken meatballs and melamakorona Greek honey cookies...Yeah, that's what I'll do (more pictures to come...).

Monday, December 27, 2010

Grow, Rice Babies! Grow! (Part 2)

I know what it feels like to be a mother. I watch them grow up a little each day. I feed them regularly. One is currently in the fridge and is only being fed once a week (adolescence, says my mother. Step 2.  It has matured past infancy and is making itself useful.) Tomorrow it will be baked.

7 sourdough cultures. How ridiculous is that? My 3 gluten-free flour blend cultures are doing wonderfully! They overflow nightly (a good sign I think), but my all-sweet rice flour cultures are struggling. Fortunately survival of the fittest is not in play. My rice babies can keep on trying, well, until Newfoundland runs out of rice flour, that is. One of these nights they'll froth, I'm sure. One is even starting to froth in the picture above. In fact I'm pretty sure that between the 5 bags of the stuff my mom bought after waiting for the Asian convenience store (yes, there is only one) to get an order in and the three I brought home from Montreal we own the most sweet rice flour of anyone in the province. I dare you to prove otherwise.

So grow, my rice babies! Grow!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Grow, Rice Babies! Grow! (Part 1): Adventures in Gluten-Free Sourdough

I currently have 7 sourdough cultures started in my kitchen. Yes, 7 (you just can't see the 7th in the picture...). The basic recipe for sourdough culture is 1 cup of warm water and 1 cup of flour left for 24 hours uncovered in a warm place in a jar. Every 24 hours you throw out half of the culture and add another half cup of flour and half cup of water. So you end up with the same quantity. It's basically like cutting off the lower half of your body every day and letting it grow back healthier.

But instead of throwing out the first half of the culture I've been keeping them and multiplying my sourdough babies. I hope that's okay. I've been cutting off the legs and letting them grow into a new sourdough culture. 1 becomes 2. But then the next night, 2 became 4 when I did the same thing with both new sourdoughs. Fortunately my jars were big and at my next feeding time I managed to only end up with 7 by combining 1. I never was great at math like my brother. I mean, I wasn't bad, but it's all relative. Again, I hope that the combining is okay and I don't kill anyone.

There's a method to my madness, though. I started the culture with rice flour so that my mom could eat it, and because generally in my family's digestive tracts wheat is the enemy. Picture little rice soldiers on horseback wreaking havoc on my family's intestines. Us Eastern Europeans...So I was going to make it a completely rice flour-based culture, but then I figured since I was going to split it in half I should hedge my bets, so the first time I split the culture in half I added rice flour and water to one jar and a gluten-free flour blend of white rice flour, brown rice flour, sorghum gum, xanthum gum and tapioca starch and water to the other.
 The next day the rice flour seemed just as stagnant but the gluten-free blend actually overflowed!!! It was supposed to take days and days to froth if it ever did at all. It happened so fast I didn't really believe it was ready, so I split it again and fed it again. Now I had four rice flour babies and three gluten-free blend babies. Apparently I'm a bit of a sourdough slut...

Tomorrow, bread!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Coming Home

"There's about a 50/50 chance we'll be able to land in St. John's due to fog," announced the pilot. So when the runway lights appeared out of nowhere and we felt the impact of the landing, was I happy to be home or just to not be spending the rest of the night on the plane wondering when we could take-off again from Goose Bay?

GOOSE BAY! That's in Labrador. At least an hour away.

There are many reasons that flights I've been on have been unable to land in Newfoundland, including:

1. Fog
2. Snow
3: Ice
4. Some combination of #2 and #3 (sleet, hail)
5. Moose

Yes, moose. I've been redirected to Gander because of moose. Then had to take a 4 hour bus ride home to St. John's. It's my personal belief that if you live in Gander you kind of deserve that 4 hour bus ride from St. John's to Gander to think about why you live in such a hole. Sorry to anyone from Gander. There are worse places to live in this province, I suppose.

The point is that I was watching "Eat, Pray, Love" on the flight and didn't make it to the end because we actually landed. It was a bit of a relief since the part on gelato (highly glossed-over anyway) was already over, and it was all downhill from there...

My other point is that when the captain made the announcement, most people sighed and moaned a little. All you can do at that point is pray, which is why I'm glad I was watching the movie. I remembered how lovely the book was. There's a very sweet line where the main character is in an ashram in India talking to another resident. He says:
"Think of what you could do if you took all that effort and space in your head you use to think about him for something else. Think about him fondly, wish him well, then take a big breath and let God rush in to the space. Let his spirit fill you up, feed you with cold, brilliant air."
So as a prayer to land in Newfoundland, I took a deep breath and pushed out Montreal, and in came this big swell of home. The lights from the airport appeared outside the window, and as the plane wheels set down the world seemed to sparkle.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Slow-Cooker Chicken Barley Risotto with Thyme

Another lunch date with my aunt pushed me to make some soul food. That means something creamy that fills you up from the inside out. Basically that means risotto. Risotto is one of those things I rarely have because I don't usually order it at restaurants and I rarely make it at home. At restaurants it's either started with butter or pre-finished with cheese, and if I'm at a place where neither of these is the case that usually means the restaurant is good enough that there's something else interesting on the menu to try AND I'm getting ripped off since risotto's generally dirt cheap to make since usually the only thing in it that costs anything at all is the cheese, which I'm not eating. Sometimes there's truffle oil or lobster involved, but not enough to make the dish worthwhile. I mean, I've had good risotto before. The other problem is that it rarely fills me up. I can eat way too much of it, so I'm rarely satisfied. At home, it usually requires a ton of stirring and I prefer to use a home-made broth (the other problem with sub-par restaurant risottos), so there's a fair bit of effort that goes into my not ending up full.

But I made it. Mostly because I have a slow-cooker and barley risotto works great in a slow-cooker, so take the effort out and it's almost worthwhile. With risotto the trick is to keep the rice grains al dente -  chewy without being mushy and over-cooked. The slow-cooker is an al dente genius. There's a 1 1/2 hour window of time where those barley grains are lovely.

All you do is sauté a bunch of onions or leeks (and garlic if you wish, and I do) in some olive oil (or butter if you wish, and I don't; butter is more Northern Italian, olive oil more southern, and lactose-intolerance doesn't care about my love of Milan). Make sure the onions soften thoroughly, because if they don't you'll end up chewing them, which makes the risotto very un-appetizing. Now you can add firmer vegetables such as carrots if you wish. Sauté 5 more minutes. Then add 2 cups of rinsed pearl barley, a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper (though I would use Sezchuan peppercorns for special occasions, just for fun). Stir for one minute on medium heat then add 3 cups of broth, a few sprigs of fresh thyme or a bunch of dried (but fresh is a million times better for infusing the broth) and one 28 oz can of tomatoes with its juice (I used my home-canned organic farmer's market tomatoes and their juice...the dish tasted like summer...mmm...). Coarsely chop the tomatoes beforehand if they're not already diced. You can also break them up in the skillet if you don't care about it being all perfectly chopped and beautiful.

Put the whole thing in a slowcooker for 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high and voila! Heaven.

About 10 minutes before serving add some kind of protein if you wish. I had leftover roasted chicken which was perfect. Nordic shrimp or maybe crab or lobster (though they make this much more labour-intensive) would also work. Red meat you could get away with, but in that case they should be served separately: Risotto alone should be a first course (primo, in Italian) and the meat should be the second (secondo). Tradition and all.

Speaking of (massacring) tradition, the great thing about this recipe is you're not stirring it for 25 minutes and adding more and more broth slowly, a half cup at a time. You also don't end up with an over-salted risotto from adding more and more stock that boils off but leaves behind its sodium content. And if it burns it's the fault of your slow-cooker for not having a proper "keep warm" setting. If you get to it 30 minutes later than planned everything should be just fine. Coming home to cooking risotto also makes you feel like the smartest person alive. Give yourself a pat on the back before digging in.

If this is too bland for you, boil some balsamic vinegar down in a small saucepan until it reduces by half. Mmm...balsamic reduction. Why would I ever buy this at a restaurant when it's so easy?

Caramel Apple Tarte Tatin and Not Burning Things

Home-made Tarte Tatin
Tarte Tatin is a butter-heavy, caramel-coated, sugar-drenched delicacy. Basically I thought my dad would love it and it would challenge me to make better pastry. I'd seen recipes that called for a simple pie crust for the dough and how could that possibly end up layered and flaky? 
tarte tatin
So, yeah, it burned a little because I suck at multitasking. The recipe also called for too few apples and they kind of fell apart in the sauce, and I used some agave nectar, which I think burned faster.All in all, though, great success because I made the pastry using a mx of gluten-free flour and spelt (yes, I know spelt is not gluten-free, but I needed more flour and my options were wheat and less wheat - aka spelt).

The tart is traditionally cooked in an oven-safe skillet (cast-iron or stainless-steel) so that the caramel cooks on the stove and coats the apples before being covered in puff pastry and baked to a golden brown in the oven. You can also transfer the contents of the skillet to a 9-inch round baking dish for the final step, and you can use frozen puff pastry if you prefer not to make your own, but the home-made, slightly time-consuming pastry will be so much better.

Tarte Tatin
Oh, and even though I over-cooked my caramel a little, it was still delicious...

3/4 cup cold butter, divided (or Earth Balance. Add a pinch of salt if you use unsalted butter)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cup cake and pastry flour, or all-purpose (you can also use a gluten-free flour blend, but it won't be as light and flaky as the cake flour or even the all-purpose. It will still be delicious, and I haven't found gluten-free puff pastry yet)
5-6 tablespoons ice water

5 medium apples (Gala, Golden Delicious, or other firm baking apples)
½ cup butter (or earth balance)
1 cup sugar (you can also use agave nectar, or a mix of agave and sugar, but it will cook faster and burn more easily)
Tarte Tatin
The trick to puff pastry is to keep everything ice-cold says Irma: your hands, the bowl, and the rolling pin. If using frozen puff pastry, thaw a piece and roll it out to a circle larger than the diameter of your oven-proof skillet or baking dish. Place the dough on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until needed.

1. Sift the flour. Wash the cold butter under cold running water (skip this is you use earth balance. It should become soft but stay ice cold. Massage it in your hand until it's creamy and waxy. Knead it briefly with cold hands until no water flies off it. Place a quarter of the butter in a cold bowl and shape the rest into a flat square and place in the refrigerator (with earth balance just measure the butter and add 2 1/2 tablespoons to the bowl and put the rest in the fridge).
2. Add the flour, sugar, and salt to the butter in the bowl. Cut in using two knives or your fingers until the pastry looks like small peas. Add 5 tbsp of the ice water and combine. Add the remaining 1 tbsp water if the pastry is dry or a pinch of flour if it sticks to the bowl.
3. Refrigerate 15 minutes and start chopping the apples (see below). Roll the pastry out to a square shape on a clean, floured counter, rolling out from the centre only, not back and forth. Put the refrigerated butter in the centre of the dough and fold the four corners to the centre to cover. Refrigerate 10 minutes and start making the caramel (see below).
4. Roll out the dough again into a square and fold the corners to the centre as before. Chill again. You can repeat this process up to 4 times if you have the time, but if not, work quickly and fold 3 more times immediately. Roll the pastry out to a circle slightly larger than the diameter of your oven-proof skillet or baking dish. Place on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until needed.
5. Remind yourself that home-made pastry is better than frozen and this will all be worthwhile.

Caramel Apple Filling:
6. Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Cut the tips off the apples so that they will fit more snuggly against the side of the skillet. The apples will discolour a little but it doesn't matter. You can sprinkle them with lemon juice if you really want to.
Tarte Tatin butter and sugar7. Melt the butter over low heat in a large skillet. Remove from heat, add the sugar, and stir until blended. Arrange the apples on their sides in the pan so that the front of each piece touches the back of the next. Continue the fan pattern, starting from the outside of the skillet and working your way in. Fill in the gaps with the removed apple tips. If you are transferring the apples later to a baking dish, it's not necessary to do this beautifully.
Tarte Tatin8. Return your pan to the stovetop on high heat. Boil 10 to 12 minutes, or until the pan juices are lightly golden but not dark or burnt.
9. Preheat oven to 375° F.
10. Remove the skillet from heat. Being careful not to burn yourself, turn the apple slices over with the tip of a sharp knife, keeping them in their original places.
11. Cook 5 more minutes, then remove from heat. If not baking directly in the skillet, transfer the apple slices to the buttered baking dish. (Now you may want to be artistic with the fan shape of the slices.)
Tarte Tatin12. Place the pastry on top of the apples and brush off excess flour. Fold the edges toward the centre of the skillet or baking dish. The folds don't have to be pretty. Bake in oven until the top of the crust is golden-brown in color, about 25-35 minutes. Remove and let cool 25 minutes.
Tarte Tatin
13. Place a plate or other serving dish on top of the pan and quickly flip tart over onto the plate. Check to make sure the apples aren't sticking to the bottom of the dish before removing it completely. Slice and serve with ice cream, and pat yourself on the back. Tarte Tatin

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Canned and Pickled Everything

The person who gave me the copy I have of the 1948 Joy of Cooking and a cast-iron skillet came to my house for lunch. It had to be one heck of a thank-you lunch. The 1948 freaking Joy of Cooking, for goodness sake! (I edited that sentence...)
So we had soup, yes, one of my favourite soups made with favourite Indian pickle, but as this person is a pickler too, I got out everything I'd canned all summer (everything that was left) for him to try. This included (from left to to right):

1. Pears and persimmons in syrup with cloves and cinnamon.
2. Fig jam
3. Pickled jalapenos with coriander and black pepper seeds
4. Pickled Carrots in the same
5. Indian jalapeno pickle with a million spices
6. Fermented sriracha sauce
7. Ginger Confit

and I topped the soup with pickled peppers

The other jars, containers, and bags in the photo are 2 local honeys (one creamy and one liquid), natto (fermented soy beans), and matcha daifuku (green tea-flavoured rice flour pastries filled with sweet red bean paste). It was overkill, but I kind of love people with tastebuds trying a million different interesting flavours in my kitchen.

Mostly I just wanted to post this picture because it's ridiculous. For a newbie, I've canned a lot of stuff, and not died. Hurray?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Soup That Started It All: Spicy Sweet Potato

It's almost my one-year Midnight Poutine anniversary. I just remembered this the other day when I made this spicy sweet potato soup recipe. It was the first recipe I posted on the site and it's even been linked to from a site called Endless Simmer about the top 100 sweet potato recipes online. It's a pretty great recipe. Anyway, the person who gave me this beautiful cast-iron skillet was coming for lunch, and this is a great soup. Put two and two together.

The only change I made to the recipe was skipping the dried chilies part (the only time consuming, somewhat annoying part) and using my Indian pickle as the oil to sauté the onions, then adding the sliced jalapenos from the pickle later in the recipe. The heat would be more than enough. I didn't even have to add any more salt. So basically I could save 2 steps and and 45 minutes worth of soaking and chopping effort, a very important change when you got up at 5:45am that morning for radio.
It worked perfectly. I just drained a little oil from the pickle and went right on with the recipe. Then when I added the broth I also added the drained jalapenos - about 6 or so. You can add more a garnish to individual servings, but 6 ends up being a fair bit of heat. Hurray! The only other difference with this recipe is that I garnished with pumpkin seeds. Normally I'd toast them, but these were pre-soaked and dehydrated ("raw" food style), so toasting kinds of kills all those wonderful nutrients I was trying to save through my "raw" nut-soaking. So garnish as you wish.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Home-Made Caramel Frosting

I gave you the cake, now you get the icing. Kind of how at a Christmas party yesterday there was this 17 month old girl who was given half a raspberry square by her mother. The mother placed the child's half on a napkin in front of her and placed the other half on another napkin in front of her other, 3-ish year old daughter. What does the younger girl do? She reaches out and takes a bite from the raspberry square in front of her.

...Then she puts it down.

Okay, so she doesn't want it? Nope, that's not it. She turns to her left and picks up her sisters' square, and takes a bite.

...Then she puts it down. Apparently it wasn't any better than her own square.

So she goes back to her own square and tries another bite. And she puts it down again. She can't seem to make up her mind. So then she picks up a coaster and offers it to my mother. My mother, polite woman that she is, exclaims, "THANK you!". So she gets given another coaster...and another...This child...

So the child wanted both cookies, but she shouldn't really be having both. that's not fair. But YOU! You can have the yellow cake and now you can have the caramel icing too! I would say you can have your cake and eat it too, but that's just not true. Even the kid wouldn't have had any more raspberry squares if she'd eaten both of them. But she's really a kind soul, giving coasters, so her greed isn't going to be her defining personality trait. There's hope.

So, caramel...

I've always been scared of the elusive "soft-ball stage". It's up there with "stiff peaks" in my nightmares of sketchy baking techniques. But it all worked out perfectly. Seriously, perfectly, and I even cheated as follows:

Original recipe:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk or cream
1 1/2 tsp butter
1/2 tsp vanilla

My Recipe:
1/2 cup xylitol (sugar replacer. NOT aspartame, but no crazy blood sugar spikes)
1/2 cup dark agave nectar (it was raw, but I killed it with the cooking)
1/2 cup almond milk
1 1/2 tsp butter
1/2 tsp almond extract (I ran out of vanilla, and I'd already put almond in the cake. You can use 1/4 tsp of both if you like)

Same recipe for both. It worked just fine. You do need a candy thermometre that works, though. "Works" being the key. Ideally one that's either instant read or can latch on to the side of the saucepan.

1. In a saucepan dissolve the sugar and milk
2. Bring the pan to a boil and boil without sitrring until the elusive soft-ball stage. What this means is get it to EXACTLY 238 degrees Fahrenheit on your candy thermometre. It'll take about 15 minutes with agave nectar, I think? I don't quite remember, but it took awhile. It would probably take less with sugar since there's less liquid involved. You probably also need to be careful the pan doesn't boil over, but don't stir it, just lift it from the burner to lower the boiling level.
3. Quickly add the butter and remove the icing from the heat.
4. Stick a hand-mixer right into the icing and beat it until it's thick (about 5 minutes or more!) Patience is a virtue, I hear. Come on, you just whisked an egg white for an age, so this is relatively easy. Maybe grab a book or turn on the radio or something. You know, learn something.
5. If the icing gets TOO thick you can add a little more milk or cream or almond milk to thin it, but that probably won't happen if you used agave nectar.
Spread the icing on the cake right away. The icing should be cool, so it shouldn't drip, and if you actually got it 238 degrees it'll be thick enough. If you didn't get it to that temperature it needs to go back on the heat and all your beating wasn't worth it. If it's not cool yet, though, it may just not have thickened enough, so keep beating it until it's actually cool.

Oh, I suppose you could drizzle like I did, because this icing is pretty intensely sweet. You really don't need a lot to pack a punch. You can also just eat this with a spoon...a quarter teaspoon. Dairy-free caramel.

Thank you, Irma. You're the best.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Yes B'y, Mudder Cake" With Home-Made Caramel Frosting

I'm very much home. The words running through my head have turned to Newfanese.

I'll be honest, I made this cake in Montreal about a week before leaving, but I can't write about it now like a Montrealer. I'm half a country away and so I'm going to write about it in the words that are running through my head. I don't remember why I thought the words "Yes b'y, mudder," yesterday, but it seems that my mom did something shockin, and as my vowels got smaller in the front and rounder in the back and my skin got sticky from the island's damp air, those are the words I thought.

I made the cake on a whim one night after a decent dinner of leftovers and a disappointing red wine. A bit depressed at the thought of starting my evening in front of my computer, I procrastinated by making cake. If Irma Rombauer had been a Newfoundlander...well, much of her cookbook would be the same, except she'd be a little less self-confident, there would be a lot more recipes for salt fish and beef, more whipped cream pudding cakes with tinned pineapple (there are already a lot, including pineapple snow - a moulded cake with heavy cream, not whipped cream, thank god), and a whole lot fewer recipes for un-Newfoundlander-esque things like oysters, persimmons, peaches (except the tinned kind), and such foreign sounding things as tamale pie and antipasto. Honest to god I laughed a right sad laugh when I saw the persimmons at the grocery store here yesterday. they were hardly orange, more old and brown and sick-looking. If they were a dog, I would have put it down. Who would buy those poor persimmons, I haven't the foggiest.

All I have to say, though, is Jesus, Irma, your caramel sauce is some good.

Narn bit of corn syrup involved. And the cake was about the best cake I'd eaten in ages. I couldn't stop. There were no spices in it, and besides using a gluten-free flour blend instead of all-purpose, using half sugar and half agave nectar (which I thought would dry it out but it didn't) I didn't change a darn thing in the recipe.

All her sifting! I sifted until I was all sifted out: 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup agave nectar

Cream: 2 tbsp butter (that's it! Just 2. You could almost eat the whole cake it's so light...until you get to the next 2 ingredients) then add the sugar/agave mixture and mix for ages (about 2 minutes. You can't even drink caffeine in Newfoundland that quickly. The city doesn't believe in espresso). Beat in 1 egg yolk (at room temperature, of course).

Sift!!! Tree times (not a typo) 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp bread flour (my gluten-free blend) or 2 cups cake flour. Don't add it to the egg mixture.

Sift!!! Just once more with1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt. That's a ton of salt. Not to a Newfoundlander who may have grown up on saltfish and saltbeef and saltpork, and Jesus, anything else you can salt, but in this cake it's a lot of salt. A delicious, perfect lot of salt. Do it.

Measure out 1/2 plus 2 tbsp milk. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beat, then add 1/3 of the milk, beat, then half the remaining flour, beat, then half the milk, beat, then the remaining flour, beat, then the last of the milk. Only beat a fe seconds after each addition, says Irma. I agree, of course.

Then beat in 1/2 tsp almond extract or amaretto. The amaretto is my idea because a lot of people don't have almond extract (It's not as if there's tons of amaretto kicking around the average kitchen either, though, especially in Newfoundland, but there is a LOT of rum, and that's fine too. At the liquor store yesterday there were more rums than Canadian wines. A Newfoundlander wouldn't know a Canadian wine if it came out and sang the National Anthem. I had to laugh when I saw a shelf called "Local Wine" and there was Newfoundland blueberry wine sitting next to Pinnacle iced wine. "Local"...).

Now the fun part. I was NOT about to wash my beaters to whip up one little egg white. You've got to make sure you dry the beaters really well, because water and inhibit the riding of the white. So I decided to whisk it. People had been doing it forever, surely I could too. So I started and it was slow going. I switched hands and ways of holding the whisk about 10 times in the 5 or so minutes it actually took me to whisk the white. That's ridiculous. I tried to go quickly but I apparently am as bad at whisking as at kneading, but I can't blame my cold hands on this one.

I decided that the directions to whip until "stiff but not dry" were going to have to deal with me being exhausted of whipping. So I quit and hoped it was enough. It stayed in place when I removed the whisk, so that was a good sign, I figured. the nice thing about not using a handheld beater was the air stayed in the white better. It didn't collapse. My energy had made it stronger than electricity, I told myself. Maybe Irma's hubris is rubbing off on me? Nope, I'm still a right useless whisker.

Fold the white gently into the rest of the batter. This is where hand-whisking is great because I wasn't so worried about wrecking my cake through collapsing egg whites.

I greased the 8" cake pan liked I'd never greased before (I had to use aluminum because the bottom of my cake pan is trashed). I think I used a good 1 1/2 tbsp of butter because the rest of the cake had so little. Poured in the batter. 350 Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. Done. Beautiful. Some good, wha?

Caramel while that was going on...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Turkey Pot Shepherd's Pie

Take two wonderful things and stick them together.

Things I like better about chicken pot pie than shepherd's pie:
1. It's made with chicken, not beef
2. There's a sweeter, lighter taste from the gravy, and you can even make it creamy if you want
3. It's made from leftovers, so there's less work involved

Things I like better about shepherd's pie than chicken pot pie:
1. You don't need to make a double pie crust
2. Potatoes aren't quite as heavy as said double pie crust

Best of both worlds: Pie crust on the bottom, mashed potatoes on top, chicken in the middle with leftover gravy and basic, sautéd onions, garlic and carrots.

It was beautiful. Throw in the fact that I used brine to flavour the potatoes instead of cream or butter, and I had a pretty delicious meal. I didn't feel like weighing myself down with a pound of whipped butter, and my leftover pickling solution was the trick. Sounds strange, was delicious. I actually ended up with one chicken pot shepherds pie, and one chicken shepherd's pie since I only had one pie crust and I'm more interested in the filling than the crust anyway.

What you need:
1. Pie crust (I had frozen a gluten-free pie crust from the last time I made pie. I'd even frozen it in a small loaf pan. Maybe I'd secretly known it would end up being for chicken pot pie. Ir I'd just planned on making a strange kind of filled fruit pie?

2. Leftover chicken (breast leg, whatever. Roasted is traditional, but even if you need to cook up some chicken to make this, it's all fair game).

3. Vegetables of choice (Onions, celery and carrots are standard, but use whatever you have. I even used the bottoms of some bok choy instead of celery)

4. Gravy. You can make a quick gravy - I'd especially recommend a miso gravy in this case (I leave out the nutritional yeast), so you don't have to roast a whole chicken or use a disgusting canned or boxed product that calls itself helpful - or if you have leftover, that's the best. There's a good reason this is most often made around Thanksgiving when there are leftovers. You only need about 3 tbsp. You can also skip it completely and use white wine or vermouth, and broth mixed with flour or cornstarch to thicken or not) 

5. Potatoes and some kind of liquid for flavour (broth is great, but a brine solution of water, vinegar, salt and a little sugar also works wonders. I kind of liked the kick from the vinegar, but maybe that's the Newfoundlander in me)

6. Optional green thing to garnish

Make/buy the pie crust. It's really easy to make, but, well, I understand if you cheat. Actually, no, I don't understand, but I'll turn a blind eye this time. Defrost it if it was frozen.

Boil the potatoes whole in their jackets until soft (about 15 minutes for big ones). Make sure they're completely covered in the water or turn them during the cooking time. Test them with a fork to make sure they're done - the fork should slide into the potato easily. Remove from the water and let cool while you chop everything else for the pot shepherd's pie.
It doesn't really matter how you cut the vegetables, but if they're all cut the same they'll cook more evenly. Just hack 'em up. It'll be fine.

Sauté the onions and optional garlic and celery in a little oil over medium-heat for 30 seconds, then turn the heat down to medium low and let the onions sweat a little. 7 or so minutes later add the carrots.

While this is going on, skin the potatoes. they should slip right out of their winter jackets. Mash them with a fork or a a masher or a slotted spoon or your hands. Depends on your anger that day, I suppose, and add your seasoning of choice (you can heat a little vinegar with a bit of sugar and some salt to dissolve them if you like, or just add some milk and butter, or broth). You're going to need some liquid to make it creamy, and using the cooking liquid is bland, bland, bland. 

Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit.

Now add the chicken and gravy (If you're using alcohol, turn the heat up to medium high again before adding. Then let the alcohol burn off before adding a little broth mixed with flour or cornstarch). You can also add some herbs here. I threw in some fresh thyme. Keep it simple. This is not Indian tandoori chicken pot shepherd's pie, after all.

When everything seems nice and coated in gravy and it's pretty thick, move the filling into the pie crust.
Oh yeah! I forgot that I added the chopped green part of the bok choy after filling the pie crust. It didn't need to be sautéed first. That would just kill nutrients.

Top with the potato mixture. I did this with one pie crust and just stuck the whole cast iron skillet (thanks!) I'd used to sauté into the oven as well for a second crust-less shepherd's pie.This is how it came out 25 minutes later - golden and crisp on top, sweet and tender-crisp in the middle (the miso is very sweet and is a really nice complement for the vinegar in the potato purée). Basically I hunted through looking for carrots, my favourite part. Weird, I know. The potatoes even tasted like something. That's why I hate mashed potatoes - they're usually bland and boring, but these were okay. I wouldn't eat them everyday, but I'm not much of a Newfoundlander, as proven by the fact that I didn't take the free drink offered by Air Canada on my return flight last night when we were running late...Shame.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lemon Buttercream

I bought icing sugar in bulk about 4 months ago in expectation of my next cake. Maybe to you that's ridiculous, but to me that's prudent planning.

I didn't know what the cake would be at the time, and there's no way I could have suspected it would be a 6 egg yolk cake from the 1948 Joy of Cooking. I hadn't even yet met the person who gave me the book, but you know there will always be a next cake, and you know that icing sugar doesn't go bad, and you also know that having to take a trip to the store in a Montreal winter can mean the death of unborn cooking or baking plans.

So I took 4 cups of my icing sugar, as instructed by Ms. Rombauer, the Joy of Cooking author and my companion in all things good baking, and blended it with 1/2 cup of soft butter. That's really not that much butter to ice 2 cakes. If each cake has 8 pieces, that's 1/4 cup per cake, and only 1 1/2 tsp per slice. There was no butter in the cake itself or in the custard filling, even. I'm not going to call these egg yolk sponge cakes light or anything, but I could have done worse in terms of butterfat content. No pounds of butter here. It wasn't really intentional, since I only had about this much butter anyway, but the cakes were for the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre bake sale, so it was kind of convenient since most Japanese people can't digest milk very well. Stereotype I know, but if I can make fewer people sick with my baking, I'm all for it.

Anyway, I beat the butter and sugar for a long time because I'm a big believer in fully creaming butter and too much is better than too little (so about 2 minutes. Probably overkill since the butter was nice and soft already, as per Ms. Rombauer's instructions) and then beat in about 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Pour, taste, pour, taste. I like the icing pretty puckeringly sour to cut the richness of the cake. It should be VERY sweet and PRETTY sour and it needs to be a nice balance between these two.

I should ahave gone back and properly read Irma's instructions...There is, of course, a foreword to the section on icings. She says for raw icings such as this one you can put the uncooked icing over hot water for 10-15 minutes to get rid of the grainy texture. So I did, and then I didn't read the part where you're supposed to beat the heat out of it afterward before icing the cake...Instead, I let it cool on its own, but I didn't wait quite long enough.

Assembling the cake: I cut each of the 8" cake layers in half (carefully with a sharp knife!) and spread half the cooled orange custard in the middle. Then I put the tops on like a jelly donut. None of the custard even went over the edge. It was just enough filling. thanks, Irma. The buttercream wasn't cool yet, though, so I didn't want to spread it right away and end up with soup icing that ran everywhere.

So I pooled some of it into the centre of the top of the cakes and set them on baking sheets to make the drive in my borrowed car to the JCCCM. I figured I'd do the sides when I got there. That was a stupid idea. I have a few too many of those. The icing had hardened up WAY too much by the time I arrived and there was no way I could ice the sides and make it look like the icing on top blended into the icing in the middle. So I treated it more like fondant and tried to make smooth pieces out of it before sort of attaching them to the cake. It turned into a kind of abstract work of 3D icing art. Well, one cake did. The other I just left as it was, with a pool of icing centred in the middle, and the sides un-iced. I got to slice the cake myself, so it was cool seeing the layers. It wasn't gorgeous, but it tasted great and people bought it and apparently liked it, and so no, I'm not such a failure. I'm not sure what Ms. Rombauer would think.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Orange Custard from the 1948 Joy of Cooking (aka "6 Egg Yolks Later")

Irma Rombauer's instructions for 'Orange Filling' (aka custard, but not really, since her actual orange custard recipe comes later and includes sectioning whole oranges) are as follows:

Stir and cook in a double boiler until thick:
1/2 tsp grated orange rind
1 tbsp lemon juice
6 tbsp orange juice
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp salt
3 egg yolks

I doubled it to fill my Egg Yolk sponge cakes. It didn't have the butter or as much orange zest as 'Orange Filling II', but it was easy and it was going to do the trick. Besides, I was going to inject the calorie-clogging-ness into the buttercream, so might as well keep the dietary hurdle of the custard recipe to 6 egg yolks.

So I stirred and I cooked, and it took much longer than a normal custard. there wasn't a point where I was stirring gently and it suddenly got a lot thicker and then I waited 45 seconds and then took it off the heat. It just very slowly thickened and I had to stir pretty regularly, even constantly near the end.

The filling implies a knowledge of how to set up a double boiler using a saucepan and a bowl, but some people don't know how to do this. Apparently it was standard in 1948. We've lost so much of our culture...

...I actually felt good about this because my bowls are almost that old. These babies are work-horses. They're meant for high heat like this. If you don't have a bowl that you can rest on a saucepan (either because it's plastic or another melt-able or heat-breakable material) then you're kind of SOL.

About 25 minutes later(!) it was thick enough, and I took it off the heat to cool while I made the buttercream and waited for my egg yolk cakes to cool as well. I had just used 12 egg yolks in the course of an hour for 1 cake and I wasn't even done yet. I was done with eggs, thank goodness.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The 1948 Joy of Cooking and My 12-Egg Yolk Yellow Cake with Orange Custard Filling and Lemon Buttercream

This one takes the cake, so to speak...
For my friend's birthday I made her an angel food cake. It took 12 egg whites. I was not about to throw out 12 egg yolks and there's no way I could eat enough mayonnaise, zabaglione, or bechamel to get through these things in the short amount of time they can be kept in the fridge. So they got frozen.*

Then the perfect occasion came. Serendipitous, really. I had to make cakes for the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre Craft and Cake Sale. So 6 yolks for the 3-yolk cakes, and 6 yolks for the orange custard.

From where did I get such a recipe in a land of low-fat everything? The 1948 Joy of Cooking.
Just thinking about this book makes me a little giddy. It's in my house, on my bookshelf, and I cook from it whenever I want. It's a relic, like a piece of history living in my house. It's torn up, taped up and beautiful. The wonderful Irma Rombauer...her personality gets steam-rolled in the later editions, but early on she was present in every chapter, in every recipe, with fast quips, helpful suggestions, and dated commentaries. For example, the first chapter is "cocktails", and starts like this:
"The chief virtue of cocktails is their informal quality. They loosen the tongues and unbutton the reserves of the socially diffident. Serve them by all means, preferably in the living room, and the sooner the better."
She follows this up respectably with:
"To give this book the impression of sobriety and stability it deserves, the alcoholic cocktails have been relegated to the chapter on Beverages. There they may blush unseen by those who disapprove of them and they may be readily found in the company of many other good drinks by those who do not."
Incredibly well-said. Her nonalcoholic cocktails range from juices to oysters to pineapple boats. Very American. Other chapters start with wonderful introductions such as the chapter on fish which first describes the skinning and filleting process, but then dives into a Chinese proverb, and then the following:
"First, we must determine which is the best way to cook our fish."
Our fish, Irma. We're in this together.

Then there's the section on sweetbreads. I'm not sure if the modern version of the book includes the recipe for larded sweetbreads with wine sauce. Too bad. Or baked brains, tomatoes, and eggs. Breakfast of champions. Irma was definitely a champion.

Some of the best moments are her sections of "general rules", including "general rules for making pie crust" and her dictionary of baking that describes the differences between creaming, blending, cutting in, and kneading. Then there's the following description for the Queen Mary's Sponge Cake:
"When King George was sick, his wife, who is reported to have that inborn thing, 'a light hand with pastry,' bought a book of Marie Corelli's and baked a sponge cake for him....This recipe makes a large, delicate, fine-grained cake, which, if somewhat uninteresting, makes up for that by being highly digestible."
I didn't immediately think a light hand with pastry was what she meant by "that inborn thing", being royalty and all...

For the egg-yolk cake I initially planned on making the "Gold Cake", and the following description was provided:
"This recipe calls for 8 egg yolks. The cake is light and palatable."
Encouraging, Ms. Rombauer.

Light? Maybe not. And "palatable" is not usually how I think of cake. I love her honesty, though. It really seemed as though she didn't want anyone to make this cake. So I didn't. I made the 3-yolk sponge instead and doubled the recipe.

Ms. Rombauer has a lot of rules, so to make this cake I had to go back and read the opening of the sponge cake section. She says not to disturb the balance of the recipes by careless measuring. Sift flour three times. In her day, people sifted over paper. Does anyone still sift over paper? She gives the ratio of bread flour to cake flour if substitutions must be made. Then there are the separate rules for mixing with an electric mixer. Typically her mixing is done with a whisk. Fore-arms of steel, she had.
Egg yolks
boiling water
cake flour (exchanged for bread flour with Ms. Rombauer's proper ratio)
baking powder
grated orange rind

Simple, right? I was not going to mess this one up. I even sifted the sugar and salt twice as suggested before blending it in to the beaten, light egg yolks. Then in went the water, the thrice-sifted flour (maybe I only did it twice...maybe, because then she threw a fast one by saying to sift again with the baking powder), and beat only as much as I needed to combine it all before adding the vanilla and orange rind. I baked it in an 8" baking dish and a piece of aluminum I'd shaped around my one 8" baking dish (...) and baked in my 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Perfect. Of course it was perfect. It's Rombauer's Joy of Cooking.

To come: Orange custard (aka what I did with the other 6 egg yolks) and lemon buttercream (because I ran out of orange juice...)

*You just mix 1 1/2 tsp of sugar with every four yolks (if you're going to use them for sweet dishes) or an 1/8th teaspoon of salt for every four (for savoury dishes). The yolk doesn't really freeze solid, so it was overkill of me to freeze them in ice cube trays to make sure they could be easily separated later. I didn't plan to use them all at once...well, oops.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Heavenly Hosts": The 3rd Annual Christmas Party

When I first described the Christmas party I planned for my family two years ago and immediately called it the "First Annual Watson/Volk Christmas party" my parents laughed a little. Wasn't I getting a bit ahead of myself? Work on one before assuming there'd be more. But I never go into something like a giant catered party with anything but the highest expectations. Which is why now, three years later, we've arrived at the "Third Annual" edition of the event. We have a theme. Check. We have some rough menu sketches. Check. We even have excited to-be guests.

This year's theme will be "Heavenly Hosts". Thanks mom. I wanted something angelic to represent the season, but didn't want the kitsch of making it all about heaven and Hell. So we're leaving the devil aspect out of it. Yes, I want to do an angel's food cake, but no, there will be no deviled eggs (or devil's food cake for that matter). It's going to be on the elegant side instead.

So for the rest of the menu (since Newfoundland probably doesn't have enough eggs for me to do a whole party based on angels food cakes...) I was thinking my dad, my brother, my mom, and I would each have a dish labeled "So-and-so's Heaven". My dad's heaven would include a braised beef dish, my brother's would probably be sushi, my mom's? She has her heart set on some brownies, I think. Which leaves a whole lot of room for savoury dishes.

I was thinking philedelphia cream cheese (the angel commercials) would be appropriate, so I could do some kind of cream cheese dip and then do a raw version with nuts, and then I thought I'd just do a few more raw dishes that taste cheese-y. Probably there'll be a lot of cashews involved. That's good for dips and sauces, so maybe...hmm...

I was also thinking I wanted a lot of sourdough involved as the "manna of heaven". It's a more natural and traditional yeast. None of this fast-acting stuff, but it could take 10 days to make a yeast, and that's if everything goes smoothly. A friend here in the city offered me some of his to start mine off but I think I'll kill it by the time I get to Newfoundland. There's one good bakery in St. John's that might give me some of their starter, though I'm not even sure if they do sourdough. So the bread concept is there, and worst comes to worse, I can probably find Premiere Moisson flown in...sad, but true. No, I will try my best and making tons and tons of bread. It'll be my Christmas challenge. Turns out that in terms of glycemic index a sourdough made with white flour is better for you than even a whole wheat bread made with regular yeast!! Not in terms of minerals and vitamins maybe, but in terms of digestibility and spiking sugar levels. The whole wheat is really tough on your system, to the point where old people who eat it have a lot of trouble...Take that, Dempsters.

Anyway, so with my raw dips and desserts, maybe a "piled high apple pie", something beefy, something sushi (no salmon, trout, char or anything farmed Atlantic in this household, thanks, unless it just came off the wharf in unpolluted waters, and I don't know where those are), and then I've got to figure out what my heaven is and it's got to be something savoury. Or it can be sweet and then I have to come up with more "heavenly" or "angelic" savoury dishes.

Thoughts? Suggestions? As my highschool French teacher would say: "Questions? Commentaires?"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Roti Chanai, Take 2, with Roasted Squash and Jalapeno Pickle

I'm all about eating locally, and Indian food is not exactly what immediately pops to mind. I'll tell you, though, everything in this dish was local, from the chili peppers to the squash, to the flour for the roti.

Last time my roti turned out pretty ugly, but delicious. This time they actually crushed properly. Well, it's not exactly supposed to be crushed up like this, but you are supposed to kind of smash it up a little so it's flaky...I just went a little overboard and got rid of the evidence that I didn't make it very well. Then I used the pieces to scoop out the sweet pumpkin flesh of the my roasted fellow and ate it with my Indian jalapeno pickle. Side dish of champions. I had to ration myself to only half the squash.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Salad! Finally! (With Persimmon and Pear White Balsamic Vinaigrette)

 You must think all I eat are pickles and jam with the occasional chestnut thrown in for good measure (it is historically the poor person's protein, and that's what most people think of as "lentils" today, and I eat a fair bit of those too...), but no, I eat a well-balanced diet. Most of the people I've ever lived with (there have been almost 30 of those, not including immediate family) have been shocked to see me make a meal just for myself and do courses. Well, what they think of as courses. I start almost every meal with a salad. That way I make sure I get some greens and I don't eat way too much of a heavy main course because I'm starving and my stomach doesn't know when to shut up.

Most of my salads aren't worth writing about, but this one...
...this salad was a bit heartier. Walnuts, a raw goat's milk cheese, shredded carrot and fennel, olives from my favourite Italian épicerie (Roberto's, home of the city's best gelato...and take-out pasta and sauces), belgian endive, and crunchy organic romaine. The dressing is what really put it over the top though.

Persimmons, pears, white balsamic vinegar, Italian dijon from (who else?) Kozlik's, olive oil, and a tiny, tiny bit of salt. I think that was it...the inspiration for it was mostly that I hate wasting things, so when I had to peel the skins of the persimmons and the pears for the fruit in syrup with cinnamon and star anise and I didn't feel like eating 8 fruits' worth of skin, I decided to purée it and maybe use it for muffins instead of apple sauce sometime...but then it was already in my blender and I needed a vinaigrette. So I have a good pear vinaigrette, and I figured that making it from the skins wouldn't bother just me (if it sucked no one else was going to know. It didn't suck, by the way). So I threw in vinaigrette-y things and as I'm obsessed with strong dijon I put in about a tablespoon of that and some more than sweet white balsamic vinegar (a splash), whirled it up with a bit of salt (it was already in the blender after all), tasted, added more dijon because I'm ridiculous and re-blended. Then drizzled in a little olive oil. I knew I wasn't going to really taste the olive oil anyway (plus I didn't really want to, since it wasn't that kind of dressing) so I didn't use more than a tsp or two. It took me 4 salads to eat my way through this dressing (over the course of 4 days, not in a row), AND I ended up using it for a raw carrot dip when my grated carrot ran out. Again, my fennel tasted like absolutely nothing, just watery fibre, which is more than a little sad, but a good man/grocer is hard to find, apparently. I suppose I am looking...for a grocer...not a man. If I happen to stumble upon a man in the process of finding my grocer, well, that would just be the icing on the cake.

Speaking of cake, I had the best cupcake of my life (well, was AMAZING! but cupcake quality all depends on what kind of cupcake mood you're in at the time, so "For the Love of Cakes" still probably gets my "best cupcake ever" vote, but this!!!) at, of all places, the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre Craft and Bake sale. I had a key lime cupcake that had both lime zest and juice in the sponge-y cake. Light without being wimpy. It must have been baked that morning it was so fresh and moist. The buttercream was so delicious and by the end of it, it was too rich, but the first few bites of it were heavenly dense and smooth. Then there was a graham cookie (home-made) stuck in the top. Just butter, graham crumbs and salt, but some bites had more salt and some just had savoury graham and then some sneaked in the butter, which I only noticed when I wasn't eating the buttercream. I was alone in my car (well, not my car, but not a stolen car...I was alone in my "borrowed" car...lets leave it at that) and I couldn't help but exclaim about how good the cupcake was. I kept looking out the mirrors to make sure no one was watching me enjoy the cupcake. Kind of weird seeing a woman freak out about a cupcake in the driver's seat of a car. Maybe also a little weird that I had a box of 4 and a bunch of other take-out bags of various lunch/dessert things I'd purchased. It was a fundraiser, after all! Green tea mochi? Yes, I think so.

Probably no more strange for passerby than seeing me ice the two yellow cakes I made (from the 1984 Joy of Cooking I was given. THANK YOU!) with orange custard filling and lemon come.